There is a highly-respected Baylor Religion and English professor who I also happened to attend church with back in my Waco days. He was known amongst our circle of friends as the "Crusty Ole Curmudgeon" for his sour disposition and staunchly-held perspectives on many issues. One of those subjects happened to be Roman Catholicism, of which he was not a member. However, he revered the tradition and considered it the true church. When asked why he wasn't a Catholic himself he said he was better served a signpost, pointing others towards the church.
For most of my life, I never saw any reason for Christians to associate with a denomination that appeared so impersonal and dogmatic. Now, I think they have a leader that can be respected; one with a sense of humor, an understanding of his own humanness, and a true sensitivity towards mankind. Pope Francis is the signpost that will point many towards the church and, perhaps, back to the church. Of course, even Catholicism is the finger pointing at the moon.
“This ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy … The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! …
This list is making the rounds - the result of a small poll of readers tabulating the Top 20 Books that People Pretend to Have Read. Social stigmas are a powerful force but I don't see why anyone would see me as a literary luddite if I had told them that I never finished The Harry Potter series. Actually, I'm quite proud of this fact. Here's an autobiographical take on this list:
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Long a favorite novel of the Mrs.’ (at least, the BBC Miniseries is). I first read it in 2004 on a trip down to Austin. Or was it Austen?
2. Ulysses by James Joyce
Really just a punch line. I know it’s hailed as the holy grail of books and all but I will rely on smarter people that I who have quit on it in disgust. There are entire books written about how to read it and no less than a thousand blog posts, I’m sure. This one and this one are a couple that I liked.
3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Haven’t read it and I don’t know anyone who has. If I do happen to know someone who has, they certainly never recommended it to me.
4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
I once had an acquaintance who was reading this on a road trip. I understand it features a cast of a thousand characters and nothing quite that memorable happens. No thanks.
5. The Bible
Truly, I am half-way through reading the Bible for the first time in my life (35 years) and I will be done before Christmas. Mark this under “reading schedule” and “slow-and-steady-wins-the-race.” I have found a great deal of Kings I & II pretty fascinating (lots of senseless violence and beheadings). Also, the time of Judges sounds like a tenuous and scary period to be an Israelite (basic lawlessness).
6. 1984 by George Orwell
Never read 1984 but I did read Animal Farm recently and I admire Orwell as a social critic. His take on governmental oversight seem to grow more and more prescient. Also, Christopher Hitchens, was a massive Orwell fan and any friend of Hitchen's is a friend of mine.
7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
2001 - I was living with my parents right after graduation from Baylor. I knew that Peter Jackson was filming the first movie (Fellowship) which was opening over Christmas 2001, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time. I read The Hobbit first and then the Rings trilogy over the summer and fall.
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
High School - like most folks in Texas. Yes, I actually read it and, then, re-read in college for fun. I used to say it was my favorite book for no particular reason other than it sounded good. I never saw the Baz Luhrmann movie.
9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Never read it. I wouldn't rule it out in my lifetime.
10. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Read this one in ’02 or ’03. It didn’t motivate me to kill anyone so there’s that.
11. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
It's on my night stand right now. I’m about 50 pages in and I can see why some people have put it down. A real slow burn and a lot going on. I’m guessing (hoping?) the pay-off is good. I LOVE this guy’s non-fiction writing. DFW was one of our more brilliant minds. He's a guy that I would love to know what his writing process was. Sometimes I imagine that he just wrote everything out in one draft and submitted it to his editor without a single re-write. I like to think he was that much of a virtuoso.
12. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
(Was supposed to read it in) High School. Never did. Mostly read the Cliff’s Notes. Faked my way through the test.
13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Read it on a trip to Thailand in 2004. Really, really good. I still need to see the classic movie. I also read “In Cold Blood” as a companion piece right after.
14. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Cultural phenomenon. No intention of ever reading it.
15. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Again, no intention of every reading this one. I might check out the recent film iteration starring Mia Wasikowska.
16. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Great intentions of reading this someday. It’s in our library. I think the Mrs. had to read it at Baylor.
17. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Another High School read for me. Honors English, senior year. Not sure what the fascination is with the Bronte sisters is but I could’ve skipped it if given the choice.
18. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
High School - sophomore year. I might also be confusing this with Tale of Two Cities. Either way, I’m not returning.
19. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
I began this series when they first debuted. I trailed a few books behind and finally gave up after the fourth one as they began turning into bloated tomes. Ultimately, I will never consider this true literature (children’s lit maybe?). More like a tribute to the ego of someone in love with the world she created. Tolkien might be accused of the same thing. But, then, he created his own fucking language.
20. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
High School. Best of times, worst of times and all that.
A deeply affecting documentary about late term abortions is coming. It seems to me that people who live in a world where everything is black and white might as well be living alone in cave. Obvious point, here: late term abortions are rarely about "I don't want this baby anymore." What an awful decision a human has to make in these cases.
And, to think that the death threats against these doctors are probably carried out by extremist Christianists. Jesus cries over your blood thirst.
The most disturbing movie I have ever seen, a ghost that haunted me since the night I saw it, was David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. Even writing about it won’t provide the mind-clearing catharsis that I so desperately need to erase the experience of seeing it as a young boy. In the 1980s, just before videotape rental houses proliferated, movies that you missed seeing in the theater would be re-broadcast on network TV—NBC, ABC or CBS. This is also how I first encountered paragons of cinema like the Sound of Music, the Wizard of Oz, and Police Academy. Here's a trailer for an ABC Sunday Night Movie featuring Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan (another movie that frightened me. Think: worms in ears).
One evening, my Dad, brother and I watched The Elephant Man, Lynch’s 1980 Oscar-nominated picture. Set in Victoria-era England, a surgeon rescues a man with hideous and debilitating tumors all over his body who last lived as life being paraded around “freak shows.”
Despite its deeper tale about inner beauty and sensitivity to be found in all of God’s creatures, the Academy Award-winning make-up job on John Hurt that transformed him into Merrick had me watching nearly the entire movie through my fingers. If ever there was a time when I wasn’t convinced by the line: “it’s only a movie,” it was then. Of course, Lynch ramped up the tension of not seeing the Elephant Man's full countenance for at least a half hour into the film. The reveal was appropriately devastating. As I would find out later, David Lynch has a way of keeping you off balance so that the "scary" moments are beyond effective.
Not that he intended this to be a scary film but he does want you to be horrified by the shear grotesqueness of TEM's physical features and he probably wasn't thinking what effect this might have on the psyche of an 9 or 10 year-old. Nothing since then has scared me more than those images; Lynch's Merrick was my evil clown, my monster under the bed. Midnight trips down the hall to the bathroom turned into terrorizing affairs and I imagined the Elephant Man behind me in his bulky, burlap mask, clawing at me with his [shudder] deformed hand. As an adult, it seems absurd to consider that the source of my primal fears were the sight of an historical figure. I guess there might be weirder ones out there.
My chief discovery from this experience was the wonders of David Lynch, whose work I would continue to get familiar with over the next years 25 years. He would become one of my favorite artists of all time. More to come…
Like many things I read, I cannot remember where I first heard about this author. The buzz on Hobbs is that he is a absurdly young, crack-shot savant who wrote a destined-to-be-bestseller straight out of college. My expectations were high yet cautious. Unfortunately, the payoff was something akin to a James Patterson paperback. Okay, maybe not that bad. To be fair, I’ve never actually read a Patterson thriller. But, then, I’ve never bought a book at the airport either.
Synopsis: Bank robbery gone wrong. A “fixer” type, called Ghostman, is sent in by the crime boss behind it to clean things up. Another crime boss gets involved. High jinx ensue.
Commentary: I was originally drawn to this book because, in most cases, it takes a really fascinating backstory on the author to get me to read fiction. In this case: brilliant college student pens a griping thriller. Sky’s the limit and all that. Plus, I’m jealous of his skills.
Despite his very-fake name, Roger Hobbs, he put together a tightly spun yarn about the aftermath of a heist-gone-wrong. The pace is “page-turning” and chapters are episodic and short. The book flashes back occasionally to the protagonist’s early days as a thief and “ghost man”-in training. A “ghost” is someone who alters their appearance and persona in extreme ways to get out of tight spots; essentially running around as alter egos. The prose is serviceable but descriptions skirt the edge of high school creative writing class level. Hobbs tries to shock us with gritty, visceral details and dazzle with an insider’s view of criminal activity. But, mostly, it feels like he’s trying to impress us with his dark anti-hero by making him interesting rather than make us feel something about him. I mean, the Ghostman spends a great deal of the book as fake characters. It’s not like Lisbeth Salander, where we are painted a revealing picture of the most fascinating fictional underworld geniuses in so much detail and thorough backstory. I really wanted this Ghostman to be a bad-ass but, he was so undeveloped, I only saw smoke and mirrors.
Finally, (and, I know this is trivial) I was off-put by his naming one of the mob boss characters “the Wolf.” I immediately thought of another “fixer” character in fiction lore, that of Harvey Keitel's Winston "the Wolf" Wolfe from Pulp Fiction. Whether it was unintentional or not, I found it a little lazy. Keep going, Hobbs. You’re a good writer but I have a feeling your best work is ahead of you.
Here's a cutting take on the Abortion issue that's relevant again (in Texas, at least). This comes from a reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog The Dish. It gets to the heart of what I find most appalling about the current Pro-life movement:
Many children witness their parents stoned out cold, or screwing each other, or screwing strangers, or fighting – verbally and physically. Other out-of-control adults may abuse the children while mom and dad are otherwise occupied.
Best part of Man of Steel.
Man of Steel Review
The story about how Maximus from Gladiator and a lady who looks like she smokes give birth to Christopher Reeves, Jr. on a dying Star Wars/Avatar planet. A weird council is trying to save geological calamity through diplomacy when a rogue General Zod barges in and starts shooting up the place and espousing his pro-Hitler views. Fast forward to SuperBaby being shot in to space and landing on earth smack in the middle of Ray Kinsella's Field of Dreams farm. He and his wife, not-Sally-Field, raise the boy but tell him to hide who he really is thus telegraphing to savvy viewers the Superman-is-Gay undertones. Clark-Kal-Superman goes on a bunch of Bruce Banner adventures, holding down different jobs in different parts of Canada until he doesn't turn into the Hulk and gets discovered by Plot Device-I mean-Lois Lane. Lois and Supe battle Michael Shannon Zod, whose mustache never grew in after space travel, and they try to stay away from his mouth as he chews the scenery.
There is a part where Ray Kinsella/Johnny Kent dies in a tornado around the year 1997 which is probably when the tornadoes from Twister (1996) came back for their revenge on Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt but went to wrong the state. The third act is nothing but a video game sequence where Zod/Superman re-enact a Bizzaro World 9/11, by just flying around and knocking buildings down on untold millions of innocents yet, for some reason, we only see Morpheus from the Matrix try to save a scared Indian lady and the bald guy who hits on everyone at back at the office. Oh, and Lois still pops up occasionally to move the story along. In the very end, we get some cheap humor from terrible extra about Superman being "kinda hot."
If you like superhero movies, Christ allegories, and billions in collateral damage, this is the one for you. I just had one question: where is Neo when you need him?
Back during the 2008 Presidental elections, I flirted with the Ron Paul rEVOLution. In case you were living under a rock, Dr. Ron Paul is a fire-brand Congressman-Doctor out of south Texas, whose outlandish and counter-cultural ideas range from lowering taxes to staying out of other countries to de-federalizing the health care system. Despite his unpopular views, Dr. Paul’s enthusiasm and "FU" attitude to Washington appeals to me around every major election. Whenever the race is between two business-as-usual politicians, I seem to gravitate towards outsiders whose fringe ideas seem hypnotically disruptive. I think it's in the public’s best interest to tolerate, if not foster, these types of politicians who can balance constituent interests with “creative” policy considerations. Dr. Paul was such a figure in ‘08. I’m not sure that the country was ready for some of his ideas though (hello, return to the gold standard!). The Ron Paul Revolution would have to wait.
Enter son, Rand Paul, the ophthalmologist and the junior United States Senator for Kentucky, who is the perfect embodiment of his dad’s ideology on top of a natural sense for populist politics. A new profile of Rand is out in the New Republic by Julia Ioffe. In it are several nuggets that I may have known but forgotten. Most notably, Paul went to Baylor (my alma mater) and was a NoZe Brother, an organization of which I was not a member but, like the great Dr. Pearl once said in the movie Waiting for Guffman when asked if he was the class clown in school: "No, I wasn't. But I sat next to the class clown, and I studied him.”
As I consider this man, once label an “unviable” candidate by Democrats, I am repeatedly drawn to his outsider-ness; he who goes “wandering alone into the cafeteria, buying his own coffee, getting his own lunch.” I mean, what kind of public servant does that? A crazy one, certainly. But, this one takes the cake: he had a reputation for “reading every page of every bill.” Words cannot explain how awesome that would but if true. The feature draws examples of how Sen. Paul has used the system against itself, devising un-passable bills and engaging in senatorial “hostage-taking” by employing procedural delays as a way to market his public image. In many ways, it is simply genius. Exploiting systems in amusing and non-violent ways are sunlight in a darkened room—illuminating.
Sure, it’s easy to write him off. He’s a nut without presidential sensibilities. But, I say, this country elected the likes of George W. Bush and Rand seems to be smarter, at least as convicted in his beliefs about the country as W., and a lot more humble regarding his transgressions. Rand’s biggest task will be to attract the attention of new voters (Hispanics?) and re-brand the GOP as a populist party. That seems to be the key ingredient in getting elected. Hell, he just might get my vote.
2 out of the last 4 times Kelley and I have been to the movie theater, we have walked out before the film even started. The first was over a year ago, a few days before our daughter was born. We were going to try to work in one last outing before our lives changed forever (for the better) so we went down to the Angelika Dallas to catch Moonrise Kingdom. We got there so late and the movie was still so popular that we couldn't find any seats beyond the first row, so we bailed and got a refund. To this day (June 19th, 2013), we still have not seen it! And, this is coming from about as big a Wes Anderson fan as there is.
The second time we walked out was yesterday. We were on vacation and the daughter was at day care. Like good parents, we handed her off while we took a mental holiday. After a late fat-free breakfast of eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy at Bubba's Chicken at Snider Plaza, we headed over to NorthPark for a showing of Iron Man 3. We selected the movie based on it being something that deserved to be seen on the big screen in full glory. I have a man date to see Man of Steel this weekend so IM3 was the natural choice.
First off, the tickets for the 1:00pm showing were $10 apiece! NorthPark only offers discounted rates on shows that start BEFORE noon. Sheesh. We get in the theater and, after a few minutes, a man sits down one row in front of us and a few seats over with a backpack-like bag and a large soda. He begins rocking himself in the seat. It seemed a little odd but I just thought he was getting comfortable or something. Kelley leans in and says that he seems shifty like he's nervous. At this point, the trailers begin (all goddamn seven of them!) and this guy is still rocking. A lady sitting down the row from him was annoyed enough to move down and away from him. At this point, Kelley says she's got a bad feeling about him and brings up the whole Aurora theater shooting. I guess that's where we are now. Nobody feels safe in public places and any "weird" behavior makes them a suspect. Sad but true. Thanks a lot, bin Laden.
While this person could've had a mental condition and completely harmless, we just couldn't write it off and we both had reservations about remaining. So, we left. We simply couldn't get over the fact that we were together and if anything happened to us both, our little baby would be orphaned.
I then proceeded to go 80mph, up the highway, to another theater where the chances of killing us both in a car accident were about 1000% more likely than dying at the hands of a crazed lunatic in a movie theater. If I had to do it all over again, I would've done the same thing. I mean, his rocking was really annoying.
Iron Man 3 was great. Oh, and we saved $8 at the other theater.