Monday, March 31, 2014

Kingdom is for Kids (and Child-like Adults) (Mark 10:13-16)

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter at all.”

This short little snippet of Mark’s Gospel is a hugely important story. Here we see Jesus make a declarative statement that every follower of Jesus needs to meditate on from time to time. Since we don’t, there are several things that are often overlooked or done wrong by a lot of Christians/churches.

First, we see that the disciples were annoyed and frustrated at those bringing the children to Jesus. Anyone who has ever tried to do church (especially simple, “organic” church) with families can identify. It is really hard to get serious about worship and a message with kids running around being kids, right? A lot of churches solve this problem by sending the kids away to a “child-friendly” service while the adults get down to “real” church. When I was a kid we did things even better. We made kids sit still and learn to tune the service out quietly so that they could learn to sit still and ignore things as an adult later.


Friday, March 28, 2014

"Saving Mr. Banks" (2013)

2013 seemed to have a lot of whitewashing of reality for the sake of story. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Reality and history often inspire great tales that communicate profound truths. The problem is that Hollywood is enamored with the “true story” construct.

It isn’t any more a case of “based on the true story” or the even better phrased “inspired by true events.” They feel the need to tell us we are watching something that really happened, as if that somehow makes their story—while presumably less creative—more impressive. So, amidst a slew of movies based of history (“12 Years,” “Philomena,” American Hustle,” etc.) we got films like “Captain Phillips” and “Wolf of Wall Street” that twisted their stories to make them more compelling. Taking people who, by all accounts were not people we would normally root for, and twisting their story for the sake of creating an audience.

Coincidentally, Tom Hanks played two whitewashed characters this year. The second was Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks.”

The film itself, and the story it tells, are quite good. We have the inspiring story of an author coming to terms with her own life, sharing a beloved story on a greater scale, collaborating with others to reach and inspire more people, etc. etc. But the whole process is somehow more inspiring when we think that it all really happened.

The sad truth is that it didn’t. Not in the way the Disney Company wants us to think it did. Travers hated the result of her collaboration with Disney and never let them adapt any more of her books. Travers and Disney were both far more flawed than this story represents.

But what are we to do? Reality is almost always more messy than the purely good or purely bad examples we want it to represent. People are less heroic and often even less villainous than would best serve the stories we want to tell. The problem lies in when we use the illusion of history to make our stories have more impact. “Inspired by” and “based on” are great approaches that are losing their impact as our culture becomes less and less concerned with reality. It is indeed a frustrating state we find ourselves in, when people will doubt realities right in front of their noses while accepting as fact anything they are told.

Mary Poppins would not approve.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Where Yoda Meets Pink

“Do or do not; there is no try.”

“But just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die; you've gotta get up and try, and try, and try.”

Yoda’s words to Luke are pretty nonsensical when you think about them. How many parents would tell a child learning to walk or ride a bike those words? We all know that life is about learning and learning is all about trying and failing, over and over again. We live in a world where more people are encouraged to try, fail and grow. We talk about “cultures of smart failure” and “having the courage to fail.”

That being said, there are two areas in life where Yoda’s advice is the only way to proceed. The first is in the case of love, and that is where Pink’s song conveys where our culture has gotten it so wrong. We have made love all about emotion, feeling good, and something upon which we just have to “stumble.” We encourage people to follow their fickle emotions and when those emotions subside (surprise!) we tell them it is over and they have to go looking elsewhere.

True love has very little to do with emotions, other than emotions are a byproduct of it. Love is really about choice, the other, and something we determine to do. So, in the case of true love, Yoda is dead right. You do or do not, there is not try. Marriage is a promise to disregard one’s own feelings and needs and to focus soley on the others. When both parties abide by their promise, everyone is cared for and emotions tend towards the good end of the spectrum. However, when one party fails it doesn’t change the promise of the other. It is “till death do us part” without clauses or caveats.

Oh, to be sure people these days have those caveats in mind even if they don’t speak them before God and witnesses. And while there is forgiveness available to people who break that promise, people prefer to think that they don’t need forgiveness if they can find a clause that voids their promise.

The other area in life where Yoda is right is in the area of faith. You either believe or you don’t. You have to jump in with both feet and trust. This is another case where we commit depending on another person. In true love we commit to love another and real success depends on more than our own faithfulness. In true faith we depend and trust on God to be true and we are helpless in His hands.

Or you could choose one of the many faiths that depend on you getting it right and being “good enough.” But then we are back to trying, and every religion that depends on man’s goodness has failed thus far.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Teaching on Marriage and Divorce (Mark 10:1-12)

In between the second and third predictions of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the discipleship teachings that accompany them, we get some further teachings of Jesus regarding marriage, children, and riches. The first of these—Jesus’ teaching on marriage—is some of the clearest teaching in the Bible. Not simple—in fact very far from it—but clear.

Jesus is asked about divorce as a means of entrapping Him. It was a hot topic in Jesus context because of the infamous divorces of Herod and his current wife. (She had in fact divorced Herod’s brother in order to marry Herod.) The issue had already cost John his life. Jesus diverts the issue a bit by asking what Moses had taught. However, Jesus expounds on the Law in a way that was controversial then, and is still unpopular today.

Divorce is allowed because it is a product of sin that could make matters worse in the absence of its regulation. Places where divorce is outlawed have very messy familial and relationship issues. God never intended of marriage to be disposable, but since sin makes it so He wants the issue as manageable as possible. Ideally, however, God designed marriage for life. Jesus later clarifies that, while sin creates a need for divorce—and it is allowed in that context—the marriage is insoluble in Gods eyes and remarriage is adultery. That is a hard standard that most followers of Christ choose to ignore these days.

(The qualifications elsewhere in the Gospels that some use as a get-out-of-jail-free clause are not that, but those statements will be expounded upon if I ever get to those texts in their context.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Veronica Mars" (2014)





Some of the most treasured art in the world is displayed across the world on refrigerators in kitchens, but it is only really loved by small audiences. “Veronica Mars” may be just such a work of art. It is far from perfect, far from deep in its thought, and far from anything like a masterwork of cinema. That being said, it may be loved by fans of the show in the way that a mother loves her child’s doodles. Not so much by this fan, if I can really be considered a fan of the show.


There is an appeal to noir, but some of that appeal is lost when you are asked to invest emotion in the characters. Veronica Mars makes noir hard to like. She is a girl you want to like; for whom you want to root. But her noir tendency to be drawn to shady characters and shady mysteries frustrates. In this story we see that, 10 years down the road, Mars is ready to break out of her hard-luck past and achieve the “American Dream.” In most films where the main character sabotages that opportunity as much as our heroine does here, we would be hating her and the story. In “Veronica Mars” it simply makes perfect sense, and that is the difficulty we face with this story.

For those who followed the show there are some nice inside jokes, but the story-line is a little to rote and uncreative to really please.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Brogue

(Poetry Scales 3

When Paddy rides his motorbike
in his cordovan wingtip brogues
he don’ caire if anyone notices
and he don’ caire if anyone knows
that he don’ have any stockings on
and thair is sweat all ‘round his toes.

But it’s unlikely anyone caires
‘bout his stockings or ‘bout his toes
‘cause aside from his motorbike helmet
he’s only really wearing those cordovan wingtip brogues

…and chaps.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Yoda (Star Wars Character Thoughts)

More Thoughts: Intro, C3PO, R2D2, Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Padme, Han, Chewy, The Emperor, Yoda, Vader, Luke


Contrary to what most people think, Yoda’s is to a large degree a story of failure. He is assumed to be a wise teacher and leader because he is playing the archetypal role of the wizened old mentor, but that is really subverted over the course of the saga. And, coming from the generation that used to chant “trust no one over thirty” it is not that surprising.

When we first meet Yoda (in the way the story is told, not following the internal chronology) he is the perfect example of how we should not prejudge people. He is an annoying little fool that Luke encounters on his quest to find a “great warrior.” It turns out, he is the very warrior that Luke is seeking. Then, over the course of that middle act in “The Empire Strikes Back” he proceeds to spout a lot of wise sounding Buddhist philosophy that doesn’t necessarily add up. “Do or do not, there is no try” is a stupid statement when you really stop and think about it. Later he insists that Luke should not help his friends, and that if he goes he will never become a Jedi Knight. Wrong on both accounts.

So, Yoda is that lesson. You should not assume based on face value. Even when we think we are told that Yoda is the infallible, wise, wizard that proves wrong. In the prequels we realize that the Jedi were an order living in a literal ivory tower, out of touch with reality and enabling the downfall of the Republic they were sworn to protect. Yoda knows enough to have the customary, Star Wars, “bad feeling” about what is going on, but fails to detect the evil developing right under his nose.

Much of what Yoda and the Jedi teach is solid advice. Rejecting fear and hate in favor of faith and trust is a good maxim to live one’s life by, but it proves less than successful when facing evil forces determined to destroy a society, culture, or world. It is only after Yoda is vanquished that he takes a hard look at how wrong he really was and helps Luke stumble upon the gamble of a plan to face and defeat such an evil…

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Abattoir

(Poetry Scales 2)

Line up in the chute
Vie for choice position
Pursue pleasures offered here
Don’t look out that nonexistent window

Numb to the auto-apocalypse
Assembly line production of meat
Aroma in the packing house more feces than food
Are we losing our taste to be free?

Wirelessly connected? Or tethered to the teat
That keeps us trapped in the slaughterhouse?
Haughtily ascetic are you faithlessly religious
Passing the exit on your way to the captive pistol bolt?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Passion for the Kingdom (Mark 9:30-50)

Jesus follows the second announcement of His passion with another teaching on the harder aspects of following Him. They all revolve around the continued preoccupation the disciples have with their exalted positions in the new kingdom of their dreams. Instead, Jesus teaches that they should deny their personal ambitions and desires and instead develop a passion for the kingdom God will establish.

Self-aggrandizement: He first draws their attention to a little, insignificant child. Those who wish to be great in God’s kingdom need to be the most servile. They need to welcome and serve the little subjects and not just “important” or “influential” ones. They need to set aside their own wishes and desires with an aim to draw as many as can be invited into the Kingdom, down the littlest child.

Self-righteousness: When asked about other bands and people doing kingdom work independent of their own little club, Jesus tells His disciples that they need to avoid exclusivism. Many people will profess and act in Jesus name, and that is a good thing. Too often followers of Jesus spend too much time defining the best or even the “only” way to correctly be a follower of Christ. The fact is that there is room for variety. True, some may misuse the name of Christ but it is not our role to judge who is correct, nor to defend Jesus against misuse. We should simply be about our duty and rejoice in all our allies, or let God deal with the posers.

Self-obsession: Returning to the child, and to the task of opening up the kingdom to all comers, Jesus points out how important the task is. It would be better to die than to live causing people to miss the kingdom. Followers of Jesus need not only to do everything to try to get the message out, they need to be very careful that they haven’t somehow changed that message—by watering it down or simplifying it into something altogether other. He also talks of the preference of mutilation rather than serving sin. In addition to the obvious teaching, I see here an opening to viewing the body as the body of Christ—others in the community. That is an incorrect reading, of course, but I think it harmonizes with the message of Scripture. The point is, we need to see ourselves (and needs/desires) as secondary to others in the Kingdom. We seek to serve others, not to make ourselves more important. (As if that were possible.)

Saltiness. Finally, He draws everything back to the missionary thrust of discipleship. Followers need to be salt in the world. Bringing the change of Gods Kingdom into a fallen, worldly one. If we aren’t doing that, what is the point? We aren’t in this to rule, but rather to herald and serve.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Boas and Pythons

Harboring a respect (read fear) to go along with my fascination, I am not a big fan of big snakes. So my list of favored boides does not read like a list of record breakers. That being said, there are a lot of smaller boas and pythons that are wonderful snakes, and more fun as you can interact with them. (If you were inclined to do so.)

10. Python bivittatus (Burmese Python) 

This is the largest species on my list, and only because I (begrudgingly) think it is beautiful and because of the interesting development of this species introduction to Florida. (And that is not a good story.)

9. Morelia spilota (Carpet or Diamond Python) 

This may be the prettiest python.

8. Boa constrictor (uhh, hello?) 

This species gets too big for me to REALLY like, but the ones I have encountered were nice enough. When my oldest was five years old, we met a 4-5 foot specimen that he handled all by himself without fear, which is more than I can say I did.

7. Corallus annulatus (Annulated Tree Boa) 

Corallus is an enchanting (or maybe mesmerizing) genus.

6. Corallus caninus (Emerald Tree Boa) 

The emerald variety is perhaps the most famous, and in my opinion Corallus caninus is much more beautiful than Morelia viridis. (The Green Tree Python) Although the juvinile of that species is very cool looking:


5. Python regius (Ball or Royal Python) 

Of all the pythons in the nominal genus, this is the smallest and therefore my favorite. If I were to own one, it would be this one or…

4. Antaresia perthensis (Pygmy or Anthill Python) 

The Anthill Python is the smallest of all pythons, and apparently makes a pretty good pet.

3. Charina bottae (Rubber Boa) 

However, my favorite boides are from the family Boidae. Charina is the only genus found in North America, so it holds a special place in my heart.

2. Eryx jayakari (Saudia Arabian Sand Boa) 

The sand boas, are small and beautifully colored. I once saw some of these in a pet store and was sorely tempted, the prohibitive price is all that stopped me.

1. Charina trivirgata (Rosy Boa) 

The Rosy Boa is, without competition, my favorite. It can be found in the US, it is small, pretty and non-aggressive. That being said, the only one I ever saw in person (at a reptile convention) bit the woman who handed it to me. (She had just been handling rats and forgot to wash her hands.)

(Pictures all from Wikipedia)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars Character Thoughts)


 More Thoughts: Intro, C3PO, R2D2, Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Padme, Han, Chewy, The Emperor, Yoda, Vader, Luke


If Vader is a picture of evil in the loss of humanity, Anakin is the story of how that loss is achieved. Ironically, it is the desire to hold onto that which feels human that leads down the path to the “dark side.” Anakin is a little boy afraid to lose the little love he has in his life. As a slave he is constantly wanting more, and he jumps at the chance when it comes: freedom, opportunity, adventure. He is so dazzled by the prospect that he hardly gives a thought to what he will lose. When he does finally realize his losses he is determined to never allow such loss again. The ultimate temptation to embrace evil—and lose his humanity—is the lie that he can defeat death and keep his love with Padme alive forever.

Anakin argues with Obi Wan about the validity of love, but what he is really wanting to justify is an attachment; he does not care for Padme selflessly, he wants her to make him feel safe and loved. Love is one of those concepts that many hold to mean the exact opposite of what it really signifies. Where true love is a selfless concern for another’s well-being, we too often use it to mean the selfish desire to possess someone. This is the driving characterization of Anakin. He wants to obtain and wield power to control. Control other people in his life, circumstances around him, even the whole world. He claims benevolence in wanting to make things better, but he really just wants to create a universe in his image.

All of this paints a picture of a power-hungry, evil tyrant. Anakin never really achieves this, even as Vader. What Anakin really comes off as is the whinny, cowering child that he is. This backstory is intended to show us the tragedy of Vader as a character with whom we can identify and not just fear. We may identify with him, but we don’t really empathize.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Darth Vader (Star Wars Character Thoughts)

More Thoughts: Intro, C3PO, R2D2, Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Padme, Han, Chewy, The Emperor, Yoda, Luke

As a kid, I always thought Darth Vader was extremely scary. It is more than simply the fact that he is powerful, imposing and evil. After all, that power and evil are highly focused. He does not kill people randomly or without reason. He doesn’t even seem to have much of a drive beyond accomplishing the desire of the Emperor. Even so, you can imagine coming across him walking down a hallway on the Death Star would result in a loss of bodily function control.

More than anything it has to be the fact that Darth Vader is not quite human. I know it took me a while as a kid to decide whether Vader was a man or a robot. Even when you know without a doubt that he is a man in a suit, you quickly realize that he is barely a man—more like a corpse being kept alive artificially—a science fiction version of a revenant. A zombie. Or a vampire. Evil personified in the shape of a man.

Evil is the appropriate descriptor here, because Vader is a true picture of the absence of good. He is not an active character. For an active exploration of evil you would have to look to the Emperor, but Vader is the much more interesting study. He is a man who has turned to evil and in so doing, he has lost it all: his capacity for good, his desires and interests, his humanity. He is an automaton—a robot—open to the control of him who turned him to the “dark side.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Who Do You Say that He Is? (Mark 8:27-38) (again)

It seems that University Students in Japan are receiving bags of Koala poop before they take their tests. It is not a mean spirited prank, but rather a token of good luck. Koalas can hang from trees for up to 20 hours without losing their grip, and the idea is that the poop will help students “hold onto” the information long enough to take their test. Silly. Then again, people have the silliest ideas about what will help their fate. Growing up in the States I had friends who carried rabbit feet in their pockets. (As if that foot had helped that rabbit at all!) Living in Germany I see little models of pigs on sale every New Year for people to purchase that will supposedly bring them a year’s worth of good fortune. In Chile, being a catholic country, people preferred to carry a dead Jesus on a cross for the exact same reason. He was merely a good luck charm. The problem is a lot of the Baptists I know, who claim to know better and don’t carry any amulet around, have no better understanding of Jesus. He isn’t a charm. But He isn’t any better than a source good luck for one’s life.

Who Jesus REALLY is impacts who we are in relationship with Him.

I: Jesus’ disciples understood He was the Christ.

People all over were talking about Jesus. His ministry was causing a stir. However, most people had a bunch of wrong ideas as to who He was. Only the disciples understood—to some degree—who Jesus really was. He is the Messiah, the Christ.

People today still make the same claims. Jesus is a moral teacher, a great example, or even as much as a prophet of God. That is not enough. C.S. Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity” addresses this problem in what has been called Lewis’ Trilemma.

Jesus is not:

A good teacher: People who claim this have not looked at His teaching.

A good Example: If He is not God then He is merely a misguided and irrational revolutionary.

A prophet: Once again, when we look at His “prophecies” we have to come to another conclusion.

A madman or liar: That is certainly an option, just not one that we Christians would chose.

Jesus IS the Messiah. He is God and the savior of the world. But what does that mean?

II. The truth of the Christ was, however, something they did not understand.

Once they arrive at the correct conclusion, Jesus’ teaching shifts. He begins to elaborate on His mission; about His death and resurrection. This is where the disciples’ ever still limited understanding is revealed. They believe Him to be the messiah, but they have no idea what that really means. They had a false preconception of who the messiah would be.

Jesus is not:

A superhero, not a god with a little g: The Hebrew understanding of the Messiah was little better than some Greek or Roman idea of a god. In today’s culture we still have these pantheons of heroes. They are the superheroes of comics and movies. We don’t exactly worship them, but we build fandoms around them. We admire their stories and the ideas they communicate. It can be a religious experience for some. Unfortunately, many Christians are fans of Jesus rather than followers.

A religious figure: Religion is a human invention. Before humanity sinned, we had a relationship with the Creator. It wasn’t until that relationship was broken through our rebellion that we see religious paths to gods. The religion established and seen in the Old Testament was not a solution, but rather an education. God intended it to show us our need for Him and our incapacity to overcome our sin. Jesus never set out to create or lead just another religion amongst many. In fact, He railed against religion in His teaching.

A good luck charm: He did not come to give us assistance in our little plans, ideas, and goals in life. He came to offer us the chance to join God in His plan for creation as it was intended to be.

Jesus is the MESSIAH. He is God and the Savior of the world. But what does that imply for us?

III. When we make Jesus into something He is not, we misunderstand who we are.

Those who follow Jesus—who truly see Him for the Messiah of God’s salvation plan—die to themselves. They give up their little idea of a kingdom and take on their role in God’s true Kingdom. Jesus lists four reasons (four “whys and wherefores”) as to why this makes sense in light of the truth of the Gospel.

1st Wherefore: The Mechanics of Life

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.”

This is a paradoxical idea, but also something that we understand. Story after story has been told about the villain who wants to avoid death, and how that makes them not only an evil character but ultimately leads to their defeat in the face of a hero who is willing to die for the sake of good. It is the basis for characters such as Lord Voldemort or Darth Vader, and the source of the main plotline in those sagas. In God’s order, we are to leave our needs and safety in God’s hands and concentrate on doing His will and fulfilling His plans.

2nd Wherefore: The Economics of Life

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Today people are all about pleasure, comfort, and luxury. They see spiritual aims in life as being obstacles to those things. They only consider what is being offered in “the now.” They will do nearly anything that promises to make them feel good, and never mind the consequences.

3rd Wherefore: The Logic of the big picture

“For what can a man give in return for his soul?”

When Jesus phrases the exchange this way, it makes more sense. Who would agree to exchange their very life for any amount of money, or a drug, or an experience? It is hard to enjoy that buying power, that high, or that opportunity when you are dead. To make such a trade would be stupid. And what Jesus means is that living outside of God’s Kingdom is like making that deal.

4th Wherefore: The reality of two realms

“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed.”

If what Jesus says—what people claiming to be Christians believe—is true, then there are two realms in life. The way things have been created to be--God’s Kingdom—and the lie that sin has woven—our delusion. How can someone claim to be a follower of Jesus, but remain ashamed and silent about the lie in which people are suffering? It does not add up. Those who are ashamed of Jesus need to reexamine their idea of faith.

If we say that we believe Jesus is the Messiah, then we have to live changed lives. To do otherwise puts our faith into question. We cannot afford to buy into the lie that Jesus Christ may just be our Savior and not necessarily our Lord.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Genus: Vipera

Systematics is a fascinating science. It is a perfect picture of the Modern impulse to try to classify everything, and how feeble that endeavor is. In the Order Serpentes, for example, things change so much. In the three or so decades that I have watched things, the family structure of Serpentes has changed multiple times going from around eight families to eighteen and whole families have been absorbed and split as scientists make arguments for better systems.

This is a fascinating order, and as always I have a hard time narrowing the interesting examples down to a few favorites. So, here are my ten favorite genera from the family Vipera (around 236 total species):

10. Vipera

The “boring” plain genus including the most common, European types is fascinating due to its close association with our Western culture.

Vipera berus Common European Adder

Vipera ammodytes Horend Viper

9. Echis

Desert vipers from Africa and the Middle East. Highly poisonous and interesting due to their tendancy to stridulate. Possible candidate for the “fiery serpents” from the Book of Numbers.

Echis pyramidum Egyptian Saw-scaled Viper

8. Cerastes

Another stridulating, desert species. They bury themselves in sand and wait for passing prey. A picture of this species in National Geographic Explorer Magazine freaked me out about deserts.  

Cerastes cerastes Saharan Horned Viper

7. Bitis

The heaviest, and one of the most beautiful vipers. Gaboons have the longest fangs.

Bitis gabonica Gaboon Viper

6. Sistrurus

One of two genera known as rattlesnakes. These are a little smaller and are often pretty little snakes. Whenever I found a Great Plains Ratsnake in the wild I would always have to consider closely before grapping, as the look a lot like the Massasauga. Pigmy rattlesnakes are so small they are hard to consider threatening.

Sistrurus catenatus Massasauga

Sistrurus miliarius Pigmy Rattlesnake

5. Atheris


Coolest looking?

Atheris hispida Spiny Bush Viper

4. Tropidolaemus

These are famous due to a high concentration that live inside an Asian temple. Supposedly, these worshiped serpents do not bite their adorers.

Tropidolaemus wagleri Wagler’s Pit Viper or Temple Viper

3. Crotalus

The bigger rattlesnake genus. Maybe the most famous and legendary snakes. Some are very beautiful, all are not to be messed with. Crotalus atrox is the only viper I have ever captured and held.

Crotalus atrox Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Crotalus cerastes Sidewinder

Crotalus horridus Timber Rattlesnake

Crotalus Lepidus Rock Rattlesnake

2. Agkistrodon

Boring genus if it weren’t for the fact that the most beautiful North American species of snake belonged to it.

Agkistrodon contortrix Copperhead

1. Bothriechis

The palm vipers are the prettiest, most evil looking things going.

Bothriechis schleglii Eyelash Palm-pitviper

Bothriechis aurifer Yellow-blotched Palm-pitviper

(Photos are from Wikipedia)

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Gravity" (2013)

All cinema is an illusion, but some more than others. “Gravity” is a supreme example of the way filmmakers can create a whole world out of vapor and immerse us into an experience that feels real, intense and amazing—at least insofar as anyone can attest to the validity of such a story as this. Scientists assure us that this film accomplishes more validity than any other, but if they are fibbing who are we to disagree?

The illusion falls apart a bit when it comes to the story. It is slim on plot, precarious on suspension of disbelief, and—for all of its birth imagery—weak on message. But not everything has to be about message. And, there is a sliver of something to be seen here. At least for me, Ryan Stones journey to new birth is a lot about the issue of faith.

There comes a point in the story where Stone is faced with her imminent death. Not the adrenaline fueled, disorienting terror of the first moments on mishap but rather a calm, still knowledge that she is going to die soon. She mourns a bit, prays a bit, and decides to quicken things as much as possible. However in that moment, she has an epiphany. She decides to go out fighting. She hasn’t the tiniest reason to hope he will live out the day, but she decides to fight for life as long as it is in her. She decides to believe that she can succeed. In her words: “Either I make it down there in one piece and I have one hell of a story to tell! Or I burn up in the next ten minutes. Either way, whichever way... no harm, no foul!”

Admittedly it is a weak form of faith. But it does make more sense than accepting defeat before its time has come. In a similar way, life is better when seen through the eyes of meaning, order, and the purpose of a loving creator than the pessimistic, empty chaos of dumb chance. And, if somehow that ends up being optimistic naïveté and there is no meaning, you’re no worse off. In fact, you probably had a better ride.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Poetry Scales

abattoir, brogue, cogitation
dalliance, escritoire, fulmination
gormandizer, hoarfrost, iridescence, juggernaut
kerfuffle, leitmotiv, mummification

naïveté, oubliette, pasteurization
quietus, repertoire, stridulation
tranquilizer, umlaut, vivisection, wanderlust
xenophobia, yashmak, zombification


(part 1 of a possible, planned, 27 part project)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"The Apartment" (1960)

Often considered one of the best “romantic comedies,” Billy Wilder’s 1960 film is indeed amongst the best of the genre because it doesn’t really fit. It is not the simple-minded story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back (or for today’s more common formula, reverse the gender roles), but instead is an almost depressing story of the reality of society’s idea of romance.

In a strange world of 1960s New York, where it seems every man is cheating on his wife, Jack Lemon plays Calvin Baxter, a man who can’t say no. He is therefor used and abused by all his superiors who adopt his apartment as a rendezvous point. Baxter thinks that this will eventually help him climb the corporate ladder. Where love is concerned, he is more idealistic than the other men. He is single but uninvolved. He likes one of the elevator operators in the building, Fran Kubelik, and he is shy but gentlemanly in his pursuit of her.

Fran, on the other hand, is the newest visitor to his apartment. When Baxter’s big boss, Sheldrake, learns of the arrangement he forces Lemon to change things so that only he is able to take a mistress there, and it just so happens that his mistress is Fran. She is not your typical mistress though. She was unaware that the boss was married when she fell in love and has broken things off when she realized he was not going to leave his wife.

However, things start up again when Sheldrake lies about his intentions and takes her to Lemon’s flat. One thing leads to another and Fran realizes that she is simply a plaything and tries to commit suicide in Baxter’s apartment. Baxter finds her, saves her, and nurses her back to health. For that, he earns a huge promotion but is willing to throw everything away when he too comes to his senses. Seeing he is merely being used, he quits to pursue a better career elsewhere.

When Fran hears of Baxter’s action, she realizes at once that he does indeed care for her, and that she too is not showing enough pride in herself. The ending scene is not the typical “happily ever after” scene, but there is potential.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chewbacca (Star Wars Character THoughts)

More Thoughts: Intro, C3PO, R2D2, Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Padme, Han, Chewy, The Emperor, Yoda, Vader, Luke

Chewbacca is one of the more beloved characters in the Star Wars saga, even though he does not really speak a line of dialogue nor do too very much to further the plot. He is the steadfast companion of Han Solo, more like a dog of a best friend than another character. And that is not really far off the mark. Lucas was inspired to create the character by thinking of his own dog. In the background material to the saga, we are told that Han spared Chewy’s life and he has in turn sworn a life-oath to Solo. That is why he is so loyal, but there is a true friendship to be seen there.

And friendship is what we learn from Chewbacca and Han together. It seems to be one of the few strong, committed male friendships in pop-culture that has not been skewed through the lens of homosexuality. In the past couple of decades our culture has become incapable of accepting true, meaningful, male friendship without imagining that there must be some “hanky-panky” going on, even in the absence of any evidence. Science Fiction in the past ten years in particular has really become inundated with the assumption that all advanced cultures would naturally become completely boundary-less where it comes to sex, so naturally they should be at least bisexual and in some cases truly omnisexual with and species being fair game.

The Star Wars saga is one that was created when science fiction storytellers were not obsessed with sex; before the culture regressed into a mass adolescence if you will. Han and Chewy are therefore a great exploration of friendship that transcends a physical or even an intellectual dimension. Han and Chewy’s relationship is certainly not one held together by something as silly as sexual attraction, but it is also not one where they sit around and talk about ideas or interests. They are the epitome of male bonding. Not based on anything more than loyalty and mutual support. It is a relationship that is sorely unexplored in contemporary culture.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

2013 in Film

Film in 2013 was, for whatever reason, less than inspiring. I saw far fewer films in first run than usual, and saw zero of the films nominated for Oscars before they were announced as such. Even now, one day before the ceremony, I have failed to catch up with any of the nine. So, this list will definitely change over the next few months…

(1st update 3/2/14; 2nd 3/25/14; 3rd 4/4/14; 4th 4/26/14, 5th 7/19/14, 6th 9/28/14)

Top Films of 2013:
13. Gravity
12. Oz the Great and Powerful
11. Pacific Rim
10. The Book Thief
9. Saving Mr. Banks
8. Stoker
7. Monsters University
6. Frozen
5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
4. Star Trek: Into Darkness
3. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
2. Warm Bodies

1. About Time

Worst or Most Disappointing Films:
5. Man of Steel
4. American Hustle
3. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
2. Killing Them Softly
1. Fright Night 2

Films I Have Yet to See, But Need or Want To:
12 Years a Slave (Seen)
American Hustle (Seen, BLAH, See Above)
The Conjuring (Seen)
Elysium
Epic
Frozen (Seen 3/28/14)
Gravity (seen 3/2/14)
Her
Much Ado About Nothing
Oblivion
Philomena (Seen)
R.I.P.D.
Saving Mr. Banks (Seen 3/21/14)
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