Monday, March 30, 2015

"Big Eyes" (2014)

I have always liked Burton’s films. That said, I didn’t seek this one out. However, seeing it at a preview event I was pleasantly surprised. It is aesthetically not like Burton’s other works which usually scream out how uncanny and strange they are.

OK, maybe the art of Margaret Keane is a little Burton-esque (or vice-verse) in that it is so instantly recognizable and a little uncanny. However, I think what probably spoke to Burton here was the story of the artist and their art.

Margaret’s is a fascinating story. She thought she simply wanted to make art and see it out in the world. What she eventually discovered was that that was not enough. I suspect every artist would have to admit the same thing. They love their art, but what they love more is their voice. What is the point of being the most successful artist in the world if no one knows it is you doing the communicating? What is the point creating art if you can also provide commentary to go along with the statements? Perhaps some are content to—or prefer even—to remain anonymous, but what no one wants is for someone else to take credit for what is a part of the artist.

The flip-side of all of this story is the frustrating truth that the art world is more than a little bit about salesmanship over artistry. Keane would undoubtedly never have had quite the impact that she did without her husband’s salesmanship. The art establishment at the time saw her work as less than art, but the pop-culture saw otherwise, and that is a lot more about how it was sold and who was buying.

The struggle between creating art and selling it has got to be a terrible one.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Submission in the Civic Realm (1 Peter 2:13-17)

So the first specific example of what Peter has in mind for submission is the area where Christians in western cultures have decided that the Bible does not apply to them. Curiously, it seems that Christians with a bent toward Biblical inerrancy are the guiltiest of this cherry-picking of Scripture.

Depending on how you translate this passage, Peter either tells Christians to submit (or defer or respect, if you insist) to the government or to those in the seats of power in those institutions. Once again, the verb used here does not precisely mean obey. That said, I think most would agree that save extreme instances where governments force you to do evil, obedience is included here. At the very least, calling the current president an idiot is the opposite of what Peter meant.

Some would argue that this passage is not in force today, because we live in a democracy, not a kingdom or empire. Ignoring the fact that they are wrong since most western cultures are not democracies, the form of government does not change the fact that the Bible is calling on believers to show respect to those in power. Even if you choose to disobey laws that go against your ethical standards, you can do so in a respectful manner.

As our culture becomes more and more disrespectful, immature, and ignorant, it is hardly suiting for believers to join into that devolving attitude. Are we incapable of voicing well-thought-out reasoning for our stances on issues? Do we really need to be those running to the front of the pack calling our elected leaders idiots and fools and relishing in their failures?

This sort of thing has been going on on both sides of the political spectrum in Christianity since the turn of the century at least, and it needs to stop. Let’s try praying for our leaders and respecting them for a change. If for no other reason than that is what God has told us to do.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Silverado" (1985)

I think I would have to credit Silverado with being the film that made westerns accessible to me. I grew up with a granddad who could always be counted on to watch a good western or war flick, (when he wasn’t watching Looney Toons) but they never really captured my attention. They were so old and even boring. But when Silverado came around, I was amazed. It felt so contemporary and fresh. It was genuinely exciting. And, even though it didn’t instantly drive me to watch more Westerns, when I got back around to them I had a better appreciation for them, because Silverado is the epitome of the genre.

The themes in Silverado are firmly western. Men being men on a frontier where the law is precarious and people have to fight for a life the way they want it. The man in the old west was a man of high principle and ethics, fighting for his own sense of justice. You can really see why this is the myth that drives the mentality in the western USA.

Then again, you can see why it is just a myth. If you think about it, everyone in this film is coming from the same perspective, both good and bad. They are all willing to fight, kill and die for their own idea of the way things should be. The bad guys want to be in power and the good guys want to have the power of self-determination without some bully taking it away from them. There are bad guys and god guys—there is right and wrong—but the frontier mentality is a little bit of a crazy thing to have nostalgia for.

Unless you truly could just find a patch and have no one to bother or harass you. But then you would really be on your own with no help or rescue if you needed it. It is a romantic dream, but a silly one. I am content to let it be a source of fun moving pictures.


Friday, March 27, 2015

A Pair of "X Files" View Lists

The X Files is probably my favorite series of all time. But like many series, it took it a little while to find its stride. Once you get into season 4, just about every episode is a classic that needs to be watched. At east through season 7, that is. But, for those looking to get into The X Files before it makes its comeback, here are two lists. One of episodes in the first 3 seasons that are recommended for those looking to get into the series. Then another of absolute “must sees” for those who don’t want to be overcome with the sheer magic of watching the whole series.

“Starter Episodes”

1. Pilot (Season 1 Episode 0)

This is a must see to set the concept up, and to see where Scully and Mulder meet. Plus it is really good.

2. Squeeze (Season 1 Episode 2)

It didn’t take long to get a genius, creepy episode

3. Tooms (Season 1 Episode 20)

The antagonist from Squeeze returns, and we meet Skinner. (We skipped E.B.E. which introduced the Lone Gunmen, who are also important reoccurring characters.)

4. The Host (Season 2 Episode 2)

X is introduced, and we get one of the scarier monsters of the series.)

5. Die Hand die Verletzt (Season 2 Episode 14)

A personal favorite, this one addresses a pertinent cultural phenomenon of the time, and has a wonderful villain.

6. Humbug (Season 2 Episode 20)

I think this one took the series to another level, both story-wise, but also in the cultural consciousness.

7. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season 3 Episode 4)

One of the better pieces of writing in television history.

8. War of the Coprophages (Season 3 Episode 12)

Funny and scary at the same time.

9. Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” (Season 3 Episode 20)

This vies for the spot of my favorite episode of tv.

10. Talitha Cumi (Season 3 Episode 24)

I have mostly skipped the mythology episodes on this list. But if you get this far, you may be compelled to go back and see all the series so far. This has deep ideas written into the script. You might be driven to read some Dostoyevsky.

“10 More Must Sees”

1. Bad Blood (Season 5 Episode 12)

Vampires in a small Texas town, and brilliant writing again.

2. How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (Season 6 Episode 8)

Wonderful writing, wonderful acting, creepy and meaningful.

3. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man (Season 4 Episode 7)

A trip through American history, conspiracy, and how the show claims it all went down.

4. Signs and Wonders (Season 7 Episode 9)

A look at faith, religion, good and evil. A wonderful discussion starter.

5. Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5 Episode 6)

A bizarre look at the Frankenstein myth, wonderfully and artistically done.

6. Hollywood A.D. (Season 7 Episode 19)

This one is for those who have made it this far into the series and loved it. It is self-referential and silly, but fun.

7. Small Potatoes (Season 4 Episode 20)

Another comedic episode that delivers.

8. Terms of Endearment (Season 6 Episode 6)

Bruce Campbell in a Rosemary’s Baby redux.

9. Unusual Suspects (Season 5 Episode 1)

The Lone Gunman feature in an episode that takes place before the series began.

10. Arcadia (Season 6 Episode 13)

Mulder and Scully go undercover as a married couple in a town with a bizarre religious approach to H.O.A.s.

If I were to do a list of the remaining episodes that rank a 10 out of 10, it would have 49 entries, so we'll save that for another day.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Justified (Season 2)

In season two of Justified, we get more old-west-style law and disorder. We get more backwoods crime families, questionable greys, and more of one man trying to live by a self-imposed ethic. It is all wrapped up in super smooth dialogue and interaction—people saying one thing while meaning another. And, as in season one, we get more of the fascinating, conflicted bad-guy Boyd Crowder.

But something else we get a lot more of—even more than in season one—is the conflicted righteousness of Raylan Givens. We already know that he has a high sense of justice, and he does not hesitate to judge for himself who has transgressed that justice, or how they need to be dealt with.

This season, however, we see another dimension to his “justice.” When someone he really cares about makes a big mistake and commits a crime, but then comes to their senses and wants to reverse that mistake… He is willing to compromise himself to help them make things right and avoid all the negative consequences.

The thing that makes this so complex is that we can see what he is doing is wrong, but we can also justify it. We might likely do the same thing. And that ends up being the problem when we are the standard of good, right and wrong. We can’t be trusted with justice.

And the idea that we all collectively can do any better is only partially true. We manage to hold checks and balances between each other, but we ultimately betray the concept. Either we fail to be consistent, or we are too consistent.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Star Trek TOS (Season 1d)


Season 1cSeason 2a

Things continue along wonderfully, especially for the time and limitations the series faced. Thoughtful episodes come with regularity at this point.

Episode 23 “A Taste of Armageddon”

Summary: In this brilliant story idea, a culture has solved the problem and barbarity of war by automating the fighting and the casualties. People willingly allow themselves to be killed in order to avoid the inconvenience and devastation of actual war. They think they are so refined and civilized. It takes the outsiders on the Enterprise to open their eyes to just how atrocious their system is. Peace is truly worth the fighting and negotiating required to obtain.

Struggle: The concept is a solid, interesting idea, but the execution is a bit flimsy. One struggles to believe that a culture would subsist like this for 500 years.

Thoughts:

In a day where America was at war, this show had the audacity to critique the concept. That was culturally appropriate and popular at the time, but that a television company allowed it is a testament to how subversive and sneaky the genre can be. In this story, we hear the argument that war is necessary, and should be done as cleanly and conveniently as possible. Peace at tremendous sacrifice. The Enterprise and crew argue that, considering the cost, peace is something for which everyone should instead sacrifice and compromise. Human life is too important to trade for economic prosperity.

Episode 24 “This Side of Paradise”

Summary: The Enterprise is sent to rescue a colony that should be dying of radiation exposure. Instead they find a paradise where everyone is happy and all needs are met. It turns out that this is all thanks to a chemical, so Kirk decides it is a bad thing and he fights to wake everyone out of their drug-induced paradise.

Struggle: The flowers that “control” the colony border on silly, and the one that eventually gets Kirk comes out of nowhere.

Thoughts:

This story wants to argue that an existence without struggle and effort is actually a hellish one. Star Trek is very big on the idea that toil and suffering are essential qualities of human life, and happiness and provision should always be mistrusted. I don’t know that they really thought things through in this instance. Just because suffering is unavoidable does not make it a good or essential thing.

Episode 25 “The Devil in the Dark”

Summary: A mining colony is being attacked by a creature and the Enterprise is summoned to deal with the threat. It turns out that they have disturbed the nest of a subterranean species, and once the misunderstanding is resolved a powerful cooperation is established.

Struggle: Nimoy’s mind-meld is a bit silly by today’s standards.

Thoughts:

This is a great story about the fear of the unknown or different. From both sides of the situation. Misunderstanding and fear lead to death and escalating warfare, but when communication is established, everyone discovers that they are really suited to help each other.

Episode 26 “Errand of Mercy”

Summary: The Enterprise is dispatched to a helpless planet of primitives to protect them from the threat of the Klingons. Kirk is mad when the ignorant pacifists there won’t let him protect them. It turns out, those pacifists are a lot more advanced than anyone thought, and the Klingons and Starfleet are the primitive ones.

Struggle: Star Trek will never get preachier.

Thoughts:

Another story that comes very close to commenting on the context in which the show was made. Star Fleet and the Klingons are so condescending to the “helpless” beings that live on the planet they are fighting over. Kirk is so busy being “morally superior” to his enemy that he has failed to see they are actually the same.

Episode 27 “The Alternative Factor”

Summary: In this mind-boggling episode, the crew contend with a man and his antimatter counterpart who are endangering the universe by encountering each other, battling for supremacy.

Struggle: This whole thing is a mess. One wonders if the writers ever wrapped their heads around their concept.

Thoughts:

This one tries to be too clever and manages to end up dumb.

Episode 28 “City on the Edge of Forever”

Summary: McCoy blunders into the past under the influence of a mind-altering drug and Kirk and Spock have to retrieve him. At the same time, they have to set right something that McCoy changed in the past that has wiped their present out of existence. Turns out, that correction involves making sure a good woman (and a Kirk Love-interest) dies as she originally did.

Struggle: Not much. This is one of Star Trek’s best moments ever.

Thoughts:

Time travel stories are tricky, and this one does not avoid the paradoxes. That does not matter in the end because this is a story about coming to terms with the regret we live with in a world where mistakes are universal. This is not a redemption story either, but more of a recognition of the tragedies we face. The need for redemption is highlighted, but we leave things at that.

Episode 29 “Operation Annihilate”

Summary: Kirk’s brother and family are on a planet that is in a system of planets that are slowly going crazy. Turns out that they are being invaded by pancake-like creatures that possess humanoids and drive them mad. Kirk’s brother and sister-in-law are too far gone to save, but when Spock is infected, they must find a cure.

Struggle: Pancakes hardly appear menacing.

Thoughts:

In a story very similar to “The Body Snatchers” we don’t really get the potential social commentary, just the action.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Take Your Pick: Submission, Deferment, or Respect (1 Peter 2:13-3:12)

The believer’s approach to living in a world that hates them is submission. That is something that most people don’t want to hear today. Peter, inspired by God, is about to tell his readers in every circumstance and relationship that submission is the way we need to relate to each other and the world.

Some will be quick to point out that the word used here does not mean obedience, and that this is a voluntary attitude. They are right, but that does not negate the need for the believer to submit. If you prefer, call it deferment or respect, but this is a challenge that many, many believers completely fail at in current Christianity. Our cultural reinterpretation of what God wants tends to err more towards self-fulfillment, peaceful (or not so peaceful) disobedience, and quite frankly disrespect.

Over the next several verses, Peter outlines the way that Christians should behave as citizens, slaves, wives, husbands, and well, generally. It all amounts to one simple axiom: we ought to be the picture of respect.

So, how is that working out for you?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Discipleship Dance

There is a video mash-up of dance scenes from many movies put to “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon. It takes the enjoyment of musicals and dance movies and pumps up the pleasure to sublime levels. Even though many scoff at such movies—at the way everybody just happens to know the dance moves or the song lyrics—I suspect we all have a level of desire to experience such a world.

And, while it is not a direct analogy, I also suspect that musicals are a good window into what heaven will be like. Into what the Kingdom of God that we already experience should be like.

By that I do not mean that heaven will be a place with spontaneous singing and dancing. (Although it could be.) In musicals there is a soundtrack. The characters do things to the beat of that music. They know the steps, they know the songs, and they dance and sing following the choreography. They don’t necessarily march in lock step, but they all—in their own way—contribute to the big picture. Sometimes they solo, sometimes they harmonize. Sometimes they form a part of the chorus.

In a similar way, the Kingdom of God has a rhythm and a score. When we follow Jesus and trust in God, we know the steps, we know the songs. We live life to the tune of God’s love. His peace and joy are our dance.

In heaven we will experience it in its fullness, but we also experience tastes of it in the here and now. And, if we do well, perhaps people will see the joy and want to join the dance.

(If the video below is unwatchable, the link above will take you to a site that should work.)


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Pathetic Pact

He traded the sea and horizon
For a handful of sand-scratched-out hole
The endless potential of wisdom
For habitation he’d traded his soul
His hovel a burrow of fighting
The tide’s relentless battering blows
All the while his back to adventure
Of the life that is resting in Hope

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Topic: Gothic IV


The churchyard was dark and abandoned
A fact he didn’t notice as he approached and tried the south door.
The churchyard was dark and abandoned
He turned, skirted some headstones and wished he had brought a companion
The nave door too was locked, so he circled to far façade. No door.
Without thought he followed further but the path veered away, in… north
The graveyard was dark and abandoned

He turned around
Even in the light this place was eerie
He heard a sound
A crack, a branch, a step? It was quite loud
He retraced his steps his vision bleary
That this the right path was he was leery
His bearing wound

Again, around

Was that a clown?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Find: "Alle Kinder, ein ABC der Schadenfreude"

One of the more entertaining book discoveries of the past few years, one that I have gifted several times over now, is a kid’s picture book in the spirit of Edward Gorey’s “The Gashleycrumb Tinnies.” It is one of those alphabet books where each page, each picture is devoted to a letter of the alphabet. However, instead of the normal, pleasant kid-friendly items, this book has a series of kids suffering unpleasant situations.

Titled: “All Children, an ABC of Schadenfreude” it rhymes each kid’s name with an unpleasant, often deadly situation. Not all the children are killed. Sometimes the unpleasantness is nothing more than wearing a moth costume to a fancy dress party, or there is even one child who simply refuses to read this inappropriate book.

What is it that causes some of us to enjoy others’ misfortunes? We are told it is normal, but that doesn’t really make it right. Here, however, it is not a normal case of Schadenfreude where we delight in the problems of those who somehow deserve it. These are kids, after all. It really feels more like a little taste of the horror genre. And, in that sense, the pleasure comes from the realization that we are laughing at terrible things. On the one hand we can laugh at the knowledge that we are not facing these “unpleasantries,” but we are also reminded that life has unpleasant aspects. That is an awareness that even kids need to realize.

Just maybe not ONLY with such a book as this.




Monday, March 16, 2015

Know Thyself (1 Peter 2:9-12)

How do we live the life into which we have been born?

In addition to remaining in the Word and the Body, an important step in living the new life is knowing who we are. The language Peter uses here to describe believers is a direct echo of the way God describes the nation of Israel back at Mount Sinai.

When God chose Israel and saved them from slavery in Egypt, He made it clear that their role was to be a nation of priests for the whole world. Their role was to proclaim the greatness of God to the rest of the world and to intercede for the other nations before God.

Israel totally missed this. They mistakenly believed that God had chosen them simply to bless them. Their failure to join God in His mission of calling the world back to Him was their greatest failure.

As followers of Jesus we have been given that role. We are to proclaim the wonders of God; the story of His great love and forgiveness. We are to pray for those around us and call people back into a relationship with God. As a part of that role, we are to behave in a way that brings glory to Him.

There is an important thing to realize about this behavior expectation. We do not live in a way that is pleasing to God in order to earn a new life from Him. We live that way BECAUSE we have been given the new life. We behave in a certain way because of who we are.

Instead, many believers today see their faith through the same mistaken misunderstanding that Israel did. We see our salvation, our new life, as merely a marketplace where God blesses those who please Him. We have a “moralistic therapeutic deism” understanding of Christianity. That is not the Christianity one discovers looking at the Biblical text.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Carnivora (Part 2 Caniformia)

The dog-like carnivors have a bit more variety. Here are my top 14 favorites:

14. Darwin’s Fox (Lycalopex fulvipes )

This little species is exclusive to two sites in Chile, and it is unfortunately not surprising I never managed to see one. There are only an estimated 320 left in existence.

13. Brown Bear (Ursus arctos )

Brown bear
The largest of carnivores (along with perhaps the Polar Bear) these animals can be deadly, but friendly—almost tamed examples have been known.

12. Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda )

10 Month Old Fennec Fox
The cutest of foxes.

11. Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes )

Fox study 6
One of two stunning, red species of fuzzy creatures.

10. Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius )

Spilogale putorius (2)
I like the striped one too.

9. Common Raccoon ( Procyon lotor )

Three raccoons in a tree
I don’t think I would like these as much if I really knew one. Sterling North, however, convinced me I love these.

8. Sea Otter ( Enhydra lutris )

Sea-otter-morro-bay on-back
Watch any video of this little guy and you will understand.

7. Polar Bear ( Ursus maritimus )

Polar Bear - Alaska
I always liked these guys, but one day at the National Zoo in D.C. watching one play underwater made me love them.

6. Least Weasel ( Mustela nivalis )

"Mustela nivalis (two, fighting)" by Ainalem from Ballycastle, Co. Antrim - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
The smallest of carnivores, also one of the more ferocious.

5. Arctic Fox ( Vulpes lagopus )

Alopex lagopus IMG 9019 The coolest of foxes.

4. North American River Otter ( Lontra Canadensis )

LutraCanadensis fullres These guys play. ‘nough said.

3. Giant Panda ( Ailuropoda melanoleuca )

"Panda Cub from Wolong, Sichuan, China" by Original uploader was Sheilalau at en.wikipedia - Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
These animals are proof not only of intelligent design, but graphic, intelligent design.

2. Grey Wolf, Dog ( Canis lupus )

Howlsnow
I have had several of these as friends.

1. Red Panda ( Ailurus fulgens )

Tiergarten Schoenbrunn Kleiner Panda 2
Find a video online of these guys playing in the snow.

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