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Random Randomness, 2/26/2015

He’s Dead, Jim: Well, not so much. Yes, it’s been over a month since my last installment, but I’ve been busy with other random things. On a related note, internet luminary Andrew Sullivan shuttered his influential blog, The Dish, a couple of weeks ago. In the wake of that announcement, some people are grumbling that blogging has been rendered altogether irrelevant by pithier social media like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Beyond 150 words characters and/or a cute puppy, readers lose interest. Sullivan, however, is moving in a different direction:  “I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape,” he said, “rather than be instantly blogged.”

suit

So suit. Such bespoke.

Bespoke: Made to fit a particular person or producing clothes that are made to fit a particular person. This seems to be the Word of the Month, due in part to the premiere of Kingsman: The Secret Service, a slam-bang actioner about well-manicured British spies, in which bespoke suits play a prominent role. I can’t count the number of times in the last few weeks I’ve encountered a reference to bespoke something. Turning to cable TV, I randomly tuned in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s foodie travel show, “The Layover,” and there was Tony, in London, getting fitted for a $1500 pair of bespoke shoes.

Aaagh!

I’m convinced the U.S. media just now learned this is a word and are reveling in the way it spins trippingly from the tongue as it grants the speaker an aura of cultured sophistication unknown on this continent since “OshKosh B’Gosh.” Bespoke, bespoke, bespoke…

I actually have some personal experience with bespoke suits, having ordered a couple from a local tailor while I was stationed in Korea during the ’90s. They take all your measurements, you choose the fabrics, they put it together, and you finish up with a round of alterations to ensure a perfect fit. Best suits I ever owned, and a bargain in Korea, if you should happen to travel there.

"Feed me."

“Feed me.”

I Sense Your Interest is Flagging: Time for a cute puppy photo. His eyes shall penetrate the darkest abyss of your soul and illuminate it with all that is furry and good.

Traveling to Indiana, So You Don’t Have To: I was away at lovely Camp Atterbury, Indiana, last month for a heaping helping of military exercise support. Things went well, and the harshest weather passed us by, so I can’t complain. The austere farm country south of Indianapolis has a certain charm, I suppose, but it mostly facilitated focusing on work. Has Anthony Bourdain ever layovered in Indiana? Hmm. I don’t think so.

The Latest Spiritual Crisis: Yoga pants. Great googly-moogly, people, have we nothing more important to worry about?

Prêt-à-Porter: Ready-to-wear, off-the-rack, off-the-peg. Yoga pants, for example. Not bespoke.

classicaliceThe Year of Living Classically: There are corners of the odorous sausage factory that is You Tube in which some very clever and creative things are happening. Classic Alice is a fun little comedy series about the misadventures of college student Alice Rackham, diligent English major and aspiring author. When one of her essays is returned with a B-minus (!) and a note that her writing is flat and lacks human feeling, Alice and her film-school pal Andrew cook up a plan to help Alice get some life experience to amp up her writing and help Andrew finish his senior documentary project. Alice will select works of classic literature that she hasn’t yet read (beginning with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment) and live according to their plot while Andrew captures the whole experience on video. Of course, nothing goes according to plan, and Alice learns more life lessons than she ever expected. It all happens in 5-minute bites, plus or minus. Here’s a link to all the episodes thus far.

ceresdots

Ceres, with mysterious bright spots.

Space Trifecta: ESA Rosetta, NASA Dawn, and NASA New Horizons are sending back some great photos of Comet 67P, asteroid Ceres, and planet (yes, planet—so sue me) Pluto. They’re just getting started, but the pictures have already provided many surprises, and I think it’s a good thing indeed for our talented scientific community to have their theoretical expectations muddied by a shot of ground truth every so often. Science begins with asking questions, and when you think you’ve got all the answers in a nice, tidy little box, all the questions stop, and so does the science.

Hmm. That also applies to faith, now that I think about it.

Dynasty: A clothier in Itaewon, Seoul, Republic of Korea, specializing in bespoke men’s and women’s wear. I always wondered where Charlie Rangel got those fabulous suits.

Makes a Hard Man Humble: I’m playing chess again, an activity that, like golf, I enjoy greatly until I have a no-good, very-bad day and give it up for a few years, wondering what ever possessed me to think I could be anything but an embarassment to myself. I’m trying to keep my expectations in, er, check this time and plan to play simply for the joy of the game, no matter if my rating descends to a level where the only opponents I can get are senior citizens in Azerbaijan looking for a good laugh. If you want a friendly game, I hang out on Chess.com as ksflw.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2015 in General

 

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Shenanigans

So many things happening in the world right now, and all that springs to the pen is “Deflategate.” Do I care that the New England Patriots’ footballs mysteriously lost a few p.s.i. between the first quarter and halftime of their AFC Championship game versus the Indianapolis Colts? Am I joining the chorus of outrage over what people are calling “shenanigans,” if not outright cheating?

No, but it stirred a few memories. Sometimes you just write what you’ve got. Today, it’s nostalgia.

needleI played with underinflated or overinflated footballs most of my childhood. The genius who invented the scheme of injecting air into an inflatable ball (and it hasn’t evolved much since the glory days of Knute Rockne) decided it should be accomplished via a flimsy hand pump connected to a long, hollow aluminum needle. The needle was inserted into a tiny valve whose logical but inflationally-inconvenient mission was to remain tightly sealed at all costs. An Austrian weightlifter might generate the force necessary to push the needle through the valve, though the average American father would suffice if the needle was first moistened with a little saliva. Employing either the Austrian or the American, the action resulted, at best, in a needle bent into a right-angle. At worst, the needle would snap off inside the ball.

We rarely owned an air pump. When we did have a pump, it was usually missing the needle, which for some unknown reason was always sold with the ball, not the pump, and immediately lost because it was fastened to the ball with a microscopic strip of brittle cellophane tape manufactured in some hellish sweatshop on the other side of the globe. If we didn’t lose the needle, we stepped on it, which bent the needle into a right-angle or snapped it into two pieces in accordance with its design parameters.

flat-footballWhen some quantum instability in the fabric of our universe caused a working pump and an unbroken needle to be simultaneously present in the local space-time continuum, the pump never had a pressure gauge. The very idea was ludicrous. The only air pressure gauges of my acquaintance were attached to hoses at the local gas station, and those devices were useless for inflating footballs. Lacking any precise way to measure the amount of air inside the ball, we pumped until we couldn’t force any more air through the needle, or until our arms got tired. More frequently, we pumped until we broke both needle and pump and returned the universe to its proper equilibrium.

In any case, air pressure, over or under, did not perceptibly improve or degrade my gridiron performance. I can testify that an overinflated football bounced better than an underinflated one.

Most of my organized youth football took place among the misty redwood forests and sulphurous paper mills of Northern California, where it had just stopped raining, was raining, or was about to rain 90 percent of the time. Without tender loving care from an expert equipment manager, leather footballs disintegrated in this environment. Since we weren’t budgeted for a full-time manager, and our team’s storage facility was the coach’s leaky backyard tool shed, all the footballs we used were rubber. They were slicker than goose grease no matter how much or little air someone pumped into them. This did perceptibly degrade my performance.

It was a time before the advent of gloves fabricated with all-weather sticky materials. Our nearest equivalent was a generous coat of aerosol “spray bandage,” a substance remarkably efficient at adhering fingers to each other, rather less effective at adhering fingers to the ball, and useless in medical applications. No matter. We employed such weapons and took such advantages as we could find on our fields of friendly strife, though our local community frowned on using tacky spray to help grip the ball.

Consensus opinion held it was unmanly—and borderline shenanigans.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2015 in General

 

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Weekly Weimaraner, #21

The many moods of Josie:

josie4

She’s fully recovered from the doggie flu and is her usual overclocked, mischievous, insufferable self again.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in Family

 

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A Few Objections to Last Days in the Desert

A Few Objections to Last Days in the Desert

Ewan McGregor is Jesus — and the Devil — in an imagined chapter from his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis, setting himself up for a dramatic test.

First of all, if you haven’t yet, read this excellent pre-review of the film Last Days in the Desert and interview of its director and lead actor by Christianity Today‘s Alissa Wilkerson. She mentions a few likely objections from Christian viewers that director Rodrigo Garcia isn’t terribly worried about, but as word of this project gets around, and after it premieres on January 25th at the Sundance Film Festival, I expect a fair number of keystrokes will fly across the aether as Christians who do worry about this sort of thing debate its merits and demerits. I’ll get to that in a moment.

It sounds like a wonderful, thoughtful motion picture and I admit I’m risking some of what little credibility I might possess by expressing enthusiasm for it sight-unseen, but I think it would be a mistake to overlook it. Even worse would be to dismiss it out of hand because it’s not coming from the parochial Christian film culture we’ve come to rely on for faith-friendly fare.

Can any good thing come out of Southern California? I think Last Days in the Desert might surprise us. Come and see. If you don’t have a local theater that deals in independent or art-house movies, it might not show in your town. It could turn up in a corner of your favorite multiplex if it reviews well at the Sundance Festival, but I don’t expect a wide release or a long stay anywhere. We’ll have to keep our eyes open and hunt for it, but I think it’ll be worth the extra effort.

On to the objections. I’ll be very surprised if I don’t see each of these at some point:

1. The director, lead, cast, and crew aren’t Christians!

As is the case for most films about Jesus. A Christian production company could have made this movie any time (and it’s a little embarassing we tend to overlook simple ideas like this in favor of more flashy evangelistic projects), but for some reason known only to God, the inspiration went to Rodrigo Garcia and company. Perhaps it was in part to help Mr. Garcia find some answers to the deep spiritual questions he’s been mulling for some time.

The fear, of course, is that only Christians could possibly present the true image of Jesus, and anyone else would simply make a mess of it. That perspective neglects to consider the very real mess we Christians routinely make of our role as the living image of Jesus to our world. Last Days in the Desert is an independent film, and those tend to be focused on craftsmanship, not money. This is an extremely talented and accomplished group of people who could have made a movie about anything, but they wanted to make one about Jesus, and they wanted to do it properly—with quality, beauty, and respect. I have great difficulty believing that God would not honor that intent and their effort, even if they don’t know him perfectly. I think Christians should consider granting them respect in like fashion.

2. This is a contrived story only tangentially related to Scripture!

Oh, please. Here’s a burn barrel. Now, deposit every work of speculative Christian fiction involving the Nephilim or elements drawn from the Book of Revelation. Also all historical fiction based on people and events from the Bible. Also every sermon illustration that involves the pastor paraphrasing, impersonating, or otherwise “getting into the head” of any Biblical character. We fill in elements of Bible stories with our reason and imagination all the time, when details aren’t provided. It’s like taking our crayons to a coloring book, and we stay within the lines as best we can. The director and actors seem to be determined to work within the intent and spirit of the Biblical account, even as they add conjectural color and detail in support of their storytelling. Afterward, we can talk about how well they succeeded, but turning away because the script isn’t a direct pull from Scripture is both shortsighted and inconsistent.

3. Jesus and the Devil are portrayed by the same actor!

I seem to recall something about Satan declaring his intent to be like the Most High God. This seems to be perfectly in character, right down to him jazzing up his copy of Jesus’ wardrobe a bit in this movie. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that if the Devil wanted to throw me off my game, he might show up wearing my face as he spouted his lies. It’s also important to note that this film portrays a real Jesus, simultaneously divine and human, and a real Satan. There’s no quibbling or dissembling about whether they are who the Bible claims them to be, and no confusion about which one’s which. It will be interesting to see how the balance between Jesus’ divine and human natures is portrayed. That’s the greatest challenge, and as Ms. Wilkerson notes in her article, most other attempts have struggled.

4. It’s a trap!

Thank you, Admiral Ackbar. Moving right along…

5. Here we go again—white European actors in Middle-Eastern roles!

Sigh. Skin tones and eye color in that region vary considerably, and a even a pale Englishman who’s spent some time in the desert can pass for a local. Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer also fills a key role. Besides, obsessing over the casting choices pretty much misses the point of the film. I suppose we could also beat them up for shooting in the Anza-Borrego Desert southeast of Los Angeles rather than the Negev. Let them tell their story. There will be plenty of time later to de-colonize the world of independent cinema.

6. Ewan McGregor and Rodrigo Garcia got saved!

It isn’t an objection, per se, but I expect we’ll see some of this sort of squee-ing if the Christian audience embraces this film. Hold your horses, Sparky, and read that interview again. While respectful of Christianity, admiring Jesus, and valuing what he teaches, these folks don’t characterize themselves as Christians or particularly religious, though they both had some exposure to the faith as children. They seem to have spent a lot of time pondering who Jesus is and what belief in Jesus implies, and I can’t help but think participating in a project like this has to have had a profound impact on them. Converts? Not likely, or, at least, not yet. On the opposite side of this issue, we might see them take some heat for cozying up to the Christian community or not being critical/skeptical enough with regard to the spiritual element of this story.

There’s more information plus still photos from Last Days in the Desert at its website, http://www.lastdaysinthedesert.com/ , and its Facebook page. I’ll post an update here if any clips or other opportunities for viewing become available. If you happen to live in or near Park City, Utah, the premiere showing is on January 25th at the Eccles Theater, as part of the annual Sundance Film Festival.

UPDATE (26 Jan 2015): A couple of early reviews from the premiere, both very positive: Variety  ScreenDaily

UPDATE (27 Jan 2015): Another review, this one from England, also positive: Guardian.  Meanwhile, CT’s Ms. Wilkinson watched it again, mostly for the chance to see it on the big screen, and she’s glad she did. She’s hearing favorable comments from other Sundance viewers and noted the film is still waiting for a distributor.

For anybody keeping count on the objection front, there’s also a brief posting today at Focus on the Family, relying on advance rumors without an eyes-on review, and expressing concern that Jesus will be portrayed as a “tortured schizophrenic,” a fear that seems unsupported by the reviews so far. (#1)

And I saw one snarky tweet about white guys playing Jesus. (#5)

UPDATE (28 Jan 2015): This was actually posted on 20 January, but I hadn’t seen it. Last Days in the Desert won the Dolby Family Fellowship for innovative use of sound in storytelling, so I expect the film sounds as good as the stills look.

 

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Faith, Media Reviews, Opinion

 

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Book Review: Eon, by Greg Bear

cover_eonOn Christmas Eve In the year 2000, a very strange thing happens. A huge asteroid following a trajectory from deep space enters our solar system and settles into orbit around Earth. Teams from an assortment of nations travel to the asteroid and discover several even stranger things:

1. The asteroid is hollow.

2. The asteroid is larger on the inside than the outside. A corridor runs through its heart that seems to be, for all intents and purposes, endless.

3. The asteroid appears to have been colonized at some time in the distant past and is partially terraformed.

4. There is some unsettling evidence that the colonists were from Earth. Future Earth.

Meanwhile, the longstanding Cold War between America, Russia, and their respective allies is about to become very, very hot. The survival of mankind may hinge on unlocking the asteroid’s secrets in a hurry, but something, or someone, is guarding those secrets—a ghostly presence of immense power, hovering at the edge of perception, intentions unknown.

***

Greg Bear is one of my favorite writers. I can always count on him to deliver a solid science fiction story weighted toward the science side of the house. Eon, however, is showing its age a bit. All speculative fiction assumes a risk that, at some point in time, it will become what we in the Air Force used to call OBE—“overcome by events.” Eon was written in 1985, when the Cold War’s threat of nuclear annihilation was still looming ominously over our future, six years before the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall was hammered into fist-sized souvenir chunks. Bear’s social projections seem naive and clichéd in retrospect, though I doubt many people would have found them unreasonable at the time.

Eon is one of Bear’s early works, and it’s fun to watch him tinker with some of his apocalyptic ideas about humankind and a diaspora into space that will blossom powerfully later in novels like The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars. While he weaves a dizzying web of space-and-time-travel paradoxes in Eon, he struggles with the more subtle complexities of human identity and emotion, leaving us with characters that are workmanlike, but flat. Likewise, his speculations regarding human biotechnical evolution feel at once too alien and not alien enough. He probes the human equation and the unintended consequences of meddling in our own biology with greater impact in stories like Blood Music and, most poignantly, in his novella, “Sisters,” which you ought to seek out and read soon, if you haven’t already.

My biggest challenge with Eon was Bear’s pacing. He takes a long time to get things moving aboard his enigmatic asteroid, and the many pages employed to describe and explain it left me begging for something, anything to happen within this tour de force of worldbuilding. I can’t blame him too much for falling in love with his mind-blowing idea of infinity in an asteroid, but I think focusing on this particular rock so much that the characters seem to serve it in a supporting role hurts the story. There’s also some miring in semi-comprehensible alien politics that devolves into a lot of time spent avoiding a coherent explanation of what’s really driving the climactic conflict.

I’m not used to dragging myself through a Greg Bear tale, though it gained momentum toward the end. Perhaps I’ve become OBE myself.

Anyhow, Eon is a decent read, and particularly interesting for fans of Greg Bear, who will appreciate how he’s grown as a writer over the years.

Link to purchase Eon

Greg Bear’s webpage

>>This review is based upon a copy of the book I borrowed from my local community library, and I have not received any remuneration, special consideration, or promises of fame and fortune (like that’s ever going to happen) from the author or publisher. Opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.<<

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2015 in Book Reviews, Writing

 

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Random Randomness, 1/8/2015

rte66Because sometimes, life is that way.

Get Your Kitsch on Route 66: Returned last weekend from a post-Christmas marathon drive to California to visit my wonderful mother-in-law (seriously wonderful…you should meet her), and other members of our extended family. Much of our 2000-or-so-mile trip was along Historic Route 66, a national treasure of American sentimentality for the open road and the quirky establishments that sprouted along it. Most of the neon art-deco magnificence and a few amusing tourist traps fondly remembered from my younger days have collapsed into a sad litter of Chernobyl-esque ghost towns, more’s the pity.

There are still a lot of truck stops, though, and they offer plenty of almost-collectible souvenirs reminiscent of the old glory days. If you want an authentic Navajo kachina doll (yes, I know), potted cactus garden, Route 66 t-shirt (2 for $10), or a terracotta donkey in fiesta colors, I can hook you up.

Fun Fact: Extracting dog hair from a rental car after a 2000-mile road trip is a living nightmare. It took me two hours, working with three different vacuums, in 12-degree weather, to de-fur our vehicle to the vendor’s satisfaction. It seems our pocket-sized canine traveling companion, Sam, is a four-season shedder, and his coat is a layer of tiny porcupine quills. Ack.

Beulah, Peel Me a Grape: Josie the Weekly Weimaraner is under the weather this week, having contracted some nameless flu-like malady that has reddened her eyes, stiffened her joints, and sapped her energy to such a degree she’s loath to leave her comfy perch on the old sofa near the fireplace. Fear not, she’s on the mend, but she’s enjoying the pampering she’s getting from the rest of the household a bit too much. I won’t post a picture—she hates to be seen in public not looking her best.

thCAU200LXBrave, Brave Sir Robin: Center stage on the internets this week was the horrific terror attack on the Paris offices of the satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead. The global outcry against this barbaric act and its assault on freedom of speech was accompanied by a surge of cognitive dissonance in the media. There was fear of indiscriminate retaliation against innocent Muslims and a nagging discomfort that the speech everyone had rushed to defend flowed from a magazine dealing in grotesque racial caricatures and images that ridiculed all religious faith. An awkward question hovered in the aether:

Might supporting freedom of speech and Charlie Hebdo in opposition to censorship and terrorism and murder put us in league with Islamophobes and racists? Hmm. What to do?

Several major media outlets courageously fuzzed-out photos of Charlie Hebdo cartoons to avoid attracting radical ire upon themselves and some offered not-so-subtle insinuations that the dead journalists had provoked their own murder with their intemperate flamboyance.

It was bound to happen. How could we expect their killers to restrain themselves in the face of such outrage, such cartoons?

I respectfully suggest we not rely on the brotherhood of newsmen to protect and defend our fundamental human rights. It is both sad and ironic that the people in this tragic episode most dedicated to freedom of speech were the ones using this priceless privilege in a manner many of us would find hateful and juvenile. No civilized person would demand their death for speaking their mind, but civilization is a fragile veneer on the skin of humankind, and dark things stir beneath it.

The words of New York World publisher Hayward Broun echo from 1923, and they are not easy or comfortable words: “We must bring ourselves to realize that it is necessary to support free speech for the things we hate in order to ensure it for the things in which we believe with all our heart.” Freedom is easily forfeited in exchange for what seems to be peace and safety. May God grant us the mercy to preserve and defend it.

UPDATE (9Jan15): I’ll let editorial cartoonist J.J. McCullough offer the final word on this issue.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2015 in General, Writing

 

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Merry Christmas!

nativity_icon

In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria). And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  — Luke 2: 1-7

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night divine!

 — John Sullivan Dwight

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Faith

 

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