Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Modern Christian Worship Music Is a Pet Peeve of Mine

They other day I was driving home. The past few months have been incredibly stressful for me. The whole "unable to find a job" thing has been eating away at me like a cancerous worm. I don't want to unnecessarily burden anyone with my struggles, so unless you ask, you'd never know. I'm a pro at putting up a good front, but the past few weeks I've had this cloud hanging over me that I just can't seem to escape. I was also stressed about this show I was in and then I started thinking about my Dad and wishing he was around so I could get some advice and I was in tears. In order to refocus, I turned on a Christian radio station. There were a few good songs that uplifted my spirit. Then I started thinking about the song that was playing just then and I became agitated.

The song was catchy and one that I had heard before. The refrain the singers kept singing over and over at the end was "There is no God like Jehovah." It might seem harmless, but as I thought about it I thought, "That's not true." If you believe in Jehovah, there is no God except Jehovah. When you say there is no God like Jehovah, what you are saying is that there are other Gods besides Jehovah, but none that are like him.

I have since learned that the song is called "Days of Elijah". It's a song that has become really popular in the past 5-10 years in Australia and North America. Some of the phrases from the stanzas include, "These are the days of Elijah", "And these are days of his servant, Moses", "And these are the days of Ezekiel, the dry bones becoming as flesh", and "these are the days of his servant, David Building the temple of praise."

Really? I understand part of the comparison to Elijah because in the days of Elijah the people of Israel were worshiping Baal, a false deity that required acts of child sacrifice (akin to abortion today) and sexual promiscuity (akin to way the "hook-up" culture of today). However, what about the days of Moses? In the context of the song I believe it's referring to when the Israelites were wondering in the desert for forty years, but it's not clear so it could be in reference to before the Israelites left Egypt and were still slaves. If it's in reference to the later, I don't get it because though Christians in America might be attacked, none of us are slaves. If it's a reference to the former, then it doesn't make sense either because as soon as the Israelites left Egypt they started complaining and whining and other than Moses, Caleb, and Joshua there wasn't much crying for righteousness to be restored.

And what about Ezekiel? He was a prophet that God had lie on his side on the ground for over a year and had to cook his food over a pile of animal dung. He prophesied about the coming take over and fall of Jerusalem and exile. He also saw visions about a valley of dry bones coming to life which could be a reference to the future Great resurrection, the new life offered through Jesus, the return of Israel after the Diaspora, or a combination of the three. In the context of the song it seems like they are referring to the new life offered through Jesus. If that's the case, then these are not the days of Ezekiel.

Lastly, as for the days of David, David wanted to build a temple, but he didn't. It was his son Solomon who built a temple to God. God told David that he couldn't build a temple. I know David was a man of praise, but the temple reference suggests that David actually built a temple.

I realize that some believe that I'm over analyzing things. I don't think so. In the past 25 years or so, the Church in America has become incredibly lazy. We write praise songs to God that are supposed to be an offering of worship to him, but in reality all they are really is nothing more than fuzzy, feel good poems that offer God very little, but make us feel much better about ourselves. The theology behind many of them is so bad that a five year-old who has attended Sunday School her whole life has a deeper understanding of God. People usually don't think about such things, but if you really want to worship God you should. Worship is a lifestyle that isn't just about the body, but is about the mind, too.

"Days of Elijah" lyrics
These are the days of Elijah
Declaring the Word of the Lord, yes
And these are the days of his servant, Moses
Righteousness being restored
And these are the days of great trial
Of famine and darkness and sword
So we are the voice in the desert crying
Prepare ye the way of the Lord

Behold he comes
Riding on a cloud
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet's call
Lift your voice
It's the year of jubilee
And out of Zion's hill salvation comes

And these are the days of Ezekiel
With dry bones becoming as flesh
And these are the days of his servant, David
Building the temple of praise, yes
And these are the days of the harvest
The fields are all white in the world
And we are the laborers that are in your vineyard
declaring the word of the Lord

Behold he comes
Riding on a cloud
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet's call
Lift your voice
It's the year of jubilee
And out of Zion's hill salvation comes

There's no God like Jehovah (x8--modulate)
There's no God like Jehovah (x8--modulate)
There's no God like Jehovah (x7)


A Funny Thing Happened On the Way Home From the Forum

A few days ago, I acted in another show opening. After the show I took a disabled friend home who had been a volunteer selling tickets. Before I left, the general consensus was that everyone was going to go to a particular bar afterward. A good friend of mine said she would call or text me if the plans changed. Well, I dropped my disabled friend off and ran a couple of errands. I hadn't gotten a call or text message, yet, so I drove by the local bar. No one from the cast or crew was there. I thought that was kind of funny. I went to a parking lot and played Tetris for awhile and still didn't get any call or message. I sent a text to the friend who was supposed to contact me that I was going home. I didn't notice until later that the message never went out.

On my way home, I tried calling another friend, but I was unable to get a signal. I thought that was a little weird, so I pulled over to the side of the road. That's when I noticed the text I had sent hadn't gone out. I tried calling my other friend, but even though my phone showed I had a signal I couldn't get through. I found that highly unusual. So, I turned my phone off, waited a minuted, then turned it back on. All at once I was bombarded with 8 voicemails and 45 text messages. It turns out the cast and crew and went to a different location after the show, but I was already more than halfway home (about 12-13 miles) so there was no point in turning around. I called and responded to the voicemails and texts from my friends who wanted to know where I was and then came home. I guess that could have happened to anyone, but it only seems appropriate that it happened to me because quirky little disappointments like that happen to me all the time. It's the story of my life. Thus, another experience for this real life Charlie Brown.

Winter Blues

Where I currently reside, they are predicting a winter "storm of the century". It's supposed to have at least an inch of ice (in the form of freezing rain) followed by 12-16 inches of snow or more then followed by 2 days of temperatures hovering around 0° with winds up to 40 miles per hour. Many are saying it will be a combination of the ice storm in 2006, which occurred on my birthday in 2006, that left us out of power for 5 days and the blizzard of 1982, which canceled school and businesses for over a week and you were able to literally dig tunnels in the snow to get around. Winter is the discontent of my soul and this storm is making me detest it even that much more. I wish I had money so I could move to a warmer place or at least somewhere where you're not so abandoned when something like this happens. The place where I live is as close to living in a small fort out in the middle of prairie wilderness that you're ever going to find in the Midwest. I sure hope that groundhog doesn't see his shadow on Wednesday.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Calvin and Hobbes on Pearls Before Swine

This "Pearls Before Swine" appeared in newspapers on Monday, January 17, 2011. I love this strip.

Censoring American Literature

I usually don't agree with the political cartoons drawn by R.J. Matson. However, a few weeks ago (January 9, 2011), this comic appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and it's one that I concur with. I think Moby-Penis is my favorite.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Look Back on 2010

Most people write about, think about, and ponder upon a year during the final weeks of that year. Most "Best of" and "Worst of" lists come out during the last two weeks in a year. Local television stations have a clip broadcast of the year in review a week before the year ends and many newspapers run their top stories of the year a week to two weeks before the year is over. I never understood that. I get the idea of reflection because I reflect and think constantly; one of my most difficult challenges in life is getting quieting my mind. So, during the last few weeks of a year, I'm looking back at it, too. However, I think it's premature to make a "Best of List" or run your "Top Stories" feature before the year is completely over. There might only be a couple weeks left or just the day of December 31st left, but the biggest story of the year might not happen until December 31st. That's why I don't write about these things until way into the next year.

So, 2010. Personally, 2010 was just an okay year. 2009 was one of the crappiest years of my life. My Dad unexpectedly passed away in Autumn 2009 and it through my life so far off balance that I still don't know if I've gotten back on track. There was a lot of other stuff that happened, too. I had looked forward to 2010 with great hope and optimism. On January 1, 2010 I believed the year would bring healing, a fresh start, and new opportunities.

It did bring those things. I still miss my Dad and cry at the most unusual times and there's still a scar in my life where his presence and influence were ripped away. That will always be there, but it's a scar now and not a scab or open wound. I began 2010 working more than I did in 2009 and that was good and the friendship I had with a woman whom I had fallen in love with was back to the way it was before I began my pursuit of her. There were a lot of new opportunities in 2010. I went skydiving. I went parasailing. I had the chance to visit Florida, a state I haven't been to since 1994. I produced my first play and, though audiences weren't huge, it was a success and earned a profit. I starting writing again (though I'm still terribly, terribly undisciplined). I helped a good friend open a museum. I went to a Cardinals baseball game for the first time since they began playing in the new, new Busch Stadium. I became introduced to geocaching. There were a lot of good things.

Despite all of these good and wonderful things, there was one huge negative that has thrown a negative pawl on all the good: I lost my job. Granted it had only been a temp job and one that beginning in February 2010 my hours were slowly cut back from. I spent 22 months at that temp job and they never offered to raise my salary or let me pick up more hours working in the warehouse. Still, it was a job. I have always given my best effort to every job I have ever worked, working as to God and not to men. After a year of being there, it became clear to me that they were never going to bring me on as a regular. I could have quit then, but I didn't. I looked for other jobs, but kept hoping maybe they would change their minds and bring me on as a regular, even if it was part-time. The job wasn't exciting and there were a lot of negative people there, but it was a job. I knew what the economy was like and was happy to be working. But at the end of April, after 22 months there, they let me go. I haven't been able to find regular work since.

I've applied all over. I have a stack of around 150 copies of cover letters I've sent out. I'm registered with three different temp agencies. I call each of them almost every week and have become on a first name basis with some of the workers at each place. I've had a handful of interviews, but nothing promising. I've done some consulting work and odd jobs for friends. I send out 2-10 applications each week, but I've yet to find work. Unless you've been in this situation you have no idea how draining it is.

I try to stay optimistic, but there is a weariness to this whole thing. I knew it has been affecting me, but I didn't know how much until I recently watched part of the remake of DICK AND JANE. I was flipping through the channels in the afternoon before I began to work on my latest stack of application letters and came across it. I remember when I first watched the movie a few years ago and enjoyed it. However, this time was different. I've never had a high-paying job like Dick(portrayed by Jim Carrey) and long ago the possibility of me ever owning a home evaporated. However, I found myself really relating to Dick. The parts that were funny when I first watched the movie weren't funny anymore because they were too lifelike. Unlike Dick, I began my job search immediately and in earnest. I didn't waste time sitting around fiddling. Yet, we're almost in identical places. When I went back to college a few years ago I made a little extra money doing medical tests. I've gained weight since then and because of that, the research facility won't use me. I applied for the United Farm Workers "Take Our Jobs" initiative. I thought that if nothing else I could get a couple months of labor at the end of summer. They turned me down. They tell you in school that a college degree will let you get ahead, but what they don't tell you is that a college degree also knocks you out of a lot of entry level positions. I spent 2 1/2 years substitute teaching, but because of new bureaucratic regulation, I'm having difficulties getting back on the sub list of the district I worked for most. I've been through difficult spells before, but none of it has been like this. It's all really starting to get to me. My spirit is restless and my soul is weary.

I know what I want to do in life. I've been given some very unique gifts and talents. I want to use them and earn my keep through them. In order to do that, there are some things I need to do. In order to do those things, I need some cash. What little savings I had has long since evaporated so to get some cash, I need a job. It's a vicious cycle, but one that I hope I can break away from soon.

On a completely different note, about halfway through 2010 I uploaded some statistic tracking software to this blog. I was curious as to how many visits I was getting, what people were looking at, where they were coming from, etc. In 2010, from the time I uploaded the software in May until the end of the year, I had over 4,000 visits to this blog. Nearly half of those came from a little picture I posted of Snooki when they parodied her on South Park. I knew she was popular, but I never knew how much. My original writings that I've posted here received the least amount of visits. That's kind of a downer, but it's nice to know that the 2nd most visited post of mine is a video I found on the Internet with Brian Welch and his testimony of how he became a Christian.

I've never really been concerned about becoming a famous blogger. If I was, this would be a much more "focused" site devoted to one topic or area. But, it's not. It's a blog about me, the things I like, enjoy, find interesting or thought-provoking, etc. As long as I keep blogging here, that's the way it will be. Cheers.

Best Video Game of 2010

Red Dead Redemption

I'm really not a very big gamer. Most gamers I know play some sort of game almost every night and at least every day during the weekends. They really get into the multi-player levels and stay up into the wee hours of the morning playing Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2, or the latest Halo installment with people from all over the country. I only play once every few weeks. I've played the online multi-player stuff a few times, but after a few times I get bored with it. Personally, what I like most about modern video games are the stories (aka campaign modes). Graphics are important, but if a game with just average graphics has an amazing story then I'll probably really enjoy it. It's even better if the game has great graphics and a great story.

For me, Red Dead Redemption was the best video game I've played since Kingdom Hearts (back in 2002). I got caught up in the story of John Marston the same way I've gotten caught up in reading the Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings or watching the original Star Wars for the first time. I was swept away. I became emotionally invested and emotionally tied to the story. The story is a great one and as the title says, it's all about redemption (a theme I feel strongly about). If I had access to the right amount of cash, I'd buy the rights from Rockstar and begin writing the screenplay. I'd like to see this game made into a film someday. I'd like to do it, but if I'm not able to I hope that whoever does will do the story justice.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Makes a Hero?

According to a recent study publicized last week by USA Today, 20% of Americans have acted heroically. "The study, supported by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford, asked participants "Have you ever done something that other people — not necessarily you yourself — considered a heroic act or deed?" Those who answered "yes" selected from a list the actions most similar to their own: helping another person in a dangerous emergency; "blowing the whistle" on an injustice with awareness of the personal risk or threat to yourself; sacrifice on behalf of a non-relative or stranger, such as an organ donation; defying unjust authority; or other. Among the 20% who met the survey definition, 55% had helped someone during an emergency, 8% confronted an injustice, 14% had defied unjust authority and 5% had sacrificed for a stranger.

So, according to this survey, 1 out of every 5 Americans considers something they have done heroic.

That's a load of crock. To begin with, exactly what did these respondents do. For instance, 14% said they had defied unjust authority. What authority did they defy and what made that authority unjust? I've had troublesome high school students who would say I was being unjust in class and they defied me. Does that make their defiance heroic? What defines a dangerous emergency? Are you talking about burning buildings and people drowning during rough weather at sea or is it more like stopping to help a person with a flat tire on the Interstate on a cold day? What "injustices" were confronted? Did they lose their job because they told their boss the racial joke they made was offensive or did they just tell a friend they didn't like a joke they told and the friend got mad at them for a few days?

You're not a hero just because you do the right thing. The term "hero" is used too often in our society. It's commonly bantered about and has lost a lot of the chutzpah of the meaning. A hero is someone who consistently sacrifices over an extended period of time, often at great risk to themselves (meaning they could lose everything they own and their life is in danger). 20% of Americans haven't acted heroically. They've just done the right thing. I think the real percentage of people who have been heroic is closer to 2%.

Most Overrated Movie of 2010

What's the most overrated movie of 2010?

Black Swan
I really wanted to like this movie. I had a choice to see either Black Swan or The Fighter. I had just got done hearing a couple of rave reviews on the radio for Black Swan so I chose it. I should have watched The Fighter instead. Natalie Portman gives an Oscar-worthy performance, but even with that I could barely keep watching the movie. You probably won't read this in any film reviews, but the movie is vulgar, trashy, disturbing, and at times completely incomprehensible.

SPOILERS: Stop reading if you don't want to know what happens.

And seriously, do we really need a female Fight Club? The whole split personality thing that Hollywood is so fascinated with has gotten stale. For the next several years, if you make a movie or write a story and the only way it makes sense is that the protagonist is also the antagonist because of a split personality, then you probably should just stop writing because your story is probably crap. There are only a handful of people in the whole world that have split personalities but if you believe and are influenced by Hollywood you'll be thinking there are thousands and thousands of people like that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Best Movies I Saw in 2010

Here is my list of the best movies I saw in 2010. It isn't a Top 10 List because I quite honestly, I didn't see enough good movies in theatres in 2010 to get a Top 10 List. There are a couple of films (The Fighter and 127 Hours), that I believe I would have added to my list, but I haven't seen them, yet, so I just had to go based on the movies I actually saw in movie theatres in 2010. There's one exception to this and that's my only honorable mention. Unlike most critics, I've included movies I actually enjoyed and believe are worth watching, even if they are popular movies. Just because a movie is hugely popular doesn't mean it can't be one of the best movies of the year. So, without further ado, here are the Best Movies I Saw in 2010.

Honorable Mention:
The Silo Project
In full disclosure, the director of the documentary The Silo Project is a friend of mine. However, I think even if I wasn't friends and I had stumbled upon this short documentary, I would have been impressed. In the Fall of 2008 a young musician collaborated with several other musicians and recorded a folk album in the center of an abandoned grain silo. The director, Joel Hager, was there to record the process. I have the album that was recorded there and the music is fresh, vibrant, catchy, original, fun, and at times thought-provoking. However, I'm a film buff and I like the documentary even better. It's rather short (around 40-45 minutes), but Hager has talked about perhaps lengthening it in the future. Besides the stories and some of the interesting quotes by the people in the movie, what I find most fascinating are the visual images. This wasn't a staged mockumentary or a recreation and this stuff really happened. Kudos to Joel Hager for being there and capturing these images on film and sharing them with the rest of the world.

The story in Devil is from M. Night Shyamalan and he's also the producer of the film. The premise is that a group of people find themselves trapped in an elevator. Unnatural occurrences happen, people are killed, and it becomes clear that one of the people in the elevator is actually the Devil. Shyamalan has worked in a lot of drivel lately and taken a lot of crap. I know he didn't direct Devil, but his handprints are all over this movie. The film is a classic, nearly Hitchcockian thriller with a little bit of visual gore thrown in for good measure. It's also a Renaissance morality tale about the nature of good and evil, light and dark that explores if a person's soul can be redeemed.

The Other Guys
Comedies are rarely considered by critics on their "Best Of" lists. I guess it's because if something is funny it can't be taken seriously. However, I'm not like that. The funniest movie I saw in theatres this year was The Other Guys. It's a spoof of all the American buddy action films that have ever been done with a storyline focusing on white collar crime that's never been more relevant with just a little bit of Will Ferrell thrown in for good measure. Seeming to parody a version of himself that he played in Stranger Than Fiction, Ferrell is an accountant that also happens to be a cop. He's the exact opposite of what a cop is supposed to be. Surprisingly, Ferrell is the straight man in this movie and his partner, played by Mark Wahlberg, is the funny man. Wahlberg has had a mixed bag of roles, but he's a better actor than he's usually given credit. The Other Guys allows him to shine as well as displaying some comedic acting chops. There's not really much bad language in this movie, the violence is either realistic or cartoony, and the sexuality has really been toned down. It's one of both Ferrell and Wahlberg's best movies in years.

Despicable Me
2010 was a great year for animated movies. Three of my favorite films are animated ones. The first is Despicable Me with Steve Carell. With my father's sudden passing 15 months ago, I've become a real sucker for movies about Dad's, even funny animated movies about a man who's an evil genius and just wants to be the biggest villain in the world. The story is charming, but the added bonus are the Minions. You should watch this movie for these creatures alone.

Megamind is another quality animated movie about an evil supergenius is wants to rule, except Megamind isn't really interested in ruling the world, just the place he lives, Metro City. Except, Megamind was never supposed to be a villain. He was supposed to be a hero. The movie is full of vibrant colors and strong voice performances. It's a movie about redemption and fulfilling one's potential. Dreams delayed are not necessarily dreams denied.

Book of Eli
THE BOOK OF ELI probably isn't making a lot of "Best Of" lists. It came out in the dumping grounds of Hollywood (January/February). It wasn't received by critics very well, it didn't reach that magic threshold of a hundred-million dollars, and there were complaints about how violent the movie is. With that said, THE BOOK OF ELI is a good movie and one of the best movies I have ever seen about faith. The movie is filled with religious symbolism, some of it overt and much of it subtle. If you're a person of faith, it's a movie you should see.

The Social Network
The Social Network is a movie that's at the top of a many critic's lists, it's won all kinds of awards, and right now it's the odds-on-favorite of taking home the Best Picture Oscar. Some have even hailed it as being "the Citizen Kane for the Facebook Generation". I completely disagree. I grant that The Social Network is a good movie. It has a solid script with some great performances. However, Jesse Eisenberg, a talented actor, is basically playing the same character he played in The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland, etc. He's once again the geeky man with a childlike demeanor. The movie breaks no cinematic barriers and beyond a few incidents, the story is rather dry. After watching the movie and hearing the critics rave beforehand, my initial response was "That's it?". It's a good movie, with some wonderful direction, and solid acting but it's really not the grand masterpiece so many are claiming it to be.

True Grit
When rumors of the Coen brother's production of True Grit came out the word on the street was "Did you hear they're remaking a John Wayne movie?". That's not really true because the Coen's didn't remake a John Wayne movie; they made a movie based on a novel that had already been made into a movie that starred John Wayne. Wayne's starring turn in True Grit was a movie that was all about Rooster Cogburn. The Coen's True Grit is truer to the spirit of the novel and the story is one seen from the perspective of Mattie Ross. There are similarities between the two films and some of the dialogue is identical. Where those similarities exist it is because both films take them directly from the novel. True Grit has done rather well at the box office and has become the Coen's most profitable picture. Still, the movie hasn't garnered as much respect among critics. I think the reason for that is that most critics have a bias towards Westerns, just as they do towards sci-fi, fantasy, and animation.

No matter how you look at it, Inception is one of the best movies of 2010. The film has a great script (it's really not that difficult to understand), excellent acting, and ground-breaking cinematography. Decades from now people will look back on Inception as the movie that set a new standard. I liked everything in the movie but the ending. When a filmmaker leaves a movie that has only one of two outcomes and so much depends upon that outcome, but then it's never resolved, that is bad filmmaking; have the guts to finish the story that you told and don't give some bull crap answer "it's up to the audience". Give the audience their money's worth and finish the story. Still, even with the open ending, Inception is a ground-breaking movie and one of the best of 2010.

Toy Story 3
Pixar is the best filmmaking studio in the world. Their films might all be animated, but every single one of the Pixar movies is an achievement in storytelling, direction, character development, cinematic vistas, and ground-breaking cinematic techniques. Bring all that together as well as one of the few cartoons you'll ever watch that'll make most grown men cry and you have Toy Story 3. Sure, at face value it's the last part of a trilogy and is a movie about toys. But, it really isn't. The Toy Story movies were never intended as a trilogy. They just happened that way. That's why each movie stands on its own. Unlike most trilogies, it's not necessary to have seen the previous installments to understand the movie. Beyond that, Toy Story 3 is a movie about what it takes to be a hero. It's a movie about friends, family, growing up, growing old, and finding your place in a world that doesn't want you. The movie has villains and despite this being a cartoon about toys, one of the toys is a would-be murderer. The movie is about faith, joy, and love. It's a movie about all that is good in the world; it's a modern fairy tale. All of that in about ninety minutes in an animated movie featuring a bunch of toys. That is a fantastical feat of filmmaking that makes Toy Story 3 the best movie of 2010.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Justin Timberlake

I'm not a fan of Justin Timberlake. He has a smidgen of talent and is completely overrated. However, I always assumed he was intelligent. That was until I read an interview with him in the Oct. 8, 2010 edition of Entertainment Weekly. His quotes say it all.

On whether or not he will be making another album: "All I'm saying is, in very simple terms, I'll know when I know. And until I know, I don't know."

On if there is anything he would like to do in movies that he hasn't: "You talk about film with me, I'm like an open flesh wound. But in good ways, too. Sensitive to everything, sensitive to what could be great, afraid of success and afraid of failure."

Best Books I Read in 2010

What follows is a list of the best books I read in 2010. A few of the books were published in 2010, but most were published in previous years. This is a list of the Best Books I Read in 2010. There's a wide variety in several different genres. If nothing else, I hope this list encourages you to check some of these books out.

Honorable Mentions:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
You really can't go wrong with a classic. I reread this a few years ago when I was teaching. The story is still as fresh, exciting, frightening, and challenging as it was when I first read it in high school. In a society where we seem intent on creating different monsters everyday, it will always be relevant.

Catalog #439: Burlesque Paraphernalia Edited by Charles Schneider
This book of oddities is a reprint of a catalog that was first published in 1930. Today's readers might find it difficult to imagine that such devices of humor were ever constructed, but they were, at a small plant in Greenville, IL by the DeMoulin Brothers. The company still exists, but they produce band uniforms. However, you can see some of the unique devices of Americana found in this book at the DeMoulin Museum in Greenville, IL.

Shapes and Colors by Richard Thompson
"Cul de Sac" is a comic strip that I have become familiar through the collections and online. The strip has some real imagination to it and I think it will become very popular in the next few years. The strip revolves around little Alice Otterloop and her family. Bill Watterson wrote the introduction to the first collection of strips and hailed the strip. This book is only the third collection of the strip and having read the previous collection, I can see some real growth in the strip. Check out "Cul de Sac" before it becomes the next big thing.

The Deranged Stalker's Journal of Pop Culture Shock Therapy
by Doug Bratton
About two months ago, I was introduced to the one-panel online comic "Pop Culture Shock Therapy". I found it hilarious. This book is a collection of some of the earlier and most popular of the strips. The format of the book is that this journal was found in the home of a psychologically deranged stalker of the author, Doug Bratton. The concept is, albeit a bit disturbing, makes for some funny reading.

The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub
The story of a young boy who finds he has a magical gift and sets out on a journey into a fantasy land as well as across real-world America, mid-1970s to heal a queen and save his own mother. The conclusion is a little weak, but the overall story is an engaging and powerful one. One of the better King books I've read in the past few years.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Baum's masterpiece was the first modern American fairy tale and it's as imaginative today as it was when I first read it as a child. The 1939 movie whitewashed some things and left others completely out. The original book is more dark and magical than that famous movie. I was in a production of The Wizard of Oz last year and read several Oz books as well as a biography about Baum as part of my preparation. Re-reading the book again after all of that made me appreciate this story even that much more. In many ways, the book is a parable of Baum's life. And now I know why Dainty Chinaland exists.


The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein
As anyone who works with youth and young adults know, despite having more opportunities before them than any other generation in history, overall the under-thirty generation in American is dumber than any before. The Dumbest Generation illustrates why this is and what can be done to prevent the oncoming disaster that could happen as a result. I read a wide variety of books, including several nonfiction books and The Dumbest Generation is the most statistically supported nonfiction book I have ever read.

On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells
Out of all the children's and young adult books I read in 2010, On the Blue Comet was my favorite. The illustrations in the book are lavish; there might not be many of them but with the few there are it's like walking through an art gallery. The story is set in the Great Depression in Cairo, IL and involves time travel and trains. The protagonist of the tale, a boy named Oscar, meets several larger than life historical figures who are just normal people to him.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia are my favorite series of books of all time. I've read them several times. With the advent of the new movie, I thought it was a good time to go back an re-read the 3rd (yes, it's the 3rd and not the 5th) book in the series, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Paralleling the historical acts of the Church, Caspian and crew set out from Narnia to travel beyond the edges of the world to find the 7 missing Lords who served his father. They are suddenly joined by Edmund and Lucy Pevensie as well as their dastardly cousin, Eustace Clarence Scrubb. The book has one of the greatest opening lines in all of literature and the tale is just as magical and memorable as the previous two books, but with even more spiritual and theological depth.

The Dark Tower: The Fall of Gilead by Robin Furth, Peter David, et al
I have yet to read "The Dark Tower" series by Stephen King. However, I have been keeping up with the graphic novel translation of the origins of the story produced by Marvel. Fall of Gilead is the second to last collection of the books that tells the origins of Roland Deschain and how he began his lifelong quest to get to the Dark Tower. This book tells the story of how Gilead, the fabled city of good and righteousness and home of Roland, was attacked, conquered, and destroyed. If you know anything about the Dark Tower, you know that Roland is the last of his kind and the only living survivor of Gilead. However, even with that knowledge the tragedy of the story is not diminished and in some ways makes the heart-wrenching scenes between fathers and sons even more poignant.

In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson
Simply the best book on Christian living that I read all year.

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose
There is a cultural conflict brewing in America. The divide is between two completely different ways of living. Kevin Roose went undercover and spent a semester at Liberty University to see how the "other side" lived. For Kevin, the other side are fundamental, evangelical Christians. Other than writing a book and really trying to understand a lifestyle unlike his own, I don't think Roose really had an agenda while at Liberty. His book presents an honest look at what someone who isn't an evangelical Christian thinks. There were certain beliefs that Roose wasn't going to change no matter how much everything at Liberty showed him otherwise (his beliefs about homosexuality and the creation of the universe, for instance). However, he did try to be open and he came away from the experience being able to be a person who could at least hold a dialogue with someone from the "other side". This is a book I think both Christians and non-Christians could benefit from reading.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahme-Smith
I'm a sucker for a good story. I'm especially a sucker for a good story seeped in history. Even though Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a work of fiction, I learned more about Lincoln, his adversaries, and certain aspects of the Civil War than I did from all my other studies and growing up in Illinois combined. The story is imaginative, exciting, and gripping. I will admit that the ending almost ruined the book for me. Still, I was so impressed by how much the author used real historical events and people to fit into his fictional universe that the ending wasn't able to ruin the rest of the story. I read a lot of different books in 2010 (over 100), but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was my favorite.


It might be smelly, but poop is fascinating. Just ask any kid who has read or been read to EVERYONE POOPS by Taro Gomi. The discussion of such a topic can easily lead to toilet humor, but when you’re talking about poop, that’s to be expected. EVERYBODY POOPS 410 POUNDS A YEAR is kind of the adult version of EVERYONE POOPS. It’s a tasteful, yet humorously illustrated book full of facts about poop. Through a series of illustrated diagrams, the book shows what happens to your poop after you flush it. It also tells you what different colors and shapes of poop mean, why you can see corn in your poop, the things people used to use before toilet paper, and whether or not you can use your poop for fuel. The two tidbits I found most fascinating were that:
  1. When horses were still the major source of transportation, there were 100,000 horses in New York City that produced 2.5million pounds of manure a day. In the winter the city built up an interesting mixture of snow and manure that raised the street levels up to five feet. That’s why the buildings in the historic district have lifted, second-story stoops.
  1. The Chicago River used to flow into Lake Michigan. However, the Chicago River is also where the city used to dump all of its waste. This was a problem because Lake Michigan is where they got their water. So, instead of actually dealing with their sewage problem, the people reversed the course of the Chicago River so it no longer flowed into Lake Michigan, but eventually flowed into the Mississippi River instead. Talk about being caught up s*#t creek without a paddle.

I thoroughly enjoyed EVERYBODY POOPS 410 POUNDS A YEAR. I found it entertaining and educational. It’s a great “adult kid’s book” (as the blurb on the back says), but I just wish it were a little longer.


Twenty years after THE SMURFS cartoon was canceled by NBC, the Smurfs are making a major comeback. Part of that comeback is the collection of the original 27 Smurfs comics being published in English. THE SMURF KING is the 3rd book in the series and features two separate stories, “The Smurf King” and “The Smurfony”.

In “The Smurf King”, Papa Smurf leaves the village for a few weeks to gather some Euphorbia leaves. Without any leader, the village soon breaks out in a series of arguments and fights. They decide to have an election to vote who should be their leader. An unnamed Smurf makes a series of promises and uses some political tactics to ensure he gets almost all of the votes. He is elected their leader. However, instead of Papa Smurf’s paternal wisdom and leadership, the elected Smurf dons gold garb and proclaims that he must be addressed as the Smurf King. The Smurf King makes enemies and those who resist are either imprisoned or sneak into the forest to join the resistance. The conflict soon leads to an all-out war.

In “The Smurfony”, Harmony Smurf is rejected from the Smurf orchestra because he plays so badly. Harmony is saddened because he longs to be a part of the orchestra. While pondering his fate in the woods, he meets a fairy who gives him an instrument “she” promises will make him play well. The fairy is actually Gargamel in disguise and the instrument he gives Harmony is a turlusiphon which puts all the other Smurfs into s deep sleep. Harmony realizes what has happened and sneaks into Gargamel’s lab to look for a cure.

THE SMURF KING is easy to read. It’s fun and entertaining. I vaguely remember “The Smurfs” episode based upon THE SMURF KING, but instead of an unknown Smurf who is elected Smurf King, the cartoon featured Brainy Smurf as the King. The strips in the book are full of bright color and a person can almost understand the whole story without reading any of the dialogue. Adults who grew up in 1980s watching THE SMURFS will probably enjoy THE SMURF KING, but it’s also a good book for kids who enjoy comics or as a way to introduce children to The Smurfs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who Knew?--Crazy Horse Statue

My parents had the opportunity to see this statue over 30 years ago. I had always hoped that I would have the opportunity to see it in its finished glory.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pearls Before Swine and Gumby

Monday, January 3, 2011

Who Knew?--1/11/11

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Sway of Twitter

“It says that no one really knows who he is but that he has 400,000 followers on Twitter.”
Rina Picollo
Parade Magazine Sunday, January 2, 2011 to Cut Ties With the Citizens of Illinois

Thanks to the boneheaded state government (which is supposed to be in a "lame duck" session), is going to eliminate all of its Amazon Associates who live in Illinois. For those who don't know, the Amazon Associates program is a program that Amazon has that allows people to place links for Amazon on their websites. If someone goes to Amazon through a link on an Associates site and purchases something at Amazon, the Associate gets a small fee (usually one or two cents). Lawmakers in Illinois have voted for a 6.25% tax on online retail purchases. The levy, which still needs the governor's approval, would apply to goods bought through affiliates of online retailers that take in least $10,000 worth of annual sales in the state. To avoid the hassle of dealing with 9,000 affiliates who live in the state Amazon has decided to terminate all Amazon Associate accounts in Illinois. Amazon is just the first company to do so and has announced they will follow suit and several other large online retailers are planning the same.

Here is a copy of the email I received today:

Greetings from the Amazon Associates Program:

We regret to inform you that the Illinois state legislature has passed an unconstitutional tax collection scheme that, if signed by Governor Quinn, would leave little choice but to end its relationships with Illinois-based Associates. You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Illinois. If our records are incorrect, you can manage the details of your Associates account.

Please note that this not an immediate termination notice and you are still a valued participant in the Amazon Associates Program. But if the governor signs this bill, we will need to terminate the participation of all Illinois residents in the Associates Program. After that point, we will no longer pay any advertising fees for sales referred to, and nor will we accept new applications for the Associates Program from Illinois residents.

The unfortunate consequences of this legislation on Illinois residents like you were explained to the legislature, including Senate and House leadership, as well as to the governor's staff.

Over a dozen other states have considered essentially identical legislation but have rejected these proposals largely because of the adverse impact on their states' residents.

Governor Quinn's office may be reached here.

We thank you for being part of the Amazon Associates Program, and wish you continued success in the future.




There's a chance that the legislation can be stopped, but only if the governor doesn't sign the legislation. Contact Governor Quinn's office here and ask him not to sign the bill.

Whitewashing Huck Finn

In case you haven't heard, a professor at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama named Alan Gribben is coming out with a dual edition of Mark Twain's classics TOM SAWYER and HUCKLEBERRY FINN. In the books Gribben has deleted all uses of the word "injun" (such as Injun Joe) and changed all uses of "nigger" to "slave". It doesn't surprise me because it seems that the more politically correct our institutions become the crazier society becomes. However, I think it is a terrible idea that's not only a complete disrespect to Twain, but an attempt to whitewash history. You can't eradicate the past. What has been done has been done. If you pretend to ignore it, society will eventually repeat those mistakes. Gribben maintains that his version will allow the books to be taught in more schools and allow more students an opportunity to read the books. However, at a deeper level Gribben's edition of the books does the exact opposite of what he claims.

I like how Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times puts it: "Haven’t we learned by now that removing books from the curriculum just deprives children of exposure to classic works of literature? Worse, it relieves teachers of the fundamental responsibility of putting such books in context — of helping students understand that “Huckleberry Finn” actually stands as a powerful indictment of slavery (with Nigger Jim its most noble character), of using its contested language as an opportunity to explore the painful complexities of race relations in this country. To censor or redact books on school reading lists is a form of denial: shutting the door on harsh historical realities — whitewashing them or pretending they do not exist."

Read more the whole The New York Times article here.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Media Consumed: December 2010

Books Read
The Odyssey Homer
*Benny and Penny in the Big No-No Geoffrey Hayes
+The Best of FoxTrot, Volume I Bill Amend
*The Sons of Liberty, Volume I Alexander & Joseph Lagos
Candle, Star and Christmas Tree Charles Albert & Charles Wallis
People of Show & Awe Adam & Andrew Kipple, Luke Wherry
Voyage of the Dawn Treader C.S. Lewis
+Tastes Like Chicken Scott Hilburn
+I'm Tempted to Stop Acting Randomly Scott Adams
Danger Zone David Klass
+Big Nate from the Top Lincoln Peirce
The Great Typo Hunt Jeff Beck & Benjamin Henson
+The Best of FoxTrot, Volume II Scott Adams
+Christmas is Together-time Charles Schulz
+Shapes and Colors Richard Thompson
*The Smurf King Peyo
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus L. Frank Baum
True Grit Charles Portis
The Complete Idiots Guide to Geocaching
Better Than Life Daniel Pennac
*The Odyssey, Graphic Novel Gareth Hinds
In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day Mark Batterson

December was the most productive month of reading I have ever had in my entire life. I completed reading 22 books in December 2010. That's the most I've ever read in a month. Not only that, but it allowed me to reach a goal of mine I've had most my life: reading at least 100 books in a year. It has now been achieved. Not only that, but two of the books I read last month are two of the best books I read during the year.

Those two books are Shapes and Colors and In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. Shapes and Colors is a comic strip collection of the comic strip "Cul de Sac". It's written by a man named Richard Thompson. The strip is a notable one and is really beginning to find it's stride. It's a strip that the elusive Bill Watterson (of "Calvin and Hobbes") is a fan of; he wrote the introduction to the strip's first collection. On the other hand, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day is a non-fiction Christian book. It's one of the best Christian books I've read in a long time. It's full of great info, advice, and suggestions. I will be posting a few quotes from it on my blog from time to time.

As for the other works, it was nice to completely re-read The Odyssey again. I first read it in college. I read most of it again a few years ago when I was teaching. It's a great story. I read the Robert Fagles translation this time; I can't read Greek so I'm not sure how close his translation comes to the original, but his version flows together really well.

The Sons of Liberty, Volume I is an interesting graphic novel worth investigating. It's about two run away slaves just before the time of the American Revolution who are found my the son of Ben Franklin. He performs electrical experts on them which give them superpowers. The book is well drawn and the story is highly intriguing.

The Chronicles of Narnia are my favorite books, but I re-visited Voyage of the Dawn Treader so I could clearly know the differences between the new movie and the book.

Danger Zone is a very well-written young adult novel that revolves around basketball, but is really about racism, terrorism, and identity. If you're an English major or love grammar and fixing typographical errors, check out The Great Typo Hunt. It's an entertaining and educational true story written in an epic style about a group of people (2 men mostly) who spend several months traveling around the country fixing typographical errors and educating people about grammar and mechanics.

Lastly, I read True Grit so I could compare the new Coen movie to the actual novel. The John Wayne movie is a good movie. The Coen version of the novel is just as good, but it's a different type of movie. However, the novel is the best of all three.

Movies Viewed for the First Time
One Night in the Tropics
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
*Johnny Tremain
Public Enemies
Tron: Legacy
True Grit
Patchwork Girl of Oz
His Majesty, the Scarecrow
Magic Cloak of Oz
Speed Racer
Hey There, It's Yogi Bear!
Yogi Bear
For Your Consideration
Lost Reality
Keep 'Em Flying

I thoroughly enjoyed both Voyage of the Dawn Treader and True Grit. True Grit is a better adaptation of the novel on which it is based, but Dawn Treader keeps true to the spirit of the novel and all of the vital parts (spiritual elements) of the original story are there.

Valiant is an excellent animated film that no one seems to know about. I highly recommend it for families with kids.

I enjoyed Hooper and For Your Consideration. Though not great, both are good movies that aren't a waste of your time.

One Night in the Tropics was the first of two Abbott & Costello movies that I watched. Tropics was the first film they appeared in. The other Abbott and Costello movie I watched was Keep 'Em Flying. It's the Air Force Abbott & Costello movie and has a couple of sly references to both Buck Privates and In the Navy.

Lastly, I found Speed Racer to be an atrocity. It's like a mash-up of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Dick Tracy with a bunch of racing stolen from Super Mario Kart.