Friday, December 21, 2007

On the subject of religious hypocrisy

Why is there such a big gap between what we say and what we do?

My wife is going to hate me for again using one of her best friends as an anecdote, but I can't help it. She's a living, breathing object lesson. This friend, an evangelical, had a conversation with my wife yesterday lamenting that Jesus is the "reason for the Season" (if someone says that to my face, I'm going to punch them in the neck ... or I would if I wasn't non-violent). In the same conversation she talked about how she's getting a thousand dollar gun safe for her husband and spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on their already spoiled son. Plus, she complained that her husband probably wasn't going to get her anything good for Christmas.

In the later course of the conversation, my wife mentioned to her that we had tried to cut down on presents this Christmas and had given $400 to our son's school. Before you nominate us for sainthood for doing so, realize that we did it because it was smart, not because we're Warren frickin' Buffet. You can donate to Arizona public schools ($200 for one person or $400 for a couple filing jointly) and get a dollar-for-dollar credit. This is way better than a deduction in that it is money directly off of your tax liability. Plus, you can direct into which programs that it goes. In this case, we told them to use it for any arts-based extracurricular activities.

My wife's friend said that sounded interesting but they just couldn't afford to do that ...... wah? This is the same person who 10 minutes earlier was talking about the thousand-dollar gun safe. For someone to say something like that with no apparent sense of irony is incredible. And, unfortunately, it is not rare. Talking out of both sides of one's mouth is an art that I'm having less and less patience for. Being "Christian" seems to be more about a political movement than a religious one. The bible is selectively touted to justify your prejudice but ignored when it comes to the passages about caring for your neighbor and the poor.


On leaving one of my clients this week, she commented "Merry Christmas ... I AM going to say "Merry Christmas" regardless of what anyone says." She had worked herself into a lather ... not at me, but at "them"." She'd obviously must have just watched the O'Reilly Factor or had received some action item e-mail from Focus on the Family.

This was another of those instances where I just wanted to scream. If I have one more person complain about the "War on Christmas", I may just have to renounce my vow of non-violence. Have you ever complained about someone saying "Merry Christmas" to you? Who has ever known someone who complained about someone saying "Merry Christmas" to them? No one. It's a nonexistent controversy. People can say "Merry Christmas", "Happy Hanukkah", "Happy Holidays", "go piss up a rope", whatever. It won't bother me, because I know, generally, that they are all meant as a kind greeting. But this lady, and others who are so weak-minded as to believe anything they hear, are using "Merry Christmas" as a rallying cry. You'd think they were blacks marching in Alabama in the 60's or were breaking down the Berlin Wall. They can't accept they are the pampered majority so they have to make martyrs out of themselves. But I didn't say any of this to the lady. It would have just reinforced her martyrdom. So, I just said, "Taqabbala Allahu minna wa minkum" and "Joyous Yule" ... OK, I didn't, but I should have.


I think if the true message of Christ was followed by Christians, you wouldn't have screwed-up stories like I just recounted. But people believe what they want to believe. If they don't want to be giving, they'll think up a way to justify that. If they don't want to be tolerant of other religions, of gays, of minorities, they'll think up a way to justify that. And there will be focus groups and pundits who will be more than happy to create controversies that reinforce their beliefs. Because they have a vested financial and egotistical interest in a stoked-up culture war. It's political, not religious. It's not about religious freedom - it's about freedom to shove your particular belief down everyone's throat. Why don't you worry about real injustices in the world instead of creating fake ones?

"That's the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me." -- Seinfeld

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Golden Compass

I'm really torn between the evisceration of this movie that it has been getting by some critics and the general approval of the same by CK. I see the valid points of both. The movie does take a lot of liberties with the source material, most notably the order of things and omission of the last few chapters.

And I don't know if my approval is just a product of me being happy to see the transfer to screen of a story that I like. I'm not like a lot of sci-fi fans who bitch about how movies mangle the stories they are based on. I actually liked David Lynch's Dune, though I have to admit it's an ambitious mess. I was just thrilled to see the visualization of one of my favorite novels of all time.

I cannot criticize the look of the movie. I think they did a good job with the daemons, with the bears, with the witches, etc. I cannot criticize the casting - cherry-picking from Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, Eva Green) and LOTR (Ian McKellan, Christoper Lee) and Sam Elliot playing ... well, Sam Elliot. But he's very likable and it's fitting for the role.

Another criticism of the movie by others is that it waters down the message of the books by not calling out the church by name. I don't agree with this criticism. Watching the movie, you'd have to be a moron not to understand what they are really talking about. Generously sprinkling terms such as "free inquiry" and "free will", the point is still made.

Illustrating complicated plot points from the book in a two hour movie is also a problem. So you have characters awkwardly explaining those plot points. This makes the movie a bit talky but I don't know how you can get around that short of having some kind of narration.

I'm not saying that the movie couldn't have been better. It would have been interesting to see what a director like Alfonso Cuaron or Guillermo del Toro could have done with this material. But I still liked it. Grade: B-


Good news on the fantasy/sci-fi front - the rumored Hobbit movie IS going to happen. Peter Jackson will be involved in one way or another. And even better, there will actually be 2 movies. One covering the Hobbit and another, I imagine, spanning the time difference between the Hobbit and the start of Lord of the Rings. For a lot more info on all this, check out Reel Fanatic's write-up

I'm going to try and post my year-end top 10 movies and top 10 acting performances of the year tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

She was a good truck ...

She lived a long hard life -

- 3 major accidents

- 210,000 miles, 12 years

- helped dozens of friends move

- went fishing in Minnesota, went tubing on the Salt River

Gone is my out-dated Janet Napolitano for governor and Jim Pederson for Senate '06 stickers (which are stuck on even older Kerry/Edwards '04 stickers). Gone is my Iowa State and Sierra Club stickers.

I hate cars, but I hated this one less than most.

Taken from me before I was ready because of a bonehead hitting me from behind. Oh well. Hopefully, from this very blog you'll hear of me getting something cool like a Prius or Smart Car. Or maybe you'll hear of me forsaking my driving ways altogether and doing something that doesn't require me to flit about Phoenix all the time and endanger myself and the planet. Who knows. For now, we'll see how long that we can share a car and still do our jobs. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Short Attention Span Theater

Since I seem to be unable to give a bunch of time to any one subject lately, I'll give a little time to several:

Atheism for Kids? -- I haven't finished the book yet and have yet to see the movie, but I'm diggin' the controversy of 'The Golden Compass'. Articles lead with the scary title - "Golden Compass - Atheism for Kids?". Ooh, I hope so. As usual, Christians create a mountain out of a mole hill. Pullman's stories are more anti-Catholic than anti-Christian. But if these stories and movie get a few kids to question blindly following any doctrine, then I'll be happy. I know full well that most of the people making a big deal have not read the books or seen the movie.

I hate cars -- Now, I hated them before the last couple of weeks but getting unceremoniously rear-ended at a stop light two weeks ago cinches it. It screwed up my truck and I'm playing the always enjoyable insurance company dance. Did I mention that I also hate insurance companies? They deserve their own special circle of hell.

Movies -- There are a lot of good movies out there right now. I've yet to see 'American Gangster' and I want to see 'Juno', 'Sweeney Todd', 'Charlie Wilson's War', 'I am Legend',etc. when they come out. I'm going to try and go on a cinematic binge in the next couple of weeks so that I can have some good ammo for a year-end Top 10. Count on the following movies that I've already seen this year probably being in that list: 'Into the Wild', 'No Country for Old Men', 'Michael Clayton', '3:10 to Yuma'. 'Into the Wild' leads in nominations for the just announced The Critics Choice Awards.

I don't heart Huckabee - I truly, deeply feel sorry for anyone that thinks the future of our country should reside with a religious nutjob who thinks that AIDS patients should be quarantined and that 'wives should graciously submit to their husbands' . I vote for quarantining these zealots - an evangelical Ava Maria, if you will.

Books -- Writers should go on strike more often. I am getting a lot more read lately because I'm not parking myself mindlessly in front of the TV as much. Recent reads: 'Golden Compass' by Phillip Pullman (in progress), 'Death of a Revolutionary: Che Guevara's Last Mission' by Richard L. Harris, 'Into the Wild' by Jon Krakauer, and 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Safe from what?

A few years back, we were looking at new housing developments and we had narrowed it down to two locations. The first location was a gated area, the 2nd was not. That first property was on our list not because of being gated, but rather, despite it. Ultimately, it was one of the deciding factors in us choosing against it. How we looked at it is not the norm, however. A recent article by Barbara Ehrenreich of the Nation has an interesting take on gated areas:

McMansions Meet the Mortgage Crisis
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Another utopia seems to be biting the dust. ... the paranoid residential ideal represented by gated communities may be in serious trouble. Never exactly cool–remember Jim Carrey in The Truman Show?–these pricey enclaves of privilege are becoming hotbeds of disillusionment.

At the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington last week, incoming association president Setha M. Lowe painted a picture so dispiriting that the audience guffawed in schadenfreude. The gated community residents Lowe interviewed had fled from ethnically challenging cities, but they have not managed to escape from their fear. One resident reported that her small daughter has developed a severe case of xenophobia, no doubt communicated by her parents:

We were driving next to a truck with some day laborers and equipment in the back, and we stopped beside them at the light. She [her daughter] wanted to move because she was afraid those people were going to come and get her. They looked scary to her.

...gated communities are no less crime-prone than open ones, and Gopal Ahluwalia, senior vice president of research at the National Association of Home Builders, confirms this: “There are studies indicating that there are no differences in the crime in gated communities and non-gated communities.” The security guards often wave people on in, especially if they look like they’re on a legitimate mission ... Or the crime comes from within ...

Most recently, America’s gated communities have been blighted by foreclosures ... So, for people who sought, not just prosperity, but perfection, here’s another sad end to the American dream, or at least their ethnically cleansed version thereof: boarded-up McMansions, plastic baggies scudding over overgrown lawns, and, in the Orlando case, a foreclosure-induced infestation of snakes. You can turn away the Mexicans, the African-Americans, the teenagers and other suspect groups, but there’s no fence high enough to keep out the repo man.

All right, some gated communities are doing better than others, and not all of their residents are racists. The communities that allow owners to rent out their houses, or that offer homes at middle class prices of $250,000 or so, are more likely to contain a mixture of classes and races. The only gated community I have ever visited consisted of dull row houses protected by a slacker guard and a fence, and my host was a writer of liberal inclinations. But all these places suffer from the delusion that security lies behind physical barriers.

Before we turn all of America into a gated community, with a 700-mile steel fence running along the southern border, we should consider the mixed history of exclusionary walls. Ancient and medieval European towns huddled behind massive walls, only to face ever-more effective catapults, battering rams and other siege engines. More recently, the Berlin Wall, which the East German government described fondly as a protective “anti-fascism wall,” fell to a rebellious citizenry. Israel, increasingly sealed behind its anti-Palestinian checkpoints and wall, faced an outbreak of neo-Nazi crime in September–coming, strangely enough, from within.

But the market may have the last word on America’s internal gated communities. “Hell is a gated community,” announced the Sarasota Herald Tribune last June, reporting that market research by the big homebuilder Pulte Homes found that no one under fifty wants to live in them, so its latest local development would be un-gated. Security, or at least the promise of security, may be one consideration. But there’s another old-fashioned American imperative at work here, which ought to bear on our national policies as well. As my Montana forebears would have put it: Don’t fence me in!

It seems that in our fear-mongering society, we try to achieve security through building fences instead of engaging our community. In the world community, we are making the same mistakes - building fences and failing to engage our world neighbors. The places where I have felt the safest were those where neighbors knew each other - where if you had a problem with someone, you'd go talk to them civilly.

Are people wrong for wanting safety for their family? No. Are they wrong in thinking that ethnic and economic homogeny produce this desired safety? Yes. People are looking for "safety" from immigrants, from low-income people. They are using security concerns to justify xenophobia and racism. Again, they are taking their cue from our country's leaders who do the same on the world stage.

The post-war suburbanization of our society gave us the illusions of security, privacy and space. But it took away our connectedness. War, the environment, poverty - it's all connected. We overvalue material things and undervalue people and nature. Instead of building walls, we should be knocking them down.

"As long as our civilization is essentially one of property, of fences, of exclusiveness, it will be mocked by delusions." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, December 03, 2007


I keep thinking I'm going to have a bit of time to write extensive reviews for some recent movies I've seen (and albums I've bought) but it just ain't gonna happen. So, here are the Cliff Notes versions:

No Country for Old Men I love the Coen brothers and they are probably my 2nd favorite directors behind Kubrick. Fargo has always been my favorite of their movies(Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou? after that). Add No Country for Old Men to that group. It's sparseness, lack of dialog and great cinematography is evocative of Fargo but this movie is definitely it's own animal. While on the surface it's a crime drama involving a triad of great actors (Jones, Bardem and Brolin) chasing each other, it's really about us and what we value and how screwed-up values can ruin people's lives. The great thing about the movie is that it works on both levels mainly because of the strength of those actors and the deft hand of the Coens. Kelly McDonald (Trainspotting), Stephen Root (NewsRadio, Office Space) and Woody Harrelson all give great supporting performances. Grade: A-

For a much better review of the movie than mine, check out Wunelle's blog:

No Movie for Sissies

Raising Sand - Robert Plant/Alison Krauss - Putting the lead singer of "the" definitive rock band together with a bluegrass legend doesn't seem logical or a recipe for success. But producer T Bone Burnett doesn't follow trends, he creates them. He was the genius behind the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and pretty much singlehandely made bluegrass cool. Well, he's struck gold again. Picking a mixture of old rock songs and country songs that are thematically dark, Krauss and Plant both step outside of their comfort zone and create a great album. I've heard they are going to tour in the spring and will even dust off some Zep songs. Count me in. I love Krauss and Led Zeppelin and would pay money to see her put her spin on some classics.

Bee Movie - Oddly, the start of the movie made me think of Into the Wild. Having just graduated from Bee school, the title character, voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, seeks to break out of the expectations that his family and society have placed on him. Granted, he doesn't hitchhike around the southwest and die of starvation in a bus. But other than that, it's the same.

I didn't expect much of this movie and mostly just went because I wanted to go to a movie with the kid and this one was the only appropriate one. But I liked the movie. Sting and Ray Liotta give funny cameos and all the main voice actors (Seinfeld, Zellweger, Broderick, Rock) do a good job. By no means high art, but an entertaining movie with a decent message. Grade: B (get it? I gave it a "bee". hoo-hoo, I kill me)