Friday, December 30, 2011

300 Words On Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

A perfectly struck golf shot is a wonderful thing.  It's an intricately balanced combination of force, relaxation and commitment.  If one pushes too hard on any one part, the result is, well, not good.  But if you bring them all together, the ball goes.

The first Sherlock Holmes film, starring Robert Downey, Jr and directed by Guy Ritchie, hit it right off the screws, as golfers say.  It was fast paced, smart, funny, and surprising in a way that was totally fair to the audience, holding all of those elements in an almost elegant balance.  But it appears, at least for Ritchie, following up a good movie is as hard to repeat a good golf shot.

This sequel swings much too hard.  The fast pace of the first film becomes frenetic here.  Downey's eccentric and driven Holmes becomes manic.  Sometimes more is better, but this time, when Ritchie "turns it up to eleven" it indeed gives the film what Spinal Taps's David St. Hubbens called "that little extra to push you over the precipice."

Positively, Downey and co-star Jude Law still have a nice chemistry, and Stephen Fry is a fun addition as Holmes' brother Mycroft.  The plot is simpler than the first film, with the mystery much more in service of the action.  But what lingers for me is the portrayal of Holmes' nemesis.  Moriarty is played with a "real" malevolence that throws this popcorn film out of balance.  And it leads me to wonder about the "value" of this sort of film.  If I'm troubled by Moriarty's character in this film, why was I not bothered by the cartoonish violence and bad guys of the first film?  That's a conundrum, as they say, and maybe Downey and Ritchie will help me figure it out in the next sequel.

Monday, August 29, 2011

300 Words on... The Help

The Help is this summer's "feel good" movie.  It's the story of Skeeter Phelan, who managed to graduate from Old Miss in the early 60's with passion for writing but without a husband. Landing a job writing a domestic advice column for the local paper, she asks help from "the help", the African-American maids who handle domestic work for upper class Jackson families.

As she talks with the maids of her friends, who have already married and had kids, and prodded by the unexplained departure of the maid who had raised her, Skeeter decides to tell these women's stories in a book she calls, "The Help".  At first, only two women take up Skeeter's offer - publishing the stories of black women was not only dangerous but actually illegal at the time - but as they push on others come forward and the book is triumphantly published.

The plot never goes anywhere unexpected, and as with most ensemble films, the characters come close to being flat stereotypes.  Skeeter is a standard "plucky" girl, while the the two lead maids, Aibeleen and Minnie, are more rounded and nuanced.

I was left wondering, however, who this film was supposed to make "feel good".  The happy ending is sadly unrealistic - in the real Jackson, the black church would have been firebombed, the maids beaten or killed, and Skeeter's family ruined.  Moreover, as this perceptive essay points out, Skeeter's friends weren't only racist, they were bad, twisted people.  By ignoring the fact that Jim Crow was carried out mostly by "nice" people, the film allows white people like me to believe that since we're good parents, don't shun people, don't demand separate bathrooms, we would have done better.  Or at least have done what Skeeter did. 

I'm not so sure about that.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Something I Thought of in Church Today: Grace and Compassion

My church has a tradition of leaving part of the worship "open" or "unprogrammed" in the group's jargon, meaning that it starts out as a time of silence and then if anyone feels prompted by God's Spirit to say something, she (or he) is supposed to stand and, um, say it.

Today, that happened to me, or at least I think so.  I mean, I definitely talked, and I think it was with God's leading.  I was prompted by feeling rather discouraged over how things have been going (as in badly) for almost everyone I'm close to.  The Lord used that discouragement (I think) to remind me of an amazing sentence from the book of Isaiah.  Anyway, this is what I said (modified slightly for this format):

There was a point in my life where I had trouble appreciating God's grace and mercy.  I mean, I understood, intellectually, how they were important, and how they fit in the Gospel.  But I didn't really "get" it.  Now I've reached the point where I don't have any trouble understanding emotionally, experientially, how important grace and compassion are.

Right now, almost everyone who is really important to me is in a tough phase, or worse, is in a permenant trajectory that is, well, not good.  This weekend, I had the darkly comedic experience of actually being glad for a bad thing because it wasn't a worse thing.

But that's not my point in speaking.

My point is to share with you something that is true.  In Isaiah 30:18 we're told: "The Lord longs to be gracious to you.  He rises to show you compassion".

For a long time, I thought that the Lord's grace and compassion were essentially reactive, or compensatory - that our lameness forces him to react with grace and compassion.  What I've come to realize instead is that God's grace and mercy are in fact, as the verse says, his first choice.  When we, when I arrive at the point where we must rely on his mercy and compassion it's a good thing, it's not a problem.  Rather, needing to rely on God's grace and compassion have been his plan, his purpose for me, for us, from the beginning.

So Friends, please remember that this is true: "The Lord longs to be gracious to you.  He rises to show you compassion".
I don't know if I'm going to return to blogging - so my three remaining blog fans should temper their expectations

Friday, August 29, 2008

My Thoughts on the Republican Veep Selection

Gotta give equal time to the candidates... My thoughts?

Sarah Palin = Clarence Thomas

I Think the Check Cleared

I don't think I'm back, but I wanted to get this out.

My son started his final year of high school this week.  Watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech last night with him reminded me of something we did during his first year of school, and of something that has stuck with since then.

We were living a small town, alongside the kind of "real, heartland Americans" ones hears a lot about during elections.  Sending your first child to school gives you a whole set of memories, but I especially remember the first Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

For a small community, we had considerable economic and social diversity, so while Chris's arrived already able to read, many of his classmates were mostly unprepared for a formal classroom.  Some had evidently never even held a book in their hands before September.

However, when it came time for the teacher to talk about MLK, many of the kids knew exactly what to do. My wife was helping in the classroom that day, and was just shocked when a wave of racist comments came pouring out of a majority of the kids. Imagine that - kids who had likely never met a black person, who arrived at school unable even to name all of their body parts, somehow knew that King was a "dirty nigger".

I was tempted to abandon my commitment to non-violence so I could go bitch slap some of my fellow parents, but instead I downloaded King's "I Have Dream Speech" and went over it with my son. I'm not sure how much of it Chris got, he was (and is) a precocious reader, but he was only six at the time.

There is a phrase King used at the beginning of the speech, that America's promise was a bounced check.  That phrase was powerful at the time and it was still with me last night. Here's the passage...

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. 
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." 
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. 
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

Listening to Obama's stirring speech, coming from our first black Presidential candidate and maybe, (likely?), first black President, I felt like we were moving from sand to solid rock.

And I'd like to think that last night, the check finally cleared.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another Illustration of Why You Haven't Heard from Me

To the dozen or so of you who haven't taken me from your RSS subscriptions, I offer this from the indispensable xkcd:

You see, if I get started again, there's no place to stop.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Here's Part of Why I'm Not Posting

... I can't tell the difference between The Onion and "real" news sources anymore.

On the Slate website, there is a side bar with three links each from The Onion, The Washington Post, and Newsweek. Here's all nine - see if you can tell which comes from which:

"Why do they hate us?"

Study: Iraqis may experience sadness when friends, relatives die

Trips for Families with Teenagers

Bush Still Doesn't Get It

New Sitcom Pulls Back the Envelope

The Make-Believe of Green Politics

Losing My Jihadism

Drew Carey New Price Host

How Reality TV Influences Plastic Surgery Patients

(Answers: 1, 4, 7 are the Post; 2, 5, 8 are the Onion, and 3, 6, 9 are Newsweek.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My take on the I Phone

I was excited when Apple announced the iPhone, most of all because it validated my unaccountable allegiance to Cingular and now ATT wireless.

Now that it's out, I of course don't have one. I'm not ready for it - I often can't even find my current cell phone for days at a time, and while my iPod is sitting right in front of me, I have no idea where the headphones are, which is why on a recent trip to Chicago with my son on Jet Blue, I had to watch "Hey Paula" with no sound while he was able to watch at least nine Simpsons episodes with full audio.

This means, once again, that I'm going to have to turn over the review to my distant relative - who is not me - Kige Ramsey:

A bit more seriously, I've been giving serious thought to how the very idea of same-sex marriage compelled Sen. David Vitter, a noted Christian, to have extra-marital affairs and use a prostitution service that provides, um, more than the basics. Seriously, I think I have this just about figured out, and I'll let you all know if and when I do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

This is Not Me

I may be on my way back to blogging. Or I may not.

But in the meantime, I need to make it clear that I am not Kige Ramsey, nor, for those of you who like to look at flip side of things, is Kige Ramsey me. I've reached the point in my personal development that I don't care (much) about what people think of me, but I'm still not developed/enlightened/evolved/mature enough to not care that people might think I'm someone I'm not.

I mention this because a vlog by Mr. Ramsey commenting on the latest arrest of a Cincinnati Bengal (the tenth in fourteen months! Wow!) is bouncing around the internets today. Why does this concern me enough to break blogging silence? I'll yet Kige show you himself:

The fine people at Deadspin have some helpful advice for my probably very distant cousin, who , I repeat for those with poor short term memory, is not me.

How to improve your Youtube home sportscast set-up:

1. Get somebody else to operate camera
2. Remove refrigerator from doorway
3. Show marginal enthusiasm
4. Prepare
5. Make sure calendar shows correct month
6. Update wood paneling.

That's all I have for now.

Good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Linkage XXXIII

"Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level." Via BoingBoing, M-Law's Wacky Warning Label Contest. I also liked the Lotto ticket which said "Do not iron".

Surge Protection You can stand up to The Man with the latest "No Surge" Bush Surge Protection t-shirt. (Via Matt Yglesias)

Write What You Know A real live medical journal article from 1956 in which William Burroughs writes about his experiences with drugs "Letter from a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs". (Via BoingBoing)

Handbags I love English sports commentary. Here's just part of an account (the whole thing is here) of a fight between two soccer players in the Spanish league: "In the final minute, Carlos Diogo trod on Luis Fabiano's hand, sparking a bit of head-rubbing, a lot of bad-mouthing and then a proper bout of fisticuffs, full of comedy windmilling and a superb right hook from Diogo that left Fabiano sprawling across the turf like Bambi on ice." Now that's good writin'! (Via Deadspin)

So Elvis, Darwin, and Nefertiti Sit Down at a Bar... is not the beginning of a joke but a real life meeting in Venezuela, where people seem to like to give their kids funny names, so says the NY Times. (Via Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Two Wrongs, Finally, Make a Right

Nine years ago, I was the last person under the age of 50 and older than 18 to get a cell phone. I got it through Costco, following the logic that anyone who can sell you a really good hot dog and a soda for $1.50 must know something about cell phones. But then my service - I forget who it was - was bought by Cingular, and so my service was not very good.

Flash forward to a couple of years ago. I'd been vaguely unhappy with my service and since numbers were now portable, I resolved to get a new phone with a new service. And so I walk into the Cingular store, not realizing that the service I am about to sign up for for even a longer period is the same service I'm trying to get rid of. Whoever that guy was who wrote about how there are several different kinds of intelligence and how none of us have all of them must have followed me around for awhile.

Except today, I find out that maybe I was right all along, because while Cingular may have awful service, they're also the only service on which you can use this:

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Parent's Dilemma

My wife and I both grew up in SoCal and the Rose Parade was a part of that. We both spent the night on the parade route several times, and Wendy even worked on floats. The generational circle closed this year when Katie helped out with float decorating.

This means that for the first time in a long time I watched the parade on TV - at least until the brilliant Newcastle/ManU match came on. Priorities. We saw Katie's float and several others she contributed to. But then we saw this:

This, our course, is photo of the 501st Legion of Storm Troopers, nicknamed Vader's Fist.

My thoughts as I watched these guys walk by: 1. No Way! 2. They've gotta be actors - man, it must be tough to be an out of work actor. 3. They're not actors - their fans who paid their way here from all over the world to do this. 4. I wonder what their parents think.

Imagine you're the parents of a 32 year old who lives at home with you and whose Star Wars obsession has already caused you to set aside your hopes for grandchildren. And now his commitment to Star Wars has landed him a spot in the Rose Parade - clearly the peak of his fan boy career.

And so as a parent, does it make you happy that this makes your son so happy, or does it make you sad that this makes your son so happy?

Parenting can be hard work.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Review: El Cholo

So, I finally loaded all my cd's into iTunes, which of course means my iPod is now too small. Ah, the petty discontents of a suburban life. Anyway, I like to use the shuffle - it's like a radio station that only plays stuff I like, and the other day iTunes gave me one by Neil Young. I thought the next song was by Young, too, since it began with a jangly, slightly messy guitar riff. That was, at least until the singing began, and then I realized it was Radiohead's "The Bends".

It's an easy mistake to make. Just as there would have been no hip-hop without James Brown and no internet without Al Gore, there would have been no early 90's guitar rock without Neil Young.

I was thinking about this last week on my way home from El Cholo Spanish Cafe in L.A. on Western just south of Olympic.

El Cholo is the original Mexican restaurant. I mean, obviously, there had been restaurants owned by Mexicans who served the food of their home country or heritage, but El Cholo was the first restaurant that made its bones selling mild Mexican inspired food to white people. If you've ever enjoyed a meal at Chi-Chi's or Acapulco or any other chain Mexican place, almost every element of your meal got it's start at El Cholo.

They keep it old school here. Like many L.A. restaurants, the walls of the waiting area are covered with head shots. The servers wear guayabera shirts or full, off the shoulder dresses in a floral pattern. The salsa is the weak, spicy ketchup style favored by generations of white people, and the chips were such a throw back that they were fried in lard. (I'm just now getting the coating out of my mouth).

I ordered the oldest item on the menu (everything is listed with the year they first served it) - the Sonora Style Enchilada (1923). Rather than rolled, this is a stack of tortillas with chicken and cheese in between, with sauce, black beans, and a fried egg on top. Completely old school and really good. As a plus, it's goodness helped make up for the time I ordered something similar at La Fiesta Grande or some such place in Grand Junction, Colorado - the worst Mexican meal of my life. Wendy ordered - to make "a proper comparison" she said, the Number One Combination (1938) - which as always, was a beef taco in a hard shell and a cheese enchilada with rice and beans. She gave it her approval.

At the end of the day, it was better than the chain restaurants and so if you can just think of Mexican places like this as a distinct cuisine from that served by taco trucks, carnicerias, or even King Taco, it may be one of the best. It's definitely worth the trip at least once.

Two other comments, first, the crowd that night was amazingly diverse - Koreans, blacks, Latinos, white suburbanites, Chinese, USC grads in Hawaiian shirts. That was really cool. Second, Wendy and I shared a Margarita, a first for us. (We figured we'd have the whole experience). I'd never had any kind of distilled liquor before, and I can't say I'm fan yet. I suppose if I were ever in a situation where I had to have a drink I could have another, but after a few sips I was wishing I'd ordered iced tea. Pretty weak, huh?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Linkage XXXII

Hip-hop Lit 50 Cent has been a rapper, producer, actor and style maven. Now he's branching out into literature. Mr. Cent, as they would call him the NY Times, is the author of the recently released The Ski Mask Way: A G-Unit Book. I think this is cause for amusement rather than despair. I think. (Via The Hater)

Because Love Should Last Forever Via BoingBoing, How to Make a Rose out of Duct Tape.

Godfather to God the Father We lost a real treasure when James Brown died on Christmas morning. As you remember him, don't think of the drug addled man of his later years, but rather think of him like this: James Brown on the Tami Show. (Via James Demastus, who tells me he is named for JB)

She's Everywhere, Even the Future Via The Hater, I give you The Every Day with Rachael Ray Fortune Teller. No, really.

My Money is on "Hobbes" Tiger Woods will become a father for the first time this year, what will he name his child. A.J. Daulerio at Deadspin breaks down the odds (His favorite is Lil' Earl)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"The Ultimate Act of Hopelessness and Faithlessness"

Shane Claiborne, in the group blog God's Politics at Beliefnet, on the execution of Saddam Hussein:

"What do you think of that man?" the old guy asked in a raspy voice as I settled in next to him on the plane. He pointed to the face of Saddam Hussein on the front of his newspaper with a headline story of the looming execution. I gathered myself, and prepared for what could turn out to be a rather chatty plane ride. I replied gently, "I think that man needs some love." And the rather boisterous gentleman sat still, perhaps not exactly the response he predicted. Then he said pensively, "Hmmmm. I think you're right..." And finally, he whispered in a forlorn tone, "And it is hard to communicate love through a noose."

Sometimes we just need permission to say, "It's not okay to kill someone to show everyone how much we hate killing." As Christian artist Derek Webb sings, " Peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication. It's like saying murder is wrong and showing them by way of execution." I am encouraged by how many Christians I hear voicing an alternative to the myth of redemptive violence in light of the recent killing of Saddam, folks who love Jesus and have the unsettling feeling that Jesus loves evildoers so much he died for them, for us. I have heard many evangelicals who see Saddam's execution as the ultimate act of hopelessness and faithlessness – after all it is humanity stepping in to make the final judgment, that this human created in God's image is beyond redemption. And for those who believe in hell, executing someone who may not yet know of the love and grace of Christ is doubly offensive.

(The entire post is here)

The hippies I read on the internets have been pretty bothered by the absolute fiasco of Saddam's execution: the mocking, the deed being done by Shiite militia members, the shoddy legality of the process, and the President's Orwellian praise for the way this has been carried out have all earned their ire. I merely chalked this up as one more botched and unintentionally ironic act by our leaders and their allies.

Claiborne's work brought me out of my cynicism. I find just a slight whiff of sentimentality in the post, but that aside, the idea of the execution as an act of hopelessness and faithlessness rings true to me.

We humans are called to be stewards of this broken and fallen world, and we are, indeed, our brothers keepers. This task is far too difficult to be carried out with merely human means. Ending violence with violence is an admission of our impotence, and so if Claiborne can really hear a rising tide of Christian voices proclaiming that love is more powerful than hate, and that self-sacrifice is greater than violence, then let me add my voice to that number.