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Fifteen Questions for Senator Al Franken

 

This is not a Republican issue. It is not a Democratic issue. It is not a celebrity issue. It is not a women’s issue. It is a men’s issue. It is men who have the problem.

  1. Have you always thought objectifying women was funny?
  2. How far will you go to get a laugh?
  3. Does the word ‘hypocrisy’ mean anything to you?
  4. How exactly does one recommend that they themselves be investigated?
  5. Can you see how your first attempt at an apology really was no apology at all?
  6. Can you see how your second apology feels a little disingenuous?
  7. If pictures like this were about Ted Cruz–who you’ve admitted to despising–would you call for his resignation?
  8. Do you think saying, “I’m sorry” after being caught makes the whole issue go away?
  9. Who else, sir, have you treated like that when there weren’t cameras around?
  10. Do you think being a liberal gives you a free pass?
  11. Will you call on congress to release details of the $15 million in payouts to ‘workplace discrimination’ on Capitol Hill?
  12. Have you realized yet that you have lost all credibility on almost any issue that might come up?
  13. Can you understand that a person can be forgiven for their actions, but still be unqualified for positions of leadership?
  14. Have you considered resigning your seat, and then running again to see exactly how the voters in Minnesota feel about your actions?
  15. How does it feel to have created yet another #metoo ?
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Fifteen Questions For Alabama Voters

 

I find that questions often help me, and others, come to a form of clarity on a subject. This started out as five questions, but became ten, and then morphed into fifteen. Go figure.

  1. Do you understand that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is a legal concept applicable to crimes and not about suitability to be a U.S. Senator?
  2. How many women, with credible stories, would it take to convince you?
  3. How young is too young for a thirty-two year old man to chase?
  4. Has it occurred to you that some people engage in behavior that is wrong, but they don’t think it is wrong and this gives them the appearance of innocence?
  5. Would you let Roy Moore babysit your daughter?
  6. Do you believe that two wrongs don’t make a right?
  7. Similar to that, do you believe that the ends justify the means?
  8. If you were about to eat something that had poop in it, would it matter to you at what point someone warned you about the poop so long as it was before you put it in your mouth?
  9. Have you ever heard of a “write-in” campaign?
  10. Does the boring and uninspiring Luther Strange look better to you now?
  11. Have you considered that the kind of person who waves a gun around at a political rally could be perceived by a woman as a threatening figure?
  12. Do you know about victimization and the psychology of victimhood?
  13. The name Harvey Weinstein, does it mean anything to you?
  14. Sadly, Bill Clinton got away with abuse of power and violating trust with a young intern, but tell me how that has anything to do with a candidate who has yet to be elected?
  15. Can you see how, if you elect Roy Moore as a U.S. Senator, you will prove that personal morality and character no longer matter?
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Proverbs 3–Trust and Good

There are two different things going on in this rumination on Proverbs 3.

The first comes from that classic passage–3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Recently I worked on this passage for a sermon (okay, it was last Sunday) and I played around a bit, rewriting these words with a different twist. I called the first one “Still True From A Negative Angle.”

Trust in yourself with half your heart, and lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge and call attention to yourself, and you will utterly destroy your path.

I enjoyed doing that so much, that I decided to write what I called the “Spiritual Sounding But Not Right Angle.”

Trust in The Lord when things are tough, and lean not on the understanding of fools. In all your spiritual ways acknowledge him, and your path will become evident.

This rendering sounds true. The problem is that is not what the Bible teaches, but rather accurate of what we often teach and how we talk.

The last one I wrote is just ridiculous. I call it the “All Wrong But Exactly How We’d Like It To Read Angle.”

Trust in The Lord with some of your heart, and pray through your own

understandings. When you are hurting, acknowledge him and he will send a Facebook meme to cheer you up.


My second thoughts come from Proverbs 3:27. Here, the writer tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” I think this verse properly applied could change the world. Seriously.

My mind began to think about current political issues. The application of this is much broader, but here is a place to dialogue.

  1. Immigration
  2. Health care
  3. Taxes
  4. Opioid crisis
  5. Mass killings

You’re doing right now what I was guilty of, I think. If not, you are a better soul than me. For each of these, I assumed that what I thought and what I felt emotionally would be the ‘good’ that should be done.

But my opinion, or my knee-jerk, is not always the good. My perception of the writer’s intention is to inform us of the hard work in the application of wisdom to perceiving what the good is. Let’s take the opioid issue. I readily admit this is complicated, but fixing it might involve something more than more crisis managers, more first responders, or more federal dollars. Perhaps the good involved is about addressing the cultural, economic, religious, and educational systems that provide such a fertile ground for destruction. As such, maybe the best good is to admit not much good can be done for those who are addicted now, but the money should be spent on the next generation. My power for the now is low, but my leverage for the power to do good for the future is high.

And if that is not enough to push me along, the question comes with the phrase “to whom it is due.” Is help due to someone who has willfully, voluntarily, and repeatedly put themselves and others in harms way? I know that is a tough line, but goodness you have to ask at what point has someone’s actions disqualified them from assistance and help. This question is important. Resources are limited.

To children, to communities, to the unborn next generation, much is due. They are due a healthy environment. They are due a hopeful, optimistic world. They are due security. The are due a fighting chance.

What is in my power? To whom is it due?

If we apply these questions, we might find we don’t like the answers, and that is the exact point of wisdom.

 

 

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Pick A Winner–Seriously, Pick A Winner

I need your opinion.

I’m playing again. I should be working. In fact, staff meeting is in ten minutes.

But I’m playing.

Writer’s Digest has a contest for writing prompts. You’re supposed to write an opening line, in twenty five words or less, for a story that goes along with the picture that is the writing prompt. I have entered four or five times over the past couple of years, but I’ve never sniffed victory. This time, I thought I’d get you guys to help me pick. I’ve written several different possible lines. Vote for which one you like best.

Here is the picture.

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If you want to play too, click on THIS LINK. It’s fun and easy.

Now, back to my problems. Below are my opening lines, and then a poll for you to vote. Remember, you have to click the word “vote” to register your selection. Thanks!

A. With each step into the dark woods, Jenna sealed her fate.

B. “Here kitty, kitty.”

C. Maybe the red coat wasn’t the best choice for hide-n-seek?

D. Maybe the red coat wasn’t the best choice for war games?

E. Mary regretted her decision to accompany her boyfriend on his family’s annual Thanksgiving wild-turkey hunt.

F. As night began to fall, she remembered how the old man at the lodge had warned them funny things happen in these woods.

G. It had been eleven days since Jenna had seen another person.

H. “I found Carmen Sandiego,” the boy shouted.

 

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Proverbs 2–If . . . Then

Proverbs 2 seems to imply the search for wisdom is in and of itself the path to understanding. This is mainly because the search for wisdom is the search for the Lord, and he is the one who grants a wise heart.

The chapter is divided, to my eye anyway, in two portions. The last portion is a warning to stay away from the harlot. Here, the harlot is not literal (although it is literally good advice) but instead the harlot represents the way of foolishness. This second part is shorter, and begins in earnest in verse 16.

The first portion is what intrigues me. It is a series of “If . . . Then” statements which remind me of my computer class back in high school in the 1980s. We were always writing these silly programs that began with something like “If x<3 then …” whatever. I can’t remember anything beyond that. This is the same style the author of the proverb uses.kenyon-starlin-code-screenshot_c

If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:4-5).

The search is key. It must be the key. God is the one who gives wisdom, so it is not as if the Lord is some kind of rubric waiting to be translated or the maker of mazes hoping you’ll find your way out. That would be a wrongheaded way of understanding the search for wisdom. The search is learning the ways of the Lord, studying the scriptures, and listening to the world around us as he reveals himself. We don’t search for wisdom because we want to know the secret to wisdom; we search for wisdom because we want to know the one who gives wisdom, the source of wisdom. We do not search so that we can know, we only know that we must continue to search.

This concept culminates in verses 9-10.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, and every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Then–and only then–will you understand.

  • Righteousness: the requirement of the Lord, and the ways of faith. This is the moment you realize there is no one righteous. No, not one.

 

  • Justice: There is no peace without justice. Justice is not simply law and order, but it is holding people accountable for their actions and protecting the weak who have no advocate.

 

  • Equity: The world is not fair because it is baed upon power and force. Wisdom, by contrast, sees the necessity for equity and can spot when things are inequitable.

 

  • Every good path: A catchall phrase that can be loosely understood as the good life. Wisdom allows a person to see the things that really matter and maximize those for the benefit of all.

The goodness of God is that he grants these things to the wise.

The failings of humans is that we think we can have these without the Lord. The result is a foolishness that knows no bounds. We want righteousness in the world so we try to make people be righteous through coercion, politics, or law. We think we have justice, but really there is only a masquerade of justice that protects the powerful and exploits the weak. We claim equality for all, but as soon as we get a chance we remind everyone of how much better we are. We believe we can have the good life, but all we do is pop another pill and download another video. There is no true wisdom in any of this, because we have not sought the Lord.

If you and I search for wisdom for the sake of wisdom, we will never find it. If we search for the Lord and seek him, wisdom will wash over us.

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I’m Like Bogie, But Cooler

James Rubart says many interesting things. Which is a good thing, since he is a writer of such big selling books as The Chair and Rooms.

I was locked in a room with him sitting in an uncomfortable chair last weekend, along with best selling legal thriller writer Cara Putman and about twenty-five other folks. We were learning about story. Okay, I was learning about story. I can’t speak for what the other twenty-four were doing. We’d all paid to be at the ACFW, and I wanted to get my monies worth.

In the midst of the intriguing discussion Rubart said, “Tell me your three favorite movies, and I will tell you the theme of your life, which is really the theme of all your stories.”

I told you he says interesting things.

What I wondered was, is it true? Can someone deduce your major life theme (assuming a person actually has a life theme, which is not something I’m sold on completely) from the films you really like. He did the experiment with himself–and showed how it fit into the theme of his life and therefore was the overarching theme of his books. Then he performed the wizardry on a couple of other attenders to the seminar.

It was fun and entertaining. But is it true?

As others were talking and sharing, I began to make the list of my top three movies. This is a near impossible task, as I have shared here before. I love many movies across many genres. Picking three is a fool’s errand. But I worked at it.

The first thing I did was work on stand alones. That meant Star Trek II was out the window, and so was The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Series of movies can grab so many different themes and are primarily character driven. My love for them might have more to do with memory or character bonding than anything else. That is why From Russia With Love can’t be on the list either. No Indiana Jones. No Star Wars.

Should I put The Godfather on the list? It is such a great film, but I decided it might be in my top ten, but not the top three. This is the same fate as The Outlaw Josey Wales. These movies are wonderful, and in the top ten, but not the top three. Same goes for you, Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks (although I have found Mars Attacks to be prophetic. Someday I’ll blog about that, but that day is not today).  As for recent films, Spotlight came close. Very close, to making the list. But it didn’t.

Before I give you the top three, a caveat. The list may change. Nothing is settled. I reserve the right to change my mind.

  1. Casablanca
  2. North by Northwest
  3. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Bogart5a_thumbThere they are. The mother of all cliches, the greatest spy movie, and pure 1970s alien nostalgia.

Now find my theme! I’ll give you a moment to work it out.

Okay, I’m tired of waiting. It took me a bit to work through what Rubart was saying, but then it hit me. Each one of these films features a man trying to find a way to beat the system that is blatantly set against him. Bogie has to beat the Franco-German officials to find a way out for Ingrid Bergman. Cary Grant must find a way to survive in the face of Russian spies, Martin Landau, and American intelligence. Richard Dreyfuss knows what he saw and where he must go even though everything is telling him he’s wrong.

My theme is me against the system. You can see how Spotlight, Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather, The Outlaw Jose Wales, and even Mars Attacks all fit this same basic template? Interesting (strokes beard), very interesting.

Realization washed over me when I found that Butch Gregory’s theme is the same. The inherent evil in the broken system was a major part of the plot in The Little Girl Waits and the conspiracy angle was high in How Great Is The Darkness.

Then there are my monster stories, which I have taken down because I am re-releaseing them with five times more story early next year, which are all about the evil system of mad scientists at Deep Cove.

Guess what? That motif pops up, not as strong, but it pops up, in my current WIP.

I guess Rubart was right.

I’m gonna turn on comments for this post. I’d love to hear your three favorite stories and how it fits.

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Oh Look, A Writer’s Conference

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I met up with fellow Athanatos Author Joseph Courtemanche. You can spot us because . . . beards. 

I left the Hill Country yesterday, traveling north to Grapevine, Texas where I am attending the American Christian Fiction Writer’s annual conference. The facility here at the Gaylord Convention center is huge. I keep getting lost. Maybe my next book will be about a writer who gets lost at a writer’s convention and finds that he has been tricked by a demented muse, and thereby must write himself out of the danger with sharp, crisp prose.

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It is not a road trip without Fiji Water. Notice the banana? It was too green

This is not my first writer’s conference, but it is my first ACFW conference. The people here are so friendly that it is hard not to like everyone. Seriously. Writers must be the friendliest people in the world. No lie.

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ACFW wants everyone to know when you’re a newbie

People keep asking me, “What do you write,” to which I reply something like, “Christian supernatural stories where people die gruesome deaths” or something like that. This is the moment they turn their head sideways and take a step back and wonder if I am at the right place. Most of the people here write historical fiction, contemporary fiction, or women’s fiction.

Indeed, men are an endangered species here. I would say the ratio is something like one man for every fifteen or sixteen women. At a panel discussion last night someone asked, “Is there a market for books directed toward men,” and the consensus was no. This does not fill me with hope, because I feel my books are targeted mostly toward men. I’m gonna plunge ahead anyway. I think I can be the trendsetter with theologically rich supernatural books about fascinating characters.

Regardless, writing is cheaper than therapy.

Here is what I have learned so far.

  1. Randy Alcorn knows a lot about heaven. He brought the keynote yesterday and it was a sermon–a Sunday morning go to meeting sermon–on heaven complete with a quote from Victor Hugo. I would love to buy him a cup of coffee and talk about the hermeneutics of Revelation 21.
  2.  I probably don’t have much of a chance with my pitches here, because I am only 75k words into my work in progress (WIP) and I really should be finished if I want any kind of success. That’s okay. Perhaps my goal is simply that when they get that query letter from me, they remember something.
  3. Tyndale house has nice representatives.
  4. I need to work on my hook. Probably after lunch I will devote some time to polishing it a bit.
  5. YA (young adult fiction) is not as big of a deal here as I thought it would. It surprises me that YA is not a hot commodity in Christian circles, given that everyone has children and grandchildren. It feels as if it should be a target for faith-based audiences. As a person concerned about culture, this troubles me. It’s almost like we’ve surrendered the literary mind of the next generation to nothing but dystopian nightmares.

Gotta run now. The next workshop starts in a few minutes.

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Proverbs 1–The Fear of the Lord

FullSizeRender.jpgDuring the summer I read through the book of Proverbs and made some notes. My plan is to share these in an on-again-off-again kind of way.


Proverbs 1 is clearly a general opening to the theme of the book. Two paths are before each of us. One path is that of wisdom. Wisdom’s path is clearly marked by the finger of God. Those who fear him are on the right path. The other path is folly. The way of folly is easy to find as well, because it is littered with the fools who have sinfully gone ahead.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

Two thoughts came at me quickly as I read this verse. The first is the word ‘beginning.’ I’ve never reckoned with that word before, but it indicates our spiritual connection, or awareness, of God is where our knowledge begins. We might think of that as a foundation. No lasting knowledge can be gained without the foundation of a heart and head pointed toward the Lord.

It is intriguing to me what the text doesn’t say. It doesn’t teach us the fear of the Lord is the end of all knowledge. This is because God is more than knowledge, and our journey with him is one in which we grow and change. We never stop learning. Knowledge is not finite. This is especially true in the knowledge about ourselves. The older I get, the more I learn about who I truly am. This could rightly be called self awareness–about my tastes, preferences, privileges, disadvantages, biases, and so much more. Wisdom is recognizing myself as I interact with the world around me and knowing my role in it.

The second thought that came to my mind is what fools despise. They despise instruction–because a fool is one who is arrogant. A fool rejects other people’s wisdom or insight, believing that he or she already knows all about everything. This is their pride, and they think they are already wise and need no teacher. They know more than everyone else. A fool chooses to stay foolish. It is not a congenital defect a person has no choice over, and as such it is not linked to intelligence. A fool refuses to see the world through anyone else’s eyes, but steadfastly insists they and they alone are all that matter.

The wise says, “Tell me what you think. I want to hear what you’re view is.”

The fool says, “Shut up and listen to me and I’ll tell you how it is.”

What fools despise is what the wise crave–to be taught and learn things from other people.

“O Lord, mold me into a person who craves wisdom, and rejects folly.”

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Some Analysis On What Happened

Warning: What follows is snarky political commentary. Read at your own risk.

Waiver: I am not partisan. I am too concerned about the unborn to be a Democrat. I am too much in favor of immigration and open borders to be a Republican. I am too cynical of the human condition to be a Libertarian. I trust no politician.

Disclosure: I will not, at any point in the future, buy or read Hillary Clinton’s book. Its just not something I’m inclined to do.

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What Happened is the title of her book. It is not lost on me that her book title doesn’t have a question mark. She is not asking, she is telling. And that is perhaps as much insight as anyone needs into why she lost in the first place. Nevertheless, I take it as a question. What follows are my answers to her not-so-rhetorical question.


  1. Hillary lost. That is what happened. She was a bad candidate. I am not a Trumper, and that has been made manifest on the pages of this blog before, but he out campaigned her. It has been said before, and should be said again– There is nothing anyone else did that kept her from going to Wisconsin. It could be argued that Trump didn’t win; Clinton lost.
  2. The emails are a fact of her own making. She tries hard to blame Jim Comey for her defeat as if he invented the problem. The problem was one she made. If one thinks on it from a certain perspective, Comey can become a sympathetic character who was between a rock and a hard place as it concerned the Clinton emails.
  3. Bernie Sanders did her a favor. If Sanders hadn’t been such a magnetic candidate, even fewer people would have cared about the election from the Democratic end. The truth is, the Dems made a terrible mistake in fronting HRC to begin with. Elizabeth Warren would have been the preferred candidate, IMHO to either Bernie or HRC. The only positive thing for the Dems is that the table is set for a strong Warren run in 2020. I, for one, think that Warren V. Trump would be compelling to watch. I’m already making popcorn and Kool-Aid. I mean, can you imagine the fiery Elizabeth Warren’s righteous indignation if Trump would have stalked her in a a debate the way he did HRC? She would have lit him up right then and there.
  4. America is sick of the Clintons. In many ways, she lost for the same reason Jeb Bush could never get traction in the GOP primaries. Most people are ready to move on. I am one of them.
  5. Benghazi mattered. Yeah, that was a big deal to a lot of people. I understand diplomacy means risks, but the way she and President Obama tried to sell that debacle to the American public was a disgrace and many Americans remembered that at the voting booth.
  6. If she couldn’t handle Trump’s tactics in the campaign, how on earth did she expect to handle Russia, China, and North Korea? I think Putin might have overplayed his hands when he worked so hard at undermining the Clinton campaign, because he would have run roughshod over her presidency.
  7. Whining is not pleasant. As a leader, you have to own your problems, and sometimes even own the problems of others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken the blame for something I had nothing to do with, but because I’m the leader it is my responsibility. Blaming others and whining is not productive. Someone should tell her this.
  8. There is a gender problem in our country, and some people didn’t vote for her because she was a woman.  That is true. It is stupid and sad, but true. However, that is not why she lost. There are some people that didn’t vote for Trump just because he was a man, or who voted for Obama because he was black or didn’t vote for him because he was black or didn’t vote for Bush because he was from Texas or because he was from Texas. A strong candidate worthy of being the President of the United States overcomes this. How many people didn’t vote for Kennedy because he was Catholic? or Romney because he was Mormon? I don’t think I ever heard Mitt Romney complain about Mormon bias.

I do not wish HRC any ill will. I wish her the best. I want her to ride off into the sunset with Bill and spend time being a grandmother, doing philanthropy, advocating for women’s issues, and perhaps giving political commentary whenever she wants. But I don’t ever want to see her name on ballot again. Her time is up.

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Hey Apple–I Have Questions

I’m a pretty loyal consumer of Apple products. I get Apple. I understand the equipment. Perhaps it is because the first computers I remember are those old Macintoshes we had in high school. I can work a Windows machine fairly well, but I prefer Macintosh and Apple iPhones. The one exception is iTunes. I have invested a lot of money in iTunes music, and now I find that I can barely run the program and usually opt for Spotify or Amazon Music–which is what I’m listening to right now–some Allman Brothers on this Tuesday evening. apple_iphone_2017_20170912_11670.0

But I digress.

Today was the big reveal in Cupertino of the new iPhone X on the ten year anniversary of the first iPhone. I didn’t watch the event live. I had work to do. But I have been following the news release, and I have some questions.


1. What did nine do wrong? In fact, I’ll throw this out to Windows too. I was running a Dell last year and remember when the OS went from 8 to 10, and skipped nine altogether. Now iPhone has done the same thing. If I understand it right, they are releasing an iPhone 8 which is really just an updated 7, but there is no nine. Just like there was no Windows 9. The conspiracy theorists wants to know why? Is it a symbol? Does it have a secret only the Illuminati cipher? Is nine just too Trinitarian? Is nine not cool enough of a digit? Is it that nine is gone, because seven ate (eight?) nine?

2. Are you really doing something as lame as renaming the Apple Store “Town Squares” ? The word on the street is they are renaming the Apple Store to “Town Squares” Because they want them to be ‘meeting places’ for people. Man, that sounds terribly presumptuous and confusing. I think this will bomb. No one will call it Town Square. It will always be the Apple Store, just like no one calls it the Genius Bar, no matter how hard you try.

3. Can you give me a good reason to buy an Apple Watch? I wanted one, I really did. I wanted one when I thought it would replace my iPhone. I don’t want one if it has to be in close proximity to my iPhone to have full functionality. In other words, I want an Apple Watch that actually works independent, that is not just a bluetooth display of the iPhone.

4. Is face recognition a good idea? I mean, I watched the movie “The Circle” and it kinda of scared me because in my lifetime I’ve already observed the erosion of individual liberty and freedom for the sake of comfort as companies gather more and more analytics about us. Now you want my face? I mean, this sounds like a very bad idea. Can you give me some reassurances here?

5. If you get rid of the “Home” button on the iPhone, how will E.T. know where to go? How will he phone home? Okay, that was a bad joke, but I couldn’t resist. On a positive note, I like the look of the new iPhone X because it looks like the iPhone 3, which to me was the most beautiful of all the iPhones. It was smaller, true, but it fit in the pocket, and the hand, and looked amazing. I’m not a big fan of the square, and this new model looks like a throw back to that earlier design, and that is something I applaud.

6. Will “Augmented Reality” help me find better words for the letter V in Words With Friends? I’m asking for a friend.

7. Why does your promo shot of the iPhone X look so much like the poster for Star Trek the Motion Picture?

8. Can I trade in the drawer filled with the iPod, iPod shuffle, iPod mini, iPhone, iPhone 3, 4, 5, 5S, 6, iPad, iPad 2, and iPad Nano for a bit of a discount on the $999 price tag of one of your sleek new phones? Maybe a kidney? A toe, I mean I’ve got ten toes and I probably only need like seven?

These are some of the questions I have about the new iPhone. I’m sure more will arise in the coming days.

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Fire and Fury

I’m not certain I should write this blog post, because I am still processing in my mind what I am hearing our President say. And yes, whether you like him or not, he is our duly elected president. What I think I heard him say was that if North Korea threatened the United States they would be met with, “Fire and fury such as the world has never seen.” Then, I heard him say today that perhaps that wasn’t a tough enough statement.

I’m just working to put my mind around what that might mean. It sounds like he threatened thermonuclear war. That is what it sounded like–our President threatened another country with nuclear weapons. We, The United States, is engaging in brinkmanship of the ultimate kind. He threatened to drop a nuclear bomb on civilians oppressed under a brutal military dictatorship. He threatened to begin what would no doubt be a chain reaction of bombs across the Korean Peninsula, Asia, and no doubt the world. Our President threatened to intentionally deploy the weapons of a kind of armageddon. He used the specter of nuclear holocaust the way a playground bully would use a punch in the nose, or a petty businessman might use a lawsuit. He opened the vault of the past, where we’ve kept the fear of nuclear winter and the Doomsday Clock, and made us smell the rotting mold of genocide. He, that is we, because he is our president and he speaks for us, moved us in the most dangerous direction possible, on purpose.

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HELP! Greenbean Needs Your Opinion

I need to pick a new picture of me for our church newsletter. Of course, we go low budget around here, so any picture we use will likely be one taken on my iPhone. All my iPhone pics are on Facebook. I scrounged Facebook and found these pictures that I think could work. The problem is no picture of me is very good (not much to work with there) so it really boils down to picking the best of the worst. So here they are–register your vote at the end, and come back later to check and see who is winning. For the record, I do not promise to abide by the electoral decision.


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Game Time Jamie
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Theologian Pastor Jamie
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Bucees Big Drink Jamie
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Happy Church Camp Jamie
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Beard Stroking Jamie
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Not Happy Church Camp Jamie
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Jazz Hands Jamie
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Magnum P.I. Jamie

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The Dark Tower Movie

Is it possible to enjoy something and be disappointed by it at the same time?

The answer to that question must be yes, because that is exactly how I feel about my experience last night watching the Dark Tower.

WARNING: There are some spoilers below. Nothing major that would ruin it for you, but if you’re a purist you might want to stop and come back after you’ve seen it.


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I enjoyed the movie. I really did, and people who criticize it too harshly are either elitists who refuse to have a good time or who decided they didn’t want to like it before they ever sat down. The Dark Tower movie was far better than the Guardians sequel, yet another Spider Man movie, or anything else out there. I haven’t seen Dunkirk, but that is probably not a fair comparison, either. Dunkirk is Oscar bait. The Dark Tower movie is a fun summer film.

I enjoyed the movie because Idris Elba was amazing. Except for a single moment in the very end when he smiled too much, I was buying him as Roland. I never bought the story arc they told in the story for Roland, but I bought him, the actor, as Roland.

I enjoyed the kid playing Jake Chambers. The Dark Tower in the novels is not about Jake, but in movie he is the star, he is the protagonist and he is phenomenal.

I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey’s sleazy lizard lounge Man in Black. Sure, they put too much of him in the movie, but that was okay because I thought he captured the cheap sorcery and flippant caprice of the literary character pretty well.

I enjoyed the gunfights. I wish I could have seen more of those epic guns themselves, like a close up or a still shot or something, but nevertheless I loved those scenes.

I enjoyed that the movie didn’t answer all the plot elements of the breakers, and I enjoyed that they changed up the way they operated inside Algul Sient.

I enjoyed Jake making fun of Walter’s name.

I enjoyed the theme park.

I enjoyed hearing Roland say, “You have forgotten the face of your father.” Thank you big big.

I enjoyed all the homages to King’s other works, which are likewise part of the Dark Tower Universe, such as The Shining, Cujo, Salem’s Lot, and It.

I really enjoyed the opening screen that included the Ka-Tet Corporation with the turtle emblem as a maker of the movie. Way cool.


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But I was also disappointed. My perception is that a tinge of sorrow accompanied most people who loved the books as they watched the film play out, because the film was not the same epic story we’d fallen in love with. It is hard to even put into words, because its more about the feel of the movie than anything specific.

I was disappointed that they tried to distill several characters into Jake. I missed very much Eddie and Susannah and Father Callahan. And Oy. I really missed Oy. For those of you who haven’t read the novels, leaving out these characters would be like going to watch the Harry Potter movies and discovering that all the Weasleys had been written out, as well as Neville  Longbottom and they were all added to Hermione’s character. Or you went to watch the Lord of the Rings and discover Frodo was the only Hobbit around and that Sam, Merry, and Pippin were added to Frodo’s character. It is that disappointing.

I am disappointed that Roland’s motive was changed. Roland is all about the Dark Tower, not revenge on Walter. Walter is in his way and is his enemy, but all Roland cares about is the Dark Tower.

I am disappointed in the beginning. They start the film in New York. The story should have started with King’s epic first line. I really wanted the movie to open with Roland on horseback chasing Walter in the desert.

I am disappointed in the lack of musical allusion. If it was there, I didn’t catch it. For me, in reading the novels, the first hint that there is a connection to this weird world the Gunslinger inhabits and ours is when he hears the song Hey Jude in the bar in Tull. TDT has a soundtrack of wonderful songs–from Someone Saved My Life Tonight to Velcro Fly to Crazy Train. Zip, Zilch, Zero on that in the movie. If you’re interested, there is an awesome Spotify playlist for the Dark Tower songs.

I am disappointed in the ending. It felt like Back To The Future, and it was too much of a happy ending. There is never a happy ending for the Dark Tower. Never. It is a sad, tragic tale.

I am disappointed in the lack of connection to other works of literature–Asimov, Rowling, Browning, etc . . .

I am disappointed in the idea of Roland as a fallen gunslinger. He is not. He deals in lead.

I am disappointed I never got to see if Roland was drinking a Nozz-A-La on the bus.

I am disappointed the movie was only an hour and a half. Really? There is a bazillion pages of source material here, and we get an hour and a half? Come on, man!

I am disappointed that the Dixie Pig shootout was moved to the front, instead of the back where it should be. Not to mention that Roland wasn’t even at the Dixie Pig shootout in the novels, unless you count his todash type appearance.

I am disappointed that all the mysticism in the novels is encapsulated with the one element of “the Shine”, which it is not. The touch (as it is called in the novels) is only part of this mystical universe.


However, I do have hope. Perhaps a new director, better screenwriting, and a revamped approach can redeem the franchise for a second installment. Just think of the difference between Star Trek The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan. But for now I am content with the knowledge that the books are still there, and they are the kind of story that gets into your blood, and the characters become people you know, and the language, say thankee-sai, even worms its way into your head.

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I Need To Re-Think My Life

Friday I was in town, so I swung by the dry cleaning place to get my laundry. Most of the trousers I wear for work are dry-clean only, so I go there a couple of times a month.

I have never, ever, ever never, spoken to the woman who works the counter about any personal aspects of my life. Unless she googled me, there is no way she knows anything about me other than I am well-dressed.

Until Friday.

Friday, we had this conversation.

HER: “Are you a pastor?”

ME: “Why do you ask? It’s the hair, isn’t it?”

HER: “No, not your hair.”

ME: “Then what makes you think that?”

HER: “You’ve just got that pastor-vibe.”

This is a horrible development.

I need to make some changes, because the last thing I ever want is to have a pastor-vibe, whatever that is. Something has gone terribly wrong.

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The List Sermon: Dos and Don’ts

This morning I’m working on the sermon I will preach in three weeks–that is Sunday, July 30. It is a part of my Nehemiah series for the summer. The text for the sermon is based upon Nehemiah 6:15-7:4 when Nehemiah proclaims that the wall, his great magnum opus, was complete.

I originally wanted this sermon to be a narrative sandwich style, but a funny thing happened as I was working through the material. A list emerged. First it was three things, then it was five, and by the time I had finished it was seven.

Am I really going to preach a list sermon? You betcha! list

List sermons have a fine pedigree as a communicative style. The early Puritans loved them. Speeches are often nothing more than political secular list sermons. Think about the State of the Union addresses–just a giant list of stuff. And blogs, the best blogs are always lists. You know its true.

The problem is list sermons have a terrible reputation. This terrible reputation comes from being abused by sloppy speakers serving up half-baked homiletics. Here are some lists on the dos and don’ts of a list sermon.

DO

  1. Tell your audience that a list is coming. Don’t try to hide it. Come right out and say “I’ve got five things I want you to think about . . .” Doing this creates built-in momentum toward the exciting last point.
  2. Make the last point exciting. Even if it is not chronological, make certain the last thing you list is a real zinger that will either make them laugh, cry, or form a pulpit committee to replace you. Whatever it is, make it memorable.
  3. Keep the list tied to the text. Oftentimes list sermons turn into elongated word studies that have little to do the text. Or opinions. Or someone else’s sermon you’re just copying.
  4. Use lists when the text is a narrative. It provides balance, because you already have the story in the Bible, and the list can help process it.
  5. Work hard to ensure all your listed points serve one big point which is the one point sermon. I am a big believer in the one point sermon–so my Nehemiah sermon has seven things, but they all point to the big point, which is “Nehemiah built the wall as a part of a process to secure the people from their enemies.”

DON’T

  1. Use clever acrostics with your list. Everyone hates those, and they are so 1980s. It only proves you know how to use a thesaurus.
  2. Spend too much time on the first one or two of your items and then cram the other six in the last paragraph of text or the last minute of speaking. Give equal time to all of your points.
  3.  Develop a list sermon when the biblical text is a proposition or . . . a list. Yeah, don’t use that list sermon, I don’t care how clever your acrostic spells out the name of your church, just don’t use that list sermon to preach the fruit of the Spirit, which in case you missed it, is a list! You need a narrative to preach a list or proposition.
  4. Proclaim that your list is exhaustive or declare “These are the six things you need to know . . .” because seriously, there might be eight. And, there really might only be two, and you just like the other four.
  5. Make your list too long. I once heard a sermon that was a twenty-seven (27!) point explanation or something. Actually, I didn’t hear that sermon, because I walked out on it.

There is probably a lot more I could list here, but I’ll just leave it at this, because I need to go write some more sermony things.

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The Cross Is Not A Secular Symbol

The Texas Department of Transportation is using signs that include a red cross against a blue background to indicate a spot on the highway where a motorcyclist died. The family has to pay $350 for the sign, and there are no options. They have to use the red cross, regardless of their faith commitments. So, a Muslim motorcyclist’s family has to use a red cross. So to a Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or even the supposed atheist. They all have to use a singular red Latin cross. (My information on this comes from the Austin American-Statesman Sunday paper left on my back porch by my kind neighbor down on the cove.)

The reason for this is TxDOT says, and it is backed by the Texas legislature, that a cross is not a religious symbol but is instead a ‘death symbol.’

I found this picture of it on Patheos.com.

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Now, the Pastor Greenbean Blog is all about my opinions, so here are my opinions.

  1. TxDOT is full of bologna. The cross is most definitely a religious symbol–and to me it is the most cherished religious symbol for it is the cross that is the scandal of Jesus’ death and the symbol of my life of discipleship. The cross is what I take up daily.
  2. Here is the thing I don’t get most. That blue sign in no way indicates anything about public safety. It doesn’t say “Motorcycles Watch Out” or “Be Careful” or anything helpful. All a person knows from that sign is that the individual, may he rest in peace, died on that date.  The reason I know he died is because it says “In Memory”, not because of the giant red cross. In your mind edit the sign with just the red cross, the name and date. Edit out the “In Memory” and what would you think it was for? I might come to the conclusion it was a dedicated Christian who paid for that stretch of highway. Or a billboard for a new ministry in town. I’m not sure I would come to the conclusion that the person had died there.
  3. If we, as Christ-followers, allow the state to co-opt our precious symbolism in order to communicate something about public safety, then we are guilty of selling out our faith for public recognition. The is a sin and a mistake.
  4. A related opinion: if they take the cross as a state symbol, how long before they come after the wine and bread? The baptismal waters? The ceremonial anointing oil? How long before they make a church get restaurant licensing in order to have potluck? The point is, once you go down this road, the state will always grab more and more power and more and more control.
  5. The cross was a death symbol two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire. It was a symbol of power, the power of the state to do whatever it wanted to compel obedience and submission. Christ-followers turned it around, though, and it became a symbol not of someone’s death, but of someone who was decidedly not dead–Jesus is alive.
  6. Why can’t TxDOT find another symbol? May I recommend a motorcycle?
  7. To be honest, I am completely baffled by TxDOT’s opinion that the cross is not a religious symbol but a “non sectarian symbol of death.” Do they really believe this, or is it some kind of covert attempt to “Christianize” the unChristian, like Mormons baptizing in absentia for the dead? I can’t believe anyone with any sense at all would think of the cross as anything other than a religious symbol.
  8. The cross is a very appropriate symbol for the resting place of a Christ-follower, a cemetery,  crematorium, crypt, etc… However, it is a violation of what the cross means–a choice a person makes in their waking, living lives to follow Jesus–to impose it upon someone who never made that choice. Likewise, the decision to impose it weakens its meaning to those of us who have made that choice.

So I finish with a plea–TxDOT, please leave our symbols alone and get your own.

 

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I Am Old and It Is Phil Collins’ Fault

This weekend I did a wedding, but this post is not about the wonderful bride and groom and their families. This post is about what happened two hours before the wedding.

I was sitting in the fellowship hall where the room was decorated for the reception. I was drinking coffee and talking to a couple of very intelligent and interesting young men. One was 20 years old and training to be a welder. The other was 22 years old and a recent graduate of college. I asked, in passing, if there was to be dancing at the reception. The 20 year old said, “I can’t dance.” To which I replied, “Phil Collins, 1991.” For the record, I was right on the money with the year. Yay me.

But that is not what this post is about.

The 20 year old replied, “Who is Phil Collins?” I laughed and thought he was teasing. He then added, “I’ve never heard of that person.” I turned and asked the 22 year old if he was hearing this, and he said, “Yeah, I don’t know who that is either.” I went off for a few moments–mentioning Phil, Genesis, Peter Gabriel and finally the 22 year old, who is familiar with football, said he’d heard of the song “In The Air Tonight” because they play it over the loudspeakers at football games sometimes.

I almost died.

Here is my conundrum. I know this makes me, officially, old. But what should I do about it? I am asking you to vote below in the poll to help me decide. Remember to register your vote by clicking the vote button after you choose. You may vote as many times as you like.

 

 

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Roger Moore, Peace, Rest In

Rest in peace, Roger Moore.

The sad part of modern life is we mourn the loss of celebrities, but we really don’t know them as people. We only know them as their character. Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. Leonard Nimoy is Spock. Robin Williams is . . . everything.Unknown

It is not disrespectful, therefore, to remember the passing of a beloved icon with a tip of the hat to the work they did. As such, I am certain family and friends of Roger Moore will mourn him the way I hope to be mourned when my time comes. But I, I will mourn him by remembering him as Bond. James Bond.

Moore’s Bond was different than Sean Connery’s. Connery was tough first, slick second. Connery and Daniel Craig play Bond more like Fleming wrote him. Moore reinvented the character as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who enjoyed wisecracks and managed to do his job as a side-effect of his good time. He fit the 1970s, and his Bond was goofier, but far more playful. His bond was more sexual, carefree, and smiled. Moore wore the tuxedo better, but looked out of place in a fist fight. He could sell a scene with his eyes, and in so doing invite the audience in on a little escapism.

On that note, here are his turns as Bond from best to worst, in my personal opinion.

  1. Live and Let Die–His first movie was his best. Trains. Sharks. Crocodile farms. Exploding people. New York City. Jane Seymour.  An espresso machine. Paul McCartney. Perfect.
  2. The Spy Who Loved Me–The underwater car was brilliant. The submarine scenes were a little forced, but who cares.
  3. The Man With The Golden Gun–The film drags a little, but fun none the less. Moore is over-the-top Bond in this one.
  4. A View To A Kill–Horrible movie, but loads of fun. Moore was too old to play Bond at this point, but Christopher Walken as the bad guy was inspired. Let’s just forget about the Beach Boys in the opening escapade, but the Duran Duran theme song more than makes up for that. High Duran Duran coolness factor. (Click Here for more Duran Duran)
  5. Moonraker–The Bond book by this same name is one of my favorites. The movie was cheesy and beyond bad, however Moore makes it so much fun with his witty banter and the fun in Rio.
  6. For Your Eyes Only–Honestly, Moore feels a little stale in this film. Only the scenery of Greece saves it from complete and total failure. The plot is intricate, but all the actors are beyond bad.
  7. Octopussy–I hate this movie. The Tarzan yell is inexplicable. The Fleming short story by the same title is fascinating and spectacular. This movie is a terrible mashup of several Fleming plots and none of them work. But Roger Moore gambling and making his getaway through the streets of India is enjoyable and reminds us of why even as the worst, of the Moore films, it is still a good evening.
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On The Removal of Confederate Statues

I have many mixed emotions about the phenomena of cities and institutions removing Confederate statues. It is an issue that has clogged my social media accounts, although I’ve seen very little about it in the news. Perhaps the media isn’t covering it much because they don’t know how to feel about it, either. The most recent actions have been taken by the city of New Orleans to remove statues from public places, even in the middle of the night, and relocate (Click Here for NY Times Article) them.  However, the one that is closest to my heart is on the campus of my alma mater, where a very prominent statue of Jefferson Davis was recently (Click here for a news story on this)  relocated from the main square to a historical archive of statues.

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Here are my mixed emotions. I have no love for the Confederate States of America. I consider the Confederacy to be rebels who took up arms against the country I love. I do not understand how anyone can pledge allegiance to the American flag and still have such a love affair with the Confederacy and all her symbols and trappings. I also consider the Confederacy to have been tragically wrong. In fact, it was so wrong that my reading of history, as a person of faith, tells me God himself intervened to make certain it lost. How else can anyone explain to me why the South did not win the war in the first two years. There is no logical explanation other than Providence. God made certain the South lost because slavery had to end and the culture which was nurtured by the enslavement of souls had to end. In the modern age, the symbols of the Confederacy, as well as the cause of the Confederacy, have been use by people who are pushing a racist and/or xenophobic agenda. This is undeniable. Since the 1960s “States Rights” has meant, mostly, that states can segregate if they want to and the federal government should just butt out. History is written by the winners, and the winners are still writing and re-writing it as an act of imperium, and good for them. We want to celebrate the values of diversity, tolerance, and freedom which are the opposite of the Confederate values of uniformity, exclusion, and slavery.

Those are the mixed emotions on one side. But there is another side. History is precious. We learn from history, but we learn nothing by  sanitizing history as if it never happened. That is what I think the proponents of moving statues are trying to do–sanitize history. Removing the statues from New Orleans or the campus of the University of Texas does not change two facts of history. Fact one: These people lived and led. Fact two: Years later, people were still committed enough to the cause that they paid money to erect a monument. Both of these truths are a part of our history, and the latter is the issue for many in academia. The statues were put there by well-heeled donors who were racists, and thought of the school as an institution for their kinds of people.

Statues mean something, and they can teach. When I behold a marble statue from Ancient Rome, I do not consider the rightness of the Empire that gave rise to it. Instead I consider what kind of people made this, what were their values, how were they right, how were they wrong, what were their beliefs and so forth. Removing Confederate statues robs future generations from such contemplation as they gaze into the angry eyes of Stonewall Jackson or the gentle face of Robert E. Lee. I want them to stare into the eyes of Lee. I want them to ask, “How can such a gentle looking grandfather have believed in such a horrible cause?”

For that is the lesson. In the end, I think of these statues as monuments of pity. Lee, Jackson, Davis and company were wrong, and their wrongness caused the greatest devastation in American history.  Yet, even in their wrongness, we can learn a positive lesson that helps us every day. Honorable people can be misguided and wrong. I often bring that point out when speaking of war from a biblical perspective. Good, honorable people can be wrong and still need to be stopped. Everything I’ve studied of Lee and (Click Here) Jackson, for example, indicate that these were good men who loved their families and, in their own twisted way, thought of themselves as Christ-followers. Yet they were wrong. Very wrong. Tragically wrong. And they had to be stopped. I thank God they lost and were stopped. It is a lesson we need to remember in the times in which we live. There are honorable, good, and yes, even Christ-following people who are on the other side or whatever issue we are passionate about. Being on the other side doesn’t make them the devil. They may be wrong, but they may yet be noble. It does not mean they should not be stopped and opposed at every opportunity. And of course, I am speaking politically and rhetorically.  We are not at the point of bloodshed. We should stop no one with the power of a bullet, but instead with the authority of our logical and reasoned argument.

Mixed emotions. History is a great teacher, and I fear removing these statues is like taking a teacher out of a classroom, or ripping a page out of a textbook because it is painful. The issue of the statues is different and distinct than the Confederate Flag debate. Statues are snapshots in time–about the people who are memorialized and those who did the memorializing. As a contrary example, the Lincoln Memorial is about Lincoln–his times, his leadership, and his sacrifice–but it is also about those who appropriated his values and transformed him into something like a Greek god. There is little doubt to me that the Lincoln of history would have thought his memorial preposterous. But it teaches us something. I don’t think it is their intention, but those wanting to remove statues have a lot in common with the ISIS folks who destroy art and culture from antiquity because their intolerance can’t abide it. It is an ironic twist that the progressive left today cannot stand anything that is not in uniformity with its own views, thus they are more like the Confederacy they deplore than the Union they celebrate. The result could be a kind of cultural slavery that denies individuals the ability to be contrary, or to consider their history.

See, mixed emotions. I legitimately can see both sides of the issue. Perhaps we are missing an opportunity. Maybe instead of removing anything, we instruct and inform. Count me as one of those who believe education and learning can fix a lot of what ails our world. Simply removing statues from public view is a choice to live in ignorance of the past, thus guaranteeing nothing is learned except a temporarily soothed conscience or a glimmer of false peace. For anyone who thinks that removing a statue will remove the racism in the heart of someone else has never seriously considered the evil of either racism or the human heart.

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10 Thoughts On Comey’s Firing

 

72968070So . . . did you watch the news last night. We got in from watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Click here to read my review)  and I turned on the news to see if the world was still there and discovered the media in an out-right panic. POTUS fired FBI Director James Comey. It is perfectly within his power to do so, but everyone was aflutter—some were rushing to condemn the action, others rushed to praise it. Here are 10 thoughts I have.

  1. I would have fired James Comey, too. I just would have done it four months ago.
  2. Timing is everything. The timing of this looks highly suspicious.
  3. Anderson Cooper owned Kellyanne Conway last night.
  4. Trump apparently wasn’t prepared for the fallout of this action. How is that possible? He should probably fire some advisors.
  5. Comey found out while giving a speech and saw it on the TV’s in the room. That is no way to run a country.
  6. The media might be making this into a bigger deal than it really is, but it is hard to tell because they make such a big deal about EVERYTHING.
  7. It is not the firing of Comey alone that troubles me. It is the firing of Comey along with 46 Federal prosecutors.
  8. If I were a betting Baptist, I’d bet Jeff Sessions is the next to be fired, and I bet it happens before Independence Day.
  9. The first rule of an assassination is to kill the assassin. In October, Comey assassinated the Clinton campaign. Yesterday, the other shoe fell.
  10. The only way to clean this up is a special prosector. Congress should appoint one by the end of next week. It is in President Trump’s best interest as well as the nation’s, because it is the only thing that will put this behind us, one way or the other.

 

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Guardians Vol. 2–A No Spoiler Review

Mrs. Greenbean and I, along with the youngest sprout, watched Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 last night.

Here is what is good about it.

  1. Baby Groot. Not as enjoyable as Groot, but still fun.
  2. There are several moments of witty dialogue, which is the real strength of these films.
  3. The music is great.
  4. It is a beautiful movie to watch–the costuming, effects, and color are pleasing to the eye. 
  5. The family themes are positive in both directions. What I mean is that both biological and free association ideas of family are demonstrated as potential failures and successes, in their own way.

These five things are worth the price of a matinee ticket. Not an IMAX or even a comfortable reclining seat ticket. Just matinee.

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It definitely was not as good as the first Guardians film. In fact, upon reflection, it had all the defects of the first film and very little of the good things. Chris Pratt is always likable, but in this film I find him absent. I don’t know if it is an intentional device on the part of the writing team, but I’m guessing more than half the scenes do not have Pratt in them. Instead, there is a weird focus upon minor characters from the first film.

Here is what I didn’t like at all.

WARNING–I have been advised there is a spoiler potential in No. 1 Below, so, I have redacted it, and moved the uncensored version to the bottom of this blog post where you can read it at your own risk.

  1. The plot was not just uninspired, it was plagiarized. How many times must we see a  semi-divine being try to take over the galaxy.
  2. Zoe Saldana got lost in the mix. Her character is completely lost. I think she has one good scene. One.
  3. The film grabs at so many relationships — Peter/Yondu, Rocket/Yondu,  Gamora/Peter, Peter/Ego, Mantis/Drax, Nebula/Gamora, Baby Groot/Rocket that it really does a poor job with all of them.
  4. Sylvester Stallone.
  5. The Mummy trailer we were afflicted with. Another Mummy reboot? With Tom Cruise? Really?

Most sequels are not as good as the original, and I feel like Marvel rushed this one to fit the Avengers timeline. It felt that way–like they needed to get a couple of things checked off their big picture narrative before they can move on with what they really want to do.

Is it kid friendly? About the same as the first one. There is language and sexual innuendo I wouldn’t want a six year old to see, and a moment of intense violence that I found disturbing. However, it is not too great a departure from typical comic book. It is right square where a PG-13 film probably should be.

 

POSSIBLE SPOILER BELOW–SCROLL AT YOUR OWN RISK

 

I WARNED YOU

 

  1. The plot was not just uninspired, it was plagiarized. How many times must we see a  semi-divine being try to take over the galaxy.
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Star Wars Problems

Today is May the Fourth–aka Star Wars Day.

I’m a big fan–have been since I sat in that darkened theater and watched the original Star Wars in 1977. That doesn’t mean that our favorite galaxy far far away doesn’t have some major problems.

Problem #1–Plot holes

Every Star Wars film has major plot holes. Not minor ones, major ones. Does Luke learn all there is to be a Jedi during a two hour layover on Dagobah? In a great big desert, Finn never saw Poe get out of the crashed tie fighter? Why doesn’t Uncle Owen remember Threepio?

But the biggest plot hole, in my opinion, is in what was called Episode One, The Phantom Menace. Every airport in the world, and many shopping malls and merchant districts, have kiosks where you can exchange currency. imagesI can exchange my dollars for euros if I want. The rate might not be favorable, but if I go to Europe I’m gonna need the euros. It is impossible to believe that some enterprising businessman on Tatooine didn’t have a kiosk somewhere on the planet where Gui-Gon Jinn and gang could have exchanged some republic credits for the local currency to get the parts they needed. Sure, they might have taken a bath on the transaction, but money is not their problem.

Problem #2–Doors

This is a novelty, but I see it is a problem. It is a real problem if you get your finger caught in a Star Wars door. Why are they so fast?

Problem #3–The Jedi

Two problems here. First, the Jedi are dimwitted.

Really, master Jedi, you didn’t know the Sith lord was Palpatine? Really? You never thought to suspect that it was the politician? More to the point, why would you let the student who so clearly troubled many of you and whose future was cloudy spend so much time with the known crooked politician?

You were supposed to be smarter than this. Way smarter.

The second problem is more–philosophical. When I watched the original Star Wars as a child, it seemed like being a Jedi and using the “Force” was the kind of thing that came from hard work, study, and an open mind. Kind of like success in general. But as we learn from the prequels, it really is more about elitism. You are either born with it, or you are not. That ruined the mystique of the Jedi and posed a philosophical problem inside the Star Wars universe. I am pretty sure I would be against the Jedi and their elitist tendencies. Their answer for just about every critique is “You have to trust me.” Or, to just kill you. They are elitists who abuse their power.

Problem #4–Padme 

I may rant a bit here. Padme starts off strong in The Phantom Menace, and is truly one of the only bright spots. By Revenge of the Sith, however, she is reduced to cliche lines and weeping, a shrinking violet that provides no real plot progression other than the emotional turmoil for Anakin.

This is a problem for me on two fronts. First, Natalie Portman is one of the finest actors in any galaxy, and she was criminally underutilized. Why not make her character more active in the inevitable break away of Anakin Skywalker? Why not give her something to do? Why not make her more than a trophy, wielded between Anakin and Obi-Wan.

The second problem for me is the heritage of Padme. She is the forgotten voice. So much of the Star Wars vibe is the father-son relationship, but they miss a real opportunity with the legacy of Padme. Neither Luke nor Leia know of their brave mother, her courage, the work she did to save the Republic, and ultimately how Anakin betrayed her—a betrayal which led to her death. This problem can be fixed with the upcoming films, but I doubt that it will.

Problem #5–Storm/Clone/First Order Troopers

The obvious one is they can’t hit anything. But that isn’t my problem. That the bad guys never learneUnknownd to aim is a common theme since the westerns of old. No, my problem is, what is the all the plastic armor for? It doesn’t protect against basters. It doesn’t protect against Ewok rocks and sticks. It doesn’t protect against a karate chop to the throat. It doesn’t protect against a punch in the face. It doesn’t protect against being thrown into a tree. It serves no real purpose, as I can tell.

 

Problem #6–I can’t quite seem to get enough of it. 

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Hungry Children

I sat in a meeting today whose sole purpose is to end hunger in our county. We call our selves the “Hunger Alliance” but I prefer to think of us as the Rebel Alliance.Unknown

There was a large discussion today–most of our time–over a particular phenomenon that none of us quite understood. It has come up in the past two meetings. Here goes:

  • At least 30% of our community has food ‘insecurity’–which means they do not have a steady, stable source of food.
  • In the summer, public schools provide free lunches. I believe this is a no-questions-asked free lunch to any child or family who wants it.
  • Last year, they even put the lunches on a bus and drove them to the outlying communities.
  • No one comes.

One school official said her school was a half-mile from apartments where many students live.

No one comes.

People are hungry. We know they are hungry. The food is right there. No one eats.

What we kept coming back to is the question why? There is all this free food out out there, for the taking. There are two possible avenues for a reason. One, it is a physical problem with logistics. Two, it is a psychological problem involving perception.

Let’s start with the physical possibility. Some suggested it is because the students are left at home, parents go to work, and the children are told to not leave the house. A second physical problem is transportation to the school. a third thing that people suggested was that people didn’t know about it and therefore we need to do a better job of getting the word out. There might be other logistical problems, but these seem like the biggest.

The second option, the psychological one, is more interesting to me because I think it has more traction. There are at least two of these. First, people have a stigma about eating at the school in the summer. During the school year, all children eat, and no one knows if the kid eating the meal is getting free or reduced (which 50% do) or if the parents just prefer to have the hot lunch option for the student. Anyone eating in the summer would automatically be ‘outed’ as receiving free or reduced. Second, its school. People don’t want to go to school during the summer, even for a meal. Even if they were giving away steak dinners, no one would go to school to eat.

I don’t know if we can crack this nut. It is probably beyond our pay grade, if you know what I mean. We are working with volunteer organizations, churches, food-banks, and the public education system. There are multiple layers of bureaucracy to deal with. I suspect we are stuck with the status quo for at least the foreseeable future. This reality breaks my heart. The idea that there are children who are hungry just because the calendar says it is July troubles me.

There is really only one real solution here. That solution is year-round school. It makes the most logical sense to solve the food shortage. I am in favor of year-around school for academic reasons as well, but this is the reason that might eventually get people thinking.

I’d be interested to hear your opinion, so I have turned comments “On” for this particular post.

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I Have Some Opinions About Stuff

Holy smokes–a lot of stuff happened today.

Let’s start with the United States Navy. Apparently we lost the USS Carl Vinson and its battle group.  No kidding. Read about it by clicking here. The White House didn’t know where it was. Weird, because for several years I could see the Carl Vinson outside my window at home. Now, to be clear, I am sure the Navy knew where the vessels were. I am also sure the ships knew where they were. What is unclear is where the White House thought they were and where they really were. The whole things sounds like the plot to a James Bond movie. Tomorrow Never Dies comes to mind. Salon had the best take on it, calling it “Schrodinger’s U.S. aircraft carrier.’ USS-Carl-Vinson-Honors-Sunken-UK-Navy-Ships

What I am trying to figure out is whether or not it was purposeful. You know, did they actually never intend for it to go to North Korea, but it was a media disinformation bluff? I’d like to think so. I’d like to think so, until I think about it some more and decide no, I don’t want that because that is the kind of thing totalitarian regimes do. I decided that either way, this is not really a good story.

636281013629153981-Unicorn-FrappuccinoStarbucks has wowed the American non-coffee drinking public with yet another goofy drink. Apparently it is called the unicorn frappuccino. It looks like whipped Pepto Bismol. No thanks. I prefer coffee. However, I applaud the marketing folks at Starbucks. You’ve done a great job getting people who don’t like coffee to buy stuff from a coffee shop. Reminds me of some churches that are trying to get people who don’t want to go to church to enjoy church. Takes a lot of pink stuff, sugar, marketing, viral campaigns, and probably isn’t very good for you. But hey, it works.

Georgia-special-election-heads-for-runoff-as-Democrat-falls-shortPeople are making a big deal about a runoff election in Georgia. Apparently Democrats think it is a sign that people are tired of Trump or something. As I have stated often, I’m not POTUS’ biggest fan and have grave misgivings about both his character and abilities, but this is silly talk. The Georgia 6th Congressional District has no bearing whatsoever on national politics for 2018. The electorate–the people who vote in this country–have become firmly Republican. Republicans control all three branches of government, most state houses and most governors’ mansions. The only thing that will help the Dems is for them to alter their uber-progressive message and bring some young leadership in front of the country.

More military news–The United States scrambled military jets in response to Russian bombers in Alaskan airspace. I am pretty sure this kind of thing happens all the time. I mean, I saw Top Gun. The frightening part, to me anyway, is that we know about it. We shouldn’t know about this. Can anybody in the government keep a secret anymore? What worries me most about this one is that it is probably the most important news story of the day, but so many other ‘sensational’ things grabbed the headlines. bill

Fox News finally did the right thing. They fired Bill O’Reilly. I don’t say that as a political move. Sometimes I agreed with the guy, especially early on. I even enjoyed his first book–the one he wrote before he started killing people in the titles. Nevertheless, he was clearly a womanizing abuser of power and privilege. He had to go, and that is no spin.

Another shooter. This time in Fresno, California. Apparently he shouted “Allah akbar” as he shot three people. Last week he killed someone else, for a total of four. he fired 16 rounds. Authorities are saying it was a racially motivated crime and not religious. I seriously doubt that. But that is not what my key opinion is here. The media and the police are calling this a ‘hate crime.’ Can I tell you how much I deplore that label.  Does it matter what his motive was? He killed four people, and tried to kill more. What matters I that he had a motive. If he’d been trying to steal money from them it wouldn’t have mattered. They would still be dead and he would still be guilty. The whole ‘hate crime’ motif is stupid and useless.

 

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President Trump and Tomahawks

I am not against the use of Tomahawk missiles against Syria.

I am not for it, either.

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This issue is so terribly complicated that I’m pretty sure I’ll never fully understand all the variables at play. The use of that awesome and effective United States Military power changed the course of Trump’s presidency. For me, that calls for a little Monday Morning Quarterbacking and analysis of what might be going on.

First, let’s examine some facts.

  1. Assad used chemical weapons.
  2. President Obama told Assad not to do that.
  3. President Obama failed to enforce the ‘red line’ in Syria.
  4. Donald Trump vehemently protested any action in Syria in 2013 and while campaigning.
  5. Syria is under Russian hegemony.

Now, let’s amass some opinions. Opinions aren’t bad, they just must be viewed differently than facts.

  1. Most everyone in the world agrees that using chemical weapons is a crime against humanity.
  2. Some people think POTUS should have come to congress before taking action.
  3. Other people think POTUS had authorization for this under previous resolutions in congress.
  4. Militarily, Syria poses no threat to us, however Russia’s presence makes things sloppy.
  5. The United States is one of the few nations on earth with both the ability and the moral authority to act.
  6. Many of the ‘hot spots’ in the world, particularly ISIS, are so hot because Barack Obama was not aggressive on the international front and projected weakness. This is evidenced from Ukraine to Iran to Nigeria.

Having some facts in hand, and some opinions, now let’s think about the politics.

  1. A lot of Trump voters were for him because he advocated a policy that indicated he would not entangle himself in international messes. Repeatedly he said things would be better if we just left things alone.
  2. POTUS and Putin have an interesting relationship, one that has been under a great deal of scrutiny.
  3. Trump has criticized the United States’ intelligence gathering communities.
  4. Last week North Korea launched a missile.
  5. China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, was in Trump’s hotel in Mar-a-Lago when the missiles were launched against Syria.
  6. There is some kind of power struggle going on in the White House between the globalist son-in-law Jared Kushner and the nationalist Steve Bannon. It appears in this issue, POTUS went to Jared.

Perhaps now we can do some analysis.

  1. It is possible that POTUS changed his opinion based upon intelligence information, policy arguments, and the weight of the office of President. Perhaps he had a legitimate change of mind because of the evidence presented to him from the intelligence communities. This would be encouraging.
  2. It is also possible that POTUS recognizes he is in trouble over Russia and the internecine struggles within his staff that have resulted in an administration that is undisciplined, disconnected, and unsure of itself. To fix this image problem and divert attention, he did what others (remember Reagan invading Grenada, or Clinton bombing aspirin factories?) have done, and that is trump up (no pun intended) a national security issue. This particularly gives him cover on the Russia issue. A person friendly or beholden to Putin would not have done this. This line of thought is very discouraging.
  3. Maybe, just maybe, the real target of the Tomahawks was not Syria, but North Korea. I think the America people possibly feel this in their gut, because we recognize what a fighter does. A fighter punches someone in the face to get everyone’s attention in order to send the message that if they don’t fall in line, they are next. Last week POTUS said, “If China doesn’t fix North Korea, we will,” and then, as if to add some muscle to that, he bombs Syria while the leader of China is eating dinner at the Florida White House. This line of thought is chilling, but clever. Clever in its churchillian approach, but chilling in that it signals a heightened military presence around the world.

Now, for some Greenbean opinions.

  1. The Middle-East is not a puzzle to be solved. Something should be done about Assad, but it will not really solve anything. We are still trying to figure out how to put things back together after they broke it all following World War I. What is broken in that part of the world is the culture, and politics can’t really fix culture.
  2. If there were no oil there, no one would care. Look at Africa. No one is worried about the refugees coming over to Uganda from Sudan because of the violence. There is no oil there. No one cares. This seems to rob much of these issues of their moral clamor.
  3. Tomahawk missiles do nothing in the struggle in Syria. If we really wanted to make a difference in Syria, we must land ground troops, overthrow Assad, and build a national coalition. Of course, that is what we did in Iraq, and we see how that works. Again, there are no good solutions.
  4.  If this continues, it is only a matter of time before we are in a proxy war with Russia in Syria (or Iran) as well as a proxy war with China in Korea. Again.
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Robots-Creepy Little Robots

I don’t take the newspaper anymore. I don’t have time to read it. The Sunday paper is usually more ads than news. I cancelled my subscription about two years ago. My neighbor, down the sidewalk here on the cove, does take the paper and graciously brings it to my back porch, sometimes with a couple of bananas or a candy bar, every Sunday morning. It is a pleasant comfort to have it in the afternoons after church.

I flipped through yesterday, and saw this horrifying and ridiculous picture on the front of the business section.

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Several thoughts simultaneously rushed into the mushy matter between my ears.

  1. Why didn’t they make this creepy little robot average human height. They built a hobbit robot, not a human robot. Notice how both the humans in this picture have to look down at the little guy. They are breeding a robot that will have a built-in Napoleon complex before it ever gets started. Is hard white plastic that hard to get that you didn’t have any extra to make it a little longer?
  2. You can’t fool me. This is not really a robot. Look at it closely. It seems to be a plastic doll on a Rhoomba that has an iPad taped to it. Reminds me of Phil Dunphy’s homemade Skypebot. UnknownFor reals, I saw something like it at the hospital a couple of months ago. A doctor on FaceTime was taped to a remote controlled mannequin and making rounds. No lie.
  3.  Never in a million years would I buy something like this. Never. Have the people who make such things never seen the movies? It is just a few years between that cute plastic walking emoji and The Terminator. They’ll be back.
  4. This robot’s name is Pepper, and according to the caption under the picture (because I am not about to read the whole article) it is designed to assist seniors. I assume that means senior adults rather than seniors in high school or college. If so, then NEWSFLASH–senior adults don’t adapt real well to technology. This thing would be a very creepy and expensive statue in the corner. Seriously, you should see my mother work the Dish Network screen. I can only imagine her with this thing.
  5. Check out the link to the article here. If you do, you’ll see the picture of the robot looks just like the crazy robots form the Asimov-inspired Will Smith thriller I, Robot. They could be twinsies.   To save you time, I put the side-by-side here.
  6. What’s with all the power cords this thing is plugged into. I don’t get it. An electric car can drive from here to Dallas nonstop. Why does this thing need to be plugged in to go across the carpet and harass the woman who looks like she wants to kick it?

 

Sorry to take up so much of your time ranting, but I had to tell someone, and no one else is in the office right now.

 

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Luke 15–A Poem

 

I stopped writing poetry because no one wants to read poetry. We’re not a very reflective culture. Nevertheless, I wrote this several years ago, and as I preached Luke 15 (along with Luke 19) on Sunday, I thought I would share this with you.


Luke 15

A little girl wanders the path from home

Like a lost sheep in the wilderness astray

All alone and so far away

someone should leave the others and show her the way

A family slips and bounces around

Like a coin it rolls out of the light

Not far but still not in sight

someone should sweep the floor all night

A generation claimed inheritance and left

Like a prodigal child it wandered afar

Chased after the sun, moon, and every star

Someone should wait ’til it remembers who they are

Children, siblings, friends and parents–lost

Like a scent on the nose of a persistent hound

Christ love to them for ever will abound

someone wants the lost safely found

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Logan–No Spoiler Review

logan2Last night we watched Logan. We made a horrible mistake by watching the late showing because the theater was filled with rude teenagers. I need to watch my movies when the other old people watch them–in daylight hours!

The movie was very good. In trying to organize my thoughts, it is perhaps best that I just make a list.

1. The movie earned its “R” rating.

The violence is brutal. In other X-Men movies Wolverine tends to go for chest kills, but I’d say ninety percent of his kills here are either decapitations or head shots. The violence is comparable to a slasher horror film or the first thirty minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Seeing young children engage in violent activity was also disturbing to me.

The language is also strong. I think this is one of the weakest points of the film. The writers use F-bombs galore to communicate despair, anger, disappointment, and power. Smarter writing could have done that without resorting to this tactic. By contrast, other X-Men films have used strong language sparingly, which makes it more effective. The movie also has a rather gratuitous flashing of boobies.

2. The movie is not a super-hero movie.

If you come into this film expecting typical superhero fare, you’ll leave disappointed (like I think most of the teenagers we saw it with) because it is not that kind of movie. It is not about saving the world or even saving the day. The movie is about aging, dying, and the pain of regret as a person works through the knowledge they are past their prime. Logan’s character moves from one who has given up to one is faced with continuing to despair or to make a difference.

3. I loved the homages.

There are two specific homages that caught my attention. First, the use of X-Men comic books as as storyline was brilliant. These are not real world comics, but invented comics (as I understand it) for the movie universe. That X-Men comics exist in the X-Men universe is awesome. I perceive it to be a stand in for all the previous movies, with the hint that those stories were glamorized versions of what ‘really’ happened. This movie pretends to let us behind the curtain to see the nitty gritty of who these characters really are, the price they paid, and the tragedy of their existence.

The second homage is to the old western “Shane.” In fact, there are several scenes that reminds me of that old movie, besides the two overt references. One is a precious seen midway through the movie in a hotel room and the other is at the very end. I remember watching that movie with my grandmother many years ago, and I am remember showing it my daughters. They argued with me for days as to whether or not Shane died as he rode away. Of course he did.

4. The religious imagery is off the charts.

Despite its well earned “R” rating, the movie has intense spiritual references and imagery. In many ways Logan’s character is one who has lost his faith, and Professor X is the one who, despite his own difficulties, has been tasked with helping him on that journey. Woven into this tapestry of faith questions is the lingering mutant question–have human beings tampered with God’s creation so much that we have negated something he intended? In this scenario, mutants perhaps stand in as a metaphor for diversity and pluralism whereas corporations and governments seek to enforce uniformity and conformity.

Part of this is the title credits. Hang out and listen to the Johnny Cash song “The Man Comes Around” which is a very Christian song about the apocalypse. I expected the other Johnny Cash song, “Hurt” based on the trailer (which I have embedded below) but this was even more delightful.

5. Patrick Stewart might be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this role.

Stewart is like wine and cheese. He gets better with age. To me he will always be Captain Picard. His best turn ever is The Inner Light, but here he is amazing. Uncanny, even.

6. There are may themes buried into this movie.

Look for generational change, cultural degradation,lawlessness, corporate oligarchy, immigration, lost childhood, genetic testing, GMO, and child exploitation. There are others, but these stand out. Usually in a movie this many subplots is pollution on the brain, but in Logan it works.

I think there is at least one more theme in addition to these. That theme is reconciliation. Logan must reconcile–with Charles, with himself, with the X-Men, and with his fate.

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Oscar Predictions 2017

Oscar is fickle, and famously difficult to predict. But that will not stop me from trying, anyway. mv5bmzuzndm2nzm2mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntm3ntg4ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_


Best Picture

The nominees are Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, and Moonlight.

I would like for Arrival, Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, or Hidden Figures to win. I don’t think any of them will. Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight are the arthousish favorites, but I don’t think those will win either. Hollywood loves itself more than anything else, and that is why La La Land will win. I am four of the last five on this, with the only recent year I was wrong being the dreaded Birdman year. I am still angry that Birdman won.  For a complete summary of my take on all the best picture nominees, click here.

Lead Actor

The nominees are Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), and Denzel Washington (Fences).

Let’s narrow this down. Gosling can’t win because Emma Stone upstaged him in every scene they were in. Casey Affleck can’t win because his character was not that complicated. Viggo Mortensen–just no. No.  So that leaves Garfield and Washington (sounds like a Presidential election, doesn’t it?) to consider. I think Garfield has a punchers chance, but Denzel Washington wins this one.

Lead Actress

The nominees are Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Ruth Negga (Loving), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins).

Disclaimer–I didn’t seen Elle. I can’t find it anywhere. That doesn’t keep me from saying Ruth Negga should win this award, hands down. Her work in Loving was beyond superlatives. Portman and Streep were great in their movies, but not even in the same universe as Negga. Emma Stone could win, because La La Land is so beloved and Emma Stone did a great job in that movie, but I think it should go to Negga because of the beautiful way she played such a complicated character.

Supporting Actor

The nominees are Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea), Dev Patel (Lion), and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals).

Disclaimer: I didn’t see Nocturnal Animals.

I’d like Jeff Bridges to win, just because he plays a Texas Ranger so well, but I don’t think he will. I think this award goes to Mahershala Ali, and that is okay with me because he did a fantastic job in Moonlight.

Supporting Actress

The nominees are Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), and Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea).

First, Nicole Kidman doesn’t belong on this list. Second, Oscar got the wrong woman from Hidden Figures. It should have been Taraji P. Henson who got the nomination. Third, Viola Davis should be nominated for lead actress, not supporting actress.

The winner should be Viola Davis, without any other discussion.

Director

Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Damien Chazelle (La La Land) Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight).

The big story here is Mel Gibson. It seems like his time in exile might be over. He will not win, though. I would give the award to Villeneuve for Arrival, but the winner will be Chazelle for La La Land.


Okay, those are my picks for the big categories. You know I’ll have the popcorn popped and the red Kool-Aid a plenty Sunday night.

 

 

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Oscar Themes-2017

One of my favorite things to do is watch the best picture nominees and see what themes emerge from the collective whole of the movies. For me, as one who is a social commentator, it gives powerful insight into the things our society is thinking as a group. This year was no different.


Theme One: The Distressed Mother

It is easier to find which movie doesn’t have a distressed mother figure. La La Land is too self absorbed to care about family, but aside from that, every film has it. Arrival is probably the best look at it, but Moonlight, Fences, Lion, and certainly Manchester By The Sea feature this concept of a mother in some level of distress attempting to make things right or fix things.370c71c900000578-3732122-image-m-106_1470775629369

Theme Two: The Boy Looking For Himself

imagesAnd yeah, this theme is integrally connected to Theme One. This years Oscars could be called “Mother and Son” year. Specifically, on the boys side, is the two brothers in Hell or High Water, the uncle and nephew in Manchester, Moonlight is all about a man’s self discovery from childhood, and Hacksaw Ridge is the main characters intense guilt over his childhood, and the fight to be both like his dad but not like his dad.

Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud.

Theme Three: People of Color

In case you didn’t know it, Oscar has had a problem the last few years with the accusations of being too “white” in the nominations. It was a legitimate complaint and I have noted it in the past. This year compensates. Somewhat. Of the nine films nominated, four feature people of color exclusively. Add “Loving” in the mix, and you get five major Oscar films that are ethnically diverse.unknown

The problem I have, is that with the exception of Moonlight and Lion, all of these movies are ‘historical dramas’ that limit black people to portrayals of the past in the limited role of fighting racism and prejudice. Moonlight alone seems to avoid this trap, where the only roles black people have are those of history. I mean, would Manchester By The Sea be nominated if the actors were black? Hell or High Water would not have been nominated had it been two black brothers on the run from the cops. You and I both know it is true. Why wasn’t the linguist in Arrival a Middle- Eastern woman, since it was her work on Farsi that supposedly got the government’s attention? I think Oscar, and Hollywood, still has a prejudice.

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They really cast her as a Native Hawaiian (part Chinese, part Hawaiian) in the movie Aloha, opposite Bradley Cooper
Remember when Emma Stone played a native Hawaiian. Yeah, me too.

Theme Four:  A Rebuttal of Technology

Or at least modernity, perhaps. Even in the sci-fi film Arrival, technology is downplayed. It is almost eschewed with disdain in La La Land. Hidden Figures seems to go out of its way to show how great chalkboards are. Hell or High Water is a tale almost devoid of any technology. Manchester By The Sea even has a scene where the Affleck character can’t find where he is going because he doesn’t have a proper GPS. A parallel to this is the fixation with older cars. I think most of these movies have characters driving around in twenty year old cars (or older). In fact, in La La Land, I’m pretty sure in Goslings old car, he is listening to a cassette tape. ryan-gosling-rides-classic-car-in-la-la-land-set


I am sure I could find more themes if I sat here all day, but these are the concepts and schemes that jumped off the screen at me. Enjoy the movies.

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Oscars Best Picture Nominations 2017

unknownIt has taken me a while, but I have finally been able to see all nine of the films nominated for best picture this year. Before I begin my brief, NO SPOILER reviews for each, let me give some general impressions. First, this is an outstanding batch of films. As a group, it might be the best overall nominees I have ever seen. In any other year, each film could be a winner. Second, the variations in types of movies is impressive. Some are arthouse films like Moonlight but then there are car chases like Hell or High Water, then La La Land is a musical, and let us not forget the scifi awesomeness of Arrival. There is something here for everyone. Third, as a whole, the films are less graphic and more normal. Although some of the films earned their R rating, none of them are needlessly gratuitous (I’m looking at you 2014) and some, like Hidden Figures, could be on the Hallmark Channel tonight unedited. If you liked movies, this is your year.

Later this week I will post about the themes of the movies and who I think the likely winners might be. I am listing them here in alphabetical order.

Arrival

Science fiction is at its best when it uses the template to ask big questions. That is exactly what this movie does–it asks big questions. The first five minutes of the movie are more important than you might think, so pay attention. I loved Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner together, but didn’t care for the stereotyping negative portrayal of the military. It borrows a lot of plot devices from other films, like Contact, Close Encounters, The Day the Earth Stood Still and so on, but it does in a super awesome way.

Chances of Winning: More likely that aliens land this week. Oscar hates scifi.

Fences

This movie is a play. I don’t mean that it is adapted from a play, but it is a play. I think there are only about four sets, with the majority of the movie taking place in the backyard. The strength of the film is the acting. Every single actor in this movie should win an Oscar.  Every. Single. One. You watch the movie, and you’re thinking it is primarily social commentary on Black families who migrated north in the 1950s. But as you watch, you realize that is only backstory. This is really a story about any family with a hard personality, played superbly by Denzel Washington as the husband/father, who is at the same time both beloved and hated. This is the movie you’ll be talking about three days after you saw it.

Chances of Winning: Slim. Probably a strike-out.

Hacksaw Ridge

I learned after watching this film that my grandfather was at Okinawa. I am glad I didn’t know that before, because I would have watched it differently. The movie primarily focuses upon that battle, but it asks bigger questions about religious liberty, war, and the machinations of the military. I really loved this movie and find it an amazing counter-type of what you’d expect from a war movie. Somehow it finds a way to honor everyone. Vince Vaughn was outstanding. The one weird part I didn’t care for was the almost racist portrayal of the Japanese at the end of the film. It didn’t fit and seemed oddly self-serving.

Chances of Winning: Average. War movies have a a tough go at awards, then there is the Mel Gibson factor. 

Hell or High Water

This movie looks, feels, smells, and acts just like West Texas. It is the anomaly of the group, though. If this were the SAT’s, then this movie would be the answer to the question, “Which one of these is not like the other.” Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are so fun and amazing in the movie that they make up for a plot that you can see coming from the opening credits. You’ll like this movie if you like No Country For Old Men, Fargo, and Bonnie and Clyde. It’s kind of the same idea.

Chances of Winning: None. Dare I say, “Not a chance in hell.” 

Hidden Figures

How much do I like this movie? I think it should be shown to every fourth grade student in America. Seriously, it inspires, teaches, rebukes, and entertains all at the same time. I know that racism and prejudice is the backdrop of the film, but as a father of daughters, I love the aspect of the movie that encourages girls that they can do science and math and achieve great things. This movie also has the best line of any film in years. “At NASA we all pee the same color. Yellow.” The problem with this film is that it forces a romance that is unnecessary and loses narrative focus by trying to cover too much.

Chances of Winning: Astronomically small.

La La Land

If you like dreamy-eyed musicals, this is your movie. To say that La La Land is dreamy is not an exaggeration. I literally can’t tell if the whole thing is a dream sequence or not, and I am still debating as to how the end fit everything. The way the characters dress, the cars they drive, the way they speak, everything about the movie screams that it is an out-of-place jumble of Hollywood from about the 1920’s until the present time. The music in the movie is good, but not outstanding, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are wonderful but the rest of the cast is either flat or non-existent, the editing is sloppy, and the sound mixing is awkward. But the dialogue and screenplay–that is off the charts.

Chances of Winning: Likely. For proof, see Birdman.

Lion

This is my favorite movie you’ll probably never watch. I particularly enjoyed the little boy who played the main character. He is the one who should have been nominated for best actor. The scenery is sunny and the cinematography is worth the price of the ticket. The film lags at times with lots of close up shots of Saroo, the main character, looking into the camera or wistfully away trying to figure out who he is. That didn’t work for me so much, but the overall story is so strong I can forgive that. The dialogue is tight, efficient, and meaningful. Nothing is wasted. This is the one you’ll be tempted to skip. Don’t.

Chances of Winning: Average. This is the film most likely to ‘roar’ an upset.

Manchester By The Sea

In my opinion, this was the worst movie of the batch. It is not an awful movie en toto, but it is the least deserving of these nine. The movie has major problems. The abuse of the flashback is one. The flashbacks come so fast to explain major plot moments that it is difficult to tell what is present and what is past. I could have gotten beyond that, but I can’t get by the characters in the movie. It feels like the makers of this movie decided their goal was to make a movie about the biggest jerks in the world going through a major grief crisis. It didn’t work for me.

Chances of Winning: Marginal. The Academy sometimes likes movies like this because they are edgy. 

Moonlight

I have to confess something. I can’t tell if Moonlight is brilliant commentary on the contemporary pressures of people living in ethnic communities in large cities or if it is just one cliche after another. I am being serious. It is either one or the other. I am, at present, leaning toward the latter rather than the former. It feels like cliche that wants to be pretentious. That doesn’t mean the film is not important, but it feels like too much. Poverty. Check. Inner city. Check. Confused sexuality. Check. Personality disorder. Check. Bullying. Check. Abusive family. Check. Crack mom. Check. Drug dealer. Check. Prison. Check. Gangster motifs. Check. It just feels like a little much for me.

Chances of Winning: Average. It all depends on how Oscar answers the “social commentary or cliche” question.

Thanks for reading my summaries. Be on the look out for Oscar predictions tomorrow.

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Stream of Consciousness Sermon Mullet

First, a little definition. The way I understand a stream of consciousness sermonic form is that the preacher allows his or her mind to wander through the text from one thought to another as the brain does, rather subconsciously, what the brain does, and that is work through issues toward understanding. People do this all the time when they ‘talk out’ a problem. It is what people who have complicated problems are doing when they constantly brainstorm on the white board.

The principle for preaching is the preacher, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit and through prayer, through study of the text and of the issues, allows the mind to wander without trying to enforce any form-no outline, no pattern, no loop, no point even–just let the mind move from one thing to the other until we get back where we started from.

So that is what I did yesterday with Romans 6. The difference, of course, is that I did not do this Sunday morning in front of everyone, I did it about two weeks ago in my study and with my computer as I typed away. Then, when it was finished, I did sculpt it a little, and cut a little, and clean it up a bit, then tidy up some words. But essentially, I just let my mind wander. What happened was truly fascinating to me–my mind did indeed work through it in a way that was interesting, engaging, theological solid, and practically meaningful. I was very pleased with it. After cleaning it up a bit, I delivered it yesterday.

The best line that came out of the endeavor was, “Romans 6:23 is like a bad haircut. It is a mullet. Business up front (wages of sin is death) and party in the back (the gift of God is eternal life).”

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Romans 6:23 Visual Represented    (photo courtesy of the 1980s)
But here are the five things that must guide the process. There are probably more than five, but somewhere in the arcane rules of the internet it states clearly that a blog can really only have five things.

  1. Discipline cannot be completely abandoned. The stream of thought needs to be related to the text. You can’t jump from “The wages of sin is death” to “why does the neighbor’s dog hate me” unless it is somehow relevant. Don’t confuse this with laziness.
  2. You must study ahead of time before you begin. If you try this with nothing in your noggin then you will end up with a sermon that is just a pile of garbage.
  3. The stream of consciousness needs to finish with solid application, not illustration.
  4. You can’t do this every week. I wouldn’t anyway, because I am a big proponent of varying the form of the sermon from week to week. For example, this upcoming week I am using an image driven motif. I haven’t used images in almost two months.
  5. Don’t be in a bad or foul mood when you do this, or your sermon will be depressive and dark. I was in a very good humor when I engaged in this exercise and I think it showed in the delivery. We laughed a lot Sunday. Your mood informs the sermon.

As I said, there were several things that didn’t make the cut. In my original manuscript (and yes, I generally type a word for word manuscript every week, which I leave in the study when I preach, for I preach without notes) I had a long riff on baptism that was slightly more confrontational than I wanted in the finished product, so I axed that out. I still might use that thought in a future sermon, but not on this day. The finishing theme of the sermon is life–or, “Alive” and for two weeks I’ve had Pearl Jam’s song “Alive” in my head. In a different context, I might have played a short clip of the music video as the opening to the sermon and then just took off from there, but given our country musicish church I decided that Pearl Jam might be a little over the top, but boy, that would have worked great. Even the grotesque middle stanza would have worked in a free-style discussion about sin, realizing who you really are, and deciding to live the “alive” life. But I didn’t, yet I’ll leave it here for you to enjoy, if you like. that sort of thing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Universal Truths

Our youngest sprout spoke to me yesterday about a project for high school she is working on. Her task is to write an essay about a specific universal truth. I didn’t tell her this, but I am glad, at least, that the school is affirming such a thing as universal truths.

She was struggling with which one to pick. I tried to get her to write about death as a universal truth. She told me that was too negative. She’s probably right.

In typical Greenbean fashion, I shot off about seven or eight quick universal truths that I think are worthy of her time and thought.

  1. No matter which line you pick at the grocery store or bank, it will be the slowest one.
  2. If you love a restaurant, and brag about how great it is to your friends, the one time you take them there will be the worst experience ever.
  3. The book is always better than the movie. Always.
  4. Whenever a preacher says, “Let me conclude . . . ” or something to that effect you can bet he or she is nowhere near the end. She is just getting her second wind.
  5. If you wash your car, it will rain.
  6. Ten minutes is the shortest amount of time between when the nurse puts you in the little room and the doctor actually comes to see you. This is true even if no other patients are in the building.
  7. A watched kettle never boils.
  8. If the dog gets sick or has an accident, it will be on the carpet. It will not be on the 93% of your floor that is tile or hardwood.shapiro-most-famous-dog-on-instagram-1200x630-1448389260

In the end she rejected these. I don’t know why? She decided to go with something all serious like, “human beings need companionship” or “everyone is prejudice about something.” I guess she wanted to get an A on her paper.

I’ve turned comments on for this post–in case any of you wanted to share some universal truths form your experience.

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The Picture That Haunts Me Today

I have this picture that hangs in my study. It is of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It has been talking to me since yesterday. In fact, it was very hard to focus on the sermon and small group lesson Sunday because of his stink eye. He is speaking German, and I can’t understand most of what he says, but I keep hearing in my heart phrases like “never again” and “refugee” and “neighbor” and “ethics” over and over. He is haunting me.

I thought he should haunt you, too.

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Ooooh Jedi

Can I go ahead now and buy my ticket(s) for Star Wars VIII? It is set to premier 15 December 2017.

But that is not the important part, at least not now. The important part is the subtitle: The Last Jedi.sw-the-last-jedi-tall-b

Not much to speculate about yet . . . or is there?

‘The Last Jedi’ most definitely refers to Luke at some level. It is taken from what Yoda told Luke, “When gone am I, the last of the Jedi you will be” but it doesn’t have to be just Luke. Seriously, there are several options to consider.

  1. Jedi is a plural word as well as singular. Perhaps the films thrust will be the the the last Jedi who have been in hiding somewhere that come out and defeat the baddies.
  2. Last might refer to the end of the fighting order of Jedi, and the beginning of something new. Luke had failed in trying to rebuild the Jedi, and has now discovered that the Jedi need to go away in favor of something else, because apparently Jedi always take the galaxy, one way or another, into war.
  3. Rey is a good candidate for the Next Something New who learns from the last Jedi. I have already speculated that in this film Luke buys the farm. My original understanding was, after seeing Han Solo die, that in order Luke would die, then Leia. I still think that might be the order. I promise you when there is a Leia death scene, I will be bawling my eyes out like I do ever time Spock saves the Enterprise in The Wrath of Khan. They all die, and Rey is left as the last one. Then maybe her and Finn get together and have lots of little Jedi.
  4. It might be a return of Obi Wan Kenobi. They’ve been setting us up with these force ghosts things for a bit–all the way back to the original. Remember–“If you strike me down and I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Kenobi is the ‘first’ Jedi we ever meet in this universe, and maybe he is also the ‘last’ we ever meet as well. His ghost comforts Luke after Yoda dies, and then that is it. Remember kiddos, Ewan McGregor’s voice as Obi Wan is in The Force Awakens. Oh, and so is Alec Guinness. It would be so awesome to somehow see Mark Hamill and Ewan McGregor in a scene together–maybe fighting together. Can I buy my ticket now, please?
  5. There must be an explanation of why Luke left the known galaxy. It is perhaps, Kylo Ren killed Luke’s best student, the last remaining Jedi of his academy. And perhaps, that last Jedi was none other than Kylo’s twin sister, AKA Jaina. I’m still trying to get Jaina Solo in this movie, because she was my fave from the EU.
  6. Be prepared for doubling meanings. Return Of The Jedi featured the graduation of Luke Skywalker as a Jedi because he faced Vader and did what Obi Wan and Yoda couldn’t do. He defeated both the Sith Lords. “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” But it was not just his return, it was also the return, the redemption, of Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi. Having seen the prequels as we have, when Luke is on the ground writhing in pain from the Emperor’s force storm, Vader probably sees Padme’s face and hears Obi Wan’s words. He can smell the surprise in Mace Windu. He understands Count Dooku’s dilemna. He returns as a Jedi. But also, the ‘religion’ if you want to call it that, returns as well. Now they are back. Expect multiple meanings.
  7. We need to prepare ourselves for a possibility that this film, this entire film, might be a flashback kind of movie that is all about Luke and Kylo with no Leia, No Rey, No Chewie nothing but Jedi and Sith machinations. In this possibility, the last Jedi might well be the story of how all the Jedi died.

See, this is what happens when you give a nerd something to think about. I mean, if I am this bad over three words–The Last Jedi, imagine what I might do if they dropped a trailer on us.

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Loosely Related Thoughts on Trump’s Big Weekend

 

Thought One: Protesting is an American right. It has been since the Boston Tea Party. It is woven into our DNA. I don’t protest, though, as I prefer to vote and engage people in discussion. Protesting just isn’t my thing, and I don’t think it generally accomplishes much unless the protesters can organize, network, and plan for real political action at the ballot. Otherwise, it is only an exercise that makes people feel empowered. Protesting does not change the outcome of elections.

chris-morris-donald-trump-inauguration-oath

Thought Two: I’m not exactly sure what the SNL writer was thinking when she tweeted that Barron Trump would be a “Homeschool shooter” but children of politicians–especially POTUS, are off limits. It was true of Bush’s daughters and Obama’s daughters and should be true of Barron. The adult grown children who are politically active are fair game, but not an adolescent. That’s just not right. As an example, when Chelsea Clinton was in the White House growing up, it was not right to drag her into political discourse or satire. However, when as an adult she was actively campaigning for her mother, then everything changes. Same for Trump. Barron is off limits. He’s just a kid. Cut him some slack. And stop speculating.

Thought Three: The Missouri State Chorale was awful. Just awful. It might have been the song choice, to be honest. Someone on Twitter had the best line–comparing the song to the theme music from The Omen. Not a good sign. Not a good song. Seriously. Listen. If you dare.

Thought Four: I hated the way the prayers and readings were done at the Inauguration. It looked to me like the program just said “sprinklings of God stuff here” as they stacked them up by threes in two different places. It felt lazy and unorganized. For the record, whenever a future POTUS asks me to read Scripture at his/her inauguration, I plan to read 1 Samuel 21:15.

Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence?

Thought Five: What was up with the press briefing on Saturday. Newsflash to the Trump Administration–specifically the Press Spokesman–You won. You’re the President. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone. It doesn’t matter how many people showed up for the inauguration–You won. You need no more validation.

Thought Six: It looked like George Bush was having the best time of anyone at the event. Trump looked sullen. Obama looked anxious. Clinton, well, he kept staring at Melania. Seriously, did you see that shot of Hillary catching him looking? And if you’re wondering, that is precisely why some people voted for Trump. They remember President Clinton and didn’t want his presence anywhere near government.

 

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Keeping It Positive on Inauguration Day: Warning–Contains Snark and Snark Byproducts

I don’t trust politicians. I didn’t trust Barack Obama. I don’t trust Donald Trump. For those who say Trump is not a politician, well, he is now.

What I do trust, though, is the process. I trust the process of transition and change. I trust the beauty of free speech and protest. I trust the every-day people who no one knows about that are really running our government.

I also trust the time-honored practice of looking on the positive side of things. So, here are some positives for you, regardless of your political ideology.


Keeping it Positive–We show the whole world how its done. We change our government over every four or eight years without ever firing a shot at anybody. No one dies when we have elections. Martial law is not needed. Look at us world–this is how you do it.

Keeping it Positive–The burden of keeping conspiracy theories going is hard and tiresome, so now those people who have been spreading false information about Obama can rest, and the other side can work up crazy conspiracy theories about Trump. Its is a kind of a balance of insanity that works for us. We can call it Crackpot Zen.

Keeping it Positive–You still have control over your life. I was never in favor of Obama’s policies, however, that didn’t hinder me from enjoying life, making friends, and becoming the best person I can be. I feel pretty much the same way about Trump. POTUS doesn’t have the kind of power to ruin me.

Keeping it Positive–It is way more fun to be snarky. I am very positive that this new POTUS will provide plenty of opportunity for me to be snarky. Mockery will be in full bloom.

Keeping it Positive–Kings and kingdoms rise and fall, but the Word of the Lord remains.

Keeping it Positive–We survived Nixon. We survived Jimmy Carter. We can survive anything.

Keeping it Positive–Republicans now have the responsibility of governing. If they succeed, it will be great for all of us whether we voted GOP or not. If they fail, they will not have long to mess things up, because another round of elections is in two years. Remember, that is what hampered Obama, he overreached, and the people slapped his wrist two years later.

Keeping it Positive–Now Michelle Obama and George Bush can hang out more often.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I told Mrs. Greenbean that I would blog this.

I am a man of my word.

I spotted it this afternoon. Mrs. Greenbean’s People Magazine (January 16, 2017–the one with Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher on the cover) was open to page 115, which is an ad. It is an advertisement for a product called CocoaVia. I know nothing about this product, other than their marketing department is either run by liars or people who thought they could fool me.

Think again, CocoaVia. You might be able to fool the regular readers of People Magazine but not me. No way. No how. Not today.

Here is what I saw.

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Do you catch it? Do they think we are this dumb?

I told Mrs. Greenbean that there is no way this picture was taken in this universe, not as we are led to believe, anyway.

Have you spotted it yet? It is the woman’s hair–specifically her ponytail. Do you see how it is hanging off her head onto her back, yet her position is supposed to be downward? Her hair should be falling down in front of her face, off to the side, or collected at the base of her neck. It should not be flat on her back upward AGAINST GRAVITY! Sorry, I don’t really like to use all caps, but this feels like a drastic situation. If she were really bent over in this impossible for me position, then her hair would behave differently.

But wait, there is more. Look at the muscles in her face. Zoom in if you have to. Never mind, I’ll do it for you.

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This woman seems to be in great physical condition, but even the fittest among us would have some facial change to the pressure of having our head upside down, facing downward, and smiling. Try it. Her muscles in the cheek would look different, the hair behind her ear would look different. I also think her chin would be tucked inward a bit.

Was it hairspray? Does she have magic hair? Is it photoshopped? What kind of trickery is going on here?

I figured it out, because that is what I do. Check this picture out.

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All I did was flip it sideways. Do you see how much more natural this picture looks? The hair makes sense. Her face makes sense. Her palm and feet all make sense. She is sitting on her bottom, perhaps on the floor, with her hands and feet pressed against the wall.

The ad guys flipped the picture to make it look like she was bending over.

Nice try CocoaVia, nice try.

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2017 Predictions

I have pulled the Greenbean crystal ball out of mothballs to peer into the future and see what might lie ahead for the coming year. Please remember, I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. I am merely making educated (or not so educated) guesses about what might occur. Last year I was only two out of ten, predicting that Bashar al-Assad will still be in power on December 31, 2016 (he was) and that Wal-Mart would continue its decline (it did, closing many stores). The other eight were massive fails. So, keep that in mind as you read my predictions.

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I have turned on comments for this post, because I’d love to hear your predictions.

1. The ratings for this years Super Bowl will be monumentally lower than previous years. This will likely be true for all major football contests, including the NCAA championship game. Sports reached an apex about a decade ago, and now people are moving on. A corollary to this one is that ESPN will continue to slide as well, and might even undergo massive changes in corporate as well as production.

2. Netflix will buy one of the major networks. It could also merger with HBO or Comcast or something like that. Either way, my prediction is basically that Netflix will continue to grow ever more powerful.

3. A proxy shooting war between the United States and Russia will occur, most likely over Iran.

4. There will be some kind of constitutional crisis in the United States between the Senate and the Presidency. It might be over the POTUS’ business dealings, or it could be over his love affair with Russia, or perhaps use of Twitter.

5. Unlike other former Presidents, Barack Obama will actively seek to undermine the new President and eventually become the face of the Democratic Party.

6. This is the year in which a non-chemotherapy/radiation based cure for cancer is introduced. Within three years cancer will be almost eradicated.

7. Tragically, a strain of flu, or measles, or some common illness will prove to be resistant to antibiotics or drugs and kill millions of people, if not more.

8. Bill Gates will fight to take control of Microsoft again. He will attempt to do a Steve Jobs performance and rebuild the company. I can’t believe Gates likes Windows 10, either.

9. The Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys will face each other in the NFC Championship game.

10. Vinyl will continue its comeback, and record albums will be the hottest gift for Christmas next year.

So these are my predictions. I wonder if I will do better than twenty percent this year? I certainly hope with everything in me that numbers 3, 4, and 7 do not happen, however, I think at least one of them is probable. I hope number 6–oh, I hope for 6.

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Christmas 2016– Review

Try to keep up. I am busy doing nothing, so I don’t have time to belabor my review points.

  1. I learned that Ralphie is left handed. I must have watched the movie A Christmas Story a thousand times, but last night was the first time I noticed the protagonist yearning for a BB gun is left handed. It fits his dreamy imaginative personality. I like that detail.

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    Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine
  2. Butch Gregory received a Christmas card this year from Wyoming Wallace. Inside the card was an exhortation relate to my most recent novel, How Great is The Darkness. That was pretty cool.
  3. The pastoral rust is not completely off yet. I was reminded of what I knew so well back in the day–no matter how much you review it around a table, special worship services require more attention–usually a run through. I failed to insist on that, and the result was a candlelight service that was far less than what the kind folks of Fellowship deserve. I will do better next year.
  4. I think I finally found a pie crust recipe that works for me. My Christmas pecan pie was much, much better than my Thanksgiving one. Very pleased.
  5. The keyboard alignment on MacBook Air is slightly to the right of a PC laptop. I know this because Mrs. Greenbean spoiled me rotten this year.
  6. For reasons I can’t readily explain, December 26th is so much more enjoyable to me than December 25.
  7. Christmas continues the sadness of loss this year. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, and then Christmas morning one more–my coffeepot. On Christmas morning, of all days. The indicator lights all came on, but nothing happened. I troubleshot it for about ten minutes before realizing all hope was lost. Fortunately, I also French press, and that tastes so delicious I might just keep using the low-tech method. Nevertheless, farewell beloved black twelve cup Mr. Coffee drip coffeepot. You will be missed. RIP.
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Christmas Cards

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We made a big decision this year.

For the first time in our marriage, Mrs. Greenbean and I are not sending out Christmas cards. It was a hard choice, because over the years we’ve had a lot of fun doing it. In the early years we sent out boxed ones with hand written messages. As the list grew, we went to photograph infused cards. Then, sometime around 2000ish we embarked on my favorite era–personally created cards. These cards included story, artwork, jokes and all kinds of things that each of the four Greenbeans contributed.

Around 2009 we went back to the picture cards.

Our list grew over the whole 50 states, and it was costing us several hundred dollars to make the cards and then mail them, not to mention the effort.

And all the while, we were receiving an ever-smaller number of Christmas cards. People stopped mailing them. Most of the cards we receive now are from businesses who ‘appreciate’ us.

Christmas cards were invented to stay in contact with people whom you don’t have contact with–people you wouldn’t see on Christmas but wished you could. The prevalence of social media, particularly the ubiquitous Facebook, allows us to communicate that to people far easier, cheaper, and more personally than a Christmas card.

Therefore, we made a digital card just like previous years, but are putting it on the various social medias. The card has photos of us on vacation in Destin, Florida, me and the girls at Dairy Queen, the idiot dog, Phoebe getting her driver’s permit, and Belle in her East Texas Baptist University marching band uniform. We wish you and yours the happiest and merriest of Christmases, a prosperous and meaningful New Year, and most of all spiritual fulfillment as you seek the Lord.

Merry Christmas!

 

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ROGUE ONE (SPOILERS)

If you haven’t seen Rogue One, stop reading now. You can come back to this post after you’ve seen the movie.

Seriously, don’t go any further unless you want to see things and know things you really shouldn’t yet.

STOP READING:  THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!

 

SPOILERS–DANGER–PULL UP

 

SERIOUSLY

 

Okay, since you’re still with me, I assume you’ve seen the movie.

 

Three Things To Love

Thing One: Darth Vader is perfect in this film. His cryogenic/frozen bacta chamber is splendid. His choking pun is laugh-out-loud. Then, a the end, we finally see Darth Vader as Darth Vader doing Darth Vader Sith Lord stuff. The clinched fist while in battle was just simply marvelous.

Get that Droid a Blaster. And A Therapist.
Get that Droid a Blaster. And A Therapist.

Thing Two: The droid K-2SO was perhaps the best new character in the franchise. His passive-aggressive, cynical, sarcastic tone reminded me of Alan Richman’s turn as Marvin from A Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy. I didn’t really care if any of the humans survived, but his death was tragic.

Thing Three: I loved the battle scenes. The Mon Calamari cruisers in action against Star Destroyers was breathtaking. It was the kind of space combat we missed in The Force Awakens.

 

Some Random Things to Sorta Like

I sorta liked Jyn. She is no Rey, that is for sure. Her story–abandoned girl motif–felt like a rip off of the Rey story–or perhaps a hybrid mix of the Rey story and the Luke story.

I sorta liked the portrayal of the Empire as a military state. The IED ambush of the Empire’s squadron through the streets of Jedha City could have been set in Kabul.

I sorta liked the explanation of the weakness in the Death Star’s design. Sorta.

I sorta liked the use of Rogue One as the launch of Rogue Squadron, but, if I may, Rogue Squadron would have found a way to get off the planet mostly alive.

 

Two Things I Hated

I hated the CGI Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. They did a much better job on Moff Tarkin, but botched Leia completely. It wasn’t so much the effort as it was the choices. Her face is smiling, happy, and hopeful. That is not Princess Leia from  the original Star Wars film. That Leia was furrow browed, scornful, sarcastic, and realistic. Plus, in the scene, they are barely escaping (indeed, they don’t escape because of ANH beginning, duh) so why she is so optimistic and smiley is troubling.

I hated the Death Star being used to blow up cities. That is not what the Death Star was built for. It was built for blowing up planets, and the understood original use of the Death Star was Alderaan. Star Destroyers can take out a city–that is what they were built for–orbital bombardment. Using the Death Star to blow up a city is like using Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum to kill a fly. Sure, it could do it, but it is just a little overkill.

The film is good popcorn fun, and it is very enjoyable. However, it has a significance in the Star Wars Universe somewhere between The Clone Wars cartoon and The Phantom Menace.

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PIZZERIA FAKE NEWS STORY FREE ASSOCIATION EXERCISE

yeah, i’m looking at you NPRThe story sounds like a drug-inspired paranoia trip. But here it goes.

Some conspiracy whack jobs on the interwebs told everyone that a pizza shop in Washington D.C. was a front for child-sex trafficking and satanic illuminati shenanigans. The conspiracy loons said Hillary Clinton was involved. Their mindless bilge was all propagated as news, when in fact it was fake-news. Fake-news seems to be more profitable than real news.

People believed these lies unconditionally and didn’t bother to check the facts or consider the source.

Death threats were made. Innocent people were harassed. Someone went into the pizzeria and shot off a couple of rounds from an assault rifle. He said he was investigating the claims about Clinton.

I told you it sounded crazy, didn’t I?

In my novel The Little Girl Waits (which you should buy right now) I have a scene where the traffickers are using an auto repair shop as a front for their evil, and the good guys go in to investigate. It is one of the better scenes in the book, IMHO. But that is fiction. This loon took a real rifle into a real pizza restaurant. A PIZZA RESTAURANT! That is not fiction.

So, the next time someone tells me that the elements in my novel aren’t “believable” I’m just gonna point to this.

I’ve come to think that believability in a story is slightly overrated. (By the way, have you bought my novel The Little Girl Waits yet? Go Ahead and get the follow-up to it, How Great is The Darkness while you’re at it.) When I pick up a novel to read, I don’t want it to look exactly like my everyday world. I want it to be different. I want the unexpected. I want to see believable characters in unbelievable situations. In fact, I like that sentence so much, I’m gonna set it off in its own quote bracket to highlight the point like they do in fancy publications.

I want to see believable characters in unbelievable situations

This gets back to another thing I believe in so deeply. Character trumps plot. We love characters. We tolerate plots. The plot only exists to reveal the integrity and grit (or lack thereof) of the character(s). I’ll use Harry Potter because it is so easy. The plot of what is going on and the whose it, spell it, when it, is very inconsequential. We care about Harry, his friends, Dumbledore, and the showdown with Voldemort. The characters are the plot.

Of course, the plot matters. I don’t mean to say it doesn’t have a role to play in the development of a good story. What I am saying is that character development matters far more, and it is the characters that keep the reader engaged. The moment the reader stops caring about the character he or she is likely to put the book down and go turn the television on  and watch the Gilmore Girls–because that is all character.

But back to the pizza shop. It is actually a place called Comet Ping Pong Pizza. Disclosure–I’ve never been there, so the pizza might be lousy.

I think they should lawyer-up and start the lawsuits. If I owned that business, I would sue everyone I could find that pushed that fake news story. I’m not generally litigation happy, but for crying-out-loud there needs to be some accountability here. Free speech is important, but I can’t shout, “Fire” in a movie theater and fake news propagators must be held accountable.

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This is not a real news story

 

There are two problems at play here, as I see it. The first problem is, as this (click here) article on slate points out, conspiracies to hurt children exist. One only has to think of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State or the Catholic Diocese of Boston highlighted in the film Spotlight. It is sickening to think about, but true. The second problem, though, is different. It is the problem that we attribute the worst possible societal crime to our political opponents. It is not enough to suspect a child-sex ring, but somehow it must be Hillary Clinton’s fault. Before the progresses get all high and mighty about this, they need to realize they are equally to blame when they all but accuse Donald Trump of having white hoods in his closet.

This is all problematic. But you know what else is problematic–who we blame. If  I hear one more person blame “the internet” or “social media” for this (yeah, I’m looking at you NPR), I’m gonna do something serious like eat an apple without washing it first. Dont’ try me!

This is not the internet’s fault. The internet is neutral, like a car. You can drive it wherever you want. The internet takes you places and grants you conversation. The problem is not the medium. The problem is that people have lost the ability to think critically. I don’t when it happened, somewhere since my childhood the important skill of analysis has vaporized.

Fake news stories have been here, since, like, forever! The National Enquirer was based on it in my childhood. People read it, but they knew it was garbage.

Somehow we’ve lot the ability to chuckle at the stupidity and move on.

The reason is we want to believe the garbage.

It reminds me a bit of my theology of zombies. You read that right. Zombies have a theology. The short of it is that the zombie genre and our fascination with it hints at a deep down feeling of unease that we have with our life. We have a sense that something is out of balance, something is not quite right in the world, and we are just one bad moment from ending the whole thing. This thinking has crept into our political world. We expect there to be a political apocalypse any day now, when our darkest nightmares are confirmed. It is fatalism that flows from a lack of spirituality. To read more about the theology of zombies, click here.

Therefore, the political enemy must, necessarily, be completely evil. He or she can’t just be wrong on the issue or the policy, he must be completely evil. So George Bush was compared with Hitler, Obama was a secret Muslim, Trump is a Nazi, Clinton is the Illuminati, and on and on and on. This kind of though pollutes our national discourse.

One more thought. Chew on this for a bit. A pastor friend of mine shared this week that someone he knew refused to pray for peace because he believed that the world needed to get worse and worse so that Jesus would come back.

That is how you end up with assault rifles at pizza joints where people are looking for presidential candidates sacrificing children.

 

 

 

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ELECTION NIGHT WINNERS

Wow–what a ride last night was. There is nothing like election night returns. I loved every minute of it. Turns out I was very wrong about the nation’s taste for Donald Trump–or as I should say, President-Elect Trump.

Someone took a picture of their TV.
Someone took a picture of their TV.

But this post is not about analysis of the election. I might do that later today or tomorrow. This post is about my analysis of the news coverage last night of election night.

MAP AWARD–CNN

CNN had the best maps last night. They were big, clear, and the different color schemes worked better. FOX really made a mess of their maps, IMHO, and NBC was kind of boring.

BEST RESULTS DISPLAY AWARD–FOX

Only FOX had what I wanted–real time numbers at the bottom of the screen, constantly updating the state returns along with important senate and house elections. When I was watching the other networks, it was often hard to tell what was going on.

MOST BIASED MOMENT AWARD–MSNBC

I saw several bias moments, in all actuality. As the returns stated going red, FOX people became downright giddy. I think I heard John King say, when CNN called Virginia for Clinton, “Finally, some good news.” But the most glaring moment of bias for me was Brian Williams at MSNBC. He was rattling off several states that were just called for Trump, and then he paused and audibly moaned in pain.

ICYMI, I have included it here for your listening pleasure.

WEIRDEST SET AWARD–ABC

I confess I didn’t watch a lot of ABC’s coverage because every single time I flipped over there they were at commercial. But when I did see some of their coverage, I noticed that their whole set had a distinct purple hue to it. I kept thinking the whole thing was an homage to Prince.

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR AWARD–NPR

So we were watching the coverage on television, but my brother-in-law had his phone out and was telling us that NPR was calling states much faster than the networks. NBC seemed to be the slowest of the television networks, but they all lagged behind NPR. And while I’m at it, why did it take them so long to call Georgia and Florida? It was evident to everyone one at my viewing party that those could have been called much, much earlier.

DREAM TEAM AWARD

This is my “All-Star” crew. If I could ditch the network system, I’d like to watch the returns being filtered through Brit Hume, Chuck Todd, Tom Brokaw, Rachel Maddow, and John King. Those are the voices that I think mattered the most in the analysis. I don’t agree with all of them on stuff, but they seem to have the best non-partisan analysis of what is actually going down. Hume’s cynical conservatism balances Maddows bubbling liberalism, Todd and King are just wonkish numbers nerds, and Brokaw, well, Brokaw is just a stud.

GO AWAY AND NEVER DO THIS AGAIN AWARD

I’m sick of Karl Rover (and yes, I remember his meltdown on screen on election night 2012). I am sick of Chris Matthews (no thrill down his thigh last night, huh?). Goodbye Wolf Blitzer. Seriously, Blitzer is just annoying. I hope that by 2020 you are all safely somewhere else watching the election results from your own living room.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION AWARD–THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

Whether your candidate won or lost, America did her thing last light and proved that actually voting is the only poll that matters. I love my country. I love election day.

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A BETTER VOTING CHOICE

9c28a3556e27bb30f5ccbbc48223063c1On November 8 most Americans will hold their nose and vote for someone they really don’t like all that much. Many Republicans are experiencing a form of buyers remorse with Mr. Trump and Democrats really felt the Bern over the summer but the deck was stacked against them. So, what to do?

Mrs. Greenbean and I are seriously considering if we should write someone in–if nothing else so we can sleep at night with a clear conscience. For a fleeting moment I thought about writing in Captain Kirk. Kim thought about Dumbledore for President. That got me to thinking. If I were voting, which make believe ticket would I choose? I came up with four for you to choose from, since there are four on the ballot, if we include the Libertarians and Greens.

Dumbledore/Snadesign-692-2013-06-25-06-45-551pe–The problem with these two is citizenship but being wizards and all, they should be able to take care of that with a flick of the wand.  I suspect a Dumbledore/Snape administration would be able to fix the national debt, but it would also introduce unknown variables, like, You Know Who.

Palpatine/Vader–From the Star Wars universe it is tempting to put forth a Skywalker/Solo ticket, but my impression is that the Jedi, for all their heroism, are not all that bright or perceptive. Han Solo would never be able to get away from the corruption of the smugglers. Besides, the Emperor and Darth Vader have a lot of experience at governance. This is your, “Law and Order” ticket.

Picard/Riker–I know, I know, I thought about it long and hard, but Captain Kirk would make a terrible POTUS. Picard is a diplomat. What I would really like is a Picard/Spock ticket. That would truly be The Best Of Both Worlds. A Picard/Riker ticket would create jobs and end corruption. The downside is Riker would blow up the ship.555021_11

Frodo/Sam–There are a lot of options from the LOTR universe, but I don’t think Gandalf is reliable enough to stick around–he up and disappears as he pleases–and Aragorn, though he has a great lineage doesn’t really have what it takes to fix our problems. We can make him Secretary of Defense, perhaps. A Baggins/Gamgee ticket would guarantee that the pubs are always open and that the potatoes are always cooked.untitled

So, who would you vote for? Vote below–and check back often to see who is winning.

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BIGLY DEBATE ANALYSIS: WHAT WE LEARNED

Last night was the final POTUS debate of this cycle, thus meaning this is the last post on presidential debates from the Greenbean for at least three years. Here is what we can learn from last night’s debate in the desert.

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First, we learned that Chris Wallace won the debate. Is there any doubt that he was by far the best moderator in recent history? I recommend that Chris Wallace moderate every debate from this time forth until he dies. Please don’t die, Chris Wallace.

Second, we learned a new word–Bigly, and I learned that I am fascinated by it. Apparently, it is an actual word, even if Mr. Trump is not using it correctly. I confess I didn’t know it was a word. Some have argued that what Mr. Trump is saying is “Big League” and it comes out in this compressed way. Maybe in a Mandela Effect alternate reality, but not in this one. In this universe, he is saying bigly. It motivates me to want to preach bigly this Sunday.

Third, we learned that Secretary Clinton invokes the incredibly small number of health-of-mother cases when challenged on the brutal and savage practice of partial-birth abortion. Shame on her.

Fourth, we learned Mr. Trump’s strongest case for our vote is his Supreme Court argument. Secretary Clinton’s call for judicial activism is frightening. I am not against activism–I am all for getting rid of the big money in politics and making certain that powerful special interests are kept in check–but this should be done through the legislative branch.

Fifth, we learned that Mr. Trump can dish it out, but he can’t take it. When Secretary Clinton ribbed him about dodging taxes, he interrupted her to call her a, “nasty woman.”

Sixth, we learned that Secretary Clinton has no answer for the leaked videos about Democratic operatives serving as agitators at Trump rallies, particularly in Chicago. This confirms what Bernie Sanders learned (and George H.W. Bush) — the Clinton’s play dirty pool.

Seventh, and most importantly I think, we learned that Mr. Trump is not prepared to accept the results of the election. I find this shocking, horrifying, and deeply disturbing. It proves, to me, once and for all, that Mr. Trump cares more about himself, his reputation, and his brand than he does about the American people. Bigly.

 

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HILLARY CLINTON, PLEASE ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS

I recognize, even as I hack out this blog, that we can’t make the candidates answer questions. When Secretary Clinton is asked anything, she deflects to a measured speech about her long term commitment to championing the cause of working-class folks. When Mr. Trump is asked anything, he automatically begins to talk about China, ISIS, Mexico, and Bill Clinton.

But if I could make them sit down and be forced to answer the question asked, here is what I would ask Hillary Clinton. I have a similar list for Donald Trump on another (click here) blog post. 2701a6d0-clinton-4x31

  1. Secretary Clinton, you once said “What difference does it make” in regards to the investigation of the death of Ambassador Stevens and other U. S. citizens in Benghazi. I know what you meant–they are dead, and that is a tragedy, but we have to move on. I agree with that to some level, but before we do, would you share with us what exactly you learned in that process, and what could have been done differently?
  2. You tend to vilify pro-life people as being anti-women. Is there no room in your worldview for a person to be both pro-women and also champion the right of the unborn to have a chance at life? In other words, will you afford your political opponents the benefit of the doubt that they are coming at the issue with a noble purpose?
  3. Why did the famous “RESET” button with Russia fail? If you are elected president, will you try another reset, or will you move forward assuming a Putin led Russia is our enemy?
  4. Will you lead the attempt for a single-payer healthcare system?
  5. Your opponent, Mr. Trump, has a position on free trade that is very similar to Senator Bernie Sanders’ approach. During the primary, Sanders protectionist rhetoric forced you to recalibrate your stance on trade, specifically the TPP. Could you take a moment and spell out how you differ from Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders on trade policy?

 

Or course, there are other questions I would like to ask about–things about the email server, the decision to take out Bin Laden, her Wall Street speeches, and the shocking policy of choosing outcome based Supreme Court justices. But these questions would do for starters.

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5 RANDOM THINGS

RandoM Thing # 1

As a writer, I’m always thinking about dialogue. Listening to the POTUS debate on Monday night I decided that Mr. Trump speaks IN ALL CAPS–EVERYTHING HE SAYS IS ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME, BELIEVE ME! In contrast Secretary Clinton speaks in italics. Most of her words are special, thought-out, planned, rehearsed, and designed as asides.

Random Thing #2

An often overlooked aspect to making excellent excellent guacamole is red onions. That gives the guack the perfect sweetness to bring out the full bouquet of flavor.

Random Thing #3

Our church has way too many ice cream scoops in the drawer. I think we have more ice cream scoopers than we have deacons. I don’t know how the order works–do we have a lot of ice cream scoopers because we are Baptist, or are we Baptist because we have so many ice cream scoopers? You decide.

Random Thing #4

During the Colin Kaepernick brouhaha I came across this picture. I don’t quite know what it means. I find it fascinating. Perhaps a bit enlightening. And troubling.

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Random Thing #5

81csga13xdl-_sl1500_1I have developed in my head a book–one of those self-help how to live books–based on the titles of Duran Duran songs. Each chapter is a song title, and then I explicate the trendy topic of the times. Examples.

  1. “New Moon On Monday” a chapter about the importance of seeing every day as a fresh beginning. We have to forget what is behind us and move forward. Every Monday is a new start.
  2. “Ordinary World” a chapter about how the world has changed, and many of us long for what we might think of ordinary.
  3. “Girls on Film” the dangers of pornography and the hyper-sexualizing of women. This would be the feminist chapter.
  4. “Wild Boys” about tapping into our wild side, our rebellious side to maintain sanity in a world that wants to categorize and control us. “They tried to tame us, looks like the’ll try again.”

You get the point. If any of you publishers are interested, hit me.

So there are your five random things for today.

 

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CLINTON V TRUMP POTUS DEBATE EXPECTATIONS

Rest assured Greenbean will have the popcorn popped and the Kool-Aid aiding when the debate begins this evening, and he will be live Tweeting it too. Keep in mind that I am not partisan and hold all politicians with an equal amount of contempt. Nevertheless, I have a certain morbid curiosity about the process, politics, and the horse race. I have had this hobby since I was a child.

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I’ve divided my speculation in three categories: What I absolutely expect, what would not surprise me, and what could happen but probably will not.

What I Absolutely Expect

  1. The Real Donald J will not attack Clinton directly in the first half hour, but he will make an attack on the moderator, Lester Holt.
  2. HRC will attack The Real Donald J for his immigration stance, and she will contrast his view with Ronald Reagan’s leniency toward immigrants.
  3. HRC will wear blue.
  4. The Real Donald J will drop at least one, if not two, swear words, both in the last half hour.
  5. In the last fifteen minutes, when The Real Donald J has forgotten the strategy his advisors have laid out, he will attack HRC directly. Maybe on her health, but also maybe on WJC.
  6. The Real Donald J will say “Believe me” more than twenty times.
  7. HRC will not pull closer to President Obama in her language, but instead will speak where her policies are more aligned with some famous republicans, because her target is republicans who don’t like The Real Donald J.

What Would Not Surprise Me

  1. HRC attacks first, and in her opening remarks comes right out and says that The Real Donald J is not fit or qualified to be POTUS. She probably will reference other republicans in doing so.
  2. Lester Holt will ask some kind of question about white supremacists and The Real Donald J’s use of bait language and code words. The Real Donald J will dismiss it as irrelevant and “The people don’t care about that, believe me.”
  3. Someone will heckle. It might even be a #BLM protester. It could be a Benghazi protester. I don’t know if it will come from the left, or right, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
  4. The Real Donald J will be asked about Putin, and he will not back down from his bromance.
  5. HRC will be asked about TPP, and she will come close to a John Kerry, “I was against it before I was for it” kind of moment.
  6. The shootings recently in Tulsa and Charlotte will be mentioned. HRC will not have any answers, The Real Donald J will blame Obama.

What Could Happen But Probably Will Not

  1. HRC does a few jumping jacks or push ups to show that she is healthy.
  2. The Real Donald J announces that he is actually dropping out of the race.
  3. Lester Holt asks HRC about her speaking fees and the transcripts.
  4. Lester Holt cites a lawyer and maybe law and calls out The Real Donald J and his refusal to release his tax records.
  5. The Real Donald J actually calls HRC insulting names the way he has attacked other women in the past (This will happen he last fifteen minutes).
  6. WJC rushes the stage and challenges The Real Donald J to a duel, ala Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

Winners and losers are always hard to call, because people see what they want to see. I feel like, though, HRC will have a better night because of her experience in these types of debates. Trump will have a hard time speaking substantively and staying on topic for that long.