Category Archives: Media

On Football, the First Amendment and the Third Commandment

A couple years ago, we were ironically at McDonald’s on a Sunday morning, in a picking grain on the sabbath capacity, and while we were waiting, and whichever news channel was on (why must restaurants ruin people’s digestion with “news”? I wish they’d just play Boomerang or something that all ages could enjoy without stress or ideology), the anchoress said, “It’s Sunday, and that means Americans’ thoughts turn to football!”
It made me sad that that statement is so true: Americans’ thoughts on Sunday don’t turn to God.  They turn to football, or golf, or Sunday brunch or sleeping in or going to the movies.

In the City, we need no bells:
Let them waken the suburbs.
I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:
We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor
To Hindhead, or Maidenhead.
If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.
In industrial districts, there I was told
Of economic laws.
In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed
That the country now is only fit for picnics.
And the Church does not seem to be wanted
In country or in suburbs; and in the town
Only for important weddings.

[….]

And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.” (T. S. Eliot, Choruses from ‘The Rock’)

This whole NFL/National Anthem thing is thus a bit confusing to me:
1) I hate professional sports, football in particular, both in that I don’t see the point of watching sports and get annoyed when my shows are preempted by sports, but also in that I think it involves way too much money and way too much physical risk.  So the idea of having people lash out against the NFL and hopefully free up Sundays and holidays a bit for other activities makes me kind of hopeful.
2) In addition, though I’m conflicted when it comes to prerecorded TV or going to a restaurant, Western culture is far less respectful of the Lord’s Day today than it was when Eliot wrote those words over 80 years ago.
We’ve come a long way since Eric Lidell in the 1924 Olympics.  Now, we have players who are “controversial” for openly praying during sporting events, and people who schedule their church attendance around football praise him while getting mad at the “irreverence” shown by players who protest the performing of the “National Anthem.”

3) What of the Anthem itself?

Everybody knows the first verse, but here’s verse 3, the source of the controversy:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

How is it the “land of the free and the home of the brave” if we’re going to hunt down and kill runaway slaves? (And yes I know the historical context was the slaves fighting on the side of the British during the War of 1812).

Long before anyone ever hear of Colin Kaepernick, Ray Charles and others were asking for the “Star Spangled Banner” to be replaced with something like “America the Beautiful” or “God Bless America.”  Besides, it’s also a notoriously difficult song to sing.

So it’s not some sudden new thing that African Americans find the “Star Spangled Banner” offensive, and I think they’re justified in doing so.  Given that “hirelings” would have meant Irish and German Catholics, anyway, I’m inclined to more than sympathize with their objections.

4) Why do we *have* a National Anthem?
Because in 1931, the news circulated that the City Council of Erie, Pennsylvania, was so left-wing they were singing the “Internationale” at their meetings.  The story “went viral,” as we now say, and the Star Spangled Banner was adopted as a National Anthem as a move against Socialism (so for that reason I’m inclined to agree with it).

5) OTOH, why do we put such emphasis on the flag?
In that case, it’s almost the opposite: in the late 1800s, concerned about rising immigration from Ireland and Eastern and Southern Europe, and trying to reunite the country after the Civil War, there was an alliance of Socialists and Protestants who pushed for US nationalism.  They wanted to downplay the Constitution to downplay both Federalism and the First Amendment, so they wrote and promoted the Pledge and veneration of the Flag as a new approach to unifying the country.
All these historical contexts validate another longstanding instinct of mine, which is that if we are to truly honor our military, we should honor the Constitution they vow to uphold, and that includes not forcing people to engage in particular speech or expression with which they disagree. Let’s recall that the early Christians’ refusal to swear an oath to Caesar was one of the major reasons they were persecuted.

6) Then there’s the “taking the knee” thing.  In one of those mind-numbing twists of human behavior, the players are genuflecting because, as Americans, they see subservience as a bad thing, so they are performing a gesture they perceive as a repulsive gesture of subservience to protest a song referring to hunting down and killing their enslaved ancestors.

Why now?  Well, let’s see, it’s only been since 2009 that NFL players have been officially required to stand on the field for the Anthem,  although it was customary before that.  And hmm, why, with more and more attention being paid to African American males, whether legitimate suspects or completely innocent, being shot in the back, might African American males in positions of influence might want to draw attention to a song about killing fleeing “slaves”?

7) What of the First Amendment?  A popular notion-depending upon whose side is at the center of the First Amendment issue in question–is that the First Amendment only applies to the Federal government and not to one’s employment status.  To a certain extent, I’d agree. But this also presumes people have a choice about their employment status.  It is one thing to look at an athlete who makes millions of dollars for playing a game or an actor who gets millions of dollars to play pretend and say, “You are paid to entertain me, and I am not entertained by your behavior. So I am not going to buy your product.”
A few years ago, we said of the “wedding cake” controversy, “What if Nazis wanted a liberal baker to make a cake?”  Well, now liberals are trying to get actual Nazis who get photographed at rallies fired from their jobs.  They’re refusing to perform for Trump or members of his administration, flat out telling Trump supporters they don’t want their business, etc.
If we don’t want someone like Tim Tebow fired for genuflecting in prayer, why do we want someone like Colin Kaepernick fire for genuflecting in protest?
There is a difference between telling a business, “I’m not going to give you business because I disagree with you,” or “I’m going to support your business because I agree with you,” and suing the business or asking the government to fine the business for some perceived “civil rights violation.”

8) Still, should the first Amendment protect employees’ speech?  Before disability, I could accept that, as an employee, and as someone trying to feed my family, I should refrain from certain kinds of speech.  But that seems different than requiring an employee to actively violate his or her conscience.  What about the right to pray or read the Bible in one’s cubicle?  To have political or religious signage on one’s vehicle?  What about after-hours?  There’s a list that circulates the Internet of requirements for teachers 100 years ago, and they were expected to adhere to various behavioral standards even in their off hours that today we might consider draconian, yet many contemporary contracts or “ethics courses” say the same.  I worked for employers who said, for example, that their “harassment policy” extended to one’s private life. That if an employee was out in public, and a coworker or client overheard an offensive conversation, the employee could still potentially be sued or fired for it!

9) Lastly, does protesting a requirement as a civilian, in a country that is supposedly founded on freedom of speech, to sing a particular song or say a particular pledge or revere a flag honor or dishonor the troops who’ve sacrificed and died to uphold the Constitution?  I’d argue that mandatory expression is a greater dishonor to the troops.

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_Twin Peaks’_ Maj. Garland Briggs–a sincere Christian in television

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, and believe spoilers do just that, proceed with caution; if you have never watched and agree with Flannery O’Connor that fiction is better enjoyed when you know what’s going to happen, read on!)
With “Season 3” of Twin Peaks airing, I’ve been reading a lot of websites and just began reviewing the original series/first two seasons.  This will be my fourth viewing of the series since its original run–once on DVD about 15 years ago and on Netflix about 5 years ago, after the Psych tribute episode.
Before the show was “put on indefinite haitus” by ABC–Whovians, Trekkies and Star Wars fans have nothing on Twin Peaks fans in terms of waiting–there was an outline written for season 3.  As with many cult shows that have been continued in comic book and/or novel form, some fans who were comic book writers approached David Lynch about 10 years ago to try and convince him to let them turn that outline into a comic book series.  Lynch famously declared Twin Peaks dead.
Whether he changed his mind or actually intended to surprise everyone for the show’s 25th anniversary (“I’ll see you again in 25 years”), had that comic book been made, we might not have gotten an actual show.  Amazingly, of the characters who were not already killed off, five cast members have either passed away or refused to participate.
Ironically and problematically, two of those five play characters who are immortal: the late Frank Silva, who played the immortal demon BOB, and the living Michael J. Anderson (“Man from Another Place/Dwarf/MIKE’s arm”).  The other actor who passed away (though a Warren Frost, Miguel Ferrer and Catherine E. Coulson died shortly after filming of The Return was completed) was Don S. Davis (1942-2008), who played Maj. Garland Briggs.  A veteran sci-fi actor, he played Capt. William Scully on The X-Files, and IMDB quotes him saying he enjoys playing science fiction characters because it’s one of the few genres where you are still able to have flawless good guys.
Rolling Stone (in an article I just found) lists him as the show’s 8th best character, noting that he is the inversion of its “you can’t tell a book by its cover” theme.  I’ve seen at least two websites (possibly from the same person) calling him not just the greatest character on Twin Peaks but one of the greatest TV characters ever.
The scene that introduces Maj. Briggs is a family dinner.  His son Bobby, Laura Palmer’s “official” boyfriend, has just been released from jail after being held for fighting and for suspicion of being Laura’s murderer.  Family dinners, whether at home or at the homey RR diner, are a recurring motif of the original series (which could be contrasted to the motif of Roadhouse and barroom dinners in the new series/third season).  Whether it’s the Haywards who are set as the model of the loving, wholesome family yet the parents are clueless about their daughters’ lives, and two of the daughters show up only a couple times, the Palmers and their horrible secrets, or the Hornes and their facade of respectability amid mental illness and infidelity, the dinners usually have the same dramatic function as Ewing family dinners on Dallas.
The first time I saw the scene, it seemed like Maj. Briggs was being presented as another example.  Sitting in his USAF uniform, he starts the meal saying grace–the only character who does so, IIRC, though the Haywards go to church.  He then proceeds to calmly but formally lecture his son (“Robert”) on the value of teenage rebelliousness but his job as a father to guide Bobby’s rebelliousness within the standards of society and their family.
Bobby doesn’t speak, leading to a talk about the various meanings of silence.  He pulls out a cigarette, and his father reaches across the table, slapping it out of his mouth.  The cigarette lands in Mrs. Briggs’s meatloaf, and she barely reacts.  Maj. Briggs says that he is very tolerant but has his limits.  Again, at first sight, he seems to be another example of hypocrisy, and a seemingly wholesome family covering up abuse that leads to the child’s reckless behavior.  As time goes on, Maj. Briggs is revealed to be a very different character and becomes by the end of the second season, the show’s moral center.  The first time the show aired, I puzzled in retrospect over that scene.
When I rewatched it the second and third times, I assumed that it was just an early scene before the character had been sufficiently developed.  This time, it struck me as very well-planned.  As Rolling Stone put it, they want us to see him as a seemingly authoritarian and abusive father.  But just as the seemingly loving and gentle Leland Palmer (spoiler alert) was possessed by a demon which drove him to molest and murder his own daughter, the seemingly stern and gruff Maj. Briggs is actually loving and gentle.
In the aforementioned outline for Season 3, the plan had been for Maj. Briggs to become the main hero.  Whether it was resolved quickly or over the season, the plan was that (spoiler alert) Maj. Briggs would go into the Black Lodge and rescue Cooper.  Though Cooper is superficially an innocent, we know that he is gluttonous, lustful and has committed adultery.  When he invades the Black Lodge to rescue his girlfriend, he gets trapped there and replaced by BOB occupying his physical body because of his own sinfulness.  Originally, had Don S. Davis not passed away, Maj. Briggs would have been the only character worthy of facing the Black Lodge without being corrupted, so whether it would have been a long or short storyline, Briggs would have been the one to bring Cooper back.
(Spoiler) On the new show, one of the mysteries is that his decapitated body was found in South Dakota, and, even though he was reported dead in a fire in 1989 (the events of the 1990-91 series all took place fictionally in February and March 1989), he was in his early 40s when he died.   We recently learned on the new show that he had been in another dimension for 25 years–whether it was the Black or White Lodge has yet to be revealed.
Seen through those eyes, as well as the eyes of real world experience, that first scene looks very different.
Maj. Briggs, even though he refers to patience having its limits, does not lose his cool.  His son, already in trouble with the law, does something completely disrespectful.  It is a controlled and calculated gesture.

EDIT: Don’t know why I never noticed this before, Bobby Briggs standing before a huge crucifix/home altar:
Bobby Briggs Crucifix.png

_Riverdale_ Challenges Obama’s Rhetoric

I haven’t been blogging much lately, both because of doing more micro-blogging on Facebook and saving my “big writing energies” to focus on my many ongoing major projects.

However, one of my raisons d’etre popped up the other day and I had to mention it.  A very pro-life episode of the CW’s new show _Riverdale_ seems to have gone under everyone’s radar (Ep. 8 “The Outsiders”).  Produced by Greg Berlanti of _Gotham_, _Arrow_, _Flash_, etc., it does to Archie Comics what Berlanti’s other shows do to the DC characters: essentially _Twin Peaks_ meets _Dawson’s Creek_ with the characters from “Archie.”  Not knowing much about the characters other than their status as cultural archetypes, and intrigued by the premise, I started watching the show and read up on the characters to know what was going on.

Cut ahead to episode 8.  There is a teen pregnancy central to the storyline.  I was annoyed at first by the story where the girl was sent up to a stereotypical “home for troubled teens” run by nuns who are depicted as a mix of traditional habit-wearing nuns and the kind Dean Koontz described as “social workers who don’t date.”  Compare to the similar plotline on last year’s _X-Files_ revival.  In the first several episodes, the girl’s mother (played by Madchen Amick of _Twin Peaks_ fame, who will also be reprising the role of Shelley Johnson in next month’s “Season 3”) has been shown to be obsessed with social standing and a hypocritical veneer of righteousness while being very cold and strict towards her daughters.  The pregnant daughter has been shown as angry at her parents for sending her away to “that place,” but when her mother softens and offers an olive branch, she asks about her father.

The word “abortion” is never used, to great effect.  The girl tells her mother that before sending her away, her father offered to pay for her to “see a doctor.”  The mother confronts her husband, recalling how he paid for her to have an abortion when they were teenagers and aghast that he would do the same to their daughter (again, the word is never used–perhaps to avoid “controversy” yet effectively showing the horror/pain at even referring to it by name).

The father practically quotes Barack Obama verbatim and says, “I didn’t want her punished for her mistake.”
“Get out. . . . Get out before I do something we’ll both regret.”

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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“Doesn’t She Look Tired”: Evita, Doctor Who and the power of Words

On the new Doctor Who, there was a character called “Harriet Jones,” known for her running joke, introducing herself as “Harriet Jones, Minister of Parliament,” etc., which is usually answered with, “Yes, I/we know who you are.”  In the first appearance of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, he thwarts an alien invasion with minimal violence and convinces the would-be invaders to leave, but Harriet, now “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister,” has been working on a secret weapon to defend earth and wants to prove earth can defend itself without the Doctor.  In spite of the treaty he just negotiated, she destroys the fleeing ship with her weapon, after the Doctor threatens her by saying that he’s powerful enough to take her down with six words.  After she defies him and fires the weapon, destroying the fleeing aliens, he leans in the ear of her closest advisor and asks, “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

One of the reasons Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were a successful team was their contrasts: ALW was always a believer to some extent; Rice was an agnostic, and so on. Rice developed an admiration for Eva Peron in the early ’70s and wanted to write a musical about her. ALW resisted for several years, till he saw her story as a modern tragedy of the cost of fame.  While Lloyd-Webber has never been a lyricist, he usually collaborates on the “book” (play) of his shows, and on the basic idea behind a song.

So with Evita, who was known as the “Rainbow of Argentina,” he thought about Judy Garland.  He had attended one of her final concerts when he was younger, and he reflected on how pathetic she was–how she could barely sing, how broken she looked, and how people were literally throwing money on the stage.

Lloyd Webber worked in an “Over the Rainbow” theme to Evita (he’d later acquire the rights to Wizard of Oz and turn it into a sung through musical with his own new songs added to the classic movie tunes.   In “Eva Beware of the City,” she says, “Birds fly out of here, so why, o why the h— can’t I?”   In the song “Rainbow Tour,” Eva’s visit to France end when “She suddenly seemed to lose interest; she looked tired.”

It only takes a few words to destroy someone’s reputation.

TF movie voice actors mashup

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time.  I often imagine the characters being dubbed by lines from their other famous roles, or else see the Transformers talking when I hear them in other shows or movies, between  live action stars (e.g., Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries, Lionel Stander of Hart to Hart, Judd Nelson of Breakfast Club, Orson Wells of Citizen Kane, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek) or the prolific and easily recognized voice actors like Frank Welker (always Fred on Scooby-Doo  and Scooby himself since the death of Don Messick), Peter Cullen (Eeyore and many other Disney roles, not to mention TF’s direct competitors Gobots and Voltron), Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey), Casey Kasem (Shaggy), Susan Blu (the caller on Magic School Bus and many other roles) etc.  If I had the time to waste, I’d redub the movie, but here instead are some clips with quotes or paraphrases as captions).

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[On seeing Unicron] Cliffjumper: “Zoinks!” Jazz: “Let me check my _Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu!_”

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“Thanks for rememberin’ me!”

 

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“I have an idea, gang.  Let’s split up and look for clues!”

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“Scooby Dooby Dooo!”

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“COBRAAA!”

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“Perhaps *you* can help stop a Decepticon!”

 

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“Hello? Is this the Magic School Bus?  I  don’t think this episode is very accurate.”

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“From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend: the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe!”

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“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

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“I have been, and always shall be, your enemy!  Live long and prosper, not!”


 

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Kup: “This is my Boss, Rodimus Prime: Self-Made Autobot Leader.  He’s quite a guy!”

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“Rosebud?”

 

“Joy of Love”–What’s missing

The media are abuzz with Pope Francis’s long-anticipated Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation _Amoris Laetitia_, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook, the following Bingo game could be quickly won:

capture

I’ve read the first three chapters, and I’ve read that, like every other document from Pope Francis, the several assurances of orthodoxy in the first few chapters are followed up by a buried lied of “freedom of conscience” somewhere in the middle.

Let’s set aside that “freedom of conscience” and “Let’s adopt a new tone instead of authoritarianism” has been said over and over since  Vatican II.  Let’s set aside that some of the same people who, almost 20 years ago, were having conniptions over a very similar, but more more succinct, document from Rembert Weakland are now saying, “Let’s celebrate!  The Pope didn’t change doctrine!”

As usual, I sympathize, though don’t entirely agree with, the Pope’s critics from the “Right.”  My reaction thus far is really disappointment.  The document is the epitome of lukewarm.  It’s so insipid and boring I was outraged by the waste of time.  It really adds nothing to what previous documents have already said on any of the subjects at play.

When it comes to marriage and family issues, there are four groups of people:

1) Those who want a clear-cut, black and white moral code.

2) Those who “freedom of conscience” *from* the Church.

3) Those who simply don’t care.

4) Those who want to follow the Church but are struggling with difficult situations.

Group #2 are the only ones who have any cause for celebration in this document, and they are celebrating.  However, from what I’ve read directly or seen quoted, it *really* doesn’t say anything that isn’t somewhere in the post-Vatican II magisterium already.

Ostensibly, the whole point of the Synod was to address group 4, but so far it seems to be more of the same:

Yes, extreme circumstances may mitigate culpability.  However, this seems addressed in a way that’s more about alleviating the responsibility of pastors than providing mercy to those who struggle.  Emphasizing lack of culpability works out to the same as emphasizing sin in a punitive manner: both escape the Biblical responsibility of the clergy to help those who are in need.

This has always been my problem with group 2, the so-called “liberals” or “progressives”: too often, I’ve seen Acts of the Apostles cited by liberals to support socialism or communism rather than Christian community.

The Pope says we should “admire” and “be supportive” of families with disabled parents or children, single mothers, and so forth.  But “being supportive” is very different from “supporting”.  He mentions civic responsibility, but not clerical responsibility.

Instead, it’s the cop-out of “personal conscience.”  So much easier to say, “You’re not really responsible for the sins you commit out of  desperation” than to say, “We’re going to try to provide you with practical help so you don’t have to be put in a situation of desperation.”