Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

I haven't blogged, for me at least, in a while.  There are a few reasons.  One, since Thanksgiving, other than a movie review or two, I've been taking a break.  I've also taken a step back and have watched very little news, occasionally only checking the occasional wild meme or seeing who posts the Daily Currant, The Onion, or some other satire site as real news.  I've stayed away from the political sites and the incessant talk on the "War on Christmas" and "Obamacare."

 Instead, I've been watching reruns of The Supernatural, Bones and Castle.  I've been watching things like Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, A Christmas Carol, and Holiday Inn. 

Oh sure, I've followed with only amused interest Phil Robertson and the controversy even taking time to actually read the interview he is in trouble for.  My opinion, he is an old Southern white male raised in the Deep South in the pre-civil rights era, and I am not at all surprised by his attitude, which in the interview goes far beyond quoting the Bible. He is exercising his first amendment right, something those of you announcing we should never say "Happy Holidays" may want to remember.  A&E is exercising its corporate rights as well. No one said freedom of speech is without consequences. Finally, in regards to all the memes invoking Miley Cyrus in the same breath as Phil, Miley has nothing to do with it. She has no show to be suspended from and no good reputation to redeem. It is much ado about nothing and like Honey Booboo bound to end badly.

And you know what? The world has not ended.

No, instead, since the lighting of my Christmas tree and decorations, I've been remembering a time that may have never actually existed, but it is nice to think it did.  I am remembering a time when we didn't know so much about the people on TV nor did we want to.  I am remembering a time when the Grinch had his heart enlarged while the voice of Tony the Tiger sang "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch" and Boris Karloff narrated the story, and that was a good thing. I am remembering a time when Charlie Brown hung a single ornament on a sickly tree as Linus quoted from the New Testament Luke.  I am remembering a time when people read O. Henry's story "The Gift of the Magi" and a gruff newspaper man named Francis Pharcellus Church wrote the immortal lines "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Is it all a bit Pollyanna? Perhaps.  Sometime in the next couple of days, I will watch George C. Scott in A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. On Christmas Eve, I will have dinner with my family, go to the Candle Light Service and spend a few moments alone at home videoing this year's Christmas decorations. After the service, I will sit with my wife and various family members and watch, as we have for the past several years, White Christmas.  On Christmas morning, we will gather and open gifts, and I will miss not having small children who we must stuff back in bed at 4 AM because Santa has arrived.

So, here it is. No matter what celebration you follow at this time of year, I hope that you too have some special  memories and moments you share and remember.  I hope you "have yourself a merry little Christmas."

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Dragon, a Hobbit and A Dwarf Walk into A Cave: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second in the trilogy of movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit or There and Back Again, which was originally considered more of a children's story than its adult brother Lord of the Rings.  I am not an absolute purist when it comes to film adaptations.  I got over that phase of my life.  I came to terms with the idea that Peter Jackson was including appendices materials into his adaptation, to actually make three movies out of the book.  That said, what Jackson has done is not strictly speaking adding parallel stories from the appendices, but also he has begun to mess with the original storyline in ways that were never in the books.

There was a joke on the internet that after the completion of the third movie a special edition editing out all things not in original Hobbit will be released.  It will be two hours long. The second installment is actually eight minutes shorter than its first installment, which many critics complained about as being to "talky" and not having enough action. Well, part 2 has plenty of action and a lot less dialog.  It also leaves the plot several places.  It is interesting, and I enjoyed the movie, but this is not The Hobbit we first read.

To be fair, Jackson clearly wants to take the children's story and make it more along the lines of The Lord of the Rings. I still recall when LOTR came out someone asked Jackson about doing The Hobbit and his response was why would they do the children's story when he had done Rings? The answer was apparently money and the right to take the innocence and humor of the original story and place it on the level of his Lord of the Rings.  I do miss the dichotomy of the two different stories so the question is did Jackson go too far?

Smaug is awesome. The fight sequences are fun and exciting.  It is an easy movie to enjoy and watch.  You don't feel the need to check your watch.  Still, it seems to me to be missing something.  The sets are as always stunning as are the effects.  The acting, as always, is believable.  Perhaps, now five films at 2hours and 45 minutes on average we've become too familiar to the wondrous and magical world created from Jackson's native New Zealand.  The magic has worn off, but to me it's more than this.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie a lot.  The added material from the appendices answers questions like where does Gandalf go when he just disappears for chapters at a time in the novel and how are the characters from The Hobbit related to those in the LOTR story? Some things though are just out of place.


Jackson's desire to include actors and character from the first trilogy exceeds his grasp.  It's not the council of the White that appears in Unexpected Journey, which is an appendices story; it is the developing love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and Fili.  As riveting as the chase of the Dwarves by Orcs is, it really is out of place in the movie and is purely a creation of Jackson and not Tolkien.  The triangle detracts from the character of the Wood Elf King, Thranduil who is an important player in the book.  The three Dwarves staying behind in Lake Town to help the wounded Fili while the rest of the party go on to Lonely Mountain-also not a part of the book- is out of character for all of them, even Fili. The arrival and attack of Orcs in Lake Town and then Legolas and the Jackson created character Tauriel seems out of place.  The battle is fun and exciting, but as a subplot really serves no purpose, except so that Orlando Bloom's Legolas gets more screen time, and the audience gets more of evil Orcs and fantastic battling Elves.

The other issue I have is a small one in terms of plot, but an important one in terms of character and the universal theme of becoming a hero. In the novel, Bilbo's greatest battle is with himself in the tunnels of Lonely Mountain before he first faces Smaug the dragon.  He must find his courage to face the unknown danger for in that moment, he is truly alone. In the movie, however, Gandalf turns to Bilbo and simply says he has changed.  Bilbo is tempted to tell the wizard of the ring he found, but instead he announces that in the goblin tunnels he found his courage.  It is hardly the defining moment in the book.  I had to wonder how Jackson who had so brilliantly captured Frodo's moment of decision to go alone, breaking the Fellowship,  could miss such a defining moment Bilbo's character.

Did I mention that Smaug is awesome? As an action captured CGI, just as Andy Serkis as Gollum before him, Benedict Cumberbatch breathes life into the mighty and egotistical worm.   While when Bilbo removes the ring so Smaug can see the burglar, I had to wonder why he didn't kill Bilbo then and there.  This was not something Bilbo did in the book, just in the movie.  I do get that Smaug is toying with Bilbo and that it sets up another sequence for a battle that did not occur in the book between the Dwarves and dragon.  Again it was an amazing sequence, just more Jackson than Tolkien.

While neither Hobbit film has measured up to the wonder and accuracy of The Lord of the Rings movies, the second is a good movie and easily holds the audience's attention.  With a few walk on characters like Stephen Colbert as a Lake Town spy and even Jackson in the opening sequence, the movie is a fun watch.  Perhaps I am being too much of a purist, since I know that people who have not read There and Back Again have no idea about the changes and additions Jackson has made, or perhaps it is the attempt to make a much lighter story into a much heavier equal that affects the movie, but overall, it is still worth the time and ticket.  And yes, please, more Beorn in the extended edition. I will buy the DVD.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Anna and Elsa are sisters.  Elsa has inherited her father's curse/gift to cause the world around her to become frozen.  Anna is normal like her mother.  Mom and Dad die. In order to protect the world and keep Elsa's secret, she is locked away, but it is eventually revealed. Elsa flees.  Anna sets off on a quest to bring back her sister with the loveable rogue, Kristoff and his reindeer and a snowman named Olaf, and then she intends to marry the charming Prince Hans.

During the course of the story, there will be fun and predictable turns, some songs and the classic Disney fairy tale ending. In other words, the Disney formula of princess on a quest with a lovable scalawag and an unusual side-kick is alive and well. What is more, it still gets us right where our heartstrings are.  Frozen is classic Disney "happy ending" storytelling with magic and music.

Anna, who is voiced by Kristen Bell, is a sweet and precocious character who we immediately care about. What is more, Kristen Bell can sing which is fortunate because she has to back her voice up to Tony award winner, Wicked's Wicked Witch Idina Menzel who voices her sister, the Queen, Elsa.  And no, Elsa is not evil, and I am not going to tell you who the bad guy is.  The story works even if it is formulaic, but, hey, that's what Disney animation does.  I did like the songs for this cartoon musical, something that has not been as strong in recent productions.

Olaf the snowman is like all other cute magical sidekicks who come with a risk.  It's the Scrappy Doo effect.  Olaf is clever, funny, has a great song, and works as well as any dopey creation ever worked.  Not only that, he gets to deliver one of the best lines in the story, "Some people are worth melting for."  The rock trolls is another fun group of characters who have a fun song and like Olaf, are not over-the-top.
There is definitely an eye on making sure that this cartoon too will be adaptable for the stage.  Overall, Frozen is fun, and entertaining.  The two elementary age boys I was with sat rapt by the music and story and so did the adults.  I didn't see it in 3D, but it is clearly animated with that in mind.  I think you'll like it, unless you have a frozen heart.

I will buy the DVD.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a fun ride.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an enjoyable and exciting movie. While still carrying a parallel plot of the first, it is a bridge movie just as a second book is in a trilogy.  That said, because we already know about Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, Gale Hawthorn, Haymitch Abernathy, and, of course, President Snow, we don't need nearly the background set up, but what we do need is the beginnings of Katniss' transformation from Hunger Games victor to revolutionary symbol, the Mocking Jay.  It is something that the movie drives home again and again from gesture to a visual symbol to physical determination.

We get to know the characters better and are introduced to some new ones. We understand Katniss', played by Jennifer Lawrence, problem with loving both Gale, (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).  The movie is also joined by some new characters like Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymore Hoffman). Through the games, we get the back story of some of these characters.

If there is one character flaw in the movie, it may be with President Snow played by Donald Sutherland.  I am told in the books, Snow is more humanized than he is in the movies.  The problem I have is that for someone who wants to stop a rebellion and maintain his power, President Snow has zero understanding about how to use his power to control.  He is just so evil, all Sutherland needs to do is twirl his mustache.  Sutherland is one of the finest actors in the cast.  He could easily pull off a more human villain if he was just given something more to work with.  We see this in the fleeting moments of Snow and his granddaughter.  Perhaps more will be done with the character in the next two movies, but for now, he seems a bit two dimensional for the complexity that such a character could have and that have been built into the other characters. A great antagonist needs to be more complex and far less two dimensional.

The plot is simple enough.  Unable to control the public reactions to Katniss Everdeen and "her love" in the year following the Hunger Games, Snow, determines that she must be destroyed.  When a miserable attempt at intimidation fails, a new Games to celebrate the 75th year of the killing event is declared.  Only tributes who were victors in previous Hunger Games will be brought to do battle and so it is that Peeta and Katniss must once again enter the arena in which only one can survive.  It is in this crucible that Katniss must be forged into the symbol the people of the world of Hunger Games so desperately want.

I liked the movie.  It hits a good blend of humor, turmoil, excitement, dialog and action.  Go see it.  It is worth the money. It is also the Part 2 of 4 movies.  Parts 3 and 4 are filming as I write.  I will buy the DVD.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Just Say "No."

 It's the commercialization of the holidays. If you want to stop this, the answer is simple. Don't go.

It is unfortunate that we cannot do anything for the people being forced to work on Thanksgiving Day or 20 or more hour shifts.  We can, however, make their time an easy one.  Don't go.  I do realize that there are a few events that cause work.  TV, the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade, and football, but Christmas shopping is not one of those traditions. Don't go!

If stores lose money they will not open next year.  They will realize that to us, the time with our family is not about buying stuff, for once.  Now I could tell you that you can go and protest or drive by those stores and shame the people who go there to shop, but I am not. Don't go.

So here's the deal.  On holidays, we don't shop.  We don't go to the movies.  We don't try to get that special something that will end up in a closet or a yard sale or on eBay.  We make it clear that if places want to open early that we won't show up before 6:00 am.  I say 6:00 am not because that's when I will go.  You might even want to go on Small Business Saturday and really invest in the community.

I have never gone out shopping on Black Friday to get that certain great deal.  And you know what? I've survived.  My wife has survived.  My kids have survived.  What is more, I've still found the occasional great deal.

If you want to sleep in on the day after Thanksgiving...Don't go!

What if there was a war and no one showed up? The war would end. What if there was a holiday-destroying, family time-interrupting, useless sale and no one showed up? That event would wither and die, and all the workers could go home.


Don't Go!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Day to Remember

It is said that anyone who was alive when it happened remembers where they were when Kennedy was shot in Dallas.  I was at recess.  I've said this before, but I think one of the other kids announced that President Lincoln had been shot.  He and Washington were probably, at that time, the only two presidents we six-year-olds knew.  We would soon add a name to our list: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  We will perhaps never know what Kennedy's legacy, had he survived, would have been.

Fifty years ago, today, the President of the United States was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald or whatever you want to believe. It makes little difference.  There are just some events that will mark our lives.  This, those of us living then, was one of them.

We remember JFK.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


A little while back, I posted about yet another silly meme.  I've done this for a while now.  What was exciting was I got my first true far right comment.  I don't know if the person commenting is a Tea Party member, but his comment is the one that's been fed since Obama's election and then re-election.  The person announced "that he's [Obama] communist." I've heard this charge before.  I've heard that Obama is a socialist and that he is Hitler, who was actually a Fascist despite the name his party, That National Socialist German Workers Party or Nationalsozialismus  in German, Nazi for short. It was considered a far right group who behaved more as an alternative to socialism.

So first if we are going to call someone a name like socialist, communist or fascist we need definitions.  Rather than listen to so and so, who throws the terms around on his website or talk show, we should have a definition.   I would tell students that if they were going to call someone a name, they should understand the definition.  For example, I once had a young feminist who called every male, including me, a male chauvinist.  I asked her if she knew what a chauvinist is? She didn't.  I told her that she could call me a chauvinist only if she knew the definition and that I met the definition.  She went to the dictionary. She also never used the word in my presence again. Chauvinist: 1. excessive or blind patriotism 2. undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which one belongs or has belonged 3. an attitude of superiority toward members of the opposite sex; also : behavior expressive of such an attitude.

So let's define the words. I am going to use the dictionary to start.

Fascism: : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Socialism: a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies. b. Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. c. A stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

Communism: a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) and there is no privately owned property. A theory advocating elimination of private property. b : A system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed.  2. (capitalized)  a : A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. b : A totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production. c: A final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably.

Is Obama a Fascist? If he is, he cannot be a Socialist or Communist by definition.  If he is a dictatorial leader, given his inability to get congress to pass anything, he is either not a dictator or has the worse understanding of a dictatorship ever.  So the answer is no.  He is not even close to the kind of leader Hitler was.

Is he a Socialist?  Let's not confuse Socialist with Liberal.  Has he organized industries to be controlled, not to be confused with regulated, by the government? No.  Even Obamacare includes the insurance industry who determine the plans and the cost.  Given the current behavior of the free market, or stock trading on Wall Street, he also fails as someone who has government control of the industry market.The free markets are at record levels, over 16,000.  This makes him the worst Socialist ever.  Even in 2012, the president of the Socialist Party announced Obama is not a Socialist, calling him "another corporate funded politician placed in the White House to protect the wealth and status of the 1 percent."

If he were actually a Socialist and the ACA was Socialist, we would all wake-up tomorrow to have exactly the same health care insurance, cost and coverage.  Obamacare is not socialist; it is liberal. So by definition, he is not a Socialist or at the least not a very good one. There is the issue of those who think Obama is both Muslim and Socialist pointing to his socialist leanings of having attended  Chicago Trinity Church  years ago. On the church's website they write, "We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian..." Obama the horrible Socialist must also be a pretty bad Muslim.

Is he a Communist?  Note that Socialism is the step between Capitalism and Communism.  This means that all Communists should be Socialist, but not all Socialists are Communist.  Since Obama is not a Socialist, then he is not a Communist, but if I grant you that he is just a bad Socialist, there is that other problem in the definition of a "single authoritarian party [that] controls state-owned means of production." We also know that we don't have a single party in this country, but a bunch and again Obama seems to lack any authoritarian control, especially when it comes to the House and the Supreme Court.  So the answer must also be no.  I should also point out that one of the tenets of Communism is Athiesm,  hence the saying of those "Goddless Comunists." Not good for a Christian or a Muslim.

Actually if you think about it, to put Obama in the same picture as Hitler, the Fascist,  and Lenin, the Socialist,  is something of an oxymoron. In case you didn't know, Lenin was declared a traitor to the movement and exiled from Russia when Stalin took over effectively moving the Socialist movement to the definition of Communism ran by an authoritarian party. 

Is Obama liberal? I know I didn't define Liberal. Yes.  Is he an a far left Liberal? No.  If he were, Obamacare would have the single payer option and not what it has with the industry.  Is he a Democrat? Again without a definition, Yes.  Given the size and scope of Obamacare, does he believe in big government as a means to help? Yes, he probably does.

I will gladly entertain anything he has done that shows him as a Socialist, Communist or Fascist, but it needs to be more than because Fox, Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, O'Reily or other pundit says so.  It has to meet a real definitions.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Staking a Claim

Has anyone seen the Ashton Kutcher video from Ellen? He discusses the work ethic. It is a statement about his Teen Choice Award.  If you haven't, click the link.  I'll wait....


Oh good you're back.

Good stuff. Huh?

Most of us were raised with some sort of a work ethic.  My father and mother instilled a strong one in us. My siblings all work(ed) insane hours in a week. Working is important and wanting to work is important.  I agree, sometimes you have to take jobs that you don't like.  I  spent one summer painting outhouses. I sold shoes in K-Mart, worked as a mop boy in a cafeteria, mixed feed at a mill, rented videos and sold gas, and painted schools and water towers.  None of these a particularly glamorous jobs.  I applaud Mr. Kutcher's statement about working while you search for what you want to do, especially when you consider the recent survey asking kids what they wanted to do when they grew up, and the number one answer was "Be Famous."

My problem is  claiming the video for political gain while making statements about how Kutcher hasn't gone Hollywood as if all of Hollywood except a select few are among the famous for being famous. Work ethic is not a political agenda.  It is an attitude that Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and any other group can have.

The Robertson Brothers
Duck Dynasty
Most work hard to reach even a tiny amount of stardom, and as Kutcher points out, he has been "incredibly lucky." Let's face it, the famous for being famous crowd whether it is the Kardashians or Duck Dynasty is actually a pretty small group.  I am also pretty sure that the guys who founded a very lucrative hunting equipment company, Duck Commander, worked hard before becoming famous for a very staged reality show.  Still claiming work ethic as the domain of one political group or another is simply nuts.   To dismiss anyone because of what they do for a living is also just as wrong.
The Roberson Brothers
A few years before Duck Dynasty
So when this video appeared on my timeline courtesy of Facebook's Conservative Daily's page, I say "bravo" for bringing out this video and "no," you have zero claim to work ethic as a political agenda item.

By the way, Kutcher, stated on Bill Maher's show, "I am a fiscally conservative, socially liberal, independent."  Sorry to both Democrats and Republicans, neither of you get to claim him.

(I should note shortly after I wrote this blog, the video also appeared on Up-Worthy.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In Search of Leading

When I started this blog, I did so because I like to write, and I could feed my once secret passion of being a politics junky, and to write about movies, education and any of the other things I feel like.  I have also been considering my political beliefs.

You see, I consider myself an information voter.  I don't vote one way or another because of a political slant.  I was a Republican years back, but I left the party because I have never voted for a party.  I vote on what I think is correct and best.

And what caused me to ponder my political leanings?   The other day, my son told me I was a left leaning blogger.  I have to admit that given recent events and topics, it's true of late.  I also have an advantage.  I actually have the time at my disposal to look up what I see online.  Still I think my wife and I have done pretty well.  My wife and I are both, I think, pretty much centered in our view points.  She is slightly right of center and as I've grown older, have become, at least on social matters, slightly left of center.  We've raised two really great kids who we are quite proud of.  My son is probably right of his mother and my daughter is probably left of her father.

Nevertheless, none of us is afraid to talk about our beliefs.  I believe we respect each other, and when one or the other of us starts going over the edge, or as my son put it leaning to far that we might fall over, we remind each other that heading for the extreme fringe is not a good idea.

I also admit that I may seem more left than I am but that is because the hate and fear brigade has offered so much material.  I may have built my reputation as a cynic, but in truth I am a bit of an idealist.  I keep hoping that the haters on the fringe will crawl back into the shadows. Perhaps this is naive. I so want to see the rise of a truly great leader, not just some politician running scared for his job.

I believe that greatness is not something that accidentally occurs. I don't believe the old adage of "some men are born great while others have greatness thrust upon them." It is clear to me that given the way so many who were born wealthy and powerful, that greatness is not something one is born to.  Too often, they care about no one but themselves.  They often live cowardly existence pushed by their own petty beliefs.  They are not great, but they may believe their money will buy them their place in history.  And so I live in hope that a Franklin or Douglass or Lincoln will rise and lead.  Great leaders lead by serving.

That may occasionally make me look too liberal or too conservative.  I've been accused of both.  But is hope for greatness so wrong?