Monday, February 27, 2006

'Dark Angel' Season One

It took me just two months to watch the whole first season of Dark Angel since I got it for Christmas. I had read about the show and thought it sounded interesting. When I saw it on sale for $18.88 (or something like that) I thought picking it up was a no-brainer. I have written about it before, after I had seen just the first episode. Since then I have been slowly but surely working my way through all 21 first season episodes. Dark Angel is the story of Max (Jessica Alba), a genetically engineered soldier who escapes from her training institution, Manticore, as a child. She was bred to be a soldier and has a bar code on the back of her neck. Since her escape she tries to pass as a normal person. She lives her life as a messenger service delivery person in post-pulse Seattle, the shell of a city after some sort of electromagnetic pulse wipes out much of the technology and culture. It’s like the great depression but set in the not-too-distant future. The city is consistently dirty with the buildings mostly looking like the remnants of a war zone. Corruption is rampant and movement is severely restricted. In her quest to find the other eleven “brothers and sisters” who escaped with Max she takes to a life of crime and is caught in the act by Logan Cale (Michael Weatherly) who, seeing something he likes in this genetically enhanced woman, enlists her to help him in his one-man crusade against corruption. If she helps him, he tells her, he’ll use his considerable connections and computer savvy to help her find her siblings. She agrees and the rest of the season is spent bringing Max closer to her sibs and also closer to Cale.

No one is going to suggest that Jessica Alba was robbed of an Emmy Award for her work in Season One of Dark Angel. The writers aren’t going to get cited either for great dialogue – they sometimes work the futuristic slang a little too much. But overall, the episodes are at least entertaining and at times riveting as Max uses her skills and attitude to single-handedly get herself out of a number of scrapes. Her relationship with Cale has multiple layers and the writers handle them just about right most of the time. The futuristic hip-hop soundtrack is interesting and used to good effect. The supporting characters do a fine job of adding just the right amount of color even though some of them (Kendra, for example) just sort of disappear as the season goes on. As with many series, (Alias leaps to mind) things crank up nicely as the end of the season draws near and the season ends in a way that I found surprising and disturbing. It made me start to think about buying Season Two, which means that, despite my reservations, I enjoyed it enough to spend more money on it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A review of 'The Gospel According to the Simpsons' by Mark Pinsky

When I was at the APCE conference in St Louis I looked over the Cokesbury books table and picked up a few things, one of which was The Gospel According to the Simpsons by Mark Pinsky. I picked up some other more serious books too but this is the one I read first. I have been watching the Simpsons on DVD for about two and a half years now (see my previous post about them) and presently I’m working my way through season 7. I find the treatment of faith to be remarkably even-handed on this show. The things about evangelical Christianity that the Simpsons mocks often deserve mockery. They go after the trappings of our faith rather than our faith itself. Do they cross the line sometimes? Yes, they do. But more often, I find myself reflecting on the critique in a way that makes me think more deeply about what the church is doing to people that we ought not do.

I found myself wondering, though, if there was a whole books worth of stuff about the spiritual side of the Simpsons. Once I got about a third of the way into this book I was pretty convinced that this book, at least, wasn’t it. Overall, my biggest problem with this book is that there’s too much reporting and not enough analysis. (The author is a writer for the Orlando Sentinel so maybe that’s what happens when a reporter writes a book.) This especially comes through in the first half of the book when Pinsky covers a number of the Simpson characters one at a time. Each chapter is mostly just a detailed review of the plots of some of the key episodes with too much detail. I found Pinsky’s discussion of Apu and Hinduism to be actually more helpful than his discussion of any of the Christian characters.

I was looking forward to the last chapter, called “conclusion,” with the hopes that I would finally get some real analysis but, alas, even that chapter was mostly a set of quotes – some even from my colleagues, Quentin Schultz and Bill Romanowski. I did find one quote, from Harry Shearer, the voice of many characters on the show, enlightening. Shearer suggests that one reason for the rich religious variety on the show is because the show is animated and the producers can have a much larger set of supporting characters than a typical situation comedy. As I thought about this I realized that the huge number of recurring characters in the Simpsons is, indeed, one of the things that makes the show special. You couldn’t have that many characters in a show with live people in the parts – no one would be willing to pay that many people to have them at their disposal. Overall, though, I ended the book with few insights that I hadn’t already thought myself from just watching the show.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rethinking an article about Singleness

My daughter Bethany pointed me to an article in Boundless called Rethinking the Gift of Singleness.  It got both of us pretty riled up because the author implies that single women are living outside of God’s will.  While she’s at it she takes a swipe at higher education by calling it “a protracted education system that doesn't really educate.”  I’m not going to go into depth on all the ways this article bugs me because Bethany has already done such a good job in her recent post about it.  Go and read her blog post.  

The decaffeinated life

About a month ago my doctor told me that I needed to get off of caffeine.  I tried to suggest that I go half and half with my coffee for a while but he said “nah, just do it.”  So I did.  Aside from the headache on day one and the sense that I was dragging for much of the week after that it hasn’t been so bad.  I wasn’t one of those people who had coffee all the time but I really enjoyed my cup of coffee in the morning and a couple more throughout the day as well as a can (or two) of pop (or soda, depending on where you’re from).  So, aside from missing the drug I was also missing the taste and the comfort of drinking the coffee in the morning – I enjoyed sitting in my family room on Saturday morning before anyone else in the house was up, watching a DVD and drinking a good cup – or two – of coffee.  Two years ago (I think) I decided that I would try “expensive” coffee and started buying Starbucks.  It was good.  It was very good.  But that particular pleasure is lost to me now.  Decaf just isn’t the same.

It hasn’t been easy though.  One week after starting on my new lifestyle I was in St Louis for a conference and the hotel had a Starbucks right in the lobby!  I was mostly startled, though, to find that, in many food establishments, if you want a caffeine free drink you’re stuck with something clear – a 7-Up type drink.  I’m not a huge fan of 7-Up.  I don’t hate it – how can anyone hate that stuff, there just isn’t enough there to hate.  But I don’t really want to pay for it.  So I’ve been disappointed to find that some of the excellent caffeine-free soft-drinks (Caffeine-free Dr Pepper and Mug Root Beer, for example) tend not to be available at many fast food places.  But I’m not going to go on a decaf crusade.  I don’t want to be that guy.

So, my energy level is back up, my stomach feels a LOT better and I now have the moral high ground with those of you still addicted to that terrible substance.  But I promise not to be a zealot and try to decaffeinate my friends.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rock's next megaband may be ... no one

This article suggests that we may not ever have another megaband on the order of the Beatles, U2 or Led Zeppelin. It starts with the obligatory "will it be Coldplay?" question but then goes on to say that because of the diffuse nature of media today, it may not be possible.

I'm not so sure about that. After seeing Coldplay on the Grammy Awards I'm less convinced that they have what it takes. But, then again, U2 didn't have what it takes for world domination after their third album either. They were able to do this because it takes a truly execptional band willing to grow and change and adapt. But maybe it's more than that. Do you need a band with big anthemic songs to be like U2? Can Bruce Springsteen only pack stadiums when he sings "Born in the USA" and not when he sings "Nebraska?" I'm not sure about that either. I think there is a place for gentle songs to grab the culture but probably not on the sclae that U2 does. I can't see an acoustic band playing the Super Bowl.

(Thanks to Scatter O' Light for pointing me to the article.)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Coming late to the 'Lost' party

I found a great price on the Lost Season One DVD set and, even though I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the pilot, I like JJ Abrams’ work on Alias and so I wanted to like Lost. Watching broadcast television is hard for me because I have to remember to tape it (no, I don’t have a Tivo) and then I have to label the tape and, well, you get the idea. I’ll do it for a few shows that I really want to see but can’t have too many in rotation. The tapes get confused and I get really frustrated if I miss an episode - I'm a little compulsive about things like that. So when Lost first came on I had Alias and West Wing and that was pretty much all I could handle. Plus, as I said, it just didn’t grab me.

It turns out that I like almost everything better on DVD. I like knowing that the last episode is already there waiting for me. I like not dealing with commercials. I like the picture and sound quality and I like the convenience of being able to watch it whenever I want to without tapes stacking up and feeling like I’ve mislabeled something.

But, since I could get Lost pretty cheap I picked it up and I loved it. It got better as the season went on. The flashback method of telling the back-story of the castaways works really well and the mysteries on the island are a great way to move the interpersonal story along. This show is well cast, acted, directed and shot. No wonder it won a Golden Globe Award. I am now a fan.

So, can I dive into season two in the middle or do I just wait for the DVD?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

'How the Bible was Built' - a review

I recently picked up the book How the Bible was Built by Charles Merrill Smith and James Bennett. It is a thin volume that I thought would have a lot of good information on the history of the canon. I was sorely disappointed. As I read it I read things that seemed unlikely. The authors don’t give any indication that there could be any difference of opinion on their version of how the bible cam to be – they merely present it as fact. They present, for example, that Manassah wrote Deuteronomy just before a priest at the time of Josiah found it. This is one of the options that are considered by authorities but it isn’t a done deal, as Smith and Bennett make it out to be. This is typical of this book. Things are presented as "the way it is" rather than "the way it might be" - I'd even settle for "the way it probably is" when, I believe, there is still much discussion about these issues. I was so disappointed with this book that I didn’t even finish it. Definitely NOT recommended.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Great old Christan album cover art

Check here for some wonderful examples of old Christian album cover art, like the one shown in the picture at the left, which Meredith and Bryan could use for their album cover! (Thanks to Nathan Hart for the link.)

One wonders why, if these twins are so good, they have apparently run out of gas.

Friday, February 10, 2006

CBS cancels 'Love Monkey'

Zap2it - TV news - CBS Breaks Up with 'Love Monkey'

I taped Love Monkey Tuesday night and finally watched it this afternoon deciding that, yes, I can commit for a while to taping and watching this show whenever it is on. This show, I thought to myself, might just make me not yearn so for new episodes of Alias and West Wing. I like it and it's worth the time and energy to make sure I watch all the episodes. Apparently, I just did watch ALL the episodes. After only three episodes it has been canceled. Time to program the VCR for the (maybe) last-ever episodes of Arrested Development tonight.

Britney Spears guide to Semiconductor Physics

I think the title of the link pretty much says it all:
Britney Spears guide to Semiconductor Physics: semiconductor physics, Edge Emitting Lasers and VCSELs

Thursday, February 09, 2006

10 mistakes conservatives make in art and entertainment

I like this article:
10 mistakes conservatives make in art and entertainment by Erik Lokkesmoe - Feb 7, 2006

Sometimes the Grammys Get It Right

U2 sweeps the grammys winning every award for which they were nominated.
  1. Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"

  2. Best Rock Song for "City of Blinding Lights"

  3. Best Rock Album for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

  4. Song of the Year for "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"

  5. Album of the Year for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Steve Lillywhite, their producer won a Grammy for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical.

But how does an American Idol beat a Beatle?  Nothing against Kelly Clarkson but McCartney’s performance of “Helter Skelter” in the award ceremony was great.  Drummer Abe Laboriel was SO MUCH FUN to watch.

Coldplay, on the other hand, didn’t find their groove at all and Chris Martin came across as a Bono wanna-be who was trying too hard to be cool and not trying hard enough to actually hit the notes.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

My review of 'John' by Cynthia Lennon

Hot on the heels of reading Bob Spitz’ excellent and massive biography of the Beatles I dove into Cynthia Lennon’s relatively slim memoir of her life with (and without) John Lennon simply titled John. (I ordered them both from the library and, to my surprise, they arrived within a week of each other – I don’t recommend overdosing on this much Beatle lit all at once.) It’s important to note what this book is not – it is not a history of the Beatles. It is, simply, Cynthia’s story of her life with John. This is the second time she has written this. Her first book (I believe it is called A Twist of Lennon, the title a reference to her then new last name of Twist) was, by her own account, hardly the whole truth. She wrote it for the money because John was so stingy with his first wife and their son Julian but because he was still alive and she needed to stay on his good side she couldn't write the truth. This new book is, according to Cynthia, much more honest.

Whether it is or not, I can’t tell – I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know them can really say. It does however show a woman who was treated poorly by one of the most well known men of the last century. It shows that while John was singing “Give Peace A Chance” he was being downright cruel to his son. Cynthia Lennon is clearly not a fan of Yoko Ono and, while she writes in a style that doesn’t come across as sniping or inflammatory, she shows that Ono had her sights set on John from the start and didn’t care if she wrecked a marriage in the process. She also shows Ono as manipulative and disingenuous.

The book itself is not terribly engrossing. Others have done a better job of telling the story of the Beatles. Cynthia’s unique viewpoint is interesting but only for those who have read the other stuff and want to know more. I found Tony Bramwell’s memoir to be much more enjoyable because I’m more a fan of the music John Lennon wrote than I am of the man himself and Bramwell worked for Brian Epstein. Cynthia was never in the recording studio and was seldom at the concerts – she didn’t see John the Beatle, she saw John the man. Unfortunately, his drug use, mood swings, and sharp tongue made him a difficult man to be around.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Meredith's myspace

If you want to hear my daughter Meredith singing a song that she and I wrote and recorded about a year ago, go over to her myspace site.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Another look at 'The Beatles' by Bob Spitz

I wrote about this before but I finally finished The Beatles by Bob Spitz. This is a LONG book and covers the career of the Beatles from the earliest days in Liverpool to their breakup. As I mentioned earlier I was skeptical because of some of the buzz on the net about this book reporting errors but Spitz has carefully researched and noted all of his sources so I think he’s done his homework and, for the most part, got it right.

I did notice two errors, both involving George Harrison: he mentions “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby” as a song Harrison wrote (he only sang it, I believe it is a Carl Perkins song) and said that George embraced traditional Christianity at a point late in his life which, I think, is just plain wrong. It’s my understanding that George remained a Hindu. I’d love for someone to give me confirmation one way or the other regarding this.

But let’s not let nits get in the way of a truly wonderfully written and researched book. When I read Tony Bramwell’s book (see my entries about that here and here) it seemed clear that he had an agenda – Yoko messed up John and Linda saved Paul. While that may be true, Spitz’ book does not seem to have such an agenda although we might connect the dots ourselves. Spitz seems to present the story in a way that explores the meaning behind the events without unnecessary editorializing. There are many books about the Beatles' lives and many others about their music. This one manages to be about both and it's one of the few that do both well. I highly recommend it

Back From St Louis

Two conferences in two consecutive weekends is enough to make one fell a little strange but they are both behind me now, I had a great time and learned much.  My recent trip to St. Louis went well and the conference either got better as it went along or else I got the hang of it.  Next year I’ll be presenting to this group (APCE) when they gather in Philadelphia.  It was good to see Carolyn Brown again, who was with us at the worship symposium just last weekend.  I got to hear Eric Law, Elizabeth Caldwell and Kris Haig speak as well as the people I mentioned in my earlier post.  Law was the keynote speaker and he did about nine hours over three days on diversity and communication.  He started out a bit slow, I could have used a road map for where he was going, but I got some good ideas from him.  It was also good to meet some new folks and reconnect with the editorial and marketing staff at Faith Alive Publishing.  They gave away half-price coupons for the Christmas plays Laura and I have written for them at the breakfast.

But we’re finally home and getting geared up to really start this new semester which actually started a week ago.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Greetings from St Louis

Greetings from St Louis

I am sitting in the Renaissance Grand Hotel in St Louis at the APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators) conference.  I’ve had a nice time so far although most of my best things have to do the people I’ve met instead of the sessions I’ve attended.  I have enjoyed seeing the Gateway Arch and I’ve had great meals with Laura and with others from the Conference.

I heard a fascinating talk by Susan Linn from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.  Some of their stats regarding marketing targeted specifically to young kids are mind-boggling.