Saturday, December 29, 2007
Justin is sleeping soundly at the moment. He actually has slept progressively better each night that Jen’s parents have been gone. Justin is not used to someone unfamiliar being here overnight and all day. And I’m sure the vast array of Christmas gifts kept his little motor running overtime. Today he seems to be pretty much back on schedule, which makes life easier for all of us. He’s still putting this new high pitched scream of his to use a little too often. One ear piercing shriek is enough for me, but the frequent succession of them lately is a little nerve wracking. Especially when we’re trying to ignore this behavior, so that we don’t encourage it. We realized that he may have learned this shriek while we were attending the Christmas party put on by the clinic where Jen works. A coworker’s son was sitting across from us and he was being encouraged to shriek in public. (The opposite of the “indoor voice.”) I didn’t think Justin was paying any attention, but evidently he didn’t miss a decibel.
So now I have to decide whether to devote some more time to reading The Third Chimpanzee, or to try and get a movie watched before I go to bed. I have so many DVDs that I have acquired recently that I’d like to watch soon. Films like: If, O Lucky Man, 1900, Blade Runner, The Proposition, The New World. The list goes on. Last night I watched a film from Netflix called Topkapi, starring Melina Mecouri, Maximilian Schell and Peter Ustinov. It was a standard heist flick with action and comedy with a little romance thrown in for spice. In the end it seemed just a little stale. I’m sure upon it’s release in 1964 it probably felt a lot more hip and breezy. Ustinov is always good and the movie certainly had it’s moments. Using a four staring rating system I’d give it ***.
I’m sitting here listening to Dwight Yoakam singing the songs of Buck Owens and I’ve been writing for about a half hour. It would be fun to continue to sit here writing down innocuous thoughts, but time is slipping away. I’m nearly 50! The time I have left to read all the books in my collection is shrinking rapidly. And that’s assuming that I’ll live long enough to be a senior citizen in America. Jen’s dad was just telling me about all the great discounts that seniors get on movies and bus rides! And then there’s hearing aids and a medication schedule! Oh, and regular colonoscopies are right around the corner! I better stop. There’s no use spending the aging process writing about the aging process.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I got some great things for Christmas, but — like most consumerist Americans — there are always a few items still desired on the day after. I took a breather from entertaining relatives today and drove over to Silver Platters. My intention was to pick up a couple of discs by this band called Sasquatch and maybe one by Mondo Generator. Very heavy music with crunching guitar riffs. Instead I walked out with new albums by Suzy Bogguss, Stacey Kent and Rachel Sage. Talk about being at the other end of the musical spectrum! I still couldn’t quite get myself to purchase the latest discs by Steve Earle or Wilco. The highlight of the shopping experience was getting a free CD, because I had amassed enough credit from previous purchases. It’s some kind of frequent buyer program. After shopping for music, I walked across the parking lot to purchase a cherry pie from the Marie Callender’s restaurant. It was a stop that never got made on Christmas eve.
This afternoon I ordered a copy of the new DVD documenting the Zappa Plays Zappa tour of last year, and in particular their show at the Paramount that I attended. The DVD is two discs and over three hours, so it sounds like they have included the complete show. It’s a little pricey at $35, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy reliving the concert again and again. I also ordered a DVD and live CD from the Suzy Bogguss site. I'm making up for missing her recent show at the Triple Door in Seattle.
And even though I gave into my consumer cravings a little today, I did get some great gifts yesterday. Jen gave me a big surprise: the POV 20th Anniversary Collection, which contains 15 documentaries that have been show on the PBS show P.O.V. It’s an impressive collection and I’m sure it’ll take me a while to work through it. I received two other DVDs: Cool Hand Luke and the four disc collector’s version of Blade Runner. Lots of good viewing ahead. I also received some excellent books including the writings of Thomas Paine published by the Library of America and an Everyman’s Library edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species and Voyage of the Beagle. My parents sent me a T-shirt commemorating Jolly Cholly’s, which was a local amusement park I used to go to when I was just a tyke.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
We found out a couple of days ago that Jen’s parents will be joining us for Christmas. They are actually flying out on Christmas day and will be staying for three nights. We’ll put off opening the majority of our gifts until they arrive in the late afternoon and Justin has awoken from his nap. We can empty our stockings and Justin will probably get to open the blocks he received from Jessie, Bob and Victoria. Those will keep him busy until lunch and the nap, which usually comes right after. Justin’s not quite old enough to realize that we’ll be withholding the pleasure of his opening the entirety of his gifts until much later than is agreeable with most children. I’m feeling a little bit of stress accompanying the visit by my in-laws, but that’s natural. I actually get along with them quite well. It’s more the finding out a mere week before Christmas that you’ll have visitors and knowing the cleaning that should get done, but probably won’t get done before their arrival. I’m am glad that Justin will get to reacquaint himself with this set of grandparents and maybe Jen and I will actually get a little free babysitting out of the deal for one evening . . . maybe.
I finished reading Atonement a couple of days ago and it was quite enjoyable. It’s the second novel by Ian McEwan that I’ve read, the first being Enduring Love, and he’s quite the master of dark psychological drama. I look forward to seeing the film adaptation of Atonement, but I think I can wait for the DVD rental. I’ve been struggling with what to read next — Not an uncommon problem for me — and I think I’ve settled on The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond. It’s just a bit of nonfiction about man’s origin and his effect on the planet. I had been tempted to read some more fiction, preferably under two-hundred pages, but my mind has been drawn to a lot of weighty subjects in this past year and I think I’ll gain more satisfaction from reading the anthropological work by Diamond. It’s more work reading nonfiction. There’s no plot to keep me turning the pages. In fact, I find myself rereading entire sections to try and ensure that I’m getting it. The end result is worth it though. I look back on my reading this past year and I feel like I’ve big step forward in my thinking, at least in certain areas.
I found out today that the lecture series that I enjoyed attending so much this past fall will be extended for five monthly lectures through the spring. With the presidential election heating up the religious rhetoric has also been ratcheted up. We now have Mike Huckabee, the ordained Baptist minister from Arkansas, leading the pack of Republican yahoos; and Barack Obama participating in a "40 days of Faith and Family" tour. Now more than ever we need to shore up that faltering wall between church and state. This government was founded to be for All the people and not just the Christians. Look it up.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I’m getting out of the house for a little while tonight for movie night at a friend’s house. I’m not sure what we’ll be seeing, but it’ll probably beat staying at home and babysitting Justin’s two-year-old playmate, Daniel. My official nights off from parenting duties are now Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Last week I had my last of the Wednesday University lecture series to attend. This week I’m relatively free, which means I’m still hoping to get out and see a movie, or two. I’m Not There is still at the Varsity. Unfortunately, the Varsity doesn’t have matinees during the week, which means I might need to go out at night! I’m trying to plan some schedule where I would see a late matinee at the Metro maybe, and then have time for supper in the U-district before the seven o’clock show of I’m Not There. In the meantime, Justin will be napping soon and I’ll have a little time to read some more of Atonement (I’m two-thirds of the way through) and maybe take a little nap of my own.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
I was so sick last week that I ended up missing one of the Wednesday lectures that I’ve been enjoying so much (Religion, Politics & the Modern America Presidency.) The last of five lectures is this coming Wednesday. Plus there’s going to be a little book signing party on campus before the lecture. I had planned on picking up Professor Domke’s new book anyway. I might as well get a signed copy and have the chance to chat with him a little. I’m also hoping to get out to a matinee Tuesday or Wednesday to see I’m Not There, which is still at the Varsity. So having a phlegmy cold is cramping my style.
Tonight I watched The House Without a Christmas Tree, which was originally broadcast on television in 1972. I remember the film having quite an impact on me and I ordered a copy as soon as it was release on DVD. It’s the kind of intelligent family drama that doesn’t get made for broadcast telelvision anymore. The acting by Jason Robards, Mildred Natwick and especially young Lisa Lucas is exceptional. It actually quite a melancholy movie, but it earns its heartwarming ending. I was disappointed to see that it’s not carried by Netflix. It’d be a great disc to send my parents. Christmas will be here in just over a couple of weeks and I haven’t had to go to the mall once. I’d like to decorate the house a little, including a Christmas tree. This year I think we’ll be erecting a barrier around the traditional tree. I’m hoping that the plastic fencing will keep both Justin and the cats out of the tree. Sometimes hope is all we have.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
I’m going to make this a short entry tonight, because it’s already nearing midnight. But I want to get back in the habit of posting more regularly. Sometimes the problem is that I have too much to write about and not enough time to prepare my thoughts for posting. I just finished watching a B-movie from 1992 called The Resurrected. It was based on a story by H. P. Lovecraft and written and directed by Dan O’Bannon (Return of the Living Dead and writer of the original Alien.) It was a decent low budget horror flick with some inventive special effects including some stop-motion work. Last weekend I got out to see No Country for Old Men, the new “American Classic” from the Coen Brothers. A couple of days later I got ambitious and saw a matinee of Dan in Real Life, which was a disappointment and should have been a rental at best (which is exactly what my friend Adam said, but I had to see for myself.) It has some great talent involved including actors Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche and it was written and directed by Peter Hedges, whose directorial debut was the smart and funny Pieces of April (certainly the last decent piece of work that Katie Holmes will ever do.) Hedges also wrote the novel What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, so to find Dan in Real Life saturated with movie-of-the-week clichés was quite disappointing. I also had a chance to see Ratatouille recently and it will rank up there as one of my favorite films of 2007.
Well, if this is going to be a “short entry” that I had better stop. Oh, it snowed today! And I don’t want to forget to mention that when I saw Into the Wild at the Neptune I saw something I hadn’t see before. As I was sitting there staring at the white screen before the film started I noticed some dark shape in the lower left corner of the screen. Then the shape moved and it became a large rat that then crawled out from the screen. I subtly glanced around to see if any of the other dozen or so people in the theater noticed, but it seemed that I was the only observer of the rodent. After about five or ten minutes the rat returned to his home behind the screen. I’m assuming he had filled up on greasy popcorn before taking in yet another showing of Into the Wild. I’m sure it would have preferred that Ratatouille was on the bill.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
My parents are picking me up shortly to treat me to lunch and then I'll spend some time with them before being picked up by my friend Tim, who is the bass player in Pearly Baker. I've enjoyed my visit, but I'm ready to get back home for Thanksgiving and the welcoming arms and my wife and son. Luckily, we don't have much planned for Thanksgiving except dinner at our friends house. That's at five o'clock and we'll have to get Justin back home at about seven, or shortly thereafter, to get him to bed.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Well, now it technically is the day I’m flying to the east coast, so I better get my ass off to bed. I wasted the evening watching 28 Weeks Later, which was a horrible sequel to one of my favorite horror films of recent years. The story was ridiculous and after an hour I kept hitting the display button on my remote to see how much time was left. I nearly stopped watching, because I knew it was just going to get worse. With lines like “Oh man, this is F.U.B.A.R.!” and “I’m okay, it’s only a flesh wound” one might think that the screenwriters were trying to be funny. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland should be ashamed for having their names associated with this film in any way. Ugh!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Friday, November 9, 2007
This evening I decided to forgo watching television, since I spent two and a half hours last night watching the movie Hamsun, based on the last years of the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. Instead I finished the novel I had been reading for the past week: Looking for the Possible Dance by A. L. Kennedy. In recent times I believe that I’ve stated that A. L. Kennedy is my favorite Scottish author, but then I’d have to admit that she’s probably the only Scottish author that I’ve read. I had previously read So I am Glad and Original Bliss and quickly discovered that Kennedy has the uncanny ability to peer into the darkness of human souls and she certainly doesn’t shy away from the violence that sooner or later seeps into all of our lives. Looking for the Possible Dance is her first novel and she already seems to have mastered her ability to lay bare the pain that often accompanies love. I could really feel the sense of desperation in that small Scottish fishing village. Margaret Hamilton, the main character, works at a social centre aiding the unemployed. She was raised by her father, who begins the novel by telling her daughter that the moon looks down on us all and tells us living is the only thing that matters, “everything else is a waste of time.” Margaret is in a constant low level state of mourning for her father, while at the same time trying to shape a relationship with Colin, who hopes to someday marry her. The book jumps back to various points in Margaret’s life while she takes a train from Scotland south to London. It was a wonderful book filled with the tenderness and fragility that make us innately human.
As for Hamsun, the movie I watched last night, it was better than I had hoped for. On the recommendation of my friend Adam, I had read both Pan and Hunger by Knut Hamsun. Hunger is considered by many to be one of the forerunners of modernist fiction, featuring an internal monologue with no plot in the usual sense. I also highly recommend either of these two works. The film Hamsun does a fine job of trying to detail the later years of Hamsun’s life when he gave moral support to Hitler during the Nazi occupation of Norway. It helped to expose the grays between the intense black and white issues of right and wrong. It also has some marvelous acting by Max Von Sydow as Hamsun and the Danish actress Ghita Norby as his wife Marie.
Getting back to Friday and all it’s psychological implications — I actually had a very nice Friday. Jen got home from work this morning declaring that she was able to sleep seven hours while working at the emergency clinic last night. She was feeling so energetic that she decided to take Justin to the Burke Museum in the U-district and then out to lunch. I utilized that time taking a stroll to the library with our dog Molly to pick up some CDs that I had on hold there. Then I drove to Silver Platters and bought the latest discs by Dwight Yoakam (Dwight Sings Buck) and Jim Lauderdale (The Bluegrass Diaries), followed by treating myself to lunch at Marie Callender’s restaurant. Jen and Justin had a good time at the museum, but it wasn’t the most kid friendly of the local museums, so Jen spent a lot of time try to keep Justin from touching the displays.
So now begins the task of picking the next book that I will read. I only have just over two-thousand titles to choose from. I suppose the decision would be easier if I only owned a dozen books, but where would the fun in that be? Will it be The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War, or maybe Everybody Smokes in Hell? Ah, so many books, so little time. The story of my life.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
So, a rambling entry spurred on by the watching of the documentary After Innocence. Tonight I took a break from the stresses of conscientiousness by watching four episodes of The Next Iron Chef. Over the past year I’ve come to enjoy Iron Chef America and this new show is a competition to pick a new Iron Chef.
Well, it’s just past two in the morning and even though I get to sleep in tomorrow . . . tomorrow is now today. I best get some rest.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tonight I attended the second of five lectures by the Professor David Domke on the subject of religion & politics. I came home with a renewed interest in H. L. Mencken, so for tonight a reprint of "Mencken's Creed":
- I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind--that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
- I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious. . .
- I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
- I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech . . .
- I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
- I believe in the reality of progress.
- But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Yesterday was the fourteenth anniversary of my first date with Jennifer. She had answered a personal ad that I had placed in the local alternative rag called The Stranger. We met at a restaurant in Bellevue called Twelve Baskets, which I mistakenly thought was a vegetarian restaurant. It was actually a biblically themed restaurant. I think that meant that the dishes were all based on some biblical origin. Lots of fishes and loaves! I remember that the heretic stew was quite good. The previous week I had been talked into attending a Christian singles weekend by a coworker, at a campground in central Washington. Needless to say, I spent most of my time in the woods reading a book. At the first opportunity I left early with someone else, who had to get back to town and pick up their kid. On my first date with Jen at the Christian themed Twelve Baskets, I recognized two women at an adjacent table from the previous singles weekend. I noticed them sneaking looks my way. I wondered if they overheard Jennifer when she proudly exclaimed that she was an atheist. Fourteen years ago. Last night we celebrated with champagne and pumpkin pie
Tomorrow night I’ll be attending the second of five lectures at UW entitled Religion, Politics, and the Modern American Presidency. I believe that professor Domke will be covering the Scopes trial. That should make for an interesting evening. Now I need to creep upstairs past Justin’s crib and hope that he continues to sleep soundly through the night.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
On Sunday evening Jen and I attended a performance of the road production of Spamalot. I had read all the publicity about this show while it ran on Broadway. It’s based, for the most part, on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but the writers did a great job of inserting other elements from Python’s repertoire. They even include the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the film The Life of Brian. I grew up watching Monty Python on my local PBS station and my high school was filled with kids like me, who were constantly quoting lines from the Holy Grail. I remember taking my dad to see it and the fact that he didn't laugh once during the entire film. While the audience was laughing uproariously during the killer rabbit scene he leaned toward me and whispered, This is stupid! I suppose that he was right, but does that lessen the humor? Certainly not for a fourteen-year-old. My dad didn't get the British humor of Monty Python's Flying Circus, but he would guffaw loudly while watching Benny Hill late at night. It was fun to be sitting in the Paramount theatre amidst throngs of other Python fanatics. Spamalot gave a fresh face to our nostalgia for the carefree days of youth. (Which, if any of us take a moment to ponder, we quickly realize was anything but carefree.) For any fan of the Holy Grail this musical adaptation provides over two hours of fun and laughter.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I'd like to close with a recent quote from one of my favorite film directors, David Cronenberg:". . . as an atheist, I believe that your body is you. That's the first and only fact of human existence."
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
After a break for lunch we returned to Monona Terrace for the main event: Christopher Hitchens. He received the Emperor Has No Clothes award and was, as expected, combative and argumentative, even among the atheist crowd. He likes to push people's buttons and he knew that he was in a room full of liberals. Atheists, but liberals also. He bemoaned the fact that there was no literature for sale on the evils of Islam and told us that we couldn't consider ourselves serious opponents of the dangers of religion without examining Muslim extremists. He's right, but I certainly don't agree with his suggested methods to take care of the problem: bomb Iran back into the stone age. If there are no Muslim children then wouldn't it be wrong to kills thousands of innocent children, because of the backward beliefs of their parents? Hitchens switched from hard left to hard right when the Iraq war began and he hasn't wavered. No comment on Abu Ghraib or the lawlessness of private security contractors. No comment on the jobs handed over to Bush cronies with no experience, whose tasks were to rebuild a country. Yes, Muslim extremists are over the top and Islam is just another false belief, but war breeds war and isn't it about time we started to develop some alternate methods of solving international problems besides death and destruction? Just wondering. After he sparred with questioners, Hitchens sat down to sign books and I stood in line for about ten minutes to get my copies of God is Not Great and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice signed. After the signing I returned to my hotel room to take a brief nap before returning for tonight's dinner and entertainment. I've been on west coast time since I've arrived and haven't been able to get to sleep until at least three in the morning for the last two nights. I don't think I'll have that problem tonight. After dinner the entertainment was Tunes and 'Toons, which was Dan Barker at the piano and Steve Benson (editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic.) It was a lot of fun. The entire convention has been a lot of fun and I think I've finally have found a club that I would want to be a member of (to misquote Groucho Marx.) I feel comfortable among these independent freethinkers and found everyone to be very kind and engaging. I've met lawyers, doctors, lobbyists, ex-boxers and ex-priests. I think I may have found my calling.
It's nearly midnight here and even though I don't think I've had eight hours of sleep in the past 48 hours I wanted to jot down some thoughts about today. Currently the Red Sox and the Indians have just gone into extra innings with the score tied at 6-6. I've already predicted to my dad that the Red Sox will go on to win the World Series in 5 games. Let's see if I'm right. Now I've got to get some rest.
Friday, October 12, 2007
This evening conference events started at 7pm, so I left the hotel about 5pm and went to a bar & grill called Nick's for a chicken gyro. I was surprised when it arrived on my plate deconstructed. I'm used to eating my gyro like a sandwich, but I ended up using a fork. I couldn't finish the fries, because they were quite rich . . . as if they were fried in lard. Tasted damn good though. After dinner I walked to the Monona Terrace where the evening's events were taking place. I had a little time to browse the freethinker products on sale and picked up a copy of Dan Barker's book Losing Faith in Faith and Katha Pollitt's Death or Virginity. Ms. Pollitt was the first speaker after some musical entertainment provided by Dan Barker and local jazz singer Susan Hofer. Katha Pollitt was very inspiring and political. In fact, she stated at the beginning of her talk that she wanted to be hopeful for a change, because a lot of good things have happened for secularists in the past couple of years with no small thanks to FFRF. Julia Sweeney was up next and first she commented on an item that Katha Pollitt had mentioned. Katha Pollitt talked a little about the ineffectiveness of abstinence programs and one of the programs she mentioned was the "silver ring thing." This is someone's ridiculous idea of having teenagers wear a silver ring to signify their virgin status and they are only to take the ring off once they are married. Julia's comment was "How hot would it be for a teenager to have sex while wearing the silver ring? Didn't they learn anything from those Catholic school girl uniforms?" After the talks I stood in line to get a couple of items signed by Julia Sweeney and Katha Pollitt. I mentioned to Julia that I'd be seeing her perform Letting Go of God in Bothell next week. She replied that a friend asked her, "where are you performing? In a brothel?" She commented on the copy of Dan Barker's book that I had in my hands, talking about a particular moment when he is lying back on his bed contemplating the whole idea of disbelief. I then had Katha Pollitt sign her book Virginity or Death. In her talk she had mentioned going to communist summer camp and I told her that my wife had had a similar childhood. I told her who my father-in-law is and she said, "Oh, I get e-mails from Clark all the time!" Small world. Once I had my items signed (I also found Dan Barker and he signed my copy of his book) I made my way over to the tables to have a piece of cake. By chance I ended up sitting by a woman from Capitol Hill in Seattle. We had a nice conversation. In fact, I was so involved with being social that I left my signed copies of Losing Faith in Faith and Virginity or Death on the table in the convention center. My only hope is that someone found the books and noticed that they are both signed "to Mark" and turned them into lost and found. I'll be back at Monona Terrace tomorrow for more events, so I'll check then. There was a time when that little mishap would have me beating myself up for the rest of the evening, but somehow it just doesn't seem that important.
When I had gotten back to the hotel I met the gentlemen from Gig Harbor, who I had met the first night, coming out of the hotel restaurant. He told me that he and Christopher Hitchens were the only patrons in there and he was sitting there with a copy of Hitchens' book. He contemplated asking Hitchens to sign it, but thought that would be intruding. These nonbelievers are so damn considerate. That's why somehow I think that the books that left behind will be turned in to lost and found. He then told me that Hitchens was in currently in the bar (who would have guessed?) I went to my room and deposited my stuff and then head back down to the bar with visions of a pint of Guinness in my head. Unfortunately, the bar was packed and there was an annoying jazz band filling the room with sound. I think that I did spot Mr. Hitchens at a table by himself. In fact, he looked up as I was scanning the room for a seat. I decided to pass on the bar and went downtown in search of a quiet spot to enjoy a stout. I soon realized that there is no quiet pub on a Friday night in a college town. I was soon back in my hotel room, setting my alarm clock for 7am, so that I can go downstairs for the non-prayer breakfast tomorrow morning. I have to admit that I wish I was flying home a day or two earlier than Tuesday morning. I suppose that I can head back to the public library for some quiet time. There is also the geology museum and the museum of modern art that interest me, so I have some options.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I met one gentlemen from Gig Harbor on the shuttle bus to the hotel that is here to attend the FFRF convention. We chatted some on the ride to the hotel. This is his second convention. He attended last year's event in San Francisco. While I was eating dinner I couldn't help overhearing the elderly woman in the hat at the adjacent table, who was talking on her cell phone during my entire meal. She was talking about the FFRF convention, the latest insane rant by Ann Coulter, and the fact that she was on her third glass of Shiraz and hadn't decided what to order for dinner yet. She was the main reason that I decided to take my second beer at the bar, rather than in the restaurant.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow and the first official day of the convention. It starts off with an open house at the FFRF building, where I hear that there will be complimentary hors d'ouevres and desserts. How can I resist?
Friday, October 5, 2007
The Saturday evening after my return from the FFRF convention in Madison I have a ticket to see Julia Sweeney perform her latest monologue, “Letting Go of God.” I listened to the CD recording of it recently and, yes, I laughed and cried. I have a lot of the same sentiments that she has had along this journey to unbelief. She’ll be speaking on Friday night of the convention, and the latest news is that they will be showing the soon-to-be-released DVD of “Letting Go of God” after her speech. That showing will be from 10:45pm to 12:34am, so I may take a pass since I will be seeing her perform it live the following weekend. My life has recently become busy and, more importantly, full of thought provoking ideas. The effect of parenting and possibly the prospect of reaching 50 years of age. Whatever the cause, I’m enjoying the effects.
Sometimes it’s difficult to give up what little solace I have in an evening, so instead I stay up much too late reading, writing, or trying to catch up on my movie watching. Justin was quite cranky after going to bed tonight, basically whining for about an hour and a half before dropping off for any length of time. When he woke up screaming at ten o’clock, I decided to give him some Motrin. He’s still congested from this cold that we’ve all been battling over the past week. I’m going to miss the little guy while I’m away next week. Oh, you can be sure that I’ll enjoy the solitude and peacefulness of that first night, but I’ll soon miss his smile and quirky antics that usually fill my day. Maybe I’ll be lucky and he’ll finish up any serious teething that needs to be done while I’m away. I can dream can’t I?
I think the next book I’ll read will be Michael Connelly’s Angels Flight. It’s another in his Harry Bosch series and I’ve been reading them in order over the years. In the last installment Harry got married in Las Vegas to a former FBI agent that Harry himself had sent to jail at one time. Of course, in the start of Angels Flight the marriage is already on the skids. Surprise, surprise! Any reader of the series knows that Hieronymus Bosch is destined to be a loner. It’s the nature of the hard boiled thriller. I’m in need of some serious escapism after some of my recent reading, and looking ahead at what I’ll be reading in the near future. This book may even last me through my flight next Thursday.
I haven’t posted on this blog in a week. I think part of the reason for that is that I’m thinking instead of writing. I’m mulling things over. A week from tonight I’ll be asleep within the walls of the Concourse Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin. My reason for being there is the 30th convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It’s a foundation that works to ensure the separation of church and state in this country through legal action and activism. Appearing at this upcoming event will be Julia Sweeney, Katha Pollitt and featured speaker Christopher Hitchens, who will be receiving the “Emperor Has No Clothes Award.” I’m about fifty pages from finishing Hitchens’ diatribe entitled God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
As I said, I’ve been mulling all of this stuff over and I’m still trying to come up with the words to describe what my thoughts about all of it is. The debate about religion is as old as the practice itself, but it feels fresh to me. I grew up going to Sunday school and church every week until I was about sixteen years old. It was not too long after I was confirmed a member of the church that I began the see the membership was rife with hypocrisy, behaving in one manner on Sunday and differently through the rest of the week. I began to realize that the practice of religion — or at least the United Methodist version of Christianity that I was accustomed to — was no guarantee of ability of one to lead a “good life.” Pastors — right along with their believers — were human and hence fallible.
The final break from organized religion for me involved a meeting with an air force chaplain, who told me that he believed Jesus Christ would have no problem working on a nuclear missile site. I didn’t know whether to laugh or vomit into his smug visage. Instead I left his office quietly with his list of scripture passages to read. Stuff about following orders and respecting authority. You know, bullshit. I started to compile my own collection of biblical quotes to counter his position, but alas, we never had another meeting. From there I went on to read about the religious practices and rituals of Native Americans and that led to studying Buddhism. It’s only been within the past year that I’ve ventured into the literature of skepticism and it’s been quite enlightening. I’ve learned more about the actual contents of the bible than I ever had while a member of the church.
I could go on all night in this vein, but I’d rather ruminate on these ideas a while longer. I will go so far as to state that I’m agnostic about the existence of any type of supernatural being. I consider myself a “freethinker,” unfettered by dogma and able to pursue the true nature of the world around me without the filters of some ancient tribal superstitions. But that’s just me. So rather than stay up all night blathering on about this, I’ll end with some banalities
I got myself out to a matinee showing of Jodie Foster’s latest flick, The Brave One. Jodie plays intense better than just about any actor out there today. Sometimes that intensity is misplaced, so it takes just the right vehicle for it to work. The Brave One is a fine piece of filmmaking by Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy to name but a few of his other films), but I’m still wrestling with the theme of vigilantism. I think it’s trying to be Death Wish with a conscience, but it doesn’t quite succeed. I’m hoping that while I’m in Madison next week I’ll have a chance to see a movie or two. On my to see list are: 3:10 to Yuma, Into the Wild, In the Valley of Elah, and I still wouldn’t mind catching the latest Bourne film while it’s still in the theaters.
As I’ve been writing this my soundtrack has been songs of the old west, or at least of western themes from film and TV. Marty Robbins and Tex Ritter. Eddy Arnold and Gene Autry. The mournful yodeling makes me want to be out on the vast prairie with a crackling fire to keep the dark night at bay. Coyotes yip and howl and in the distance I hear the rattle a train rolling over its tracks. A star-filled evening when the struggles of existence seem but a distant memory.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
And then there's the Democrats. Ugh! Would somebody cull the herd already. If only the — so called — front runners in that party would fail to show up to a few debates we might actually hear something interesting. Let Hillary and John and, yes even Barack, stay home for an evening and watch the fiasco called an electoral process that American citizens are subjected to. I caught the very end of the Democratic debate on MSNBC moderated by chubby Tim Russert. He asked the last question with much seriousness and gravity: There's been a lot of discussion about the Democrats and the issue of faith and values. I want to ask you a simple question . . . What is your favorite bible verse? I was aghast. I was waiting for someone to mention the verse about stoning women for being rape victims (Deut. 22:21), or the one about killing 50,000 innocent persons because a few looked into a box (1 Sam. 6:19.) Tim is of course referring the media's obsession with the idea that somehow only the Republican party can truly represent Christians. Imagine that! What does that tell you about the perception of Christians in this country? Republicans are constantly rewarding the richest and whitest among us. So much for not being able to get that camel through the eye of the needle, heh? When it comes to crime and endless war they're downright bloodthristy; but somehow calling a microscopic clump of cells a human being justifies a "culture of life." Sam Brownback used that exact phrase tonight during the debate on PBS.
I voted for Kerry in the last election and I still wake up in a cold sweat sometimes because of that. The Democratic Party hasn't had a candidate I liked since Jimmy Carter. Oh, along the way you may see Tom Harkin, or Dennis Kucinich, or yes, even Howard Dean. Someone not so greased up already by the corporate powers that actually run this country. But those "fringe" candidates are winnowed out of the field pretty quickly. I think the problem is the two party system. That and the fact the elections are not publicly financed. I'm still amazed that mainstream Democrats still blame Ralph Nader, because we now have that bumbling fascist in charge, stripping away our civil rights left and right. Somehow it's Ralph's fault that the supreme court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and many other longstanding landmarks of justice. Brown v. the Board of Education maybe? I'll probably return to the Green Party or Libertarian Party for the big elections, or write in someone with some sense of reason.
Oh, I believe the Mariners won. They were leading 4 to 1 the last time I peeked. Baseball has a very long season, and although the Mariners have had their best season in years, I'm ready to take a break from being a sports fan. Everyone on the team had a decent year, except for, um . . .Richie Sexson. Maybe Richie should have chosen his other dream of being a C.I.A. agent.
My son Justin has been teething for at least a week now. I think he has one of those horse-sized molars coming. (All the better to bite me with!) This means that he is up much of the night, whining and writhing. When he napped this afternoon I took advantage and did the same myself. I gave him a bath just before bed tonight. I always hope that will induce a more restful sleep, but that seems to be wishful thinking on my part. There's no shortage of that. As I was getting him dressed in his PJ's he leaned forward and bit me on the shoulder. I picture that moment from the beginning of the Dawn of the Dead remake, when the little girl next door rips a chunk out of the guy's shoulder. This wasn't that bad, but I don't want to encourage it. Maybe Justin has just a little vampire blood running through his veins. The biting and nighttime waking? I think I have some garlic in the kitchen.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Tonight Jen and I will be going to the Mariners game. They only have six games left, so we're getting in just under the wire. I was lucky enough to be invited to a game earlier in the year, but Jen hasn't been to a game in a while. We'll be dropping Justin off at our friends house and picking him up after the game. We just need to promise to babysit their son Daniel in the next week or so.
Yesterday I attended a matinee showing of David Cronenberg's latest film, Eastern Promises. I had a pretty good impression of the nature of the film going in, and it didn't do anything to exceed my expectations. I would have to say that I enjoyed it slightly more than The History of Violence, but the film seemed to have a cold heart at its center and the storyline of the Russian mob operating in London doesn't present anything new to the viewer. The film's mood is punctuated by Cronenberg's scenes of ultra-violence, but there was no passion between the scenes of brutality and blood to elicit any empathy from me for the characters passing by on the screen.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Just before adopting Justin I was only listening to jazz and expanding my knowledge greatly in the musical genre thanks to my local library. Jazz and Frank Zappa. For some reason I could put on Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction Sessions, close my eyes and all my cares and woes would drift away like the autumn leaves. I remember moving all 30 of the Frank Zappa albums that I owned into my office, so that I would have them close at hand. To some (like my wife) this type of music is a cacophony, but the seemingly chaotic music worked to counter my own inner turmoil.
Over the years I’ve listened to everything from twangy country to hardcore punk. Free-form jazz to big hair heavy metal music. I have a few thousand albums in my collection and there really is a little bit of everything in there. I could be in the mood to hear Tony Bennett’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore one minute and then the Scorpions' Another Piece of Meat the next. There is part of me though, that worries that listening to the Scorpions…and Kansas, and Deep Purple, and Alice Cooper is some sort of latent nostalgia rising towards the surface of my psyche as I lurch towards the age of 50.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Anyway, as I had stated in yesterday's entry, we hit a couple of the bookstores on the first day. That was after having lunch at Smitty's, which seems to be Canada's version of Denny's. Breakfast, lunch or dinner served all day. I had their special, a grilled chicken club. I don't think the term "special" could be applied to it. They also get another demerit for serving ice tea pre sweetened. I would expect that in Alabama, but not in the Great White North. Justin rejected his bacon and eggs, but devoured a bowl of fruit. And Jen seemed to enjoy her waffles. So, that was Smitty's.
After stopping downtown to purchase books, we returned to the Cedarwood Inn, where Justin and Jennifer proceeded to nap while I delved back into Sophie's World. That evening we ate at Theo's Greek restaurant, where we had also dined the first night. We had the same waitress again, who proceeded to sit us at the table we had the previous night. I switched from chicken to steak this time. I rarely eat beef, but this time I threw caution to the wind. Maybe just to see if I could still swallow the cooked muscle of a cow. I will not mention the desirability of the crew of waitresses dressed in black. Some things are better left unsaid. For legal reasons and marital stability. Just don't ask me what happened that time in Tucson.
On Tuesday we got out of our suite at about ten in the morning. (Notice how I said "suite" and not "room"? Picture the inside of a hunting cabin decorated in the 70's, but it has a microwave and cable TV.) After stopping to dump forty-seven dollars worth of gasoline into the Forester's tank, we drove south to Bucthart Gardens by way of the Butterfly Gardens. I always smirk when I see that I have to walk through a gift shop to get in or out of any kind of exhibit, but the Butterfly Gardens were impressive. Humid, but impressive. I think I lost five pounds in there. The majority of the specimens were from the tropics of South America, so the conditions had to be reproduced. Justin was asleep when we arrived, so we just transferred him to the stroller and went through the gardens. He awoke as we were exiting through the gift shop. We just had to go back through, so that he could stare agape at the varieties of butterfly. We then drove a few miles down the road to Butchart Gardens, which is set off in the woods. Lunch was our first priority and then, as we started to walk through the one hundred year old gardens, we realized that Justin would have to be constrained to the stroller, so that he would not pick rare orchids and otherwise trash the place. The gardens were quite crowded for an overcast September day in the middle of the week. I shuddered to think what it was like on a weekend in midsummer. The colors and contours of the gardens were alluring and all the more so on an overcast day. I pushed Justin through the paths, pausing occasionally to snap a photo. I couldn't help fantasizing having the whole place to myself on a cool fall evening. It just had this air of serenity, even with all the humans milling about. As we left I was able to avoid the gift shop by taking responsibility for Justin outside in the courtyard. Away from small breakable objects. As Justin and I loitered by a large water wheel, an older gentleman and his wife — whose combined ages probably hovered around 165 — came up to admire the mechanical wonder. The gentleman sported a faded blue sea captain's hat and a collection of broken blood vessels across his nose. He proceeded to talk to me about how amazing it was how little water it took to power the immense wooden wheel. Meanwhile, I was trying to prevent Justin from cracking his skull against the surrounding stone wall as he clambered over a bench. At one point the jovial older man's wife chimed in with a good humored barb at his expense and he complained, "You're always giving me a hard time." She replied with a poke in his ribs, "You used to enjoy it!" It brought a smile to lips, as I also watched my young son just beginning his own journey full of wonder and curiosity.
Upon leaving Butchart Gardens we decided to return to Sidney by the back way. This took us through the farm country and reservation areas that were spread along the northern side of the Saanich Peninsula. By the time we arrived back at the Cedarwood we were all quite exhausted and slept until the early evening, arising in time to dine at Carlo's Mexican Cantina in downtown Sidney. This will become known as the night we discovered how much Justin likes sour cream. After our meal we spent the rest of the evening relaxing at the inn, reading and filling in sudoku puzzles, while Justin slept. It wasn't until we decided to go to bed that he awoke with a glint in his eye. He wasn't fussy so much as giddy. Yes, giddy. Usually I can use my stern voice and command "lay down and get to sleep," and amazingly Justin usually falls over and goes to sleep. But this particular night he just laughed at me. That's right, he laughed!
Wednesday morning we arrived at the ferry terminal approximately 90 minutes before departure to deal with ticketing and customs. About halfway through our ferry route they stopped for a man overboard drill. Many people got up to watch the practice run. I remained in place, enjoying some reading time with a view of Mount Baker poking through the clouds. Jen and Justin were both napping in the car below decks and I had a chance to start reading Bearing the Body. The return trip was a straight trip to Anacortes (not counting the pause for the man overboard drill.) When we arrived in port we had to drive through U.S. customs for the second time that morning. The usual questions: How long was your stay? Where are you from? Any alcohol or tobacco? Do you kiss on the first date? Evidently, I passed the test because we were soon on the road back to Seattle.
So that's the meandering version of our three night stay in Sidney on Vancouver Island. I'm getting a little bleary-eyed and it's late. But first:
I was rereading The Story of Ferdinand to Justin today and occurred to me — not for the first time — that I longed to be Ferdinand the bull. Let the others run and butt heads. I'd rather recline beneath my favorite cork tree not be bothered with the need to succeed (whatever that is.) I also realized that the book wasn't being entirely honest. When Ferdinand enters the bullring it reads, "He wouldn't fight and be fierce no matter what they did." But it fails to mention that that includes him having his muscle pierced with lances and barbed sticks to get him fired up for the big finale. But because Ferdinand is a avowed pacifist he gets to return to the shade of his beloved cork tree to to while away the hours smelling the flowers in field otherwise filled with cow dung.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I just finished watching a Polish black comedy entitled Day of the Wacko (I prefer the original Polish title: Dzien Swira.) I'm still undecided as to my opinion. The main character was very annoying, but his neuroses were the central theme of the film. I also think I missed some of the humor, because I'm not more acquainted with modern Polish culture.
Well, I'm fading fast. Maybe tomorrow I'll have more time to devote to this trivial exercise.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I can see my wife and I trying to use the power of positive thinking: We will be relaxed on vacation...we will be relaxed on vacation. At least Jen will not have to go to work the evening we get back. Even though she only works three nights a week, sometimes it seems like too much. Of course she work nights and those shifts are 14 hours long. I know that I wouldn't want to be the one performing a C-section on a dog at three in the morning . . . Maybe an ear lavage, but not a C-section.
I had the wrong music on while I was cleaning: The Pat Metheny Group (you may have heard them while watching the Weather Channel.) It's much too relaxing to be mopping floors by. I had the overwhelming urge to plop down on the couch with a big old glass of Merlot (Yeah, right!) Well, now that the cleaning is done I plan to pop a movie in the DVD player, while I pack my bag. I just realized tonight that Jen has recently claimed my travel bag. Something about "not being able to find" hers. Hmmm. I either have to crawl through the wreckage of what is our garage on a quest to find her bag, or settle for a smaller pack. Hmmm. I think I can pack fairly lightly, as long as there is room for a couple of books, the iPod known as Existenz, external speakers for said iPod, portable DVD player, a few DVDs such as Bob Newhart and Eddie Izzard, appropriate wiring and headphones for all audio and video devices, camera, binoculars, sunglasses, reading glasses, a few recent Sunday crossword puzzles, appropriate pens, clothing for three days, toiletries and other sundries. Whew! So, I should back away from the computer and begin to compile the items listed above.
Friday, September 14, 2007
My friend Adam called yesterday and asked if I might be interested in taking the kids to the Woodland Park Zoo today. Justin's calendar was clear today, so at about 9:30 this morning we were heading to the zoo. Justin has been there a few times, but I've only been there a few times to attend concerts on the lawn (Steve Earle & Pink Martini . . . separate shows.) I found that I had to put up an emotional wall while chauffeuring Justin from habitat to habitat. I've always found zoos depressing, especially the primate exhibits. I was shocked that they have a snow leopard at Woodland Park. The snow leopard is one of the most elusive animals known to man. And they have one captive. The animal was nowhere to be seen. I was happy after-the-fact that we had bypassed the elephant exhibit. I would have been reminded of Hansa's death earlier in the summer and my emotional wall would have crumbled, or at least fractured a little.
I have one more day to clean the house before we leave for Vancouver Island on Sunday. Jen did quite a bit of cleaning today (bless her heart) before collapsing and getting some sleep before work tonight. We have friends house-sitting during our short vacation, otherwise I wouldn't be so concerned about the neatness of my surroundings. Justin can so quickly erase an afternoon with of picking up and straightening. I was happy to find out that the town where we'll be staying, Sidney-by-the-Sea, has more bookstores per capita than any other town in Canada. I could always use a few more books. There's also a bug museum in Victoria. It's right down the street from the wax museum. I don't think Justin or Jennifer would enjoy the wax museum as much as I would. There's something about those life-like figurines that is so . . . meltable. Having Justin along limits us to a certain amount of outdoor free-form activity. He's under two and still in diapers, so afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress is out. For Justin, as long as he can wander about picking up various rocks and sticks then he is a happy human. Myself? Just give me reading time and plenty of it.
- The Wizard of Oz (1939) - I've lost count of the number of times I've seen this classic. I used to be able to recite it line for line along with the film, but thanks to many hours spent with a therapist I don't do that any more. But if I were King of the Forest . . .
- Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971) - Don't even talk to me about the remake. This was after Burton had the unmitigated gall to remake the original Planet of the Apes. WTF? The original film has great music by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. It has one of Gene Wilder's greatest performances. And I have the memory of seeing it at the Drive-in when I was but a wee child.
- Contact (1997) - My favorite Robert Zemeckis film (Yes, I enjoyed it more than Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Romancing the Stone.) I love Jodie Foster as the impassioned astronomer Ellie Arroway with her quest to make the ultimate long distance call. I have to admit thought, that I get more and more annoyed with Matthew McConaughey every time I watch this film. I was a fan of the original novel by Carl Sagan and I thought Zemeckis did a nice job with the adaptation.
- Groundhog Day (1993) - It drives my wife crazy that I watch a movie over and over again that is about a man living the same day over and over again. It's also about self-redemption and the value of Right Action. Bill Murray is brilliant as the acerbic and melancholic Phil Connors (Yeah, like the groundhog Phil), with outstanding comic support from Chris Elliot and Stephen Tobolowsky. I still laugh enough to blow milk out my nose every time Phil Connors gets hit in the head with a passing snow shovel, while standing at the payphone . . . that's if I drank milk.
- The Bridges of Madison County (1995) - Yes, I've heard that the book is laughably bad, but whatever the book may be like, it inspired a wonderful movie scripted by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Unstrung Heroes, and Living Out Loud, which he also directed.) and directed with subtlety by Clint Eastwood. It also has yet another in a long line of amazing performances by an actress named Meryl Streep. I watch this movie again and again for those first scenes of dialogue between Eastwood and Streep. They feel so natural that I just want to step into that summer afternoon in Iowa and join them for a cold ice tea on the veranda. But Francesca (Meryl) and Robert (Clint) probably wouldn't want me along, since two's company and three's a crowd and all that. I also have a soft spot for Annie Corley, who plays Streep's grown-up daughter. She also has the role of John Turturro's wife in Box of Moonlight, another favorite film.
- It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - I'm a sucker for Frank Capra's films celebrating the common man and small town virtues, but this one is my favorite of the bunch. Whenever I'm in the mood to cry buckets (and yes, I do get in those moods) I play this movie. I don't believe in angels, or that the poor working-class will ever triumph over the Potters of the world, but this movie helps me to believe differently, if only for 130 minutes. Other Capra films I'd recommend: Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can't Take It With You, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
I think that it's enough time spent on this inane list for now. I'll have to come back to this list, so that I can wax rhapsodic about Dirty Harry. I just love to gush about my favorite onscreen fascist, Dirty Harry Callahan. I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? I once traded my entire collection of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines for an original one-sheet of Dirty Harry. That's when I knew I was growing up. The Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver and Ray Ban Balorama sunglasses became symbols of cool for me. I became that loner wearing an army surplus jacket and standing at the edge of the crowd. At least that was me through my three years of high school until I made the brilliant decision to join the United States Air Force at age seventeen. After the recruiter gave his presentation he asked if I had any questions. I asked, "Do you have any terms less than four years?" "No," he responded. "It's four or six years." I sighed, "Okay, four years it is then." All of a sudden I became just another shaved head in olive drab uniform. But that's a story for another day . . .
It is now past the midnight hour and I can feel my limbs withdraw and my complexion start to change to orange, as I transmute into the proverbial pumpkin.