Thursday, July 31, 2008

Amusing Movie Marquee

The below pic was uploaded recently to Flickr. It is an actual photo (not Photoshopped) of a first-run Portland movie theater, the Cinemagic, changing its marquee over from Hancock to The Dark Knight.

Lean Back

If you happen to see me on the road in Rochester, I'll most likely be seated with my head back against the head rest. Most people don't utilize this because there is such a strong tendency to want to lean forward, as if being closer to the windshield means you're closer to the action. I've learned that leaning forward makes me less relaxed, so make sure to resist the temptation to do so. The same also applies for my office job. Others constantly lean forward, mere inches from their computer monitor. My massage therapist said one of the reasons I may have been getting periodic neck and back strain was not having proper posture when working. So when I notice that I'm leaning too far forward, I say, "Back" and lean further away.

When I'm driving my car, I also never hold the steering wheel in the 10-2 position. That's too much damn effort. I make sure my seat is close enough to the steering wheel so that I can basically lay my arms in my lap and hold the wheel at, oh, 4-8. I see people in SUV's with their arms up on the wheel and go, "Damn, don't your arms get sore?" (that's what she said). Once in a while, such as when changing lanes, I do need to turn my head a tad, but it's only for a few seconds.

Let's also not discount the importance of music in maximizing a relaxed state while in our vehicles. I was listening to a Trance CD this past weekend when going out of town and it was heavenly. Even a few tracks by Celine Dion were able to give me a lift as I traveled to Wisconsin.

One cool thing about my '05 Elantra is that it has a little lumbar switch you can enable that will poke a portion of the seat out to give your lower back some support. I like! All these things allow me to be one of the most relaxed blokes on the road these days.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ties: The Devil Incarnate?

Going out to eat the night before last, I observed a number of groups who were Jehovah's Witnesses, in town for their annual convention. They were easy to identify, dressed to the nines, and wearing name tags.

Seeing them made me realize how glad I am that I don't have to wear a tie on a regular basis. Can't stand the buggers! They is much too constricting. I can never feel comfortable wearing them. Even if I knew that I would go to hell for not joining their religion (they actually don't believe in hell, BTW), I wouldn't do it for the simple fact that I can't stand ties. Even if I could double my pay by wearing one, I still wouldn't do it. I mean, how the hell could I write decent posts for you folks with a piece of fabric knotted around my neck?

One of the parties was leaving the restaurant and saw another group sitting close to the girl and I. They recognized each other and waved. I, not wanting to feel left out, put a smile on my face and waved at the departing party as well. I also winked, something I never do. My lady started laughing as I also gave a thumbs-up to one of them. I do wish them well. They probably rarely get the chance to eat at Friday's.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cell Phones: Friend or Foe?

I got my first mobile phone just two years ago, so was a tad late to the game. The first year I had it, it was rarely used, stowed away in my glove box for emergencies. Once I learned how to text, I used it a bit more frequently, but not as much as most. I just didn't like the idea of having it so close to my brain. You see, I love my brain and want it to be around for a very long time.

Studies so far haven't found a definitive connection between using the phones and cancer, but it must be remembered that it took a long time to develop a cause-and-effect relationship between cigarettes and lung cancer. Nowadays, everyone knows it exists. Could the same be the case for cell phones?

I'm interested in what studies come up with after long-term use, people who've used them for 30 years (course they haven't been around that long yet). Just as it can sometime take that long for cancer to arrive for the smoker, so too could cell phone radiation follow a similar pattern. This past week, a doctor who's the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute issued a warning that people should limit cell phone use because of the possible risk of cancer. He based his warning on unpublished data. Here are a few excerpts from that article:

"The doctor says it takes too long to get answers from scientists and believes people should take action, especially when dealing with children.

"Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later," Herberman said.

According to Herberman, adults should use the speakerphone and keep the phone away from the head.

Herberman cites a "growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer."

"Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use," he wrote in his note to faculty.

Devra Lee Davis, director of the university’s center for environmental oncology, was the driving force behind the memo.

"The question is do you want to play Russian roulette with your brain," she said in an interview from her cell phone while using the hands-free speakerphone as recommended. "I don't know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don't know that they are safe."

I've always found it hard to believe that all that radiation is completely harmless which is why I prefer text messaging (keeps my fingers busy, anyway). When I do have to take a call, I put my phone on speaker (as suggested by the article) so that I'm only exposed to the microwave rays when I'm talking into the speaker (when the other party is talking, I put the phone at my side). For long calls, I'll wait to get home and use my landline.

Some may say I'm being a bit alarmist, but as exemplified by my post on Friday, I'm quite a cautious guy, so excuse me if I like to keep my cell at arm's length (pun intended).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Flushing Money Down the Toilet

Yesterday afternoon, I received my quarterly 401(k) statement. It said that I had contributed about $400 to it over the past three months and lost about $40 of that due to the market being what it is. I've had a 401 for about a year and a half. It feels good to finally be putting some money away for retirement. Course, who's to say that I'll still be here 30 years hence, but you gotta be prepared just in case. When I signed up for it, I was told I could invest my money in a number of different ways. I could go for a high-risk/high-return one, middle of the road, or super conservative. Guess which I chose?

I chose the ultra cautious (read: conservative) route. My returns wouldn't be as high as others, but neither would my losses. I've had to chuckle over the past year as others who took the more risky route are taking a bath. One can change their portfolio at any time, but most say they're just gonna ride out the market. Well, guess what, the economy is gonna be on the skids for quite some time and there's nothing that either Presidential candidate is gonna be able to do about it. Some are finally starting to think about adjusting their package (double ententre). They should. They'd be better off going to a casino or playing scratch games for the pitiful returns they're getting. This is one time in which it's really paying off for me to be conservative. :P

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Loss of Innocence

Our first grade classroom had its own bathroom. All one had to do was raise your hand, ask for permission, and then head straight to the back of the room, where the toilet was located (obviously, there was a door that one could close for privacy).

On this particular day, I had a touch of diarrhea. I went to the toilet and got most of it out. I don't recall if I forgot to flush or if it didn't go all the way down, but about an hour after I went (and was sitting back at my desk), the teacher asked who had made the mess in the bathroom.

My young mind knew that I would most likely be in trouble if I admitted it, so I chose to remain quiet as the teacher waited for a confession. A janitor came to the room and began cleaning up the mess. A minute later, the teacher said she thought she knew who had done it. I still wasn't buying and didn't confess. When no one took the bait, she went back to her lessons.

Whatever I had done, I got away with it and learned a little bit about not always stepping forward. I probably lost about 23% of my innocence that afternoon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How I Got a McCain Supporter to See the Light

Last night, I was able to catch up with an old friend at my favorite restaurant in the world, Friday's. We sat at a table in the bar area and did quite a bit of chatting. My bud asked me who I liked in the upcoming election. I said I was an Obama mama, so to speak (pictured below with General Petreus in Iraq earlier this week).

He said he liked McCain. I was quite curious to find out why. Turns out he had been listening to a lot of talk radio while at work, radio which in most cases leans to the right. I asked if he had a problem with McCain's age. He said he didn't. How would I get this old boy to see things my way? Instead of being a blowhard like, say, Hannity, I thought, "Well, let's talk about the issues that typically separate Dems from Reps". I asked him a series of questions in a non-judgemental way. Herewith is a very close approximation of how our conversation went:

Tom: Do you think that abortions should be legal?

Friend: Yes and no. I don't think they should be used as birth control, but if a woman were raped, she should have the option of getting one.

T: Well, if you want to ensure that abortion stays legal for those rape victims, you'd wanna vote Democrat since they have no intention of overturning Roe v. Wade unlike the Reps.

(BTW, I don't see Roe v. Wade being overturned anytime soon. The Republicans didn't do squat about it in the early 00's when they were in control of both houses as well as the Presidency and now they're not in control in either house and may lose the Presidency as well. It makes you wonder about all the people that voted for Bush expecting him to do something about abortion. That something never happened.)

T: Do you think everyone should have health insurance?

F: Definitely. Why should someone who's poor or doesn't have a job not be able to get insurance? What should having a job have to do with getting it, anyway? It doesn't make sense. (he got really fired up on this one) Somebody dies because they don't have insurance. Or some people with insurance don't go to the doctor because it costs too much. It isn't right. But how would it work?

T: Well, Massachusetts already has it. Most of our allies do as well, such as Canada, England, France, etc. We're actually one of the last first-world countries to adopt it.

F: Do you think it would really pass, though?

T: I see many people frustrated by the system the way it is now. Your life savings can be blown by getting sick and I don't think that's right, either. You're a Democrat on this issue, tough guy.

F: Hit me again.

T: When do you think the US should get out of Iraq?

F: I think we should already be gone. How many people have died already?

T: 4,000 US citizens to say nothing of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, children of God who were victims of indiscriminate bombing. You lean Democratic on this as well since McCain wants to stay there until we "win".

F: What does that mean? Win?

T: Beats the shit out of me, but I bet it will take a long time to do. We've already been there five years.

F: I need a beer. (to the waitress) Could I get a Bud Light with Lime?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Favorite College Class

During my last year of college, in order to break up the monotony of having to take so many Business classes (for my major), I took a number of philosophy ones. My favorite was the Religion one. It took an overview of five major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The professor who taught it was a relatively young bloke from out east. Though I had a casual understanding of each faith, I was interested in learning more.

Our textbook for the class was, "The World's Religions" which was written by Huston Smith. One of the first things we learned is that to know one religion is to know none since you have nothing to compare it to. It made me feel a bit sorry for my brothers who have only ever known one religion (Jehovah's Witnesses). Most of my other classmates were younger since at this time (1995) I was 25 years old.

The first religion we learned about was Hinduism. One of its major tenets is reincarnation. I believe wholeheartedly in reincarnation, but not quite in the way that you might think. I don't believe that we die and then go directly into another womb to immediately be born again. I think that we die, cross over, meet departed loved ones, have a life review, and then chill for quite a spell before deciding if we want to return to the land of duality. Some may not wish to go back and that is their right. Of course, this infers that we chose to be born in this lifetime which I also believe.

Some may say, "But I don't remember anything before this lifetime". Well, I don't remember being born, but I obviously was. Living in the physical plane is kinda like being the actor in a play, but forgetting that the play is not reality, but an illusion. It was Shakespeare who said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances...”

So many of us get too caught up in the drama forgetting who we really are. It takes but a moment to remember. After we cross over, everything comes back to us, we remember our mission, and all is well ( has thousands of first hand accounts which say as much) . I strive to remember that all is well this very minute, that we don't get to live forever, but are already doing so. Karma is also a major aspect of Hinduism. I don't believe everything that the religion preaches, but do admire it. It's the oldest religion of the five.

My favorite of the five is Buddhism. One of the things I like about it is that it's very short on rules and ritual. It consists of very simple steps on how to achieve total spiritual creaminess. I mean, look at the Dalai Lama and tell me he's not enlightened:

Buddhism is also all about going within, meditating. Instead of talking to God (praying), you listen, you breathe. I'd like to go a bit into prayer now. I know that millions (billions?) get much out of saying prayers before they go to bed, upon getting up, and everywhere in between, but I've never been a huge fan of this, especially in the last decade. Though I admit to a greater deal of calmness after a prayer is said before a meal, I personally think that every thought is a prayer and that God is well aware of our wishes, that we don't have to get on our knees and clasp our hands for Him (Her?) to know of them. Speaking of which, why the hell is God male, anyway? Does he have a penis and if so, who would he use it on?

Getting back to prayer, I say 5 affirmations in the morning, but I never really ask for anything. Just seems too presumptuous to me. I mean, who wants to come to Earth and have an easy life? It's like taking a test that's too simple. There's no challenge, nothing to be proud of. I just have faith that all is well and that all is for my highest good. In this way, I am quite unattached to specific results, to things having to be a certain way. On most things, I move very quickly into acceptance. After all, expectation is the mother of misery, something I should've remembered as I went to "The Dark Knight" on Friday evening (I was a tad let down by it).

On my other website, I mentioned how a reader at Celebrate Your Life said she saw me as a monk and I gave several reasons why this didn't surprise me. She also mentioned that I should go within more. Another good aspect of Buddhism is that it is a peaceful religion as opposed to Christianity (Crusades) and Islam (modern-day fundamentalists). It's also hard to find a worldview that makes more sense than the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: to live means to suffer, the origin of suffering is attachment, the cessation of suffering is attainable through the Eightfold Path.

In the class, we were required to read a separate paperback book in addition to the section on it in the Smith text. Called "Siddhartha", it's a novel which deals with the spiritual journey of a man who lived during the time of the Buddha. The main character spends the duration of the book looking for enlightenment. It wound up being one of the best books I ever read. During the time we were reading it, I remember the professor telling us to do what we could to find our own enlightenment and to let him know if one of us were able to find it. Wouldn't that be grand, I thought. Another memorable quote the professor liked to give us was "Work out your own salvation with diligence".

Next it was on to Judaism. There was some good stuff to be found there, but it was much too big on ritual and the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, are quite harsh. Add that to cutting off a portion of a newborn babies' pleasure center and I'm gonna have to pass.

Then we studied Christianity. I could tell that many of my classmates were eager to take an unbiased look at it. I'm sure many grew up believing its tenets without having the chance to really examine them. Thankfully, that's what college is all about. As it came time to study the final religion, Islam, I grew a bit wistful. I'd learned so much, we'd had so many good discussions, but our time was coming to an end. Islam was alright, hey, it's good enough for Obama, isn't it, but its rules really went into overkill. Nonetheless, the Islam section allowed for one of the most memorable discussions of the quarter to take place when a Muslim came to speak before us one morning. He brought along the Islamic flag for Saudi Arabia (his country of origin) and put it on the chalkboard:

He talked for a while about the rituals he followed such as praying five times a day on a mat. It's interesting that prayer is actually compulsory for them, something they have to do. The gentleman was quite nice and it was great to hear someone talk about a religion that most of us weren't very familiar with. The highlight came when the young lady next to me asked why the Islamic flag had a sword on it. I had been wondering the same thing. Islam is supposed to be a religion of peace, so why is a weapon displayed? I don't recall specifically how the man answered, but the reasoning he gave was quite weak. So the lady asked him to elaborate. The guy just couldn't justify the symbol and the lady next to me knew it. Ah, well...

The class ended a few weeks later, but I will always look back with fondness on that winter when I learned about some of the crazy (and not so crazy) things that people believe. I humbly include myself among them. The class taught me to be even more spiritual than I already was. When I had time before class, instead of sitting on a bench, I would find a tree and sit with my back against its mighty trunk. On my walk to college in the morning, I would often stop in front of trees and touch them for a few seconds while sending positive thoughts their way.

One of my favorite CD's from the time period was Ace of Base's second album The Bridge. I frequently sang the opening line from one of its songs, "Life is a paradise"...

Friday, July 18, 2008


As a boy of about 7 or 8, my mom wanted me to learn how to swim, so signed me up for a swimming class at the Y. I had several classes over many weeks with a number of other similarly-aged youngsters. I learned some of the basics, but hadn't fully grasped how to swim by the time we had our last day of class.

On that fateful day, parents were allowed to come and see what their children had learned (my mom came to see me on this day). The better swimmers did laps near the middle of the pool while I, being just a novice, hung close to the side of the pool so that I could easily grab the sidebar for support. We had at least a couple instructors who were in the pool with us at all times.

On one lap, I got too far away from the side of the pool and felt like I was about to drown. I desperately tried to tread water, but was starting to panic. I looked up at my mom. She appeared to be looking elsewhere. None of the instructors was looking my way. With water in my mouth, I couldn't yell or scream. After what seemed like an eternity, one of the instructors finally came to my aid and said she was sorry she had forgotten me.

Several years later, I had swimming class in junior high, but still didn't fully learn how to swim. To this day, I still don't.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Are You a Member?

As some of you may know, I'm a big fan of the 80's. Back in February, I started watching a VH-1 show in which a geeky DJ would ask goofy questions of celebrities (the celebrities were not aware ahead of time that the questions they would be getting were going to be so off-the-wall). It's called "Free Radio". I warmed up to the main character, Lance, in no small part because he wore Members Only jackets throughout his interviews.

Go here if you want a taste of what the show is like. I wore a jacket just like the one pictured above from '87-'89. After watching the show, I knew I wanted to purchase another one for old times sake. I couldn't really find any old-school jackets that were reasonably priced, but was able to find some updated ones at Classic They had a deal where if you bought $50 worth of stuff, you'd get free shipping. They had quite a number of Members jackets to choose from. I wound up picking out 5.

When they arrived, I modeled each of them for my beloved. She wasn't impressed. She told me that they look like "Michael Jackson", that they're seriously "out-of-style" and asked if I'd think about returning them. I said I'd probably want to keep them. Earlier this spring, I wore one of the jackets in public. I picked the one that looked least like a Members Only:

Nonetheless, my partner laughed in my face as she looked at me with the jacket on as we prepared to leave. In the car, I told her that the jacket made me feel like Speed Racer. A few days later, I wore another of the jackets. When I came home, I was asked if I had actually worn the jacket to work. I had. My boss said upon seeing one of them, that he thought I was more conservative than that. Me? Conservative? No way. I can remember going out to eat at Friday's some time ago and getting several "looks" upon finding my seat. To tell you the truth, I kinda enjoyed the attention.

Last month, Justin Timberlake wore one of the jackets in a scene from the Mike Myers movie "The Love Guru".

I pointed this out to my partner and she said, "Oh, God". This is the jacket that my beloved finds the least offensive:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Triple Play Part II

Sunday morning, me and Shanon were ready to go back to the movie show. I wasn't too crazy about seeing it, but Shanon was pretty gungho, so I compromised and agreed to accompany him to an 11:30am screening of Will Smith's "Hancock". To tell you the truth, the movie was almost worth seeing just due to what I was gonna say to the cashier when requesting a ticket. Any ideas?

Shanon got his ticket and it was then that I strolled up to the young female cashier and said, "I'll take one to Hiscock". Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Shanon shaking his head a bit. The lady didn't have much of a reaction. She basically pretended she hadn't heard it. I can't resist, though. I love playing with words.

There were hardly any cars in the parking lot, so I knew that me and Shanon would most likely have a nice, quiet moviegoing experience. We got a seat in about the 3rd row, dead center and it turned out we were the only ones in the viewing room. I like. We were free to talk as much as we wanted during the previews as well as the movie. We could just act like we were hanging out in our living room.

I wasn't expecting much from any of the movies I saw this past weekend which is good since it ensured I wouldn't end up being too disappointed. In "Hancock", Will Smith is a superhero who is a chronic drunk and quite lonely. He gets help with these issues from a PR man played by Jason Bateman. I've been a fan of Bateman's since the early 80's when he played Ricky Schroeder's best friend, Derek, in Silver Spoons (my mother bought me the first season of the TV show last year). Here is a pic of him from that early 80's timeframe (he's pictured with his older sister, Justine, from Family Ties):

"Hancock" turned out to be better than I was expecting. It took a very unexpected twist 2/3rds of the way in, a direction that hadn't been indicated at all in the trailers. It's always a pleasant surprise when a movie goes further than you thought it would. I give the movie a B+. I don't plan to revisit it anytime soon, but it was worth the $6 I paid to see it.

After "Hancock", me and Shanon went to separate films. He was dying to see "Hellboy 2" while I wanted to catch Steve Carell's "Get Smart" before it left theatres. Shanon went to get his ticket for "Hellboy" while I stayed and watched the rest of the credits for "Hancock". He is such a good boy, going back up to the theatre's entrance and paying another 6 bucks to see another movie. I, on the other hand, after a pit stop in the bathroom, went straight into the theatre showing "Get Smart" (it was right next to where I had just seen the previous movie).

Color me crazy, but I didn't feel guilty. Shanon told me later that he had looked for me at the box office counter. He figured I would be a good boy and buy a tick as well. I told him what I had done and he said that I needed to pray about it and ask the Lord to forgive me. I said I would take it under consideration.

I sat near the front of the theatre for "Get Smart" so as not to be distracted by the several dozen other people in attendance. I wasn't greatly looking to seeing "Get Smart". Though I love Steve Carell in "The Office" and "40-Year Old Virgin", I was quite disappointed in his movie from last summer, "Evan Almighty". Hardly any laughs and way too much reliance on CG, it was one of the worst movies I went to in '07.

But this one was getting some good reviews, so I figured I'd give it a try and I'm glad I did as it was my favorite of the 3 movies I went to over the weekend. You don't have to know or care about the Get Smart TV series of the 60's to get a lot out of the movie. Steve Carell's deadpan style is perfect for the character of Max-i Pad Smart and Anne Hathaway is a beautiful foil for him.

Here's a couple choice lines from the film:

Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway): Are you staring at my butt?
Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell): No, no, I...I was, but I'm not...I'm staring again.

Agent 99: Did you see anything while I was dancing?
Maxwell Smart: Just once, but I don't think you expected him to lift you that high.

I give it an A- overall.

And thus ended my moviegoing weekend.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Triple Play

I took the opportunity this past weekend to go to a number of summer movies. On Saturday evening, me and Shanon headed to Rochester's newest theatre to catch a 3D screening of "Journey to the Center of the Earth".

Neither I nor Shanon had ever been to a 3D movie before, so were greatly looking forward to it. I'd heard the film didn't have the greatest story and was a bit of a kids' movie, but that wasn't gonna dissuade me from going. We went to the 10pm show so as to minimize the number of children we'd have to watch the movie with.

Shanon went up first to order his ticket and the box office attendant told him it was $10 to see a 3D movie, not 8. Shanon looked back at me and I said that was fine. Whenever I go to get my ticket, I always try to give the title of the movie I'm seeing a weird twist to try to get a reaction out of the cashier. Back in '98, I asked the lady for a ticket to see "Saving Ryan's Privates". When going to "Iron Man" earlier this summer, I told the lady I wanted to see "Steel Man". She laughed at this. For "Indiana Jones 4", I asked for a ticket to see "Illinois Jones". For "The Happening", I said "1 to What's Happening". For the "Spiderwick Chronicles", I said I wanted to see "Spiderman". For "The Bank Job", I shoulda said "The Blow Job", but I didn't come up with it fast enough.

Anyway, for "Journey to the Center of the Earth", I said, "I'll take one to Let's Go See the Earth". A bit weak, I know, but the one I did the following day was killa. After we got our tickets, we strolled over to the ticket-taker lady who ripped our tix and gave us the 3D glasses. They weren't red and blue and made out of paper like the ones they made back in the old days. They were pretty sturdy with black frames and when I looked at myself in the mirror wearing them, I could just barely make my eyes out (the area around my eyes appeared silvery). For a joke, I wanted to wear the glasses around the lobby and game area, but this one 20-something dude beat me to it.

We entered the theatre and rather than sitting close like we usually do, headed for the back since 3D would probably look a bit better if we were some distance from the screen. I don't know why, but Shanon put his glasses on before the previews even started. He was rarin' to go. There ended up being about 40 other people in the screening room, a few kids, but mostly people in their 20's and 30's who most likely wouldn't be seeing the movie were it not being shown in three dimensions. I felt sorry for the other two theatres in town which are not equipped for 3D nor are they even digital (talk about Stone age). It blows my mind that theatres that were state of the art 5 years ago are like shit now in comparison.

The previews started and even though they weren't in 3D, Shanon kept his glasses on. 10 minutes later, a sign flashed across the screen that said, Please put on your 3D glasses now. A preview was then shown for an animated 3D movie that was coming later this year. The 3D was quite sweet, I have to say, but I was looking forward to seeing live-action footage in three dimensions, not so much cartoons. I noticed Shanon raising his hand towards the screen numerous times over the next half hour. Guess he wanted to see if the images were as close as they appeared.

Brendan Fraser of "The Mummy" is the main star of the movie which basically consists of him, his nephew and a lady-guide traveling towards...wait for it...yes, the center of the earth. There were a number of good sequences in it, parts that actually made me flinch, like the bit where a prehistoric creature spits at the screen and it came awfully close to my face (for a minute, I thought I was in a porno). I could tell by various reactions I heard throughout the movie that the crowd was enjoying it.

There were a number of parts that really strained credibility, however. Like the scene where the three main characters are on a raft in an ocean in the center of the earth and the kid is actually able to converse with his mother via cell phone.

How the hell he had any bars hundreds of miles underground beats the shit outta me. Overall, I give it a B in 3D, but if I woulda saw it in 2D, I woulda been bored outta my gord. The 3D made the movie worth it, just barely. I'll give a rundown on the other two movies I saw this past weekend in the next couple days.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Barack the Boat

The New Yorker has quite a provocative image on its cover this month:

OK, let's see here: Obama in the Oval Office, good. Dressed in traditional Muslim attire, interesting. His wife with an Afro and a machine gun slung over her back, hmm. An American flag burning in the fireplace and a picture of Osama bin Laden hanging on the wall...oh I get it, Obama, Osama! For info on what the reaction has been, go here.

I think it's great satire, but actually know someone who doesn't believe Obama is a Christian and thinks his election will lead to much turmoil, yeah right, like things are so peachy right now. I don't use this word very often, but Yeesh!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Are You Scared?

In 2003 and 4, one of my favorite shows to watch was a hidden camera one called "Scare Tactics". It placed ordinary people in extraordinary situations. I loved watching each "victim" gradually be overcome by fear and then relieved when it was revealed that what they had just experienced was merely a prank.

The last new ep of "Tactics" aired at the end of '4 and I figured that was it, since it didn't return in '5. Imagine my joy a few months ago when I heard that new eps were in production. I finally got to check them out, the first new ones in more than 3 years, the night before last and was not disappointed. Here is one of my favorites:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Break-Away Part II

It was February of 1994. I was about to head up north to Break-Away, a weekend Christian retreat. On Friday afternoon, one of my roommates and a friend were watching TV in my room. They asked if I was sure I wanted to go to this thing. I said I wasn't super hot on it, but was gonna give it a try. Shortly thereafter, I was picked up by 3 guys I knew from IV, Troy (who would be driving), Mike, and a Korean born fellow whose name escapes me at the moment.

It was about a 4-hour trip to get there. I don't recall much of what was discussed on the way up there, I just knew that I was looking forward to getting away. We stopped at a convenience store to pick up a few snacks before arriving at Cragun's resort. The resort was quite beautiful and rustic (located right next to a now-frozen lake). This is what it looks like during the summertime:

Troy parked the car and we headed in to register. The lobby was quite cozy with a fireplace nearby. There was a lot of love there, many happy people hugging and conversing.

Once registered, we looked for some of our compatriots from Winona. We found a number of them watching an informal basketball game in the resort's gym. Jon Carson was among them. We checked our rooms out next. 4 people were assigned to each room and there were 2 beds. Hmm...

Me and the Korean bloke (and 2 others not from the Winona area) were supposed to be in one room, but Jon thought that since the Korean dude was so new to the Christian faith, he should stay with some of the folks he knew from Winona. The Korean guy, like me, wasn't totally on board with being a true-blue Christian. I guess you could say we were doubting Thomases. Jon said he would sleep on the floor so as to avoid temptation. Alright, I would have a queen size bed to myself. Nice.

Before long, it was time to head to our first Break Away session. Oh, how I wished that I could spend the weekend just relaxing and socializing, but it was expected that we attend all the meetings. Jon headed to his while I headed to mine. For some reason, I was a tad late and when I got to the meeting room, the lecture had already started and there were no seats left. Thank you, God. I can go back to my room and just chill! Then I thought of Jon and realized I should be a good boy. Nothin' like fear to keep one in line, eh?

So I sat in the back of the room on the floor. There was one other person I recognized, a girl named Alyssa who went both to IV and Christians in Action. I was somewhat surprised that such a hard-core girl (whenever she saw a poster for a GLAAD meeting, she would remove it from the wall and dispose of it) was in, basically, a beginner's class. Interesting.

After a half hour or so, there was a break and I was delighted to see a couple open seats. I sat down next to Alyssa and we struck up a beautiful friendship that weekend. She was fairly tall and slender with glasses and a laid-back disposition I grew to love. I made many little jokes with her over the next couple days and was always pleased when she would giggle at something I said. Keep in mind, I'd not yet had a girlfriend yet. The lecturer talked some more about why Jesus is the "real thing" and gave various reasons this was so. I wasn't totally buying it, but was more than willing to listen. Class ended and we all headed back to our rooms.

I met my 2 other roommates. They were nice guys who would have conversations that were quite intereting to listen to. Here's what I can remember of one of them:

Chris: I love listening to country music. My favorite song is the new one by John Michael Montgomery. It's called "I Swear".

Joe: Yeah, well, I just listen to Christian music.

Despite their differences, they managed to sleep together quite well. Too well, in fact. It usually takes me a while to get to sleep and before I knew it, I was hearing loud snoring coming from the next bed. I tried to cover my ears with pillows, tried to block it out, but it wasn't working. I wondered if the main desk might have cotton balls or somethin' like that. I could use all the help I could get. So I put my clothes on and headed for the lobby.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Make Love, Not War

Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) is currently filming a movie based on another of his characters, Bruno.

There was quite the happening in Texarkana, Arkansas last month when a crowd of 1,600 showed up to an event that was advertised as "Red, White, and Blood, $5 cage fights with $1 beer. Real fighters, Real Girls." In sum, people there were expecting cage fights, but were quite PO'd when some of the fights took a homosexual turn. A first-hand account of what occured can be found here. What's interesting is many people's thinking in regards to naked men in close contact. This post explains what I'm getting at:

"With "Bruno", Cohen forces his audience to look not at world issues and their place in them, but rather to examine a purely domestic one: homosexuality. The clever irony being prodded and poked at in this situation is the razor thin line between accepted male-on-male activity and the taboo one. Part of the joke is that the accepted male-on-male activity (where both men are mostly naked, sweaty, grabbing each other, rolling around changing positions) is only when the intent of violence and damaging and hurting the other man is the goal, whereas the taboo form of male-on-male activity (where both men are mostly naked, sweaty, grabbing each other, rolling around changing positions) is where the intent of satisfaction and pleasure is the goal."

In other words, if guys are physically hurting each other, it's fine to watch, but if they mean to love each other, you mus'nt.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Treadmill Blues

I'm continuing to work on getting my cholesterol numbers down. One of the major ways I'm doing this is through a machine I have in my home. It's called a treadmill and it allows one to walk, but you basically stay in the same spot. It's like running in place, only walking. The doc said I needed to work my heart out more, to walk faster, to walk up hills, so on most days, I have the treadmill set at a not-inconsiderable incline. I try to get at least 40 minutes in every couple days.

One nice feature of the treadmill I have is that there's a small fan you can turn on which will cool your face a tad. It helps if I drink a decent amount of water while riding. I hear that makes you sweat a bit less. The first 20 minutes of my workout tend to be more difficult than the latter 20. I sweat quite profusely during the first half, so much so that I have to keep a shirt or towel or cat nearby to wipe it off. For some reason, during the second half, I produce much less sweat. It's as if my body is saying, "That's all I got for ya. You're on your own now".

I pretty much have to watch TV while working out. Otherwise, it would be quite boring. Because of the noise from the treadmill, I inevitably need to watch something in which I don't need to hear every word coming from the screen. Game shows are good for this, music videos, Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

(One interesting note: I've not watched Countdown in more than a week and have found I've been less stressed. Wonder if there's a connection...)

I've got one more month to go before I get my blood drawn again. On some days, I'm still probably ingesting more saturated fat than I should, but I did quite good yesterday and plan to do the same today.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Midway through my time at Winona State, I was looking for college groups to join, but wasn't interested in ones that were geared to my major (the Marketing Club, the IT group, etc.) I'd heard that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship did a lot of fun activities. I was like, "The Christian group does "fun" things? You're kiddin' me?" I figured I'd give it a try, though, and see what they had to offer. They met once a week in the early evening in a classroom at Minne Hall. I walked in the door and a young lady gave me a couple handouts. As was usually the case during my college years, I sat near the back of the room.

The meeting started and the bloke in charge, a guy named John Carson, told those of us assembled the upcoming activities. Dang, they did a lot of stuff: going out to eat, bowling, sledding, I'm talking cool socializing things that a guy just getting over depression needed. Keep in mind, I wasn't really a Christian, not in the fundamental sense, anyway. But I appreciated many of the Christed One's precepts. The kids there were very friendly and not at all "preachy". I went to many of their meetings and don't recall a lot of discussion of Bible verses and things like that. It was almost like a summer camp meeting. The most memorable part of the meeting was usually the end when this lady named Kristen, brought her guitar up to the front of the room and sang the following verses from the Bible:

Peace I leave with you
My peace I give to you
I do not give as the world gives
Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.

As the meeting ended, every one of us had beatific smiles on our faces. It was quite an uplifting group, I have to say. Earlier that year, I had gone to another Christian college organization called Christians in Action (CIA), but had found them to be a bit too somber. It seemed they spent half their meetings in prayer. They seemed to be more reflective, not quite as outwardly joyful as those in InterVarsity.

I spent several afternoons with members of InterVarsity as they designed posters with info about upcoming meetings. It felt a bit weird when people would walk by, probably thinking I was a Christian, a Bible-banger. But I supposed there were worse things. One evening, the lot of us got together in a house and socialized. There wasn't any boozing, but shit, who wants to ingest substances that deaden the brain? No hanky-panky, either, but I was inexperienced at such things, anyway. I think we played Twister, though.

I kid. Another afternoon we went sledding and I remember finding a 20 dollar bill underneath the snow. When no one was looking, I picked it up and put it in my pocket. Thank you, Lord. In some ways, the disposition expressed by the members of InterVarsity are reminiscent of what I experienced in Chicago last month (as detailed in my other weblog).

As winter came, I continued to enjoy spending time with them. John told me one evening I might get a lot out of a retreat coming up called Break-Away. It was taking place way up north. I told him I didn't really have the funds. He said to see what I could put together and that he might consider me for a scholarship trip. It would be cool to get away, but then again, I wasn't up to attending "Christian" lectures all day, either. My mom said she could put some moolah towards it. A few days before it was to start, John said I had been approved to go. There were several different classes I could attend. The one that resonated most strongly with me was something like, "Why be a Christian? Why Believe? What proof is there?" Would it turn me into a true believer? Time would tell.


I like summer action movies as much as the next guy, but a certain fatigue is starting to set in. "Iron Man" is an excellent movie and deserves to be one of the biggest moneymakers of the year. While many found "The Incredible Hulk" to be solid (pun intended), I was underwhelmed by its climax. Jeffrey Wells over at HollywoodElsewhere expresses quite succinctly what I'm feeling:

"The problem is this: I'm sick to death of watching stuff getting wrecked and smashed and shattered and blown into a million pieces.

I hate the rigid big-studio FX formula that insists upon confrontation and chaos and ruination happening ever 20 or 30 minutes, like some stupid whammy chart. Windows exploded, buildings decimated, cars doing aerial triple-flips, fire hydrants spewing tons of city water, industrial clutter everywhere....what the fuck is this? It's the same shit in every movie, and it vacuums your soul.

What kind of cretin do you have to be to find this stuff interesting after it's been repeated 25 or 30 times? How many times can the dumbest moviegoer out there go "whoa!" after seeing a super-hero wallop a slime-covered monster and send it flying several hundred yards into a building or a wall of glass or a concrete bunker, or vice versa? How many times can the hero take a severe beating to the extent that it looks like he's finished? How many times can a slithering disgusting alien creature try to eat or invade or flatten the heroes? How many times can a moron with a extra-large tub of popcorn in his lap be impressed with loud aural thumpings on the soundtrack?

Guillermo does everything he can to add feeling and humor and humanity to Hellboy II, and he succeeds nicely from time to time, but he's working within a genre that insists upon showing the same shit over and over, no matter what and no end in sight. I really can't stand watching shit being blown up any more. How can people can sit through the same demolition derby in film after film, over and over, year after year? It's insane."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

2001 Part III

I first became familiar with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien as a child when I saw an animated version of "The Hobbit" on TV. I loved the idea of a mythical world, a world in which an unassuming man could go on a great quest that would take him to the ends of the earth. The things he encountered would try his soul, but in the end, he would be a hero to all.

I was enthralled from the start as Gandalf came to visit Bilbo, the dwarves were introduced, Bilbo got lost in the cave and shared riddles with Gollum, Bilbo and his padres almost became troll soup, and the stirring conclusion in Smaug the dragon's cave.

As a youngster, my mom bought me a 4-book Tolkien set which included "The Hobbit" and the 3 Lord of the Rings books. I read some of the Hobbit, but never got around to the Rings (it was a bit over my head). I read a Rings knockoff called "The Elfstones of Shannara" by a guy named Terry Brooks when I was 14 and found it quite captivating, though I didn't purchase any of the sequels.

Though I was not familiar with the particulars of Rings, I was quite excited to hear in the late 90's that three movies were being made (at the same time) based on the novels. Call me lazy, but I much preferred to delve into Middle-Earth on the big screen rather than on the printed page.

As I mentioned earlier this week, "Harry Potter I" was a decent movie, but didn't seem to have a lot of magic to it. It sure wasn't a movie I planned on revisiting with any type of regularity. Some of the early reviews of "Fellowship of the Ring" were saying it was a top-notch movie, perhaps even a candidate to be nominated for Best Pic at the Academy Awards.

I didn't see it the first couple days it was out. I asked my friend if he would like to see it on a Saturday afternoon at the new theater (he hadn't been there yet). He was interested, so I went to pick him up. He was taking quite a while to get ready and it looked for a time like we might not make it to the show. We speeded to the Chateau and got our tickets.

There were quite a number of people waiting to be admitted to the screening room where "Fellowship" was to be shown. In fact, the people waiting made a kinda-circle around the interior of the theatre. My friend noted that this was quite appropriate since we were about to see a movie about the "one ring". He also was quite pleased with the design of the theatre (it had a castle theme with an 8-foot dragon on display and the ceiling painted with stars).

We ended up having to sit fairly close, but thankfully, it didn't negatively affect our viewing of the film. My friend noted the great comfort of the seats and their rocking ability. I was aware that the film took place several decades after "The Hobbit". I was enraptured from the start, especially at the sight of Hobbiton near the beginning of the movie.

I loved seeing Elijah Wood as Frodo reading a book and smoking a pipe while he laid against a tree. I chuckled as references were made by Bilbo and Gandalf to the experiences they had in "The Hobbit". I especially loved the mystical aspects of the film such as when the group went to Rivendell where the immortal elves lived.

I also enjoyed the fact that the movie was 3 hours, giving me plenty of time to soak up Middle-Earth. As the credits rolled and an Enya song played, I knew that I had seen something special. Perhaps it would end up being this generation's "Star Wars".

I knew it wasn't going to have a super satisfactory ending since it was the first of a trilogy, but thankfully instead of having to wait 3 years like most sequels, the wait would be a mere year. Course if I wanted to, I could just read the books and find out what happened, but I preferred to experience parts 2 and 3 at 24 frames per second.

I went to "Fellowship" 2 more times over the next couple months and bought the soundtrack a few months after that. On evening walks when passing houses that had lighting that automatically turned on, I would sometimes raise my arm just before it turned on and imagine that I was Gandalf lighting the way.

Though "Fellowship" didn't blow me away like "Titanic" in '97 or "American Beauty" in '99, it was a very rousing way to bring in the 21st century. Perhaps "The Two Towers" or "The Return of the King" would give me that high once again.

Bloody Cholesterol

I had a blood test done at Mayo in early May and it turns out I have an even higher rate of cholesterol than I did 6 months prior (my total cholesterol is now at 245!) Geez, and I thought I was doing so good! I went back there for a Cardio consult in the middle of May and the doctor said I should try a little harder on my own to reduce this number. How? By fairly significantly reducing my saturated fat intake (not so much my fat intake since I'm at a healthy weight), working out my heart more intensely (I do walk, but rarely break a sweat when doing so), and doing some strength training. Though I was eating better over the last 6 months, I was still having Reese's peanut butter cups most evenings and sometimes going to Friday's twice a week.

I'm paying extra-close attention to what I put in my body now and also working out regularly on the treadmill with a big-time incline as well as walking faster (3.5mph as opposed to 3.2). It feels pretty good. The doctor woke me up a bit when he said I'm not as healthy as I think I am. If I'm unable to reduce my cholesterol by a decent amount by early August, the doctor is gonna send me to a fat camp for high-cholesterol people. Just kiddin, in that case, he would put me on an anti-chol drug. And the beat goes on...