Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Turning 50

Blogs and social media were not around for me to write anything for Turning 30 but I just re-read Turning 40 from ten years ago... and boy oh boy do I like my life a lot better now!

The 40s were a time of big changes and new experiences.

I could have never guessed that my 40s would put me on stage.  But suddenly, there's the overture, the curtain, the lights, and I am singing.  All in all, I did 17 shows in my 40s. This still amazes me when I think about it.

My 40s saw me switch schools again.  I would have never predicted I would teach in the lower grades... but 2nd was what was available at the school I wanted to be at, so I gave it a shot.  I had originally intended to only do a year or two at that grade.  I was confident something in the higher grades would open up.  I am in year 7 of 2nd grade and everything is just fine.

Ten years ago, I was a parent of young kids... now empty nesting is around the corner for my wife and me.  I could not be prouder of my daughter and son.

My 40-year-old self didn't realize it yet, but time was ticking on my faith.  Over the next few years, the puzzle pieces were going to form a picture that would bring my belief to a close.  Those years were tumultuous but so worth the struggle.

My 40s were a time of new and excellent friendships.  I recently went on a week-long cruise with a bunch of them down to Mexico to celebrate my 50th.  After looking over the pics of our adventure my wife said, "Andy, you're a rich man!"

It's true, rich is how I feel going into my 50s.  My life is pretty darn near perfect and I am grateful for it.

Looking at my life with the sun cresting in the western sky, I have decided to add care of my physical self to the list of really good things happening in my life.  I want my sunset years to be all they can be, so I have dropped about 4 inches off the waistline since last spring, I have tripled how much I can lift, and I can jog a good pace for 30 minutes without a break.  Treats have been turned in to a rare and reasonable occasion and eating is generally healthier.  I still have a ways to go, but this has been a good start and for the first time it feels like a life change.

My 40s were truly wonderful!  I turn 50 with a smile on my face and a happy outlook to the future.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Movie Reviews: An Anemic August

I theorized in July that I might not have any reviews for August.  Moviepass was heading into a dark place at the end of last month.  It seems to have avoided crashing all together for the moment, but the service is now merely a shadow of its previous greatness.  Often when I tried to use it this month, the attempt ended in frustration.  My closest theater rarely had options and I was hesitant to drive 20 minutes to another theater when the movie could disappear before I purchased my ticket.

So, I only saw four movies in August.  That was not all due to Moviepass.  I teach and it was time to head back to the classroom this month.  Also, I think I was getting a little burnt out on movie runs.  Years ago, my son won a contest at a local gourmet popcorn place – a bag of candied popcorn each week for a year.  After about 6 months, we grew a little weary of going each week.  I have been feeling some of that in regards to Moviepass.

In any case, Moviepass is limiting members now to 3 movies a month.  I will have to decide when my annual subscription ends in November whether I will continue.  In any case, if I only get to do 3 a month, the days of seeing the more obscure titles are over.

This month, 3 of my 4 movies were true stories.

The Meg: C+
Everybody loves a good shark movie.  The best was Jaws, so where do you go from there?  Deep Blue Sea genetically altered their intelligence.  Another series had them attack using tornadoes.  The Meg grabs a prehistoric one so they can make it really, really big.

Aside from the size of the shark, The Meg doesn’t do anything particularly unexpected.  But, it has some fun cast members, a couple laughs, a few jumps, and is entertaining enough for a summer film.

BlacKKKlansman: B+
Based on the true story of Colorado Springs’ first black cop- who finds himself infiltrating a local chapter of the KKK.  When I saw the trailer, the editing work made it feel like it was going to be a comedy.  It had its funny moments, but overall it was a police drama.

It is a great movie for our times.  It is a reminder of how things used to be and how they still are.  Beyond the history lesson, it was just a good movie– and you get to watch @**hole white supremacists get their just due.

Papillon: B
Adapted from the autobiographical novel by Henri Charrière, Papillon tells the tale of a French safecracker in the 1930s who is incarcerated at a penal colony in French Guiana.  The story follows Henri as he forms relationships, has varied escape attempts, and spends years in solitary.

I enjoy the work of Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek, the two lead actors, so the movie was an easy sell for me.  The movie is a great period piece and works well as a prison escape movie.  It had a few moments where the pacing seemed to drag but overall, I was completely drawn into the story.  After watching this, you will be grateful to be a free person in the modern age.

Operation Finale:  B+
The true story of secret agents from Israel capturing a Nazi hiding in Argentina in order to have him stand trial for crimes committed during the Holocaust.

One of my favorite scenes in Xmen: First Class is when Magneto goes Nazi hunting in Argentina.  I have often said that they should have made a whole movie focused on his exploits as a Nazi hunter.

This movie gives one that same opportunity to cheer-on Nazi hunting.  It is a great spy movie and has the added benefit of being a history lesson.

For me, the movie had only one, minor, flaw.  Ben Kingsley is an amazing actor and handled the role of Adolf Eichmann excellently.  However, I was at times pulled out of the narrative because he was simply too old for the part. He had two sons in the movie who would have more appropriately been his grandchildren.  In addition, Eichmann was a Nazi white supremacist… having him played by someone who has a mixed ethnic heritage felt a little disjointed.

Operation Finale also sparked my frustration again that so many Americans are vague with their opinions concerning Nazis.  I left the movie angry with some of my fellow citizens.  There are no “fine people” among Nazis. There never were, there never are.

Not sure what my movie theater habits will be in the months to come… but movies will be graded.

This article first appeared in Salt Lake Film Review.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Trump Does Not Respect The Chair

There is this great scene in Star Trek- Into Darkness where Admiral Pike takes the Enterprise from a young Kirk.

"You don't comply with the rules. You don't take responsibility for ANYTHING... and you don't respect the Chair. You know why? Because you're not ready for it."

I always think of that rebuke when President Trump comes up in the news.

When he was elected, I made a determination to give him a chance. I held out a hope that the Chair of the Presidency would sober him up.

Here is a man who has a disreputable past but maybe, in this last decade of his life, he would chart a new course. Maybe the weight of the Oval Office would make him reflect on his legacy... and he would step up to appropriately bear the duties of the President of the United States.

But no.

He has continued in his self serving ways, his childish, vindictive attitudes and his boorish behavior.

Donald Trump does not respect the Chair.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Troubling Trend

I was reading an article about white teachers recently.  The author was listing various issues that are facing education as students become more diverse but our teaching force remains largely white.  I thought the author made some really interesting points but one issue she brought up in a few different ways is that white teachers shouldn't ask their black friends or co-workers questions regarding issues of race.

I found a similar train of thought on a short Buzzfeed video about sexuality.  They cut back and forth between various folks giving commentary on their experience within their subgroup.  There was one individual who seemed to have a chip on their shoulder.  This person was constantly rolling their eyes in respect to anyone who did not understand the various sub-categories.  When asked about what it means to be gender fluid, the person scoffed, "I am so sick of answering that question!"

These are just two examples of an attitude and perspective I feel I have run into dozens of times in the past year.  I teach, so I understand the feeling of impatience that can arise from answering the same question over and over... particularly when you feel something has already been explained or should be self-evident.

However, I am concerned that - just when our country is hitting a stride of listening, probing, and looking to be educated, the door is being slammed in many questioning faces.  If you think no one is really listening or questioning, consider how the issues of race, sexuality, and feminism were discussed through most of the 20th century.

I am a middle-aged white dude.  My experience with being a minority is pretty thin.  My insights are vicarious.  As a teacher, I work mostly with women (I am the only male teacher on my staff).  A good chunk of my friend circle is gay.  I spent 8 years working at a school where 95 percent of my students were non-white.

I was raised in a highly conservative environment.  I cringe when I think of the various sexist, homophobic, and racist things that have come out of my mouth and attitude over the decades.  If it were not for the exposures and experiences I listed above, I would probably still consider a lot of that bad thinking to be acceptable.  It was through conversations with people different than me that my thoughts have begun to change.

I am an atheist.  I was an evangelical for 30 years, so I know from experience the wrong-headed ideas a lot of religious folks have about me.  Those ideas they have will continue to spin as long as their only thoughts about atheists are what they tell each other.  If one wants to understand the atheist experience, don't ask a believer, ask an atheist.

If you are in any kind of minority group, I would hope you could be patient with answering questions and sharing your experience.  There is no one better equipped to share your story than you.  If change is going to happen, it will be because of more conversations, not less.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

July Movie Picks

Wow! Ten movies in the month of July.  Not a record, but respectable.

Whether or not this level of moviegoing will continue remains to be seen. My supplier is Moviepass and this past week with them has been… dramatic. I think someday there will be a comedy made of the Moviepass story.  User reactions alone could supply a lot of the bits.

Therefore, this could be the last month for your friendly neighborhood movie grader. I am a teacher and there is no way 10 movies could budget in a single month without Moviepass.

So what did July bring us? Let’s take a look (in order, btw)-

Sicario: Day of the Soldado: B-
A decent follow up to the first Sicario. It doesn’t do anything particularly original but it is an enjoyable hit-man/black-ops movie. Brolin and Del Toro take it from passable to moderately engaging.

The First Purge: D-
I have to confess, I have not seen any of the previous Purge movies. If this one is any indication, I made the right move. The motive for the Purge (give everyone 24 hours to do whatever the hell they want without consequences) is so bizarre that I just couldn’t quit shaking my head at the absurdity. This premise sets up a lot of pointless action with even worse dialog. This movie should have been direct to video.

Ocean’s 8: C+
I think I left this movie a little disappointed because I was hoping to like it more than I did. The word that keeps coming to mind is… fine. The acting was… fine. The story was… fine. The humor was… fine. I anticipated a twist ending but rather than wowing me, I shrugged when it arrived. I can’t put my finger on what was missing but, for me, it just failed to launch.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: B+
Another enjoyable Marvel movie to add to the list. A couple of new angles in this sequel but it was not quite as fun as the first. It suffered from a lack of an engaging bad guy and they took all the likeability out of Michael Douglas’s character. Still, it had enough of the usual Marvel cleverness and excitement to make it a worthy view.

Skyscraper: C-
Take Die Hard and remove all the humor, clever lines, and the over-the-top villain. Really, they could have released it at Christmas and called it Die Hard 6. It was watchable but just barely.

The Equalizer 2: B
I guess the Equalizer series is how you get Denzel Washington to play a super-hero. No costume, but all the other elements are there. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching Denzel take out bad guys for an hour or two?

Unfriended: Dark Web: C+
Dark web gets points for being a unique experience for me – you essentially watch an online chat session (although I am told they did this in the first movie of the series as well). It was well done for what it was, but still… you watch a chat session for an hour and a half. I think it would have functioned better as a 1-hour Black Mirror episode.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies: D-
Wow… was this movie tedious! Every character delivered their line in an overly excited tone while their head raised and their eyes boggled. I was beyond annoyed after the first 15 minutes.

Most modern cartoon movies find that sweet spot of balancing being enjoyable for children and yet keeping the adults entertained. I suspect the only person who could tolerate this dumpster fire is a high-strung eight-year-old who had just been given carte blanche at the concessions counter.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: B
Another enjoyable Mama Mia movie. Perhaps a little less humor than the first but also a bit more touching. Like its predecessor, it is a simple, happy time spent on a Mediterranean island with music and dancing. What’s not to like?

Mission: Impossible – Fallout: B+
Did you know that this series is now 22 years old? I wonder how many more they will do. I suspect for however long Tom Cruise can run (or until he kills himself doing one of his own stunts).

Really, I think Cruise will do these into his 70s. Why not? Mission Impossible is always a fun ride. It hits every trope, but you kind of want it to. It is the comfort food you expect in summer movie going.

See you next month!


This article was first posted on Salt Lake Film Review.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Keep It Secular

Do you want freedom of religion? Then keep religion out of our governmental system.

I am secular, but I would protect your religious freedoms more than most religious people you know.

See, I don't care if you beseech Thor or Yahweh. Whether you follow the teachings of Joseph Smith or the Dalai Lama is all the same to me.

The only thing I ask is that you do not make me join you in this.

You would have trouble getting some of your fellow theists to grant you such liberties.

They want the schools to pray their way. Read their scriptures.

They want laws to reflect their pious predilections.

They want taxes to fund their projects, their evangelistic efforts.

If you really want religious freedom, keep our system secular.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Why Empathy Will Not Work

A good number of people were surprised at the lack of feeling many Americans seemed to have regarding ripping children from their mother’s arms at the border.  Some felt this maneuver by Trump and his administration would finally activate the empathy of their fellow citizens.

I knew it would do no such thing.

I regularly hear pundits talk about our need for conversation with those with whom we disagree.  We need to hear them.  We need to find common ground.

Nice sentiments.  Reasonable sentiments.

But it won’t work.

The bulk of Trump support comes from Christian Evangelicals… and people who have never traveled in those circles cannot imagine how far gone these folks really are.

Because people hear the word Christian before Evangelical, they assume Evangelicals have at least some concern for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast.

That assumption is wrong.

I spent most of my life as an Evangelical.  Evangelicals have one goal… turn them into us.  Everything is about conversion.

Jesus went to the poor, downtrodden, and the outcast because they were poor, downtrodden, and outcast.  Evangelicals go there because they are the easiest to convert.

Behind every bit of Evangelical help is a sales pitch.  And the pictures taken while helping play great at fundraisers.

But surely, they must have some empathy.  How can any mother watch children ripped from their parents and not feel something?

Again, we are dealing with Evangelicals.  They are taught that everyone outside their group is an enemy.  Enemies who deserve what is coming to them.

I was on a thread at John Piper’s Facebook page.  He is a prominent conservative evangelical preacher and author.  There was a debate going on about John Piper’s comment that if his kids turned from God, God would be justified in sending them to Hell.

One woman in the conversation said (I paraphrase from memory),

“My son became an atheist.  He has this life to turn back to Jesus.  I don’t resent God if He sends my son to Hell, I blame my son for leaving God!”

When pressed further on this point, she said,

“On the day God condemns my son to Hell, I will stand up and declare God righteous in His judgment!”

Don’t be surprised if you can’t get a woman like this to shed a tear for a child at the border.

Evangelicals have been trained since their youth to look for someone to save them.  They do not blink at the thought that everyone outside their group will be tortured for eternity.  Others are the enemy.  Others deserve this.

So, no, what has been going on at the border has not affected them.  Listen to Evangelicals talk.  They will say that those crossing the border deserve this.

And if you think taking children at the border is as bad as it is going to get, buckle up.

There is no reasoning with an Evangelical Trump supporter.  There is no argument that will work.  There is no empathy string to pull.  They have been waiting for this moment their whole lives, nothing will dissuade them.

Our only hope is to get out there in record numbers and stir up the vote.

Monday, July 02, 2018

June's Movie Picks!

Summer is here!  So, I saw a fair number of movies this month.  Here are my grades-

First Reformed:  D+

This story involves a priest who is wrestling with the environmental issues of our day; as well as various levels of faith crisis.  It is slow.  It is plodding.  It meanders.

I can usually deal with all of that if there is some good dialog sprinkled in (there wasn’t) or if there is a satisfying conclusion (there REALLY wasn’t).

I don’t consider too many movies a waste of my time, but this one was.  Too bad, because it posed some good questions.

Upgrade:  B+

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.  I hadn’t heard much about it and it just quietly dropped into our local theater.  I assumed it was going to be some late night, SyFy channel quality future flick.  Instead, it was a well-done combo of The Crow and Robocop with the tone of a Black Mirror episode.

Hereditary:  B+

I haven’t had a movie creep me out this much since The Babadook.   So many horror flicks go for the cheap pop-outs to make you jump.  Hereditary takes time through story and character development to unnerve and unsettle you before it goes to the real work of scaring you.

Tag:  B

A very fun comedy (based on true events) about a group of middle age friends who are continuing a game of tag started in childhood.  A lot of funny moments and worthwhile laughs.  It did seem to struggle with how seriously it wanted to take itself and I found that occasional indecision distracting.  Overall though, they landed the story well.

Hotel Artemis:  B-

I was probably affected by all of the bad press I saw about this movie before seeing it.  I had low expectations walking in but I ended up rather liking it.

I can understand some of the complaints.  There were a number of absurd and/or contradictory plot points.  The story sometimes lacked flow.

However, I really like a lot of the actors in this movie and I found I enjoyed their characters as they worked through the story.

When I zoom out, I see the problems.  When I zoom in, I enjoy the performances.

Incredibles 2:  A-

A worthy successor to the first movie.  It was enjoyable from beginning to end.

It only needed one more element to really push it to the top tier – an engaging villain.  The villain in this movie was not bad… but was bland.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor:  A-

Thoroughly enjoyable documentary about Fred Roger’s PBS show.  The man was the Gandhi of children’s television.  I was inspired, I cried, and was shocked to find out that he had critics.

Jurassic World- Fallen Kingdom: C-

In an earlier review, I described Death Wish as cinematic fast food – sometimes you want something quick and satisfying.  Fallen Kingdom is like fast food… that you have had for the past five days in a row.  There was nothing new or original in this movie.  Jurassic Park has hit its Pirates of the Caribbean stride.  They will churn these out as long as people keep buying tickets but don’t expect any story effort from here on in.

Also, be aware that this one is more gruesome than previous Jurassic offerings.

Uncle Drew:  C

Well… I wasn’t bored.  It just rarely made me laugh.  If you saw the preview, that is the movie.  It was the Blues Brothers for old basketball players.  They spent most of the movie getting the team back together, but with none of the memorable one-liners.

This article first appeared at Salt Lake Film Review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Prayer in School

In America, some people of faith experience frustration because they believe religion is not allowed in our schools. This is because they do not understand that there is a difference between allowed in and promoted by.

My students talk about religion frequently. They sometimes pray over their snacks. They occasionally read their holy books.

Nevertheless, some people desire for me, as a teacher, to lead my students in prayers and scripture readings. More specifically, prayers and scriptures from their tradition.

Reasonable people from every faith tradition understand why this would be problematic. I have students who come from a variety of faith traditions and some from no tradition.

I support every student in my classroom. When people of faith ask that I promote their faith tradition in class, they are asking me to break the neutrality that allows each student to feel supported by me.

I had a number of traditions represented in my class this year. None of the children knew where I stood. They all felt equally supported by me. Please do not ask me to take sides.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Christianity in America

I wrote an article back in 2012 about a conversation where I found myself defending the teachings of Jesus to a bunch of Christians.  I had recently started identifying as an atheist so this was a surprising turnabout.

Nowadays, I am no longer surprised. American Christianity is drowning in members who have little interest in the Way of Jesus. They want the team membership that comes with name association, they want an imparted sense of morality (while eschewing the work of adhering to an ethical code), they want a Hell escape route; but they find the actual Way of Jesus (if they even know it) to lack the control they desire, the power they crave, or the practicality they believe they need.

I watch Christian after Christian defend taking screaming children from their mothers. When asked if they could really picture Jesus doing that, they happily admit that Jesus wouldn't... but Jesus lives in heaven and we live here. If we follow the Way of Jesus, we'll be taken advantage of. Let's leave Jesus at the church building and Bible study so WE can get done what needs to be done.

These Christians have taken their walk in the desert and were offered the same bargain as the Nazarene.
The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
I don't believe in the supernatural. There is no Devil. However, this is a poignant allegory for our time.

Christians have weighed the offer and have chosen the kingdoms of the world.  They rally behind the name of Jesus but want nothing to do with his Way.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Disc Golf and Church

Summer is a time of almost daily disc golf for me.  Whether by myself or with friends, it is the exercise my body desperately needs and the Zen my soul craves.

However, when I approached Valley Regional Park the other day, the lot was overflowing.  Valley is a multi-purpose park, so it is not unusual to see it jam-packed due to sports tournaments, fairs, or other community happenings.

As I pulled in to meet a friend for a round, I saw a sign at the entrance -"Free Event!"  I knew instantly what the temp stage and bouncy houses in the distance meant.  Such vague signage could mean only one thing: Church Event.

Not just any church... these were obviously evangelicals.  No one else could be so gauche.  I know the Evangelical playbook well.  "Church in the Park" is one way that a completely insular group can convince themselves they are a vital part of the community.

I have been out of church life for about 6 years.  I have returned on occasion for a few Catholic Christmas services and a Mormon baptism or two.  In that time though, I had forgotten how truly awful Evangelical services really are.

First, there was the music.  What a cluster @#$% of mind control.  Chorus lines repeated over and over and over reminding everyone how terrible they are... and how lucky they are to have a God who condescends to love them in spite of how terrible they are.  After a few dozen cycles of that message, we moved on to various choruses of "Our God is so much better than everyone else's god!"

I was having a noticeably more visceral reaction to this than my ex-Mormon buddy, but he did agree it was pretty tacky.  Though annoyed by the triggering cult music of my past, I was still on par by hole 3.

We were out of earshot on holes 5-7.  I was grateful for the brief respite.

Somewhere along the eighth fairway, we came back into audio range.  The service had moved on to the sermon and the pastor was dutifully hitting every trope - the "world" thinks it is enjoying life, but they aren't.  Other religions think they know God, but they don't.  Meaning can only be found in our faith.

He wrapped up the sermon with an emotional appeal to Jesus.  I was grateful to be heading out to the back nine before he could build to the ol' sinner's prayer.

When I got home, I looked up the church to take a peek at their event calendar.  I now know which days this summer to visit another course.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

May Was A Little Thin

You may be used to my monthly sum-ups by now, but I will tell you that May was a little thin.  I only have 3 new movies to comment on.  I went to the movies a grand total of 5 times, but two of those were repeats.

On the topic of repeats, Moviepass has now declared that a no-no.  Overall, not a big deal to me, but I do take it as one more indication that they are not long for this world.

I did slip in one more repeat before the hammer fell.  I woke early one Saturday morning to see folks bemoaning the fact on Facebook that their Moviepass had updated overnight and now was informing them on their listings that, "You have already seen this movie." 

I don't auto-update, but I figured it was just a matter of time before they forced the issue.  So I grabbed a quick shower and headed out to the first showing of Avengers.  They forced the update just after I bought my ticket.


But I have already reviewed Avengers, so let's get to the few new offerings I did view in the month of May.

Overboard:  C+

I like the storyline of this movie overall and it had a few good laughs - but not nearly as many as one needs to make a comedy work.  In many ways, I feel this would have fit better as a family movie on the Hallmark channel.

Anna Faris is just darling in this movie and she carried it for me.  However, Eugenio Derbez's character as the rich brat with amnesia, duped into thinking he was her husband, was disjointed to the point of distraction.  Sometimes the role seemed to fit him like a glove; at other times it could not have felt more awkward.

Faris's daughters in the movie were charming.  I think the movie would have been better served by giving them more screen time with Derbez.

I can't give it high marks, but it was worth a view.

Deadpool 2:  A-

I love it when a sequel comes together.  DP2 built on everything that was successful in the original.  Reynolds dry, sarcastic humor is non-stop in this movie - and for me, that just works.  I laughed more in any given 15 minutes of DP2 than I did in all of Overboard.

In addition, the movie has the potential for a broader appeal than I thought.  My wife decided to join my son and I on our Deadpool run.  She is not much into movies, fuzzy on most pop culture, and clueless on comic/nerd references.  Yet, she loved this movie.

Maybe she just digs Ryan Reynolds.

Solo:  B-

At this point, seeing Star Wars movies is a bit like homework.  I am a fan from the old days, so I gotta see it.  However, nothing since the original 3 has been satisfying.  Solo proved to be no different.

It is... ok.  There wasn't anything I disliked about it per se, but there was nothing all that engaging either.  It felt at times that the writers had a checklist of things they dutifully needed to hit and did so.  Donald Glover as Lando was probably the highlight.

Kevin Feige is in charge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  He has given direction to the arc of their (presently) 19 movies.  I feel Star Wars needs that kind of oversight.

I plan to hit more movies in the month of June, so hopefully, my commentary will be more plentiful next month.

This article was originally posted at Salt Lake Film Review.

Monday, June 04, 2018

America That Was

A few years ago, my son (14) and I watched the mini-series "11/22/63".  In the story, James Franco goes back in time in an attempt to stop the Kennedy assassination.

There are a number of scenes that depict the racism and sexism of the time.  In one instance, a black woman runs out of gas and walks 12 blocks to a service station.  The attendant refuses to service her and points her to a station a mile away that will serve "her kind".

My son was taken aback by these scenes.  He could not wrap his head around such blatant inhumanity.

It reminded me of a conversation he and I had a few years earlier.  Utah's 10th court was deciding whether gay marriage would be allowed in our state.  There was a leader from the LDS church on the radio stating why the church stood against gay marriage.  My son was concerned about how this would affect friends of ours who had been married in a state that honored gay marriages.  He asked me, "What does the church want?  For them to get a divorce?"

I envy the clarity and openness my children have on these issues.  I did not start to work on things like equality until I was in my 30s.  Even now, approaching 50, I find I am still digging out roots of bad thinking.  For my kids, seeing clearer on issues of race, gender, and equality seems so much more second nature.

My kids give me hope for a better future.  We will need it because many Americans have forgotten where we came from.  They seem eager to undo our progress and send us back to a time when it was acceptable to point to a sign and say, "We don't serve your kind here!"


Saturday, June 02, 2018

Full Disclosure: I Am Racist

A regular complaint I  hear from some of my fellow white people on Facebook is that they are sick of being called racist.  They often make this complaint between their posts about the Confederate flag and various derogatory observations concerning black people and Mexicans.

My first thought is that, in general, I am not accused of being a racist.  I won't say it has never happened but it is not so frequent that I have put it on my list of topics to refute.  So, if this is something you are feeling a little singled out about, you might want to consider that maybe underneath all of your annoyance with the accusation, you are just reacting negatively to a fair description.

Second, I don't think this is an accusation one should run from.  I don't.  I am racist.

I am also bigoted, homophobic, sexist, and an ageist. There is hardly a week that goes by where I do not unfairly categorize someone.  I often do not give individuals proper respect based on some prejudicial notion swimming around in my head.  The truth is I give favor to the people who most resemble me and suspicion to those least like me.

Now I don't beat myself up over this too much.  Evolution has developed us as pattern makers and conditioned us to be tribal.  It is our default setting.  However, natural is not always best.  Many recovery programs list admitting you have a problem as paramount.  I admit I am all these things... because I don't want to be any of them.

It would be arrogance to deny these states of being in my life.  What?  Would I really think a little enlightenment given to me over the years would change century upon century of societal inertia?  Would having a gay or black friend uproot all the paths of thinking that were laid out for me before I was even born?

So if you find yourself being annoyed at being called racist, I have news for you - it's true.  But don't lose hope, now you know- and as we learned from G.I. Joe, "Knowing is half the battle".  What you do with that knowledge will determine how you tend to be known.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The God I Don't Believe In

“When somebody says to me, “I don’t believe in God,” my first response is, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” Almost always, it’s the God of supernatural theism.” 
- Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary

Another version of that ends with the asker responding, "I don't believe in that God either."

This is a common misunderstanding among some of my liberal believing friends.  The assumption is that my lack of a belief is a response to their deity.  Either I abandoned faith because of a faulty view of God... or that my remaining Atheist is because I do not have a right view of God.

They seem to struggle with the idea that I don't believe in any deities... not just theirs.  Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, old, new, liberal, conservative... I don't believe in any of them.

Because they hold to a notion that I just haven't "met" the right god yet (theirs), I am regularly encouraged to listen to this or that speaker, read this or that book. They spend zero time reading the books and listening to the evangelists of other religions... but they can't understand why my eyes glaze at the thought of reading theirs.

Beyond that, I sometimes get the angry liberal believer who chastises me for only addressing conservative, fundamentalist religion.  "Why do you not address liberal belief?  Why do you only go after "the easy targets""?

When liberal Christians start petitioning the state to make my students pray to Jesus, I'll bitch about that too.  But they're not, so I don't.  The vast majority of my outward complaints concerning religion concern its tangible negative influence on humanity.  If your belief in God encourages you to do things like smoke pot and save the whales, I'm not going to have much to say.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Movie Review: The Views of April

Well, the month of April flew by and I only made it out to the movies 8 times.  It takes someone with Moviepass to say that number in the diminutive sense.  In fact, I repeated 2 movies, so there are only 6 quick takes this month.  Note: Moviepass is now limiting cardholders to one viewing, but I grabbed a repeat of Avengers before they forced my app upgrade.

Isle of Dogs: B

The word that comes to mind for Isle of Dogs is charming.  I found this movie a treat to watch.  The story was acceptable, but where the movie really shines is in its visuals and music.  Plus… there are lots of dogs.

A Quiet Place: B+

This is one of those movies that could have, and should have, been an A.  However, I found some of the plot holes distracting.  In addition, this movie had such wonderful, natural tension that they did not need to go for the “make you jump” moments of which lesser horror movies avail themselves.  Yet they did.  Frequently.

Setting those things aside, there is much in this movie to love.  The silence is amazing and it spreads to the audience.  I was in a packed theater where it was so quiet, you could almost hear peoples’ fingers digging into their armrests.  There is little dialogue, so the actors rely on their face and eyes to deliver their message.  This unique approach is so engaging, I had to see it again.

Truth or Dare: C-

Remember when I mentioned lesser horror films?  Have you seen the movie where young people get picked off one by one?  Then you have seen this.  Still, it gets a C level grade because I was entertained.  It had been a long day, I had my bucket of popcorn, and I was sitting in a theater watching a movie that was predictable to a fault, but I never looked at my watch.

Chappaquiddick: B

I knew the general details of this story from a documentary I saw once on the Kennedy’s.  In short, Senator Ted Kennedy got drunk and drove into a river.  The young woman accompanying him was drowned.

The movie takes you through the days following.  It was a hard view.  I was frustrated watching the wealthy and powerful decide how they were going to handle the situation politically.  There were few voices interested in truth or responsibility – just spin.  It is a well-made movie and I think everyone should see it.  Though you probably won’t enjoy it.

Rampage: B-

I know I will probably take some crap for putting this movie in the B range but I liked it.  What can I say? I am a sucker for movies that use gorillas to pull at your heart-strings.  Honestly, I liked it better than Jumanji.

Avengers Infinity War: A-

Waiting for April 27 was like waiting for Christmas when I was a kid.  I am all-in for the Marvel movies and this Avengers’ installment did not disappoint.

I have said it before that the fulcrum of movies like this is the bad guy.  If you do not have an engaging character on the other side of the balance, the movie will seem hollow (e.g. Steppenwolf).  The low-key delivery of every Thanos line nailed it for me.  In addition, he had a decent cadre of lackeys backing him up.

On the hero side, pretty much everyone delivered.  RDJ’s Tony Stark gets better with every movie.  Thor is finally fun to watch.  Bruce Banner’s performance anxiety was hilarious.  Dr. Strange is the perfect counterbalance to Iron Man.  If I commented on every hero in the movie, this would no longer be a short review.  Suffice to say that, after 19 MCU movies, I want Marvel to keep taking my money!

This article was originally posted at Salt Lake Film Review.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Somebody Moved... And It Wasn't Me

I am almost 50 years old.  I have known of Donald Trump for decades.  My first memory of him was probably one of his many appearances on Howard Stern back when Stern was on the E! Channel.  I wasn't a regular Stern watcher, but it was the kind of thing you might stop on back when there were no DVRs and one would channel surf.

I remember, even back in my twenties, thinking Trump was a reprobate and a scoundrel.  The way he talked about people, and women particularly, soured my stomach.

Over the decades, interviews I caught with him did nothing to turn those initial impressions.  To me, Trump was an example of what could go wrong in the development of the human soul.

I have many friends and family who voted for him.  They recoil at anything critical said of him and treat with suspicion or disdain anyone who would offer those critiques.

I know these folks.  They are otherwise good people.

Because of that, I am confident that if we could turn back the clock, if the younger me could have sat with the younger them and we watched those interviews together, examined his behavior, they would have had the same reactions I did.  I can't imagine any of them would have held Trump in high esteem.

If I had told their younger selves that one day that same man, with no change of heart or life, would occupy the presidency, they would have been horrified.  Beyond that, if I told them that they would vote for and defend him... they would never believe me.

Yet here we are.

Someone's moral compass has moved to accommodate Trump... and it wasn't mine.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Movie Review: March Movie Madness

I saw 11 movies in the month of March. I think that may be my personal best- it’s good to set goals for yourself. So, which were the winners and losers? Here are my short takes:

The Greatest Showman: A-
I saw this movie in the theater 5 times. Loved the music, loved the dancing, loved the characters. For me, a darn near perfect movie.

Death Wish: B- 
I actually did a full review for this, but the short version is I liked it. If you go in expecting a Bruce Willis/action/popcorn flick, you won’t be disappointed.

Red Sparrow: C 
It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. There were a few things that worked, but a lot that didn’t.

Tomb Raider: C- 
I had higher hopes for this one. It doesn’t look like a straight to video production, but it felt like a straight to video production.

Black Panther: B+
I did a full review of this one too. A wonderful addition to the Marvel line.

Pacific Rim: Uprising: C  
If it were not the sequel to an unexpectedly well-crafted predecessor, I might have liked it more. However, it just felt like warmed-over leftovers.

Love, Simon: A- 
I hesitate to give this such a high grade because I have only seen it once. I usually reserve the A grade for movies which I can watch repeatedly and never get bored. However, I suspect Love, Simon is going to do that for me. A well written and superbly acted drama with excellent pacing; loved it!

Thoroughbreds: B 
This movie was off-kilter and disturbing, so I hesitate to say I liked it. However, I was intrigued by it. It almost had a Fight Club vibe.

Unsane: B-
This was another movie that I can’t exactly say I liked, but it kept me engaged. During the first third of the movie, the plot came to a fork in the road. They went one way, but I thought the other path would have been more interesting (and believable). I’ll refrain from spoilers.

A Wrinkle in Time: D+
I knew from the preview that this movie was not going to work for me. It had some wonderful visuals and a Hamilton quote that made me smile, but that could not save it from its plodding and pedestrian plotline.

Ready Player One: B+
The trailer made me afraid that they were going to deviate substantially from the book, and they did.  Still, they managed to keep the heart of the book intact. In the end, I was very satisfied. I don’t think I could watch this repeatedly and not get bored, but I will see it multiple times.  If nothing else, it will take a number of views just to spot all of the cool pop culture references.

This article was originally posted at Salt Lake Film Review.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Movie Review: Death Wish (2018)

I am sitting here watching the Oscars –– my version of the Superbowl –– and I felt the need to write Death Wish a review. There is not one point of this movie that will ever end up on an Oscar nomination list, but I still liked it.

Full disclosure, I am almost fifty. I grew up on Bronson and Eastwood flicks that had lots of shooting. Throughout my teens, popcorn flicks with Schwarzenegger and Stallone littered the screens. So, when Willis does a remake of a Bronson classic, yeah, I’m in.

This movie is my fast food. I am hungry, going from Point A to Point B, and I need a drive-thru. There is better and worse drive-thru, and there is better and worse in the mindless action category. Death Wish falls into the better part of the menu.

If you have seen the trailer, you have seen the movie. Successful doctor’s family gets injured or killed by thugs. Feeling frustrated in his helplessness, the doctor gets a gun and looks for some payback.

Really, that is it. You don’t have to worry about spoilers because there is nothing to spoil.  The one left turn I thought they might take in this movie, they didn’t take.

Death Wish leads you exactly where you are expecting you to go. The drive-thru is handing you two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion, on a sesame seed bun. No surprises. The question is, will that make you happy right now?

For me, the answer was yes. The last twenty seconds of the film hinted at a sequel and I am looking forward to it.

This review originally appeared at Salt Lake Film Review.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther

I always like someone to tell me the bad news first. Give me that, so I can move on. So, for Black Panther, here it is – Black Panther is a very good movie!

That may not sound like bad news but I bought into the hype. When the critics’ commentaries started rolling in, they were stellar. Words like “masterpiece” were generously used. As much as I tried to not let that influence me, it did.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie and am excited about the potential of these characters and what they bring to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and it is the characters that make this movie shine.

Like Nolan’s Batman movies, Black Panther has such a deep bench of interesting players, one can almost forget who has the center seat.

First among them is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. I maintain that every successful movie has a bad guy that you are kind of rooting for, and Jordan brings this in spades. Killmonger’s charisma spills over in every scene. Though corrupted, his agenda has a moral arc that pulls at your sympathies.

Then there is the Black Panther’s posse. One of the many enjoyable aspects of this movie is how much he relies on his team. He is not the smartest in the room, that position goes to his sister Shuri, who is much like Q from the Bond movies. She keeps T’Challa equipped with the best gadgets Wakanda has to offer.

Nor is T’Challa the greatest warrior. That title seems to fall to the captain of his guard, Okoye. She and her troops out Amazon Wonder Woman’s Amazons. I was riveted by the tension she created when wrestling with to what degree her duty to the king of Wakanda outweighed her duty to its people.

Nakia, who has T’Challa’s heart, serves as his conscience. She has left the safety and security of Wakanda to be of service to the needy in the world at large. Throughout the story, she prods the Black Panther to consider serving the whole of humanity.

Beyond that, there are a number of minor characters but none of them are throwaways. Each adds pertinent puzzle pieces to the story which provides a rich tapestry.

So you may be wondering about the lead character. Chadwick Boseman brings the gravitas of a monarch. He is the King and you never doubt it. Beyond that, he has a moral compass that does not flinch. He is the leader in whom you put your confidence. The Black Panther is similar to Captain America in that sense, but with clear differences. He is not a boy scout and he is not a soldier. He is the ruler of a nation, perhaps more comparable to King Arthur. He does not have the luxury of being an individual, he belongs to his people.

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe closes its first decade and starts another, I see the Black Panther and his supporting characters being at the foundation of where they go next. This was a good start, but I suspect the best is yet to come.

This review originally appeared at Salt Lake Film Review.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Getting Started With Disc Golf

So you have heard about Disc Golf and you are thinking about giving it a try.  I am only a few years into it myself, so let me give you a couple of tips about getting started.

Disc Golf is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States right now.  There are over 2500 courses in America, so odds are you live fairly close to one or more.

I talked about the various benefits of  Disc Golf in a previous blog, but to sum it up - Disc Golf is inexpensive, social, and gets the body moving.

I have to say that the game is less social for me than it used to be.  I play A LOT and I have not joined up with the local league yet, so most of the time I am throwing by myself.  This is fine for me though.  I play a podcast or some music and I am totally Zen for a little over an hour.  If you want it to be social, you can most likely hook up with a local club.

But let's get you started.  The first thing you should do is download UDisc on your phone.  It is a Disc Golf app that will keep and track all of your data regarding scores.  However, most important for starting out is that, using GPS, it will show you the location of all of your local courses.   One more click and it will transfer you to Google maps to take you there. It can also, usually, give you a map of the course.  I love UDisc because it finds courses for me when I am out of state.  The free version of UDisc will give you all you need to get started.

Next, we need to get you some discs.  There is a lot of opinion about what discs to start with but, honestly, I don't think it matters much.  Your throw will be pretty raw and inconsistent in the beginning so one disc will be as good as the next.

With that in mind, I suggest the starter pack from Discraft.  It will give you one putter, one mid-range, and two drivers.  It also includes a bag which will hold about 8 discs and a water bottle.  Amazon usually sells them for under 40 bucks, which is a good price... and about what one round with a cart would cost you at a ball golf course.

Those first four discs will teach you a lot about your throw and disc behavior.  Once you notice that you start selecting one driver over another for certain throws, you are probably ready to start adding a few more discs to your collection.  Each disc has a tendency towards certain behaviors.  As your throw becomes more consistent, you can begin to rely on getting certain behaviors out of certain discs.

If you never progress beyond a few games a year by yourself or with friends, the starter pack will probably be plenty for you.  But even if you stay with the game and grow on to bigger bags and more discs - you will still have use for that starter pack.  You can have a friend use it when you take them out to introduce them to the sport.  You can also use it as a secondary bag.  There are two courses by my house that have a reputation for "eating" discs.  I keep my original starter bag filled with older discs that would not pain me to lose when I play these courses.

Let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

MoviePass Goodness!

Back in August, I started seeing articles about this company that would let you see a movie a day for only 10 dollars a month.  This sounded like a typical scam scenario on the internet... if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

However, after reading about it on some reputable sites, I decided to give it a try.  The worst I would be out is 10 bucks.

It took about 5 weeks to get my card, much longer than they had promised. But I was also aware that there were scores of folks like me jumping on board for the first time, and this little company was probably being overwhelmed.

My Moviepass came in September and I was excited, but still very skeptical.  The program seemed straightforward enough - one standard 2d movie per day for 10 dollars a month.  But seriously!  How could they afford to do this?  One movie for the month was essentially paid for by me... and the rest of the time THEY were going to cover it?  Surely I am missing some point in the fine print.

So, off to the movies I went.  To get this to work, you have to be within 100 yards of the theater.  Then you open the app and check in to the movie you want to see - at which point a timer starts, giving you 30 minutes to go buy your ticket.

I didn't expect it to work.  I swiped my card at the ticket kiosk... the kiosk indicated I had a bad card.  Figures, I really couldn't imagine this was legit.  I was about to step away when I remembered that a lot of card readers can fail on a swipe.  So, I tried it again.  The kiosk hesitated, then spit out my ticket.

I just stared at the ticket for a minute.  "No... WAY!" I said out loud.  I felt like I had just gained a super-power.

Since that day, I have seen about 34 movies (8 or 9 a month).

I still don't know how Moviepass can do this.  In fact, it got cheaper.  I bought an annual pass which brought my price down to 7.50 a month.

I wrote a note on a MoviePass FB page talking about how MP has changed my theater-going experience.

I went from one movie every month or two to two or more movies a week.
That means I now buy concessions... something I never did before. I am still cheap... I bought the annual popcorn bucket, which was never financially worth it before given how often I went to the theater.
I see movies by myself a lot... and I love it. Moviegoing is much more spontaneous now... and it is often too cumbersome to find someone who can grab a show on the quick. The theater has been my go-to activity when I have a few hours to kill.
I skip the previews. They used to be a highlight, but now that movie time is eating up more of my week, skipping those saves me some time... plus, I usually have already seen them.
I watch a wider selection. I used to reserve going to the theater for blockbusters... dramas and comedies just didn't seem worth the expense to fork over for the big screen.
I have realized I get more out of the movie at the theater. At home, I am distracted. I am usually working on something as I watch, or the phone rings, or someone wants to ask me something, etc. At the theater, the movie has my undivided attention.

Here are the movies I have seen so far.  The MP app keeps a history, but that function cut out for a bit in November and I am not sure that it got all of my movies added back correctly.  However, these ones I am sure about.

It (2x)
Wind River
American Assassin
Brad's Status
Kingsman 2
Blade Runner 2049
Happy Death Day
American Made
Marshall (2x)
Thor (2x)
The Foreigner
Goodbye Christopher Robin
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Justice League (2x)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Coco (2x)
The Disaster Artist
Star Wars Last Jedi
Shape of Water
Darkest Hour
The Greatest Showman
Lady Bird
Molly's Game
I, Tonya

My popcorn intake is off the charts and will probably need to be regulated if I want to celebrate my 50th birthday next year.  I don't know how much longer this ride will last, but I am going to strike while the iron is hot!

I have been to the movies more in the past 4 months than I had in the past 4 years.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Facebook Faith #58 Schoolyard Bickering

I am part of a group on Facebook which discusses 90s Christian music.  It is quite an eclectic bunch consisting of Christian fundamentalists, liberal Christians, varied levels of vague spirituality, and atheists.  For the most part, music is at the fulcrum but religious discussions happen.  I appreciate that most folks keep it at the discussion (and not argumentation) level.

Someone started a thread asking if the folks in the group considered religions like the Mormons and JW's to be Christian.  In the thread, I responded and this is part of the conversation.
Andrew Hackman - I moved out to Utah 13 years ago. One of the things that led me out of the faith was a realization, for the most part, that Mormons were simply better at Christianity than my Evangelical sect. Since I was taught that they were not even Christians, this was a bit of an eye-opener.  :)
Holly - Doesn't make them Christians, though.
Andrew Hackman - Why not? A person who believes in Christ and his teachings would seem to be, in the simplest sense, a Christian. Anyone denying that would merely be stating their preferred articulation, but that would not have any basis. Any attempt at such quickly devolves into schoolyard bickering.
Holly -"Not all who say to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
Andrew Hackman - Sure... but every sect could announce that of every other sect... like I said, schoolyard bickering.
Holly -You don't get to merely self-identify as a Christian, you have to be incorporated into Christ through baptism according to the Lord's command. Mormons do not have a valid baptism.
Andrew Hackman - And they say you don't have a valid baptism... see how this works?

The conversation went on a little while longer, but I bailed.  When I find myself wanting to repeat something I have already said, this shows me I am not really being heard ... so why bother?

Holly could not see the folly of claiming her baptism had validity while Mormon baptism did not.  She could not understand why I felt her belief did not have a superior claim.  It is like some believers cannot achieve escape velocity, so they keep spinning around the same gravity well.  I will join them rhetorically for one orbit, but then it gets tedious.  In the past, I would have spun around in that conversation to exasperation.

Later in the thread, a gentleman referred to Mormon beliefs as "kooky".  I tried to explain that, from an outsider's view, his religious beliefs would seem just as "kooky".  No movement there either.

I have to clarify that I do know plenty of religious believers who are aware of what their beliefs look like to an outsider, and so are careful in how they approach the belief structures of other religions.  They do not try to supply objective certainty to something that is inherently a subjective experience.
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