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25
Jun

Good News, Bad News

Originally posted on Dude, Where's My Pancreas?:

This is the longest I have gone without writing a blog post. Part of the reason why I have not written here this week is because I have been writing for a Pancreatic Cancer charity called Project Purple. Project Purple raises funds for medical research as well as to assist people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Project Purple’s motto is “Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer”. So far, I have been mostly writing features about the people who run to raise money for Project Purple. I am also working on entries featuring pancreatic cancer survivors. Each story is inspirational and I feel so honored to get to interview these amazing individuals and share their stories. I am grateful for the opportunity to help make a difference in some small way for the future of this disease. Please check out the Project Purple website, and read the stories on my…

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3
May

Alachua Robotics Institute

Ran into an old friend named Tim in the grocery store yesterday — he used to be my next-door neighbor when I lived up the road in a small town north of Gainesville.  He teaches middle-school math up there and regularly (like, 2 or 3 times) has won the Teacher of the Year Award for Alachua County.  (He also plays guitar and watches lots of interesting movies on Blue Ray.)

Tim told me that in the next year of so, his school and perhaps all Alachua County middle schools will start teaching Robotics as part of math classes — students will actually participate in building robots.  He’s excited that this will excite students, will give them a usable skill, will show them that math does indeed have real-world applications.  I’m excited, too, and happy to hear that our new Superintendent of schools is a forward-looking as he’s seemed to be in the year he’s been in charge.

Robot Dog

Robot Dog

When I was teaching English classes at Santa Fe College, I had a student named Chris who was bright, eccentric, a bit of a Goth (had a lotta Goth students, once word got around that I didn’t disapprove).  Chris was more interested in art than English, though he did all right (his older sister was a little bit better).  He learned to do tattooing — as a business opportunity as well as an art project (and one of my tattoos is his creation\application).

I kept up with Chris after he graduated and enrolled in University of Florida, also here in Gainesville.  Over the years, he taught himself robotics — I’d stop by his house and there would be mechanical creatures scurrying around the house.  This led to a lucrative job with a robotics company out west, Colorado or Arizona.

Lost touch with Chris, but can’t wait for Tim’s new Robotics Institute to come into being — he told me that the story should hit the media in the next few weeks or months.

2
May

The Lord’s Prayer at My Saturday Meeting

I go to an A.A. meeting Saturday morning, been doing it for years — it’s called “10th & 11th Step Meditation” meeting.  There are some readings, about 10 minutes of meditation, and then a general discussion on a topic taken from the floor — technically, it should focus on the 10th or 11th Steps, but the group doesn’t really seem to care.

So, one of our members raised his hand and suggested that we discuss the part we like best in The Lord’s Prayer (which, as a Catholic school boy in grades 1-6, we usually called “The Our Father,” based on its opening words).

It was an unusual topic for in A.A. meeting in my town (Gainesville, FL), because we usually end meetings by forming a circle, holding hands, calling to memory our members who are struggling, and then saying Reinhold Neibuhr’s Serenity Pray (or at least the first three lines of its ten lines).  The Saturday morning meeting is the only one I can think of (or go to regularly) that ends with the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord's Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer

Well, no one raised a hand to say, “The Lord’s Prayer gives me the screaming jim-jams, since it’s a Christian prayer spoken by Jesus, occurring in the Gospel of Matthew, which is part of the Christian New Testament.”  It’s possible that someone thought it — often members mention their trouble with “the God thing”– but didn’t raise a hand.

My dear friend B said her favorite part is, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  Reminds her, she said, that she has to live in an earthly body and struggle with earthly issues, but that heavenly life is possible, with recovery and grace.  My friend J said he always has to laugh at “Lead us not into temptation” because it reminds him of a friend who asked, “Why would I pray that God doesn’t lead me into Penn Station?”  Y’know, what he said versus what I heard — like the kid who thought the hymn was about Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear instead of “Gladly the Cross I’d Bear.”

My favorite part, which I didn’t get to share (50 people at the meeting) is, “Thy Kingdom come.”  Nice to think that God’s kingdom is one of our possible futures.  Some would say that the Kingdom is already here — it’s in each of us.

8
Apr

Furious 7

So, I’ve been telling people I know that I went to the movies yesterday — and when they ask what I saw, I answer, “Furious 7, of course.”

A few months ago, I saw the Furious 7 trailer in the theater, and it JUST LOOKED GREAT!  That made me interested, and I remembered that Vin Diesel is the most graceful actor in movies, and though he’s an icon of masculine cool, his macho guy stuff is more complicated and sensitive than lunkhead.  Diesel is no oaf, and the Furious franchise generally has done a good job of doing the fast cars, action sequence thing, good enough that we’re on SEVEN (about which Diesel has gone on record as saying it will win the Best Picture Oscar — probably not, since action movies typically don’t win the Best Picture Oscar).

Vin Diesel & Jordana Brewster

Vin Diesel & Jordana Brewster

Here’s my summary: Never seen a movie (probably never been a movie) with more moving parts than Furious 7.  We’ve got cars and trucks driving out of planes into the sky (parachutes, think parachutes), cars and trucks in the air because of cliffs, parking garages, tall buildings, and explosions.  We have lots of explosions, gun fights, fist fights, and more things in motion on the screen than I would ever have thought possible.

Last week a read a review in The Village Voice (“Good News! Furious 7 Offers More of the Same Craziness!”) in which Stephanie Zacharek confessed that she’d not only seen every one of the Furious movies, but that she’d enjoyed them all. And then she discussed Furious 7 and why it’s so good — just had to see it.  Wasn’t expecting a classy piece of Art Cinema, wasn’t expecting to be enlightened in any way; just wanted to see all the things flying around on the big screen.

Some bonuses: Michelle Rodriguez co-stars.  That’s Michelle Rodriguez from Girl Fight.  Jason Statham, who’s been making a name for himself in action movies, plays the villain, and does so quite well.  The great Kurt Russell (who’s been in just about everything in the past 30 years, including Escape from New York, Executive Decision, and The Thing), saunters into the movie about 30 minutes in — he makes a spectacular entrance, too — watch for it.

17
Feb

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sarcastic Lutheran Pastor

I started reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s blog (Sarcastic Lutheran, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/) ages ago, no doubt put in touch with it by another religious blogger I read, Rachel Held Evans (who wrote Evolving in Monkey Town as well as A Year of Biblical Womanhood).

Hey, what the world needs is a sarcastic Lutheran, maybe more sarcastic Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Catholics.  And I enjoy reading her blog, which regularly posts her Sunday sermons, in both a written and audio version (usually takes them to the middle or end of the week to get the Sunday sermon up).

Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic, drug user, biker, and general hoodlum who turned her life around and came to the pastorate somewhat late in life.  She founded the House for All Sinners and Saints in Boulder, Colorado, and writes about her church extensively in her blog and in her book Pastrix (which is the insulting way to refer to a woman pastor, and insult used principally by those who believe that a woman pastor is wrong, is anathema, heretical, non-Biblical, etc.).

Pastrix, the Book

Pastrix, the Book

I loaned her more-recent book, Salvation on the Small Screen, to my friend Sam, and his enthusiasm about it generated this post.  In Salvation on the Small Screen, Nadia sets herself the project of watching 24 hours of Christian television, inviting friends to watch with her, and writing about it without being too snarky (which seem to me a close-synonym to “sarcastic”).  Sam called me up mid-read to enthuse about the book, and told me that he’d like to have a book club at his church do the book.

The conversation led me to recall that I had another Nadia book, Pastrix, and to decide that it was time to re-read it.  Even more excellent than the first time through, Pastrix is a book about a faith journey by someone who might seem unlikely to end up as a Lutheran pastor.  That Nadia ended up as a Lutheran pastor makes me happy; wish she was in my town and that I could go to her church.

12
Jan

Being Biblical and Also Tolerant

Let’s start tonight with a disclaimer: this post will be about Biblical interpretation, so those who read my blog for comments about books or movies might want to skip it.

In my good friend Rachel Held Evans’ blog, she does Sunday Superlatives every week, and this one from Richard Beck of “Experimental Theology” interested me.  He writes,

The problem at the heart of Protestantism is that the bible is unable to produce consensus. This isn’t a  theological claim. This is an empirical fact.

Sola scriptura produces pluralism. The “bible alone” creates doctrinal diversity. Biblical literalism proliferates churches.

 And five-hundred years of Protestantism is Exhibit A.

The only way to get a single, unified church, as the Catholics will tell you, isn’t the bible. What you need, rather, is a magisterium, a teaching authority that says, for everyone, “this is what the bible says.”

And that’s why there is one Catholic church and tens, thousands or tens-of-thousands of Protestant churches (depending upon how you count them).

Back to me:  I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, so I know a thing or two about authority.  I’m currently allied with the Episcopal Church, which doesn’t have a magisterium or a Pope (the Archbishop of Canterbury being more the guy who chairs the meeting than the guy who makes the rules or appoints cardinals — the Episcopal Church has no cardinals, though we do have bishops).

Crowd in St. Peter's Square, Rome

Crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Rome

As I’ve said to people dozens (hundreds?) of times, many of them my students in literature classes, the written word doesn’t interpret itself.  The long Jewish\rabbinical tradition of midrash illustrates the ongoing controversy about what this or that place in the Scripture might actually be saying and what it might mean.  Same with poems, short stories, and plays.

On to the more-recent past.  In a church I used to go to, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in High Springs, Florida, we experienced a schism in around 2004-2005 in regard to the New Hampshire church elevating Gene Robinson, a gay priest, to the position of bishop.  I always thought that the situation was pretty much New Hampshire’s business, but my pastor thought that what they’d done violated “the clear meaning of Scripture.”  When she said that, I laughed so hard to I nearly passed the sandwich I was eating through my nose — the goal of class clowns everywhere.  My point is, Scripture’s meaning is anything but clear, and both is and has to be the subject of interpretation, argument, disagreement, dispute.  That’s just the way it is, with literature, Scripture, any interpretation of the written or spoken word — including letters, emails, conversation, bumper stickers, billboards, and blogs (to name just a few).

 

5
Jan

Penny Dreadful

The show is called Penny Dreadful, and the name implies that it should be lurid and trashy — “penny dreadfuls” were the little booklets sold on the streets in Victorian England, costing a penny and containing lurid stories of monsters, vampires, adventurers, prostitutes, werewolves, etc.

Or I could just say, EvaGreenisinitiEvaGreenisinitEvaGreenEvaGreen, Dreadfulthe actress about whom film director Bernardo Bertolucci (who directed her in The Dreamers), said “she’s so beautiful it’s obscene.”  Don’t see what’s obscene about it, but she is, indeed, beautiful — enough to be a Bond girl in Casino Royale  and a very good witch named Serefina Pekkala

Eva Green in "The Golden Compass"

Eva Green in “The Golden Compass”

in The Golden Compass.

Green plays Vanessa Ives, who with explorer\adventurer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton, who played James Bond twice, in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill) and adventurer Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), fights all sorts of supernatural beings in Victorian London.

I Netflixed a DVD with the first 3 episodes, and was introduced to characters & setting.  The second episode brings in both Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein — he’s talking to Murray about the only goal of science being to distinguish between life and death, solve its mystery; later in the episode, having manufactured and re-animated The Creature, he introduces himself to his creation, “My name is Victor Frankenstein.” As said Creature, whom Victor names Proteus, there’s a very nice turn by Rory Kinnear, who must be Roy Kinnear’s son (judging by the resemblance), though he has not Internet Movie Database bio to confirm that.

The third episode, “Resurrection,” gives us rather interesting backstory on Victor Frankenstein.  He’s a 10-year-old boy, being put to bed by his mother.  As they’re talking, a dribble of blood comes out of her mouth, and then she coughs blood all over herself and him.  She’s consumptive, the situation quickly gets worse, and there’s a funeral.  Victor plunges into the obsession with re-animating dead flesh that will consume the rest of his life.

2
Jan

Benedict Cumberbatch

So, an awareness of Benedict Cumberbatch was gradually dawning on me.  I’d not seen him in anything, but the new iteration (or “rebooot,” if you must) of Sherlock Holmes was all over the Internet, with praise for his performance.  And soon it turned out that a lot of the women I know uttered long libidinous sighs when speaking of him — which puzzled me, since I saw the pictures in the newspaper and on the Web, and found him perhaps a little plain, a little odd-looking.

Then the Alan Turning movie came out, The Imitation Game (Turing’s title for the article that introduced what we now call the Turing Test, a test to see if someone has made a computer that most people would think was a person).  I’ve long been fascinated with Turing, Turingwho not only broke the Enigma Code, by which the Nazis sent coded message during WWII, but was instrumental in creating the modern computer.  And he was a major social loser, a first-class weirdo (a genius mathematician); I’m quite the computer geek myself, so interest in Turing’s life was a done deal.  And, perhaps most significantly, Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality in England was a crime, and he was harassed and oppressed for that.

The Imitation Game is excellent, and Cumberbatch is beyond great– he gets inside Turing in ways that are hard to believe.  So the guy is a genius with math, with codes, with highbrow intellectual stuff, but he can barely understand how humans interact.  His colleague Joan Clarke, played in the movie by Keira Knightley, takes the opportunity to explain flirting to him in a pub — her friend is flirting with Hugh, one of Turing’s Enigma Project associates, and poor Alan has no idea what’s happening, no idea how body language and facial expressions are a part of human communication, at least as important as (maybe more so) than words.  She explains to Alan how you make other people like you, and he wonders why someone would do that — “I’m a woman in a man’s field,” she explains, ‘So I have to.”

Intrigued, I Netflixed a Sherlock Holmes DVD, and I very much like the episodes I saw.  This version is not a period piece from Victorian London, but instead takes place in the 21st Century.  Holmes uses both cell phone and computer, has John Watson as his friend\associate, and both helps Inspector Lestrade and has a rivalry with his brother Mycroft Holmes (just as in the original Holmes stories, so the big twist is re-setting the story in the present).

Holmes is as arrogant and dismissive as he’s always been, Sherlockthrough the b\w Basil Rathbone films and all the other versions, but he’s arrogant and dismissive in interesting ways.  Watson, whom he always calls “John,” accuses of him of not caring at all about the people he’s working for, helping– Holmes asks, “If I cared for them, would it help them?”  John wants to know if he actually can help them if he doesn’t care about them; the answer is a quick “Yes.”

As you can see from the picture to the left, Cumberbatch is quite stylish as Holmes and has great hair.  He’s quite the thing onscreen, an actor that I pretty much can’t take my eyes off.  And as Holmes, he has much better hair than as Turing.

Martin Freeman, he of many screen and TV credits, including playing Bilbo in the recent Hobbit movies, is also quite good as Dr. Watson.

I might even go see The Imitation Game again.  It’s stuck with me all week, and I’ve taken every opportunity to talk about it with friends.  G.W. and I had a nice conversation about Turing tonight — he’s very knowledgeable about him.

And it’s such a tragic story; Turing was a war hero, to whom England owed rewards and gratitude.  Instead, he’s convicted for homosexuality and given a choice between “chemical castration” and two years in prison.  He chooses the castration, and it leads to very bad results (which I won’t spoil for you her — go see the movie).

28
Dec

The Shelf Life of New Year’s Resolutions

The topic of New Year’s resolutions has come up a couple of times lately, understandably since New Year’s is in 4 days.  In one of my A.A. meetings it came up, and my friend Hugh said something along the lines of, “A resolution for a whole year!?  I have to make a resolution every day.”

And on the last Friday Five (a set of 5 questions) sent to the Dead Runners’ Society listserv, the poster, Douglas Barry in Ireland, asked if anyone makes New Year’s resolutions, and if so, what?  Most of the respondents pretty much denigrated the notion of resolutions, in that they tend to dissipate much sooner than the year comes to an end.

I was speaking to friends David and John yesterday about this, and I told them I was going to post about the shelf life of New Year’s resolutions.  So I queried the Dead Runners’ Society list, and got responses so far from Charles, Cher, Lynn, JimP, and Martha.  All noted that it’s kinda hard to get any space in the gym right after New Year’s, since many have resoluted (resolved, I mean) to begin an exercise program or to be more faithful to their current exercise program.  So the gyms are full of new people.  (I’ll have to test that at my gym, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center,

Gainesville Health and Fitness Center

Gainesville Health and Fitness Center

on Friday or Saturday (January 2nd & 3rd).

But the new people, who made New Year’s resolutions to exercise, seem to drift away, and by spring it’s a lot easier to get space in the gym.

I’ll have to do an observation about whether or not the population of runners or cyclists seems up on Friday and Saturday as well — I plan a run each day.

I think it’s intuitively obvious that New Year’s resolutions are well-intended but don’t by any means end up observed 100%, all year.

But I’m interested enough to observe the numbers, continue to ask my Dead Runners Society friends about their experiences, and do a little research into the topic.  Perhaps the research will simply come my way in our local newspaper, on Slate.com, or on Buzzflash.com.  Surely the media will cover the phenomenon, as it does every year.

I wonder if the picture below was taken right around the new year?  As for me, I didn’t see greater numbers of runners in my neighborhood when I ran on New Year’s Day, January 2, and January 3 (today).  I did go to the gym yesterday (January 2), though, and at just a random observation it seemed to numbers were up.

A Crowd of Gainesville Health and Fitness Members

A Crowd of Gainesville Health and Fitness Members

14
Dec

Cheryl Strayed a Household Name

And it’s about time, too.  Strayed’s memoir, Wild, is now a movie set to go into wide release and starring Reese Witherspoon, whose presence should guarantee  an audience.  (I saw it yesterday, and it’s an excellent rendering of the book.  Reese Witherspoon is excellent, and Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl’s mother Bobby, is a lock to get an Oscar nomination — she just radiates grace.)

The Internet meme this week was about the contrast between John Kracauer’s Into the Wild and Strayed’s Wild: From Lost To Found On the Pacific Crest Trail, as if they were actually comparable.  In my brain Christoper McCandless of Into the Wild is batshit crazy, not to mention suicidal, whereas Strayed is pretty thoroughly mis-guided but not insane..  Yes, both go into the wild without adequate preparation, but their reasons for doing so are dissimilar — McCandless is unhinged and doesn’t have any idea where he’s going, while Strayed just wants to hike the Pacific Crest trail.

I’m a huge Cheryl Strayed fan — after reading Wild, I read Torch.  As an online reader of The Rumpus (a magazine of literature, interviews, cartoons, etc.), I became part of the Dear Sugar “cult”;  Sugar was the advice columnist at The Rumpus for years, and when her tenure was coming to an end, Sugar was “outed” as being Cheryl Strayed.

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

There’s a collection of Dear Sugar The Rumpus pieces (seems a little dismissive and inaccurate to call them “columns,” as they’re pretty substantial) titled Tiny Beautiful Things, and it’s on my bedstand, where I’m re-reading it just because it’s so damned good.  Strayed often replies to those writing in for advice by telling interesting stories from her own life, which she maneuvers into answers to the life and love questions asked.

Anyway, Strayed is soon to be a household word, and it’s a good thing, too.  In fact, I was listening to NPR the other day, and they were interviewing her and Steve Almond, who’s a Rumpus editor.  They said there is now going to be “Dear Sugar Radio.”

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