18.9.13

You Should Give These Bearded Rock Priests Your Money



The insanely good and criminally underappreciated indie rock band Luxury recorded for the flagship evangelical Christian rock label Tooth and Nail Records in the late 1990s, during which time they also suffered a devastating touring van accident that left several members of the band critically injured. This was The Thing about Luxury in the 90's. They made two very good post-90s albums as well, and then splintered off into side projects. There is now a new Thing about Luxury, which you will learn in second sentence of the next paragraph.

10.9.13

Scouts: Like Us

So you want to enroll your kid in scouts? Great. Which one?

There's Boy Scouts, the 103-year-old big baddy of all scouting programs. Sure, membership has been declining over the years. Yes, the BSA's attempt at Solomonically splitting the baby in half by banning gay adult leaders while welcoming gay youth befuddles people on both wings of the debate. Still, even with the decline and discord, the BSA still 2.6 million scouts strong.

The upstart Trail Life USA held their convention this weekend and announced they are launching an alternative to the BSA in 2014. Reporters were not permitted at the convention, however their statement outlined their distinctiveness from BSA:

"Trail Life USA will be inclusive of boys, regardless of religion, race, national origin or socioeconomic status, and accept boys who are experiencing same-sex attractions or gender confusion.However, it will not admit youth who are open or avowed about their homosexuality, and it will not admit boys who are not 'biologically male' or boys who wish to dress and act like girls."

Meanwhile, Navigators (not to be confused with the Colorado Springs adult discipleship group), is a secular and coed scouting group.

28.8.13

The Great Californian Exodus (According to CBN)

A friend of mine was watching late night CBN recently, possibly while drunk, and stumbled across this withering report on the Great Exodus to Texas. But why are Californians leaving? Is it because California's economy is too awesome? Is the weather too balmy and consistent? Not enough tornadoes?CBN is determined to find out.


But first, we should probably make sure the exodus is actually happening. What have we got for evidence? First, the reporter mentions the 3.5 million Californians who've left the state in the last 30 years, but fails to mention the state's overall population increased by 13 million people, and at a higher rate than Texas. But who cares about statistics when you've got eyewitness reports from one lady who recently drove to Arizona?

27.8.13

Batmen: Ranked

Before Miley Cyrus stole the spotlight Sunday night, approximately 57%* of the nation's Internet's bandwidth was being consumed by comments about the selection of Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming "Batman vs Superman" movie.  Much of the talk was negative, some was supportive, and a lot was just funny. (The best line: "I've just seen Christian Bale going to Affleck's apartment with some Huey Lewis records and an axe.")
*a number I just made up

All weekend, the protests kept coming, drowning out admonitions from level-headed people like myself to just. calm. down. We're talking about a fictional character, people.

As one of the few who refused to contribute to the vitriol, I was able to make an observation or two. One thing worth noting: besides the Bennifer and Daredevil references, the bulk of the protests (and even some of the pro-Affleck comments) focused on comparisons:

"Ben Affleck will be the worst Batman since that fat guy in the ill-fitting suit."

"At least he might be better than Clooney."

"Was Betty White not available?"

Comparisons are inevitable when we're talking about an iconic character who has been portrayed on screen by several actors. And let's face it: only James Bond has a similar combination of iconic status + multiple well-known actors. So let's take a stab at ranking--worst to first, Casey Kasem-style--the actors who have donned the cape on the large or small screen.

NOTE: I don't have Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, Bruce Thomas, or Kevin Conroy listed here, as I am unfamiliar with their work and frankly, so are all but the most dedicated Batman fans.

5. George Clooney
Although Clooney is not a bad actor, he mailed this one in. In fact, even he freely acknowledges his mishandling of this role, famously stating that he may have broken the franchise. He didn't. Somehow, he managed to salvage a career from the ashes of this subpar performance. Perhaps you've seen him in a successful film or two since then.  I can't say the same for....

4. Val Kilmer
Kilmer was a better Batman than he was a Bruce Wayne.  He did a good job, but it appears that he had trouble landing respectable acting gigs afterward. Val Kilmer's most memorable roles (Tombstone, The Doors) happened in the 9 years between "Top Gun" and "Batman Forever".   After that, there's not much to be proud of.
Exhibit A: the voice of KITT the car in the new Knight Rider.
Exhibit B: The musical version of "The Ten Commandments"

3. Adam West
We all know the 1960's TV series (and the one movie) was campy. In fact, if you look up the word "camp", the dictionary shows a picture of Adam West as Batman**.  But West knew what he was doing at the time, and he played it to the hilt. He was in on the joke. He never tried to be "Tortured Son of Murdered Parents" Batman. He understood what he needed to do to make that TV series work, and he did it spectacularly. Untold millions of grown men have fond childhood Batman memories as a result.

**a fact I just made up


2. Christian Bale
Bale played the role as one would imagine when reading the darkest versions of the comic books/graphic novels. In those works, young Bruce Wayne suffered deep psychological damage when he witnessed his parents' murder. As a detective, he was brilliant. As Bruce Wayne, he was a great pretender.  The self-discipline he had over his body and soul were amazing.

For all these reasons, Christian Bale should be the best Batman ever. But Bale's performance has one very noticeable flaw: the voice. He went out of his way to not sound like Christian Bale, and the result was a raspy voice similar to one of Marge Simpson's sisters. Moviegoers had a hard time not thinking about Christian Bale changing his voice as we were watching The Dark Knight, and ultimately, an actor's job is to make us forget he's acting. The resulting loss of points knocks Bale to 2nd place, right behind...

1. Michael Keaton
The recent negative comments predicting failure for Affleck have a ring of familiarity to those of us old enough to remember the announcement of Mr. Mom/Beetlejuice/Johnny Dangerously as the new Batman. In fact, had this occurred in the Internet Age, perhaps the outcry against Keaton would have been even worse than that we witnessed this weekend. But the protests were muffled when Tim Burton's "Batman" made its way into theaters, as moviegoers realized fairly quickly that Keaton was an excellent choice. He captured the tortured-soul aspect of the character, but wisely avoided over-acting.

Of course, when you're sharing screen time with Jack Nicholson playing The Joker, avoiding over-acting is the wisest move you can make. But it's more than that. Keaton let his eyes tell the story. That's the mark of an excellent actor. His restraint, subtlety, and his anti-Beetlejuice persona were exactly what was needed. That's why the 1989 "Batman" is ultimately more enjoyable than the Dark Knight movies, and it's why Keaton is the standard that Affleck and future Batmen should aspire to.






Tough Mudder: Proof Americans are Soft

Your Grandpa has been telling you for years that America has gone soft. The Great Generation took the beaches of Normandy and shed real blood. Our generation pilots drones from the safety of air conditioned bunkers and catches happy hour at the end of their shift.

We all tend to write off our Grandpas they are old. We live in great times when Apple holds annual press releases and announces our IPhones are now obsolete.We spend months speculating what new features will cause us of forsake our current models and we cheer when we are told we'll need to drop $500 to stay current. If Apple made Grandpas, yours would be declared obsolete seven-nine times by now. No wonder you haven't visited him at the nursing home. Don't feel guilty. You're a product of your conditioning.

26.8.13

The Best of YouTube: Kid Snippets

I really hope you’ve stumbled across these gems recently. Kid Snippets videos are quickly becoming my favourite things to ever hit YouTube. I say that all the time, but this time I really mean it.

The Kid Snippets concept is simple: record children talking about a topic or telling a story, and then have adults act out what they say. The results are brilliant and tummy ache-ingly adorable.

19.8.13

How to Write a "How To" Column For a Men's Magazine

Living in your parent's basement saves money in a flat economy. That's good for your wallet but brutal on you dating life. Our column "How to Drop Your Rent" scored you a cot in the laundry room. Now, let "How to Make Money Writing a Column For a Men's Magazine" bring in the money you need to get the apartment you deserve.

16.8.13

Maybe I Just Like Jerks


In case we're not Facebook friends, I'll just tell you: I love fiction. I enjoy discussing it as much as I enjoy reading it. But all the same, there are some literary icebreakers on social media that stop me cold. The most successful conversation blocker is some variation on "if you could have dinner with any fictional character, who would it be?" I mentally run through the list of characters in my favorite stories and hit a wall.

Winesburg, Ohio. Everyone has a creepy secret. Or they might. Either way, I'd spend the entire meal judging them and that would make me feel bad about myself.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is the best. But has the guy ever cracked a joke? He might be too serious, and oh, look, five people chose him already.

Anything by George Saunders. Are you kidding me? Darkly funny misunderstandings will ensue, but I'm not sure I want to be in the middle of that. How about not inviting flawed people who are disturbingly a lot like me.

Anything by Flannery O'Connor. See "Anything by George Saunders."

And it goes on like that. I remembered this while reviewing a book about Christianity and pop culture that examined, among other things, the portrayal of moral people in film. Good people are great in real life, it said, but boring in fiction. When I think about it that way, I would love to spend time with any of the authors of my favorite books, or the writers of some of my favorite shows for that matter, but their creations are best observed and even empathized with from a distance. I can learn from them, but I won't aspire to be like them and I definitely won't share my ice cream with them.

Then again, maybe I'm unique in this. Maybe I read the wrong books.

13.8.13

A Prayer on the Eve of My Son's Return to College

Dear God,

I'm loving the way my oldest is turning out. The boy has a work ethic like no other. He's compassionate, studious and frugal. I sent him to a land flowing with hops and hook ups, and he returned nine-months later clear headed and with his name on the dean's list. Godly character might have protected him from temptation, but his obsession with Stan Lee's universe filled with tight-wearing mutants might have something to do with it.

A win is a win, right?

1.8.13

You Want Spiritually Themed Fiction that Doesn't Suck? You're On the Clock

A while back I raved about Mark Steele's book, The Most Important Thing Happening, here and here.Well the publisher David C. Cook is giving it away for twenty four hours. Many of you agreed there isn't much out there in the realm of fictional works that explore Christian spirituality well. This is your lucky day. Download the book. Read it. And write a review on you blog or on Amazon. If we don't embrace books like this we are doomed to be spoon fed drivel upon drivel.


Riley Cooper, The N-Word, and the Unfair Placement of the Burden of Forgiveness

I was disappointed to learn Eagles' wide receier Riley Cooper dropped the N-bomb during a confrontation at a Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln financial field. A by-stander uploaded a video of the ugliness. Naturally, it went viral. The Eagles acted swiftly but perhaps leniently and hit him with an undisclosed fine. Cooper, to his credit, manned up and apologized without excuse.
Cooper's sin is particularly hard for me to forgive. When Paula Deen fell from grace a few weeks ago for the public disclosure of her use of the N-bomb and her desire to have an antebellum-style wedding, complete with black waitstaff, some of my friends protested that her sponsors would abandon her without grace.

Not me. She dug her own grave, so be it, I told myself.

I'm not proud of my difficulty forgiving racial prejudice. I developed the chip on my shoulder growing up in a racially diverse home.

31.7.13

Summer Fruit Power Rankings

Summer is my favorite season in part because fruit grows here like I imagine it did in Eden. You can just eat these things right off trees (or bushes or whatever). So here are the common fruits, ranked by order of deliciousness. I dare you to disagree.

How Not to Talk about the Minimum Wage

For a story that doesn't affect me in any direct way, the Mcdonalds strike and the reasons behind it interest me. I worked at a Subway ages ago, and I currently work in retail while working on my Masters to help pay for luxuries like rent and food. But since my wife and I both work, and we currently don't have additional mouths to feed, we're doing okay. But I can see how that might not be the case for many, and that's why I feel the need to weigh in on this conversation. First, it needs to happen, and I hope it does. But if the topic of the minimum wage comes up, here are some traps to avoid.

1. Forgetting who you are talking about. Most people still have no idea who is flipping burgers behind the counter. I work in a large retail store in a college town. Many students work there, but a lot of the age and marital spectrum is covered, making a living wage more than just a talking point. And as someone who used to live in New York State, I can vouch for its high cost of living. We are not talking about greedy teenagers here. The $7 an hour gig may still be a stepping stone for a handful, but for many more it has evolved into a dead end. Our economy has changed the picture on us, and we need to keep that in mind as we discuss what should happen next.

2. Lecturing the workers. I have no idea if Mcdonalds employees have to endure rants by customers on how evil their employer is, but this happens in retail. Let's just assume the fair trade shops aren't hiring, and try not to put employees in awkward situations. If you have a job offer, that's different. Offer away.

3. Pretending starving people out is our only option. I've heard the arguments against raising the minimum wage: inflation may rise, employers will have no choice but to let people go. These are challenges, not locked doors. Let's talk about solutions, and if you doubt we need them, please review number 1.

30.7.13

A List for Those Hoping to Ruin Thanksgiving Dinner

Wikipedia recently released their list of the top ten most controversial topics on their site, and there were some surprises. Shoot, Jesus and Christianity barely made the cut. Take notes so you can lob one of these topical grenades onto an otherwise peaceful holiday meal.Who knows, you might bring the festivities to close so you can catch the second-half  of that football game.

1. "W"
That's right. The single most polarizing topic on Wikipedia is the legacy of George W. Bush. To pull the pin on this topic simply open with "George W. Bush is the single worst president in history" or wonder aloud if there is room on Mount Rushmore for his bust. One opening is as effective as the other.

2. Anarchism: 
Really? Anarchism. Apparently the modern anarchist has forsaken the time tested molotov cocktail in exchange for the validation only a wiki can provide.

3. Muhammed.
South Park's Parker and Stone can shed light here.