Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Aled Me

Tonight at the White House, President Obama will have a Bud Light. Mark down a Red Stripe for Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley will have a Blue Moon. And if I'm able, I'll sneak in a Dr. Pepper somewhere during my lunch break.

I wonder how many problems have been solved over brews. More than I think, but racial strife isn't going to make that list. But leave the topic of this backyard summit out of this for a moment and consider the context. It's not hard to talk about former president George W. Bush and beer in the same sentence, but with Obama it's a stretch. He's not a good-'ol-boy. Never has been.

I'm not either. I never developed a taste for it, even after trying a few times.

I didn't touch beer when I was in college, not even on my 21st birthday, so my experience with brews begins roughly after I took my first job in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Boozing and clubbing was the major nightlife because there wasn't much else. A few times a month, some of the guys at my station would get together and go out to one of these places. Unfortunately, it would be one of those misnamed "gentleman's clubs," which true gentlemen never visit. Not being equipped with the moral fortitude and confidence needed to resist, and wanting to get along, I accepted their invitations. I slowly sipped a Bud Light or whatever and wished I was somewhere else.

I still have this picture of myself on the dance floor of the former Club Internacional in Edinburg, half-drunk and moon-eyed. I was at least sober enough to behave myself, even though I remember smoking a Baccarat cigar down to the tip. Beer and nicotine don't work well together. I should've learned.

But I didn't until that one night at a McAllen club, where several people from the station, including an anchor, had to come to my rescue. I'd had three beers and they'd knocked me out. I found what I thought was a quiet corner of the establishment and let myself lean back in a chair. One of the bouncers found me and flashed a light in my face before hustling me outside. He and a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent asked for my ID, and while I dug it out, several of my colleages rushed outside to come to my defense.

"He either goes home or he goes to jail," the TABC person proclaimed.

For what? I thought. Being drunk in a bar? Why don't they arrest everybody?

"We're taking him home," an anchor friend said, handing me off to someone who drove me a few blocks to my place in north McAllen. I hiked back to my car the next day, sober and a little wiser.

That little incident kept me from overindulging again. I'd still drink beer, but stop at one bottle until Mike's Hard Lemonade came along. I'd put a couple of them down during after-work get-togethers at a favorite karaoke bar on Tucson's northwest side. Drink. Sing. The Mike's brought out some grit in my voice.

Our schedules changed and we stopped going out as much. I got right with GOD in 2007, but I was still drinking Mike's until one night that October at the Old Pueblo Grille, when I was feeling slightly sickly after a couple of bottles and coming to a realization: This wasn't me. This shouldn't be me. GOD didn't make me this way. I never liked drinking alcohol to begin with. Why am I doing it now? Why am I afraid to be who I am, a person who prefers soda?

I haven't taken a drink since then. I don't knock those who do -- drinking is not a sin; drunkenness is -- but I know it's not for me. I wonder if President Obama wonders if it's really for him... or anyone else.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reel To Reel: Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

Maybe I can find the rest of this movie if somebody will teach me a summoning charm.

Going Rate: Not more than matinee. And the book is still better.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Some scary magic and teenage "snogging"

I haven't read the sixth book in the Harry Potter series, so for the first time ever, I'm in the position of reviewing the film version without any hints of the accompanying text. But even so, for all this movie's enchantment and intrigue, I still feel like I'm watching the Cliff's Notes version. I know I'm right because J.K. Rowling's books are much more intricate than the films can reasonably duplicate, and that has been the rule all along. Screenwriter Steve Kloves has had the unenviable assignment of boiling these novels down, and I imagine if you asked seven different scribes to do it, you'd get seven different treatments.

The Half-Blood Prince is the darkest Harry Potter film yet, with the evil wizard Voldemort (I know, don't say his name) unleashed. Hogwart's School is under a magical shield to protect it from the dark lord's goon squad known as Death Eaters. Dumbledore (Gambon) has hired a new potions instructor, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), with the intent of Harry (Radcliffe) becoming his confidant so he can elicit a certain piece of information that will help defeat you-know-who. One problem: Harry isn't taking Potions classes, but Slughorn coaxes him and best friend Ron Weasley (Grint) into it with a charming demeanor. Having a good textbook helps, too. Harry gets his hands on a used potions book with all sorts of helpful handwritten notes in the margin by the "Half-Blood Prince." We don't know who he is, but he must've aced the class. I remember in college when the bookstores tried to talk us out of buying used course materials. There goes that argument.

Potter's nemesis, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), is on an evil mission of some kind, and Professor Snape (Rickman) has sworn to protect him and carry out that mission should Draco fail. That mission somehow involves a secret chamber (but not the "Chamber of Secrets") that makes things disappear, although on screen it looks more like a Gothic outhouse. One can sense Malfoy has trouble with the task assigned to him. He is not the swaggering bully of the previous films but a person burdened. Snape is, as always, that brooding creature we know well.

As for our heroes, their hormones are exerting themselves, looking for love without aid of a potion -- most of the time. Hermione (Watson) fancies Ron, but she's a rival to another girl who's impressed with Ron's Quiddich abilities. Harry's itching for one of Ron's sister's, but she's itching for someone else.

Even with that protective shield around Hogwarts, evil is still getting inside. First a girl is cursed by a necklace she was trying to deliver to Dumbledore, and Ron is poisoned by wine Slugworth was intending to give to the wizard-in-chief. Harry and Dumbledore know what's going on, lending urgency to Harry's mission to recover the necessary information from Slugworth.

The Half-Blood Prince delivers a reasonable plot, but not an entirely coherent one, mainly concerning the aforementioned Prince's old textbook. I guess we're supposed to believe it's evil in some way, but only because there's a need for Harry to get rid of it part-way through the film. Much is made of characters "snogging," and one scene between Ron and Harry talking about relationships feels more germane to a British sitcom than a Harry Potter flick. That's not to say that Radcliffe, Grint and Watson underperform. They make the most of what they have, but I wish they had more.

Does Being Patriotic Mean Never Having To Say You're Sorry?

Sarah Palin held her annual picnic this weekend, wearing a New England Patriots sweater and also providing some patriotic words, as reported by Politico:
Palin said: “I wish that some in the media would keep things like that in perspective, what is really important in our country. And what is important is our freedoms, America’s security, our liberty.”

Later, citing military families that have lost loved ones, she again drew loud applause by saying: “Let us continue to love our country, be proud of our country, never apologize for our country.”
That last bit was a swipe at President Obama's apologies while traveling abroad. Conservatives have pummeled him for it, including Rush Limbaugh in an interview on Fox News last week:
Lookit, Greta, he goes around the country, apologizes for this country everywhere he goes. He never once refers to, thinks about, talks about American exceptionalism.
And Karl Rove already got his word in last April:
Mr. Obama told the French (the French!) that America "has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe. In Prague, he said America has "a moral responsibility to act" on arms control because only the U.S. had "used a nuclear weapon." In London, he said that decisions about the world financial system were no longer made by "just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy" -- as if that were a bad thing. And in Latin America, he said the U.S. had not "pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors" because we "failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas.
Rove goes on to define the crux of the issue:
Mr. Obama makes it seem as though there is moral equivalence between America and its adversaries and assumes that if he confesses America's sins, other nations will confess theirs and change. But he won no confessions (let alone change) from the leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua or Russia. He apologized for America and our adversaries rejoiced. Fidel Castro isn't easing up on Cuban repression, but he is preparing to take advantage of Mr. Obama's policy shifts.

When a president desires personal popularity, he can lose focus on vital American interests. It's early, but with little to show for the confessions, David Axelrod of Team Obama was compelled to say this week that the president planted, cultivated and will harvest "very, very valuable" returns later. Like what?
An excellent question Mr. Rove. What is there to be gained by a president apologizing? Let's think this through.

First, we must accept that apologies in and of themselves are not a sign of weakness, despite what partisans may tell you. Job apologized to GOD for speaking about things he didn't understand (Job 42:1-6 NIV):
Then Job replied to the LORD :
"I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.'

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes."
Rush Limbaugh gets this. He had to apologize to our president earlier this year after laughing along with a caller who compared the commander-in-chief's looks to Curious George, the monkey from the classic children's books. The comparison carried racial overtones Limbaugh didn't recognize because he'd never heard of the character, and he quickly distanced himself once somebody informed him.

Just this week, President Obama apologized -- sort of -- for calling Cambridge police actions "stupid" in speaking about the Henry Gates arrest affair, after admitting he didn't know all the facts. It wasn't a flat-out apology for the words, but rather regret for not choosing the right ones:
Stepping before a surprised White House press corps, he said he regretted his July 22 statement and called [arresting officer Sgt. James] Crowley an "outstanding police officer and a good man."

"I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately ... gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically," the President said.

"I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sgt. Crowley."
A lot of people would say, "That's not an apology!" But you can make the same argument about President Obama's statements abroad the way Rove phrases them:
  • Telling the French that America "has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe

  • Saying America has "a moral responsibility to act" on arms control because only the U.S. had "used a nuclear weapon"

  • Saying that decisions about the world financial system were no longer made by "just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy" -- as if that were a bad thing

  • Saying in Latin America that the U.S. had not "pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors" because we "failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas
Look at those statements again carefully. In any of them, do you see the words "I'm sorry," or "I apologize" or "I regret we did this?" True, they may be inferred from the context, but there's a difference between making a direct, clear, explicit (and some would even say whiny) mea cupla and simply backing away from the previous administration's policies, something we would expect from a president of the opposite party.

George W. Bush made notable apologies during his term as well, one to Iraq for an American sniper using the Koran as target practice, another to Korea after two girls were struck and killed by an American military vehicle. As the New York Times reported on the latter:
''President Bush, who has visited Korea and has a special feeling for the Korean people, has been touched by this tragedy,'' said [American ambassador Thomas] Hubbard. ''Just this morning, the president sent me a message asking me to convey his apologies to the families of the girls, to the government of the Republic of Korea and to the people of Korea.''
Note the use of the word "apology." Here are two occasions where Americans clearly did something wrong, beyond a mere difference of policy opinion, and a president clearly apologized, not backtracked, not backpedaled or spin-doctored.

But if you are to apply Sarah Palin's logic without exception -- and saying "never apologize" leaves little room for that -- you're ordering President Bush to keep his mouth shut. It doesn't sound like a very "prudent" foreign policy, to borrow a word from his father.

I recognize there's a difference between apologizing for the policies of this nation's government and for the actions of individual citizens. Clearly, Sarah Palin is talking within the context of policy. But let's get real: many associate one with the other. Technically, President Bush wasn't responsible for either the Koran or the Korea incidents, yet he apologized on behalf of all of us, because he knows other nations form their opinion of America based on the actions of our citizens. In the movie Stripes, where the American GI's are walking into the barracks in Germany, a big sign hangs over their heads reminding them they are now "ambassadors" in a foreign country. I've never seen any sign like that in real life, but the directive to our troops is the same, and only a minuscule number of servicemembers fail to live up to that.

So yes, a president does need to apologize. But no, not everything that sounds like an apology is an apology. It may be construed as an apology if you're across the political spectrum, but taking a honest look at it -- a non-partisan look -- reveals otherwise.

Returning to Karl Rove's question, what "valuable returns" will President Obama gain from his statements overseas, if indeed you consider them apologies? Let's return to Rove's take on Obama's statements:
Mr. Obama makes it seem as though there is moral equivalence between America and its adversaries and assumes that if he confesses America's sins, other nations will confess theirs and change. But he won no confessions (let alone change) from the leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua or Russia.
Rove's argument here is that a public apology is only worthy if you get another apology in return. How many times does that happen in our own lives? You may have apologized for hurting a friend or a family member with your words or actions and not received forgiveness, let alone an apology in return. That's not the way things work, as Rove points out. However, the lack of quid pro quo shouldn't preclude us from making apologies in the first place. The Lord's Prayer commands us to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass upon us; it doesn't have a footnote saying "only if you get something back." I wonder what Rove thought about President Bush's apologies to Iraq and Korea. He might have told you it was the right thing to do. My point exactly.

But let me add apologies to that long list of things that are in the eye of the beholder. If it's not sincere enough for our tastes, it's not an apology. If they give even the slightest hint of remorse, it is an apology. I refuse to let my patriotism be defined on the basis of whether I've apologized for this nation... or not. The attitude smacks of that Vietnam-era slogan, "America, love it or leave it!"

I know this post is a little long. I apologize for that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

You've Got That Glow

Research now validates what was once a mere compliment... or a pickup line.

LiveScience reports:
Past research has shown that the body emits visible light, 1,000 times less intense than the levels to which our naked eyes are sensitive. In fact, virtually all living creatures emit very weak light, which is thought to be a byproduct of biochemical reactions involving free radicals.
And if you don't exactly light up somebody's life, the study explains why...
The researchers found the body glow rose and fell over the day, with its lowest point at 10 a.m. and its peak at 4 p.m., dropping gradually after that. These findings suggest there is light emission linked to our body clocks, most likely due to how our metabolic rhythms fluctuate over the course of the day.
Of course, being a light involves more than our metabolism, as 1 John 5-7 (NIV) explains:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Be Bright, my friends...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Party Poopers

Interesting reading from the AP about the growth of independents in Arizona:
New registration figures released Tuesday by Secretary of State Ken Bennett show the number of registered independents increasing by just less than 18,000 to nearly 898,000 since April.

Meanwhile, the number of registered Republicans slipped by slightly more than 2,000 to 1.1 million, and the number of Democrats dropped by slightly more than 1,000 to approximately 1 million.
To recap:
  • Democrats are losing members.

  • Republicans are losing even more members in one of the reddest states in the union.

  • Independents are growing at nearly six times the rate of the two major parties' losses -- combined.
Seems a lot of people really don't want to call themselves partisans, and who can blame them with the fringes defining each party -- rightly or wrongly.

Or maybe they're joining the Modern Whig Party. That's right, it's back. According to their website:
Revived by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the grassroots movement has quickly attracted tens of thousands of members. We represent moderate voters from all walks of life who cherry-pick between traditional Democratic and Republican ideals in what has been called the Modern Whig Philosophy.

This includes general principles of fiscal responsibility, strong national defense and bold social progression.
In my view, they're fiscally conservative and socially liberal, which means you can't really call them centrist.
FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY — The Modern Whig philosophy is to empower the states with the resources to handle their unique affairs.

ENERGY INDEPENDENCE — Reduce dependence on foreign oil by developing practical sources of alternative energy. This will have the simultaneous effect of changing the national security dynamic.

EDUCATION/SCIENTIFIC ADVANCEMENT — Increased public and private emphasis on fields such as space, oceanic, medical and nanotechnology. Also, providing common-sense solutions to enhance our educational system from pre-school to university-level studies.

STATES RIGHTS — Each state can generally determine its course of action based on local values and unique needs.

SOCIAL PROGRESSION — Government should refrain from legislating morality.

VETERANS AFFAIRS — Vigilant advocacy relating to the medical, financial, and overall well-being of our military families and veterans.
So why the "Whig" label? The party fashions itself after the Whigs of 1833 who modeled themselves after the patriots who opposed the tyranny of England.

Hmmm... elements of both parties seem to be tyrannizing us through their policies (i.e., deficit spending) or their polarization (i.e., if you're not with us, you're against us).

Ya think?

Friday, July 17, 2009

And That's The Way He Was

Walter Cronkite didn't invent network television news, but he refined it. He didn't invent the anchorman role, but he perfected it. He didn't tell you what to think about the news, but when he offered his methodical and reasoned commentary of Vietnam as a stalemate, an earthquake shook the Johnson administration.

Cronkite was a legend because he communicated the facts with unshakable grace and cool. You're bound to see that clip over and over again this weekend of him taking off his glasses while stating, "President Kennedy died at 1pm," with that tinge of sadness. What you may not see replayed is Cronkite quietly composing himself, putting the glasses back on and relaying the latest information on Lyndon Johnson and whether he had taken the presidential oath of office.

Here's more of Cronkite's coverage, starting from that landmark moment and continuing for nine minutes after:

Cronkite was no glamor boy. He didn't look like an anchor. But that didn't matter in Cronkite's time, when consultants didn't shape your wardrobe... or anything about you on the air. We'll never have another anchorman like him because the industry demands more style and more emotion. But you knew that already, and maybe you were lamenting that long before Uncle Walter passed away.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Liberate Yourself

Over the weekend, a dear friend of mine sent an email to myself and many others offering a lament and warning about the abuse of our freedoms. I didn't see it myself, but on the 4th of July, while we were marching in Flagstaff and giving thanks to GOD for our freedom and considering the ways by which we should honor HIM, I am told an anti-government protest took place featuring a man carrying a sign referring to President Obama as "the great Satan."

Our Constitution gave this person the right to carry this sign. That was not in dispute. But as my friend asked, was this a wise use of liberty? No.

If you remember the opening moments of the 1971 TV movie, "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story," (which was the precursor to The Waltons TV series) you may recall a child being scolded for mocking President Franklin Roosevelt. Even if you don't remember that scene, how many of you were reprimanded for showing disrespect toward a sitting President?

That movie was set in the Great Depression, and truth be told, that period of time had plenty of anti-government speech, subversive elements and radio rabblerousers like Father Coughlin. But since then, technology has made it easier for all of us to vent publicly, and a series of government failures -- Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the House Bank and Post Office scandals, the Clinton scandals, Abu Ghraib, etc. -- have given us plenty of excuses to say, "Why should we respect our leaders? They don't respect us!"

So now we have a hyperpartisan America, where moderation and civility is not only passe, it's as a sign of weakness. "Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous," observed Margaret Thatcher. "You get knocked down by the traffic from both sides."

Several months ago, I told you about the shock and awe of some of my colleagues after they attended a town hall meeting on a minor annexation project -- as citizens, mind you, not the media -- and watched it degrade into an incendiary spectacle. They were amazed to see the level of venom. I wasn't. This is the bitter harvest of all our rotten seeds, the talk radio-ization of American politics all the way down to the local level. We shouldn't wonder what happened.

What's more, many of the people behind the caustic speech in the media call themselves Christians. I guess they forgot James 1:25-27 (NIV):
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it —- he will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Our Founding Fathers realized freedom came from GOD. But they also realized sin has consequences. They knew abuse of freedom would lead to disaster. Our system of government and the freedoms guaranteed by it are still very much a great experiment. If we as free Americans allow ourselves to be "polluted by the world" and abuse our freedoms, we will lose them. We will give our government every reason to rein us in and restrict us beyond what we can bear, and with GOD's permission. We won't even be able to protest it.

As my friend pointed out in the Bible, Luke 6:45 (NIV) says:
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
All of us are going to gripe about this or that in the government, and let's be clear: it's not a sin to disagree with your leaders. But when hate slips into the argument, and you seethe with anger to the point of characterizing someone as Satan or wanting to see them destroyed, that's not righteous anger.

Furthermore, I find it distressing that some groups practice this kind of hate and claim to have GOD on their side. Over the weekend, I watched the wonderful movie Cromwell on DVD in which the title character, the leader of the Puritans in the English Civil war, speaks this line: "Every man who wages war believes GOD is on his side. I'll warrant GOD should often wonder who is on his."

As Bishop Fulton J. Sheen observed, true freedom as defined by GOD isn't doing what you want, but doing what you ought. That's the freedom our Founding Fathers risked their lives for. If liberty shall survive, it will be because we liberate ourselves from the radicals and the hate-mongers and all those who let otherwise noble purposes -- like protecting and strengthening this nation and its freedoms -- degrade into numbing incivility.

I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh all through my college years. I don't anymore. I don't miss him. I keep away from partisan blogs and the cable pundit shows. I don't have any desire to jump into the fray. I pray each day for GOD to give me wisdom and purify my heart, and yet I still struggle from time to time. We all will, but we've got to keep on trying.

Be free, but be noble, My Dear Readers.

Persona Non Palin

Love her or hate her, you have to admit this: somebody as divisive as former Gov. Sarah Palin just isn't a viable candidate for president. I know that's what people said about Hillary Clinton before she became a powerful contender, but look what happened when Sen. Barack Obama's campaign got rolling.

The L.A. Times tells us today what most of us already knew: Palin is that person GOP bigwigs don't want around:
"I am of the strong opinion that, at present day, she is not ready to be the leading voice of the GOP," said Todd Harris, a party strategist who likened Palin to the hopelessly dated "Miami Vice" -- something once cool that people regard years later with puzzlement and laughter. "It's not even that she hasn't paid her dues. I personally don't think she's ready to be commander in chief."

Others suggest a delayed response to last year's shaky campaign performance, now that the race is over and Republicans feel free to speak their minds.

"I can't tell you one thing she brought to the ticket," said Stuart K. Spencer, who has been advising GOP candidates for more than 40 years. "McCain wanted to shock and surprise people, and he did -- in a bad way."
A lot of people will write this off as just another "hit piece" from the "liberal media." Sounds like something Sarah Palin herself would say. However, these aren't anonymous sources or "party insiders" feeding the quotes. The backlash against Palin is real and significant.

It wouldn't take much to derail a Palin candidacy (hint: Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney). So why even try to run? Palin's most effective role right now is serving as a conservative cheerleader and working the speaking circuit, which she has indicated she will do. She could turn herself into a hipper, kinder version of Ann Coulter -- before Coulter implodes from or chokes on her own hate.

No presidential run, no way, no how. That's a solution the partisans and the moderates can live with.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reel To Reel: Public Enemies

You are completely surrounded by gunfire!

Going Rate: Not more than matinee price. Waiting for the DVD won't hurt.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale
Rated: R
Red Flags: Intense and copious machine gun shooting, some blood, some language

Notorious gangster John Dillinger (Depp) thought he was smarter than the cops. He had a point, having escaped from prison at least twice and either slipping away from the law or blasting his way out. But his power stemmed from organization: knowing who to hang with, how to plan, and how to execute -- in more ways than one. His FBI pursuer, Agent Melvin Purvis (Bale), had guns, guys, and guts, but his agency was just beginning to plug into the advanced techniques of crimefighting.

Public Enemies is the contest between the lawbreaker and the law, one where director Michael Mann gets to remake his 1995 movie Heat, including the explosve automatic-weapons gunfight. Watching that scene alone justified the ticket price. Mann forgot to fix some of the earlier film's problems, however, notably some disjointed scenes and droopy dialogue. The picture spends too much time talking and not enough time shooting or explaining how a notorious bank robber became such a folk hero. It also omits several major details or gums up others, like Dillinger's arrest in Tucson after a fire at the Hotel Congress. Even the hotel in the film isn't Hotel Congress.

Don't take anything away from Depp. He does his best with limited material, showing some depth and gangster charm along with a gritty sensibility. Dillinger had several relationships with "dolls," but the movie focuses on his time with Evelyn "Billie" Frechette (Marion Cotillard). Johnny's running and gunning leaves them without a place to settle down, but Billie can't resist a guy who takes her out of her coat-check job and into a richer, if dangerous, lifestyle.

You can sum up the rest of the film as nothing special: gangsters talking business save for the two breakout scenes. Watching Dillinger sneak out of a fortified Illinois lockup is one of the movie's high points, as is a running gunbattle in the third act of the picture hyphenated by the rat-a-tat-tatting of Thompson submachine guns. We know they're deadly, but they're oh so fun to watch.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Live From Kansas City, It's Michael Jackson!

The massive demand for tickets to Michael Jackson's memorial reminds me of when he and his brothers kicked off their "Victory" tour in Kansas City in 1984, where my family and I were living at the time.

It all began with a rumor that the tour would pass through KC. Nobody expected it to be the starting point. But when the news hit, it hit huge. Of course, Michael was the one people wanted to see. His brothers were just the back-up band.

Getting tickets to the three shows at Arrowhead stadium depended on the luck of the draw. You had to fill out an application in the Kansas City Star to buy four tickets and send it off, along with your money -- $120 by money order. A computer randomly picked who got the tickets. Sound familiar?

The purchasing process generated some grumbling, but you didn't have any choice. While the applications flowed in, workers at Arrowhead Stadium were making some quick improvements, like tearing up and lowering part of the entrance to the field to accommodate the Jacksons' equipment truck. When opening night arrived on July 6th, audience members had to pass through several metal detectors to get to their seats. Michael and his brothers made the lead of every local newscast and Nightline.

I didn't see the show. I was just a kid with no concert money, but I know my brother Michael (yes, that's his name) would've loved it. He had Thriller, he had the single glove, and he had some of the moves. I don't think he knew the moonwalk, but he sure tried.

Michael Jackson put the spotlight on Kansas City for three days in 1984, when the rest of the country thought the place was just a boring midwest city surrounded by cows and wheat fields. He and his brothers had every reason to start someplace bigger, but Kansas Citians will never forget what he brought to town, whether they saw the show or not.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

...For Such A Time As This

Photos by David Francis

To my left and right, throngs of people pack every inch of sidewalk space in downtown Flagstaff, waving their flags and snapping pocket camera photos. They cheer for us. We cheer for them -- "Huzzah, Huzzah!" We're moving on the double-quick, the parade organizers having kicked things off on time.

Then two men, advanced in years, stand up and place their baseball caps over their hearts in reverence as the lines of re-enactor Continental, Confederate and Union soldiers march past.

"It's an honor to represent them, isn't it?" our General observes with a smile of admiration.

Later, in a moment of prayer and reflection, he asks, "How do we glorify GOD?" It is an open-ended question, with legions of possible answers. But it is also a question that delves deep into the heart of our souls and leads to another query: Why are we here?

Why am I here? What makes me get up at 4am and drive 300 miles to spend less than one hour marching in a parade? In that heavy regimental coat and tight set of breeches? How did I end up with this group now standing around the Washington Tree on the campus of Northern Arizona University?

The simple answer is because re-enacting uplifts me, and it uplifts others. It pays tribute to those who had ten times more guts than I currently possess. Simple as it is, though, that explanation just does not suffice, not when our leader asks us if we have ever thought about why GOD brought us into this world on the dates we know as our birthdays, and not some other time. As Esther 4:14 says: "...And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

Some friends have asked: "Do you ever think you were born in the wrong time?" It is not an easy question to brush aside, given my love of living history, especially from the 18th Century. Yet if I answer yes, I say GOD has made a mistake, and HE does not do that.

A minister at my church has cautioned me not to get frustrated trying to figure out GOD's specific mission for me. "GOD wants us to love HIM, serve HIM, and obey HIM." Beyond that, I'm told, GOD gives us a lot of latitude and freedom.

But how do I explain all of these life experiences as latitude... or chance?
  • Born in Independence, Missouri. Not a bad place of origin for a future Patriot.

  • Named "Christopher," Greek for "bearer of Christ."

  • Grew up in the Presbyterian church, and developed some acting skills in the youth group.

  • Studied the art of oratory in high school.

  • Switched from aspirations of a Computer Science degree and aspirations of a job at Microsoft to a job in broadcast journalism, known for long hours, low pay, and low prestige. Depending on who you talk to, a circle of the underworld is reserved for the media.

  • Mysteriously developed this affection for three-cornered hats.

  • Decided to visit Colonial Williamsburg in 2004 and found it an inspiring and emotional experience.

  • Attended the American Heritage Festival two years in a row, decided not to visit again unless I could be on the battlefield and not the sidelines.

  • Decided to attend a historic ball...
So GOD didn't tell me where HE wanted me to go. HE didn't issue a mission statement with my birth certificate. But HE did point me, nudge me and reorient me along the way, even in those fifteen or so years I had drifted away from HIM. HE wanted me back.

A lot of us would say we do not want to be "used." But I know GOD is using me, and that's amazing and humbling to the point of misty eyes. HE chose me to do this, be this re-enacted soldier, this 18th Century gentleman, this brave and merry Highlander, this humble Puritan and all the other historical personas. HE chose me to love a form of dance many people I know would find constricting and unimaginative. HE gave me this affinity for bowing to people. HE put those desires within me, because I know without a doubt they didn't come from within my own heart. Or maybe they were trapped in there, yearning for liberation.

So in our time of prayer, I offer thanks out loud that GOD has chosen all of us standing around the Washington Tree. We're re-enacted soldiers, I observe, but we're still soldiers all the same, with our mission to carry out GOD's work on this earth. We're so glad to have that mission, realizing that just as much as we believe in GOD, HE believes in us.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy Sails!

We uncovered this in the log of the Wayward Star, the longtime ship of Captain Bartholomew Burgundy. Up until now, we knew him as a gentleman privateer and so-so swashbuckler, deadlier with charm than a cutlass.

But here he reveals himself to be a bit of a bard, telling the story of what may be the final Buccaneers' Ball in what may be a shanty. The music is lost, but the lyrics survive.

Never seen I, at land o' at sea,
Such a band of fierce ruffians, hearts all full'o glee,
A truce be declared, for only one night,
No trech'ry or backwashin', not one single swordfight.

Our Dred Captain did lead us, Pirate Queen by 'is side,
The Plankwalkers fiddled, Bahama Becky our guide,
Easy turning an' swinging were the steps she did choose,
For the captain said, "this ain't no disco cruise!"

If Jack Sparrow could see it, now, wha' would 'e say?
All these pirates a' prancin' jus as plain as th' day!
An' the ladies did join them, this scraggly lot,
Shewing scraps of refinement, what little they'd got.

But our Cap'n indulged us with something merry and big,
When 'e allowed all 'is guests to partake of the jig!
To not know thi' dance is a seafarin' sin,
Or to let others caper without cutting in?

I worked me way onto the deck with a tap,
To seek a out a fine buc, without need 'f a map.
Her steps wer' so measured an' formal indeed,
To all who jigged wi' her, this lady could lead!

We amused ourselves on th' Dred Cap'n's orders:
Defend Cap'n Morgan from a series of boarders!
On the deck his shipmates fought bravely and bold,
Tagged anyon' out when they went for the gold.

They wer' only a few, and we could not be taunted,
Got around his ship's sentries, an' got what we wanted.
But 'tis all in good fun, and soon all did sing
Birthday wishes for June's crew, dancing round in a ring.

The Cap'n had booty for the pirates who came,
If they wer' drawn from th' hat an' could excerpt from their brain,
A historical fact, wi' person and dates,
Or be left t' suffer th' will 'a their mates!

We sang praises to Noah, tha' fine sailor of old.
Who took a boat full 'f animal load.
He survived all th' bleating, the roarin' and howlin',
An' tha' was just from his sons wh' were poutin'!

We sashayed, promenaded an' led 'round th' room,
Do-si-doed and changed places like a sail on th' loom.
But when th' waltz play'd, th' only steps I cou'd take
Were turns 'f fine grace, fer my lady mate's sake.

She was known far an' wide as a charmer, th' lass,
Her dress 'f bright red, th' symbol of class.
I invited he' wi' me, not forgetting a chance
T' share mannered moments in music an' dance.

Other pirates may jig 'till they drop dead, but yet,
I don' think they could improvise a minuet.
So we danced wi' all spirit, free hands high 'n th' air,
Turning roun' past each' other wi' nary a care.

She followed me leadin', like a face in the mirror,
Took eac' step as I walked it, wi' no trace 'o fear.
Back 'n forth to each other, with a twirl and a swing,
Bal-an-say, now a side step, such 'e beautiful thing!

I may raid th' ships, I may bask 'n th' plunder,
I may sail out to other lands chock full 'a wonder,
An' all'a that's good for a privateer's life,
But I know tha' I'm still much a gentl'man... fer life!

See more pictures from the merry evening here.

Thank you to We Make History for five years' worth of Buccaneer's Balls and unforgettable moments! Captain Burgundy has sailed off... but he shall return, somehow, someday, somewhere.