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Monday, January 30, 2012

Is writing not enough?

As one might derive from the fact that I have a blog, I fancy myself as a writer. The best things about being a blogger are that I have no overhead - thanks to my free Blogger account - and I don't need to worry about poor reviews from critics; mainly because I doubt any self-respecting critics have heard of me.

                              Bill HE is creative!

As I glory in my creative freedom, I do still pine for the day that I will be a full-fledged, published novelist. The only problem is, by the time my novel(s) are ready to burst onto the literary scene and sell millions of copies in forty languages, will writing a novel be enough? I watched the video below on the BBC and, if the message is to be believed, written novels are now only one part of a larger media production.

Click to watch: Fiction Gets Technology Makeover

I work a full-time job that only takes up half of a day. Unfortunately, it's the first half. This leaves scant time available for plot and character development, endless drafts, happy daydreaming about how to turn a phrase just so, and all those other authorly things. I know what you're thinking, "Well, if you only work half-days, then use the other time to write, you ninny!"

About that.

In my line of work, half-days mean 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (half of a 24-hour day), with lunch usually at my desk. There's another hour or so for driving to and from the office, chores at home, time spent with my lovely wife...and so on. Did I mention how much I love sleep?

But this isn't a, 'woe is me' blog belaboring my as-yet incomplete novels. I'd like other writers to weigh in on whether, to paraphrase Shakespeare, 'The novel is the thing,' and whether I need to be a creative writer and a multimedia specialist.

"Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand—a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods—or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values."
Willa Cather

I'm not convinced there are any new and untried novels out there (except for mine, of course). After all, there are really a finite number of themes to write about - love, betrayal, etc. Many modern (i.e. popular) novelists seem to believe that these themes can all be refreshed by casting the protagonist as either a vampire, werewolf or zombie; or someone in conflict with one of these misunderstood monsters-du-jour. In which case I would put their product (e.g. Twilight) firmly in Ms. Cather's first category of writing.

I don't have all the answers. But I do have questions. And the question today is, can I focus solely on writing my books or do I have to partition some of my ever-shrinking writing time to decide on things like (the need for) book trailers, companion websites, interactive content, multi-media overlays, etc.?

From what I've found concerning book trailers - admittedly something that should likely not be pondered at all until the novel is complete - it's not a matter of, 'Should I have a book trailer?' as much as making sure I have a good one. Angela Wilson, a multimedia producer is interviewed on this blog regarding, among other things, the need for authors to have a media kit. It's been very difficult to find specific information on multimedia in publishing beyond these few nuggets.

The BBC video I linked to above scares me into believing that I have to media-ize my novel, yet there seems to be no great oracle of advice concerning how to do that on the great, wide Internet. My gut tells me to just write the darn novels then worry about such things. But, as I've alluded to above, will that be enough?

How about some input from the writing community? What do you think?


Friday, January 27, 2012

I'll try the veal

"What would you like this evening, sir?" the waiter inquired ingratiatingly.

After perusing the menu for several minutes, I still didn't have a clear idea of what I most felt like eating for dinner. He was standing there, looking at me; pen poised expectantly over his order pad. I may have begun to perspire under the pressure. An image of a cartoon ogre popped into my head, "I'll try the veal," I blurted.

                                          I'm here all week...

Last week in my blog No Apologies, I briefly tackled the subject of apologetics. In my readings since then, I seem to keep coming across interesting concepts, either in articles, blog entries or just in my own head, that center on the subject.

The more I read and think about this, the more it seems that for most folks, Christianity is like veal: just another choice. In other words, being a Christian has less to do with truth or at least any real commitment to God - than it does with just being a personal choice like what to wear today or what to have for lunch.

Any real discussion on religion that includes Christianity is, frankly, in error.

"WHAT?!?!" you exclaim. "Christianity is the largest religion in the world!"


Despite what you might read on, or what you might learn on Wikipedia, Christianity in it's true form is not a religion, per se. I would hazard that most people when asked what the term religion means would answer something like, "It's the practice of religious beliefs," or "something to do with the ritual observances of faith."

Buddhism is listed as a religion, yet in Buddhism there is no god. Wikipedia - referencing estimates that the non-religious/agnostic/atheism crowd numbers 1.1 billion, making it the third largest religion in the world. Then in the footnotes, they confusingly state: Nonreligious includes agnostic, atheist, secular humanist, and people answering 'none' or no religious preference. Half of this group is theistic but nonreligious.


                               Where's your Buddha now, Beni?

I look at religion as the unnecessary but comfortable trappings of belief. Once we choose to believe in something, we need little things to affirm that we made the right choice when the going gets tough. The Jesus on your dashboard, listening to Let it Be and being reminded of Jesus' mom, the cross, Star of David, or other symbols worn around the neck, hanging on the wall, or smiling at us from your bumper.

                                     Can't we just all get along?

The Coexist folks believe - and please, correct me if I'm wrong - that if we'd quit trying to force our religion on each other, the world would be a better place. I see it as a cop out. It's like going to a restaurant and ordering a glass of water. Not making a choice is still a choice. Even worse, making a choice because it feels the best - seemed like a good idea at the time - allows you to recant at a moments notice. Kind of the modern, real-life equivalent of Beni when faced with the danger that the mummy was going to eat him.

So what on earth does this have to do with apologetics?

Today I was thinking about this while posting a comment on this blog. The gist of the blog was sort of an academic structuring of apologetics and suggestions about which particular aspect would have a greater impact on bringing non-believers or seekers around to our way of believing. I found the comments section to be a more spirited read than the actual blog post - something I occasionally look for here on The Stream.

After reading the blog and many of the opinions, I posted my own - I couldn't help myself. But in reading, and rereading, my response, I discovered that the opening of my response was the most important - not that the balance wasn't good stuff - but the rest of what I wrote was merely in support of those earlier three sentences:

I didn't accept Christ in my life because someone convinced me that Christianity was the best option. Although I can point to people in my life who influenced me to start considering Christ, and eventually, to start talking with God; I am a Christian today because of a singular event in my life when I clearly heard God calling me to Him - and answering that call.

Like apologetics, the rest is just additive. When I go to a restaurant and select veal, or fish, or whatever, it's because that's what I feel like at the moment. I did not choose Christianity to be my religion. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. There is a HUGE difference between the two.

In the end, what most folks call religion is not something (in my humble opinion) that can be changed like socks. And, I suppose, that's where apologetics comes in. Followers of Christ believe that He is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to God (the Father) except through Him. Because of that, we do feel compelled to share our faith and beliefs with others. It's not that we're trying to disrespect what other's believe. Seriously. We believe that God has given humankind a gift - the ability to have a personal, loving and individual relationship with Him.

If you get a cool car or a nice bracelet or tickets to the Superbowl as a gift, you will share that fact with others, right? You'll give others a ride in your car and ask, "It's nice, isn't it?"

You might lend your bracelet to a friend so they can enjoy it too. You might even invite your friend to the Superbowl if you have an extra ticket.

It's like that with Jesus. Only infinitely better.

What do you think?


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Uncle Oscar

This Slate article lambasts the Oscars - otherwise known as the Academy Awards to the bourgeois masses. An Academy Award is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers. And these days it seems like just about anyone associated with a film - and now the Oscar for best gaffer in a musical or comedy...

The Academy Award of Merit - the official name for the Oscar - is a statuette of a knight standing on a reel of film gripping a crusader’s sword. Which may explain why Hollywood has been on a crusade to drive high quality films from the cinema. But that's a blog for another day. In case you're wondering where the name Oscar came from, the statue was actually nameless until 1931 when, according to Hollywood legend, an Academy secretary claimed that it looked like her uncle Oscar.

But enough about the 8.5 lb., gold plated, tin and copper statuette - Dan Kois' Slate article seeks public opinion on how to fix the Oscars - which is also the official nickname of the telecast that highlights the most prestigious awards.

I don't believe that Kois thinks there is anything fundamentally wrong with the concept of the awards themselves, it's more to do with the delivery of the telecast. He seems to be hung up on the poor hosts, dumb categories and interminable dance numbers. My take on fixing the telecast has more to do with how it used to be rather than containing anything useful for increasing the quality of this March's ceremony. So, in a sense, this blog is about as valuable as the films that will be nominated for the awards themselves.

37 million people are reported to have watched the Oscars last year. That number did not include me. I grew up watching Bob Hope then Johnny Carson host. To me, these were the halcyon days, er nights, of Oscar. I like Billy Crystal - I'll still watch City Slickers if I come across it channel surfing - but I'm not sure he exudes the appropriate gravitas to carry it off.

                     18-time host Bob Hope

To truly be able to host the Oscars, you need two things; the first is pure, unadulterated star power. Hope had it, Carson had it. Crystal? Eh! Not so much. I'm racking my brain trying to think of someone who might have the requisite star power and I'm failing miserably. Is there a star left in Hollywood? Clooney? Pitt? Hanks? Maybe. But then I think they would fail the second test: the ability to be funny. I don't mean insulting (Ricky, are you listening?), I mean truly, hilariously, inside-jokingly funny. Part of it involves having the stature (see #1) to not fear reprisals; part is that certain je ne c'est quoi that the greats had. Conan? Leno? Letterman? Stewart? Nope. Sorry. All of those guys are way too obvious.

        Franco and Hathaway - not exactly Astair and Rogers...

Wait, you say; this is the Terrific Tens; a new century. What about having a lady host? Okay. I’m game. Take the criteria above and tell me who’s got it? Oprah? Sorry, not funny. DeGeneres? Sorry, she’s funny and can probably pull off the humor, but she doesn’t have the star power. Ellen did host one year.

Think about it. The stars of the fifties, sixties, and even the seventies (with those hideous tuxedoes) were stars that didn’t have to work at being stars. They weren't movie stars because we made them stars...they just were. Lauren Bacall? Bogart? Peck? Wayne? Taylor? I could go on. They were Hollywood. Today, Hollywood is just a place in California. The iconic sign is more famous than the studios or the pictures they produce. Back in the day Hollywood was the place! Bogey would have squinted through the smoke and said, “The thing that dreams are made of.”
                                                      Movie stars...

Then he would’ve kicked James Franco’s butt.
What do you think?


Sunday, January 22, 2012

No Apologies

All in all is all we are...

Kurt Cobain sang these words in the Nirvana song All Apologies. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on where Kurt was coming from, but I believe it's fairly obvious in hindsight that he was struggling with his place in the world.

The search for ourselves - for purpose - seems to be paramount in each of us. My own, personal, opinion is that as the years unfold, humanity as a whole seems to elevate self a little more with each turning page of the calendar.

All in all is all we are? That phrase almost sounds like an indictment of the thought that each of us is just a drop in the sea of humankind. One drop being as good - or bad - as any other. And in the end, with the realization that each of us is no better than one another, comes the cry, "Is this all we are?"

There seem to be three major thought lines when it comes to God:
  1. God is the creator of everything and if I believe in one of the major interpretations (i.e. Islam, Christianity or Judaism) I will go to Heaven
  2. God can be found in a unique and personal way by each person; in fact, God may be different for each of us so we cannot restrict our definition of an infinite God with any finite religion
  3. God does not exist
Christians are often castigated for trying to force our religion onto others. And I have to admit that with some Christians there appears to be an element of the inferno present as they go about trying to convert others.
                 Images of the inferno abound...

What can you say to someone who believes there is no God - or maybe even more difficult - to someone who believes there are an infinite number of gods, perhaps as many as one for each of us?

I find it interesting that the defense of Christian belief is known as apologetics. Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind is that we (yes, I count myself among the Christians) must somehow apologize for our faith - or at least apologize for speaking to others about it. I think what many would want us to apologize for is the concept that whoever is without faith in Jesus will suffer an eternity of torment, in separation from God.

I don't want to get into a debate about heaven and hell today, although readers can feel free to raise those questions in the comments section and I'll be happy to participate in the discussion!

What I wanted to share was one statement articulated by Alistair Begg this morning. To preface his words, I want to highlight Romans 1:19-20...

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

In other words, the proof of God is all around us - if we only take the time to perceive it. How this was presented by Pastor Begg was thus:

God's disclosure of Himself in creation is sufficient to convince, but not convert.

Knowing that a little more explanation would help clarify his point, Pastor Begg continued with the assertion that Romans 1:19-20 was sufficient to render men and women accountable to God, but was not sufficient to convert them to God.

These assertions are not only at the heart of why Christians feel compelled to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who deny God's existence, but also why we believe it is crucial to share the Gospel with anyone who does not believe in His redeeming grace.  Simply put, to truly believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to save humankind from eternal separation from God, is to be appalled at the thought that even one of God's children will face eternity without God.

So, without apologizing for my beliefs, if I talk to you about God and the need that all of us have for salvation, it's not because I'm trying to convert you in the sense of forcing you to believe something. The evidence is all around us, but it is up to you to convert yourself. In a way, a part of number two above is correct: each of us has a personal decision to make regarding our relationship with God. It is not that there are an infinite number of gods, it's just that He has the heart capacity for an infinite number of personal relationships with His children.

No apologies.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Eye of Newt

As usual, the networks have extrapolated polling results from a tiny fraction of actual votes and declared Newt Gingrich the winner of the 2012 South Carolina republican primary. There's no doubt that this is a crucial election for the future of America. So, let's take a look at some things that we're fighting for:

Lego Ninja
                         Lego isn't for squares anymore

In between...well, I was going to say acceptance speeches, I was bailing from the incessant chatter of folks who want us to believe they know what they're talking about. Shrek the Third was airing on Cartoon Network. Our candidates keep talking about saving our country from the evil Lord Obama for the next generation.


              Wave your torches and pitchforks!

I think it just reinforced the truth that there are no Prince Charmings...even ones that sing Al Green standards.

Let's take that thought - the Next Generation. What is our next generation being raised on?

Dancing Bananas
Dancing banana...with buttocks

To summarize, we're voting in the 2012 Presidential election because we want the right person to lead our country and resolve the crippling economic issues that will decimate our country and leave it in shambles as the Ninja Lego connecting, Ogre loving, banana dancing generation comes of age.

To be fair, if we elect Newt as our president, maybe this had something to do with it:

See, it won't be so bad, if someone turns you into a can get better.

What do you think?


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Soap oR Money?

Yesterday, I wrote in this blog about struggling for subject matter. Today, it's clear that there are major topics of great import that can yea, verily, be blogged for ages. As a matter of fact, I could probably milk these two topics for a week's worth of blog posts, if not more.

HR.3261e, entitled "To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes," better known as SOPA or the "Stop Online Piracy Act," certainly has folks in a lather. 

I have to admit, I haven't read the entire bill but if social media is to be believed, passage of HR. 3261e would signify the end of life as we know it. Perhaps a more rational view can be found in this Slate article.  Matthew Yglesias (no relation to Julio that I know of) opines that a little piracy is not necessarily a bad thing.

Frankly, I'm of two minds about that school of thought. First, as a writer - albeit with very little copyright material in the public domain that people are willing to pay me for - I am totally with those who fear that the fruit of their creative loins, as it were, is in danger from scurvy-infested Internet pirates seeking to make off with their (our) intellectual booty.

         Image courtesy of some website...

However, as inferred in the caption underneath yon image of our most famous modern-day pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (aka Johnny Depp), I freely borrowed said picture - that someone slaved over for days - to spruce up my low-rent (actually no rent) blog.

Does that make me a pirate? No more than setting my Facebook profile to Pirate English does, I'm afraid. In fact, my use of this image brings no material benefit to me at all and could conceivably provide additional, free advertising for the film in question.

The story would be different if I was getting paid to write this blog and was able to generate more revenue for myself through the inclusion of Johnny's mascara'd image. Even so, unless I was raking in significant lucre merely through the inclusion of a copyrighted image, it's doubtful that the studio and it's heirs and appurtenances would be losing out.

One last note before we move on...the Internet - the part that remained open yesterday - was awash with cries of anguish from students denied their primary research source...Wikipedia. I'm no modern scholar but when I was taking some college courses in the last few years, Wikipedia was not on the approved reference list. So kids, maybe you need to start using that old social media fallback from days gone by: the Library.

                             My favorite (fictional) librarian

Second on my list of never-ending topics is the excitement of the unfolding republican primary. The current front runner, Mitt Romney, is an amazing amalgam of a man seeking to be everything to everyone.

Regular readers of The Stream will have no doubts as to my theology - or, if you do, I've done a poor job of communicating and have yet another never-ending topic to mine! But we'll get to the theological side of the Mitt Romney question in a moment. First, let's look at his candidacy from a secular viewpoint.

R. Money, a Slate article about Mitt by John Dickerson, talks about Governor Romney's propensity to try and make out like the everyman, but somehow he always ends up making comments that highlight how much money he has. I'm not averse to people making money; I think it's wonderful. And I'm definitely in line with folks who think we need rich business people to give a lot of us jobs. But no one likes a person who keeps bringing up the fact that they have a lot of money. That's gauche.

Case in point: Dickerson highlights a comment Mitt made when talking about his speaker fees; Mitt is quoted as saying part of his income came from "...speakers' fees from time to time, but not very much." Apparently, the actual amount was nearly $400,000.

This clearly highlights how out of touch Governor Romney is with the great majority of the American people. If you asked me this year how much money I had available to spend on Christmas gifts for my entire family and I answered you, "Not much," the actual amount would be nearly $400.

We're talking factors of ten here...

At heart, the issue is not about Romney being wealthy. It's about his ability to translate the skills that made him wealthy into real benefit for America.  I don't think he can.

Another large issue with Governor Romney - even though he won't cop to it - is the fact he is Mormon.

                 Will the real Joseph Smith please stand up?

Christians believe in the human birth and death of Jesus Christ - and in His divine resurrection, and that Jesus was also the Son of God - the second person of the Holy Trinity. God is not three different entities when we talk of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These refer to different iterations of the one, true God.

In his article Could you vote for a Mormon, Dr. Jerry Newcombe raises a few valid points about Governor Romney's chosen faith. Dr. Newcombe begins by noting importantly that, "Mormons tend to make great neighbors and friends; they tend to be honest and hard-working people."

This isn't about tearing down people, it's about clearing up the fact that Mormonism does not line up with traditional Christianity. So, if you're a Christian and you are contemplating voting for Mitt Romney because you believe his faith is your might want to take another look.

That is, of course, unless you buy into the idea that when you die, you too can become a god and get your own universe to play in; kinda like an eternal game of The Sims.

I'm just saying...

In summary, if I download a song or two from the Internet or watch a video on YouTube of a copyrighted song like the one below, the world will not end. And Simon Le Bon won't go broke.

And Mitt Romney likes being rich more than he likes you. And he believes that he will die and become a god; which won't be much of a change from being president - if he gets elected. Well, except gods get their own planet, not just part of one.

What do you think?


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Paper or Plastic?

I've been in a bit of a funk lately; I feel like the blog is going well, with my writing output becoming more frequent. However, the last few days I've been considering what would make a good subject for the next entry. As you may have gathered by now, I believe I have found a worthy theme:

Driving home today I heard NPR roll out a teaser about an upcoming story - a skier in trouble for...wait for it...wearing plastic underwear.

Unfortunately I didn't get to hear the story but it is on the NPR website.

Briefly, Slovene World Cup Alpine skier Tina Maze had her full-body stocking (worn under her ski suit) confiscated by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Apparently, those nice, neutral folks from the Swiss Ski Federation accused Ms. Maze of wearing plastic undergarments in an effort to gain a competitive advantage.


I know what you're could plastic underwear aid a downhill skier? Honestly? I don't understand the technical parts of this sport so I'll just present exhibit A:

Competition suits and clothing worn underneath, such as underwear, etc.,may not be plasticised or treated by any chemical means (gaseous, liquid or solid) and must have a minimum permeability of 30 litres per m2/sec. [Specifications for Competition Equipment and Commercial Markings - Edition 2011/2012; Section 5]

I know most of my ardent readership won't have time to pour over the entire fifty-four page tome dedicated to keeping the playing field, er slopes, of professional skiers everywhere level. But obviously, the Swiss believe that those sneaky Slovenes, to whit, one Ms. Tina Maze, has secretly plasticized her under-suit-garments in an effort to gain more velocity.

SKI Magazine Editor-in-Chief Greg Ditrinco related to Robert Siegel on NPR's All things Considered how the difference between fifth place and first place can be measured in hundredths of seconds. I'm no mathematician but it sounds to me like if downhill skiing were the Kentucky Derby, the first five horses would cross the finish line - at least to the naked eye - in a virtual dead heat. So naturally, the FIS wants to make sure the rules are clear. And thanks to Mr. Ditrinco, I now know that air penetrating the outer suit will create drag as it permeates any undergarments; whereas air that is caused to flow around the skier, say, by plastic underwear, would create less drag and therefor give said skier a scientifically measurable advantage over the competition.

Fox Sports reports that although FIS President Gian Franco Kasper has agreed Ms. Maze's undergarments passed muster with regard to permeability the underwear should not be worn because it might contain some plastic parts that could prevent a body from breathing.


I'm sure the Swiss were merely concerned that Ms. Maze's fabric wasn't breathable and was thus a hazard to her health. Kaspar went on to say that, "We have to change our rules. It has to be made very clear — if (underwear) is plastified, it is forbidden."

Let me refer you back to Exhibit A. What on earth is not clear about, "...must have a minimum permeability of 30 litres per m2/sec."?

I know Alpine skiing isn't the top priority on everyone's list but could it be that, like Ms. Maze herself believes, everyone is making a tad too much of this?
             C'mon Tina, tell them what you really think...


Saturday, January 14, 2012

It's time to ask yourself what you believe...

The title of today's blog comes from the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. [Paramount, 1989]

In a pivotal scene, Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), an American industrialist who has thrown in with the Nazis in search of the Holy Grail, has just shot Professor Jones (Sean Connery). Donovan asks Indy (Harrison Ford) in effect, 'Do you really believe in the Holy Grail?'

It seems an odd question; with all of the death-defying action that has taken place, would Indy have really gone through all that if he didn't believe? But you could make a case that Indy was in it for fortune and glory, as he famously intoned in the second installment of the Indy franchise [Temple of Doom, Paramount, 1984]. And his seeking for the grail could have just been a way to help complete his father's lifelong quest and mend a relationship that had been tenuous at best.

Of course, in the heat of battle how often do we have time to really consider the important questions?

As life is steaming along full-speed and you are careening from one event to the next, do you ever stop and ask yourself, 'What do I believe?'

We all have a handy pouch that we carry around the stock answers in. You know the ones;

As some of you know, I finished up my annual Bible reading this week. Today, I started this years' reading. I decided to go with the English Standard Version [Crossway, 2001] because the goal of ESV is to be very accurate (word for word) yet very readable. This morning I embarked on a chronological plan provided by the great folks at the Blue Letter Bible. If you are looking for a new - or maybe your first - site for online Bible study, BLB is the bomb.

So what?

So, a chronological plan - as you might expect - presents the Bible in the order that the events happened, as near as we can determine. Naturally I began with Genesis and read chapters one through three. Most will know that these chapters deal with creation and our removal from the Garden.

While reading, that line from The Last Crusade just hit me right upside the was time to ask myself what I believed. I thought about what possibilities exist for creation:
  1. God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. (the Bible account as documented in the book of Genesis)
  2. The heavens and the earth and everything in it have come to be as a result of some cosmic event and over time have evolved into what we see today
With some variation, those are the two main schools of thought regarding how we got here.

Those who believe - or lean toward - number 2 can be very logical, factual and, dare I say it, evangelical, in their belief. It seems like those who adhere to number 2 do not recognize the logic inherent in believing number 1. After all, isn't that all based on the Bible, a book written by fallable men? And aren't most people who believe in the creation account just taking it on faith with no real proof to sustain their beliefs? So obviously that belief is flawed, right?

I'm no apologist and I'm not here to sway you to either belief. All I'm saying is that it's time to ask yourself what you believe - and then ask yourself, 'Why?' 

Go outside, look at the sky, the trees, the grass, the flowers, the mountains, animals, an apple (not your phone), your wife, mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter - anything existing naturally (i.e. not manufactured like a car, home, etc.). Where did they come from?

                              The big, blue marble

I'm looking out my kitchen window. The sky is a vibrant blue; there is a large evergreen in our backyard swaying in the wind. I can't see the wind, but I know it's there because the tree is moving. And because if I went outside I would be able to feel the air moving against my skin. There are pine cones hanging from a few of the branches. I'm not an expert but things like acorns and pine cones are the mechanism trees use to make more trees. The grass in the yard is mostly brown; it's not dead...just dormant because it's cold. In the Spring it will turn green again - even if I don't go to Lowe's and get any weed and feed. Because that's what grass does.

                                        Our beautiful earth...


Because supposedly billions of years ago there was a big explosion out in space and somehow, in a completely random series of events, enough particles came together to form a planet. And over billions of years those particles continued to connect in different (random) ways to form mountains, rivers, trees, oceans, grass, animals and ultimately people. They formed in such a perfect way that they could be self-sustaining.

                                                             ...came from this?

Which school of thought takes the most faith? The one that believes what a book that is thousands of years old says? The one that believes there was a guiding hand that lent purpose to the creation of the earth and everything in it?

Or the one that asks you to believe that all of it - every little thing - came about, in essence, by accident?

It's time to ask yourself...


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Whatever Happened to MySpace?

Not too long ago, you couldn't navigate the wide waters of the Internet without seeing a reference to MySpace or hearing about one of your friends' latest posts, someone else's latest post or something. Heck, not too long ago, I was OCD about Mobsters and a couple of other MySpace games.
My name is X and I was a Mobsters addict...

I needed an intervention.

The appeal of MySpace - at least for me - was that you could customize your profile with cool wallpaper, section it off to let your friends know your deep, dark secrets - at least what movies you liked and what books you read; you could even embed some cool music and take advantage of a few other neat features. It was the Internet equivalent of getting a tattoo. Deeply personal, in that, "Hey, look at me; I'm cool," sort of way. You've noticed by now that although I've highlighted MySpace, I haven't linked to it. Sorry, no can do...

After a couple of months, I started noticing something: although there were older people like me on MySpace, a lot of the people I played against or happened to chat with were young - a lot younger than me. And while it's cool to hang out with young people and vicariously relive that time in your life, conversations that begin with, "How old are you?" don't typically go very high on the intellect scale. I'm not an intellectual; I don't even play one on television. It's just that, for the most part, tastes in music, movies, life, and discussions about socially relevant topics don't come off very well on MySpace, especially when one of the conversants complains, "This is like arguing with my dad!"

Me leaving MySpace is probably the Internet equivalent of pulling your finger out of the ocean. The water quickly closes over the hole and there is no sign that your finger was ever in the water. I doubt anyone is sitting around, these several years later saying, "Gee, whatever happened to X; that guy was cool."

No; I'm not really cool. But this train of thought got me wondering. If I eventually found MySpace to be a bit of a bore, packing up and taking my social media presence to FaceBook (and Blogger), I wonder if anyone else did? In fact, I wondered if MySpace was still out there, chugging away on the Internet, signing up indie musicians, rebel teens and old folks looking to be hip just one more time.

The answer appears to be yes, and no.

According to a list I found on Wikipedia highlighting social networking sites with more than 100 million users, MySpace isn't cutting the mustard; it's not on the list at all. Unsurprisingly, FaceBook is king with a reported number of active users exceeding 800 million. That's pep. 800 million-plus active users. Not just people that signed up to see what all the fuss was about - people signing in and doing business.

The remainder of the list - which contains only thirteen sites - is made up of a few I've heard of like Windows Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the new kid on the block, Google+. The remainder are a complete blank to me. Has anyone checked their Vkontakte account lately? Apparently more than 140 million users have; at least as of October 2011.

Vkontakte - In contact is the loose translation - is considered to be a FaceBook clone popular in Russia and a few of the ex-Soviet republics.

                            From Russia, with like...

Take that, MySpace.

But don't be sad, according to one social networking survey I stumbled on, MySpace is still ranked a respectable number 2, behind FaceBook and ahead of several others that appear to have a more active subscriber base. So, at least according to TopTen Reviews, MySpace is still relevant for a segment of the population. It just appears that it's an ever-decreasing segment.

And if you link to the survey page, you'll even notice that, across the top of the page is the prompt:


I think that's a more telling statistic than the entire survey report ever will be...

What do you think about social networking? Where are you hanging out?


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia

These days, I don't get much chance to read for pleasure. As a wanna-be-writer, that is probably a bad thing. I used to think that because I am writing a novel, I shouldn't read any fiction lest it somehow color my own work and mysteriously cause me to plagiarize. But now I think that reading other stories broadens my outlook and strengthens my imagination. We'll see.

The full title of the book I just finished reading is Golf's Sacred Journey - Seven Days at the Links of Utopia. Which, of course, is a mouthful; but describes much about the story. David L. Cook's tale begins with a professional golfer in one of his first big tournaments. I don't think that the book ever actually reveals the young man's name since it is written from his point of view. In any case, life isn't going very well for the young man. He flames out in spectacular fashion on the tournament's last day and drives off into the west Texas middle-of-nowhere landscape like Rebecca fleeing Manderly.

His life is shattered; his self worth, having been all bound up in his ability to play golf, has just been rendered worthless. His heart, his psyche, his very soul, are all in tatters as he blindly drives in an effort to escape the humiliation.

Utopia, Texas is a real place and, in the book, is where the young man finds his hole to hide in, and also where he makes life's greatest discovery.

                                    I haven't seen the movie...

There is nothing that says folksy Texan like Robert Duval. Thankfully, I didn't even know there was a movie when my boss loaned me the book to read. It took me a couple of weeks to finish Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, mostly because I could only get to it in bits and snatches.

Nothing against Mr. Duval - and I might even watch the movie now - but I'm glad I didn't know about it ahead of time. Johnny, Duval's character and the man in the story who becomes the young golfer's unsought mentor, is a character best left to our imaginations.

The seven days our protagonist spends in Utopia change his life forever. I'm not going to tell you how, exactly, because I don't want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say he is not the same man when he leaves. Seven Days at the Links of Utopia is a psychological pick-me up for every golfer - or any athlete for that matter - that has ever struggled with the game (and who hasn't?). It's an introspective look at our insides - what makes us tick - and for many of us I imagine what we find is every bit as unsightly as the young golfer who has stumbled upon this place called Utopia.

But the greatest lesson this book shares is one that has eternal consequences. And that makes every minute you spend reading this book important.

In the interest of fair play - and so this review doesn't sound like a commercial for the book and movie - there are a few things that have tarnished my experience. One, after reading the epilogue, I went to a website dedicated to the Seven Days concept. I discovered the movie, of course. But I also discovered that you can join the author on your very own Utopia retreat and experience some of what the young golfer lived in the book. You can also get on board with the radical new putting technique that is used to such great effect in the story. There is a Seven Days gift shop where you can buy all sorts of Seven Days-themed golf merchandise.

It all seemed a little too commercial for me after coming out at the end of the book with a great feeling that the story was one which revealed a lasting truth that all of us need to hear.

I'm not saying don't read the book - quite the opposite. I heartily recommend you read Seven Days at the Links of Utopia. But read the book before you watch the movie or browse the website. Let the story envelope you and I hope you will find the simple pleasure of a well-crafted tale, just like I did. And after you read it, I'd be happy to talk about it with you after we bury some lies.


Author's note: This review is based on a completely unsolicited experience from my reading of this book. Although I was loaned the book to read, I did not receive it from Dr. Cook or any of his representatives.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Unappeasable. That is the word that pulled me up short in the middle of my Bible study this morning. Unappeasable. does not have a definition for the word. As close as I could get was appease, which means to satisfy, allay, or relieve; so unappeasable would mean something along the lines of unable to satisfy, allay or relieve.

The word unappeasable was in 2 Timothy 3:3; now, lest I be guilty of taking a word or verse out of context, the entire passage reads:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. [2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)]

As a follower of Christ, it is uncomfortable for me to read this passage. Because when I do, I have to look in the mirror that Paul is holding up for his young disciple Timothy and see where I have fallen short in my own faith. Paul wasn't chastising Timothy, he was warning him of times to come.

Whether you are a Christian, atheist, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic or whatever, I believe you would be hard pressed to argue against today's world mirroring what Paul wrote. Does that mean we're in the Christian end times? Will the Mayan prophecies come true (if you believe certain interpretations of the Mayan calendar, etc.)?

                 It was the end of the world for these poor folks...

I only have to look back a couple of weeks or months and see where unappeasable may have applied to me. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are prime examples of when many of us eat way too much. It's not that I wasn't full, it's just that there were so many good things to eat; it can be hard to say 'no'.

This blog isn't big enough to look at each word Paul used to describe the last days and comment on how accurately each can be applied to our world today. I could get on my horse about reality shows, idol shows, sporting events, homes, cars, money, clothes, jewelry, food, drink, movies, TV, the Internet, physical relationships...well, you get the idea. It's not hard to find evidence that we are unappeasable.

            Do people still carry riding crops?

Now, I don't think that there are billions of people running around trying to figure out how they can get a Rolls Royce and sip champaign in front of the Department of Health and Human Services. Still, it's hard to argue that we like to be comfortable. But where do you draw the line between comfortable and unappeasable? 

I know I'm guilty of crossing that line...what do you think?


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Do what?

Are you kidding me?

I could make this a long, angst-filled rant, but I'm going to try my best to keep it short and sweet. I read an article today that highlighted how an inebriated woman damaged a painting at the Clyfford Still museum in Denver. A $30 million dollar painting...

Reports are that the woman did an estimated $10,000 worth of damage to the valuable artwork by punching it, scratching it, and, ahem, sliding her buttocks against it.

There are so many things wrong with this - pardon the pun - picture.

                                     Would you pay $30 million for this?

First and foremost, in my humble opinion, there is NO PAINTING ON EARTH that is worth $30 million dollars. Especially not one that looks like the artist stood in front of the canvas with two brushes, one with red paint and one with black paint, and then let someone tase them.

I am not saying that Mr. Still wasn't a talented artist. I'm just saying I don't care who you are, there is nothing you can paint - I don't care when, I don't care how, and I don't care what style - that could possibly be worth $30 million dollars.

If 1957-J no.2, the name of the artwork, is truly that valuable, please sell it and use the proceeds to feed some hungry people in Denver or something. I suspect the reason the woman did what she did - at least in part - is because of her total incomprehension that 1957-J no.2 was valued so highly.

Of course, she could just be in need of therapy.

What do you think?


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Zeus must be green with envy

Today I viewed a slide show from highlighting ten objects that had been carried into space. The first picture showed three Lego figurines that have accompanied the Juno probe. The Juno probe was launched on August 5th, 2011 and will arrive in orbit around the planet scientists believe was the first to be created in our solar system sometime during the year 2016.

I could get lost in all the information that is available on the Internet concerning this mission. Although not a huge space nut, I do think it’s cool that we are exploring the space around us. The NASA Juno website is especially cool with a haunting soundtrack reminiscent of Myst and other neat multimedia tidbits.
But the real impetus for today’s blog is those three little Lego figures:

                                  Two fictional characters and a scientist?

In case you can’t pick them out, here’s who is riding Juno on its five-year trek to Jupiter:

Jupiter: On the right is Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods (or Jim Morrison). Jupiter makes all the sense in the world, right? I mean, the mission is to explore his eponymous world. Luckily he has his trademark lightning bolts handy in case things get dicey.

Juno: In the middle is Juno, Jupiter’s wife. One website I found, that talks about the Roman gods, mentioned that Jupiter was a little scared of Juno. That must be because she used to hit him with the frying pan she is holding in her hand. I swear when I first looked at this picture I thought to myself, ‘Why are they sending a Lego image of Chris Evert into space?'

Galileo: On the left, we have Galileo Galilei, the Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher. Naturally, he’s holding a telescope and a soccer ball-sized rendition of Jupiter – the planet – not the Roman god. I can only imagine that Galileo is a tad cranky about a couple of things; one, his head looks ridiculous. The least NASA and Lego could have done was give him a comb-over. And two, he’s no doubt thinking to himself, ‘How did I get stuck on a five-year space journey with two mythological figures?’ NASA could’ve put a red velvet hat on him and he would’ve looked like Santa Claus bearing astronomical gifts.

I don’t really believe in extra-terrestrials. But for the sake of argument, what if some alien life forms are cruising by Jupiter around 2016 – maybe the ones that are in that cloaked ship out by Mercury – and happen upon these three figures. What are they going to think about Earth and the people who inhabit our planet?

What do you think?