Saturday, April 26, 2008

In a Hole In the Ground There Lived . . .

. . . a motherfrackin' Hobbit, bitches! Booyah!

It is official: Peter Jackson will produce and Guillermo del Toro will direct the big-screen adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, along with a second film bridging the gap between the prequel and The Lord of the Rings. I cannot adequately state what a gigundous nerdboner I have for this whole thing. Rumor has it that Ian McKellin is already set to reprise his role as Gandalf, along with Andy Serkis as Gollum. There's a part of me that thinks if these two guys can't or won't do the films, the films maybe shouldn't be done. I can't wait to find out who plays Beorn, or Bard the Bowman. Or who voices Smaug. And you know the Wargs are gonna be bad-ass. And Mirkwood! Don't even get me started on Mirkwood!

But I'm most curious about the second film. There's a ton of material in the LotR appendices, along with all the notes published since The Silmarillion, but it hasn't all been collected into a single narrative piece.

So who's gonna play all these new parts? I know I've asked this before, but it's my favorite game: Cast The Movie. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ben Stein Gets a Bad Grade

Onion AV Club film reviewer Steven Hyden gave Ben Stein's Intelligent Design propaganda film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed an "F."

"Even for those who buy into the idea that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory," Hyden writes, "Expelled offers little substantive illumination." The film, he says, is guilty of some of Michael Moore's worst indulgences. Of co-writer/narrator Stein's trip to Dachau and attempt to link Darwinism to the Holocaust, the review states, ". . . he strides proudly over the last line of decency in contemporary documentary filmmaking."

You can read the entire review here.

Awesome. I admit I'm still curious, but there's no way I'm dropping ten bucks on it.

Friday, April 18, 2008


The Richard Dawkins Foundation's parody of the upcoming Ben Stein movie Expelled:

"Stork Theory"! Hee!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Aside From That, It Was a Pretty Good Day

Before I begin, I want to point out something: I consider myself to be a pretty upbeat, positive guy. In fact, I put a considerable amount of effort into it. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Even politicians, sometimes. I think that my effort shows in this blog. I try to keep any whining, kvetching or complaining down to a minimum, unless it has to do with things that really piss me off . . . like creationists. For the most part I try to focus on things which inspire my enthusiasm. I think I've done a good job with that. Therefore, I apologize in advance to anyone who feels the following entry is just Poor Me Wants a Pity-Party. I know I think it is. Enjoy.

Were I to make a list of my favorite things, somewhere near the top would be: Riding my bike through the city. I love, love this. I cannot stress enough how happy this activity makes me. I love how close I feel to Chicago itself when I'm riding. It's a feeling I don't get when I'm in a car, or even walking around. When I'm on my bike it's like I'm a blood cell flowing through the veins and arteries of the city. I can't get enough of it. You can understand, then, why it upsets me when someone tries to ruin the experience for me.

It was as simple as it was lame: I was riding north on Milwaukee Avenue. I had maybe two or three blocks to go before I reached North Avenue and Damen. Everything was great, and then a gray car passed me on my left. As it came even with me, maybe four or five feet away, the person in the passenger seat made a loud, high-pitched barking noise at me. I was not expecting it. The sudden noise made me jerk my handlebars a little, and I felt a rush of adrenaline dump into my veins. I became very aware of my sweat. Mostly, though, I felt like I was eleven fucking years old.

I think I am a good rider, and by "good" I mean that understand my place in the flow of traffic. I am not very fast, but I know how to place myself so that faster riders can pass me. I stick to streets with defined bike lanes, or at least streets that are bike-friendly as indicated on the official Chicago Bike Map, whenever possible. I don't swerve in and out of traffic. I am careful of pedestrians. I am wary of parked cars — you never know when a driver's side door might open. I have a decent amount of reflectors on my bike, and also on my person. I do not always wear a helmet, which is sort of indefensible but I will say that I feel safer without it. I have yet to find a helmet that does not mess with the acoustics. Cars behind me are never where I think they should be when I'm wearing a helmet, and it makes me very nervous. When I find a helmet that doesn't have that effect, I will wear it every time I ride. I promise. But aside from the helmet, I don't think there is anything I'm doing that should make me a target for derision.

So, my only conclusion is that there must be something comical about a fat guy riding a bike. And that sucks for me. I mean, I'm riding the bike because I'm a big fat guy and I'm trying to do something about it. Now if you caught me tooling around on one of those scooters old people ride in shopping malls, then by all means give me all you got, because at that point I have obviously given up.

I cannot adequately state how embarrassed I am about my weight. It is difficult to describe the way my brain just shuts off whenever there is food around. I am incapable of sticking to self-imposed limits. I lose all self-control when presented with a choice between healthy or unhealthy foods. Social functions, job interviews, auditions, any situation where I have to meet new people . . . I have to push down these waves of anxiety just to get out the door because I am convinced that everyone is noticing my weight, horrified by it, and talking about it. When I ride my bike I feel like I am taking steps toward regaining control. Of course, the people I meet these days are pretty much all adults, and if they do notice my weight or even care about it at all they have the good grace to keep it to themselves. I am an intelligent man who is moderately quick of wit, but I am entirely unprepared for junior high teasing. Instead of enjoying the last several blocks of my ride home I spent the whole trip flushed and embarrassed, and wishing I'd had something brilliant and cutting to shout back.

After the gray car disappeared from view a series of fantasies flashed through my mind. I imagined myself doing this Jackie Chan move where I leap from my back and crash through the rear passenger side window, landing in the backseat, where I reach forward and grab the douchebag by his hair and slam his face into the windshield, or maybe put him in a sleeper hold, or possibly just snap his neck. After I've calmed down a little the dreams get less violent; I picture myself pulling up next to the car at a red light, and just before the light turns green I lean toward them and say, very clearly so everyone in the car hears, "Too bad about your tires." Then I take off, and just as they hit the gas all four of their tires blow out in a spectacularly humiliating fashion. Of course it ties up traffic, and a tow truck has to be called, and maybe the cops show up and find a few ticketable offenses? But of course the dickheads from the car won't be worried about that. They won't be able to stop thinking about that fat dude on the bike, and wondering how in the hell he did that.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Expelled Exposed

The National Center for Science Education has set up a website for its response to Ben Stein's new movie, Expelled. Right now the site has a collection of links to reviews of the film along with a number of other articles and media coverage. The NCSE will post its own official response on April 15.

The movie opens in theaters Friday. I'm curious, but I cannot bring myself to give my money to the hypocrites who made the damn thing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

On A Lighter Note...

Taking a break from the social activism and state politics for a moment, I want to mention that I'm taking part in a staged reading this evening. Whee! Remy Bumppo Theatre is holding a staged reading of an adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. For those of you not familiar, it is a Merchant-Ivory type of story about the British occupation of India in the early 1900s. It centers around a trial that brings out racial tensions and prejudices between the local Indian population and the British colonists.

It should be an adventure. We rehearse this afternoon and then perform tonight. My good friend Fraser is also participating, so that should be fun. Remy Bumppo is a company I've wanted to work with for some time, so it will be nice to get my foot in the door here.

In other theater news, rehearsals for Bloody Bess: A Tale of Piracy and Revenge begin two weeks from today. I grow nervous. It's going to be an intense physical challenge. I hope I'm up for it. Hopefully it will go something like rehearsals for A Clockwork Orange did. Early on it kicked my ass, but soon enough I got up to speed and ended up just having non-stop fun kicking the crap out of people.

Friday, April 11, 2008

HE Did NOT Just Say That

This story will not die.

If you will recall, in my first entry regarding the whole Monique Davis/Rob Sherman debacle, I said that Mr. Sherman's website made him look like a bit of a douche. Mr. Sherman reinforced this impression with this genius quote:
Now that Negroes like Representative Monique Davis have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t them who are being discriminated against.

What the hell?!?

I pulled the quote from Friendly Atheist, as Mr. Sherman at least had the good sense to eventually take the quote down. For a more thorough recap of all the ridiculousness you might want to check them out.

The whole thing just sucks. Rep. Davis' comments last week were ignorant. Mr. Sherman's response was downright stupid. Nobody wins.

She Did NOT Just Say That! — Part III

State Representative Monique Davis has apologized to Rob Sherman for her attack on him last week. According to the article, Rep. Davis blamed her outburst on having just learned of another student death at Chicago Public Schools. Such news is indeed upsetting; the number of Chicago students killed in gang violence this year is reaching a level difficult to believe. I suspect, however, that she revealed her true feelings about atheism in her tirade. While it was right for you to apologize, Rep. Davis, don't try to cover it with a lame excuse. You went off because for some reason you feel threatened by atheists. It is the typical response of the ignorant person: Attack that which you do not understand.

How sad for you. And how sad for Illinois.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

She Did NOT Just Say That! — Part II

Illinois State Representative Monique Davis has earned the dubious honor of being named Worst Person In the World by Keith Olbermann. You can see video of the segment right here.


Monday, April 07, 2008

She Did NOT Just Say That!

I can't believe it took me so long to hear about this. Thanks, Shane, for bringing it to my attention.

One of this country's bedrock principles states that nobody should ever be persecuted on account of their religious beliefs. Religious persecution was the reason most of the original European settlers came here. The First Amendment to the Constitution lays out, in no uncertain terms, that the government may not act on behalf of any religion. And President Thomas Jefferson wrote of "building a wall of separation between church and state". So why, then, are the citizens of this state not up in arms over what happened on April 2nd, when an elected member of the State Legislature attacked a citizen on the floor of the General Assembly over that citizen's religious convictions.

Illinois social activist Rob Sherman testified before the House State Government Administration Committee in Springfield. The subject of his testimony was the $1 million grant Governor Rod Blagojevich gave to the Pilgrim Baptist Church — or tried to, anyway; that's a whole different bag of crazy you can read about right here. Mr. Sherman was there argue that the proposed grant was unconstitutional.

Mr. Sherman is, among other things, an atheist. No doubt his atheism informed his decision to testify on the subject of the state handing out million-dollar grants to churches. But Mr. Sherman's atheism was not the subject of the hearing until Representative Monique D. Davis, a Democrat, decided to tear Mr. Sherman a new one.

"This is the Land of Lincoln, where people believe in God," the State Representative said. "What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous." What is dangerous? Mr. Sherman inquired. "It’s dangerous to the progression of this state," Ms. Davis said, "and it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!" She then informed Mr. Sherman that he had no right to testify before the committee, and that he should get out of his seat. To his credit, Mr. Sherman let her finish her tirade before resuming his testimony. He did not relinquish his seat before he was finished with it.

I've heard of Rob Sherman before; he and his daughter were instrumental in stopping the bill that would have created a mandatory Moment of Silence in Illinois schools. I've poked around his website; he comes across as kind of a douche. That said, I agree with most of his positions and I admire the tenacity with which he pursues his goals. Imagine a Christian minister in his position, on the receiving end of such vitriol. I know it wouldn't have taken nearly a week before I got word of it.

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune posted a more thorough transcription of the exchange, as well as a link to an audio recording of it, right here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston, 1924 — 2008

I'm sorry. I didn't really like this guy. His acting style gave me the embarrassment shivers. The one exception would be his turn as the Player King in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. It was probably the only time I ever really sat up and listened to what that character had to say. What's sad is that it kinda makes you wonder what he could have done when he was jerking off with all those Planet of the Apes sequels.

Now would be the time to suggest a Moment of Silence, but frankly I don't want to. There's no denying that later in life he was just a total fucking douchebag. People gave Michael Moore shit for badgering a doddering old man in Bowling for Columbine, but come on. He was the president of one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country. If perhaps the NRA should have picked a president who could hold up under a little scrutiny.

On the plus side, we ought to be able to get that rifle back from him now, right?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Novella Violet

Tremble, all ye who behold: The Spawn of Direnerd!

My good friends Dan and Vicky have reproduced! Let's all say Hey There! to Novella Violet Telfer. O Happy Day!

I take particular pride in this momentous occasion, as I am entirely, one hundred percent responsible for it. As many of you know, I had the privilege of officiating the Telfer-Kallay wedding, an accomplishment in which I take no small amount of pride. So you see, that right there? You can thank me later. This thing here? Check it, yo. I do good work. I frakin' RULE.

I kid, of course. I am incredibly happy for my friends, and I can't wait to meet the latest edition to their family. Pa Telfer reports that Novella arrived yesterday afternoon, weighing in at eight pounds, two ounces, and measuring twenty-one inches.

Both mom and daughter are doing "awesome."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts: Can't Lose!

O Frabjous Day! Friday Night Lights has been renewed for a third season in a unique deal with DirecTV. Apparently, the head of DirecTV is just a big fan of the show and was willing to shell out whatever it took just to make sure they kept making it, regardless of whether or not anyone was watching. The downside is that the show, or at least thirteen episodes of it, will air on DirecTV before they air on NBC, so for most of us it will be a while until the new season is actually here. But I don't care. It's enough just to know it's on its way.

And, a note to the writers: No more murder plots. Please. Just find more reasons for the characters we know and love to interact. That's all we ask. Seriously, at this point I'd turn in to watch if all the characters just sat around and watched movies together.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

His Dark Materials

I had to read them, didn't I? After all, I do yammer on about being an atheist, so obviously that meant I would have to read Philip Pullman's trilogy. It's a bedtime story for atheists everywhere! Right?

Well, no, not so much.

Mr. Pullman may well be an atheist, but that is not what his books are about. It is apparent throughout the trilogy that his humanist leanings informed his writing, but anyone who complains that these books are going to turn children into atheists a) don't understand how books work, and b) haven't read the books themselves. I mean, did everyone who read The Hobbit when they were nine start believing in dragons?

The problem that religious folk have with these books has nothing to do with the books' — or the author's — stance on the existence of a creator. For the record, the book is entirely neutral on the subject. In fact, it goes so far as to acknowledge the possibility of a creator, while steadfastly pointing out that there is no evidence to support the idea. No, the problem religious folk have with the book is that the book has a problem with religion. I can certainly see how someone who was raised in, say, the Roman Catholic church might be concerned. His Dark Materials does not have much good to say regarding organized religion. During the first part of the story, titled The Northern Lights but published in the US as The Golden Compass (why?), the Church exists as a bogeyman lurking in the background. I mean that literally. Children start disappearing. The reader learns pretty quickly that the Church is behind it, but that doesn't stop the other children from creating horrible stories of "Gobblers" who steal you in the night and eat you, or worse.

I have to admit, I found a lot of the metaphysical stuff fascinating. I always like stories that take entrenched myths and turn them upside down. Did you ever read Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil? Where the Devil himself shows up and explains to the Vampire Lestat that he's really the one pleading the case for mankind to an arrogant and uninterested God? I really kinda dug that book.

Where was I? Oh, right. Metaphysics. I'm pretty sure that, had I read these books when I was twelve or thirteen — the age group toward which they seem geared — a lot of it would have gone over my head. At that point I didn't know what a Metatron was, and if pressed I would have guessed it was some kind of Transformer that came out after I stopped reading the comics. And I would have completely glossed over every mention of quantum physics. I'm older and a little smarter now, and I am capable of reading such material without my eyes glazing over, but I have to slog through prose leveled at junior high school kids to get to the good stuff.

And that would be my main criticism. The prose... is not great. Granted, I do not have a lot of experience with "young adult" fiction, but the writing here seemed needlessly clunky. I thought that it was not so much writing for teenagers, as writing that teenagers would do for each other. At times it was only a step or two away from reverting to text-message shorthand.


The most obvious comparison here is to the Harry Potter series, and His Dark Materials simply cannot hold a candle to Rowling's work. However, please do not take that in any way to mean that it is not worth reading, because it is. Pullman's setting is as dazzling in its epic scope as Rowling's is in detail. His plot is not as character-driven, and for that matter his characters are not as accessible, but it does succeed in making the reader observe the world from a new angle.

Toward the end of the final book, The Amber Spyglass, Pullman really starts to let loose with The Message. There are quite a few passages that might as well be highlighted with headings that read, "Here's The Point." These passages, unfortunately, are speed bumps along the road, but they don't slow things down so much that you consider stopping. And, being a story for younger audiences, I have to admire the way things are not exactly Happily Ever After at the end. In fact, given all Pullman puts his heroes through, the ending almost seems a little cruel. But I suppose it does have its own poetry, as well.

I did take away something from the series that I rather liked. It's something I might tell my kids one day, if they should ask me about the Meaning of Life: At the end, make sure you have a really good story. And make sure it's all true.