Monday, June 30, 2008

I'm a freegan [Bryan]

One unknown Bryan fact: I'm a freegan. Not a vegan, a freegan.

What is a freegan, you ask? A freegan is someone who eats anything that is free.

You know when there are leftovers after an office meeting? Leftover muffins or bagels or something? Sometimes, they are left so long they get old and stale? Well, I'm the one who ends up eating that stuff. If it is free, it doesn't matter how old or stale it is, or how unhungry I am, I will eat it. Don't ask me why.

Now you know.

World's shortest movie review: Juno [Bryan]

A few weeks ago, Ellie and I watched Juno, a movie about a pregnant teenager. It was a great show, funny and smart, with edifying messages thrown in for good measure. The young actress who plays Juno, Ellen Page, is absolutely phenomenal and completely believable. Her character is an intriguing mix of generosity, wit, ignorance, confusion, street-smarts, kindness, toughness, and smart alecky-ness (reminds me a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actually). The rest of the cast also excels. The film tackles issues of life and death, motherhood, love, and selfishness in ways that are profound, but rarely oversimplified and preachy. Best line of the film comes when Juno is talking with her friend Leah at the sonogram:

Leah: Woah check out baby big head. That thing is freaky looking.

Juno: Excuse me? I am a sacred vessel, alright? All you've got in your stomach is Taco Bell.

If you haven't seen it, preview below:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Statler and Waldorf [Bryan]

The best part of the old Muppet Show was the two hecklers in the balcony. Some highlights:

My two favorites:

W: Ugh. Ugh.
S: What's wrong?
W: It's either this show or indigestion. I hope its indigestion.
S: Why?
W: It'll get better in a little while.

W: It is too bad Gonzo is leaving the show.
S: Yeah, I can think of some other people I'd rather leave the show.
W: Who?
S: Me!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

SUV guilt [Bryan]

So, here is a picture of our new Highlander. It is, without a doubt, the nicest car we have ever owned. It has four-wheel drive, cruise control, a CD player, and all the other little things that most people are used to by now, but are things we've never had.

Ellie loves our new vehicle more than she loves me. My feelings, however, are decidedly more mixed. I have watched the trend toward large vehicles (mainly SUVs) with a mix of horror, amusement, and scorn. Not that I couldn't see the attraction; I've always loved how they look and their versatility proves amazingly useful. But they are more lethal when in an accident, they guzzle gas, and they emit large quantities of CO2. And, of course, they are such a cultural cliche; it is the ultimate statement that you are the Average American.

So, why did I buy an SUV? I had always thought that, if I purchased a large vehicle, it would be a minivan. It would be an act of ironic self-flagellation. With the minivan, I would want everyone to know that, although I was driving a large vehicle, it wasn't because I wanted to be cool; rather, it was simply because I needed the space. The un-coolness of the minivan would make my virtue abundantly clear.

With Ellie's help, I guess I just decided that this attitude was nuts. We need more room. The Highlander gets as good a gas mileage as a minivan (usually better). And to all your treehuggers out there, consider this: If I buy a vehicle with lower higher gas mileage, all I have done is slightly decrease the demand for gas, which lowers gasoline prices, which thereby gives other people a greater incentive to drive. The great scandal among Prius-driving environmentalists is that they are doing nothing to help the environment -- they are just giving other people incentive to hurt the environment (hence the need for social policy solutions rather than personal virtue). In the end, I refuse to buy, say, a hybrid so that everyone else can get cheaper gas. I'm going to make sure we all go down on the sinking ship of gasoline addiction together!

So, to heck with all of you. My transformation into the Average American is now complete, and darn it, I don't care. Come bask in my conformity!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Conservatives Should Vote for Obama, Part 1 [Bryan]

I get the sense that many conservatives find Senator Obama a little scary. He has a funny name, his pastor said crazy things, and he may be an America-hater or a secret Muslim (or so they've read in an email).

I'm not conservative myself. But I was once and most of the people I love and care about still are. I think it is true to say that conservatives are interested in three things: (1) they want a person of genuine religious faith to be president, (2) they want a person of moral character to be president, (3) they want someone who agrees with conservative policies to be president.

If you are conservative, I want to introduce you to what other conservatives, who know or have personally met Senator Obama, are saying about him. I'm using conservative voices here, so that you will know this isn't just inflated rhetoric from his natural allies. Let me first address the issue of religious faith.

Consider the endorsement of Douglas W. Kmiec, a conservative Catholic Republican. Kmiec was a former attorney to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He is currently chair of constitutional law at conservative Pepperdine University. He was also an adviser to Mitt Romney. Here is what he says:

Today I endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States. I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence, and genuine good will. I take him at his word that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides and that he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights....

In various ways, Sen. Barack Obama and I may disagree on aspects of [some] important fundamentals, but I am convinced, based upon his public pronouncements and his personal writing, that on each of these questions he is not closed to understanding opposing points of view and, as best as it is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them.
Consider next what the conservative Evangelical biographer (and supporter) of George W. Bush and Tom DeLay, Stephen Mansfield, has to say about Obama in his forthcoming book, The Faith of Barack Obama. Ben Smith summarizes the book in this way:

"For Obama, faith is not simply political garb, something a focus group told him he ought to try. Instead, religion to him is transforming, lifelong, and real," Mansfield writes, going on to compare Obama favorably to Christian Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who he says erected a "wall of separation" between their religion and their governance.

By contrast, "Obama's faith infuses his public policy, so that his faith is not just limited to the personal realms of his life, it also informs his leadership," Mansfield writes. ...

Mansfield said in the interview that he entered Trinity having heard "that Obama's church was a cult, something un-Christian, that Reverend Wright was a nut," but emerged with the view that it is "a pretty solid Christian church."

His warm description of the church reflects that view.

Consider also this story of conservative Christian writer who was invited to meet Obama:

[I] was curious what the junior Senator from Illinois would say to Christian leaders when it’s well known that he supports abortion and the gay rights agenda....What could he have in common with “conservative” Christian leaders?

I returned from the meeting very concerned. Here is a liberal—Obama--reaching out to the Christian community at a time the conservative--Sen. John McCain--seems to be distancing himself from the so-called “Christian Right.” I think McCain has a lot of work to do to get the support of the Christian community. Obama seemed to have the support of at least half of the 43 leaders who attended the Chicago meeting. And in my opinion, he “made points” with the rest. The tone of the meeting was respectful and generally upbeat....

Sen. Obama personally took time to meet each person and shake their hand. He’s not as large a man as I envisioned from seeing him on television. But, he’s warm and personable --- obviously one of the reasons why people like him. He seemed to remember names well. He hugged a couple of the participants—mostly the black preachers who attended. He also seemed to be on top of the issues; and he’s obviously very intelligent.

The questions were mostly “softball” questions in my opinion. I was concerned after three or four general questions that we wouldn’t ask the most important questions. So I raised my hand and he called on me. I said, “Senator, I want to ask a question I'm sure you are expecting regarding your position on abortion....[H]ow you justify that with your Christian faith and why [do] you think we should vote for you?”

Since his response was “off-the-record,” I can say that the time he took to answer was probably 15 minutes. He came across as thoughtful and much more of a “centrist” than what I would have expected. He did not appear to be the crazy leftist that is being supported by George Soros and his radical leftist friends. Sen. Obama looked me in the eye as he answered my question, almost as if it were a one-on-one interview. I had already read the chapter on “faith” in his book the “Audacity of Hope.” If you want to know how he answered the question, read that chapter. In other words, other than his demeanor and obvious attempt to win over the Christian leaders in the room, he didn’t say anything new....

There’s probably a lot more that I could say about the meeting. But the most significant thing is just the fact that the meeting was held and that several dozen prominent leaders took time to meet with Sen. Obama who I believe won over the loyalties of many.
Senator Obama may, of course, simply be a slick politician and this could all just be a political act. Or, alternatively, he could also be the real deal. If you want to find out what Obama himself thinks about religion, his books (The Audacity of Hopeand Dreams of My Father -- both of which he wrote himself) speak to that subject with a sincerity that, to me, seems to transcend election-year pandering. It was enough to convince me, at least for now. Anyway, just something to think about.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oh Children of me! [Bryan]

Go read this. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Haiku to My Highlander [Ellie]

A love poem to my new car:

sleek silver body
purrs with power in my grasp
did I mention clean?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Overfamiliarity with death [Bryan]

One of the great pleasures in my life is Harper's Magazine, especially their "Readings" section. This section compiles the most interesting readings from across the world -- speeches, poems, 911 emergency transcripts, speeches, interviews, court decisions, and so forth. There are always two or three items in that section that touch me deeply. This month, there was a selection from Anthony Loyd's memoir, Another Bloody Love Letter. Loyd was a reporter covering the bloody conflict in Sierra Leone. While he is there, he is involved in a serious automobile accident. He and his young friend and translator, Allieu, are critically injured. Loyd desperately tries to revive and get emergency aid for his friend, but instead onlookers end up looting his demolished car. Everyone in the war-torn landscape seems reluctant to help. He eventually is dropped off at a camp where Nigerian soldiers stand passively watching Loyd desperately perform CPR on his friend. He continues:

There were five of them, and they moved not an inch but stood motionless in a row looking down upon me, their eyes blank, faces devoid of any expression. What I saw in those placid brown pools was a listless overfamiliarity with death, and it enraged me. F--- you all, I thought, spitting more of Allieu's blood from my mouth in preparation for the next breath into him; f--- your awful continent where children's deaths are so commonplace as to be boring; f--- your mutilations and your mumbo jumbo and your jungle and your disease and your poverty and your heat and your hunger. F--- your endless reasons to die. Would that I could defy them all and save at least this one man's life.

Then one of them bent down wordlessly and stayed my arm. It was a profound gesture, full of grace and compassion. I stopped what I was doing and accepted its message, the madness leaving me. I closed Allieu's eyes and folded his hands across his chest, as one of the soldiers sighed. "Yes," one murmured. I looked up. "l'm sorry," each quietly said in tum. I stood up. They put their hands on my shoulders and shook me, gently and persistently, with a soft incantation of a low, repeated, "Hey, hey, hey, hey," a sound loaded with the deep understanding of sorrow, the echoed communication of the universal nature of death and loss. I leaned down and held one of Allieu's hands for a while, resting my other palm first on his chest, then on his forehead. His skin was just beginning to cool. He looked like a little boy again: a thin, brown wisp in his raggedy shorts and T-shirt. A dead African boy who had survived much and had just had what little he possessed taken from him by coming down the road with me for sixty dollars a day. "Goodbye, Allieu," I said, and walked away.
In its affirmation of a common humanity, there is something in this moment that deserves the title "revelation."

Two Great Pictures [Bryan]

Two great pictures, recently posted here.

First, a sunset on Mars from NASA. Incredible to think that this is on another planet.

Second, a comfort pillow, for those lonely times.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

He did it!!!! [Bryan]

If you haven't heard, Obama won the Democratic primary last night. It was an amazing process to watch. Here is Obama: raised by a single Mom in relatively modest circumstances, an African-American with big ears and a funny, almost terrorist-sounding, name. Outside of Illinois, almost nobody had heard of Obama until last Fall. He was up against eight other candidates, each one with much more money, name recognition, and institutional advantages than he had. Throughout the campaign, Obama would have to survive sustained attacks from libelous email frauds, from a former president and first lady, from the sitting president, from Rush Limbaugh and "operation chaos," and from the presumptive Republican nominee. All that at the same time.

How did this guy win? I think it is a combination of intelligence, inner strength, and understanding the power of grass-roots community. He put together a coalition of millions of small-money contributers (like Ellie and I) to wage an amazing battle. What I think is most important about Obama, as I've said before, is that he treats us like adults, and we respond to that. When McCain and Clinton were pandering with the inane "gas tax holiday" idea, Obama called it for what it was: a gift to the oil companies that would do nothing to solve our energy problems in the long run. People responded to that honesty. Although his campaign hasn't been perfect, it has become clear to me that over and over again, Obama has taken the high road -- the adult road -- when others have taken the low road. Compare, for example, Obama's speech last night with the defensive and small-minded speeches of both McCain and Clinton.

As I was watching his speech last night, it occured to me how amazing this moment was. A black man like Obama could not have even used the same bathroom as me in the South 40 years ago. But now this man was laying out a vision for a new America that was being cheered by people of all colors and creeds. I can only imagine what this must mean for the African-American community. One comment in this regard that I read, really stood out. It comes from a black reader of Andrew Sullivan:

Tomorrow I will go to the African American cemetery outside of Chicago where my great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and my mother and father are buried. And I will tell them that they were right -- that if we studied hard, worked hard, kept the faith, fought for justice, prayed, that this day would come.

And it has.

It has indeed. I'm proud of America today, and proud to be a Democrat! Here is the video if you want to watch history being made. Be sure to watch the end, which is particularly good.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bryan and Musicals [Bryan]

Most of you probably don't know that I'm a big fan of musicals. At least certain musicals. Of this admittedly uneven genre, the stuff of Stephen Sondheim clearly rises to the top. I don't know why it is exactly, but I think it is because his musicals are often very dark. I generally don't revel in darkness for its own sake. But the inclusion of such a dark worldview within a musical framework that usually includes sappy romance and singing animals presents a dissonance that I find endlessly intriguing. Here, then, is my formula for a good musical: Singing people + dark plot = great musical.

Given that formula, it should be no surprise that here is a list of my top five musicals:
1. Sweeny Todd
2. Into the Woods
3. Evita
4. Wicked
5. West Side Story

Worst Musicals
1. Oklahoma
2. Cats

My favorite clips from Sweeny Todd? First, the song "A Little Priest." If you haven't seen the musical, here is the general thesis: "For what's the sound of the world out there?/Those crunching noises pervading the air?/It's man devouring man, my dear/Then who are we to deny it in here?" Who thought cannibalism could be so funny?

The next song, "Johanna," is interesting because of how it suggests that love, revenge, and rage can all be turned into something truly monstrous. Compare to the love songs of other musicals. (Warning: Slightly bloody)