The Best and Worst of 2017

It’s been another exciting year, and we want to thank you all for reading and, if applicable, posting comments on our blog. Once again, we would like to close out the year with some summary remarks about good and bad stuff related to film, music, books, sports, food, and family.

Film Experiences:

Jim:  This year I saw a lot of intense films, including Baby Driver, Dunkirk, and It, which are intense in very different ways. I appreciated the innovation of Baby Driver—an action adventure film meticulously choreographed to an eclectic but somehow seamless musical soundtrack. The WWII film Dunkirk is powerful in its realism, but suffers for lack of character development. And despite its over-the-top frenetic scare scenes, It has a surprisingly human touch. But the film’s highlight is Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise the Clown. Split is a riveting psychological thriller with a surprise connection with director Shyamalan’s earlier film, Unbreakable. Really looking forward to the upcoming film Glass, which will be the third film of what is now being called the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. But my favorite film experience of the year was Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This installment gives us more superb acting performances (even from Mark Hamill), surprising plot twists, and—in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren—the most complex and compelling villain in a Hollywood film since Norman Bates.

Amy:  My highlight features the small screen and is probably a bit more sentimental than entirely critical. Stranger Things Season Two is likely to be the last series I watch with all the kids and piling in front of the TV with all four of them to cheer on Mike and the gang will long be a long-cherished memory. I do consider Stranger Things a well-produced as well as well-acted show worth the trouble of coordinating everyone’s schedules and staying up past bedtime. Another favorite for sheer entertainment value was Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 which we all watched in the theater. On a more serious note, my experience of film was forever changed this year with the avalanche of sexual harassment claims coming out of Hollywood. I am both sickened and frustrated by the accusations of seemingly innumerable women, and this cements my belief that the City of Angels is the most ironically named metropolis in America.

Jim’s Best Musical Experiences of the Year:  Lots of good music from old artists and new. I’ve enjoyed U2’s Songs of Experience, which seems more like the second half of a time-released double album (along with Songs of Innocence). “Red Flag Day” is instantly one of my favorite U2 songs. I also, at last, discovered the genius of Taylor Swift, whom I now regard as one of the best songwriters of our time. (More on that later in a separate post.) My son Bailey introduced me to the gritty and soulful Robert Finley, whose Goin’ Platinum sounds like it came right out of the early 70s, thanks to the retro production of Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys). My son Sam turned me on to Foxygen, a band that can traffic in more musical genres in one song than most bands explore in an entire career. For a stimulating taste of their Rundgren-flavored R&B check this out. And then from the Next Saviors of Classic Rock category, there is Greta Van Fleet. They still are recording their first full-length album, but the early hype seems well deserved. Here’s a nice sample. (And, no, you’re not the first to note the similarity to Led Zeppelin, especially the Plant-like lead vox.) But the very best musical experience of the year was seeing Manchester Orchestra in concert at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Ohio with my son Sam who is as big a fan of the band as I am. Finally, I’ve enjoyed seeing our boys improve on their instruments—Bailey on guitar, Sam on drums, and Andrew on piano—even teaching himself some challenging sections of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Good stuff.

Amy’s Best Food Experiences of the Year: Will you think me completely full of myself if I confess that my favorite meals this year were prepared by yours truly? I tackled Indian samosas this year and have made myself sick on their deliciousness on more than one occasion. Getting a stamp of approval for my homemade tortillas from a native Mexican had me on cloud nine for days. The highlight for eating out this year was my birthday meal which had less to do with the food and more to do with the company. My sister and brother-in-law joined Jim, my folks and me for the holidays for the first time in more than a decade which was food for the soul well worth the wait.

Jim’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  Not many major sports highlights for me this year, unfortunately. But seeing the New Orleans Saints’ resurgence has been fun. I believe they have a decent shot to go on a playoff run and make it to the Super Bowl this year. Seeing Bailey and Sam play soccer together on the Eastbrook high school team, which advanced all the way to the state regional finals. Also, seeing my friend Chris Holtmann hired as the Ohio State head basketball coach was exciting. He’s probably going to take them to the top eventually, as hard as that is for me to say as a U-M fan! Chris is a man of moral integrity, and I love seeing that rewarded.

Amy’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  Okay, I am clearly getting soft in my old age because my favorite sports memories all involve my kids. Andrew pitched crucial closing innings in his team’s championship game which they won. Bailey’s and Sam’s soccer team won their sectionals tournament for the first time in school history and lost the regionals final in a nail-biting shootout. Maggie’s and Andrew’s team made it to the semi-finals and watching them play together was pure joy.

Jim’s Most Disappointing Sports Moments of the Year:  It was fun to be able to celebrate the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship for an entire year, but alas, all good things in sports must come to an end. But they’ll be back! Lots of other disappointments: It was tough to see the Colts tank this season with the absence of the slowly convalescing Andrew Luck. Same with the Detroit Tigers, who are now rebuilding. My Red Wings are also struggling as well. But the most disappointing single moment this year was watching victory stolen from the Detroit Lions in their game against the Atlanta Falcons because of a ridiculous 10-second “run-off” rule that I expect will be changed or qualified after this season.

Amy’s Most Painful Sports Moment of the Year:  Watching Tom Brady and the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl…again. Seriously think the NFL should consider term limits, unless your last name is Manning.

Good and Bad Reads of the Year:

Jim:  In addition to the usual countless scholarly articles I read his year, I found time to read more classics and a few contemporary works. I did a lot of reading of major works by the ancient Roman thinkers Cicero and Seneca, the latter of whom is my favorite Stoic author. Seneca’s essay “On Providence” is one of my very favorite works of philosophy. Both insightful and therapeutic, I recommend it to anyone who struggles in this world—that is, of course, everyone.  I enjoyed reading two classic works from the early 20th century—Erich Maria Remarque’s classic All Quiet on the Western Front and Booker T. Washington’s inspiring Up From Slavery. I also really enjoyed What is Marriage? by Girgis, Anderson and George, a powerful defense of traditional marriage. Currently, I’m reading Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, which is profound and insightful regarding so many aspects of contemporary American culture.

Amy: This year I fell seriously short of my usual reading habits but did enjoy several of those I did manage to finish. I read several of the Anne of Green Gables books. Delightful. I read The Case for Christ aloud to Andrew and while it was a discipline at times, seeing him make connections in sermons and other contexts was priceless. I find most contemporary fiction deeply disappointing and was pleasantly surprised by a friend-recommended read, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Just in time for January book club meeting, I finished The Path Between the Seas, David McCullough’s tome on the building of the Panama Canal which was fascinating, inspiring and tragic all rolled into one hefty work.

Best 2017 Family Memories:

Amy: Once again, we welcomed family and friends as my niece lived with us for J-Term this year and a friend of Bailey’s from Bolivia joined us for the semester. They weren’t the only “guests” we welcomed this year. In May, Penelope, our beloved standard poodle, gave birth to nine, yes nine, puppies. Watching them come into the world, grow and find new homes was a source of seemingly ceaseless wonder and joy, especially the new homes part. But, without a doubt the most profound family memory I experienced this year was the passing of Jim’s mom. I arrived just in time to hold her hand and read the psalms to her before being the sole witness of her passing into eternity. She was one of my favorite people and I felt humbled and honored to be present at her death.

Jim:  A major highlight of the year for me was learning to ride a unicycle. I’ve always wanted to do it and decided this was the year. While this wasn’t really a “family” thing, the learning process did involve Amy and the kids in various ways. Watching their reactions—from concern about my safety to cautious encouragement to awe at my mastery of the danged thing was amusing. Other highlights: our family trips to Tennessee, watching Bailey and Sam play together on the Eastbrook soccer team, watching Andrew win a 3rd consecutive baseball championship (this time on his 12U team), and seeing Bailey crowned as Eastbrook homecoming king, which was more humorous than anything else.

Best Kids’ Quotes of the Year

As usual, the best quotes from our kids this year come mainly from our poet-comedian-dreamer daughter, Maggie (13).

  • Maggie: “I think most people spend most of their time figuring out ways to save time.”
  • Andrew: (After listening to the Lil Yachty song “I spy”): “If that is what music is coming to, kill me.”
  • Maggie: (After I told her repeatedly to clean her room): “It’s not messy; it’s just organized in a way that you can’t comprehend.”
  • Maggie: “I hate being so funny.”

New Year’s Resolutions:

Amy: I am resolved to cherish this last year of having Bailey home full time and celebrate this new stage of life for him without getting too sappy or embarrassingly sentimental. Good luck with that, Amy. I also am looking toward the end of our years of homeschooling in a year and half and starting to consider what I want to be when I grow up.

Jim:  My resolutions this year are to be more regular with posts on Wisdom and Folly and to purge some of our possessions, especially by trimming our book collection. We’re not pack-rats, but simplicity is a virtue.

Happy 2018 everyone!


The Ten Cultural Commandments of 21st Century America

American Citizens,

A little more than 130 years ago, through my pugnacious oracle, Friedrich Nietzsche, I announced the death of God in the West. In recent times, this prophecy has finally been realized in America, though, of course, not in the form of widespread disbelief in the Judeo-Christian deity. Alas, verbal affirmations of the deity’s existence abound as always. Rather, the death of God has occurred in the form of practical rejection of the moral standards of this being. For years, many have labored to serve this culture’s new lord—the self—though without the benefit of official guidelines for conduct. Therefore, at last, I now proclaim to you a new and definitive set of standards—a “transvaluation of all values,” one might say—which, through the faithful assistance of Hollywood, major news networks, and, especially, American institutions of higher learning, has now fully triumphed. Here, then, for your thoughtful consideration and lifelong devotion, are the Ten Cultural Commandments of 21st Century America:

  1. Thou shalt love thy own moral autonomy with all thy heart and reject all notions of external or absolute moral authority, for thou art entitled to all things of thy own choosing.
  2. Thou shalt remember that humans are merely highly evolved animals and thus have no fixed essence or nature.
  3. Thou shalt honor empirical science above all other means of knowledge acquisition and therefore render due suspicion on all truth claims related to value, design, or purpose in nature.
  4. Thou shalt not regard any metanarrative as exclusively true or even as more true than its alternatives, except to the extent that such may reinforce belief in the relativity of all values.
  5. Thou shalt respect every truth claim as valid if it is supported by appeal to one’s identity as part of any classifiable group, except, of course, that of white, heterosexual, Anglo-Saxon males.
  6. Thou shalt accept all sexual choices and family arrangements as morally legitimate so long as they are freely and voluntarily made.
  7. Thou shalt declare any expression (spoken or written) to be offensive if it makes you or anyone anywhere at any time the least bit uncomfortable, regardless of any consideration of context, nuance, or factual content.
  8. Thou shalt regard all human problems and failures as arising from flawed social arrangements rather than as resulting from an innate moral defect in the human species.
  9. Thou shalt prioritize personal feelings and experiences over logic and reason in all public discussions regardless of the subject matter.
  10. Thou shalt determine thy own identity and meaning in life, so long as when this is worked out in practice thou dost not transgress any of the above commandments.

Americans, this is the way to self-fulfillment. Fix these words in your hearts and minds, tattoo them on your upper arms, and create abbreviations of them for your vanity license plates.

Now go thou into the world, teaching others to follow these commandments, while ridiculing and destroying the careers of those who fail to respect them.

Triumphally yours,

Zarathustra


The Old Grey Mare

Recently, our church held their annual Thanksgiving service and Jim and others in our congregation took a few minutes to share something for which they were thankful. They each did a great job, and as I listened to them I pondered the previous year and thought about gratitude-inspiring experiences, people, and situations I have encountered this year. Of course, there are the usual suspects: health, friends and family. While I certainly don’t mean to discount these blessings, I wanted to find something more specific to this season of life. What I settled on might surprise you.

I discovered that I am truly grateful for getting older. Now, a few decades ago, when birthdays brought new privileges, the ability to drive, to vote, to enjoy adult beverages, advancing in years was much easier to give thanks for. I suppose I still have senior citizens discounts and social security to look forward to, but, in the world’s eyes, there aren’t too many largely recognized perks to being on this side of the hill. And that is why I am so thankful for having been given a different vision through which to see my accumulating grey hairs and wrinkles. While those without hope look at the signs of aging as something to be denied and conquered, I am learning to see them as the scars of battles waged and won, of medals awarded for bravery in the face of the enemy. For those who call this life home, growing older is one step further in a finite journey, while for me and my brothers and sisters in Christ, this life is merely the womb in which we are being shaped and developed, and we are on a journey homeward bound.

This perspective is one I am working to cultivate and grow within myself as I face the indignities of middle age, especially in a culture which worships at the altar of youth. I don’t want to see myself as a clock which is slowly winding down and wearing out. Rather, I want to be a tree that is sending down deep roots, providing shade and shelter for those around her. There is an eternal aspect to trees which grow and produce seeds and eventually die and provide nourishment to the next generation of trees growing around them. They don’t cease to exist but rather take on a new form. The same is true in the life of a believer. My body might be a little slower, my mind not as quick or sharp as it once was, but each day I leave behind a little more of this world and the true me within grows a little bigger, growing to better reflect my true self. “The old grey mare she ain’t what she used to be,” and I say, thank heavens!

This fall, I had the immense honor of sitting with my mother-in-law, holding her hand and reading her the Psalms as she passed from this life to the next. I am infinitely thankful that God arranged circumstances such that I was able to witness this lovely lady going home. As she took her final breath, I felt sorrow at being left behind, but great joy in imagining her arrival in Heaven. She wasn’t leaving but arriving, and one day I will join her. One day, I will die, or in truth one day I will truly be born. And rather than filling me with a sense of dread or fear, this idea is a thrilling one.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not making plans to go skydiving without a parachute any time soon. Just like a baby in utero, I have some maturing to do before I go head first into the cosmic birth canal. I hope to live to pluck many a chin hair and continue for years doing my best to do my best. But one day this heart will stop beating, these lungs will stop breathing, this brain will stop functioning. And then I will know what it is to truly live. And for this hope and knowledge, I am and will be eternally grateful.


NPR Interview on the Ethics of Virtual Reality Technology

Recently I was interviewed by NPR in Arizona regarding my work on the ethics of virtual reality technology.  Shayna Skolnik, co-founder and CEO of Navteca, was also featured in the piece.  Here is the full interview, which aired earlier this week.


Review of McLeod-Harrison’s The Resurrection of Immortality

Mark McLeod-Harrison’s new book, The Resurrection of Immortality (Cascade, 2017) is a welcome contribution to the growing literature related to personal eschatology. His concern in the book is to explore the question of human immortality. Historically, parties to the debate have generally affirmed either that human beings are essentially immortal or conditionally immortal. Those taking the first view maintain that by nature human beings will live forever. As human beings we naturally possess the property of immortality. Conditionalists deny this, maintaining that humans may or may not live forever. God grants immortality to some, depending on certain conditions (e.g., redemption in Christ).

McLeod-Harrison defends a third alternative, which denies that immortality is intrinsic to human nature but says immortality is an enduring property possessed by human beings. On this view, immortality is an extrinsic property, one which God confers on human beings based on other properties that God gives us. And much of the book is devoted to constructing an argument for this claim—an argument that is philosophical, rather than theological, in nature. Though purely philosophical in methodology, McLeod-Harrison’s argument is nevertheless “in-house,” aimed specifically at Christian scholars in that it assumes certain basic claims of Christian theology—the existence of God, the reality of an afterlife, and the biblical doctrine of salvation.

The author admirably devotes the first couple of chapters to laying conceptual groundwork for his argument, especially defining key terms. Since “immortality” is a privative concept (like “infinite” or “unbiased”), he begins with a careful review of the concept of “mortality” and the modal varieties of meanings potentially associated with the term. Thus, he notes, we may understand mortality as referring to the possibility, actuality, or necessity of the death of the body. Alternatively, we may understand mortality vis-à-vis the soul and its possible, actual, or necessary destruction. In the second chapter, McLeod-Harrison lays out, in somewhat parallel fashion, the varieties of immortality. This conceptual backdrop is very helpful preparation for the ensuing discussion and is one of the strengths of the book.

The author’s main target of refutation is conditional immortality, which he defines as the view that humans may possibly suffer soul-death. In chapter three he addresses this claim head-on, considering whether God can cause humans to cease to exist. He addresses the question primarily in terms of God’s “moral purview to cause humans to cease to exist” (29). Though understanding that the moral and metaphysical conditions for God’s destruction of human persons are distinct, he rightly notes that “if it is morally permissible for God to bring about soul-death for humans, then it seems that it also is metaphysically possible for God to bring about soul-death” (29). Here the author appeals to Kantian notions regarding the relationship between “ought” and “can.” So although his argument in this chapter appeals primarily to what is in God’s moral power, the author regards his findings as having significant implications regarding what is metaphysically possible for God.

For the rest of my review, including my criticisms of McLeod-Harrison’s arguments, go here.


New Publication on the Ethics of Virtual Reality Technology

Last week an article of mine, entitled “The Ethics of Virtual Reality Technology: Social Hazards and Public Policy Recommendations,” was published in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics. In the article I discuss a number of issues related to virtual reality technology that are of serious moral concern and which, I argue, warrant the implementation of industry regulations. Here is the article abstract:

This article explores four major areas of moral concern regarding virtual reality (VR) technologies. First, VR poses potential mental health risks, including Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. Second, VR technology raises serious concerns related to personal neglect of users’ own actual bodies and real physical environments. Third, VR technologies may be used to record personal data which could be deployed in ways that threaten personal privacy and present a danger related to manipulation of users’ beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. Finally, there are other moral and social risks associated with the way VR blurs the distinction between the real and illusory. These concerns regarding VR naturally raise questions about public policy. The article makes several recommendations for legal regulations of VR that together address each of the above concerns. It is argued that these regulations would not seriously threaten personal liberty but rather would protect and enhance the autonomy of VR consumers.

As for the regulations I recommend in the article, they include (1) a standardized rating system for VR technologies, (2) minimum age requirements for some VR products, (3) informational and warning labels, (4) public disclosure mandates, and, depending upon the degree to which VR technology merges with social networks, (5) “no share” laws regarding user data gleaned by VR companies.

To this day I have yet to experience VR technology first hand. This avoidance was not entirely intentional, but now I am pleased that I finished this research project before doing so, as I was somewhat wary of how the experience might bias my thinking about the subject. I am happy to say that all of the arguments and recommendations I make in the piece are based entirely on the research data I explored. But now that the article is published, I’m eager to do give VR a try. Anyone out there want to invite me to join them for a trip to a virtual world? I’m ready to don a headset and make the plunge!


Seneca on Anger

This semester in my Principles of Ethics class I’ve been incorporating some new readings, including several works by the ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca.  A lot of his stuff is not only insightful but also practically beneficial, not to mention beautifully written.  His essay “On Anger” is an excellent case in point.  Personally, I think he goes too far in suggesting that all anger should be avoided, but I think we all can agree that much, if not most, human anger is counter-productive.  And we all would benefit from improving in the area of anger management, especially in these days of division and rancor.  Below I have highlighted some of Seneca’s thoughts on the subject which you may find helpful.  (All quotes below are from the Oxford edition of Seneca’s Dialogues and Essays, translated by John Davie.)

Why Anger Should be Avoided

  1. Anger inflicts harm on oneself: anger makes one a prisoner of one’s own passion. It is more painful to 516fhtlbDsL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_surrender to anger than to resist it: “every sense of grievance grows to self-torture” (32). “The anger I feel is more likely to do me harm than any wrong you may do me” (40).
  2. It is a sign of greatness to be resistant to all disturbances: “a lofty mind, always composed and established in a peaceful location, suppresses all that produces anger, and so is moderate, well-ordered, and earns respect; none of these things will you find in an angry man” (23).
  3. Anger turns men into savages: Gaius Caesar and many other leaders have allowed their anger to the most extreme cruelties, which extends even to fury on entire nations. Anger begets “every sort of evil, fire and sword. Trampling shame underfoot, it defiles men’s hands with murder . . . and leaves no place free from crime” (50).

Anger is Susceptible to our Control

  1. Many others have pardoned worse sins than you’ve suffered: People have forgiven criminal offenses, so “should I not pardon laziness, carelessness, or chattering?” (39). Even Harpagus controlled his anger when he was forced to eat his own sons, which the Persian king had killed, cooked, and served to him.
  2. You are able to tolerate other forms of irresponsibility, such as “a sick man’s lunatic behavior, a madman’s crazed words, or children’s petulant blows. . . . What difference does it make what fault it is that makes a person behave irresponsibly?” (40).

Guidelines for Avoiding Anger

  1. Take note of the things that provoke you: “It is an advantage to know one’s illness and to destroy its strength before it has scope to grow” (27).
  2. Use humor as a defense: “Let most affronts be turned into amusement and jest.”
  3. Resist the tendency to suspicion and exaggeration: “Very many men manufacture complaints, either by suspecting what is untrue or by exaggerating the unimportant. Anger often comes to us, but more often we come to it” (28).
  4. Put yourself in others’ shoes: Usually anger results from an “unjustified estimate of our own worth” and “an unwillingness to put up with treatment we would happily inflict on others” (28).
  5. Remember that everyone does foolish things: “Even the wisest men do wrong.” “No one is so ripe in judgment that his self-possession is not driven by misfortune into some heated action” (39). “All of us are inconsiderate and imprudent, all unreliable, dissatisfied, ambitious—why disguise with euphemism this sore that infects us all? All of us are corrupt.” (40).
  6. Remember your mortality: Resisting anger will make you more lovable. Better to “spend the brief span we have left in rest and peace” (50). Anyway, the one who offended you will die one day, whether or not you burn with anger toward him.  “Soon we will spit out this little spirit. In the meantime, while we have breath, while we are among our fellow men, let us behave as men should; let us not be a cause of fear or danger to anyone; . . . and let us tolerate with a great mind our short-lived misfortunes” (52).

Snapshots

Brief comments on film by Amy.
Some old, some new.  Domestic films and foreign too.

La La Land — I spent months avoiding conversation in which people were even casually referencing this movie because Jim and I missed seeing it in the theaters and I hated the idea of anything being ruined given that so many people were telling me it was an amazing movie. We finally got to see it as a family and while Andrew was disappointed in “all the singing” (apparently we failed to warn him beforehand that it was a musical) it was a great experience…until it wasn’t. I don’t believe in spoilers so 00d4c126-292e-39bb-92b1-9ad46ee4e403I will just say that everything that works to make this movie enchanting culminated in me leaving the theater more angry than I think I have ever been upon exiting a movie that I knew was good. Script, acting, design. All masterfully done. Which is why I am so angry. Still. For the most part my anger centers around the writer’s choice of endings, but there were also plausibility flaws that just annoyed me. Again, don’t want to ruin it for anyone especially since others didn’t have the same reactions as I did. Definitely worth seeing. Just be prepared to self-medicate on some Rocky Road ice cream and good old-fashioned venting afterwards. See it for yourselves and then we can talk.

Manchester by the Sea — Wowsers. Where to even begin to describe this film. All adjectives seem to fall far short. This was one of those films that wiggles its way into your brain and heart and has you thinking and talking about it for days and weeks afterwards. Unbelievably powerful performances from Casey Affleck and the rest of the cast. Seriously, can we just all agree to blacklist Ben in favor of Casey for everything except Batman? Besides the acting, one of the aspects of this film which impressed me the most was the editing. The story is not 65dae0a7-15ea-397f-a610-b2f0e7f6c700presented in chronological order, but in a way that builds suspense without being a distraction. The language is intense throughout and scenes of teenage sexuality, though brief and more disconcertedly awkward than erotic in this case, strike me as entirely unnecessary. Emotionally draining, but I highly recommend this one.

Dr. Strange — Once we got over Benedict Cumberbatch speaking with an American accent, the family really enjoyed watching Dr. Strange together. I must confess a weakness for all things Marvel with a few notable exceptions, but thankfully Dr. Strange was no such exception. Witty but heartfelt, entertaining but also thought-provoking. Well worth the seemingly hundreds of dollars we spent on popcorn and drinks for the kids.

Gleason — I have been wanting to watch this documentary for a while and finally got a chance one night recently while babysitting our newborn puppies. Former NFL player Steve Gleason was diagnosed with ALS (or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”) in 2011 and Gleason chronicles the highs and lows of Steve’s and his wife Michel’s journey through treatment, family dynamics and life in the public eye. While Steve is certainly to be commended for his persistence and his desire to bring awareness to the struggles faced by those with ALS, what I appreciated most about this film was his and Michel’s willingness to be authentic and real regarding the challenges they faced. Filmed over several years, you rejoice as they welcome their first child, Rivers, into the world while simultaneously your heart breaks as Steve loses his mobility and eventually his ability to speak. A story that is both tragic and inspiring, I would imagine that Gleason has to be a source of comfort to those facing similar trials and to anyone who desires to see the word “hero” redefined.

Small Screenshots:

13 Reasons Why: So much has been written about this series that I will keep this review brief. Don’t watch this show. In the interest of staying relevant, I began this show which, as I am sure most of you have heard, revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker, a newly transferred high school student who encounters one bully and tragedy after another. I was appalled at the exploitation of this character’s pain not to mention the gratuitous portrayal of sexual assault. One of the most disturbing messages of this show is that being a parent who deeply cares about your child and attempts to remain connected with them during their teenage years is pointless. Truly a tragic show.

Stranger Things: The Spiegel clan, minus Maggie who is easily frightened by everything but sharks and the Beatles, gobbled this series up. The only downside was having to wait for everyone to be free in order to watch together, but it was well worth the scheduling headache. Well-cast, though Winona Ryder as a struggling single mom did take a little getting used to, this science fiction series set in 1983 was completely addictive. Can’t wait for the second season to come out in October and should probably start coordinating everyone’s schedules now.

Sherlock Season 4: Not sure what to say about the latest season of one of my favorite shows. The kids and I eagerly watched the previous episodes in order to whet our appetites for the latest season. Think our time would have been better spent rewatching our favorites from past seasons rather than watching Season 4. Besides being extremely dark and sometimes confusing, it felt a lot like a remix of previous storylines with the characters merely being shifted around. While we certainly would sit down to watch a Season 5, it will be with an edge of skepticism. Once bitten twice shy, my dear Watson.

Abstract: This is a great series for anyone interested in the arts. Beautifully done, it brings together the art of filmmaking and the 3-D arts brilliantly. Featuring world renowned artists including illustrators, architects, and more, you don’t have to be “artsy” to get drawn in. An excellent viewing experience for the whole family.


The Saddest Songs I’ve Ever Heard

Recently it occurred to me that its been a long time since I’ve heard a new song that is really sad. I’ve encountered plenty of new music that is perverse or aims to be shocking, but not anything that I would categorize as truly sad. And by that I mean the kind of song that has the capacity to create a genuinely sorrowful mood through its lyric and, of course, a melodic structure that reinforces the lyrical theme. This got me to thinking about the saddest songs I know, so here is my top ten list of saddest songs. Obviously, this sort of thing is somewhat subjective. A song that makes me sad might not hit you the same way. But there is also an objective component—attributes which explain why certain songs tend to prompt a melancholy response in listeners. I’ve highlighted some of those features in many of the songs in my list.

But first, here are ten honorable mentions:

  1. Both Sides Now by Judy Collins – A poetic, somewhat stream of consciousness reflection on how personal maturation inevitably involves loss and the discovery of one’s limits. Collins’ vocal is direct and plaintive, supported by rich orchestration. Joni Mitchell’s more spare and intimate original version is also wonderful.
  1. Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin – The ultimate song about parental regret over time and opportunities squandered. Our kids grow so fast, and before you know it they’re off to college. Not only that, but the song captures the sorrow of seeing your own faults recapitulated in your own kids: “…and as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.” Ouch.
  1. Those Were the Days by Mary Hopkin – A reworking of an old Russian melody, matched to a nostalgic lyric, Hopkin’s vocal performance is both precise and mournful. The history of art is replete with the pangs of sorrow over human mutability and our inevitable demise. This song captures and conveys that sorrow as well as anything I’ve heard.
  1. Yesterday When I Was Young by Roy Clark – Another song about nostalgic regret. Clark’s vocal performance isn’t particularly great, but the lyrical genius makes up for that. For some other versions with more compelling vocals, check out this version by Glen Campbell (with scrolling lyrics) and this more upbeat arrangement by Dusty Springfield.
  1. I Started a Joke by the Bee Gees – The Bee Gees are most well known for their Saturday Night Fever era disco stuff, but for a decade prior to that they recorded numerous classics, including this tear-jerker sung by Robin Gibb. The Wallflowers interpretation of the song is also excellent.
  1. Long, Long Time by Linda Ronstadt – If anyone was born to sing, it was Ronstadt. She made a career out of making covers of songs that put the originals to shame. This song is brilliantly composed, capturing the feeling of resignation over love lost or never known, and Ronstadt delivers an exquisite performance to match, supported by guitar, harpsichord, and a beautifully scored string section.
  1. Alone Again by Gilbert O’Sullivan – This one is a musical gut punch, as the singer contemplates suicide after being stood up at the altar. From there he proceeds to reflecting on the death of his parents and questioning the mercy and goodness of God. Perhaps the best presentation of the problem of evil in song.
  1. Mr. Bojangles by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Written and originally recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version is deservedly the standard, with an understated vocal and perfectly stacked instrumentation. The fact that the song is based on an actual person that Walker met in New Orleans adds to its emotive power.
  1. Mother by John Lennon – John Lennon’s father left him when he was a small boy, and his mother was tragically killed when John was 17. Such pain is not fully expressible, but this song probably comes as close as possible to doing that. The desperation in Lennon’s voice during the closing refrain is almost unbearable.
  1. Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland – The signature song in a film whose theme is finding a way home, it captures that unique sorrow inherent to the human condition. We are all longing for home, our heavenly home “over the rainbow.” I’ve listened to this song thousands of times over half a century, and I still tear up sometimes when I hear it. For an equally melancholic rendition in a completely different arrangement, check out this version by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole.

Snapshots

Brief comments on film by Amy.
Some old, some new.  Domestic films and foreign too.

Hacksaw RidgeJim and I made the unfortunate decision to watch this movie as part of a double date with friends. The company was excellent. The movie powerful. Just not exactly a fun night out on the town given the graphic nature of the violence portrayed. Hacksaw Ridge is the compelling and awe-inspiring story of Private Desmond T. Doss, played convincingly by Andrew Garfield. It’s one of those movies that you immediately start fact checking as soon as you leave the theater. In this case, Doss’ story of courage and commitment to his religious convictions is as impressive if not more so than what is portrayed on screen. The onscreen violence of WWII is extremely graphic, but it serves only to highlight Doss’ bravery and that of the men with whom he served. Vince Vaughn seemed out of place particularly in the battle scenes as Sergeant Howell, but Garfield’s performance was impressive especially as a Brit given that Doss’ was southern. The highlight of the movie for me was the last few minutes which featured the actual men involved. True heroes whose story should inspire us all.

Take ShelterWatching this film was my attempt to wean myself off binge-watching episodes of House Hunters International and Agatha Christie’s Poirot and get back to more serious films. It was also an opportunity to watch an independent film with the kids and strengthen their critical thinking skills regarding film. Despite Sam imagesand Bailey opting out and Andrew falling asleep halfway through, I think the attempt was fairly successful. Curtis LaForce and his apocalyptic visions of impending doom reminded me just how good non-Hollywood movies can be and had us all, except those of us who were snoring, on the edge of our seat, half-fearing, half-hoping Curtis wasn’t crazy for stocking up on gas masks and canned foods. In a movie full of good performances, my hat goes off especially to Jessica Chastain for participating in a non-blockbuster film which I am sure entailed a significant drop in her usual paycheck. She blended in with the lesser known actors flawlessly and delivered a heartfelt and perfectly under-stated performance.

Split — Anticipation is a funny emotion in that is rather more of fruit salad of emotion than one pure feeling; a not entirely enjoyable combination of excitement and dread, hope and fear, like a pleasant mixture of berries with the occasional piece of mushy cantaloupe mixed in. Ever since the dreadful disappointments of The Happening and The Last Airbender, looking forward to the release of an M. Knight Shyamalan film has filled me with that fruit salad feeling. I don’t want to get too excited for fear of being let down, but I also want to continue to have faith in and support one of my favorite directors. Having enjoyed The Visit, I hoped Split wouldn’t disappoint and it most certainly did not. Terrifying, heart-breaking, and filled with a powerful message about good and evil, Split is Shyamalan all grown up. The film does mark a departure from Shyamalan’s usual Hitchcockian technique of allowing the viewers’ imaginations to fill in the gaps of his restrained depictions of violence and is not for the faint at heart when it comes to very brief, but disturbing nonetheless, moments of horror. James McAvoy was Split_(2017_film)brilliant and if I met him in person I would tell him so…over my shoulder as I ran away in fright. The ending, no spoilers, left me panting for more.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 — Time for another confession: it only took a preview featuring a talking space raccoon for me to say “no thanks” to Guardians of the Galaxy. So when GG2 came out, I took little notice. But when your 17 year old son asks, begs and pleads to go to see a movie as a family, you’ve got to do it…even if it features a sarcastic, weapon toting trash panda. And in this case, I was rewarded with not only a fun familial night, but also an entertaining flick with a killer soundtrack. In the tradition of Star Wars, GG2 didn’t try to get overly complicated with it’s storyline, focusing more on character development than complex plots and made up scientific jargon. Zoe Saldana is not one of my favorite actresses, but the always charming Chris Pratt more than makes up for her rather stiff and snooty performance. Not a must see, but if you find yourself looking for a good chuckle with the kids this summer, this is a good chuckle inducing flick to choose.

Small Screenshots:

Handmaid’s Tale: At the recommendation of a feminist leaning friend, I read the Margaret Atwood book on which this series is based several years ago. While not in agreement with the author’s perspective, I did find the book to be well-written and thought provoking. Not sure I can say the same for the Hulu produced series. After watching several episodes, I decided that I had seen enough. I admire Elizabeth Moss who plays the main character Offred, a “handmaid” in a country controlled by an elite but barren class who force the few remaining fertile women to bear children for them. The makers of this series clearly have a message to convey regarding our current political and social climate. I found many articles linking the show to protests against attempts to limit access to abortion and even an instance in Texas where women dressed as handmaids in order to protest pro-life legislation. I entirely endorse the message that freedom of speech is essential and that those who seek to control language and impose their narrow beliefs onto others should be thwarted. But tragically, the writers of Handmaid’s Tale and those who identify its totalitarian regime with our present administration seem oblivious to their own intolerance. One article I read claimed that we are living in a pre-Gilead state and I can’t say I disagree though I fear this type of show attempts to silence the opposition rather than promote public discourse.

Anne with an “E”: The best thing I can say about this Netflix produced series is that it inspired me to finally read Anne of Green Gables which I am thoroughly enjoying. I appreciate the attempt to bring a little more reality to the story of orphan Anne Shirley and her adoption by spinster Marilla and her bachelor brother Matthew, but something is lost in the addition of realism. I have struggled to put my finger on exactly what that loss is. Perhaps in making the circumstances more real, the writers have made the characters less so. They feel much more like caricatures than the original production starring Megan Follows and entirely lack the warmth or complexity of the book. In attempting to give context to Anne as an orphan and outsider, Anne with an “E” misplaces much of Anne as a person. Disappointing for sure but not enough so that I didn’t watch the whole series.

Father Brown: Speaking of disappointing series that still had me watching every episode . . .  G.K. Chesterton was a genius and one of the most quotable Christian writers of the 20th century. I am pretty sure he is not just spinning but doing cartwheels in his grave at the use of his beloved Father Brown as the mouthpiece of all things politically correct in this apologetic for relativism. Quirky characters and lots of murder plots to unravel can’t make up for the jarring anachronisms as Father Brown, a Catholic priest, repeatedly mistakes complacency for compassion. It should be illegal to appropriate the works of such a devout person of faith like Chesterton and twist their characters for your own devices. Go find your own characters to speak for you and leave those who would surely oppose your viewpoint alone.