Ray | ★★★★★★★★

My wife and I spent last evening with some close friends and watched Ray on their big screen TV. This biopic focuses on a young Ray Charles ... his singing career ... his adulterous womanizing ... his heroin addiction. The music was simply wonderful ... Georgia on My Mind ... Hit the Road Jack ... What I Say ... many more ... simply wonderful. Jamie Foxx seemed to capture the essence of Ray ... a flawless performance.

So I am sitting here this morning wondering what the take-away from Ray is ... what, if anything, did I learn from the movie? I guess what struck me the most was Ray's pain. His life and music seemed to be a reflection of his inner struggle with his loss of vision, his brother's childhood death and memories of his mom. Ray seemed to spend much of his early life medicating ... burying the pain with drugs and women. He seemed to be a bit like Jonah ... running from the God who had seemed to let him down.

In one scene early in the movie we see Ray 'having church' reading a Braille bible in his one room apartment. There definitely seems to be a spiritual side to Mr. Charles. His childhood seemed to be greatly influenced by church and gospel music. In the movie we see him soar to greatness as his music begin to blend rhythm and blues with gospel - he seemed to take a lot of flack from black church people over this ... yet he continued to push the music envelope with much success.

The message of pain rings out loud as we watch Ray medicating with drugs and women. I guess that is my take-away from the movie ... even the most talented among us have to at some time deal with our demons ... those things in life ... like blindness and death ... that seem to scar us ... mark our thinking and emotional perception of who we are and why we are here. Ray took a long time to get free of his demons ... I guess that is pretty much true for all of us ... some come out only by prayer and fasting ... and some only with time.

I recommend Ray - good music and a good story. On a scale of ten I give it ★★★★★★★★.

Nuclear Diplomacy

Internationally speaking, these are tense times. Quoting from a recent AP story:
"The nuclear crisis erupted in October 2002 when U.S. officials accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment program in violation of international treaties. Washington and its allies cut off free fuel oil shipments for the impoverished country under a 1994 deal with the United States. North Korea retaliated by quitting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in early 2003 and restarting its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program, which had been frozen under the 1994 agreement."

I think that now more than ever the US needs to be strong - in armaments and in wisdom. The past several years have given us a glimpse of how treacherous the international waters can be. Many of us really thought that the threat of nuclear war had passed with the collapse of communism in Germany and Russia. It is startling to read about North Korea, Iran and other countries that seem to be developing nuclear weapons programs.

Today North Korea publicly stated that they have nuclear weapons and need them "as protection against an increasingly hostile United States". Is this about the war on terror ... don't recall many reports of terrorists in North Korea ... or is this an escalation of a 'police action' that supposedly ended over 50 years ago. Your guess is as good as mine. My hope, my prayer, is that our leaders will exercise much wisdom when they tread these international waters ... that we will operate from a position of strength ... both military and diplomatic strength.

An Abortion Opinion

Ann Coulter's recent column entitled 'Where's that religious fanatic we elected?" addressed President Bush's assertion that a "culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws. We need, most of all, to change hearts." In her article Ms. Coulter expresses frustration over conservative politicians inability to change the law with regard to abortion. She says: "Actually, what we need least of all is to "change hearts." ... All the hearts that can be changed have been changed."

It is a startling and sobering thought ... probably truer than I want to admit. Most people have an opinion on abortion and there probably aren't enough words, or pictures, that will change their opinion. So what should we do? In her article Ms. Coulter also states that: "In a Los Angeles Times poll a few years ago, 57 percent of respondents said they believed abortion was "murder." Seventy-two percent of women and 58 percent of men said they thought abortion should be illegal after the first trimester."

Possibly the answer to the abortion question is one of moderation ... maybe working towards the middle would initiate a dialog ... possibly there could be a consensus around the second trimester. The question is how do we get to that place of consensus. It is obvious that our politicians do not have the ability to get to that place. I think we need to somehow bypass the politicians and possibly the courts. Ann Coulter thinks that we should vote. She concludes her column by saying: "We've been changing hearts for 32 years -- I think we're ready for the big match now. I think Americans would support massive restrictions on abortion. ... Let Americans vote."


PS: For those of you doubting the viability of a second trimester baby:

Rumaisa Rahman was born weighing 8.6 ounces (244 grams) at the Loyola University Medical Center outside Chicago in September. She was delivered by Caeserean section along with her twin sister, Hiba, who was only slightly bigger. Doctors say she has made very good progress, and is expected to lead a normal life. Rumaisa, who was just 9.5 inches (24cm) long at birth, now weighs 5lbs 8oz (2.49kg) and has almost doubled in length. Hiba, who weighed 1lb 4oz at birth, went home from hospital in early January. -- BBC News, February 9, 2005

Social InSecurity

I recently got a very thoughtful message from John Mauldin (http://www.frontlinethoughts.com) entitled "Social Security's Flawed Assumption". Here is an excerpt:

"And now let me speak a heresy. We need to recognize that Social Security is not a retirement program, like a pension or 401k plan. It is a welfare program. It transfers money from one group to another group."

John's statement that Social Security is not a retirement program is somewhat of a new thought for me. I have always thought of Social Security as a long-term savings program that I have contributed to for 38+ years. My belief was that funds would be available for regular withdrawal when I reached the age of 65. So, John's assertation is a bit startling for me. In one sense I agree with him because the funds are coming from current contributors and not funds previously contributed. But I disagree with John because ... at it's core ... Social Security is a program that a person contributes to and withdraws from - that looks a lot more like a savings or 401k program than a welfare program.

While I understand that, at it's onset, Social Security might have looked a little like welfare, I think that it is not helpful to describe it in this manner today. I am convinced that all of Social Security disbursements I receive in my lifetime will not surpass the amounts I contributed to the program. If it is welfare then those on the dole are not the recipients of Social Security payments but those in government who, like parasites, live off of it.

The News Industry

I think that the press has become more of a 'News Industry' than anything ... most of the network news shows look a lot more like Letterman than Cronkite ... I think their sponsors push them to entertain us rather than inform us - it is all about the ratings you know. Pundits on the right and the left side of the aisle seem to occasionally bemoan the other side a being 'biased'. I find that perhaps they protest too much. They are all in the same game and the tit-for-tat complaining about the other side is just part of the game.

Now the print media wants us to believe that they are not at all the same as their on-screen counterparts ... like they don't have to sell papers (and advertising) anymore . I find that these folks are no different than the talking heads on TV. The paper I subscribe to has 41 columnists on it's payroll ... pretty obvious that entertainment is a large part of their business.

Bottom line - it is all about entertaining us ... that is what these guys ... Leno, O'Reilly, Rather and the rest ... get paid for ... and they often do it well. Sad thing is that we think that listening to 'the news' is somehow more 'intellectual' than watching the daily soaps.

21st Century Conservatism

I am a first a fiscal conservative and secondly a social conservative ... both are clearly moral in nature with the fiscal spin just a bit more identifiable. I read the following last week in one of the daily papers:

"The White House now says it will need another $80 billion in extra funding, most of it for Iraq. The new spending would make this year's federal budget deficit $427 billion, the largest in history."

I find it interesting that, in some sense, all issues are fiscal because it takes money to do about anything. It takes money to fund social programs, to wage a war, to support Tsunami victims, to rebuild a foreign nation - you get the idea. I think there are two issues that arise when we start to talk about money. The first is where the money is spent and the second is whether (and how much) we go into debt to pay the bills. I think that we must determine the second before we deal with the first - and this is where the rubber meets the road.

For every expenditure we must ask the difficult question "Is it worth going in debt for?" Once we have asked that question then we will have a better handle on how we should spend our money. This is where I see our nation falling short. Even those who advocate a strong conservative view seem to be for spending money we don't have - things that we have to go into national debt for. These same conservatives criticize 'liberals' who see tax cuts as revenue short falls. It is like these 21st Century Conservatives want to cut our national income but not our national expenditures.

I think that our country can do much better than a $427 billion federal deficit ... but it will take courageous leadership to do it!

The Aviator and The Phantom | ★★★★★★★★★

I saw the 'The Aviator', the Howard Hughes bio-pic, this weekend and was impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio's excellent portrayal of the lead character. Hughes was portrayed with a wonderful sensitivity. In him we saw a brilliance of mind while at the same time a darkness of soul - as high as he soared with ambition, intelligence and entrepreneurship ... he sunk low in sexual debauchery and weirdness. There is a wonderful interchange with an older wealthy woman where Hughes tells her that money doesn't mean anything to her because she has always had it ... and I add - never worked for it. Another great line is where he tells a movie star that she is 'only an actress'. Both of these interchanges reveal Hughes' understanding of societal priorities ... those who contribute to society help society rather than feed off it.

The Hughes role is somewhat similar to the lead character in 'The Phantom of the Opera', another recent movie. Each character is somewhat of a dark genius ... each draws us into the darkness only to surprise us with their vulnerability ... each very strong but very weak ... both simple yet complex. I recommend both The Aviator and The Phantom of the Opera to those of you who, like me, enjoy movies with complex characters and great scripts.

See my other blog for more on the phantom. On a scale of ten I give both movies ★★★★★★★★★.

Not another movie critic

I have decided that there is just not enough movie buzz on the web so I am adding my totally unbiased input to the world of movie critique. You know I really do enjoy movies - especially a good action movie or comedy ... what guy doesn't. Mostly I want to be entertained but some times a movie will surprise me and I find myself unexpectedly reacting to the story, a character or the music.

I just saw Phantom of the Opera. The music moves me every time I hear it. Music can really draw you into a story - can really tug on your heart like nothing else. Who can ever forget 'Climb Every Mountain' from The Sound of Music (as well as just about every other song from it) ... or 'Money' from Cabaret ... or 'My Heart Will Go On' from Titanic. Oscar doesn't have a Best Song category for nothing.

Another thing that I like in a movie is character development. In Rainman I loved the way Charlie Babbit changed as he go to know his older brother Raymond ... it moved me to see love change him so much. I so appreciate a script where a character is confronted with new information or impossible circumstances and changes for the better. We all loved to see how everyone helped George Bailey at the end of It's A Wonderful Life - it lifted our spirits.

Have you ever been really surprised by a movie? I remember about 10 years ago watching Beauty and the Beast with my daughter - it shocked me how I was drawn into the story and moved by the music ... after all it was JUST A CARTOON. Dances With Wolves made me cry - how could we have done that to our Native American friends ... it totally changed my view of the history of our westward expansion.

A story based in fact always impresses me - Antoine Fisher, The Hurricane, Shadowland and Chariots of Fire come to mind. As a believer in Christ I felt inspired when, in Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddel told his sister that he felt God's pleasure when he ran ... it was a moving moment. Another scene that sucked me in was when Jack (C. S. Lewis) embraced his stepson and grieved at the end of Shadowlands ... I had just lost my first wife to heart failure and wept uncontrollably ... movies can really move you!

I could wax on about action movies and comedies but am running out of steam ... maybe I'll do it later :)