Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Three More Movies

Film Strip
Originally uploaded by baldman76.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)- As good as the reviewers (and my Mom) say it is. A dysfunctional family takes a road trip to California so that 7-year-old Olive may compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Solid performances all around. Every actor is very well cast, and even though everyone shines, Steve Carrell and Paul Dano really stand out in my mind. The scenes of the family’s inability to communicate with one another (not just talk, but too really connect) are just as sad as they are funny. There’s real pain and anger behind all the sarcasm and pithy exchanges between the members of the family, and I think the films does an excellent job creating realistic characters. I won’t say much more on this one, but it is a perfect blend of humor and pathos, which is what a comedy should be, right? We laugh at other people’s pain- that’s comedy. I laughed hard throughout the whole thing, all the while feeling that I was watching the emotional death of a family… Great little film.

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)- We borrowed this on DVD from Adam and Sarah during our recent trip to Charlotte. I had seen this movie before but it is no exaggeration to say it had probably been closer to 20 years since I watched it. Mom rented it when we were kids and I remember not being all that enthralled with it. However, as an adult (and one who is a wee bit obsessed with all things Africana) I thought this film was really funny. For those of you who have not seen it, a Bushman in Botswana is chosen to rid his tribe of an “evil thing” which has corrupted the ways of his people (the evil thing is a Coke bottle, btw). At the same time, a clumsy scientist tries to get into the good graces of a newly arrived teacher, and an Angolan rebel group is fleeing from the country with the army in hot pursuit. All of these things combine to form a very funny movie which is surprisingly full of slap-stick jokes that remarkably work well within the context of the story. There were several times during the movie that, although the Africa of this movie was obviously exaggerated for the comedic aspect of the story, Katie and I found ourselves saying “That is SO true.”


Another interesting little tidbit from the IMBD site on N!xau the San Bushman:
N!xau, a San from the Kalahari Desert, was discovered by director Jamie Uys and cast in the lead role in the 1980 movie The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980). He received only a few hundred dollars for his work in that film, but was astute enough to negotiate for over half a million for his appearance in the sequel, The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989).

Though the IMDB site says his cause of death was unknown, it has been attributed to MDR-tuberculosis. The DVD has a short documentary about going and finding N!xau. It was interesting to watch, but I didn’t think the short was very well done. The narration was pretty lame (and we didn’t get the subtitles to work until the very end and once we figured it out, we had to watch all the Bushmen parts again).

The Station Agent (2003)- This is another great little film (no pun intended). Fin McBride is a loner, a dwarf who is obsessed with trains and is so tired of being the object of people’s staring curiosity that he has long since created an isolated life with his only friend Henry, both of whom work in the model train shop below where they live. When Henry dies, Fin inherits an old train depot in rural New Jersey and leaves to go live in peaceful isolation. Needless to say, his life becomes anything but. I thought this was going to be a slow, talky film, but it was really funny and Katie and I laughed throughout. It is a solid character study, realistic, very well acted, with great music. If you get the opportunity to check it out, do so. It’s a very enjoyable film.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Happy Ramadan!!

Happy Ramadan! Merry Ramadan?! I don’t know what to say, but the holy month of Ramadan started yesterday for the Muslims around the globe. And with all the talk of angry Muslims in the news these days, I thought I would write a little about the Somali families we have here in Columbia, who are both Muslim and NOT angry at all. As most everyone who reads my blog knows, Katie and I have been involved with several of the families from Somalia who have been recently resettled to Columbia (and many other places across the US) from refugee camps in Kenya.

Katie and I and our friend Nicole go over to the apartments of two families every Thursday to tutor. Nicole (and Katie when she can get away from work) tutor several of the adults, and I work with any of the kids that need help with their homework and such. Our friend Ann and I are going to start tutoring the kids on Wednesdays as well and Katie is going to help teach one of the ladies to drive! That’ll be fun, teaching someone who knows very little English how to operate a vehicle (she does have her permit, though, so she obviously knows enough for that). I had my camera with me last week to take some pictures, but I didn’t get any because it was a little chaotic (and 12 year old Khadija didn’t think her hair looked good enough for a photo). So I have no photos yet, but maybe next week I can snap a few to share with you, Dear Readers.

However, I DID get a picture of Aden Mabruk and his friend Abdi, who were all too willing to pose for the camera. Abdi’s on the left and Aden on the right.

Abdi and Aden

I have tutored Aden for about 10 months, and though I am not an official tutor to Abdi, I try to help him a little whenever I get the chance. Both come to the library a lot, as a large chunk of the Bantus live in the northeast area of Columbia, not far from the Cooper Branch of the library where I work. I first started going to Dent Middle School (where Katie works) once a week as a tutor for CIS-M to help Aden with his work back in January, but he is now in high school, so we meet in the library when I get off work and work for about 1 1/2 hours. He is an amazing person and has learned so much in the brief time that I have known him that it is mind-boggling. Before coming to America, he had had very little formal schooling, and within about a year and a half, he has brought himself up to about a 5th grade reading level. Now, this is problematic since he is in high school and I do worry about him becoming frustrated. But all that being said, he is amazing and one of the most dedicated students I have ever seen. He is in the library all the time. He has three or four tutors and he takes classes in Arabic at his mosque. Relentless.

So I hope to have some other pictures sometime soon of the beautiful families we work with. And on a related note, this Monday the Pope is supposed to meet with numerous ambassadors and dignitaries from the Islamic world to try and mend the wounds that his supposed affront to Muslims has created. I think the reaction of the Islamic world was uncalled for but I think it’s a great thing that the Pope has extended this offer. I mean, that’s pretty major, right? I hope it helps facilitate some good earnest dialogue between the two faiths. Lord knows we need it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I'm TOTALLY Being That Guy.

You know, that guy that gets a cat and then starts blogging about it all the time. Sigh.

But since I have been talking a lot of smack about the kitten lately, i thought I'd post a picture and a video ( yep, a video) that shows how sweet she actually is.


Get this video and more at

The Pope vs. Islam

[ADDENDUM- I have added this as a preface to my original post as a preemptive clarification on my words that follow. I feel the need to do this because the first comment I got really seemed to agree with me BUT took a much more condemning stance to Islam as a whole than I do, and I wanted to make sure I was not misconstrued as attacking the whole faith. In regards to that first comment, I think the commenter was a non-native English speaker, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they were just agreeing with me and simply limited in their vocabulary, not wholly condemning Islamic faith.

I want to say that my statements about Muslims are really only about the people who are rioting (not a small minority, but a minority to be sure.) These are the ones who demand that the Pope be “removed from office” and burn effigies of our dear Padre. Not the Muslims that may go, “Well, I certainly disagree with what the Pope just said!” and then do their own thing. The rational, moderate voices.

A few pulled quotes from my post emphasize that my post is NOT an attack on Islam: First, I believe in an earnest dialogue between Christianity and Islam (and Judaism and other world religions, for that matter.) And I believe that a vast majority of Muslims really do value peace…I don’t believe at all that this reaction [violent protests] is representative of all Muslims, not even a majority of Muslims…I don’t dislike Islam, don’t want to invade the Middle East, still respect my Muslim friends and their beliefs, and hope that sometime in the future the world can all be friends…

And later in my post, when I state that I do not believe Mohammed was a prophet, I am not attacking Mohammed. He is a prophet to Muslims, but I am not Muslim, so it makes sense that I don’t believe he was a prophet. This is just simple doctrinal difference between the two faiths. Christians believe in Jesus Christ. Muslims believe that Mohammed was the final prophet. No insults there. Just simple, obvious differences of faith. But please note the main point of that paragraph: Christians who choose to have any type of reverence for Mohammed (such as myself, and indeed, the POPE) do so purely out of respect for their Muslims brothers and sisters’ faith and a belief in religious freedom. Just because we don’t believe the same doesn’t mean we are slandering the other’s faith. We agree to disagree. Might not be perfect, but it’s a good start toward peace.]


OK, so there has been much discussion on this topic, but now that I have a moment, I want to weigh in ever so briefly about the “Pope vs. Islam” affair (which of course isn’t the situation at all).

First, I believe in an earnest dialogue between Christianity and Islam (and Judaism and other world religions, for that matter.) And I believe that a vast majority of Muslims really do value peace. But I am just annoyed at how ridiculous many Muslims can get over anything that can be construed as a slight against Mohammed or Islam in general. These protests and reactions within the Muslim world are fraught with hypocrisy so thick I would love to think it was a joke, but alas it is not. I think many in the Muslim world are incapable of grasping irony.

“Muslims are not violent! And if you think so, we’ll kill you!”

Ok, so I don’t believe at all that this reaction is representative of all Muslims, not even a majority of Muslims. Certainly the Muslims in the USA haven’t taken to the streets. But if the crux of the matter comes down to offense taken because a 600-year-old comment makes Muslims sound violent, then Muslims need to do some serious navel-gazing and start criticizing their own back yard.

Nothing new here. People have been saying this for years. But this situation is the epitome of this hypocrisy. For instance: In a speech about the incompatibility of religion and violence, reference a 14th century Emperor (Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus) in an academic lecture, and include a quote IN CONTEXT OF THE TOPIC ("Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached" [the Emperor’s words]), and you get this:

Pope Effigy


You have a group of modern day terrorists (the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda) claiming Islam as their inspiration and ideology who issue this statement:"We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya…We shall break the cross and spill the wine ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome ... (May) God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen” and you get this:

Muslim reaction

No protests or effigies of Bin Laden burned here today, folks. It seems to me that a group pf psychopaths murdering in the name of Mohammed can do a lot more PR damage to Islam’s “peaceful” image than the words of a dead-for-600-plus-years emperor can. Hypocrisy, indeed. And granted, the quote used by the Pope is not a flattering view of Islam, but I promise the Pope can say some pretty unflattering things about Christianity as well.

And to those who would say that it is disrespectful to criticize another’s religious beliefs and that I am supporting religious intolerance by supporting the Pope in this instance, I say this: There is indeed a lot of religious intolerance evident in this circumstance, but I’m thinking most of it’s on the side of the fence that’s burning crosses and declaring the destruction of Rome. Where can I pick up my picket sign and burn an effigy of Mohammed? Protesters burned a cross in disrespect of my religion. It’s OK if that offends me, right? Tit for tat, people. (Actually, tit for tat is a very un-Christian mentality, so I’ll opt for forgiveness, instead.)

And here’s another thing Muslims don’t seem to get: Christians who choose to have any type of reverence for Mohammed (such as myself, and indeed, the POPE) do so purely out of respect for their Muslims brothers and sisters’ faith and a belief in religious freedom. It has nothing to do with Mohammed himself. I am not a scholar on Islam or the Middle East, but I do have Muslim friends, and every week I am a guest in the homes of Muslim families and tutor anywhere from 1-7 Islamic children per week. I ask questions and inquire about the belief. But I don’t in any form or fashion think Mohammed was a prophet. It goes against MY beliefs. But YOU can think so. Doesn’t bother me at all. What DOES bother me is seeing Muslims burn crosses and effigies of the Pope. But as much as it pisses me off, I don’t wanna kill ya. Sorry. I guess I’m just not “peaceful” enough.

And here one last thing that struck me: I’m Catholic, and there’s a good chance that I never would have read one word of the Pope’s speech. So how do thousands and thousands of Muslims hear about the Pope’s comments? And why do they go ape-shit over it? Three things in combination: poverty, ignorance, and religious fervor (and we’ve got it here, too, folks, in all sorts of flavors). Religious leaders who have a vested interest in a struggle are stoking the flames and inciting people to rally around factual distortions and “attacks” against their faith (no context required). And many believe what they hear. They have faith that if their religious leaders tell them that the West (and/or the Pope) is out to get them, they believe it. They likely have no way to independently verify the truth of these statements, so they believe what they are told. (And we do the same thing, getting our news in snippets from talking heads.) Protest ensue, and slowly but surely words are used to destroy dialogue. And those in power remain in power. Poverty + ideology can create fanatics. It's a simple equation that works all over the world.

Anyway, it's late and I am just rambling on now. Here's a happy ending to my rambling post: In summary, I don’t dislike Islam, don’t want to invade the Middle East, still respect my Muslim friends and their beliefs, and hope that sometime in the future the world can all be friends.

Read the Pope’s entire speech out of “sound-bite” format.

Gashwin’s blog is a great resource for commentary and links to sites concerning this situation.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Art Class, Blanket Suits of Armor, and Board Games

Since it is rapidly approaching THIS weekend, I thought I should write a little about LAST weekend, when we had a lovely visit with our old pals Adam and Sarah May. Now, when I say OUR old pals, I mean Katie’s pals of about 3-4 years and I mean MY OLD PALS, since I’ve known Sarah at least a decade and I’ve known Adam for about twenty years.

I probably first met Adam when I was in the fourth grade. Of course, I wouldn’t say it was much of a friendship at that point. It was more of a “Yay! It’s Adam! / Oh shit, (sigh) it’s Chris.” arrangement. You see, Adam was best buds with Jason Mucha’, older brother of one of my dearest friends, Jeremy Mucha’, better known to my Dear Readers as “Cap’n HardQore”, he of the recent broke-ass jaw fame. Jeremy and I thought nothing was cooler than to incessantly bug Jason and Adam as they tried to mind their own business and play computer games. We would take blankets and belts and basically create suits of armor and storm into the Mucha’s den to attack our helpless victims, who were of course several critical years older than we were, meaning they could beat the holy living hell out of us, generally with bunched up pillows that would knock us across the room. And as annoying as we were, I am quite sure Jason and Adam enjoyed this at least a little bit. And yes, we did break things in these fights. Not bones. Lamps and stuff.

Pillow fight

[Side story about the Mucha’s den: On the wall of the den, there hung two sheathed and crossed swords. Jeremy’s mom must have hearing of superhero proportions, because if we even TOUCHED those things (and we did because, hey- they’re SWORDS) she would immediately show up and very politely but firmly say to us “I’ve told you this a thousand times, do not touch the swords. PLEASE put them down now.” I’m serious. EVERY time.]

Anyway, years pass, and now I am in 9th grade. I walk into my Art class and lo and behold, there is Adam (with Carey Johnson, soon to be a close friend throughout high school, and Mike Ahner, who I had met a few years before and was the first person ever to quite earnestly tell me to f@&# off. True story) Anyway, we looked at each other in absolute horror, but within a day or so, I had been invited over and have counted Adam as one of my closest friends since. Sarah I met after Adam vanished for a few months to escape the aforementioned Carey (by this time his ex-girlfriend) and when he showed up next he had this cool little girlfriend that several years later became his cool little wife. They both like spiders, zombie movies, and freaking out their WASPy suburban neighbors. They’re pretty fun, to say the least.

Adam and Sarah

So we spent last weekend in Charlotte with these folks and had a good time with many of their friends who came over for “Board game night.” Also, we met their greyhound Indy (“We named the dog Indiana’) and saw our other old pals Morgan and NewKitty. And we ate some amazing Indian food. And went to a Greek festival. And came home with a chair.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Book Review Round-Up

I work in a library. I read books and I want to tell you about them:


Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder tells the story of Paul Farmer, the Harvard educated genius doctor who, along with a tight-knit group of very dedicated people, has altered the way public health policy towards the Third world is developed and implemented. Focusing primarily on his work in Haiti and then outward as Farmer’s organization (Partners In Health) expands and its impact spreads, the book is well written and very thought-provoking.

I cannot really put into words the way this book has impacted me. I have read this book in a period of personal soul-searching that has slowly been taking over my thoughts since we returned from Africa. I have been trying to find my place again. I’m back from Africa, out of school, no longer working at any non-profit, and volunteering in a way that I often feel has very little real impact. In short: I’m squarely back in the real world and trying to discern my next steps. And this book hasn’t made it any easier; in fact, this book really got under my skin and challenged me in ways that have really struck a chord lately. I wanted to blog about this book weeks ago and was waiting for some profound thought or solution to my quandary to strike me, but alas, that answer of moment of clarity has yet to arrive. So I’ll keep soul searching and just say everyone should read this book. It’s riveting, it’s inspiring, it’s medically informative, it’s sociological in it indictment of the structural nature of world health problems, and it’s just a dang good book.

An Ordinary Man cover

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina is the autobiography of the man played by Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda. I don’t think I need to say that this is an intense book, but for anyone who saw the movie, it is worth the time to hear the events told outside of the filter of a movie screenplay (though the film really seems to have been very accurate). The book fills in some real life details about Paul and his family, about the horrors of the 1994 genocide, and about what happens after the events seen in the movie end. A good, insider’s view of the events.

von Iglefeld books

Well, you knew there would have to be something by Alexander McCall Smith in here, and in fact there are THREE short novellas included in the Round-up: Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances relate several tales revolving around Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, the author of an extremely important book on Portuguese verb usage. In these novellas, we see von Igelfeld direct surgery on an unfortunate wiener dog, participate in a revolution, match wits with a prejudiced Italian innkeeper, stumble upon a serious health risk to Germans in Venice, and resist the advances of hundreds of lonely widows while out to sea. And much more. Short, funny, well written. And I can now say I have read all four of McCall Smith’s series. Only a few books left and I’ll have knocked out his entire catalog. Booyah.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Some Movies Chris Reid Has Seen Since June and Hasn’t Mentioned.

Film Strip
Originally uploaded by baldman76.
So I generally try to post a review of any movies I see, but lately I have been busy (read: lazy) and have let several films of note (and some of NOT much note) go by with nary a mention. So here is a bit of a summary that we’ll creatively call “Some Movies Chris Reid Has Seen Since June and Hasn’t Mentioned.”

Good Night and Good Luck- Watched this one on the KLM flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam on a little tiny TV on the back of the seat in front of me. Which was OK, because it’s not a big movie, though it is a VERY good one. I didn’t know anything about Edward R. Murrow, but this film was a good introduction to his role in broadcast journalism and to his belief in what television SHOULD be. Clooney is good as always, and David Strathairn gives a really solid performance. A movie worth your while.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit- Watched this one on the KLM flight going the other direction from Amsterdam to Nairobi. I’ve liked all the Wallace and Gromit shorts, but I was a little dubious as to whether they could stretch it into a full-length movie. And yes, they could. I laughed out loud at many of the jokes in this one and I would recommend it to everyone.

Failure to Launch: Dumb and formulaic romantic comedy (also an in-flight movie), but watchable, if for no other reason than I like Matthew McConaughey. I didn’t even see the end and it didn’t matter.

Firewall- Han Solo / Indiana Jones saves his family from bad guys who steal things and shoot people. I watched the whole movie without sound. Not really good, but not terrible. I like Han Solo.

Eight Below: Man must abandon his team of sled dogs to die in the cold and is wracked with guilt for it. And the dogs die…OR DO THEY?! Based on a true story, which in itself is pretty incredible. Yeah, it’s a Disney family film, but it was better than I thought it would be and not as sanitized as I anticipated. Also watched without sound. (Earphones are a pain.) But that was OK because, unlike other Disney films, these dogs couldn’t talk, so I didn’t necessarily miss much dialogue.

Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony - "Amandla" means “power.” This documentary focuses on the role of music and dance in the South African struggle against apartheid. Really well done, but I think it focused largely on the artistry and kinda skimmed over some of the violence that often accompanied the movement on the anti-apartheid side of things. Nonetheless, a very enjoyable film that brings to light a lot of cultural aspects of the struggle of which I was unaware.

The Mask of Zorro- A surprisingly fun, well acted film, with lots of fun sword-fighting and also very funny. A good action movie. Summary: Sword fight, sword fight, Catherine Zeta Jones, sword fight. ‘Nuff said.

Nacho Libre: Uh…dumb. Did I laugh? Yes I did. I think Jack Black is funny. Was it dumb in a clever way, like Napoleon Dynamite? NO. It was dumb in a “this-movie-is-dumb-and-I’m-glad-I-only-paid-two-bucks-to-see-it” dumb. Would I recommend it? I’ll put it this way: If you watch this movie, you can say that you’ve seen it. I’ll just leave it at that. I WILL say that considering Jack Black plays a monk in a Catholic monastery, there is a surprising lack of easy pot-shots about religion and a fair amount of respect for the character’s beliefs. And, of course, plenty of Jack Black in tights.

Big Night- We watched this one tonight. Really solid acting on the pat of everyone involved. Two Italian brothers in a struggling restaurant prepare a dinner in anticipation of a visit by Louis Prima. Some funny moments, some serious moments, and I will go on record and say that the final scene of the movie, in its simplicity and its subtle acting, is one of the finest scenes I have seen in a movie. Quote me on that. I really recommend this film.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Katie + Me + Mokey Makes Three

So except for a few posts here and there, I’ve been pretty AWOL on my blog lately. So I thought I would give you, my dear readers, a bit of an update:

We have been pretty busy lately. We spent a nice afternoon in Charleston with our friends Teresa and Zoltan a few weeks ago. We also recently had our friends the Magandas over for dinner last Saturday evening.

However, the biggest news is, as those of you who visit Waldie’s blog already know, we got a cat. A 3-month old kitten, to be exact, and she is a (precious) pain in the ass. We named her Mokey* after the Fraggle Rock character.

New Kitty

After a few days of hiding and somewhat sickly behavior, she is now in full-force kitten-mode, first to our delight, not to our slight dismay. She finally started to move around and play a little after two or three days here in the house, but now she’s moved on to clawing up our clothing and bedspreads, meowing NON-STOP for hours, climbing onto our desks and drinking from our water glasses, sitting on my pillow by my head while I try to sleep, leaping into an open toilet bowl (I caught her, luckily), climbing into a hot oven (Katie caught her there, also luckily) and walking around on our dinner table when we’re not looking (and actully, even when we're staring right at her, come to think of it). It’s a good thing she’s absolutely sweet and adorable, or I might be inclined to grab a shoe and smack her as I would be inclined to do to other pests that invade my house.

* I thought it was spelled Moki with an “i”, but evidently I was wrong.