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Death of the Hippie: July 30, 2017

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On April 25th, 1970, three years after the Summer of Love, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and close friend Bebe Rebozo ate dinner with President Richard Nixon at the White House. After dinner, they went to the screening room, where they watched “Patton” starring George C. Scott in the title role of the famed World War II general. The film had been released 23 days earlier, and it was already Nixon’s sixth time watching it. He was spending way too much time in front of a screen. Kissinger would later say of Nixon “When he was pressed to the wall, […] he would see himself as a beleaguered military commander in the tradition of Patton.”

Within twenty-four hours, this president, who had promised during his campaign to bring an end to the war in Vietnam, authorized the invasion of Cambodia. Continue reading →

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Before the kleptocrats: July 23, 2017

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Imelda Marcos, she of the thousand pairs of shoes and former First Lady of the Philippines, has been called a kleptocrat, though some could argue that this is not technically true, as her husband was the one plundering the common good. Fortunately, the definition of kleptocrat has evolved, as it is sometimes hard to tell where someone is lying, cheating and stealing from the nation and where they are lying, cheating, and stealing as a business model, a problem we are coming to know all too well. So a kleptocrat can best be understood as one who uses any powerful government position for corrupt and enriching purposes. Continue reading →

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Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out: July 16, 2017

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They are not a gang you’d want at your sock hop. Ryder, Longman, Steever and Joey Welcome hijack a subway car full of passengers in the blockbuster 1973 novel “The Taking of Pelham 123.” So powerful was the story that it has already been translated into film three times, the first just a year after publication. The MTA, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, decided that no train can ever again leave the Pelham Bay station at 1:23 am or pm, insuring that there would never again be a real train with the call sign Pelham 123.

North of the Pelham Bay station, just across the Westchester county line, is the village of Pelham, and it is there that you will find the corporate publishing home of a very different gang, one you might not mind at your sock hop, though they fictionally live in the beautiful hamlet of Riverdale, where you will often find Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead hanging out at Pop’s Chock’Lit Shop. Continue reading →

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Against a Sicilian: July 9, 2017

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Our summer worship theme is all “Peace, Love, and Rock & Roll,” because other formulations of the “and Rock & Roll” slogan aren’t exactly church-friendly, if you know what I mean. But before we get to 1967 and the Summer of Love, I have to take you back for a moment to pirates.

Things are desperate. Buttercup, a beautiful young woman, has been kidnapped by not one but by three villains, a giant, a swordsman, and an evil genius. Her would-be rescuer is no hero. In fact, the Man in Black is not only a pirate, he is a dread pirate, which is the worst possible kind. And now, having bested the giant and the swordsman, the Man in Black is facing the smartest of the bunch, the Sicilian, Vizzini. It is to be a game of wits, to the death, because there are two goblets, and one contains a deadly poison. Dialogue, dialogue, verbal sparring, blah blah, then Vizzini secretly switches the goblets, chooses, and drinks. When the Man in Black tells him that he has chosen wrong, Vizzini replies “You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!’” Continue reading →

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Fake News: July 2, 2017

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While wonks, historians and constitutional lawyers are forever going on about “The Federalist Papers,” the rest of us, not so much. We heard about them briefly in U.S. History class, maybe more than briefly if you were smart enough to be in Advanced Placement, which I most certainly wasn’t. After high school, “The Federalist Papers” got pushed aside to make room for more important matters, like employment and beer bongs. Then along came the smash musical Hamilton, and suddenly an entire younger generation was talking, or more accurately singing along, about the founding of our nation. Not only do they know who wrote “The Federalist Papers,” they even know how many were written by those slackers, John Jay and James Madison, and how many were written by the ten-dollar Founding Father, the great Alexander Hamilton. What the musical doesn’t teach them, however, is that while three men contributed to the papers, they were all published under a single pseudonym, Publius. Continue reading →

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Pirates: June 25, 2017

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The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland opened in 1967. It was the last attraction that Walt himself helped develop before his death. Today there are Pirates rides in five Disney theme parks, though nothing can touch the newest, in Disneyland Shanghai, which uses the latest technology, projections and animatronics. No, I haven’t been to Shanghai, except on YouTube.

The movie franchise has played a major role in recent updates, framing the whole script of the Chinese ride, and Jack Sparrow, the lovable and zany lead character of the series has popped up in the various other iterations. His appearance was quite literal recently, when Johnny Depp, the actor who plays Sparrow, put on his pirate costume and interacted with guests on the California version of the ride. Continue reading →

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Shake It Off: June 18, 2017

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A dynast with a string of wives may bring to mind Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and a key player in Henry the Eighth’s rebellion against Rome, for it was Cranmer that created the rationale for separating from the papacy, aligning the Anglican Church with the Protestant Reformation. After Henry’s death, Cranmer would be martyred during the brutal reign of Queen Mary, Henry’s daughter, appropriately called “Bloody” Mary for her ruthless suppression of Protestantism.

But it was an earlier King Henry and an earlier Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, that recently appeared in our invasive news cycle. In response to a question from Maine Senator Angus King, former FBI Director James Comey quoted a line attributed to Henry the Second, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” That violent rhetoric, spoken by a king, was interpreted by his knights as an order to assassinate the Archbishop, Thomas Becket, which they promptly did, leaving his brains on the floor of Canterbury Cathedral. Continue reading →

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Wide Awake: June 11, 2017

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The film maker M. Night Shyamalan rocketed to fame with his third film, “The Sixth Sense,” a cinematic tour de force that he both wrote and directed. The year before, 1998, saw the release of a less recognized work, “Wide Awake.” Like “The Sixth Sense,” it is tightly-focused with an obsession for detail, telling the story of Joshua A. Beal, aged ten, played with panache by Joseph Cross. Rosie O’Donnell pitches in, pun intended, as a baseball-loving nun who wants to know which apostle should bat clean-up with Satan on the mound.

Joshua is growing up, starts to see others for the first time, their complexity and their frailty. He has a first crush, experiences his first loss. It is that loss, the death of his beloved grandfather, that gives Joshua a mission. He spends much of the movie looking for God. Continue reading →

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And Fire: June 4, 2017

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Fans of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” have long been frustrated at the slow pace at which the author writes the as-yet-unfinished work, the first volume published more than a quarter century ago, never mind that the HBO television adaptation, “A Game of Thrones,” has long run out of published material.

While it is unusual that a film or television series gets ahead of the original printed work, it is not at all unusual that there are more films or television seasons than there are books. The worst offender is Peter Jackson, the New Zealander who turned the dense three-volume “Lord of the Rings” into three long films, then turned the slim “Hobbit” into three films that were almost as long, just under eight hours. Measured by word count and minutes, it took Jackson five times as long to tell the story in “The Hobbit.” Continue reading →

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Walked with God: May 28, 2017

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There are stories you won’t find in a Children’s Bible, that they don’t teach in Sunday School. The rape of Tamar, the murder of Uriah, pretty much everything that takes place after David is crowned king. When it comes to writing Sunday School lessons, the Abrahamic covenant by circumcision always gets the chop, because no one really wants to engage 8 year olds in a conversation about foreskin. Then there is the story of the Nephilim. Continue reading →

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