Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Memory

In Memory of

Tony Curtis

June 3, 1925 - September 29, 2010

The first movie I remember seeing Tony Curtis in was "Trapeze" with Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollabrigida. It made me want to run off and join the circus.

My favorite was his portrayal of magician Harry Houdini in the movie "Houdini". Another favorite was "Operation Petticoat".

All three were made before I was born!

Tony Curtis leaves behind a large catalogue of films as well as six marriages -- the last being to Jill Vandenberg, who is 42 years his junior.

Go, Tony!!!

But by far his finest work was the creation of a daughter by first wife Janet Leigh, whom we know as Jamie Lee Curtis!

Thanks, Tony!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let's Be Consistent!

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but I at least try to be consistent.

For example, several years ago in a trendy suburb of Memphis, a woman complained that someone had purchased the vacant lot behind her house and was planning to cut down the trees in order to build their own house. The woman wanted the City Council to prevent them from cutting the trees because she had always counted on those trees to shelter and shade her swimming pool.

Although no one asked me, my position at the time was, “If you wanted the trees, you should have bought the property they are on.” I believe the new property owner has the same right to build a house as anyone else, even if it means cutting down a few trees to do so.

That is, unless there is a local ordinance that prevents a property owner from cutting down trees on his/her own property, or if there is a Neighborhood Covenant attached to the property. But you should know that before you buy.

I held a consistent position in the recent debate over whether Union Avenue UMC could sell their old, decaying church building to CVS, knowing the church would be torn down and a pharmacy built on that corner. Neighborhood groups and historic preservationists vehemently opposed the sale, but the Memphis City Council approved the plan.

My position was, “The Congregation has a right to sell the building, and CVS has a right to buy it.” If the neighborhood groups or historic preservationists wanted to save the building, they should have matched CVS’ offer and bought the property. There is no existing law (although a proposal is in the works) to prevent CVS from building on that site.

Right now in Temecula, CA, a conflict is raging over a congregation’s decision to build a large church structure at a former vineyard. The 23-acre vineyard was sold after the owners went bankrupt. The church, a Calvary Chapel, bought it four months ago for only $1.1 million.

But a neighbor is angry. He recently added a banquet hall to his property with a beautiful view of those vineyards, which he hoped would attract lucrative wedding receptions and the like. Naturally, if large buildings and parking lots disrupt that view, no one will want to use his facility.

On the face of it, my consistency should have forced me to side with Calvary Chapel. If the neighbor wanted the view, he should have bought the property. The Church is the rightful landowners and should be allowed to build.

But that’s not the whole story. The vineyard in question is within an economic development zone, set aside for the development of new wineries and related tourism in Riverside County. The zoning code, set in place in 1994, does not allow for churches in the area. It has been revised once for the inclusion of restaurants and Bed and Breakfasts, but not churches.

The pastor of Calvary Chapel, who knew this when he bought the property, is claiming discrimination. Full of self-righteous indignation, he cries: “Morally, constitutionally, it’s just wrong. It’s just flat-out un-American to say you just can’t build a church.” He is challenging the zoning code and demanding a variance for churches.

However, because the Church knew (or should have known) what the law was when they bought the property, and because they - like so many others - are misinterpreting the Constitution, I side with the vineyard owners on this one.

Important note: Existing California laws restricting the sale of alcohol near churches could also seriously hamper the efforts of Riverside County to develop their wineries if the church was allowed to be built. To be fair, if a liquor store is not permitted to be built within a prescribed distance of a church, a church should not be allowed to be built within a prescribed distance of a winery.

Which brings us to the ongoing debate over the effort to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero. Much heat, but little light, has been generated over this issue. In short, a Muslim group wants to put a 13-story community center and mosque in an abandoned building two blocks away from the site of the former World Trade Center.

The consistent side of my brain argues, “They own the property and there is no law to stop them – in fact, they have the official blessings of the appropriate city agencies – so they should be free to build.” But could there be another side to this debate?

Opponents say it represents an “in your face” attitude on the part of the Muslim community. They say it will be a training ground for Muslim Extremists on American soil. They say it is “too close” to the “sacred” space called Ground Zero.

I say, “Hogwash!”

But let’s look at the facts: First, Muslims have had mosques in Lower Manhattan for years. At least two have been near the World Trade Center, and within the WTC itself were several designated Muslim prayer rooms. So why is this one different?

Second, many Muslims died in the attacks – both employees within the WTC and rescue workers. Don't they have a right to claim attachment to Ground Zero as well?

Third, the developers of the new community center wanted to name it “Cordoba House”, a reference to Cordoba, Spain, the city conquered by Muslims in the 8th century. They developed one of the largest libraries in the world and Cordoba became a cultural center in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in peace for the next three centuries.

Unfortunately, Newt Gingrich, who apparently still holds a grudge thirteen centuries later, mischaracterized this history, claiming Cordoba is an ancient symbol of Muslim conquest.

Yet the proposed center would transform an empty building into “a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare area, bookstore, culinary school, art studio, food court, “September 11 memorial”, and prayer space that could accommodate 1,000–2,000 people.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

The developers insist, “Our community remains committed to building bridges of understanding to our neighborhoods, to our city and to the rest of America.” That sounds like a noble initiative in the wake of "9-11".

And finally, who declared Ground Zero “sacred” space? As far as I know, no religious group of any faith or denomination has performed any rituals that would make that space “sacred”.

When I was in seminary, Buddhists built a large monastery in the nearby hills. Buddhist priests then physically went out and consecrated the land within a 2-mile diameter of the monastery. I heard that many homeowners within that area were shocked when, only a short time later, faithful Buddhists started arriving at their doors with suitcases full of cash to buy the houses within that sacred space. It meant something to them to live on consecrated ground.

But no one has officially consecrated Ground Zero, much less the buildings two blocks away – two blocks of urban blight which include bars, strip joints and Title Loan businesses. It's not even in line-of-site!

And if two blocks is too close, as some opponents argue, how far away must the Muslim group move to have your permission? Apparently Murfreesboro, TN, is still too close!

On this one I side with the Muslims. As stated already, the property is theirs and they have the legal permission they need to build.

But the popular sentiment remains against them, although it is mostly being stirred up by outsiders, and the developers don’t want trouble. So a group of prominent Muslim leaders have recently called for a time of interfaith prayer and dialogue October 22-24, during which Muslims would conduct open houses at their places of worship.

But in the end, they insist, “We stand for the constitutional right of Muslims and Americans of all faiths, to build houses of worship anywhere in our nation as allowed by local laws and regulations.”

Hmmm. I wonder if the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Temecula would agree?

Monday, September 20, 2010

R.I.P. Jack Lord

Postscript: Okay, I know it is odd beginning with the postscript, but this way you can more easily read what I wrote yesterday.

I watched the new incarnation of "Hawaii 5-0" last night.

Which means I missed seeing Reggie Bush get his leg broken -- out for at least six games! That's a major game-changer for the Saints.

First, a mea culpa. Some of my pre-show information was incorrect: the terrorist who killed McGarrett's dad was not Arab, although I wasn't able to determine exactly where he was from. Probably best. The black Mercury was in McGarrett's father's garage, not a warehouse. Chin Ho was not simply under investigation, he was kicked off the Hawaii police force accused of taking bribes. And Kono is still Kono, not Kona -- although he is a woman.

Yet my conclusion remains: I give the show one season. Here's why:
1) Alex O'Loughlin is not believable, either as a Navy SEAL or as the leader of a task force. His McGarrett is not a "team player", but uses others to his own end... and without due appreciation, it seems.

2) Despite the implication of a previous "romance" with the senior McGarrett, the Governor of the state is not going to appoint the victim's son to seek out the killer, much less promise him a free hand in doing it -- no rules, no accountability, all the resources of the state at his disposal. It's just not going to happen.

3) Although they had to introduce us to the main characters and get us involved in the show in just one hour, they also managed to catch (and kill?) the bad guy, whom McGarrett, as a Navy SEAL, had been tracking for the past five years! All based on a single lead! Would that my life was so tidy!

I will give the show a second chance next week, but don't count me as a fan. I just hope they give us a lot more of the Hawaiian scenery to distract from the glaring lack of premise and plot.

You can read my pre-show blog below:

* * * * * 

Rest in peace, Jack Lord.

Oh, I know. Jack Lord died in 1998. But tonight, CBS is launching a new show that will make the dearly departed actor spin in his grave!

Yes, CBS is re-making “Hawaii Five-O”, the classic procedural police drama set in Hawaii that ran from 1968-1980.

Now, most of my friends would probably advise me to give the show a chance before I criticize it. ‘Who knows,’ they would say, ‘You might like it!’ And I would probably offer the same advice about some things.

Avocados, for instance.

Mmmmmm... guacamole!

And I will watch it tonight, changing the television channel away from a New Orleans Saints football game to see this train wreck first-hand.

Here are the facts: Jack Lord WAS “Hawaii 5-O”. Make no mistake about it, the rest of the cast, the Hawaiian scenery - even the hula girls - were all there just to make Jack look good. And he did!

Always in a suit and tie (keep in mind this is Hawaii!), his Steve McGarrett (a former Navy officer) led a special team of state police who solved the major crimes that seemed to always pass through the islands. “Danno”, Chin Ho, and Kono were virtually unbeatable.

There was rarely a “back story” on any of the characters. That wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t a touchy-feely kind of show. You knew who the good guys were – it didn’t matter why they were the good guys. And you knew who the bad guys were – it didn’t matter why they were the bad guys. The premise of the show was simple: the good guys catch the bad guys, and McGarrett says, “Book ‘em, Danno”.

And the show lasted for 12 seasons.

But now CBS, in its infinite wisdom, feels the need to re-make the classic show that was their bread-and-butter for so many years.

Have I ever told you how much I hate re-makes? And sequels? And prequels? And even the Baby Muppets!

There, I’ve said it! Yes, I hate the Baby Muppets!

My therapist will be so proud of me!

From what I have seen of the previews for this new show, save for the similar names and location, it will be nothing like the old classic. For instance, instead of the name “Hawaii 5-O”, they’re calling this one “Hawaii 5-0”. See the difference already?

And the new show starts with the capture and killing of Steve McGarrett’s ex-cop dad. In the original show, that back-story was mentioned only once, around season five. To update the show, the senior McGarrett is killed by Arab terrorists.

Nobody saw that coming in 2010, did they?

In the new show, Steve McGarrett is played by a scruffy Alex O’Loughlin, who apparently doesn’t even own a dark suit and tie, much less a razor. And not just a Navy officer, now McGarrett is a former Navy SEAL. He is recruited by the governor to put together a crack team to find his father’s killers.

This guy's supposed to be a Navy SEAL?

Anyway, think for a moment - audience participation time: If you were McGarrett, who would you recruit for our team? The best of the Hawaii State Police? More Navy SEALs? Other covert operatives?

No, McGarrett recruits Danny (“Danno”) Williams, a burned-out Haole cop who moves to Hawaii (which he hates) after his divorce in order to live closer to his children; Chin Ho Kelly, a cop with emotional ties to the senior McGarrett, but who is also under investigation by the department; and Kona Kalakaua**, a former surfing champ / rookie detective / cousin of Chin Ho.

Do they really want to catch the bad guys???

And do you see why I hate back-stories? Just tell me Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider and let’s move on. The Green Goblin’s getting away!

With a nod to the original show, Steve McGarrett will find the original show’s 1974 Mercury Marquis in a warehouse and restore it, and there will be a picture of a clipper ship behind McGarrett’s desk.

At that point, however, the similarities end. Expect more action, more car chases and more explosions while O’Loughlin tries to act tough for the camera.

I give it one season.

Hey, CBS, here’s a thought. Instead of trying to re-make a classic, why not just create something new? Want a cop show set in Hawaii? Why not call it “CSI: Hawaii” or “Hawaii Vice”? Then you can blow up anything you want and not ruin what was once the best show on television.

*Don’t recognize the name Alex O’Loughlin? Yeah, that’s because pretty much everything he has starred in has flopped: “The Shield” = 7 episodes. “Moonlight” = 16 episodes. “Three Rivers” = one season.

**As the name suggests, Kono was male; Kona is female. You should notice the difference right away.

***Okay, we're done already!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


It has happened again. Twice in the 4+ years we’ve lived here. Someone has broken into my tool shed and stolen some of my carpentry tools.

I have a lot of tools.

At each parsonage in which we have lived, I have done renovations – sometimes necessary, sometimes aesthetic. I have painted, plumbed, tiled; installed wood floors and replaced wood decks; planted shrubbery and trees, and built retaining walls of concrete block.

Don’t ask. You can’t afford me.

When I came here, the church Trustees actually paid to have a large barn-style shed built in the backyard to house my tools. It is pretty much full. I have intentionally allowed the shrubbery to grow up and obscure the view from the street.

The first break-in was a little over two years ago. I came home one afternoon and saw the door standing open. The doors to the smaller, plastic shed were also cut off the hinges. My heart leapt into my throat. Sure, crime happens. This is Memphis, after all.

But not in the middle of the day!

And not in my backyard!

Only a chainsaw (borrowed from a church member) and a crowbar were noticed missing. I felt bad about the chainsaw. The church member was nice and wouldn’t let me buy him a new one.

That time I felt responsible. The hasps I had installed to secure the doors had exposed screw heads. The thief had simply unscrewed them. Silent. Quick. Effective.

So I replaced them with extra-heavy-duty hasps with no exposed screw heads. I used longer screws. And Master Locks that promised to be indestructible. I felt somewhat more confident that my tools were secure.

But this morning around 6:30 a.m., as I was leaving for the gym, I noticed the door to the tool shed standing open. It must have happened at some point under cover of darkness.

But what about my indestructible locks? This time the hasps had been busted. Later, as I pieced together the broken parts, I realized the thief had used a bolt-cutter.

Yes, I know: If they want in, they’ll find a way.

I peeked in. The b**tard had taken my chop saw and a small jig saw! I was at once both angry and relieved. It could have been worse.

Frustrated, I went on to the gym. I left off the weight machines and just ran my laps. Nothing fuels a good run like raw anger! Then I stopped by the Home Depot for new parts and locks on my way home.

I teach a Bible Study at 10, so I waited until 11:30 to call the police, thinking I’d just file a report over the phone to let them know this had occurred. I’ve come to not expect anything from the police.

Twenty-plus years ago, when I was in seminary in California, our house was broken into one afternoon while both of us were in class. Someone had obviously been watching our habits; they had all afternoon to do the job. We didn’t have much back then, but we were wiped out. We felt violated.

When I called the police, they advised us to not touch anything until the crime-scene investigators could come and take fingerprints. They would be around in 3-5 days.

Oh, sure!

At my previous church, my office was broken into twice. The crime-scene tech came and spread black dust over everything – literally, everything! – which resulted in one glove-print and hours of cleaning up afterwards.

When the stereo was ripped out of my truck’s dashboard three years ago – my official “Welcome to Memphis!”, the police didn’t even want to come out to take a report.

And at the previous shed break-in, the responding officer admitted they rarely retrieve stolen merchandise in situations like this. I think he was peeved for being taken away from more serious crimes being committed somewhere in Memphis at that very moment!

So when I called this morning, I just wanted to let them know it had happened, in the event there is a neighborhood crime-spree in progress. The dispatcher insisted an officer had to come out and make a report.

The officer scolded me for repairing the locks, and for waiting so long to call.

In my defense, it took him an hour to arrive after I talked to the dispatcher.

He lied told me they perhaps could have lifted fingerprints from the broken hasps if I hadn’t handled them already. He lied told me they sometimes retrieve stolen merchandise, and it is always good to write down the serial numbers.

He suggested I should devise some way of being alerted inside the house should someone attempt to break into the shed again.

“Sounds great!” I agreed. “Does such a devise exist? Any suggestions?”

And life goes on.

Fortunately, I don’t feel “violated”, like that first time. I’m just a little bit angry, and a lot frustrated.

The stolen tools can be replaced. The locks have already been replaced. And I am confident that my stuff is secure again… at least until next time.

It’s just a nuisance.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

Today is Labor Day in America, a day in which many Americans stop their labors and enjoy family gatherings, parades, picnics and other such entertainment.

It also creates a longer weekend during which many television stations broadcast the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.

The longest 21 hours in television!

I flipped past it last night as I was looking for something to watch while I stripped wallpaper.

Yes, my Labor Day is going to be filled with labor.

“A labor of love!”

The acts I saw on the MDA Telethon made me wish Simon Cowell had been there. I’d have even settled for Chuck Barris!

Yet the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon has been a Labor Day Weekend staple since 1966. And as irritating as it is, it continues to increase donations to the MDA each year, growing from the original $1,002,114 to a record $65 million in 2008. In only two years has the total pledges decreased – 2005 and 2009.

The event has not been without its critics.

Yes, there are others besides me!

Some critics say the telethon portrays all handicapped people as "pitiable victims who want and need nothing more than a big charity to take care of or cure them.”

Others point to Jerry Lewis’ on-air anti-gay slur in 2007 as a reason for needing to end the telethon. For that coment, he quickly apologized – ‘I’m not prejudiced in that way. Why, some of my best friends are gay!’ – and he took the remedial steps laid out by GLAAD.

But recently, in an interview on “Inside Edition”, the 84 (and showing it!)-year-old Lewis railed against the child actors of today, saying if he ever met Lindsey Lohan, he would “smack her across the mouth”.

“Then, if she wasn’t satisfied," he continued, "I would bend her over my knee and spank her.”

"...if she wasn't satisfied..." ???

Ms. Lohan has taken out a restraining order against Mr. Lewis.

But it’s hard to argue with success. In total, the telethons have raised more than $2.4 billion for muscular dystrophy research. To date, there is no cure or treatment for muscular dystrophy, so the need for research still exists. Find me someone or something that can replace those dollars and I will say, “Fine, let’s retire Jerry.”

Until then, the Labor Day Telethon is the best we’ve got.

The good news is, we don’t have to watch!