December 27th, 2011, by Sean Nixon

The Obama's pose for a holiday photo inside the White House. Credit: Lawrence Jackson

Is it just me or did Christmas just fly by way too fast? Hopefully, all the Black Friday sales, last minute shopping and long lines were worth it.

If you thought your holiday shopping was tough, just look at President Obama. You would think with all the Secret Service protection, getting down the aisles at a local store is easy, right? Not so much when you’re the President of the United States.

The president was seen throughout the Washington, DC  and tri-state area making purchases for Christmas and gave people a quick look at how even the most simple of tasks get super-sized when you’re leader of the free world.

Be sure to check out President Obama’s Christmas shopping (I don’t think it’ll be a secret what he’s getting anyone this holiday). Be sure to count your blessings and be thankful that your holiday shopping won’t ever have to be like that. Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 27th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

2011 was, in spite of the best efforts of Adam Sandler, Michael Bay and a viciously banal gang of Smurfs to ruin it for everyone, a very good year for film. As previously noted here, The Interrupters, Drive and The Upsetter were among my top new picks, while my belated discoveries included Happy Go Lucky and Valhalla Rising.

So far, however, I’ve neglected to mention the one film that stands out among them all, the film that when asked if I’ve “Seen any good movies lately?” immediately springs to mind. The movie is Kelly Reichardt‘s slow, painfully beautiful Meek’s Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano and some incredibly majestic scenery. I’ll be the first to say it wasn’t a popular favourite, and for understandable reasons: primarily the fact that plotwise, not a whole lot happens over the course of the film. It’s about a group of pioneer-era settlers headed westward who lose their way and are forced to make some difficult decisions. And without spoiling it too much, there’s not a whole lot more to it than that. At least on the surface.

If you care to look past the austere script, however (and you can start with the lovingly-captured western landscape that forms an important character in the film) you’ll find a story that runs as deep as the Grand Canyon. Williams and Greenwood deliver wonderful performances as a strong-willed settler and an egotistical guide with questionable credentials, respectively, and whoever designed the soundtrack of creaking wagon parts and crunching boots–a beautiful, minimalist symphony unto itself–deserves praise as well.

Reichardt and Williams last worked together on the heart-wrenching Wendy and Lucy, which was a thus-far high point in the careers of both. Meek’s Cutoff, while a different beast in many ways, suggests that their creative partnership is just getting started.

December 22nd, 2011, by Sean Nixon

Protestors react to Lowe's pulling their ads from TLC

After the utterly mind-numbing decision by Lowe’s stores to pull their advertising from the TLC program All-American Muslim, people have taken to the streets.

Protestors in Allen Park, MI and Brooklyn, NY gathered in Lowe’s store parking lots to voice their frustration and disagreement with the North Carolina-based company. Apparently, a show about a family that showcases their life, everyday challenges and faith is too controversial for Lowe’s.

Hmm. I wonder, if TLC had shows called All-American Jew or All-American Christian, would corporations have felt pressured to pull their ads? It’s that kind of warped thinking which led to the current firestorm that Lowe’s is currently facing.

Protestors across the nation have every right to be infuriated at the lack of respect and indecency Lowe’s displayed. And yet, in this case, the pressure to pull ads from the show says more about the level of intolerance from the groups protesting the show than Lowe’s themselves. It’s a shame Lowe’s couldn’t see that.

TLC has a long history of showcasing programs that aren’t seen on mainstream television. Audiences are given a rare look into what really goes on behind closed doors in the lives of those that some might otherwise not have a window into. Everyone from political leaders to those in the advertising industry have expressed how horrible of a mess their decision was.

Nowadays, corporations can get into hot water at the snap of a finger and find themselves reeling from the backlash for some time. So companies, take note: don’t allow the fringe elements to hijack your message or your image. The damage can be costly.

December 22nd, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

I’m always fascinated by old magazines, particularly where the cover art is concerned. Nowadays, convention dictates that mass-market consumer magazine covers must be adorned with celebrities to sell on newsstands; but back in the golden age of magazines, this wasn’t the case.

Man’s Life was a men’s adventure magazine specializing in stories of daring escapes and titillating sexual escapades. I haven’t actually ever seen one of these in the flesh, and thus can’t vouch for the quality of the editorial, but the covers are pure pulp-gold. Here are a few of my favorites, and you can find a bunch more on Retronaut.

 

December 20th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

To be perfectly honest, I’m no big fan of Christmas music. With the exception of Vince Guaraldi and, of course, the infamous Bowie/Crosby duet (although I think I like the John C. Reilly/Will Ferrell version better), it’s a matter of just enduring it until January.

That said, I get a special kick out of Bob Dylan’s 2009 Christmas album, “Christmas in the Heart.My appreciation is based more on the fact that I’m fascinated by Bob Dylan and all of the inexplicable weirdness that’s emerged from his singular brain over the years, than the music itself, which is pretty standard holiday fare. All of your favorites are here, including “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Little Drummer Boy,” all sung in Dylan’s unmistakable (and frequently unintelligible) nasally drawl.

The music is one thing, but the accompanying music video to “It Must Be Santa” takes the (fruit)cake. The scene is what I can only imagine to be your quintessential Dylan Christmas party, complete with accordions, fisticuffs and a singing, stringy-haired hobo in a white top hat. Oh wait, that’s Mr. Zimmerman himself. It must be watched in its entirety to be truly appreciated, but you’d better believe it’s not a Bob Dylan Christmas until someone gets thrown through a window.

December 19th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

I know I would. And, just in time for the holidays as it happens, one has come up for sale. Are you listening, Santa?

The “Adirondack Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Silo Air Park” in Saranac, NY is an Atlas Missile site from the 1960s that has been converted into an elegant modern home. Beneath a rather inconspicuous Adirondack-style log home (and behind a pair of heavy steel blast doors) is a 52-foot-wide silo descending 176 feet below ground. While the silo itself is yet unfinished, the realtors note that a deck built within it would add an extra 2000 square feet to the property.

With 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and its own private runway, this could be the perfect spot to get away from the grind of city life or ride out the zombie apocalypse. And, at only $259,000, it’s a relative steal!

December 5th, 2011, by Sean Nixon

Best-selling author and minister Joel Osteen Photo: cliff1066 Wikimedia Commons

Look out reality fans! Guess who has a new show coming to TV? Houston-based minister and acclaimed author Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church has agreed to host a reality series.

With a televised Sunday morning worship service that reaches over 100 million homes, Joel Osteen is no stranger to television. What Osteen and Lakewood Church haven’t had is a reality show that airs in primetime. But that’s about to change.

Teaming up with Mark Burnett, famed TV producer of shows like The Apprentice and Survivorthe new show will focus on the missionary trips Lakewood Church participates in overseas.

Known for his inspirational messages and best-selling books, Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church have been in the national spotlight for years. The program will join the ranks of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and other “feel-good” TV shows.

It should be pretty interesting and draw in faith-based viewers looking for something heartwarming to watch.

December 1st, 2011, by Sean Nixon

People in faith-based communities work to keep the the holiday spirit year round. Photo: Dav3wil5oncna Wikimedia Commons

TEN THINGS GOD WON’T ASK ON THAT DAY

With the holidays officially upon us, our attention turns to spending time with others
volunteering one’s time and service to others.

For many in faith-based communities however, turning to God to give thanks isn’t contingent upon a particular time of year. In fact, it’s a way of life. So, before the holiday season comes and goes again in the blink of an eye, I thought it would be a good idea to share ten questions worthy of reflection.

1. God won’t ask what kind of car you drove; he’ll ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation.

2. God won’t ask the square footage of your house; he’ll ask how many people you welcomed into your home.

3. God won’t ask about the clothes you had in your closet; he’ll ask how many you helped to clothe.

4. God won’t ask what your highest salary was; he’ll ask if you compromised your character to obtain it.

5. God won’t ask what your job title was; he’ll ask if you performed your job to the best of our ability.

6. God won’t ask how many friends you had; he’ll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.

7. God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived; he’ll ask how you treated your neighbors.

8. God won’t ask about the color of your skin; he’ll ask about the content of your character.

9. God won’t ask about your social status; he will ask what kind of class you displayed.

10. God won’t ask how many material possessions you had; he’ll ask if they dictated your life.

 

It’s little reminders like these that really stop me in my tracks. So much of our time is spent on chasing things that we forget what’s truly important. As we continue to embrace the holiday season, let’s all take an extra moment to remember that giving and sharing isn’t season specific activity.

 

 

November 27th, 2011, by Sean Nixon

President Obama's faith continues to be attacked merely as a divisive political tactic. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Cromwell

After countless interviews, faith-based forums and three years as president, folks still don’t know (or want you to believe they don’t know) about Barack Obama’s faith.

So, now we have more people coming out again saying that President Obama is not a Christian. Hmm; I thought we covered this issue already, but apparently old habits die hard, and silly season is back in politics. Just  listen to Bob Jones of South Carolina.

In a recent interview with the National Journal, the conservative minister stated, “I’ve no reason to think he’s a Christian. Anyone can say he’s a Christian.” He goes on to share some more of his thoughts on the subject, including the idea that Obama merely said he’s a Christian just to get elected.

I’m not sure how we keep getting back to this subject, but President Obama’s not a Muslim. The president has stated that numerous times already. It would be one thing if he hadn’t come out and spoken clearly about his Christian faith, but given the fact that he already has, Jones’ remarks look more like a sleazy way of code wording the “Obama is not one of us, don’t vote for him” message, which is highly offensive, particularly when it’s a Christian minister trying to use one’s faith as a weapon against him/her.

During the Oct 19, 2008 airing of Meet The Press, Colin Powell addressed the issue of one’s faith as it relates to the presidency with NBC’s David Gregory. Allow me to share an excerpt with you from the interview here:

“Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.”

People should really take the former Secretary of State’s remarks to heart. His statement underscores the fact that a president’s ability to lead isn’t predicated on his religious beliefs, but on his ideas and plans for the future of this country. In the case of Mr. Jones, his remarks seem to do the exact opposite, which is gravely unfortunate given his role as a faith-based leader.

Presidential politics will always get the attention of our nation, as well as bring fringe elements to the public square. However, when people begin to fabricate truths and feed into the hype already believed within those groups, they create a mass type of hysteria that permeates throughout the country.

Men within the faith-based community, like Mr. Jones, would be wise to consider their remarks more thoroughly before giving fringe elements even more unfounded material to fill their heads.

If Mr. Jones doesn’t like the president’s policies, he can help campaign for the next GOP frontrunner of 2012 and bring forth better ideas to lead the country. Any other half-cocked whisper campaigns designed to undermine Obama’s faith and credibility, however, are totally unnecessary and provide toxic fuel to an already unnecessary flame.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 21st, 2011, by Guest Blogger

BY TOM FIELDS-MEYER

How should parents react when they discover that a child faces significant challenges? When mothers and fathers learn that a young son or daughter suffers from a developmental disorder or serious illness, they find themselves in an unanticipated moment of crisis—one for which they can hardly prepare.

My wife Shawn and I faced that very predicament when our son Ezra was a toddler and began to show signs of what turned out to be autism, the neurological disorder that afflicts one in 110 U.S. children. Not yet three at the time, the second of our three sons displayed odd behaviors: he lined up toy dinosaurs in elaborate symmetrical patterns; he cocooned himself in blankets on scorching days; he avoided eye contact, and barely conversed.

In time, I came to realize that Ezra had a different kind of mind. The rules that made sense with other children simply didn’t work with him.

That was 12 years ago. Now, I’ve told the story of the remarkable lessons I learned in a decade raising my son in a new memoir—Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son. Rather than chronicling a battle against a disease, I aimed to describe my decision to celebrate what makes my son unique. Instead of trying to “fix” Ezra, I learned to appreciate and applaud his distinctive qualities: his passion for animated movies; his powerful attraction to animals; and his unique and refreshing ways of interacting with other people.

People expect a book about autism to be depressing, but ours is anything but a sob story. Life with Ezra is endlessly entertaining, and in our family we love to laugh, so the book recounts many of the hilarious episodes I have experienced because I’m Ezra’s dad. (One reader favorite: the time Ezra, then eight, innocently asked an obese neighbor how he got so fat. It got worse—and then better—from there.) Early on, though, it was difficult to see the humor. This excerpt from the book’s second chapter recalls my son’s early isolation and a transformative moment in the office of a family therapist we had consulted for help just before Ezra turned three.

He does not appear to be forming any friendships in his preschool class. The children are young enough that “parallel play” is typical, but Ezra still stands out for his lack of connection. Baffled about how to plan his third birthday party, Shawn invites the entire class and hires a young actress to entertain the kids with parachute games and balloon animals. But when the woman gathers the children in our living room and pulls out her guitar to begin singing, Ezra is . . . gone. I run upstairs and discover him alone in his bedroom, jumping up and down and talking to himself. As the sound of toddlers singing “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” wafts up the stairs, I watch my son pretending to be Tigger, whom he has watched over and over on a favorite video.

“Ezra, come on down. It’s your party!” I plead.

“Hellooo! Hellooo!” he calls, not to me, but to nobody—to himself, or perhaps to the Winnie the Pooh in his head—as he keeps bouncing, seeming not to hear me. “Hellooo!”

It is difficult to know how to respond. This is the party we had planned for him, yet suddenly it seems entirely inappropriate for him. In fact, the whole life we had planned for him is seeming more and more inappropriate.

We discuss that one afternoon back at Ruth’s office, as Shawn and I once again try sitting on the floor, making vain efforts to engage our son in play. The harder we try to engage him, the more Ezra resists, and the more isolated he becomes. He isn’t defiant, just detached—his voice distant, his gaze diffuse.

On a maroon loveseat, I hold Shawn’s hand, silently listening to my wife, exasperated, wonder tearfully how she will ever get through to Ezra.

Ruth listens and nods with understanding.

“You have to allow yourself to grieve,” she says.

I speak up: “For what?”

“You have to let yourself grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.”

I let that echo in my mind.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

I have not spent much time with therapists. I was lucky enough to grow up in relative happiness. My parents’ marriage was strong. My family of five (like Ezra, I was the second of three sons) has always been close and nurturing. The toughest moments of my life were minor rites of passage: the deaths of my grandparents, and occasional girlfriend problems. I went from college to a successful career as a writer for newspapers and national magazines. At the right time I ran into Shawn, an old childhood friend, and we fell in love and into a strong, supportive marriage. None of that has prepared me for this.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

That night, I can’t sleep. Not because of Ezra. Because of Ruth. As I lie awake, I keep hearing her voice, her quiet tone, her calm delivery.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

And I realize something: I am not grieving. In fact, I feel no instinct to grieve. When I thought about becoming a father, when Shawn and I dreamed together and planned together and decided to start raising a family, I carried no particular notion of who our children would become. I have seen plenty of my friends over the years damaged by their own parents’ expectations and disappointments—that a girl wasn’t a boy; that a younger child didn’t measure up to an older one; that a child didn’t want to be a doctor after all. Perhaps because of that, or perhaps because of some glitch in my own wiring, I didn’t carry any conscious notion of what my children would be like—whether they would be girls or boys, tall or short, conventional or a little bit odd.

I planned only to love them.

The next week, when we visit Ruth, I tell her that.

“I don’t feel that way,” I say. “I’m not going to grieve.”

I am sure she thinks that I am deluding myself. I know the truth. That one statement has done more good for me than all of the play therapy, than all of the listening, all of the advice. It has forced me to find and bring out something within myself. I feel full of love—for the boy who lines up the dinosaurs on the porch, for the child pretending to be Tigger in his bedroom, for the little one I carried and sang to in the first minutes of his life. My answer will never be to mourn. It will be to pour love on my son, to celebrate him, to understand, to support him, and to follow his lead.

Joanna Wilson Photography

 

Tom Fields-Meyer is a Los Angeles writer and journalist who blogs at www.followingezra.com. This passage is excerpted from Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son.

 

 

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