Some Reviews – You May Want To Read These In The Privacy Of Your Home.

I put the title out there only because some folks get their undies in a bundle when I say nice things about secular entertainment. These reviews today, which cover more than one item, cover a couple of shows that are a bit raunchy. As usual, my review format will be nontraditional, and you will love it or hate it.

So, here we go.

First review on tap is for the NETFLIX show STRANGER THINGS.

(Photo credit to NETFLIX)

Stranger Things is a story set in 1980s middle America. The cold war is at its peak, and this improbable band of children discover supernatural enemies, commies, and greedy corporations trying to undue the world. The show covers three seasons, and I am fairly sure they’ve set it up to go on after a few years hiatus, but I’m not going to do any spoilers. 

If you grew up in this era, or the 70’s, you will love it. They have done an excellent job of capturing the times, down to the crap on the kid’s desks. The musical score is the one I grew up to, and the kids – and adults – are all good actors. There is a lot of camp. Tons of it. And it fits nicely. You will smile, laugh, probably twitch and make frightened noises from time to time, and love the story. Don’t watch this if you have issues with secular shows – the supernatural, drinking, smoking, etc. If, on the other hand, you have some common sense and like a darned good yarn, this is a great blitz-watch event. 

The second review is MIND HUNTER.  (Photo credit to IMDB)

Another NETFLIX  series, it is a fictionalized (heavily) version of events that surround the Behavioral Sciences Unit of the F.B.I. Great entertainment that will not appeal to some, it is as dark and deranged as the mind of a serial killer. It is a disturbing show with aberrant behavior as the norm. But it is a blast to watch, and if you are even remotely curious about this kind of crime, it is a must watch. Don’t take notes and study up if you plan to be a real investigator, the plots occasionally have holes you could drive Ted Bundy through, but it’s a fast-paced show with lots of twists and turns. 

Next up, we move over to Amazon Prime for THE BOYS

Photo credit: Amazon Prime

Haven’t you always wondered, just a little bit, what would happen if Superman, or the Flash, or any other super hero just lost it and gave into vengeance and bad behavior? What if they were a drug addict, or a sex offender. How on Earth would you stop them?

That, my friends, is the basic premise of The Boys. Since I’m being up front on the reviews, this one has more warning letters than I have in my last name. It is not suitable for children (none of these are) or for the faint of heart. But it is cool. And comicbook in places. I loved it. Binge all 8 episodes on a weekend. 

Next up – the incredible Dave Chappelle STICKS & STONES, also on NETFLIX.

Photo credit NETFLIX

If you don’t like any of the things I talked about with the previous shows, you’ll hate Chappelle. If you have a sense of humor, and don’t mind getting your own ox gored along the way to a laugh or fifty, Chappelle will deliver. He’s managed to offend almost everyone along the way in his career. But he’s an immensely talented mimic, and an astute observer of our foibles. You will find yourself being uncomfortable because society says you’re supposed to be – and then rejecting the discomfort because Chappelle exposes political correctness for what it is: censorship.  Right now all the social justice warriors are hunting his head over the special. I encourage you to watch it and think hard about what he has to say.

Finally, I need to reveal the fact that I didn’t just spend the weekend watching witches exposing their body parts while cursing and dismembering school teachers. I also spent some quality time at the theater watching OVERCOMER.

Let me just say that I’m through apologizing for enjoying Christian movies. The popular/intellectual thing to say is, “It was good for what it was.”

I will be the first to agree that a lot of “wholesome” movies stink. But so do most unwholesome movies that are shot on a similar budget. The Kendrick brothers do an incredible job, and the final product is not much different than a major Hollywood production.

So, having admitted that I loved the movie, let me tell you some reasons why that is the case.

We all need to be uplifted from time to time, and confirmed in our faith. We need to know that other people just stop in the middle of their day and pray for others – yes, I do that all the time. We need to know even “Good Christians” have a big mess on their plates and don’t always deal well with it. Most of all, we need to see that God’s plans sometimes look cheesy, and have to be a coincidence – and yet they are specifically planned and magnificent.

Kendricks does a great job of producing a good movie with great messages. Lots of wet eyes in the house. Mine included. I left feeling great. and I think you will as well.

Here’s the trailer – you should go and see it. 

Cynicism Versus Pessimism

If you’ve read this blog very often, but only recently, you will have to attest to my occasionally optimistic outlook. But if you’ve read it for a long time, you are no doubt familiar with my occasional, and profound, cynicism. I am not, by most measures, a pessimist.

The definition of Cynicism (in my universe) is that you don’t expect a good outcome, but you hope that there is one, and celebrate it when it comes through. Pessimists seem to be quite positive that nothing good can ever happen, and if it does it is just a fluke with a trick behind it.

Nowhere is this difference more prominent than in military veterans. I belong to several groups that have veterans ranging from 20-90+ in their membership, and there’s always a few of them that couldn’t find a bright spot in their lives if they were standing next to Jesus on the surface of the Sun. So, Sun with Son is just another place an asteroid will hit them.

This usually doesn’t annoy me to a great extent, but recently the Defense Language Institute held a ceremony to rename the Navy area as the Shannon Kent Naval Yard. Shannon Kent, for those who aren’t aware of it, was a CTICS (Cryptologic Technician Interpretive Chief Senior – Or Senior Chief, as we would say it) who died in Syria this past year.

Senior Chief Kent

She was an Arabic linguist operating outside the ropes in a combat zone and a suicide bomber blew up outside the restaurant where her team was. Some say they were eating lunch, some say they were meeting a contact or collecting intelligence. For those who say “just eating lunch” might I remind them that it was still a patrol in enemy territory, and you always learn things “beyond the wire.”

In any event, I commented on an article that as an Arabic Linguist (Former CTI2 myself) I thought this was a magnificent honor and a great inspiration for the young people going through training at D.L.I.

Well, the pessimists came out shortly thereafter, and demeaned the Senior Chief, saying that the only reasons for the honor were that her gender was correct, or that her widowed husband had pushed for it, and where were all the other bits of recognition that should have honored Cryptologic Technicians who had died in Vietnam, Korea, Cold War, Afghanistan, etc., including I suspect a bar fight in Portland in 1973. It was irrational: they wanted to deny this hard-charging warrior recognition because others had not been recognized.

I have news for my peers, and those that came before me – and some who came after me: If your best day ever was when the Soviets locked on your plane off the Baltic coastline in 1979, you need to reevaluate your life. It might be the most exciting day you’ve ever had, the most frightening, or even the worst – but you’ve had 40 years to do something with your life that topped that experience and you’ve failed. It shows in your bitterness and anger over those who have come along since our time.

Now, having just slandered a whole bunch of people, I would like to point out that a few exceptional people saved the crew on one of those days, and it might legitimately be the best day of their life. But those are rare, and the number of braying donkeys who come around each time the current generation is lauded is too large to accurately count. But, braying donkeys they are for demeaning the younger generation, women, and others who have taken their place in service to our nation.

Look. These young people are better trained, more flexible, and in harder spaces than most of us ever were. I’ll match my time in the Navy against most for that 5 year period for doing dangerous things in the face of an enemy that would just kill us if they could – it would have been good for their “street credit.” But I also recognize that I was a very poor linguist compared to the people graduating in Arabic today. Their courses are much more thorough. I am also nowhere near the physical and weapons level of a Shannon Kent. She’d kick my backside all day long, and in my day I was a pretty tough fellow. But things change, and sometimes for the better. Women weren’t allowed, by federal law, to be in combatant roles when I joined the Navy, and only after I had departed did they take their places on the front lines.

Having said that, I know a lot of great female veterans from my era, and before, who did everything they legally could to advance the mission and defeat the enemy. When you say things like, “Well, they aren’t combat veterans so they aren’t veterans” you reveal your ignorance. Only a small portion of the armed forces over the history of our country were ever in active combat. Does that mean that the guys doing Sneaky Pete stuff in the intervening years are less than you are? Are the people who flew countless hours on cargo planes, tended lines on the tugs, or intercepted communications around the world not veterans. I know that they are. And the fact that the government certified them as members of the military is good enough for me. I never served at sea with any, but I sure knew a bunch that would have done a fine job. Things change, sometimes for the better. See paragraph one. 

So to all you pessimists out there, take a closer look at the new generation, and the women who have filled the military. Judge them on their individual merits and you’ll see some fine Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen out on the front lines. I’m a cynic, but I see the best of this generation shedding their blood for us – just like we did in our time.

Lighten up, Francis. The young warriors of today are just like us, and they deserve our respect. Oh, and why didn’t our generation get things named after them? Simple: we were told to keep in the shadows. Our people got a star on the wall at NSA when they were killed in combat. And you know what? That was enough for us. I don’t mind naming some more streets and buildings for my peers, but our time is past and let’s get on toward the future. If you look closely at Shannon Kent’s picture above, you will see that her name tape says “Smith.” Back in my day, we didn’t wear name tags sometimes. We traveled in civilian clothes. We didn’t do much to attract attention – when we were sober, but there were other times… We operated in the shadows, just like the Senior Chief did at the time of her death.

Let’s accept the change, embrace it, and honor those that deserve it. We can’t travel back in time and change things, but we can definitely move forward and try to do the right things in the future.

I personally think it’s as bright as the Son on the Sun.

More Place Holder Nonsense

I had a great post all lined up for this morning, but my wife vetoed it. You’ll find out why in the next few weeks. 

So, instead, today I offer encouragement to all those artistic sorts out there who feel that nothing will ever pay off for them.

You create things because God gave you a gift of some sort. You feel the need to write, sing, draw, or design. Something deep inside needs to be let out, and thankfully it’s not a demon. It’s something good that will bring joy to others. 

But the money isn’t there, and you’re not going to be able to quit the day job. Probably true. Gigging in bars for $100 on a Friday night doesn’t pay the bill when you need a new laptop. Nor does the occasional painting sold give you substance when the auto dealer runs a credit report. 

But with each thing you create, every paragraph you write, and each song you sing, you get better at what you do. Sooner or later someone notices and offers you work. It may not be much, but it’s the foundation for what comes along later. 

I have worked on voice over, writing, acting, and Santa for years. About 20 all told. And just now is it starting to really add up. The money from writing isn’t fabulous – yet – but it is enough to keep me working at the craft. I’ve made a few bucks doing projects for people, and it tops the five-figure mark in lifetime stats. I won’t sneeze at the number, it paid for a couple of mission trips and a nice vacation along the way.

Voice over is now a daily revenue stream. I make okay money from audio books I’ve recorded. But it took years to get to that point, and while the work gets easier with experience, it is still tough work. I’ll be getting up at 0230 tomorrow morning to record in the still of the night. But that audio book, within 90 days, will be bringing in $10 a week. Every week. Just like the other six. So I’m going to see a couple of grand in the next year from the accumulated labor. One day it’ll pay off handsomely because I’ll record a book that gets hot and then it won’t be $10 a week, but $10 a day – for the next several years. I like that kind of math.

Santa is just pure fun, and is now very lucrative. I have a lot of overhead this year: a new wardrobe. But that’s what you do when you’re at the top of the game, and I don’t mind the expense. I’m comfortable in what I do, and the financial reward is hard earned after a lot of years of just a few jobs each year. Now I have more offers than days to do them. I still do a lot of charity work, but it is only fair to tithe some of the talent when God’s blessed you.

Am I bragging? No, I’m just trying to point out to those at the start of their artistic journey that it might be years of hard work until you have a decent financial reward. But when it comes, you remember all the mornings at 0400 when you started recording the second chapter of the day, all the mornings when you got up at 0500 to be on site at 0730 with your beard white as snow to entertain the children. And you will definitely think back on the nights when you wrote until your eyes drooped because there was a deadline looming. But you will make it. Even if it isn’t a financial reward, you will grow as you create, and hopefully improve the lives of others as they enjoy your work.

Don’t give up the struggle: it’s how God made you. 

We’re All A Mess Inside.

Recently I was privileged to spend a day with a deep thinker. A man who lives his life in the guidance of God. I try, but he really works the program.

After a few days of reflection, something he said to me stuck to whatever passes for my brain: “If you’re given a feces sandwich, you have to decide what to do with it. I’m just doing my best with my sandwich.”

The topic we were discussing doesn’t matter. But the comment does.

We’re all a mess inside. Each and every one of us is hurting, damaged, broken in some profound way. I know people who are wealthy, beautiful, smart, immensely talented, and have everything in the world going for them when you look at their lives. But when you look into their lives, as only friends are allowed to do, you realize that they hurt as much, and sometimes more, than the guy you just watched overdose on the bench in the park.

Each of them was given a Ziploc bag with a sandwich inside. The flavors vary, the bread is different, but to each of them it’s a feces sandwich.

I am no exception. I think I have a great life at times. At others, the pain and hurt can well up with a chaser of self-doubt to wash it right down into an empty stomach. Whether it’s my late dog who refused to eat for two weeks because my wife was on a trip, social anxiety attacks when I’m out of place (yeah, that happens to me if I can’t wear a red suit, or give a speech to those assembled – I’m just not comfortable around suits and ties), or a myriad of other things. Mind you, I’m confident, strong, assertive and able to deal with almost any threat, but old dogs and self-doubt can do me in pretty quickly.

I bounce back. I have to bounce back. But not everyone can, nor does everyone make it back in where the water is shallow and they can rest.

After my 8 hours of therapy with this good man I mentioned earlier, I have come to some deeper understanding about the contents of sandwich bags: you only get one.

Since all of us just get one, perhaps a little mustard in the form of compassion will help those sandwiches go down.

Let’s all work to hand that mustard to the next guy, and see if we can make the sandwich more palatable.

That’s it. Carry on.

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My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

Finally, if you like audio books, there is a fine list of them on the right. I have had the honor of recording a number of them for Michael DiMercurio. Great military thrillers. 

Put Your Clutchy Fingers Away.

This will be a short blog. Keep your grabby little fingers away from the Constitutional rights we all share.

El Paso and Dayton are awful. Going back just a way, we’ve had similar casualties from exploding pressure cookers and automobiles driven up on sidewalks.

The issue is not guns. I checked my status this morning – all accounted for, none even trying to get out of storage. Not a one called on me as I checked to do a rampage. Whew. Just saved by the bell.

The question always asked is, “Who needs a gun like that?”

The answer is, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hancock, Revere – and the list goes on. Ask the Korean shop-owners of Los Angeles. Ask the citizens of Venezuela – the ones left after armored vehicles ran over their fellow protesters. 

Guns are not the issue. Magazine size is not the issue. Evil is the issue. Bad people do bad things. Good people do good things.

If you must make it political, picture the politician you hate the most with complete control of government. You now have no means to resist that person – your weapons are gone. If you speak out, you are arrested and put away for years. Now, do you really want to cede that power to anyone?

No. Neither did the founders. And they were right. The Second Amendment is in the number 2 slot for a reason. 

Enforce the laws in place. Provide mental health treatment for those who need it. But a gun never killed anyone. People, on the other hand, have killed many. Ask Abel and Cain. I don’t think any M-4 carbines were involved there – just evil.