Thursday, April 29, 2010

Marvel Movies Aiming for the Second Best?

I was just reading an article about Marvel Comics looking at trimming costs of making super-hero movies by launching movies that feature lesser known characters.  In recent year, Marvel has been licensing shows about many of their show-boat characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, Wolverine, and the Fantastic Four.  Pretty soon, Marvel will have a slate of new movies featuring the Avengers, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man.  All that costs money.  A lot of money.  So, that's where the second (or third) tier comes in.
Well, Marvel has a plan for that. Beyond 2012, Marvel wants to pull away from their prime superhero real estate and take on many of the third-tier superheroes that are so often overlooked. This would include properties like LUKE CAGE, DOCTOR STRANGE, KA-ZAR, DAZZLER, and even the POWER PACK.

The great thing about this transition is that many of these films can be produced within the $20 to $40 million budget range as opposed to the whopping $200 million required for a film like IRON MAN 2. It would also open the door for many up-and-coming directors to take a stab at the films and make a name for themselves in the industry.

In other words, we can safely assume that Marvel has every intent of exhausting their superhero list from A to Z, no matter how obscure the hero may be.
Funny thing is, I thought Marvel was already launching movies featuring lesser known heroes.  Am I the only one who remembers Ghost Rider, Blade, Daredevil, Punisher, and Elektra?  It definitely wouldn't surprise me if I was one of the only ones who remembers more distant productions of Man-Thing, Doctor Strange, Generation X, and Howard the Duck.  (Let me just digress for a sec and add that I am probably one of the only people who actually enjoyed Howard the Duck.  It had a Lea Thompson, alien invasions, and woman-on-duck love.  You can't diss that.  IMHO.)

I actually like most of those shows (at least from the first batch of second tier heroes).  The danger to thinking about one hero being less cool than another is that you instantly poison the product if you assume that Blade is going to suck because the character hasn't sold as many consecutive comic books as Spider-ManBlade isn't Spider-Man, but he is Blade and we should promote that concept.  Audiences love vampires and vampire hunters.  At least, they were like gold back when that movie came out.  Blade was a good movie with a powerful lead actor and cool special effects.  That's what Marvel needs to focus on when it starts pitching its next "second tier" movies.

Personally, I think it would be cool to see a live-action adaptation of Dazzler: The Movie.  Or maybe even a direct-to-DVD adaptation of the graphic novel.  Marvel's been doing several of those lately.  Why not Dazzler?  She has ties to the X-Men.  She's a powerful mutant with interesting powers, background, and question: What happens when one of the world's biggest musical superstars comes out as a mutant part-time superhero?

I've been thinking about which of its characters or groups Marvel could release as new films that might translate into really cool motion picture magnets.  Here are a few of my ideas:

Spider-Woman: Jessica Drew boasts a superhero persona that draws a connection to the ever-popular Peter Parker, but she's definitely not a knock-off.  She has a cool costume, cooler powers, and a complex history.  She has connections to ancient sorcerers, modern-day spy agencies, and godlike megalomaniacs.  Obviously, Marvel would need to narrow her down, but there's a lot to her to draw from.

On a related note, why not try Spider-Girl?  Imagine if Peter Parker had a daughter and she was now in her teens.  What would happen if she began developing her own set of spider-powers?  May "Mayday" Parker is a really fun character and it could be a lot of fun to see her story unfold on the big-screen.

Invaders: Most people know that Captain America started out in World War II.  But do you remember the Invaders?  Cap led a small, but powerful team of super-patriots (Namor of Atlantis and the original Human Torch) against Hitler and his hordes and helped to save America from the evil Nazis.  I haven't seen too many WWII-themed superhero movies.  Maybe it's time.

Werewolf by Night: Those who know me know that I'm a sucker for werewolves. Not everything by Marvel has to be superheroic, no does it have to be PG-13.  The story of Jack Russell could be played as a basic horror flick or maybe something more unique.  Either way, it would be an easy character to flip out of the funny pages.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

R.I.P. Kurt Wagner (AKA Nightcrawler)

A few weeks back, I posted about the pre-announced death of one of Marvel's main mutants, the X-Men.  I predicted Cable.  Turns out I was wrong.  Instead, they lost one of their stalwarts.

X-Force #26 was the issue.  Nightcrawler manages to whisk the prophesied mutant messiah Hope Summers to the island Utopia, but not before receiving a mortal wound from the sentinel, Bastion.  So long, Kurt.  You've had a long run.  Many have come and gone since your first days with the X-Men.  They often say that you can't come back from a robotic arm impanted through your chest.  But take heart (*ahem*).  Many of your teammates and enemies alike have suffered much worse fates and come back to fight the never-ending battle.  Godspeed.

Microchipping Illegal Immigrants

This is a novel, if not sad, idea to address the illegal immigrant solution: microchipping.  3rd District GOP candidate Pat Bertroche suggested this solution as an alternative to border fences or patrols. 
“I think we should catch ’em, we should document ’em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going,” said Pat Bertroche, an Urbandale physician. “I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal?

“That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s a lot cheaper than building a fence they can tunnel under,” Bertroche said.
We could catch illegals and then slip a microchip under their skin and then...  Well, I'm actually not sure what.  I'm not that knowledgeable about microchips.  I know that you can put them in your pet so that if they get lost, someone with a scanner can figure out who owns that pet.  I guess that would be good if an illegal immigrant let me run a scanner over them.  Can they also serve as a mini GPS system?  Husband Mark said that it should be able to track movements if programmed.

Seems to me that the microchip solution isn't as fool-proof as Bertroche might think.  I mean, whatever you can surgically insert under the skin should be just as easily removed from the skin if someone really wanted it.  Am I missing something?

Apparently, the microchip solution garnered some negative feedback for Bertroche, as he's already back-peddling and clarifying:
Pat Bertroche says his comments about inserting microchips into illegal immigrants to track their movements were taken out of context. On Monday Bertroche said, "I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can't I mircochip an illegal?"

Bertroche later said he doesn't support microchipping anybody and it didn't occur to him he was comparing illegal immigrants to dogs. He said he was only trying to describe how "radical" the immigration issue has become.

Hip to be Holy?

Apparently, it's not hip to be holy after all.  The Gazette recently covered a Christian rock festival event and the article was title "Hip to be Holy".  Nothing big, nothing jarring.  Move on, right?  Wrong.  Some Christian managed to find offense in an article about teens rocking to Christian music:
“Hip to be Holy” is an oxymoron. It was used as the title on The Gazette April 15 Accent page for the preview of the David Crowder band and the Rock and Worship concert held Thursday.

The phrase is a misuse of our English language.

Hip is a shallow cultural presence based on what is currently popular. It changes regularly, if not day to day.

Holy, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “set apart to the service of God or gods; sacred; commanding absolute adoration and reverence.”

Holiness transcends our culture’s incessant need for the irreverent, the popular, the need for acceptance. We would all do well to search for the deeper, richer meaning in life; to search for what is holy and less for what is hip. The two never meet.
God forbid that Christianity be anything other than Sunday service with the same old boring hymns.  Then again, today's same old boring hymns were bright and shiny at one point in the not too distant past.  How dare this letter writer assume that there was no deep or rich meaning expressed by the bands performing at the Rock and Worship concert?  This is the type of attitude that pisses people off and keeps them out of church and away from Christ.  IMHO.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Gives? Star Trek:TNG on BBC America?

I tuned in tonight to watch the final episode of Survivors (series 2) on BBC America (unfortunately cut short before its time --very cool show...) only to find that it got shunted back an hour because the channel decided to start airing episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation every weeknight at 7:00 PM CST.  I get it.  The show had many awards and starred two Brits.  But Star Trek: TNG isn't a British program.  It's an American program.  They couldn't find actual British programming for those five hours per week?

If having a British actor on a show is enough to warrant a spot on BBC America, why stop with TNGStar Trek: Deep Space Nine (my personal favorite trek show) had Alexander Siddig in it, not to mention Colm Meaney (though he's Irish).  Why not DS9?  Or House?  Or FlashForward?  Or maybe we could try American programs that spun-off from British shows like All in the Family or Three's Company or Queer as Folk or Sanford and Son?

It just seems to me that there are tons of original British content that could be aired on BBC America without having to resort to American programming.  What about the recent Red Dwarf reunion?  Sarah Jane AdventuresDead SetCasualtyEastEndersJonathan Creek?  Heck, even reruns of Are You Being Served? or Chef! would at least be in the spirit of the channel.

My fondest hope is that BBC America will receive a ton of pushback for this programming decision and get back to providing British programming to its American audience very soon.

Gay Marriage in Iowa: Year One Ends

I wrote about this last week, but today marks the one year anniversary of the day that gay couples in Iowa began receiving their marriage licenses.  It was an exciting day for many, including a few of our friends.  Of course, it still isn't perfect.  The federal government doesn't recognize our marriages, which might negatively impact our families in ways not experienced by heterosexually married couples.

Then again, there are services like Medicaid eligibility that are affected by one's household size, income, and resources, regardless of sexual orientation.  It's part of the responsibility of marriage.  It's assumed that you will financially support your spouse during times of strife.  It's why some elderly couples are hesitant to get married for fear of screwing up their pension amount.  It's also why this nice lesbian couple that I know won't marry.  One of the women has cancer.  It's serious enough and long-term enough that she qualifies for SSDI and Medicaid benefits.  But her Medicaid would go away if she married, which would be a death sentence for her.  So they've made the hard decision to forgo marriage.

Mark and I were asked many times why we waited until January 2010 to legally marry.  The answer was twofold.  First, we're busy guys.  We both work a lot and don't have a lot of time to put into planning weddings.  Winter break is one of the few times in the year when Mark is free for huge chunks of time.  Secondly and more importantly, we want to see how the others around us cope during tax-time with being married on the state level and single on the federal level.  It's a confusing and potentially messy question.  So far, I haven't heard of any scary stories.  But I'm sure a few might be out there.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Arizona and Illegal Immigration

As most people know, Arizona recently passed into law a tough immigration-focused bill that requires state and local law enforcement to investigate the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in that state illegally.  I don't really have a strong opinion on the subject.  From what I've heard, it appears to be increasingly dangerous for people living on the Texas, Arizona, and Mexico borders.  Something needs to be done.  Maybe this is it.  Or maybe this is too draconian.  But the unintended consequences should be interesting.

I read today about an American-born Hispanic truck-driver who was detained in Arizona while at one of those semi-truck weigh stations.  Apparently, his license and knowledge of his social security number isn't enough proof of his citizenship.  He was cuffed and jailed until his wife, who was pulled from work to accomplish this task, was able to go home and retrieve the man's birth certificate and social security card. 

(I was going to make a joke about President Obama getting detained next time he visits Arizona for not have a birth certificate, but then I remembered this and decided that maybe it's not that big of a stretch.)

The scary part is that other state politicians are beginning to look at Arizona's new law as something to emulate.  Right-leaning, anti-family perpetual gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats has already come out in favor of such a law here in Iowa.  Personally, I would want to see how the new law is actually working before jumping on it.  But that's just me.

All I know is that I don't carry around my birth certificate or my social security card.  I'm afraid of ripping them, losing them, or having them stolen.  I assume that more people are like me than unlike me in this regard.  My guess is that this won't be a problem for me given my skin-tone and my dialect.  But what about my son?  You know, the one with the light brown skin.  Will this country become one where he is required by circumstance to carry around those forms in order to prevent incarceration?  It's a legitimate question and one I'm sure many dark-skinned people in Arizona are beginning to ponder.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

M.O.V.E. into the U.K.

I wrote last month about my fascination with Great Britain and my desire to move there with the family, either permanently or temporarily.  I also shared that I began doing research and found that both Mark and I have careers that would assist us with making such a transfer.  I also shared that Mark said that we are absolutely NOT moving to the UK.

I don't know why, -- outside of the fact that my OCD-like mind tends to perseverate on these types of things -- but I began researching information about traveling with pets to the United Kingdom.  My understanding of UK travel law was that pet were required to stay in quarantine for six months upon arrival to the country.  Obviously, this would be a terrible problem for the dogs and our cat.  Very quickly into my research, I realized that my understanding of UK travel law is out-of-date.  Sort of.

According to DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs), pets traveling to the UK do not necessarily need to go into quarantine.  There are some animals that are forbidden in the country and there are some pets that are not allowed in from certain countries.  But dogs and cats from the continental USA are allowed in the UK without going through quarantine if you plan it well.  That is, don't travel with your pet to Mexico or Canada or Hawaii or anywhere outside of the main continent.  Get the microchipped with a certain type of chip six months prior to coming to the UK.  Make sure their rabies vaccinations are up-to-date and preferably given six months before coming to the UK.  Make sure that they don't have any other diseases or parasites and get certain shots immediately before leaving for the UK.  There's some other paperwork that needs to be done, too.  But it could be done.

So I told Mark.  And he has relented.  Conditionally.  We can move to the UK once I purchase the castle from Gormenghast.  So I have a goal.  Not a realistic goal, but a goal.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Archie Comics Introduces a New Gay Teen, Kevin Keller, to Riverdale

Here's a new comic book development.  Kevin Keller, a new character that will be introduced in Veronica #202, will be an openly gay teen.  His freshman storyline, titled "Isn't It Bromantic?", seems to be about him meeting up with Jughead and being Veronica Lodge's newest romantic crush.  Jughead, ever the trouble-maker, seems to be doing his best to put off Kevin coming out to Veronica in order to maximize her broken heart.

According to writer/artist Dan Parent: "In the last year or two, we've been introducing a lot of new characters: Diverse characters, characters with different ethnicities. With trying to be diverse, we wanted to have everybody at the table.... We knew at some point we wanted to introduce a gay character, and when I came up with the story idea, we felt it worked in context with this story."

Gay characters in comic books are certainly nothing new anymore.  Marvel Comics' X-Men have Northstar, Karma, Shatterstar, Rictor, Anole, and Bling!  The Young Avengers have Wiccan and Hulkling.  DC Comics has created its fair share of GLBT characters, including one of my favorite genderqueer lesbians, Comet

But Archie Comics has always aimed for a youger demographic of comic book readers.  It's a starter publication for future comic book fans.  Kind of like the comic book equivalent of marijuana.  I remember talking my mom into buying me those Archie Comics digest books everytime we went to the store.  I still buy those little books for D'Angelo when he's in the mood.  It should be interesting to see where things go with Kevin.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nightmares and Fallen Angels

I came up with a fun idea a couple weeks back after this post. I thought it would be neat to share my favorite comic book moment each week. What surprised me? What amused me? What excited me?  I thought it would be fun to share.

Unfortunately, nothing much met any of those criteria last week.

This week had a couple moments.  The first one was a chuckle from Hercules: Fall of an Avengers #2.

I just liked this exhange. 

Banner (referencing Nightmare, on the left): Don't look into his eyes.  Cho: Oh, Cool.  That prevents him from using his powers?  Banner: No.  He just has really creepy eyes.

Nothing big.  Just a chuckle.

The other is from X-Men Legacy #235, which made a "bold" move and killed off yet another minor character.  Ariel was an interesting alien who was introduced back in the late 80s in an old mini-series called Fallen Angels.  She had a couple neat powers.  She was very persuasive and she could teleport by linking doors.  So, if I was late for work, I could link my bedroom door to my office door and walk instantly to work.  It was really cool.  Ariel disappeared for a while and was eventually re-introduced to the X-Men universe as a promising new X-Man.  Until today.

So long, Ariel.  You were clever and saucy and had attitude and a cool power.  But you're also no Wolverine.

Jo Grant Returns to 'Doctor Who'

Not quite, but I recently learned that Katy Manning, who played Doctor Who companion Jo Grant from 1971-1973, has signed to reprise her earlier Whovian role on for a two-part appearance on the Doctor Who spin-off series, Sarah Jane Adventures.

  Sarah Jane Adventures tells the story of another fan-favorite Doctor Who companion from the 70s and 80s, Sarah Jane Smith, as she investigates alien activity and saves the planet with the assistance of her teenage son and his friends.  Sarah Jane is also helped by her sentient computer, Mister Smith, and various gadgets that she's acquired over the past 30 years. 

Sarah Jane Adventures is essentially a children's sci-fi show, which makes it a nice counter-balance to Doctor Who's adult-themed spin-off, Torchwood.  More importantly, it's a good children's sci-fi show.  It addresses real life issues like adoption, drug use, and deadbeat dads without being any sense of preachiness, while maintaining a steady quota of smart alien action.  It doesn't hurt that BBC brought back one of Doctor Who's most popular and consistently well-written companions to head up this program.

I'll admit, Jo Grant's return caught me by surprise.  Don't get me wrong.  More often than not, I enjoyed her character.  And the new Who series is certainly a good one for nurturing and coming back to its various companions.  But those companions have been from of the 2000 variety: Rose Tyler, Captain Jack, Mickey, Dr. Martha, Donna Noble, and even Wilf.  Sarah Jane was an unexpected, yet expected (once you learned that someone from the previous series was going to be re-introducted in the new series) addition to this list of companions. 

Jo, on the other hand, is not an obvious choice for a return.  I'm curious to see what Ms. Grant (or is it Mrs. Jones now?) has been up to during the last forty years.  I'm also curious what will cause her to cross paths with Sarah Jane and her crew, especially considering that they never crossed paths.  Then again, who knows what adventures the two women might have experienced together when the cameras weren't rolling?

I was thinking about former companions that I would love to see again.  Here's my list:

Ace:  Ace was one of the most complex companions of the previous series.  She was fierce and street-smart.  She was curious and adventurous.  She had unresolved childhood trauma that was addressed in different storylines.  And she carried a lot of explosives.  The show ended during her tenure as companion.  We viewers don't ever learn of Ace's fate, though the old Doctor Who production team reveals that she would have eventually gone to some sort of space-academy to train to become a Time Lord, which would have been cool.

Susan Foreman:  Susan was one of the Doctor's original companions.  This was before his alien nature was explored.  She was his granddaughter, created as such to make it seem less creepy from a young teen-aged girl to be hanging out with an old man.  The actress who played her, Carol Ann Ford, is around 70-years-old now, but wouldn't it be cool to have her appear in an episode all these years later to meet up with her grandfather, played by 26-year-old Matt Smith?  Then again, she could always regenerate into a younger character, creating an interesting ongoing dynamic for the new series.  Then again (again), the Doctor is supposed to be the last of the Time Lords.  What might Susan's reintroduction signal?

Kamelion:  Unlike the robot dog K9, the Doctor's second robotic companion never really took off.  He was a shape-changing robot.  Need to impersonate King John, call on Kamelion.  Unfortunately, the technology to operate him was unwieldy and he was almost immediately written out of the show.  Imagine Kamelion using 2010 (or beyond) special effects...  It could be done and done well.  Kamelion's honor should be restored!

Lastly...  Adam Mitchell:  Like Kamelion, Adam traveled with the Doctor and Rose for just one adventure.  And he messed up big-time.  While traveling in the future with the Doctor, Adam acquired future technology and attempted to send it back to the present for future gain.  And he got caught.  The Doctor gave him the boot and sent him back home with his tail between his legs.  Could Adam return for some redemption?  Or maybe just revenge?

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Letter to the Editor: Happy Anniversary, Iowa!

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to submit a letter to the editor in recognition of the "Varnum v. Brien" anniversary date, which was issued on April 3rd, 2009.  I mulled over the issue, procrastinated, stewed over the issue a bit more, and then came up with a letter, which I've included below.  I submitted it to the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper this evening.  It will be interesting to see if they print my letter and what edits they might make, if any.  I'll let you know of any developments.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The “Varnum v. Brien” court decision anniversary has come and gone. True enough, it was an important day in Iowa history, but next week will commemorate an even important date: the anniversary of the day when gay and lesbian couples finally began applying for those licenses!

From April 27th through December 31st, 2009 (according to the Department of Public Health), somewhere between 1783-2684 gay and lesbian couples were issued marriage licenses by the state of Iowa (901 of those couples did not specify their genders, making it difficult to confirm the exact number of couples). Either way, that’s 10-15% of marriage licenses issued in this state last year. And those numbers don’t count those gay and lesbian couples like me and my husband who waited until 2010 to get married. These couples existed in Iowa before “Varnum”, but we now all benefit from the protections and responsibilities of a civil marriage license.

Varnum” might be a legal milestone for this state, but April 27th is the real thing: a day that introduced the human element to this ongoing social debate.

-Jon from Iowa City

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Happy 1st Half Birthday, Nero!

It's a special day in our household today.  It was six months ago today that Nero, our standard poodle was born into this world.  It's been a little under four months since he moved in with us and disrupted our already crazy lives.  Since then, he's managed to become house-trained, to graduate from kindergarten, to join our community dog park, and to introduce chaos into the lives of our cat and other dog.

I purchased a package of wet Beneful food to make his supper a special one.  Before that, we have plans to run him over to the dog park to romp and show off his new hair-do.

Happy Half-Birthday, Nero!

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Five Minute Visit to the Newton Correctional Facility

Today was the day that I was scheduled to meet with one of the birth parents of one of our boys at the Newton Correctional Facility in Newton, IA.  It was actually our second scheduled appointment.  I was supposed to have gone there in late February, but that visit got canceled by someone high up who had concerns about the birth parent meeting with one of his/her "victims".  I'm not quite sure why we're considered one of her/his victims considering s/he didn't do anything to us and his/her biggest offense against our child was going to prison for someone unrelated to our child so that s/he couldn't be involved with that child's care.  Either way, everything was supposedly sorted out and I took the day off to drive an hour and a half to Newton to discuss the parent's desire to re-establish some form of relationship with our son.

Apparently, you're not allowed to wear shorts to prison unless you are under the age of 13.  No exception.

I then asked to meet with the correctional officer who was supposed to facilitate this meeting so that I could at least pass on a school picture to my son's birth parent.  He wasn't in today.

So, that's how my five minute visit to the Newton Correctional Facility went.

As a result of all this, I found myself with three hours of drive-time to mull over options.  Here are my initial plans.  I will write a letter to this birth parent and explain the situation.  I will not plan on coming to the prison, at least not for a while.  I will allow letters back and forth between our son and his birth parent and we will see where it goes from there.  I am leaning strongly against taking my son to visit his birth parent at the prison.  Instead, we may plan something post-prison away from our home and then plan from there.  (This is all pending Mark's veto and input.  Of course, it will also depend on our son's preferences -- if he's not interested in the letter thing, it will be put off until some unknown future time.)

UCC: The Language of God

The United Church of Christ just produced a new online denominational ad that they're asking folks to post on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.  It's called the "Language of God".  Personally, I preferred their "Ejector" ad, but I encourage you to check out this clip to see what God's saying.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Checking In...

It's been a long week.  The early morning work-out thing is starting to... er, work out.  I've been progressively less exhausted throughout the week.  Monday was terrible.  I was literally falling asleep at my terminal.  Tuesday was less bad.  Wednesday was okay.  I wasn't even sleepy today.  It's nice having my evenings free to focus on other things like my kids and my dogs instead of trying to squeeze in my evening work-outs.

Speaking of kids and dogs, turns out that presidential wannabe and Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee doesn't like gay families.  Apparently, he thinks gay parents can't tell the difference between kids and puppies.  Now he's backtracking.  He now says that he was mis-quoted and his words were taken out of context.  So the journalist in question posted the entire audio-transcript, which made me chuckle.

I guess it's possible that the Huckster's words have some merit.  I was taking a picture of the boys just the other day and realized belatedly that that's not Leslie over on the right.  I mean, they kind of look alike...

But, I'm digressing... 

Work's been hellish.  I mean, it could be worse.  It could always be worse.  But, it's been overwhelming lately and it promises to get worse.  My one co-worker left last week.  Now I've been given a half-dozen of her cases on a temporary basis.  "Temporary" meaning "3-6 (?) months".  Plus, at least two of those cases are behind on paperwork that was supposed to have been completed a couple months ago.  Plus, I'll still be responsible for everything that I'm usually responsible for.  Plus, I've been assigned to act as mentor for the new guy who's been hired to fill an empty slot (not my friend's job, but a separate slot -- he was offered the job a few days before she quit).  So, I'll be running a lot more ragged starting next week.

I say next week, because I'm taking the day off tomorrow to visit one of Iowa's prisons.  A birth parent of one of our boys began contacting us a couple months back in an attempt to establish some sort of relationship with that particular boy.  I haven't said no, but I haven't said yes, either.  I told him/her that I really want to meet face-to-face with her/him to talk this over before any decision is made.  Basically, I want to figure out what s/he hopes to get out of this.  Visits?  Vacations?  Letters?  How often if we say yes to any of this?  I also want to know what's gonna happen if I say no or not now?  It seemed like this was the kind of conversation that one has in person with someone; not over the phone or by correspondence.  I will say that it is extremely difficult to get on someone's visit list in the Iowa prison system.  I'm half-expecting to get turned away at the door tomorrow because some form was completed incorrectly.  Either way, wish me well and pray that I make the best decision possible for our son tomorrow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: Kelley Armstrong's "The Darkest Powers" YA Trilogy

I just finished reading "The Reckoning", the final chapter of Kelley Armstrong's first Young Adult series, "The Darkest Powers".  Armstrong's "Darkest Powers" trilogy is a spin-off from her break-out "Otherworld" series.  Imagine a world secretly populated by hereditary monsters of all shapes and powers: territorial werewolf packs, mafia-like sorcerer cabals, spineless witch covens, mentally-unhinged ghost-seeing necromancers...  They're all there and lots more.  Armstrong's otherworldly mythology is everything I wish I could've encountered in the "Twilight" series: exciting, romantic, succinct, clever, and action-packed.  Most importantly, she doesn't get bogged down in multiple chapters of dialogue about romantic doubt and angst.  Don't get me wrong.  Love blossoms in these books and teenage hearts are broken, but Armstrong does a good job of balancing words with actions and character development with plot progression.

"The Darkest Powers" introduces the readers to a half-dozen teens living in a treatment group home.  One girl suffers terrifying hallucinations of animated dead people.  Another girl seems to be a fire-starter.  One male juvenile delinquent is rumored to have badly injured another teen in a fight.  It soon becomes apparent that there is more going on here besides mental illnesses and behavioral disabilities.  The kids of the Lyle House are quickly immersed in a world of witches and half-demons and werewolves.  They also learn the hard way that some of the world's worst monsters are the very doctors tasked with treating them.  Very quickly, these teens find themselves running for their very lives from the sinister organization that funds the Lyle House.  Of course, the problem with conspiracies is that you never quite know who to trust and who is waiting for just the right moment to stab you in the back (literally).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Skipping through Sunday

I decided to skip the work-out today.  It's been a busy weekend and, to be honest, I've been exhausted lately.  I've decided to shake up my entire work-out routine.  Between work, soccer, church council, tae kwon do, and the rest, it's been difficult to get my work-out started before 9 PM.  Once that's done, I can't get relaxed enough to sleep until close to midnight.  Then I'm getting woken up at 5:30 or 6 in the morning by the puppy.  And then I'm exhausted throughout the week because I'm not sleeping enough.  I've decided to try out an early morning work-out.  I'll wake at 5:00 AM, take care of the dogs, run to the gym, and get home by 7:00 AM.  Then I'll get the boys up and off to school and I'll have a less hectic evening routine.  I've done it in the past and it worked then.  It needs to work now.  So, that's that.

In other news, my church successfully called a new half-time pastor this morning.  Our last pastor submitted his resignation last November and then moved on to a different pasture last month.  Fortunately, we received a couple resumes fairly early on in the process and one candidate in particular ended up being a strong candidate.  A few interviews and a congregational meeting later, we successfully called Rev. Brian Brandsmeier as our new pastor.  He and his wife are both very talented and should be able to offer a lot to our church community.  And, hopefully, they'll gain something positive from us as well.

Afterwards, D'Angelo and I spent an hour or so at the UI Powwow.  Powwows are cultural gatherings and celebrations of American Indian dance, music, art, culture, and food.  As always, the regalia was colorful and intricate and the songs were fierce.  Plus, I got my Indian taco, which is a strong motivator for me to attend each year!

The Press-Citizen has an article about the Powwow, which I'll include here along with the link (their articles only stay online for a week):

Sharing culture, history
-Rachel Gallegos • Iowa City Press-Citizen

For Tim Grant, the dance and music at Saturday's powwow on the University of Iowa campus aren't just part of his history.

They are among the few things that Native Americans have left, he said.

Grant, a member of the Omaha tribe, is the leader of the White Tail drum group.

The drum is one of the most important items in the musical and spiritual life of Native Americans.

"We say that each drum has its own spirit," Grant said.

Grant said that the people call the drum "grandfather" and never leave it out alone in the elements. The drum is respected and has its own room in the house, he said.

"Everything that we have was given to us by our creator," Grant said. "We cherish our big drum. (It's) one of the few things we have left."

At home, the drum group performs songs that are more than 300 years old. When they come to contest powwows, like Saturday's event at the University of Iowa Recreation Building, they try to bring new music and their own compilations, Grant said.

"As Omaha people, this (powwow) means to us a celebration of life, an honoring of veterans and a bringing together of family and friends," he said.

For the people attending the 17th annual University of Iowa Powwow, "I hope they like to see that the native people are still here," Grant said. "We didn't get assimilated totally."

Dancers and drum groups from tribes across the Midwest are in Iowa City this weekend to perform and compete for more than $19,000 in prizes in 26

Head Woman Star Lasley, a fancy shawl dancer from Montour, competed along with her three daughters.

Preparing her regalia for the first grand entry Saturday, Lasley said the shawl was the only required element of her outfit, and everything else "pretty much adds to the effect."

The fancy shawl style of dance "represents the butterfly," Lasley said. "It's meant to be graceful."

"It's energetic, it's high impact, it's just fun," she said.

Two of her daughters also dance fancy shawl while the third dances jingle, she said.

"They've been dancing since they could walk," Lasley said. "We do it as a family."

Today's Message in the Moment

What more could one possibly add?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Multiplying Reality Shows

I just found out that TLC will be airing a new reality program called "Make Room for Multiples", starring a Cedar Rapids-based family and their new quad babies next week.  The show follows the Dotzler family through their pregnancy, the delivery, and their eventual trip home.  You can learn more about the family and read their blog here.

My initial thought was that TLC had found itself a new show about families with multiple babies to make up for the loss of "Jon and Kate Plus 8".  Turns out I was wrong, as Kate Gosselin has two new programs in the works besides her current gig on "Dancing with the Stars": "Kate Plus 8", which appears to be the same thing as her last show except without cute-but-cheating hubbie Jon, and "Twist of Kate", which appears to send Kate off to visit fans in needs -- kind of like "Supernanny", but with her having no particular skilled perspective to pass onto those she visits.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Reality TV snob.  I've watched more than my share of "Jon and Kate" episodes.  I've been raised on "The Real World" and have seen everything from "Nanny 911" to "Celebrity Rehab".  I just have grown tired of Jon and Kate and feel more than a little burned by their celebrity-sized attitudes (especially given that their claim to fame is that they parented two groups of multiples).

If only because of their local connection, I'll likely check out the Dotzler's program (unless it's in a competing time period as "Millionaire Matchmaker").  One can only hope that they learn from the Gosselin's experiences, from their egos, and from their mistakes.

Pleasant Surprise of the Week: Thor and the Warriors Four!

I mentioned in my last post that things kind of sucked towards the end of the work week.  Not only did I get to help facilitate someone's exit, but I got thanked afterwards by both sides for my involvement in that process.  Neither person made me feel any better about my roll.  But it's over and life moves on.  Yada yada.

I have mentioned, or maybe more appropriate inferred, that I read comic books quite regularly.  I have my bunch of regular books set aside every Wednesday and I'm always looking for new stuff that will grab my attention.  One of my regulars is a series of mini-series that comes out every so often staring Power Pack, a team of 'tween heroes.  They had their own ongoing comic book back in the 80s and Marvel has been publishing a bunch of mini-series featuring them alongside other heroes such as the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine, Iron Man, etc.  I like these Power Pack books.  They fun, exciting, not bogged down by continuity like many other comics, and they're great entry books for younger readers, like my D'Angelo.  They're not the first books that I grab for when they come out, but I enjoy them when I do read them and I feel confident about the content before passing them onto D'.

This week, the latest Power Pack mini started up: Thor and the Warriors Four.  I'm not a big fan of Thor and it's been a busy, stressful week, so I didn't get around to picking up this book until last night.  Zoowee Momma!  I was in for a great treat!  Thor wasn't actually in the mini's first issue.  The Power Pack kids, in an effort to find a cure for their terminally ill grandmother, set off on a quest to find Thor and the magic of Asgard.  The pint-sized heroes didn't find the God of Thunder, but they found one of the next best things: Frog Thor and the Pet Avengers!  I love the Pet Avengers and I totally had no idea that they would be showing up in this book!  The Pet Avengers ended up providing a stepping stone towards the kids' ultimate goal of meeting Thor and I'm sure they'll meet up with him by the end of issue #3.

I strongly encourage folks to check out this exciting new comic book mini-series.  It's exciting and fresh.  It's safe for kids, without talking down to them.  And it's campy enough to add a little bit more excitement for its adult readers.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Clip Night: Ellen and the Poodles

It's been a day.  I have lots to say about today, but not about anything that I can write about on the blog.  Suffice it to say, that I got to help facilitate the end of one relationship and I've been forced into the position of facilitating the creation of another relationship.  The first makes me a bit sad and the latter makes me a bit apprehensive. 

With that in mind, I decided to blog a bit lightly again, starting with Ellen DeGeneres.  She was a featured topic on a recent episode of "Family Feud".  You might want to check it out.  Hopefully, you'll learn something new about Ellen.  What she's like and especially what she doesn't like:

Tonight's other clip is the oddest exercise video I've seen in a long time.  I'd love to get it for Nero, but don't know if he'd be able to keep up as well as the participants in this clip:

G'night, all!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Random Headlines of the Week

Here are a few links of things that have caught my eye during the past couple days:

*Marvel Comics just published a new promo for its new X-Men: Second Coming cross-over: "To Save the World, One of These X-Men Will Die."  Those in the promo pic are -- from left to right -- Colossus, Magik (or is that Kitty Pryde?), Iceman, Angel, Emma Frost, Nightcrawler, and Cable.  Personally, my bet is on Cable.  His comic book has just ended.  The central character in the "Second Coming" storyline is a young woman named Hope Summers.  She was the first and only mutant child born after Scarlet Witch's magic did away with most of Earth's mutants.  Hope's been prophesied as mutantkind's savior, or it's destroyer.  Hope was whisked away into the future by Cable, hunted for nearly two decades of her young life, and has now returned to the present.  Cable's death would be the most meaningful development for Hope.  The others are nothing to her.  Cable's toast.  IMHO.

*I haven't posted anything here about gay student Candace McMillen, Fulton, MS, her canceled prom, her ACLU lawsuit, any of the subsequent alternate proms established to exclude Candace, or the "prom" that was ultimately held at the local country club and the "not-a-prom"-party that everyone but Candace and the disabled kids weren't invited to.  I've commented about it elsewhere and that seemed enough.   No need to re-hash.  Anyway, there's lots of stuff going around online, including many sites criticizing the parents and students who created the "not-a-prom"-party.  One of those kids has responded and shared that it's Candace's classmates who are the victims of this whole mess.  To a point, I agree.  The school yanked the prom for all so that one girl and her date couldn't attend.  Then again, they could've been better than the school instead of creating the ultimate "no Candace" party.  I don't see many victims in this whole situation, but I might as well link to their side of the story:

**Open Minded Readers Only**

I am a senior at IAHS, and I've known Constance for the last 6 years. Please hear our side of the story before you decide on our fate.?The party we had in Evergreen (the county neighborhood I live in) is 30 mins away from the school. we rented out the community center, hired vendors, decorated, and our parents ran the security/chaperone staff- but it wasn't prom. Prom was at the country club where constance and 7 other students were. The reason the senior class boycotted the actual prom was not because we hate gays.

We wanted a drama-free gathering to celebrate 3 great years and 1 lousy one together, and we wanted to lay low. We also wanted to do it without the main cause of the lousy. What people are failing to realize is that much of the fault of this whole stink lies with Constance, not her mistreatment by the school district, but her crazy-reckless need for attention. It sounds mean and horrible and like we planned it all specifically to embarrass Constance, but we didn't. We let her have her prom with her girlfriend and her tuxedo and we went to party it up in the "boondocks" not because we wanted her rights violated, but so we could salvage what has turned into a total fiasco.

As a whole we didn't support her decision to throw the district under the bus, or her insinuations that we're all just a bunch 'a hicks driving around in beater pick up trucks spitting tobacco and burning crosses. IAHS is one of the top schools in the state and I'm proud of that, and I'm proud that we took a stand and just said you know what? forget it, we have just as much right as you do to have a party for ourselves. So we did, and now we're getting flack because poor Connie's ego got a bit of bruising. She's playing the lesbian card to prove she ALWAYS gets what she wants. This time, we didn't just let her.

Take it as you will, because I'm sure it sounds like we faked her out, but understand this- the decision NOT to attend prom had nothing to do with the school or with Constance's sexual preferences; it had everything to do with proving we weren't going to let her and the ACLU steamroll us into doing what Constance wanted. We flexed the muscle of the majority and we'll suffer the consequences."

--Senior Lindsay Begley
*In a related note, Pam Spaulding schools one IAHS student on being careful about what images one posts on the Internet.  That message was expanded on by Austen Crowder.  That's good advise for us all.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Prelude to a Powwow

Just found out the dates for one of my all-time favorite cultural events: Powwow!  The University of Iowa Powwow will be held of the UI Rec Building here in Iowa City this coming Saturday and Sunday, April 10th and 11th.  I'm glad to see that they changed the venue from the UI Memorial Union to the UI Rec Building.  There will be a lot more space this year for all of the people, equipment, and merchants.  Whoever made that decision needs a raise.

I love the Grand Entry.  I love the colorful outfits and the singing and the drum-playing.  I enjoy the drum contests.  I really enjoy Indian tacos.  I look forward to checking out the merchants area for unique CDs and interesting DVDs.  I won't be there Saturday, but I'll definitely be there with D' at noon on Sunday!

Here are a couple clips to help me get in the mood for this weekend's Powwow. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Thoughts on "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"

D'Angelo and I just got back from watching Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The weekend offered a variety of movie choices: 3-D dragon-tamers, Greeks vs. Gods, Miley Ray Cyrus, wimpy kid...  What am I saying?  There was no choice.  Trust me.  I tried tempting D' towards one of the first two choices.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is based on a series of books written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney.  D' loves these books.  He likes the humor, the outlandish storylines, and the artwork.  It's the one book series that he insists on pre-ordering.  He can read one of these books in a day and his cackles will resonate through the house for the duration of that reading. 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid follows a boy named Greg through his first year of junior high school as he hides from his sadistic older brother, navigates 'tween-age politics, and attempts to make a name for himself in his fruitless search for popularity.  Each new attempt to curry the favor of his ruthless classmates just knocks him further down the popularity rankings.  By the end of the movie, it's all Greg can do to salvage his sabotaged relationship with best friend Rowley.

It was difficult for me to watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  25 year ago, I was a wimpy kid and I regularly found myself at the bottom of the popularity totem pole.  Any tactics that I invented to remedy my sad situation just led to further humiliation by other kids.  Turns out, all I needed was to progress a few years into high school and move a couple states over in order to find some semblance of social stability.  As a result, the movie was an uncomfortable mental romp into the past.

But D'Angelo enjoyed it as -- it appears from the laughs behind us -- did the show's other viewers.  To be honest, the acting was pretty good for a kid's movie, the storylines evolved fairly comfortably, and the humor was low-brow enough for the kids, while not being overly graphic for us adults. 

D' gave Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4 out of 5 stars.  He thought that they left out a lot of good material from the book and some of the material covered within the movie could've been explored with a little more depth.  But he liked the humor and there were a few key plot elements that happened in the movie that didn't happen in the book, which he found to be a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Anniversary! Marriage Equality in Iowa!

Today, April 3rd, is the anniversary date of Varnum v. Brien, the Iowa Supreme Court decision that made it possible for gay couples to legally marry within the state of Iowa. Lambda Legal, the organization that brought this case forward in Iowa, created the following anniversary clip, which features many of the parties involved with this historical court decision.

I also wanted to include the final speaker from the March 30th press conference at the Johnson County Administrative Building in Iowa City. Mark and I met Jen BarbouRoske, her wife Dawn, and their kids nearly a decade ago when we became involved with the gay/lesbian family play group. They have done wonders towards uniting the gay and lesbian families of Johnson County into something very unique. We usually get together for social time, camping, swimming, whatever every month or so. It wasn't until we went to the Lambda Legal GLBT Family Summit this past fall that I realized how unique and special that our Proud Parents group really is. Mark and I had the great fortune to attend Jen and Dawn's wedding this summer and were fortunate enough to have their family present at our wedding this past January.

We are very pleased to count Jen and Dawn as friends and are so very proud of them and their family for helping to make marriage equality a reality within this state.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Marriage Equality in Iowa: The Anniversary Countdown Continues, Part 2

As mentioned earlier, I attended a press conference this past Tuesday at the Johnson County Administrative Building to recognize the anniversary of the historic supreme court decision allowing gay couples to legally marry within the state of Iowa.  I have already posted videos of different speakers, presenting different perspectives on the issue (here and here).  I only have one video to share today and plan to wrap things up tomorrow on the actual anniversary of the Varnum v. Brien decision date.

This speech was made by Rev. Tom Capo of Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist church.  He offered a second perspective from a religious clergyman.  While Rev. Funchess focused on the civil rights achievement of the Varnum case, Rev. Capo came at this discussion from the perspective of a pastor who has married many gay couples and who has participated directly in the excited and the relief of gay and lesbian couples who now have the opportunity to become married and share the benefits and responsibilities of their heterosexual married peers.

Before I go, I want to share a link to an article found on IndependentIowa.Com featuring the Varnums, the chief plaintiffs in the Varnum v. Brien case.  I met the Varnums at a Des Moines-based GLBT family conference last fall.  They seemed like a nice couple.  My family and many others throughout this state owe them a huge debt of gratitude!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Marriage Equality in Iowa: The Anniversary Countdown Continues

I shared a couple videos yesterday from a March 30th press conference at the Johnson County Administrative Building recognizing the anniversary of Iowa's historic supreme court decision that struck down our state's DOMA law and that allowed gay couples to legally marry within our state. Here are two more of the speeches from that event:

The first speech was given by Johnson County Recorder, Kim Painter.  I first became aware of Kim back in 1994 or so when she and a couple friends put on a local public access program called "Those Two Homos".  Kim, if I remember correctly, was more tangentally involved with show, filling in when the others weren't there.  Basically, the show delved into state and local GLBT politics.  More recently, she successfully ran for the Recorder's office a few years back and has served the community in that position ever since. 

I'm not familiar with the second speaker.  Rev. Abraham Funchess of Jubilee United Methodist Church in Waterloo, IA, offered the shortest speech of the day, but it was arguably one of the more interesting ones.  He spoke of the Loving vs. Virginia case.  Fun quote: "History gives us those little treasures from time to time.  There would be a woman by the name of Mildred Jeter who would marry a man with the last name Loving, so that every case afterwards would be considered either 'Loving' or 'Unloving'."