Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

I hope today is filled with fun and candy and your favorite parts of the holiday.  It's a time to feel like a kid again.  Enjoy trick or treating and the fun of the day. Enjoy the magic of dressing up as someone else and getting lost in a part.  I hope you all have a wonderful evening with family and friends enjoying this All Hallows' Eve.

"Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows' Eve.  Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet.  Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades.  From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells:  gourds being cut, pies being baked."
Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

Next If I Were Disney CEO series post tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

One Week, A Reminder

We're currently one week out from the mid-term elections.  This post is to serve as a reminder to get out and vote.

Early voting in Texas ends Friday, November 2, 2018.  You can go to to find early voting locations and times.

If you cannot vote early, likewise, check to find out where your polling place will be on election day, Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

Further, there is a world of resources on the web to find out information on the candidates and issues on your ballot, including the two below.

Beyond these two, there are literally hundreds of resources out there and a breadth of information available at your finger tips.  Just a Google search away.  Please get informed and get out to vote.

We need each and every person to get out and raise their voice.

Vote.  Every election matters and every vote matters.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Becoming Liberal

I've written on this before, but a confluence of our Journey Group Bible study continuing to explore the parable of the prodigal son, the message this past Sunday on mercy, and current events have brought me back to my ongoing story of becoming more liberal.  This will be a longer post, but also a bit more personal and free-form.

There's an adage that states "if you are not liberal at twenty, you have no heart; if you are not a conservative at forty, you have no brain."  Well, I don't like to think of myself as heartless or brainless, but I seem to be on that opposite trajectory.  As I age, I am becoming more liberal.  More tolerant.  In politics, in religion, in life in general.

I grew up in the small town, conservative Texas and I'm currently living in another small town in Texas very similar to my home town.  And while the specific political party landscape changed in my early years, the bent towards the conservative always remained.  Small town America is the land of the status quo.  Change happens at the pace of life.  Things remain the same for what seems like forever, and then all of the sudden small things change here and there as the new generation fully replaces the old.

This is especially true in many churches that I've seen. Things do change as new ministers and preachers come into the church and the congregation adjusts to their particular formats, but the churches would inevitably set into a particular repetitive pattern.  For years in my home church everyone could plan out exactly when the congregation would standup, sit down, when the hymns would be sung, how long the message would generally be, etc.  While there is comfort in repetition and familiarity, it also runs a great danger of rote mechanism.  Of services run on human programming and familiarity and not the Spirit of God.

It should not come as a shock to anyone that knows me that while I've spent most of my life in small towns, I've always been a city boy at heart.  I can appreciate a beautiful view of nature, but give me a thriving metropolis and a great skyline any day.  I love the vibrancy, the culture, the arts, and the activities.  I love to find a city's soul and connect with the particular feel of that community.  To understand how Austin differs from Dallas (or at least how it used to).

As such, while I can be completely comfortable in my hometown (and by extension, where I currently live), I've sometimes felt at odds with the communities in which I've lived.  I was one of those students always ready to graduate and to move on to the next big thing.  For undergraduate, I really only applied to two schools.  And my heart was truly always set on the University of Texas.  I wanted to be in Austin.  In that liberal capital of Texas.  Not that I ever thought of myself as liberal at the time, I just wanted to be in the place where everyone could find their own way and be their own thing.

This desire was a prime example of being slightly in congruent with the community.  In my hometown and in many of the surrounding communities, if you wanted to go to a big school in Texas, you went to Texas A&M.  The school was seen as upholding more conservative values and Bryan/College Station was seen as a more approachable town.  From my visits to A&M with the band, I knew I couldn't go there.  Just from visiting, I couldn't handle the weight of the traditions and expectations.  I wanted to run across the grass and wear a hat in the buildings.  I wanted to spike my hair and dye it orange.  I don't know exactly why it brought out a non-conformist streak in me, but it did.

I have to pause here and thank my wonderful parents for recognizing this difference and helping foster this part of me.  Taking me to musicals in Houston, vacations to great cities and towns across the United States and beyond, allowing me to go to Brightleaf at Duke, just as examples.  And preparing me to be ready for whatever city and college that I wanted to attend.  I know my mom would have loved me to be in a community that was closer and a little more "safe" like College Station.  She did get to see some of the most eccentric parts of Austin when we visited for college selection purposes.  But they let me make that decision and supported me all along the way.

Freshman year at Austin was a culture shock, but a great one.  My dormitory housed more people than lived in my hometown.  It has its own post office and once had its own zip code (currently it makes up a large percentage of one of the Austin zip codes). But I loved being there.  I loved the openness that allowed people to be who they were, not what they were expected to be.  I loved the diverse makeup of the student body and the overwhelming opportunities the campus presented.

Had you asked me at the time, I would have still considered myself conservative, politically.  Even through all four years at UT and everything that Austin represents to most people, I voted for President Bush in 2000 and supported him openly.  Religiously, though, I was reaching a turning point. While I had found a great church community in Georgetown, I had a gnawing sense in me that something was missing, that something more could be done.  Several questions of why we continued to do certain things or believe certain things that were tied only to tradition and not any specific scriptural basis.  Why science was considered so antithetical.  Why so many people had been hurt by churches and how that was acceptable.  I read a few books that heretical approaches.  That threw the baby out with the bath water.  Thankfully, from getting involved with terranova, I was able to read several great books on a different approach, that stripped things back to Biblical basics, but opened up greater possibilities.  A New Kind of Christian, More Ready Than You Realize, A Generous Orthodoxy, Adventures in Missing the Point.  While these did not have all the answers, they started asking the right questions.

"Our big cities are filled with younger brothers who fled from churches in the heartland that were dominated by elder brothers.  When I moved to New York City in the late 1980s to being a new church, I thought I would meet many secular people who had no familiarity with Christianity at all.  I did, but to my surprise I met just as many people who had been raised in churches and in devout families and had come to New York City to get as far away from them as possible.  After about a year of ministry we had two or three hundred people attending services.  I was asked, 'Who is coming to your church?'  Upon reflection, I answered that it was about one-third non-believers, one-third believers, and one-third 'recovering' believers - younger brothers.  I had met so many younger brothers who had been hurt and offended by elder brothers that neither they nor I were sure whether they still believed the Christian faith or not.

The most common examples of this I saw were the many young adults who had come from more conservative parts of the U.S. to take their undergraduate degrees at a New York City school.  Here they met the kind of person they had been warned about for years, those with liberal views on sex, politics, and culture.  Despite what they had been led to believe, those people were kind, reasonable, and open-hearted.  When the students began to experience a change in their own views, they found that many people back home, especially in churches, responded in a hostile and bigoted way.  Soon they had rejected their former views along with their faith.  The elder brothers had turned them into younger brothers.

We discovered, however, that younger brothers were willing to come to our church because they saw that we made a clear distinction between the gospel and religious moralism, and that provided and opportunity in which they could explore Christianity from a new perspective.

It is natural for younger brothers to think that elder brotherness and Christianity are exactly the same thing.  But Jesus says they are not.  In his parable, Jesus deconstructs the religiosity that is one of the main problems with this world.  In this parable Jesus says to us, 'Would you please be open to the possibility that the gospel, real Christianity, is something very different from religion?'  That gives many people hope that there is a way to know God that doesn't lead to the pathologies of moralism and religiosity."
Tim Keller, Prodigal God

terranova started by looking at a simple but difficult question - why did the church in a Christian school town have such a hard time getting college students to come to church?  Despite Southwestern University being two and a half miles from First Baptist Georgetown, the college and career class of First Baptist Georgetown only had a handful of students.  And so began a study to understand why so few of these students felt church to be an integral part of their life.  The most common refrain was that of the younger brother who had been put off by elder brothers and wanted no part of it anymore.  Of students who had already been hurt or ostracized by the church and were through with it all.  This lead to studies regarding the post-modern church movement and the emergent church movement, and again, while they did not provide perfect answers, they did help challenge a lot of pre-conceived ideas about what church has to be that are extra-Biblical.   To start us asking the questions that could help loosen some of the unnecessary traditions that we hold onto too tightly.  Does church have to only be early on a Sunday morning?  Why are the only forms of worship explored during the service music and sermon?  What about artists?  Is there a Biblical basis for an altar call?  Should the altar be open throughout the service for prayer and petition?  Why do we have age based Sunday School?  Would it be better to organize by topic?  To mix the ages so the young learn from the old and vice versa?

Can we be intentional in structuring church to make it approachable and graceful to the un-churched and de-churched, and not just comfortable for the current churched?  Are we using language that only makes sense to those already here?

From this framework and this beginning, I've been drawn to those churches that hold to Biblical truths, but are free to question everything else.  Unchanging message, but ever adapting methods. And as I age, I find this something that is not only something that aligns with my preferences in worship, but something that I am discovering is vital to the health and welfare of the church.  I've written before on the negative perception the church can have in America, and wondering if we have forgotten how to love our brother.  Has the church become too rigid to meet the needs of the lost anymore?  Are we too set in elder brother ways?  It's why this statement from Prodigal God has continued to impact me.  "If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did."

This past Sunday, the message was on the Beatitude "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."  I think our pastor summed up my concern better than I could in the closing to his message.

"Now let me just end with this last thing.  I really thought, man, if I could just find a really great story of forgiveness to kinda wrap this thing up, then that would just be kinda like the cherry on top, you know what I mean.  And here's the deal, you can read literally hundreds of stories online, much of which are a parable of sorts, not necessarily true, others of which aren't faith based.  Others that people are making into movies like Louie Zamperini and Unbroken.  

Great Stories.  

You know here's where I've found a little bit perplexing, (and not just because I couldn't find these stories, but also because of what I've witnessed just in my own life) is that most of the stories of forgiveness come outside the walls of the church.   

And that perplexes me.  

Most people leave churches because of forgiveness issues.  Relationships are estranged, they're broken, they're confused.   And I think we are the people who have received the greatest mercy, and yet we tend to be the less merciful.  

I hope that perplexes you as much as it does me.  

Why are churches so hateful to one another?  

Why is there such a spirit of competition?  

Why are there so many malicious things said? 

Why are we so mean and hateful?  

Because it's a sign of people who do not understand what mercy has been granted to them.  And oh, how far we've come from being beggarly.  And so may we return to the heart of the beggar.  And may God do a great work in us as we deal with other people the way that God has dealt with us.  

Brandon Bachtel, Stonepoint Church, Upside Down Week 5

And it is these questions and the perception of the church that have also pushed me more liberal politically, especially because of the increasing entangling of the Republican party with the evangelical conservative church.  With the idea that the salvation for our country lies with one political party.

Something started changing during Barack Obama's two terms as president.  While I did not agree with all of Obama's policies, I recognized him as someone who was trying to do what he thought best for the country.  He was someone who was well-reasoned, principled, and moral.  For the life of me, I could not take the vitriol, the hate, and often outright lies that were shared and fully believed about him and his presidency.  Those that ran from day one of his term of office and are still continuing today.  You could say that social media played a large part of my growing dissatisfaction as it made all of this misinformation and grumbling very, very visible on a daily basis.

By the 2016 primary season, I had reached my tipping point. Trump seemed to represent the antithesis of everything the Republican party I knew stood for.  As I've said before, I see a lot of comparison between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.  Both known womanizers.  Both in many ways populist candidates.  And yet, somehow, Bill Clinton was to be opposed at all costs, but Donald Trump was embraced and hailed, all for the want of a particular letter at the end of their name.  I couldn't handle the dissonance.  And I have yet to be shown anything different.

This was especially galling to me because of the support that Trump developed and continues to have among conservative evangelicals.  To have pastors outright state you have to vote Republican to be a good Christian was shocking and repulsive.  And to see those pastors like Robert Jeffress continue to rise in prominence when he makes statements like "I believe any Christian who would sit at home and not vote for the Republican nominee...that person is being motivated by pride rather than principle...".  Even Franklin Graham more recently with "Christians should be aware of candidates who call themselves progressive.  Progressive is generally just a code word for someone who leans toward socialism, who does not believe in God & who will likely vote against Godly principles that are so important to our nation."

This mixture makes me think of a warning from Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor.  "Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy.  He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix.  Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform.  Beware those who cannot tell God's will from their own."

That is the ultimate way of the elder brother.  To force conformity to the social norm, to the expectation, to the "moral" requirement.  And to write off anyone who does not hold to those standards.  But Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, revealed that this path was just as wrong as the younger brothers and was potentially more disastrous, for it blinded the elder brother to his own need for salvation.  That worldview allowed the elder brother to continue to believe he was "good" in his own eyes.

And that is the greatest issue I have with this political relationship between the church and the current Republican party.  The blindness the mix has to the effect of the relationship.  To its impact on our witness.  The great increase in number of younger brothers turned away from elder brothers now seeking to impose moralism on a religious and political level.  The increase in people turned off by this quest for political power.  That cannot handle the disconnect between the actions we call sinful and shameful on one hand but excuse on the other.  I guess you can say I am one of those younger brothers in this respect.

Throughout this process, I began to question why I originally held myself out as conservative.  Why I identified with the Republican party.  Was it because that is what my family generally aligned themselves with?  Did it adequately align with what I believe?  And it made me question why I was so opposed to the Democratic party.  Were their policies truly antithetical to what I valued?  And of course, what I found was that each party has policies I support and policies I do not.  Particular policies that are of greater emphasis in each election.   A reminder to myself that while parties provide a general framework, the individual candidate is more important to my internal decision process.  Again, I discovered better questions.

Further, I traveled more and saw what life was like in other countries.  Saw that those scary systems that some politicians would say could never work over here worked quite well for a large part of the world.  That other countries probably had a healthier division between the church and government, to the benefit of both.

I became a parent.  And I started discovering I wanted better things for my children.  That some of the answers provided as to why things are the way they are were not acceptable any more.   That we could do better and that we should do better.

I want a church that stands separate and apart and that proclaims the unabashed Truth regardless of and distinct from any political party or candidate.  A church devoid of nationalism or American exceptionalism, focusing only on the great nation to come and the broader body of believers that we belong to that cuts across nationality, race, and creed.  A church that is not afraid of questions.  That's not afraid of the answer "I don't know" and not afraid of digging in together to learn more.

I want a government that protects the rights of all its citizens, speaking up for the least of these and protecting them from the tyranny of the majority.  That fights for social justice and equality and does so in a religiously neutral fashion. 

I want us all to see greater freedom in both.

I write this not to persuade anyone regarding their vote, one way or the other.  If you would like a deeper conversation, I'm happy to have that in a more direct manner to discuss specific issues and why my vote sides in a particular direction there.  I write merely to offer background and perhaps provide color to my posts of late.  Particularly given the increase in politically related posts surrounding the mid-term elections.

I pray you all have similar deeply held convictions for your overall outlook on life.  I pray for younger brothers to recognize their need for direction and to return home.  I pray for elder brothers to recognize the inability of their works and to go in to reconcile and join the feast.  I pray for us all as we try to navigate in a continually fracturing and factioning world.

I pray we all start asking better questions.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Travelers' Report Part 9 - Waco

This past weekend, we took a day trip to Waco to meet up with my brother, my sister, and her family.  We've discovered Waco is a good half-way point, about a two hour drive for us and an hour and a half for them.

We spent the day at the Cameron Park Zoo, a very nice zoo that I had not been to before, eating in downtown Waco, and making a pass through Silobration.  It's crazy for me to see how much Waco has changed just in the 13 years since I lived there.  Time flies.

We started the day with a stop at Slovacek's in West to get klobasneky and cinnamon rolls.  I chose a "jalapeno popper" klobasnek (cream cheese, bacon, and jalapeno) and Jamie got the Big Poppa with the garlic and cheese sausage.  And the kids loved the cinnamon roll and Nutella turnover.  We may have made another stop on the way back home for Gingerdoodle cookies.

The best part of the trip was getting to spend time with family and enjoy being out in the zoo.  It was a little cooler and still a little wet from rain the days before, but still a great time.  Here Avalyn and Ezra are ready to take on the zoo holding their Uncle T's hand.

Just a great shot of Avalyn and Jamie and Ezra and Ryan looking at one of the avian exhibits.

Avalyn and Jude both enjoyed feeding the giraffe.  This guy hung out at that balcony all morning and had a line waiting to feed him lettuce leaves.

Avalyn ad Ezra hand in hand.  They were best buddies throughout this trip.

My two little monkies.  The orangutan exhibit here was really neat and allowed for close up views of the large orangutan and the new baby.  The kids loved getting to sit on the statue as well.

A bit of the craziness with the kids at Jake's Texas Tea House in downtown Waco.  Good food and a neat atmosphere.  Not the best time with our kids as they both could have used a nap at this time.

The Magnolia Silos.  They were throwing Silobration with vendors and a concert that night.  The place was packed but neat to walk through.  The bakery had at least an hour wait line when we were there.

Avalyn had to get a picture with this Dinosaur across the street from the Silo exit.  This was the last stop of the day and looked like a fun place to come get a bite the next time we're in Waco. 

We're hoping we can keep up these kind of day trip meetings to get to see the Austin crew on a more frequent basis.

Until next time.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

My Favorite Scary Story

One of my favorite things about the month of October is when Jezebel solicits scary stories from their readers. Generally, the stories are supposed to be about the scariest things that have ever happened to them, but some are recognized to be well circulated pieces of horror fiction, like the stories of stairs in the woods leading to nowhere.  The following story is a repost of my favorite story from all of Jezebel's annual submissions.  It is presented as a true story that happened to the writer and is one of the creepiest things that I can imagine.  You've been warned.


Look at Me, by thatredguy, originally on Jezebel

This happened in my junior year of high school.

One evening, my mother and stepfather had gone out to some event, maybe it was an extended dinner or a concert, it's hard to remember. I had stayed at home to work on a paper that was due the next day (I was one of those kids who procrastinated until the last minute) and spent the whole night working at the desk in my room. To give you a picture of the room, my desk faces a wall and sits next to a small window that's on the same wall, and from where I sit, my back faces my doorway. While I was working, I was wearing these great headphones that I had gotten for my birthday — the kind that are noise canceling.

My parents left the house around 6:00 PM, and the whole time they were gone, I sat at my desk, blasting music through my headphones and writing my essay. Occasionally, I would take breaks and watch the rain and lightning outside my window (we lived in Houston at the time and there was a big storm that night). I never left my desk.

My parents returned around 11:00 PM. At some point late late in the evening, I had removed my headphones, so when my parents came home (coincidentally just a few minutes after I had taken off my headphones), I clearly heard the garage door open and my parents open the door to the house. Seconds after I hear them enter, I hear my mother shout my name. "Adrian!" she screams, "what on earth happened in here!?" Confused, I get out of my chair and start walking through the house to them. There's only a small hallway that separates my room from the living room. Due to my rush to figure out why my mother was yelling, I paid little attention to the hall and the house. After a few moments, I get to my parents. My mom looks livid. She's pointing at the carpet floor yelling, "Was this you!? Did you have friends over!?" I look down. The carpet is ruined. It's covered in muddy footprints.

I frantically explain to her that I have no idea how those got there, that I spent the whole night at my desk working on my paper. I watch as her face goes from anger, to confusion, to fear. We realize that someone else must have entered the house. Quickly we scan the footprints, trying to make sense of the situation. It only takes us a few moments to figure out where they start: our back door, which we usually left unlocked. Then we noticed something else. The footprints started at the backdoor, but there were no footprints exiting the back door.

We hear something pounding through our house. We hear the front door get torn open, then slammed shut with a sharp WHAM!

We all run into the garage and lock the door. My mom starts shouting at the police through the phone, "Please come quickly! Someone's broken into our house!" After what seems like hours, the police arrive. An officer stays with us in the garage as his partner goes through the house room by room. His partner tells us that it's safe to go back in, that there's no one in the house. Then she asks us a question. She asks us whose room is down the hall to the left. My parents look at me and I tell the officer that it's mine. She asks us to follow her down the hall.

As we go, it's easy to see that the footprints weave through my house from the back door. They go through the living room, through the small hallway, into my parents room (which is down the hall to the right) and then turn around towards my room. They stop in my doorway.

Then the officer points at my door, which I had left open the whole night. On it, in black sharpie, was written the following:

My Log

8:47: I see you

8:53: You forgot to lock the back door

8:59: You seem focused

9:24: Turn around

9:47: Look at me

10:15: Look at me

10:37: Look at me

10:49: Look at me

For nearly two hours, someone stood in my doorway watching me. To this day, I shutter to think about what would have happened if I had ever turned around and looked at them.


What's your favorite scary story?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Keep America Purple

Over the next couple of weeks, there will likely be several posts in this vein.  With the mid-term election coming up, we need every reminder possible to get people to the polls to vote.  Voter turnout in the 2014 mid-term election was only 36.4%, the lowest it had been since 1942, despite having the highest spend up to that point ($3.7 billion).

So again, vote.

Early voting is currently underway - take that opportunity if you can.   If not, get to the polls on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

And no matter what anyone tells you, do NOT vote straight party anything.  That's just bad advice.  Plain and simple.

No one party automatically has all the best candidates for their particular district, region, or state.  No one party has all the best policies for governance.  Read up on the candidates and vote for those that best represent you regardless of what little letter follows their name on the ballot.

There is a world of resources on the web to find out information on the candidates and issues on your ballot, including the two below.

There are literally hundreds of resources out there and a breadth of information available at your finger tips.

Because here is the truth - we need each other.  We need both parties, Democrats and Republicans.  We need progressives and we need conservatives.  We need progressives to push us forward, to make us confront inequalities where they exist, and push us into new solutions.  To push us to change.  We also need conservatives to question changes so that we make the right ones, to fight for what is worth preserving, to remind us of our past.  We need the push and pull that holds us to our standards, but reminds us of reality.

Governing is supposed to be hard.  It's supposed to require compromise, to require consensus. We need governing bodies that are not all Democrats or not all Republicans.  The worst thing that could happen to our country would be unopposed control by one party of all three branches of government.  That way leads to the mantra "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely."  We need for our legislative and executive bodies to need to work for their achievements.  To have to go across the aisle and reach agreements with the opposition.  True, we do not need obstruction, and that is where our current parties have gone astray.  But we do need vigorous debate and deliberation on the laws and policies that will govern our country.

We need a judicial branch that is impartial and will occasionally force us to move forward, whether the majority would vote for it or not.  We need their decisions like Brown v. the Board of Education or Lawrence v. Texas.

We need representatives in our government that truly reflect the diversity of our great country.  And we've got a long way to go in that regard.  While the current Congress has reached a new height of diversity, it remains as a whole is still disproportionately white and male.

And we need you to get out and vote.  We need to hear every citizen's voice.

Keep America Purple.  Because that is what accurately represents us.  

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Domestic Terrorism

Over the first few days of this week, pipe bombs have been mailed to prominent Democratic leaders and influencers including former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, former CIA director John Brennan at CNN, political donor George Soros, former attorney general Eric Holder, Representative Maxine Waters, and Florida congresswoman and former Democratic National Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Oddly, the return address on each package used Debbie Wasserman Schultz's address.  The explosive device in the packages was constructed from a length of pipe a little longer than six inches and wrapped in black tape with what appeared to be epoxy on the ends.  What could be a timer was attached to the side of the pipe and wires were visible at both ends.  These packages were treated as live explosive devices and dealt with accordingly.

If you want to see what hate looks like, this is it.
More troubling than the terroristic acts of this individual or group of people has been the apathetic response by large swaths of people on social media.  Posts and comments decrying this as a "false flag" or a plot by the Democrats to gain sympathy before the election or to distract everyone from the caravan of migrants seeking asylum in the United States.  Methinks the tinfoil is strong with this group.

These bombs and the threats and attacks behind them should be recognized for what they are - acts of terrorism.  Acts of hate.  Criminal, despicable acts against our fellow Americans.  Our fellow citizens.  Our fellow humans. 

I do not agree with the current administration often, but I agree with their response to these events.
To further quote the President, "In these times we have to unify, we have to come together and send one very clear strong unmistakable message, that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America."

And while I agree with these sentiments, I also have to wonder if we are here because of two and a half years of chants of "Lock her up!" at political rallies.  Because of continued fear mongering with "If Republicans did lose big to Democrats, they will overturn everything that we've done and they'll do it quickly and violently, and violently."  If we're here because of images that say "It's no longer Democrat versus Republican, it's Communism versus Freedom."  Are we here because we've not only allowed but encouraged our politicians, and particularly our Commander-in-Chief, to engage in the lowest form of muckraking and rhetoric?

While we do not have a revealed motive from the bomber(s) regarding the attacks, it should not seem coincidental that all of the targets so far are not only Democrats, but targets of President Trump's attacks.

These actions and the response must be seen as the sad, ugly, and inevitable result of the constant portrayal of an opposing party as crooked, un-American, liars, Socialists, Communists, bigots, racists, Fascists, and immoral.  The result of continuing to buy into the line of thinking that says everyone who is not with us is against us.  That everyone against us is evil.  The line of thinking that forgets we are all American citizens.  That we are all trying to make this country better, though we may have different visions of what "better" entails.  That we are all in this together.

We have to do better.  We have to stop giving into this impulse to assume the worst of anyone who disagrees with us.  To stop impugning the motives of the other half of the country that has a different political opinion.  To stop judging opposition by the worst examples of their character while attributing only the best of intentions to our side. 

We have to stop believing a political party can save us.  And to stop assuming that the only candidates that can do any good will have a specific letter following their name.   And this is especially true for those who claim to follow Christ.  Only He can save us and this country, and no political party or candidate will always align with His purpose. 

We have to stop viewing compromise and consensus as dirty words and start having hard conversations about political issues.  To start really digging into try and solve them, not just digging in our heels when someone will not give in to our position.  To end this obstructionism and to actually work together to learn and grow from each other.

To start voting out of office people who have been abusing the system for far longer than any founding father could have imagined.  To do whatever we need in order to end the ability to be a "career politician," implementing term limits in Congress and other agencies.

To do more than pay lip service to the fact that we are all Americans, and to start acting like it.

I hope we are up to the task.  I really do.

Because this current environment is getting really tiring and wearing on me.  Wearing on us all.  And I fear how long we can keep it up without resorting to something far worse than this week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 26 - The Jim Henson Company/The Muppet Studio

"This new and very important relationship will enable our two companies to combine our respective talents and resources in ways that will fully realize the tremendous potential of the Muppet and Bear franchises.  Michael Eisner's long-standing passion and respect for the Muppets gives me and my family even more confidence in Disney as a partner."
Brian Henson, February 16, 2004

"In the months before his death in 1990, my father Jim Henson pursued extensive discussions with the Walt Disney Co. based on his strong belief that Disney would be a perfect home for the Muppets.  As such, the deal we announced today is the realization of my father's dream...My brothers and sisters -- Brian, Cheryl, John, Heather -- and I are so proud to have the Muppets living under the same roof as Walt Disney's own timeless characters.  We could not possibly be more pleased."
Lisa Henson, February 16, 2004

In 2004, Disney was finally able to complete a 14 year long negotiation process and successfully acquire the Muppets and the Bear in the Big Blue House from the Jim Henson Company.  In doing so, Disney created the Muppet Studios LLC to run their future Muppet films, television specials, television shows.  Since then, there have been a television movie and two television specials, two theatrical feature films, and two television shows (The Muppets and Muppet Babies), to mixed effectiveness and acclaim.

Personally, I am a huge fan of the Muppets and the Jim Henson Company in general and believe they have a great untapped potential in many areas of the Disney company, including theme parks, television, and film.  And judging by the response to the Muppets live events, there are lots of people out there that feel the same way and have a great nostalgia for these characters.  There simply needs to be a greater focus and intentionality with regard to what makes the Muppets special in the first place.

Primary Goals for the Division:
  • Appoint a figurehead - To me, one of the reasons that the Muppets have been floundering within the Disney company lies with the lack of a figurehead/advocate for the studio.  Muppets do not have a John Lasseter or Kevin Fiege who can shape what Muppet films and projects are supposed to be and fight against projects that might run counter to the sensibilities of the characters.  That plays into point number two.
  • Acquire and bring in the full Jim Henson Company under the Disney banner - when the Henson children sold to the Disney company, they only sold Muppets and the Bear in the Big Blue House.  Seasame Street was previously sold to Children's Television Workshop/Seasame Workshop and would not be part of any deal.  But, the Jim Henson Company still has Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock, Farscape, Emmett Otter, and the Creature Shop, to name a few recognizable intellectual properties.  This would additionally allow Brian Henson to serve as the gatekeeper, the advocate for the unified Jim Henson Company.
  • Lean into Jim Henson's Creature Shop - One of the greatest groups in puppetry, creature effects, and digital puppetry.  This alone would be an Industrial Light and Magic level acquisition for the Disney company and should be a great partnership to be played up.  I've stated before with Walt Disney Feature Animation that I want Disney to be at the forefront of all forms of animation.  I would love to see them there with puppetry and practical effects as well, with benefits cutting across studios.
  • Schedule a diverse slate from the Jim Henson Company - There is no need for a Muppet film every year or even every other year.  Plus, The Jim Henson Company has other intellectual properties that could be explored.  They have had plans for a Flight of the Navigator reboot, a Labyrinth sequel, a Dark Crystal sequel, a Fraggle Rock movie, etc.  There are plenty of properties that can be used to present a Jim Henson Company once every other year or so. Including the Henson Alternative properties.  An Avenue Q movie by the actual Jim Henson Company, anyone?
  • Remember the Muppets should skew a little older - I know they are characters that are being currently used for toddler programming.  I have two that love them.  But, the original Muppet programs, while family-friendly, did not play down to the lowest possible age groups.  They were loud, occasionally crass, weird, sarcastic, deadpan, etc.  Their original program was even called Sex and Violence and had running appearances on Saturday Night Live.  It's okay to be a little outside the box with them.
  • Have the Muppets Host the Oscars - I'm going to keep at this one.  If you want to make the awards show entertaining, why hire just one comedian to keep the show moving when you could hire a gaggle of them.  Seriously, the Muppets hosting an event like this would be so similar to the old Muppet Show and would be a perfect example of corporate synergy.
With that, I want to now turn to a few specific film slate and sub-divisions I envision for The Jim Henson Company.

From the Broader Jim Henson Company:
I would envision the following motion pictures:
  • Labyrinth sequel
  • Dark Crystal sequel - to follow the Netflix series
  • Fraggle Rock movie
  • The Land of Gorch movie
  • Pinocchio
  • The Flight of the Navigator
  • The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow
  • a Storyteller movie series - could be used to tell lesser known fairy tales from around the world as the television show was.
From the Muppet Studios:
I still want to see the Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made.  The one where Gonzo blows all the money on the trailer and then they have to complete the movie on a shoestring budget.  From there, I'd like to see the Muppets in different genres.  This concept was used in The Muppet Show to great effect, parodying popular television programs of the day.  I would expand that and have the Muppet movies be parodies of popular film genres that they are doing somewhat poorly at aping.  A Muppet noir, a Muppets super-hero epic.  A Muppet "found footage horror" movie.   The Muppets are great characters to satirize popular culture, so the possibilities are endless.

From Henson Alternative:
I would keep the Henson Alternative imprint open for more adult, more outside the box programming.  This would include films like the following:
  • Avenue Q the movie - working with the musical to create an authorized "adult" Seasame Street
  • Adaptations of Jim Henson's more personal and avant gaard work including Tale of Sand, The Cube, and Time Piece
  • I know The Happytime Murders did not do well, but I still think there is a much better version of that concept out there.  Something closer to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  If not as a crime story, perhaps as a straight up horror with puppets, something closer to Angel's Smile Time episode or Caesar and Me or The Dummy from The Twilight Zone.
I have many more thoughts on the television implications for both the Jim Henson Company as a whole and for the Muppets, and look forward to discussing those at that time.

As always, thank you for reading.  Next in the series, PIXAR Animation studios.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Disney News Update - New Deluxe Hotel for Walt Disney World

Thursday, October 18, 2018, Disney announced plans to build a new deluxe resort in Walt Disney World, to be completed in 2022.  This new hotel is to bring an additional 900 rooms to Walt Disney World, finalizing a 1,700 room increase over the next four years.  The new hotel is to be nature inspired and mixed use, meaning it will likely have a combination of hotel rooms and Disney Vacation Club suites.

New Disney Hotel Concept Art (c) Disney
The concept art reveals a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque design for the hotel, seemingly using a mixture of natural materials to complete the aesthetic.  The new hotel is to be situated between the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness, likely over the old River Country location.   Plans for this development seem to have been dubbed Project 89 internally. 

Possible location and layout from older plans.
I'm of mixed minds on the development.  I am glad to see the site developed and hope to see touches of River Country in the resorts pools.  I am not sold on the potential architecture design in this particular location.  While a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired hotel would be a great addition to the Walt Disney World hotel family, this location was earmarked for a hotel development that would continue a story of time and place.  Something that moved from Pioneer Hall at Fort Wilderness representing the deep woods to the rustic Pacific Northwest of the Wilderness Lodge.  This location should be something representing more of the traditional Old West that we think of.  The Buffalo Junction plans.  I could have also gone with a design aesthetic that would mirror a late 1960s/1970s Winnebago inspired travel motel.  Something that would match the great design for the new chuck wagon at Fort Wilderness and the 1971 opening of the Walt Disney World Resort.

Fort Wilderness Chuck Wagon
I'm also not sold on the potential names that have been rumored for this resort.  Disney's Discovery Lodge, Reflections: A Disney Lakeside Resort, and Disney's Colors of Nature Resort seem to have all been included as possibilities in surveys for the new resort.  Of these, Disney's Discovery Lodge is the least offensive, but there seems to be a pattern of moving away from resorts that establish a different time and place.  Traditional Disney resorts were transportive.  They moved you to a different location (like the Polynesian, Saratoga Springs, the Animal Kingdom Lodge) or place (the Grand Floridian).  This simply seems to be a specific design choice.  An architectural style.  While there is nothing wrong with that, it is a complete shift from what Disney has generally offered in the past and a concern for its blend with the existing Fort Wilderness campgrounds given the proximity.  Disney's Riviera and Coronado Springs towers are further examples of this trend.

And for the name, it seems clear that it should be Disney's River Country Resort.

I'll be keeping an eye on this development.  Hopefully as more concept art is revealed and more features of the resort are described, it will become clearer and a little bit more Disney.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Meaning of Words

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory'," Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.  "Of course you don't - till I tell you.  I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"

"But 'glory' doesn't mean a 'nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "Whether you can make words mean different things - that's all."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

My Constitutional Law professor used to quote this passage of Through The Looking Glass all the time.  When you control the meaning of words, you can do anything.  You can make up down, black white, and right wrong, just by changing the words.  This is the purview of Constitutional interpretation; to determine and define what the words in our laws and Constitution actually mean.

This is also the sad language of politics today.  Change the phrasing of the words and you can make any action or cause sound laudable or deplorable.  And I want to write today about something I'm seeing more frequently and something that is greatly angering me.

There's a terrible image going around on social media that sums up this sentiment greatly.  It represents a gross over-simplification of the state of political debate, at best, and outright falsities at it's worst.  It's a tool of the ever growing divide in this country, for as we know, one party just has to represent everything that is good with this country and the other just has to represent all the evils of this world.

In terms of truthfulness, this image rates right up there with the posts that point out the pure coincidence that both American and Republican end in "I CAN" while Democrats ends in "RATS".  The actual party name is the Democratic party (just as the GOP name is the Republican party), though I suppose "ATIC" does not work as well to denigrate the opposition.

To prove a point, let me show you another image, one that is just as true as the one above.

It's all in how you define the words.  Or in what words you choose to describe the particular topic.  Opposition to abortion can be "pro-life" or "anti-abortion."  A push for gun control can be "sensible gun control" or "they'll take away all your guns."  Both sides do it and it's getting worse.  If you actually believe that Democrats are all anti-police/ICE, I have a bridge in Arizona that I would like to sell you. Likewise if you believe that Republicans are all homophobic or xenophobic.

These images and the sentiment behind them are not helping our country in any way shape or form.  These posts and the ones claiming that our country will be socialist if the Democrats win or fascist if the Republicans win simply exist to further the divide in this country, ensuring that future elections and future debates will be more rancorous, more vile, and more fractured.

The only way we move past this is to recognize the manipulation in the images above and reject them.  To engage in a deeper discourse.  A deeper investigation.  And then to vote.

Get informed and vote November 6, 2018.  Vote early if you can.

Don't vote straight party - in my opinion, the ability to vote straight party with one selection on a ballot should be removed.  It's likely the most dangerous tool in politics that has been granted to both parties.

Read up on the candidates and vote for those that best represent you regardless of what little letter follows their name on the ballot.

There is a world of resources on the web to find out information on the candidates and issues on your ballot, including the two below.

There are literally hundreds of resources out there and a breadth of information available at your finger tips.  I realize I'm likely preaching to the choir, but a reminder never hurts.


Not because it's the most important election of our lifetime.  Not because of some fear-based image that tries to make you believe the other side is going to destroy our country (they won't).

Vote because every election is that important.  Because every election matters.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Websites I Follow, or What I Read

On Friday, Gizmodo released their list of 100 Websites that Shaped the Internet.  Fair warning, while the post itself is work safe (thanks to blurring), the links they include are not (including one link that should never under any circumstances be clicked on).

And while there are a lot of sites that I have never heard of, much less used in the list, it is amazing how many sites that are still running and still have a large impact on our modern lives.  Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, Pandora, Facebook, Dropbox, Netflix, Blogger.  Many of these used on a daily basis.

And that got me thinking of a post that I've been meaning to put together.   A glimpse into my daily newsfeed if you will.  A list of the websites that I follow.  The websites provided below are ones that I check on a daily basis to get information and to feed my interests. 

Homepage and News:

  • - I use Bing as a central landing spot for a couple of reasons.  Bing Rewards and the news carousel.  Since I'm on the web as much as I am, I can rack up the maximum Bing Rewards possible, netting me a $5 gift card once every month or so. For me, that is a good trade off (even with the times I have to use Bing to get to Google to get better results to get the points).  The news carousel also helps me have a quick launching point to get to articles related to items I heard on NPR on the drive in.
  • Blogger - For updates to the blog and to grab the link to paste to Facebook.
  • Facebook - for news related to people I know.
  • Associate Press News - for news with minimal commentary and editorial.
Disney News:
  • Disney Parks Blog - for the official Disney Parks related news articles and releases.
  • WDWMagic Forums - Particularly the News and Rumors and Disneyland forums.  For the latest Disney parks rumors and gossip.  Not the easiest to navigate to get news, but great for continually following developments.
  • Disney Food Blog - for updates related to Disney food.  The pictures will make you hungry and the ebooks look like great guides to food in the parks and beyond.
  • Disney Tourist Blog - I feel a lot of kinship to the author of this blog and enjoy following his updates and his personal travel blog Travel Caffeine.
  • Laughing Place - For general Disney articles and new items released through Shop Disney.
  • Disney Dish Podcast with Len Testa and Jim Hill - A Disney news and rumors podcast.  The rumors don't always pan out, but the history discussion is fascinating.
  • Passport to Dreams Old and New - This blog does not update very frequently, but presents the best perspective on the unique history of the Walt Disney World Resort.  In depth and artfully written.
  • Bleeding Cool - A British run news and rumor site that reads a bit like the Sun.  A tabloid, that often draws ire from the comic community, but can sometimes present a fascinating perspective.
  • CBR - Comicbook Resources.  Used to be perhaps the best comic news site.  Now is getting a little overloaded on clickbait and lists. But can still offer good comics news coverage.
  • Newsarama - A little better on longer interviews.  Little less intuitive website layout.
  • io9 - A more general pop culture news site, with good comics criticism.  I also peruse the more general tech and pop culture site Gizmodo, part of the same family of sites.
General Information/Blogs:
  • The Govteach - Informative, entertaining, and thought provoking.  I enjoy these updates from a favorite teacher that I am still learning from.
  • The Stonepoint Blog - our churches blog sourced from leadership and members.  Well-written entries that can have you waxing nostalgic and deeply reverent, often in the same post.  
  • Adulting in Progress - I may be a little biased, but I'm a fan of the author.  My sister's blog on style, on podcasts, on mom life, on life.  
What are your go to sources?  What fills your day?  I'm always interested to find new avenues to explore.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Top 10 Halloween Swings

Something a little different today in the Halloween Top 10 lists - a playlist of Top 10 swinging Halloween songs.  All cultivated to fit in the singer/standard/swing feel.  On my iPod, this is my Halloween Cocktail Music playlist.  So, go ahead and take a listen.  The hyperlinks will take you to youtube versions of the specific song version.
  • Grim, Grinning Ghosts by Lee Presson and the Nails - A fun instrumental arrangement of a great attraction song.
  • Monster Mash by Janice Hagan - A nice singer/standard arrangement of the Monster Mash.  Something that fits in with the rest of the playlist
  • I Put A Spell On You by Nina Simone -  While I like Screamin' Jay Hawkins and CCR, Nina Simone takes this song and makes it haunting.  Someone whose heart has been broken.
  • Spooky by The Puppini Sisters - I love arrangements by the Puppini Sisters.  As if the Andrews Sisters covered Spooky.  Just fun.
  • Witchcraft by Frank Sinatra - A great light classic by Sinatra.  
  • Old Devil Moon by Mel Torme - The Velvet Fog taking a song from Finian's Rainbow and showcasing the best of his voice.
  • Jeepers Creepers by Louis Armstrong - It's hard not to hear Louis Armstrong's voice and not be happy. Not the most Halloween song on the list, but the turn of phrase Jeepers Creepers fits right in.
  • That Old Black Magic by Sammy Davis, Jr. - Sammy Davis, Jr.  The best vocalist of the Rat Pack.  And here with an fast moving version of That Old Black Magic.  He makes it look easy.
  • Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin - I think everyone forgets that Mack the Knife is written about a very dark and sinister person.  Its a very upbeat song about a lot of death.  A good fit for Halloween.  
  • The Munsters Theme - A great swinging theme song.  Perfect instrumental.
What's on your Halloween playlist?

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Travelers' Report Part 8 - New York City

Jamie and I took a whirlwind trip to New York City this past weekend.  We try to have a getaway weekend once a year for just the two of us.  And launched off the discovery of cheap airline ticket  and the desire to see a specific production, New York City became this year's destination.
We made a point of experiencing things that we had not done on any previous trip, so it was a fun time of discovery and adventure.  And generally, the highlight of this trip was great food and a good show.   Below, I've included just a brief glimpse the long weekend.

A lion mask in the window at the Drama Book Shop.  First time to visit this store, and will definitely be something we return to.  The selection of scripts is impressive and a great resource for Jamie.

A stop at the Breads Bakery stand at Bryant Park for chocolate babka.  A great afternoon pick-me-up.

Dinner that night was at Bolivian Llama Party in the Turnstyle Underground Market at Columbus Circle Metro Station.  Turnstyle is a great collection of primarily food vendors and a few shops and the Bolivian food at Bolivian Llama Party was excellent.  Pictured are two cholitas (beef and pork) and a chicken sofrita saltena.

Saturday night was capped with a production at Lincoln Center.  Neither of us had seen a show here, so it was a great opportunity.

Obligatory show selfie at My Fair Lady.  With the work around Pygmalion/Thou Fair Eliza, this was the show we were coming specifically to see and it did not disappoint.  Better than the movie.  And it was great to see Lauren Ambrose, the originator of Eliza in this particular version.

A stop in Times Square after the show.

Grand Central Station.  The Grand Hyatt here has become one of our favorite places to stay.  Great hotel and location.

The obligatory post-show Junior's Cheesecake.

Breakfast from Doughnut Plant in Grand Central (though there are other locations around the city).  A peanut butter glaze and blackberry jam filling.  Yum!

Our second day was spent primarily at Coney Island.  A first for both of us and Jamie's first time spent in Brooklyn.  We made it through all the roller coasters but one (that's my fault), including the 91 year old Coney Island Cyclone.

The Zoltar Machine!

Lunch from the original Feltman's Coney Island - the first hot dog stand.  Skip the line at Nathan's and go to Feltman's.

After a brief rest back at the room, dinner at Havana Central.  Cuban food, with a very fresh mojito, plantain chips and guacamole, empanadas and chicken with pineapple.  A great capper to the trip.

We closed out the trip Monday with breakfast in Grand Central, lunch at LaGuardia, and a long trip to get the kids.  And of course before the trip was complete, we were already planning a trip to bring the kids to New York and where we would be going on our next getaway.

So many places to visit.

Until next time.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Scariest Two Words in the English Language

What if

Every fear, every anxiety can be traced to these two words.  The fear of possibility.  And while they can be the words of dreams (what if I get the job, win the lottery, etc.) they are just as intrinsically tied to nightmares.

  • What if I fail?
  • What if I embarrass myself? others embarrass me?
  • What if no one likes me?
  • What if I'm hurt? my kids are hurt? my family is hurt?
  • What if I die? someone close to me dies?

Even the more outlandish and childhood nightmares can be started with these two words.

  • What if monsters are real?
  • What if there are monsters under the bed? in my closet?
  • What if there is something in the dark?
  • What if I'm abandoned?

And the heart of probably the most existential fear of all: what if I'm wrong?

In this season of fears and nightmares, remember these two words.  They have the power that you give them.  And remember that each question has at least two opposing answers.  For "what if it does" can be just as probable as "what if it does not."  A  myriad of open possibilities.

What if?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 26 - Walt Disney Pictures (Live Action Features)

"In live-action, you can take a mediocre story and put in interesting characters and personalities and have a good show.  We can't do that in cartoons.  We can't hire actors; we have to create them ourselves.  We have to make them interesting, or we're sunk.  I've had a lot of fun making live-action pictures, mainly because I can move so fast.  But I've learned a lot from them.  I've made mistakes, but now I can apply the lessons to cartoon."
Walt Disney

"One thing he may have contributed to live-action film that isn't widely recognized is the use of storyboards.  Directors today routinely storyboard either their entire films or all their action sequences.  Hitchcock did that very early on, because he had been an art director and he liked to visualize his films that way - but he was an exception to the rule.  Disney, of course, had perfected the storyboard process, first in his short subjects, and then in his animated feature films - but no one had really leaned on that technique for planning out a live-action film until he did."
Leonard Maltin

"Hollywood goes along its own way working for formulas and we have completely ignored them, and haven't even tried to be a part of them. We've just not cared to try to even compete with them, or think in the same way they do."
Walt Disney

As I transition to Walt Disney Pictures live action features, I  come to the hardest studio to develop.  For the hardest question to answer is "what is a Disney live action movie?"  They have been all over the map in terms of genre, content, and style throughout the years.  The one constant has been family-friendly, almost to the studios detriment, as it has created an image of lesser fare.  Walt, himself, even struggled with this.  After screening To Kill A Mockingbird, Walt would lament, "That's the kind of film I'd like to make, but I can't."

There are two things that I can point to that make a good Disney live action movie.  First, like animation, Disney live action movies focus on classic stories that are often well known.  If you look at a lot of the early Disney offerings in particular, the stories are all well known legends, history, or classic literature.  This gives the live action slate a slight overlap with the animated canon, but there are a couple distinctions between the two.  In my opinion, animated features should always be musicals; live action features do not necessarily need to be.  Further, animated features will incorporate something magical, something that needs to be animated.  Live action features can be more straightforward historical dramas and the like.

Second, I think there is another bit of guidance that Walt provided on the types of genres that work for Disney live action features: adventure, yesterday, fantasy, and tomorrow.  These categories worked for the theme parks and for the Disney television offerings.  And if you look at the classic Disney live action films, they can generally fit into these four large categories.  What's missing is today, that is a live action feature set in modern times that does not include fantasy or adventure.  And there are really only a couple of exceptions in Disney films that fit this narrow band.  With the current Disney structure, there are other homes for these type of films now.

Primary Goals for the Division:

  • Bring back the shorts - In my opinion, every Disney studio picture should have some kind of short.  These live action features could have additional animated shorts or even live action short films.  Shorts represent opportunities for new director and training and for further expansions of the brand. Like the Wedlocked short before a Pirates movie.
  • Keep it family friendly - Put another way, Walt Disney Pictures should not have a R rated film.  There are other brands for that kind of film.  Walt Disney Pictures should be something that everyone could, theoretically, enjoy.  G, PG, and PG-13 yes, but something that is swinging for a broader demographic.
  • Tone down the focus on live action remakes - Currently the main focus of the Disney live action slate includes several "live action" remakes of their animated classics.  Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Mulan, etc. are all in production for the upcoming film slate.  Disney's offerings should include much more variety and new developments.
  • Mine the depths of great history and literature looking for untold stories - There are a lot of great stories that have not been turned into films.  A lot of very famous stories that have never been told in this way.  A great film epic of the life of King David.  Nostromo by Joseph Conrad.  Big River.  A film about the Culper Ring.  Many, many possibilities.
  • Look globally and source globally - There are also great opportunities to make films for specific markets.  Pirates of the South China Sea starring Chow Yun-Fat as Sao Feng, Pirate Lord of the South China Sea, made by a crew in Hong Kong in Mandarin and brought to the states with subtitles.  I envision expanding brands to other markets through appropriate extensions like this.
  • Disney icon specific title cards for each of the four genres - The current Disney live action title card is a pull-back on an image of Cinderella's castle with a shooting star going over it.  It has been adapted to various settings, but the castle has generally remained, regardless of the film's contents.  I would adapt four different cards for each of the film types addressed, adventure, yesterday, fantasy, and tomorrow.  For Adventure, a pull back through a jungle village with the Tree of Life.  For Yesterday, a pull back from the train station through Main Street.  For Fantasy, the castle remains.  For Tomorrow, a pull back through a Tron-like location with Spaceship Earth as the center.  Something that immediately sets the tone for the film you are going to see and plays with more of Disney's brands.
  • Remember, these are brand films - Disney live action films are "brand" films, meaning these are stories that will go through a story committee to ensure a basic level of story quality.  These are films that fit a particular vision for the film slate.  These are not auteur films for directors/filmmakers that need complete independence.  There are other studios for that.  These are places for directors that can work within the greater picture.  Room for flexibility, but tighter constraints than I would place on 20th Century Fox, for example.
With that, I want to now turn to a few specific film slate and sub-divisions I envision for Walt Disney Pictures live action features.

The following is just a small list of the type of films I would want in the Disney live action film slate.
  • Pirates of the South China Sea - Mandarin film, made in Hong Kong starring Chow Yun-Fat and telling the tales of his Sao Fen, Pirate Lord of the South China Sea.  This would be a great addition to the Chinese theme parks.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - this could be the new Pirates series.  Westerns with a slight touch of the supernatural, featuring Southern and character actors, including a diverse cast with immigrants of all kinds in Rainbow Ridge/Thunder Mesa.
  • Swiss Family Robinson - big, epic remake with a tighter focus on the survival of the family.  The pirates were a Disney addition, so they can be explored here to great effect.
  • Tron 3.0 - Garrett Hedlund versus Cillian Murphy as the new Master Control Program.  This time with a brighter looking Grid.
  • Expedition: Everest - tracking down the Yeti.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame - an adaptation of the musical picking the best parts from the animated feature and stage production and directed by Joe Wright.
  • An epic film of the life of King David
  • Biographies on Nellie Bly, Susan B. Anthony, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglas, past presidents, etc
  • Peter & Alice by John Logan
  • Scripts from the Black List like:
    • Keeper of the Diary
    • Newsflash
    • One Thousand Paper Cranes
    • Escape from the North Pole
    • Liberation
    • George
    • Liberty
    • American Rebel
    • The Virginian
    • Battle of New Orleans
    • Treasure Island
    • Songs of Treblinka
Ideally, with these guidelines and examples, Walt Disney Pictures live action features could become a recognized and defined brand within the  company.


As always, thank you for taking the time to read.  Next in the series The Jim Henson Company and Muppet Studios.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Disney News Mitchellany

In lieu of other national news, there are a couple of Disney news items that caught my attention and that I wanted to share.

First, Disney revealed its corporate media structure plans for post-20th Century Fox acquisition.  What's interesting about the new structure is how it reveals the primary reasons for the acquisition: content and streaming.  This new plan reveals an unprecedented growth in executive titles at the Walt Disney Company.  Disney will place current 21st Century Fox president, chairman, and CEO of Fox Networks Group Peter Rice as Chairman of Walt Disney Television and Co-Chair of Disney Media Networks, reporting directly to Bob Iger.  The new organization under him will include chairmen for Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment, FX Networks and FX Productions, National Geographic Partners, Disney Channels Worldwide, and ABC News.  From this we see the content domains, particularly for television that Disney is interested in:  traditional Disney and ABC programming, more adult programming on FX, National Geographic for brand recognition and association, and ABC news programming. From a streaming component, with the acquisition, Disney will have 60% control of Hulu, it's streaming sports platform ESPN+ has passed 1 million subscribers, and more and more information keeps coming out regarding "Disney Play," the likely name of Disney's branded streaming service.  With Disney clearly defining its domains and brands, it becoming clearer how they are going to segment their offerings in light of the acquisition.  Interesting times.  And with Fox ready to close the deal January 1, 2019, we are quickly proceeding to that new world.

Second, Disney has announced that its fourth planned luxury hotel at the Disneyland Resort has been canceled.  This one is interesting because of the local politics at play.  Disney had originally planned and announced an "Eastern Gateway" project which would include a luxury four diamond hotel just west of Disneyland proper in a current parking lot, giant parking garage to capture traffic coming in from the south (a compliment to the exiting parking garage for traffic from the north), relocated security closer to the parking garage, and a pedestrian bridge over Harbor Blvd on the Eastern boundary of Disneyland.  This announcement displeased the many hotels and businesses that had cropped up along the Eastern border, as it would have cut off their quick access to Disneyland.  After raising complaints to a city council that had become more hostile to Disney's expansion, Disney quietly shelved the Eastern Gateway. 

From there, Disney announced plans to renovate Downtown Disney on the west side, shuffling around hotel plans to allow them to build an additional parking garage on the west side, as well as a luxury four diamond hotel now in the remodeled Downtown Disney area.  The luxury hotel was a key component of both plans, as it enabled the company to qualify for a city tax rebate.  Disney went forward with closing several stores and restaurants in Downtown Disney to prepare including an AMC theater, Rainforest Cafe, ESPN Zone, Starbucks, and Earl of Sandwich. 

Disney then ran into two problems:   first, it discovered buried gas pumps that had not been properly disposed of in the proposed site for the new hotel (from the old Richfield service station), and two, the city somehow recognized late in the game that the location of the new hotel had shifted, leading to the city declaring the new hotel was not eligible for the tax rebate.   A combined wrinkle arose with a proposal on the Anaheim city ballot for November that would raise the minimum wage to $18 for business that have accepted a "city subsidy."  Under the argument, the tax rebate would constitute a city subsidy.  This put the construction on hold.  Disney found itself as an interesting position then to proceed without the tax rebate and build a hotel anyway, to guarantee it would not be under the higher minimum wage if passed, or to do whatever was necessary to have the hotel be in compliance, even if it was just a check-in at the old address.  Everyone expected Disney to wait until November to announce its plans either way.

Disney defied convention in two ways.  First it asked the city of Anaheim to drop its theme-park tax incentives, ending any question of whether they would be under the higher minimum wage requirement if it passed.  Second, Disney has now announced that the new hotel has been canceled.  This puts Downtown Disney in a very awkward state.  They were able to rush Earl of Sandwich back open at least temporarily, but there is now a large vacant section Disney is lining with food trucks and a stage.  They still have the Richfield pumps that need to be addressed, requiring demolition of at least part of the theater.N  The one upside is that it has allowed the addition of an elevated pedestrian walkway from the new parking garage under construction to Downtown Disney

The current speculation is that the new relationship with Anaheim will likely lead to a re-development of the Eastern Gateway plans after the November elections.  The hotel/new resort complex may be moving to Garden Grove, depending on the election.

All in all, lots of interesting changes for what will likely be soon the largest entertainment company in the world.