Saturday, November 29, 2008

Brandie Tarvin and the Blue Kingdoms

Allow me to introduce you to Ms. Brandie Tarvin.

Ms. Tarvin is an author who has contributed short stories to both volumes of the Blue Kingdoms Fantasy series. The first is "Just my Luck" in Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms and the second is "The Monster of Mogahnee Bay" in Shades & Specters. She is also an old friend of mine, and when she recently asked me to write reviews of these two stories, I was happy to oblige.

At first glance, the stories in Blue Kingdoms resemble many of the pirate stories we've all been exposed to over the years. However, once the reader sees words like "half-elf" in the narrative, they soon realize that this world promises to be a bit more interesting that your average seafaring yarn.

"Just my Luck" introduces us to Captain Sheldon, a man who stumbled into piracy after a run of bad luck. We quickly learn about his ship The Hidden Treasure and his colorful crew that could drive a lesser man to drink. Into all this comes a hapless sailor babbling in a foreign dialect and clutching a seemingly useless scroll. He appears harmless, but Captain Sheldon is about to discover just how much worse his luck can get.

Ms. Tarvin makes a great choice by dropping the story into the aftermath of a storm. It's a wonderful way to introduce the ship and the crew amidst their scurrying around and affecting repairs. The eclectic crew quickly signal that this story will have it's share of comedy, and though it took me a second reading to nail down all of the characters, each is given their own moments to shine in the course of the story.

The heart of this tale is that of a comedy/swashbuckler, and it could have even worked without the fantasy elements in play. The aforementioned characters are funny and memorable. The action set piece is exciting given the odds our protagonist is up against. Ms. Tarvin even displays a subtle touch in her descriptions of their opponents that clearly tell the reader who they are without coming right out and saying it.

The way the story ends screams for a followup (you can practically hear the Muppets announcer intone, "Tune in next week when you'll hear yeoman Tick say..."). Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay the story is that I was left wanting to read the further adventures of Captain Sheldon and his rag tag crew.

Alas, this was not to be in the second book. It's probably for the better, though, as this volume strikes a far spookier tone than the first. "The Monster of Mogahnee Bay" concerns an isolated harbor town whose residents become excited when a strange ship enters it's waters. Everyone is pleased for this development, except for Glenda the harbormaster. She has her suspicions about the boat, and it's going to be a struggle to save the town from what lies in the belly of that black ship.

My biggest obstacle with this story concerns the town's isolation. We are told it is the result of a mysterious haze that has surrounded the island for fifty years and cuts it off from the outside world. No more information is offered beyond this, and for me this became a distraction. Though it certainly provides an excellent motivation for the townspeople to row out to the ship in increasing numbers, it could have done much more. The story could have gained a further level of fear and terror by describing how these people could have lived for fifty years without news, supplies and simple human contact.

Aside from this missed opportunity, the story is very well done. Ms. Tarvin easily changes from the light atmosphere of her first story to the heavy and foreboding one in her second. Glenda is a great protagonist and the reader is right there with her in her struggle against both the town and the black ship. The subplot of her relationship with Robert Hammerwright is touching. And I especially liked some of Ms. Tarvin's descriptions, such as the red silk that Glenda uses to try and save the town. All in all, a very fine ghost story that creates the perfect mood.

As a side note, I couldn't help but notice how moments in the two stories seem to echo moments in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. At the beginning of the first film, we have a scene where a boat comes across a person in the water. After he is brought aboard, it's revealed that he possess a magical artifact that some very bad guys are looking to get back, much like the plot of "Luck". A little later on in the first film, we see a dark, foreboding ship enter a harbor, bringing death to many of those people who live in the town as it does in "Moghanee". Even the end of "Moghanee" sees a character make a sacrifice very similar to the end of the third POTC film.

But this is nitpicking, and it's more a case of my having seen the trilogy way too many times than a shortcoming of Ms. Tarvin' stories. The classic way to start a story is for unknown elements to cross paths, and here we have an example of the protagonist finding trouble in the first story, and trouble finding the protagonist in the second. There is nothing new under the sun.

It all comes down to if the stories is entertaining, and they are that. Ms. Tarvin handles the divergent themes of the comic and the supernatural with a deft hand, and I personally look forward to her further works.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Enduring Popularity (and lack therof)

I went to a very crowded Best Buy this morning to see what Black Friday DVD deals they had. In the Comedy section, I found $4.99 sale tags for The Blues Brothers and Borat side by side.

The former was sold out while the later still had about three dozen copies, which seemed cosmicly just to me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Back in the early nineties, when I was a history major at UNF, I took several classes taught by Professor John Betlyon. Of course, "Professor" was only one of his hats. He was also a campus minister, a chaplain with the Army National Guard, and an amateur archaeologist. But my exposure to him was through his classes, and he quickly became my favorite professor.

His classes weren't easy, but his knowledge and passion for the material came through every time. I remember to this day one class where he talked about digging for ancient roman coins. He grabbed some loose change out of his pocket and then dropped the coins one at a time on the tabletop in front of him. He then talked about the distinctive ting sound that only gold made and how when you heard it, you could understand how some people can catch "gold fever". His lectures were often as enrapturing as that ting.

Add to all this the fact that he was a fan of Monty Python's Life of Brian and how could you not like the guy.

I Googled him recently to see what he was up to. I already knew that he had long left UNF and moved up to Pennsylvania. Turns out he has his own church up there (Trinity United Methodist Church in Hummelstown) and also lectures occasionally at Penn State. I also found from two sources that he had done a stint recently in Afghanistan. First, he was name checked in General Richardo Sanchez's biography. And second, he was mentioned in a student article on Penn State's The Daily Collegian a year ago. Here is the article in it's entirety:
Working as a chaplain with the National Guard in Afghanistan in 2003, John Betlyon reached out to local mullahs, also known as Islamic clerics, who had negative views of Americans.

Betlyon, lecturer in Jewish and religious studies, said the meetings helped to build bridges between the two cultures, and he still describes the situation as "amazing."

"They had heard all kinds of lies about us and we had heard things about them," he said. "We sat down together and shared meals and prayed together. Small steps were taken to break down the walls of prejudice and ignorance that divided us."

A recent letter signed by 138 Muslim leaders from around the world and addressed to Christian leaders also aims to break down the barriers dividing the religions by underscoring two common principles they share: love of one God and love of one's neighbor.

"Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world," the letter states.

These two principles are also common in Judaism, which the letter briefly mentions.

According to Newsweek, a letter from Muslim leaders to Jewish leaders is currently in progress.

Mansoor Aleidi, president of the Muslim Student Association, said it is important for people to understand the common beliefs the three religions share.

"[There is] conflict between religions in many areas of the world, so it is up to their religious leader to spread peace and dialogue between the religions, and the only way to do this is by interfaith dialogue," he said.

Some Penn State professors agree this is a step forward to opening dialogue with Muslims. Rabbi David Ostrich, lecturer of Jewish studies, said the three religions have a long history of interfaith relations.

"A lot of work and a lot of good progress has been made over the years, so they can learn to agree on some things, even though they may disagree on others," he said.

A. Daniel Frankforter, professor of history at Penn State Erie, said the letter seeks to stress the common bonds of the world's three major religions.

"What they're trying to do is remind the world that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are branches of one tradition," he said.

All three religions trace their ancestry back to Abraham, a figure who appears in the Quran, the Old Testament and the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible. Jews and Christians consider themselves descendants of Abraham through his son, Isaac, whereas Muslims trace their origins through Abraham's other son, Ishmael, Betlyon said.

The three religions are considered monotheistic and worship the same God, although Betlyon said some Muslims would argue otherwise because of Christians' belief in the Holy Trinity.

Despite this common heritage, Jews and Arabs fight each other today, Frankforter said.

"It is a little ironic that the Jews and Arabs have such a rocky relationship today," Frankforter said. "It makes a lot of sense to try and heal the gulfs that have developed between these peoples by expressing their cultural heritage."

Christians and Muslims continue to suffer strained relationships since the Crusades were fought starting in the late 11th century and continuing for several hundred years, Frankforter said.

"Most Europeans and Americans have shoved them into the background as history over and done with, but much of the history of the Crusades is still alive in the Middle East," he said.

"In the Middle East, there is a long tradition of a hostile Europe, a hostile West, which is very much the background of the diplomatic and military problem we face in that region now."

Betlyon recalled how the children in Afghanistan would run throughout the village without any shoes on in the winter.

In order to help, he said that he would help deliver boxes of clothes to the local mosque that would help people stay warm.

It was there that he said he learned of a conversation between a mullah and an Islamic elder."The elder asked the mullah, 'why are you dealing with the Americans? They're evil,' " Betylon said.

"The mullah responded, 'no, they're not evil; they're children of God, just like us.' "
This is the kind of thinking that enamors me not only to John Betlyon, but also to Barack Obama. As evidence by the interview excerpts I posted recently, Obama has a far more open point of view on religion than any politician we have ever had. The religious conservatives that spout their own hatreds on the radio and on television are not the majority of Christians, but rather the most vocal (just as Osama Bin Laden does not speak for all Muslims).

For all of Bush's faults, I don't believe he's one of these hateful Christians, either. But what he did do was allow these people to have a voice. Even if he disagreed with their extreme views he realized that (a) they were the ones that got him elected and (b) they were the ones that would support him in his wars. He could not denounce them too strongly for fear of alienating them, and so eight brutal years of their rhetoric has fermented a culture seen around the world as toxic.

These religious conservatives have now seen their power ebb with Obama's election, and now they have a competitor with an eloquence and intelligence that puts their bile to shame. I don't mean to be corny, here, but we have a hero in Barack Obama. He is a man that sees value in studying and respecting other faiths other than his own. This will be the key to our country's salvation.

And that's what I am thankful for.

Correction: Upon reading the section of Sanchez's biography that mentions Betlyon, I found that it didn't refer to Afghanistan but rather the General's earlier years at Fort Benning where Betlyon was assigned at the time. My bad.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"With wah-wah pedals playing constantly."

What makes me happy? Knowing that there are tons of MST3k material I haven't even seen yet. Witness the hilarity of "Progress Island" (Parts One and Two):

Worth it

You know, putting up with eight years of Bush has become worth it just so we can finally have such a rational, intelligent and compassionate man in the White House. The following are excerpts from a 2004 interview Obama did with the Chicago Sun-Times:

I am a Christian.

So, I have a deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith.

On the other hand, I was born in Hawaii where obviously there are a lot of Eastern influences.

I lived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, between the ages of six and 10.

My father was from Kenya, and although he was probably most accurately labeled an agnostic, his father was Muslim.

And I'd say, probably, intellectually I've drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith.(A patron stops and says, "Congratulations," shakes his hand. "Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Thank you.")

So, I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.

And so, part of my project in life was probably to spend the first 40 years of my life figuring out what I did believe - I'm 42 now - and it's not that I had it all completely worked out, but I'm spending a lot of time now trying to apply what I believe and trying to live up to those values.


I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.

I'm a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it's best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.

I think that, particularly as somebody who's now in the public realm and is a student of what brings people together and what drives them apart, there's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.


Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am a big believer in our constitutional structure. I mean, I'm a law professor at the University of Chicago teaching constitutional law. I am a great admirer of our founding charter, and its resolve to prevent theocracies from forming, and its resolve to prevent disruptive strains of fundamentalism from taking root ion this country.

As I said before, in my own public policy, I'm very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics.

Now, that's different form a belief that values have to inform our public policy. I think it's perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values that inform my politics that are appropriate to talk about.

A standard line in my stump speech during this campaign is that my politics are informed by a belief that we're all connected. That if there's a child on the South Side of Chicago that can't read, that makes a difference in my life even if it's not my own child. If there's a senior citizen in downstate Illinois that's struggling to pay for their medicine and having to chose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer even if it's not my grandparent. And if there's an Arab American family that's being rounded up by John Ashcroft without the benefit of due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

I can give religious expression to that. I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, we are all children of God. Or I can express it in secular terms. But the basic premise remains the same. I think sometimes Democrats have made the mistake of shying away from a conversation about values for fear that they sacrifice the important value of tolerance. And I don't think those two things are mutually exclusive.


This is something that I'm sure I'd have serious debates with my fellow Christians about. I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell.

I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.

I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.

That's just not part of my religious makeup.

Part of the reason I think it's always difficult for public figures to talk about this is that the nature of politics is that you want to have everybody like you and project the best possible traits onto you. Oftentimes that's by being as vague as possible, or appealing to the lowest common denominators. The more specific and detailed you are on issues as personal and fundamental as your faith, the more potentially dangerous it is.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"You know, for kids!"

I'll admit that it's been several decades since I let my Mad Magazine subscription lapse, but isn't this title somewhat redundant? What's next? Wired Geeks? Newsmax Morons?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

And then there were three.

It is my pleasure to announce that Mrs. Mosley is currently nine weeks pregnant and the baby is expected to deliver on June 26th next year (as opposed to this year. That would require a Delorean).

And in the grand tradition of bloggers such as Matthew Baldwin, expect me to blather on and on about fatherhood both before and after the blessed day. Hey, you get what you pay for.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I have nothing to add to that

My desire to post lately has been pretty weak, and i suspect that with holidays taking up so much of my mental energy this will only get worse.

So, as with past instances of sparsity, here is some LEGO eye candy (brought to you by legoloverman, who was recently showcased over at Metafilter):

Sunday, November 16, 2008

From the VHS archives

This weekend saw a flurry of activity, including my going through old VHS tapes and deciding which ones to blank and get rid of. One of them included a trove of old music videos. Thankfully, in the age of YouTube, these are easier to part with, and here's three of the nicer ones that I favorited from that list:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ridley, Clue was a one-off. Don't make me come down there.

There is one popular Internet phrase that I have never used up until now, and I feel the occasion completely justifies my inauguration of it on this blog:


The Hasbro-Universal collaboration "Monopoly" is jumping a large number of spaces up the board.

The feature project has brought on Pamela Pettler to write the screenplay; She penned Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride," Gil Kenan's "Monster House" and the upcoming animated adventure "9," produced by Burton and Timur Bekmambetov.

And Ridley Scott, who has been attached as a producer on "Monopoly" and has been mentioned as a possible director, is now officially attached to helm the project, with an eye toward giving it a futuristic sheen along the lines of his iconic "Blade Runner."

Howard Hawks vs. Roger Corman

I was browsing through IMDb movie trivia the other day and found this little nugget from the entry for the Sci-Fi classic The Thing from Another World:

"James Arness complained that his 'Thing' costume made him look like a giant carrot."
For those who haven't seen the film, here's a shot of James Arness in full makeup:

Er, count your blessing, Jimbo. Otherwise this could have been your fate:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Whadaya want for nothin? A rubber biscuit?"

I got my flu shot yesterday and suddenly I am very achy and miserable. So here's a link from my folder of miscellaneous links for your reading pleasure: A List of Regional Pizza Styles. Yum!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Whatever scares you the most."

I just can't get enough of this:

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Trust in the Defective Yeti

He made the prediction and he allayed our fears. And to sum up our feeling towards the 2008 election, Matthew Baldwin has created an alternative voting sticker. Thanks, Matthew.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The "Also Rans"

For those of you who have had enough hearing about Obama and would like some unique reading material regarding the election, I recommend this item from Salon. A snippet:
13. Richard Duncan: 3,500 votes

Richard Duncan, an Ohio real estate agent and perennial candidate from Ohio (the only state where he was on the ballot), polled 17 votes for President in 2004. In 2008, perhaps helped by a profile in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he made a better showing. His policy positions are vague, but that's all part of his "fresh, clean approach" to politics (or, for the more cynical, to promoting his band).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Brave Heart

For the past two weeks, I've been replaying a scene from Braveheart in my head.

The camera cuts back and forth between the charging enemy cavalry and Wallace's troops holding their line. Wallace yells out his command "HOLD!" three times as the tension mounts. Finally, once the cavalry are close enough, he yells out "NOW!". The troops drop their melee weapons, pick up the spears hidden in the tall grass and brace them into the ground. The cavalry, suffice to say, is decimated.

For the past two weeks, I have been holding my enthusiasm for the election for fear that my hopes would be dashed. Anything can happen in an election, particularly in the final weeks. And though I'm not a superstitious man, the threat of a jinx had a tangible quality for me. Therefore, while others were revelling in polls and the promise of a new Democratic administration, I have been holding it back, tension be damned.

Ah, but now, at 11:00pm on November 4th, 2008, as the major networks make the call, comes the sigh of relief and release.

Congratulations, President-Elect Obama. You earned it.

Here we go!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Seeing THE MAN himself

Mrs. Mosley and I took a little trip this morning down to Veterans Memorial Arena:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

How much farther, Papa Smurf?

Not far now.

Giancarlo Esposito Quote of the Month: November 2008

Amos & Andrew is a historical curiosity. I remember seeing the trailers for it before it came out in 1993 and being interested in it. After all, it starred Samuel Jackson (one year away from Pulp Fiction) and Nicholas Cage (one year after his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas). How bad could it be?

Pretty bad, as it turns out. I only made it through the first ten or fifteen minutes before starting to fast forward to the Giancarlo bits. All the race humor has aged very poorly and I'm guessing both Sam and Nick are both glad most people have forgotten about this thing.

As for Giancarlo, well, at least he drew a paycheck. He's mainly there to provide the "black people can be stupid too" balance the movie needs against all the Caucasian buffoonery running around. He plays a pastor that goes in to protest how Jackson's character is being treated. By the end of the movie, instead of helping him, his crowd accidentally sets Jackson's house on fire.

His first and last lines are identical, just to show up how clueless he is:

Reverend Fenton Brunch: "I told him. I told the brother about these so-called liberals up here on this damn island."