Monday, January 01, 2018

2017 Movies

Here are the movies I have seen in 2017 so far...

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Beauty and the Beast
Wonder Woman
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Spider Man Homecoming
Despicable Me 3
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
LEGO Batman Movie
The Boss Baby
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Cars 3
Baby Driver
Daddy's Home 2
Murder on the Orient Express
Blade Runner 2049
The Emoji Movie
The Mummy
Atomic Blonde
American Made
The Dark Tower
Smurfs: The Lost Village
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
American Assassin
The Foreigner
Wind River
The Mountain Between Us
Logan Lucky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Glass Castle
Roman J. Israel Esq.
The Beguiled
The Snowman
Just Getting Started

The Shape of Water
Get Out

And a few movies I still need to see....

Thor: Ragnorak
Justice League
War for the Planet of the Apes
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
John Wick 2
Victoria and Abdul
The Darkest Hour
The Disaster Artist
Battle of the Sexes
Beatriz at Dinner
The Florida Project
The Post

Friday, February 17, 2017

News clipping found and scanned

2016 Movies

I saw a lot of movies this past year, quite a few more than in the recent past. But I still didn't see a single Academy Award Best Picture nominee.

Rouge One: A Star Wars Story
Finding Dory
Captain America: Civil War
Secret Life of Pets
The Jungle Book
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Doctor Strange
Jason Bourne
Star Trek Beyond
X-Men Apocalypse
Kung Fu Panda 3
The Angry Birds Movie
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Ice Age: Collision Course
Kubo and The Two Strings
The Beatles: Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years

And here are the ones that I still intend to see at some point...

Suicide Squad
Hidden Figures
LaLa Land
Central Intelligence
Magnificent Seven
Miss Peregrine's School for Unusual Children
Pete's Dragon
Hacksaw Ridge
Jack Reacher 2
Hail, Cesar

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Republican "Anything Goes" Ethos

The other day on his 'victory' tour, President-Elect Trump noted how vicious his fans were during the campaign, screaming "Lock Her Up" and "Build the Wall" at his campaign rallies. But now that they have 'won' they can be mellow again.
The clear implication of Trump's words were two-fold, first that if they had not won  there would have been no mellowing, and second that being vicious was a key to their victory.
At the same time that Trump was saying this, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature was meeting in a special session to pass a bunch of laws stripping power away from the newly-elected Democratic governor before he assumes office (and signed by the out-going Republican governor).
As outrageous as all of this is, it pales in comparison to the recent revelations that the Russian autocracy was meddling in our elections with the express intent of helping to elect Donald Trump. That news was met with shock and dismay by about half of the electorate. But the other half seems indifferent at best and, at worst, seem absolutely delighted... more apt to give Vladimir Putin a high-five than to support imposing more sanctions.
This is due, I believe, to the new Republican "Anything Goes" ethos. That is, anything is OK as long as it helps your side achieve its ultimate goal of attaining or maintaining power. It does not matter if you lie, cheat or steal. In fact, lying, cheating and stealing while at the same time accusing your opponent of lying, cheating and stealing is a very successful campaign tactic as we have just witnessed.
And don't stop with calling your opponent a liar and a cheat. Accuse them of murder, rape, child molestation, treason and the worst possible things you can think of. Anything goes. The only thing that matters is winning. And once you win, do everything you can to jack the system in your favor so that you keep on winning. Pack the courts, gerrymander the districts, change laws so that it benefits your constituents and shortchanges others. Suppress turnout in areas that vote for your opponent and scream about non-existent election fraud anytime that you lose.
Machiavelli would have been embarrassed and appalled by the political tactics of the modern Republican Party.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Goodnight sweet Prince

In the summer of 1984, I was home from my freshman year at Texas A&M when I got to spend a weekend at South Padre Island with some of my friends. It was a fun trip, nobody did anything terribly stupid and no one got into trouble.
The one thing I remember the most from that weekend was the music. We had a second floor room overlooking the pool and one of my friends had a jam box that he would set out on the balcony blaring music. We had each brought our latest musical discoveries which included Van Halen's "1984," Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" and Billy Squier's "Signs of Life." My contribution was the latest Prince album "Purple Rain."
Oddly enough, the music we ended up listening to the most during the trip was "Signs of Life," which I still think is a greatly underrated album and one of my all-time favorites. However, the other three albums clearly had the more lasting influence with the general public. I felt a special attachment to Prince's music since I was the one who had "discovered" it among my group of friends and I continued to follow Prince for years after. And while I liked much of his later music, nothing ever equaled or surpassed the perfection of Purple Rain. Every song on the album was fantastic from the epic "When Doves Cry" and the infectious "Let's Go Crazy" to the hypnotic title track "Purple Rain." No one else could mix sex and religion the way Prince did and come up with a funky number like "I Would Die 4 U." Incredible.
I'm still in shock right now contemplating Prince's untimely death. Like with so many other musical talents who died too young we are left wondering what he might have produced had he lived longer. But at least with Prince, he left an enormous musical legacy and I am sure there are boatloads of posthumous musical releases yet to come.

The World is NOT Broken

“We live in a broken world,” said a gentleman in my Bible Study class the other night as all the others nodded in agreement. According to the religious customs of most Christian churches, the World has been a ‘broken’ or ‘fallen’ place ever since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden and “sin” entered the world. That “original sin,” as conceived by the Apostle Paul and elaborated by St. Augustine, infected all of humanity and is the source of our “sinful nature.” It is the reason why Jesus had to be sacrificed on the cross as an atonement to satisfy God’s righteous wrath and judgement, according to church doctrine.
But hold on a minute, because I’m not buying all of this. This idea of an angry, wrathful God who must be appeased by blood sacrifices may have made sense to the ancient Hebrews, but it does not fit with my conception of a loving God full of grace and compassion. The ancient Hebrews who wrote the Old Testament believed that God was punishing them every time something bad happened (famines, wars, pestilence) and likewise blessing them whenever something good happened. Their conception of God was of an all-powerful monarch who demanded absolute fealty and servitude. The Bible is kind of vague on what actually constitutes a ‘sin,’ but one thing that was almost certain to raise God’s ire was idolatry. Command No. 1 on Moses’ tablets was “Thou Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me.” The God of Moses was a ‘jealous god,’ quick to anger with a frightening temper. And whenever anything bad happened, the Hebrews were quick to blame it on someone who was worshipping a false idol and not showing the proper reverence and respect to the one, true God.
But God was not always angry in the Old Testament. There are plenty of stories that speak of a loving God that was happy with his creation and watched over all the people like his children. This is the conception of God that Jesus brought to the fore and was at the heart of his ministry. I believe the difference between the Old Testament conception of God as wrathful and jealous versus the New Testament God of grace and forgiveness is one of spiritual maturity. Jesus represented a level of spiritual maturity that has not since been equalled. Unfortunately, I believe the Christian leaders in the years following Jesus fell back in to the old attitudes of seeing God as jealous and vengeful most of the time. Jesus’ message was undercut by these Christian leaders still looking for a champion who would slay their enemies and punish all the people they felt needed punishing. Jesus’ radical message of loving one’s enemies and forgiving those who persecute you was pushed aside in favor of apocalyptic fantasies of an avenging crusader who would mete our justice in a righteous show of force and strength.
So where does that leave us today? If God is truly all about love and forgiveness and mercy and grace and compassion, then what accounts for all the evil in the world? Where does evil come from if not from God? My answer is simple. Evil is the absence of love. Think about evil like darkness. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Or cold, which is just the absence of heat. Or silence, which is just the absence of sound. Love can manifest itself in many ways, but so can evil. One of the most common forms of evil is indifference. It may not seem like you are doing anything bad, but your indifference to someone else’s plight is often what allows evil to come into the world. It is not God making bad things happen. It is people choosing not to love - covering up their light and hiding it under a bushel. God is not going to force anyone to love because then it would lose its real power. It is our ability to choose to love of our own free will that makes us in the image of God. And that is why I do not believe that the World is ‘broken.’ The world is working just fine, thank you. It is up to us to get our act together and be like our creator. Our task while we are here is to make a heaven on earth and we do that by spreading love willfully and joyfully. Don’t worry so much about what comes after. Take every opportunity now to spread love. If you see dark places in the world, then you need to shine your light even more. If the world seems cold, then share your own warmth. If the world is silent, then it’s time that you made a joyful noise.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Movies List

Time for my annual list of movies I have seen during the previous year as well as the ones that I still want to see.

Have Seen

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Avengers: Age of Ultron
*Inside Out
*Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation
*Hotel Transylvania 2
*The Spongebob Movie
*Kingsman: The Secret Service
The Good Dinosaur
Fantastic Four

Want To See

*Jurassic World
*Furious 7
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
The Martian
*Mad Max: Fury Road
The Peanuts Movie
Bridge of Spies
Black Mass
The Man From UNCLE
A Walk in the Woods
Ex Machina
In the Heart of the Sea
Shaun the Sheep Movie
*Monkey Kingdom

* Means I own a DVD or Digital copy of the movie.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mom's pie safe cabinet

Sugar & Creamer - violet (nested) - Erna Mae Thomas (Annabel Stocking - S.S. secret pal)
Sugar & Creamer - violets - Erna Mae
Butter dish lid - Grandma (Della) Johnson
Candle sticks - Louise Thomas (Jerry Thomas' cousin) from Czechoslovakia
Footed metal basket - Charlotte Gamison's mother (Erna Mae's neighbor)- England
Blue pottery vase - Made by Jerry Thomas 1964
Blue vase - Church rummage sale 1943 from Erna Mae
Blue ashtray - Red Thomas
Curved knife - Gene Thomas - Algeria WWII
Green cup and saucer - Jerry's from Jewel Bryan (Erna Mae's neighbor)
Gray Japanese miniature teapot and plate - Pearl Thomas Cole (Red Thomas' sister)
Blue salt and pepper shaker - Grandma (Lydia) Miller
Flowered plate - Erna Mae from Dorothy Gadbury (Sara Thomas' mother)
Footed cake plate - Grandma (Fannie) Elkins
Sugar bowl - Great Grandma (Mary Louella) Wynn
Glass tray with fruit - Grandma (Fannie) Elkins
White footed bowl - Betty Thomas made it 1970s

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

GenCon XVI

The summer before my freshman year in college, my friend Jimmy Miller invited me to go with him and his family to GenCon XVI, the major RolePlaying Gamers Convention in Wisconsin.
I was digging through some old boxes the other day and found my program for the event which I used to collect autographs while I was there. In the bottom left corner you can see that it was signed by the iconic Gary Gygax, creator of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Conn. Game - My Texas Observer article from Nov. 1991

I just thought to look to see if the Texas Observer had digitized all of its back issues and sure enough they have. So I was able to track down an online copy of the Nov. 2, 1991 issue that has my first-ever published article I did on the Connecticut state lottery in a futile attempt to dissuade the state of Texas from following suit and adopting its own state lottery. Following are the links to that issue and a pasted copy of my article.


Conn. Game
 Another state's lottery offers sobering lessons for Texas

"Gambling is actually the most regressive form of taxation that can be devised. It is designed to pick the pockets of the poor," — late Texas Congressman Wright Patman

Branford, Connecticut 
 ONE MORNING ON my way to work I pulled into one of those tiny gas and food stores. At $1.26 a gallon they seemed to have the cheapest gas in all of New England. After filling up I walked into the cluttered little store and saw a girl behind the counter busily scratching with a coin at what looked like a football ticket. "What is that?" I asked. A little embarrassed, she explained that it was an instant lottery ticket. The ticket had "Classic Connecticut" printed across the front of it with a picture of the historic old statehouse building in Hartford. "I never win anything," she said. "I don't know why I keep playing, but there is another girl who works here and she won $1,000 once." "I just moved here from Texas," I said. "Texas doesn't have a lottery. How much are those tickets?" "One dollar," she said. I paid for my gas and left.
Connecticut has been running its state lottery for more than 18 years now. The Division of Special Revenue, which oversees all of the state's gambling operations, reports that the lottery has grossed more than $4.1 billion since its inception. Approximately $1.7 billion has been transferred to the state's treasury. But despite this "easy" money, Connecticut faces a budget crisis even worse than the one in Texas. Connecticut's projected budget deficit is over $3 billion.
It's hard to find lottery tickets in the wealthier parts of Connecticut, but when you go out into the poorer areas then suddenly every little run-down gas station, liquor store and grocery mart has a sign in its window that proclaims, "Connecticut Lotto — You Can't Win If You Don't Play." Of course, you can't lose either, and that is what most lottery players do most of the time. According to ConsumerResearch magazine, lotteries have the lowest odds of winning of any form of gambling. State lottery officials report that the odds for winning something in the lottery are one in 30, but these are the odds for winning the smallest and most common prize of $3. A person who plays the lottery on a regular basis will likely spend a $3 prize on more lottery tickets. To win the really big money, the odds are more like 13 million to one. Since most people can't make sense of odds that high, lottery critics once tried to point out that by comparison the odds of a person being killed by a bolt of lightning are only 400,000 to one. The lottery industry later made light of this information by making a commercial in which an actor is struck by lightning right before winning the big jackpot.
Last April a man in South Windsor, Conn., won $3,600 in the lottery. The local media went out to interview him as they do every person who wins a big lottery prize, but instead of finding the typical happy, giddy winner, they found that this man was bitter and angry. It seems that he had been playing the lottery for 10 years and he had a habit of always throwing his losing lottery tickets into a crumpled paper bag. This was the first time he had ever won a substantial prize and out of curiosity he decided to go back and .see how many losing tickets he had collected. There were 10,000 of them. He said he felt like a sucker. Every outlet that sells lottery tickets is set up with an on-line computer terminal, which is hooked into the main lottery computer system and allows the state to keep track of when and where every ticket is sold and announce simultaneously to every distributor what the winning numbers were. These computer systems are made by companies like G-tech of Rhode Island and Scientific Games, a subsidiary of Bally Manufacturing of Atlanta. It is no accident that these same companies are also the biggest lobbyists for the expansion of lotteries into non-lottery states like Texas. Pro-lottery companies have hired some big-name political figures, such as former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes and former state Sen. Kent Caperton, to press their case at the Capitol.
In 1977, Connecticut commissioned Mark Abrahamson, a sociology professor from the University of Connecticut, to study the state's gambling operations. Abrahamson's study found that most forms of legalized gambling, including the lottery, were largely ignored by persons with college degrees and yearly incomes in excess of $25,000. Abrahamson concluded that Connecticut's state lottery "primarily attracts poor, long-term, unemployed and less-educated participants. It generates revenues in a regressive manner and should be discontinued."
 The study was not well-received at the state's lottery bureau, and John Winchester, the lottery director at the time, wrote a 25-page rebuttal that harshly criticized Abrahamson and his study, which was for the most part ignored by the state's legislature. A few years later a new study was commissioned, this time to be carried out by Economics Research Associates of Los Angeles, a company which had done many similar studies for other states with legalized gambling operations. That study whitewashed most of the concerns brought out in Abrahamson's study.

GAMBLING IS STILL controversial in Connecticut, but not the lottery. The lottery has become matter-of-fact, commonplace and ingrained into society. Lottery revenues long ago were absorbed into the state's bloated bureaucracy and now the state is hungry for more. The question of right or wrong has long been forgotten and the only issue now is how much money can be made. The state legislature wants to ban out-of-state lottery ticket sales for fear they will cut into the Connecticut lottery's gross sales. Several legislators are sponsoring a bill that would allow a South Carolina-based company to set up video slot machines across the state with the assurance that the state will get a 33 percent cut estimated at $64 million per year. Several jai alai frontons are located around the state where people can bet on games. One in Bridgeport isn't doing well, so its owners are seeking permission to convert it into a dog race track. There also are several off-track betting parlors where people can go to bet on out-of-state horse races and watch them on a large video screen. The biggest controversy has been over the efforts of the Pequot Indian tribe to build a gambling casino on their reservation in Ledyard.
In 1989 Duke University economists Charles Clotfelter and Philip Cook, in a book entitled Selling Hope, criticized the lottery as an inefficient way to raise revenue. They pointed out that while traditional taxes cost only one or two pennies per dollar to collect, lotteries can cost up to 75 cents per dollar of revenue raised. For each dollar spent on a lottery* ticket, 40-50 percent goes to prizes while 10-25 percent goes to administrative costs, vendors' fees, advertising and promotional campaigns.
 Lottery proponents argue that the lottery is a form of entertainment and not a tax, and therefore should not be judged on that basis. However, state governments usually begin to rely on lottery revenues as a substitute for other forms of taxation and thus its fairness and efficiency as a tax merits serious attention.

THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH the lottery from the state's point of view is that people tend to lose interest in it after a while. They require constant prodding by slick advertisements and promotional campaigns to continuously support the lottery at the level required to keep it profitable. This means that the state cannot simply make the lottery available to people who would be likely to gamble anyway. Instead it must aggressively market the lottery to people who otherwise would not normally choose to gamble. Connecticut now spends more than $12 million on its lottery ads, and the figure continues to climb every year. The 33 states with lotteries as of 1990 were spending more than $600 million a year combined on lottery. promotions.
The state of Connecticut, like most states with lotteries, hires major advertising and marketing firms to push its lottery. The same people who normally sell soft drinks and laundry detergent become pitchmen for the government. They know who their potential customers are and the ads are targeted accordingly.
A recent TV ad featured two elderly gentlemen sitting in a diner, drinking coffee. The first man has a pile of instant lottery tickets and is busy scratching them off while the second man acts uninterested. The first man then asks his friend if he plays and the second man replies "no" with just a hint of disdain in his voice. So the first man gives his friend one of the tickets from his pile, saying, "Here, try one of these. It's the new Classic Connecticut Instant Game." The second man scratches the ticket as the first man gets excited and says, "See there, we have a winner!" The second man replies, "What do you mean, `we?"' as he tucks the ticket into his shirt pocket. Besides promoting greed and selfishness, the ad implies that finding a winning ticket is very common. Nowhere in the ad are the odds displayed. A survey conducted by Clotfelter and Cook found that only 12 percent of lottery radio and TV ads reveal the true odds of winning. The underlying message of the ad is that people who do not play the lottery are missing out and therefore are behaving foolishly.
As a state's need for more revenues increases, the ads for lotteries become more desperate. One Connecticut TV ad showed an elderly gentleman explaining that he had won a million dollars by investing his money into lottery tickets rather than saving for his retirement. An ad for the New York lottery showed a woman telling her daughter she would not have to worry about getting a scholarship for school because Mom was going to win her college tuition money by playing the lottery. There was even a protest in a Chicago neighborhood when a billboard was put up urging the poor, black residents to get off of Washington Street and move up to Easy Street by playing the Illinois lottery.
 Without these advertising blitzes lottery sales tend to drop off sharply. Thus states that rely on lottery revenues find themselves trapped in a paradox pointed out by Clotfelter and Cook: "Here you have the same outfit that is trying to educate our children selling images and hyperbole rather than factual information and telling the public: 'Play your hunch, you could win a bunch.'" While the states might be desperate for the revenues lotteries can produce, the people on whom they prey are often even more desperate, down to the homeless people who collect and sell bottles and cans to make money to purchase lottery tickets.

LAST YEAR, CONNECTICUT'S lottery produced a record $525 million. Sales are down slightly for this year, which a state gambling official blamed on the recession. "The average person who plays our lotto products is a blue-collar worker," said Bruce Cowen, chairman of the state Gaming Policy Board, in a recent newspaper interview. "When they're collecting unemployment checks it's a little tougher to get people to buy lottery tickets." But he predicted another record-setting year in 1991.
 People who believe the lottery is the best way for Texas to solve its budget problems and avoid an income tax should take a close look at Connecticut. Here you have a state suffering through one of the worst recessions in years, struggling to pay off the biggest budget deficit in the state's history at the same time the lottery is raking in more money than ever. But it has not helped the state avoid a major budget crisis. On Sept. 1, 1991, Connecticut began levying its first-ever personal income tax.

Former Texan Mike Thomas is a writer who lives in Connecticut.

 MIKE THOMAS Bushy Hill Market in Branford, Conn. — one of about 2,600 lottery agents with an on-line system