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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Favorites ‘08

Mike Duran

I'm not sure if there's a term for people obsessed with lists. If there is, add my name to the roster. It's one of my favorite things about the end of the year. Everybody starts rolling out their lists -- Best Films, Books, Widgets, Gadgets and Celebrity Scandals. Oh joy! So I'm adding my favorites to the registry. No, it’s not my selection for year’s best. Just some personal faves, rather random, that I've happened upon this year.

  • Favorite Film -- The Dark Knight has to rank up there, even though its vision was grim, it's biblical parallels are worth pondering. And Heath Ledger's Joker will live in infamy. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a poignant meditation on life's transience and transcendence. The reverse aging device is both revelatory and disturbing. But Slumdog Millionaire remains my personal favorite. A gritty, feel-good film about the ultimate underdog (with an exuberant dance sequence, to boot!)

  • Favorite Documentary -- So many to choose from! I was really inspired by The Devil and Daniel Johnston, an older docu that traces one artist's descent into -- and out of -- madness. Planet B-Boy was lots of fun as it followed break dancing teams from around the world toward their yearly competition. High energy stuff! Man on Wire is about tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring high-wire routine performed between NY City's twin towers in 1974. Some exhilarating footage. But Werner Herzog's, Encounters at the End of the World, which finds the iconoclastic director in the vast Antarctic wasteland, is probably my number one.

  • Favorite Album -- Some describe it as "experimental pop," others "alt hip-hop." Either way, New York beatmaker Son Lux's, At War with Walls and Mazes, got more of my iPod time than any other album. Moody, orchestral, electronic sounds filled with Scriptural references and haunting refrains. Not far behind was Fleet Foxes' "minstrel music", Vampire Weekend's "Upper West Side Soweto", and Beck's Modern Guilt. And Coldplay's Viva la Vida, though not their best, is worth a serious listen.

  • Favorite Book – Hands down, Culture Making, by Andy Crouch, left the biggest impression on me this year. This should be required reading for Christians seeking to understand the Church’s role in art and cultural interaction. Crouch challenges us to be more than cultural critics, cultural copycats and cultural consumers -- but to be culture makers. Paradigm-shifting stuff!

  • Favorite MagazineJuxtapoz Magazine's quirky pop art mag is a favorite, and the editors at Relief Journal continue putting out some amazing, cutting-edge Christian writing (and I can't wait for the latest edition of Coach's Midnight Diner). But Books & Culture remains my personal fave. Scholarly and savvy, but hip enough to defy highbrow.

  • Favorite Cookbook – Yeah, I love to cook. Wash dishes, not so much. How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman was recently updated. But it's not the 2,000 recipes I like most. It's the cooking basics sprinkled along the way that make this so fun. (I mean, did you know salt slows boiling? When cooking with water, wait until AFTER the water's boiling to add salt. Hey, it was new to me!)

  • Favorite Grocery Chain -- We love Trader Joe's, especially their Salsa, Veggie Chips, and Thai Lime Chili Cashews. I've heard their Honey Mango Shaving Cream is also terrific. For those of us who shave. And where else can you get Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter? But Fresh & Easy has moved into the area and we're digging it. A minimalized, less trendy TJ's, with fewer snobs and lots of health-conscious products. Their Tomato Basil Marinara and Balsamic Vinagrette are our favorites.

  • Favorite Game – Since no one in my house likes to play Scrabble, the next closest thing to a word game is Balderdash. It's great fun, especially since I have an unusual knack for making things up. Taboo get a lot of airtime at our house, even though their cards are way yesterday. But my number one favorite game is still Connect Four.

  • Favorite Sports Event – In true SoCal homer form: the Lakers reaching the NBA Finals and the Dodgers acquiring Manny Ramirez and advancing to the NLCS were huge. But who could deny that the New York Giants -- über-underdogs -- defeating the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was the sports event of the year.

  • Favorite Sports Teams to Hate – That's easy: Yankees, Celtics and Cowboys in a three-way tie. Are there more bandwagon fans for any other teams?

  • Favorite News Story – Even though I didn’t vote for him, Barack Obama being elected president has got to be up there on everyone’s list as one of the most newsworthy events of '08. Hey, suddenly America’s not so bad, huh?

  • Favorite Under-reported News Story – Apart from the ongoing suppression of evidence that global warming is a hoax, the American media’s bias and complicity in electing Barack Obama president is the most significantly under-reported story of the year. Just when did American journalism become so, um, non-objective?

  • Favorite Conspiracy Theory – Apart from the annual "Elders of Zion," "Illuminati," "Area 51," "Flat Earth" nonsense, Reverend Jeremiah Wright's absurd assertion that AIDS was invented by the US government as a means of eradicating people of color is up there on the stupid-odometer. Of course, those fanatics who rabidly allege that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, are equally irrelevant.

  • Favorite Restaurant – We've been ending up at Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ a lot. Lemonade and beef ribs -- ya gotta love it! Famous Dave’s Smoked Salmon Spread is the bomb. And Pei Wei Asian Diner's rice and noodle bowls are terrific. But BJ's Deep Dish Pizzas with a pitcher of Jeremiah Red, well, that's unbeatable.

  • Favorite Jelly Belly Flavor -- Hmm. It's a tie between Pink Grapefruit and Buttered Popcorn. Anything Cinnamon induces my gag reflex.

There you have it! Blessings to all! And what's some of your '08 favorites?


  1. "Just when did American journalism become so, um, non-objective?"


  2. Anonymous, with comments that witty, you should think about leaving your real name.

    I'm obviously referring to this year's election and the fact that the press fell so hard for one candidate. It's been fairly well-documented (see: How the press reported the 2008 election from, Obama leads the Media Race as Well, from Center for Media and Public Affairs, and Media Credibility. The caveat: These facts / stats remain largely under-reported.

  3. Uh, then I guess it's safe for me to remove all the cinnamon Jelly Bellies from the bag I was going to send you?

  4. I'll throw in one:

    Favorite website (outside of Novel Journey of course) . . .

  5. Everyone must see Slumdog Millionaire. It deserves its R rating, but it's redemptive, surprising, and well written.

  6. Favorite book: The Tale of Despereaux. LOVED it. (Yes, it's a children's book.) The movie just released by the same name took many liberties but was cute none the less.

    Favorite newly discovered (by me) author, Tosca Lee--super talented!

  7. 2008 is over? How? It was just July!

  8. No wit, just history.[1] "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes" -- if Thomas Jefferson became President. Similar though relatively milder things have been said under headlines like "Why The Election Of Obama Would Mean The End Of America".

    As to McCain, coverage varied.

    "The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, where researchers have tracked network news content for two decades, found that ABC, NBC and CBS were tougher on Obama than on Republican John McCain during the first six weeks of the general-election campaign. .... 28% of the statements were positive for Obama and 72% negative. .... McCain .... 43% of the statements positive and 57% negative...."

    So what happened from late July to change the coverage? Well, on the Obama side, a quarter million Germans waved American flags voluntarily. On the McCain side...well, right there in the article you cite I find:

    "For McCain, coverage began positively, but turned sharply negative with McCain’s reaction to the crisis in the financial markets. As he took increasingly bolder steps to try and reverse the direction of the polls, the coverage only worsened. Attempts to turn the dialogue away from the economy through attacks on Obama’s character did hurt Obama’s media coverage, but McCain’s was even more negative."

    Ironically, it seems that the most negative coverage of McCain never even ran.

    As to the press under-reporting the facts, I agree completely. Maybe some day I'll turn on CNN and hear them playing the phrase "Is it forever or is it for show? Is it something you do for the sake of the public or is it something you do for the sake of eternity?"

    But I'm not holding my breath.

    1. And hey! if anonymity was good enough for John Adams, James Madison, John Jay and Alex Hamilton, isn't it good enough for me? :)

  9. I can't wait for the next volume of the Diner either! :D

  10. Thanks for the comments! Yes Mary, Slumdog Millionaire was fantastic! I just hope the R-rating doesn't scare off Christians. It IS a very redemptive story.

    Gina, I'm reading Tosca's Demon now and really enjoying it. But I'll wait on the mouse story.

    Ane, yes, send the Jelly Bellies W/OUT the Cinnamon ones. That will save me the hassle of picking them out.

    Anonymous, poll after poll shows that American journalists are predominantly liberals (usually about an 80/20 split). Along with University professors and Hollywood elites, they are one of the most politically close-minded, yet powerful, groups in America. If you dispute that you should, well, remain Anonymous.

    And Coach Culbertson, I am also looking forward to the next Diner. From what I've seen of it, Vol. II will be terrific!

  11. Oh, reporters are liberal. The companies they work for, not so much. Got to serve Mammon, you know. I think they call it "maximizing shareholder value" now. The truth don't pay.

  12. Mike, I'm with you on Trader Joe's, Famous Dave's Salmon spread, but the Jelly Bellies--no way.

    Say have you seen the documentary Paper Clips? You'll never look at that little office supply the same way again. I find myself picking them up and saving them.

    This way fun! I'll leave the politics to others.

    Have another game everyone might like: Liebrary. Anyone who loves to read and write will go bonkers for this one!

  13. My latent-onset cinnamon allergy can commiserate. Especially from October, tail end of the year certainly has its drawbacks.


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