Publications
Review: A Secular Founding Father: On Ian Ruskin's "Thomas Paine" Print E-mail
Criticism

Thomas Paine(The Truth Seeker May, 2016)

The one- or two-hour biography, whether film or play or documentary, is fraught with landmines: the portrayal reduces the life, redacts the ideas, rings the subject’s good bells, tosses in a token failure or two, and pumps up an artificial destiny. All was meant to be, we see in hindsight, ’tis great-man history. Such unnuanced bios—I’m thinking of films like Ali and Steve Jobs—re-mythologize the life to salvage one on whom history has been confused or ungenerous. We make a flawed man great again if we carefully rehab him. Think of the slow Teddy-Bearing of George W. Bush.

There may be no better candidate for reconstitution than Thomas Paine, secularism’s favorite anti-British British hero of American independence, perhaps the finest polemicist our republic has ever known. During his life (1737-1809), Paine was loved and reviled, the latter, the loudest. In his sixties and an American citizen, he became the “filthy little atheist” and the “devil incarnate,” a pariah to the cause of liberty. One obituary said Paine “had lived long, done some good, and much harm.” His haters’ wrath centered on The Age of Reason (1794-6), a lucid refutation of religion. In days of yore when dissent in print or speech led to the guillotine, Paine disavowed all creeds and clerical authority, judged the Bible a scurrilous tale of a cruel deity, and thought Jesus Christ just another wayward stargazer. A deist, Paine marveled at the Creation and lovingly called the Creator, God.

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The Taxman Cometh Not Print E-mail
Articles

george-carlin-says-tax-the-churches-politics-taxes-politics-1370663994(The Truth Seeker May, 2016)

Scripturally Based Hostility

One day in 1991, the head of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige, along with his top lieutenant, Marty Rathbun, were having lunch in Washington DC, not far from the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service. Five years earlier, when Miscavige had seized hold of the church’s leadership following the death of their potentate, L. Ron Hubbard, he inherited the organization and its colossal debt to the IRS—at the time, estimates were as high as $1 billion; Scientology’s reserves were just 12% of that—as well as a war of denunciation both sides waged on the other that was years in the making.

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Between Words & Images Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

thumbnail 01(San Diego Reader February 3, 2016)

Now open at Cedar and Kettner downtown is yet another San Diego monument to the commute: a $24 million, trolley-side, ten-story (three levels below ground, seven above), 645-space parking structure, bestowing on County Administration Center employees slots by day and on Little Italy revelers slots by night.

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I Don't Know Why I'm a Musician Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

Joe-Garrison t670(San Diego Reader December 24, 2015)

Joe Garrison is a musical survivalist. The 64-year-old jazz and new music composer has shaped his artistic life to favor more beginnings than ends. Like his hero, Igor Stravinsky, he’s learned that to reinvent himself by adapting to new musical ideas elicits in him the highest pleasure. He does so despite having been lured by the sirens of L.A. and New York. Staying put—all local artists know—can be detrimental to the ego. “If someone hears you’re from San Diego,” he says, “what they’re really telling you is ‘Oh, you’re from San Diego.’” Ah, the embarrassment of being from here and stuck here forever.

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On the Best American Essays 1995: Man Versus Boy Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

m7781-spiderman-spiderboy(Essay Daily December 16, 2015)

The surprise? That I single out the male authors. That I count twenty authors total, thirteen men. That my distaste is palpable. Find them sexist, show-off-y, self-infatuated. Was unprepared for such a response. In me. What the passage of twenty years since I first read these pieces can do. It’s the self-righteousness that’s so bothersome. The wooliness of having put it behind me or I have no doubts so no reflection turns the bearing as though the past were father to the man. How glossily several calibrate their inner Brett Easton Ellis in whom the boy demands—be he PFC, rookie, deckhand, red-shirt—to ring the remembrance.

What I mean is. John Turturro in Barton Fink. Michael Keaton in Birdman. The boy in the man who is ever what he was. Who LP’s Sticky Fingers or Blonde on Blonde with unclogged reverence. Boys in men other men admire. Who reel highlights, who wash-and-wield a Buick 6, who used to be, if not are, some woman’s used-to-be. Those literary varietals—the stooge incarnate or the male ingénue. Whose sense of self comes at the boy’s behest.

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Eliot & Faith Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

tumblr mtvbloYsOu1rpxkmvo1 500(Forth Magazine November 10, 2015)

Only later, walking back—after he attacks—do I realize that earlier, the first time by, I marked this tawny pit just as he raised his paw-lain head beside his seated keeper.

Both sat porch-fixed-safe behind a fenced-in yard—and before a rough brick, two-story duplex, dormers and posts Reconstruction-made.

Brow twitching, mouth shutting, the dog (like me) must have heard the woman whisper, “Now, Killer.” His glare more than reimbursed her: You’re too close. Get on by. I mean it.

I complied, quick-stepping, the danger flinching on my skin as though I’d stirred a serpent.

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I Go To Church, Meet God on Film, and Find the Pastor's Faith in the Word Lays Bare the Absence of Mine Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

17iht-melikian17-pic1-articleLarge(Indiana Voice Journal November 5, 2015)

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One day, in 2014, in midsummer, I drive by a church in my San Diego neighborhood: there’s an intriguing announcement on the little brick-monument marquee out front, the Sunday homiletic: “God on Film: Noah.” The new film, which I’ve seen—bewitchingly watchable and, at times, mawkishly funny—was created and directed by Darrin Aronofsky and stars Russell Crowe. I’m intrigued by a host of questions. What do Christians think about this movie’s representation of their faith or, at least, one of their defining legends, Noah and the flood? What does a movie based on the Bible do to the Bible? How do we read Scripture after seeing the film? How do we judge what the movie should be faithful to, especially if the Bible is deemed sacred, which, in this case, it has, and the film, to some degree, has desacralized the book via film?

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