Tuesday, March 24, 2020

An imperfect solution to the coronavirus situation

I emphasize "imperfect" because there is not an absolutely perfect solution and there never will be.  COVID-19 is now such a pervasive element that it's as every reputable engineer will note: there is going to be a trade-off.  We won't be able to help one matter without it negatively impacting others.

But from where I sit...

- fast-track production of and widespread treatment with hydroxychloroquine IMMEDIATELY.  Especially in conjunction with zinc supplement, azithromycin and other medications being found to aggressively confront the symptoms of COVID-19.  Especially in light of research that has come out of France in recent days about the hydrozychloroquine/AZT regimen.  This could be our generation's "polio vaccine moment", if we attack coronavirus with something that almost with each passing hour is looking like a silver bullet against the illness.

- no-frills bare-bones economic stimulus of $2000 per U.S. citizen.  Two weeks ago I would have recommended $1000 or even $500 but the damage wrought to the economy since then has become enormous.  A reasonable amount of one-time fiscal injection into the public economy, and that's it.  Meaning no ridiculous and irresponsible riders to the bill.

- pull back on restrictions against public gatherings.  Which seems to be going backward on addressing coronavirus.  But I'm weighing the disease itself against the harm being done against the economy and against society as a whole.  And there is the matter of the United States Constitution: the freedom to assemble in peace and also freedom of of worship are sacred ones.  A lot of states and municipalities right now are arguably overstepping boundaries that were never meant to be crossed.  Expect that to be rigorously confronted in the courts during the months after coronavirus begins to wane.

There are two virtues I've seen that are qualities in general of the domestic reaction to COVID-19: responses are fairly localized and official actions are being delegated.  These are good.  It means that the response to coronavirus in South Dakota won't be the same as the response is in Brooklyn.  And it also means that bureaucracy knows when to get out of the way when those who know best how to rapidly manufacture and distribute ventilators are free to do so.

As for how to get more toilet paper onto the shelves: brother, you're on your own...

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Coronavirus: Scenes from a supermarket

Pics that I took tonight at a nearby grocery store...

I made sure to get the entire toilet paper section in one shot:



No more ground beef.  Rest of the meat section was also depleted:



See those bagels?  That is literally ALL that is left on the bread aisle:



Not even Chef Boyardee pizza is in plentiful supply:



Flour, frozen food, milk, chewing gum... there were shortages across the store.  Strangely the alcoholic beverages seemed well stocked.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Coronavirus: Calling America to the Carpet

Some are almost rubbing their hands in glee at coronavirus: holding to the notion that this is an obvious sign of the Second Coming because Pestilence is loosed upon the land. Though adherent that I aspire to be, my eyes cannot but roll in disbelief. Pandemics are almost as reliable as Old Faithful and will remain so until the end of time. The average span between worldwide outbreaks is around a hundred years. And coronavirus is hot on the centennial of the Spanish Influenza.

No, it is not the time for overzealous fervor to grasp rational thought. But with respect to my fellow Christians, coronavirus is at last the “Come to Jesus” meeting that the United States is long overdue for.

Let’s consider what must certainly be the most serious issue about what coronavirus is now teaching us. We have a woeful, immoral and almost criminal over-reliance on China for our manufactured goods, and especially pharmaceuticals. The vast majority of medication consumed by Americans come from Chinese labs. Many of these facilities, incidentally, have been accused of utilizing manufacturing processes that defy safe and sanitary protocol. Even so, the drugs are being shipped into the U.S. and domestic drug companies care little. After all, it’s easier to charge nigh-unconscionable prices for vitally needed medication when it can be manufactured for pennies overseas. Even cheaply-manufactured medications such as acetaminophen and insulin are now supplied by China. Perhaps ninety percent of antibiotics like penicillin are sent to the U.S. from factories under the ultimate control of Beijing.

Profits are good. Profits drive innovation and research. But the drive for profit in defiance of ethical responsibility has inflicted a grievous wound upon the nation’s self-sufficiency and general integrity. It is a wound that politicians – on both sides of the aisle – have not looked past so much as pour harsh acid upon.

And now comes word that China is threatening to deny America access to drugs that could stem the coronavirus outbreak in our country. It is not an empty threat. Particularly not in the present environment of trade hostility that has already awoken the bear market. Right now the ChiComs are feeling pokey about the U.S.’ international response to the coronavirus pandemic. What happens in the event of a full-blown economic war between east and west? Should China choose to do so, it could cut the spigot off for all distribution of medications to the United States.

Pause and consider what this would mean to diabetics dependent upon their neighborhood drug stores being stocked with insulin, or medications commonly prescribed to address influenza: an illness that far more people each year perish from than will on account of coronavirus. People are now going full- blown paranoid about a shortage of toilet paper. But that can be rationed. With medication, not so much. I myself am now weighing the likelihood of medications running out that I use to manage having manic-depression. The number of Americans who have mental health conditions is enormous. Might a dire deficit of mood stabilizers lead to mass ideations of suicide or harm to others?

It is now clear that America has an over-reliance upon Chinese manufacturing of pharmaceuticals for too long. But our lack of autarky is betrayed again by a spectacle beheld by even the healthiest of citizens: the vast shelves of cheaply-produced goods at Walmart stores dotting across the fruited plain. And also readily available from online retailers. For decades American companies have parceled their industrial capacity to Chinese workers who are underpaid and overworked. We have enjoyed cheap clothing and kitchenware and collectible action figures and Blu-ray players. We have also compromised our economic independence. And though the policies set in motion during President Trump’s administration have yielded enormous rebirth of long-shuttered factories, America is still hurting from decades of job losses. Once the textiles industry in America was one of the mightiest of employers. It allowed families to grow and thrive and allowed countless young people to better their lives with college education. Today textile production in the United States has almost completely evaporated, particularly in the Southeast where it was once towered over all other industry.

If China can cut off medication for one key sector, it can cut off every medication. As well as every other product that comes from there to American ports. And what is America going to deny China in turn? Blockbuster action movies whose studio executives kowtow to mainland Chinese “sensibilities”? Clothing and medication are vital assets. Extravaganza entertainment is not.

The coronavirus outbreak, depending on who one chooses to listen to, is either the dread harbinger of the end times or a momentary blip upon medical history. Six to eight months from now we will likely be laughing about the coronavirus “plague” just as we did about Y2K. But the vulnerabilities it has exposed should be – as some activist leaders have coined the term – a teachable moment for America.

It is time to rediscover anew the virtue that American protectionism is a virtue and not a vice. We are obligated to look after the interests of our own people, and that is absolutely not to be taken to mean that we are a selfish or uncharitable nation. American greatness however has from its colonial beginnings meant looking to ourselves for production of food, goods, and medicine. We have been abundantly blessed with these and many more fruits of our labors. And when the fruits have been so bountiful, we have gladly allowed the people of other nations to enjoy much of our surplus. It is conceivable that World War III was staved off because the Soviet Union came to be dependent so greatly upon American grain production. Had domestic farming capacity during the Cold War been at depleted levels, the possibility would exist that Moscow would have been much more desperate and belligerent toward its western rival. The Politburo was wise enough to recognize its own weaknesses. Why then should the United States be any different?

America has been betrayed by politicians and lobbyists acting in the interest of foreign powers if not being outright paid for services rendered. We have been living on borrowed time and now the coronavirus threat has pulled back the curtain on our would-be industrial masters. Were our international situation a private business, the ones responsible would have long been chewed-out by the company honchoes. And most likely given a cardboard box and fifteen minutes to clean out their desks. Their incompetence would not be lauded and certainly not rewarded.

The attitude toward this land by too many entrenched politicians, corporate opportunists, and foreign sympathizers has gone far beyond incompetence and into the territory of treason. Perhaps the coronavirus will cast long-awaited light upon such treacheries. And perhaps the American people will have eyes opened at last to demand an end to over-reliance on international industry.

If so, in the greater scheme of things the coronavirus may prove to be less a blight and more a blessing.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

First draft of my first book is finished

Some of this blog's longtime readers may recall how I was writing a book about having bipolar disorder.  That was a project I'd been working on for some time, and then Dad passed.  It sort of took the wind out of my sails, but I vowed to finish it someday.

Guess what?  It's still nowhere near finished.  The last time I committed a word to that endeavor was in winter of 2015.  And so much has transpired since then.  It will make more sense to write a new book drawing from the experiences of the past four years especially.

Someday I'll start to work on that.  In the meantime, I do get to rightfully proclaim that I have finished the manuscript of my first book.

The idea for it surfaced about ten years or so ago, and it's been percolating in my gray matter all this time.  Perhaps I needed to achieve some deeper understanding of the message I wanted to convey.  And then came the past two weeks and events on this side of the Intertubes.  And then I knew: it was time.

It's a children's book.  I visited the local Barnes & Noble's and studied products in the kiddie section to make sure I would have the page count right.  The average seems to be thirty pages for a picture book the primary audience of which is ages 5 to 9 or so.  And this manuscript packs in plenty with that amount of space to work with.

It's the book that I wish had been around when I was six years old.  Maybe I can contribute a little something to children who are likewise going through a hard time.  I like to think so.

So, the first draft is complete.  And there'll be some tinkering and having friends critique it and then perhaps sooner than later it'll get shopped around and hopefully an agent will like what he or she sees.  I will admit from the start however: I am NOT an artist.  So I'm praying that someone specializing in children's art is out there somewhere who can help bring this vision fully to life.  I think there is.  Whoever he or she is, I'll be looking forward to working with them.

Just as I look forward to posting about this again.

Friday, March 06, 2020

EMDR

This blog has been operational for sixteen(!) years now, and it's covered a lot of territory.  Everything from pop culture to weird news to chronicling my run for political office and anything in between.  It's shown readers the inside of a nuclear power plant, to the ancient sanctity of Orthodox Christianity.

But it hasn't depicted everything about my life.  Though there have been times that I've shared glimpses of personal frustration and tragedy, most of what happens on this side of the screen has been shrouded from my audience.  It's been a common lament of mine: how it seems that everyone I know gets to display their blessings and joy over Facebook while I've come up empty in those regards.  And then I'm reminded that people only show the good things on social media, not the bad.  So if that's a crime, then I suppose I'm just as guilty.

However, there are exceptions.  The Being Bipolar series is no doubt the biggest of them.  Hard to believe it'll be ten years later next winter that I began that series, and there is still much more to write about it.  I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or manic depression) early in 2004.  By 2009 it had destroyed much of my personal life, including a marriage.  Being Bipolar began as an attempt to take it back.  On that note, it failed.  But I still ended up satisfied that it's documented my thoughts and experiences with a mental illness.

But it's not my only mental illness.

Early in 2018 came another diagnosis.  I now understand that I have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The result of numerous horrible experiences across the span of my life, and especially things that happened during my childhood.  That's never really been written about on this blog.  My best friends and circle of close associates though have seen it only too often.  The times when I regress, and have flashbacks and am immobilized by the weight of memories that cannot and will not leave.  My therapists have helped me find a few strategies for dealing with episodes of PTSD: helping me get back into the moment instead of staying thrust toward the past.  And in vast part they do work.

But that's only addressing the symptoms, not the condition itself.

Yesterday I began what we are hoping may be an endeavor to stem the PTSD itself once and for all.  I had the initial appointment of what will be a series of sessions involving a fairly new therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing... or EMDR for short.  It came about during the Nineties as a result of investigations by psychologist Francine Shapiro.  It essentially means that via visual manipulation and use of other stimuli (including the use of a gimmick that I've dubbed "the Walkman") my brain is going to rewire itself to route around the parts of it that the PTSD chiefly operates in.  Or something like that.

Not really EMDR since Alex
can't move his eyeballs around
Yesterday's session was an orientation/familiarization with the technique.  And I'm already very much looking forward to beginning it proper.  EMDR has enjoyed great success in helping others address their own PTSD and we think it holds a lot of promise for my own case.

This was already an exceptional week in regard to my recovery.  I cannot discuss much of what transpired, however.  Maybe someday that will be possible.  Maybe, not ever.  The EMDR though, I can and will be talking about that as the treatment progresses.  So, stay tuned!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Chris finally watches THE THING (2011)

There is a tradition I never fail to keep: whenever I get snowed in and can't go anywhere, I turn down the lights and crank up the sound and watch the 1982 movie The Thing.  Maybe that says something about my baseline state of mind.

John Carpenter's now-classic film of horror and paranoia at an Antarctica research base might not be appropriate viewing for when one is tempting real-life cabin fever.  But if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then The Thing is the perfect wintertime follow-up.  And it's a darn nearly perfect movie in every other possible way: the story.  The casting.  The pacing.  The practical effects (which still hold their own against any CGI today).  The cinematography.  That score by Ennio Morricone.  And that building-up of tension as the men of Outpost 31 grow increasingly mistrustful of each other...

So yeah, I'm a huge fan of The Thing.  And I've read the original novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.  As well as watched 1951's The Thing from Another World.

And then there is the 2002 video game The Thing, which followed the events of the John Carpenter film and received both commercial and critical acclaim.  Partly because of the innovative "trust" element.  I'm going to always have fond memories of playing that game, and unfortunately it seems the physical release is the only one out there.  Maybe GOG.com will have it for sale sooner than later.  Anyway...

I've seen and read and played just about everything Thing-ish.  But one item had been out of my zone of interest: 2011's The Thing.  Meant to be a prequel to the 1982 film, the 2011 entry was intended to reveal the story of the Norwegians who first discovered the alien vessel and its malevolent cargo.

Helmed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.and with a cast led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing '11 was an idea that I just didn't care about once the initial details started coming out.  And it wasn't just the notion of depicting the events of the Norwegian camp: something that was perhaps better left to the imagination (the "less is more" school of thought).  When MacReady and Copper begin exploring the burning ruins of the base, and then they come upon the radio operator who had slit his wrists, well... it's just like Copper said: "My God, what the hell happened here??"

"What?", indeed.  I first saw 1982's The Thing when I was ten years old, and every time I've watched it since my imagination gets sent reeling in wonder about how it went down among those poor scientists before they unleashed extraterrestrial death upon the most desolate wilderness on the planet.  What led up to the final survivors shooting at that dog from a helicopter laden with kerosene and grenades?

Did I really want or need to see that portrayed?

And then there was the casting.  It screamed "modern American film gore" with an emphasis on "American".  Look, we've had a Thing movie from an American perspective: it was The Thing of 1982.  A prequel about the Norwegian camp should have a cast of entirely Norwegians.  Having it headlined by an American actress with fellow English speakers: it just didn't seem right.

Then there were the effects.  Doubtless it was going to be largely accomplished by some CGI rendering engine pushing pixels.  I didn't doubt that the transition from the brilliant work in the 1982 film would be a jarring one.

Maybe it's the weather lately.  At this time of winter in this location, it should be at least one major snowstorm already this season.  Here in mid-February that's looking less likely.  So without a proper occasion upon which to watch 1982's The Thing, I thought that maybe... just maybe... I could give the 2011 film a fighting chance.  So that's what I did last night.

What did I think?



The Thing (2011) is a gruesome waste of a premise that had strong potential. There is so much that went wrong with this film.  In some ways it is admirably accurate to the 1982 film (the coda where we see the Norwegian helicopter flying off to track down the dog is especially good).  But other details are unforgivably ignored (didn't the boffins from Norway already use their explosive charges to blast away the ice from the alien ship?).  That's a bigger lingering plot problem than anything from The Rise of Skywalker... and that's sayin' something.

As I'd feared, The Thing 2011 edition tried too much to be a modern "American" horror.  Maybe the boys in marketing thought that a pretty young American female among all those Scandinavians would increase the commercial appeal.  Instead it distracts from the spirit of the 1982 "original".  There would have been nothing wrong with a cast completely comprised of Norwegians, Swedes, and Danish.  In fact, I would have preferred it that way.  And have the dialogue composed entirely of Norwegian (maybe with English subtitles... or not).  As it is the cast of Norwegian characters is woefully under-employed in this movie.  A tragedy because they seemed to be taking this project especially to heart.  One of the Norwegians is well played by Kristofer Hivju, who went on to portray Tormund Giantsbane in HBO's Game of Thrones.  Had I been the one in charge of the project, that's the approach I would have taken.



And it must be said: no modern CGI can outdo Rob Bottin's practical effects work in scaring the hell out of the viewer.  Even when the staff of Outpost 31 was looking at the remains of the creature, with it just laying there on the table, not moving at all: that static horror said it all.  That kind of slow appreciation of the monstrous isn't there in The Thing 2011.  There isn't a single creature in this movie that is as memorable as the Norris-thing.  It's all moving too fast and furious.  It all looks too shiny.  And going back to "if it was me making this movie" I would have tried to replicate the lighting and film grain of the 1982 film.  Yeah, film grain is important.  It needs to be consistent across a series.  It's one of my major complaints about the Star Wars prequel trilogy and it's a major complaint here.

 But most of all, I found myself incredibly disappointed with the failure to adequately arouse the kind of paranoia that made John Carpenter's 1982 movie such an enduring classic.  The sense of growing mistrust among the Norwegian base staff is so lacking that it seems almost tacked on.  There isn't a single scene that comes anywhere close to Blair (Wilford Brimley) going berzerk with that fire axe:



There is so much else that could be said.  This is definitely a prequel that became something we never needed.  Which I hate to say, because in other hands The Thing (2011) really could have been a very terrific movie.  Instead the film ended and I was just very, very disappointed.  It's going into the pile of other movies that were made but I'm going to pretend were never produced (Alien 3, anything past the final scene of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the inevitable sequel to Joker).

And so it is that whatever happened at that Norwegian camp will remain open to speculation.  Which is probably just as it should always be.  Besides, it's more fun that way.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Today's Google Doodle is one I can respect

Some of Google’s ”doodles” either fly over my head or make me cringe in disbelief.  A lot of them are about historical events and people that at best are extremely obscure or else make me wonder "What the hell are they smoking over there?"

But the one they have for today is as good as it gets and I recognized it immediately.  Give credit where credit is due: Google was really thoughtful about this one and how to convey it:

A depiction of the four North Carolina A&T students who sat down at the segregated lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro (the big city near where I’m from). That was sixty years ago today.

 This is how to SERIOUSLY protest a wrong. Peacefully and respectfully. Nobody was hurt, nobody was insulted, nobody was arrested because of violent behavior. These young men simply went in, sat at a whites-only lunch counter, and politely asked for service. They were denied.  So they just went back the next day and asked for lunch again.  And again.  And again.

The word spread, there were other such protests and it wasn't long before Woolworth’s ended its segregation policies. Other businesses soon followed.

We could learn a lot from the Greensboro Four, even still today.  Come to think of it, especially today.

\Well done Google, well done.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Various thoughts about the Trump impeachment

As I write this it's 1:35 a.m. and it's all over but the cryin'.  Sometime in the next eighteen hours will likely come the final vote on Impeachment 2020 and the end of this mess.  Donald John Trump will remain President of the United States for another year and quite possibly more than that.

I've never doubted the outcome.  Trump had this in the bag on a party-line vote alone.  But I never thought that the final days of this fiasco would be such a bewildering demonstration of both brilliance and ignorance.  This impeachment will be studied for generations to come about how not to impeach, as well as how to effectively counter one.

So, admitting that I only took time to watch the trial proceedings itself during the past few days, here are some sundry musings...

1.  "Abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" are not impeachable offenses.  I don't even know what the hell "obstruction of Congress" is supposed to mean in this context.

2.  There will be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth in coming days and weeks about the issue of witnesses during the Senate trial phase.  Namely, about the House impeachment managers wanting John Bolton to testify.  They are forgetting that witnesses had already testified during the impeachment hearings.

3.  The trial is based on testimony and evidence already presented and entered into record during the House impeachment proceedings.  The Senate trial is absolutely not the place to introduce new witnesses and evidence.

4.  The House managers betrayed a lack of faith in their own case by demanding new witnesses this late in the game.

5.  The table at which the Trump counsel sat looked neat, dignified, corporate, razor-focused and serious.  Meanwhile the table of the House managers resembled a cram session of some college frat house, all that's missing are the boxes of cold pizza.

6.  Speaking of Trump's legal representation, any reputable law professor should make required viewing of the performance of Sekulow, Dershowitz, Philbin et al.  They have 10000% been the model of what competent attorneys should be in regard to the interest of the client.

7.  In stark contrast, the House managers' case has been very little apart from retread of the past three months, excruciatingly drawn out, absent any fresh or sound legal argument, and loaded with weary political rhetoric.

8.  Okay, this one sticks out like a sore thumb to me.  During this final day of Senate questioning I heard Adam Schiff and the other House managers insist that they want a "fair trial", hence more witnesses.  They were completely ignoring the basic underpinnings of how the trial process under United States law works and has always been intended to work.  The American courtroom is an adversarial arena, prosecutor versus defendant, and the onus is on the prosecutor to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the defendant.  Schiff, Pelosi, Nadler and the rest of the managers have instead all along played this as if it's up to Trump himself to provide evidence and testimony that he's guilty.  Trump has not done this.  Neither is any other defendant under American law obligated to so testify against himself or herself.  I think during the second half of the impeachment trial when it became glaringly obvious that theirs was a lost cause, the managers dropped even a semblance of pretending they wanted a "fair trial" and began attempting to rig the game.  Hence, trying to bring John Bolton into the mix.  That alone screamed how much of a sham this impeachment has been from the beginning.

9.  The House managers should be really thankful that they didn't get witnesses during the Senate trial.  Not I, or any criminal law expert, or sane American for that matter, would not think for an iota of a moment that the Trump team would NOT pounce and begin calling witnesses of their own.  And it would be an unprecedented fiasco.  Indeed, potentially calling Hunter Biden to take the stand, and maybe even Adam Schiff himself, the "whistleblower", former Vice President of the United States Joseph Biden... the Trump counsel would find any and every reason to have them sworn and testify on the stand.  And the result would be a crippling blow to the Democrat Party from which it might never recover.

10.  I am chuckling at the ignorance many are radiating tonight, that in the event of a 50-50 tie on the witnesses issue, how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will cast the deciding vote.  Roberts is not a member of the Senate.  He represents an entirely separate branch of government.  If fair is truly fair, then Vice President Pence will break the tie and some will say that Trump himself would be entitled to the vote.

11.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will go down as the conductor of the sloppiest, most mismanaged prosecution effort in the history of anything.  Had this been a criminal proceeding, the jury would have spent five minutes before returning a "not guilty" verdict.  She had her eyes on the prize but had no vision whatsoever of how to achieve it.

12.  I expect that this coming Tuesday night's State of the Union address is gonna be a LOT of fun to behold.

So much else that could come to mind, but it's late already.  Maybe better legal minds than mine can remark on whatever I've missed here.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Just came out of seeing 1917

George MacKay in 1917
This won't be so much a detailed review as it is a gut reaction to something barely prepared for.  1917 isn't a movie you'll want to read too much of warm.  Just go into the theater and for the next two hours be assaulted by the horrors of hell as few things have done in recent cinema history.

But it hit me on the drive back from the theater tonight: that the two most technically innovative films that I've seen over the course of the past year or so, have each been about World War I.  Maybe They Shall Not Grow Old will prove to have sparked a renaissance of interest in the Great War: an event that resonated harder than many might appreciate and indeed still resonates with us today (the ongoing morass in Iraq being but one example).  World War I has long been overshadowed at the cinema by its bloodier sequel, and that is unfortunate.

Sam Mendes and his team have done their part in rectifying that (if such a thing can be said) with 1917.  Shot and edited to be essentially one long continuous take, the film follows two young British soldiers (played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) on the front lines in northern France, at the war's height in 1917.  They have been tasked with crossing the strife-torn landscape with a message that could mean life or death for more than sixteen hundred of their fellow soldiers.

This is a brutal, brootal motion picture.  1917 is an almost merciless meandering through the fog of war.  There are no clear edges or "episodic" flow in this movie.  There is rarely time to recover from one horror only to be assaulted by another.  And another.  And another.  This is war in all its horror, heartlessness and during at least one unforgettable moment, lack of honor.  It is a magnificent traipse through the fallen world's garden of malevolence.  It'll be a few days before I'm really "over" this one.  No doubt the many who saw it during the same screening will be the same.

Will definitely recommend catching 1917 during its theatrical run.  This is one of those movies that really does deserve getting beheld on the screen writ large and encompassing.  Expect loads of awards for this one as the season plays out.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

This is the way: "New Beskar Steel" wrapping for your iPhone!

Disclaimer: Adam Smith is a friend of mine.  He's not paying to advertise his product on The Knight Shift and I didn't ask for any compensation whatsoever either.  I'm only sharing this because... well, because it's kewl!  And sharing cool stuff is just how I roll on this blog.


Inspired by the hit Disney+ series Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Adam has forged the "New Beskar Steel" iPhone Case and Cover.  Imitating the much-coveted metal sought by the tribe and just about everybody else, the New Beskar Steel case looks like a real ingot of Mandalorian alloy.  And it will probably do just as well in protecting your iPhone from anything shy of an E-Web blaster cannon.  Complete with rich lustrous sheen and stamp indicating its previous imperialish possessor.  Admittedly it won't make for much of a full-metal pauldron but if you need a real pauldron anyway, you've got bigger problems.

The case is available for every model from the iPhone 4S on up through the latest iPhone 11.  Click here to visit the product page.  I have spoken.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Looking back on 2019, and ahead to the new year

Inspired by a dear friend and compatriot in fighting the good fight, here is my year in review and my goals for 2020.

This year was one of ups and downs, but I like to think that there were more ups than downs.

1. Found a job that I really enjoy and am thankful for the amazing people I get to work alongside.
 

2. Was able to get back into regular blogging.
 

3. Lived long enough to see Star Wars Episode IX, knowing that there were many who didn't get to be so fortunate.
 

4. Got to see my best friend and brother Ed become a father to a beautiful baby girl (only three nights ago!)
 

5. Was able to get past maybe 80% of the demons from my past.
 

6. Learned to cook a lot more, as in REAL food.

7. Got bitten by a small dog and lost approximately $27,000 worth of productivity at work (I should have just risked the tetanus, and I hope my supervisor is happy!!)


8. Began outlining a novel, and finally writing that childrens' book.


9. Have maintained a real place of my own for the first time in my life.


10. Haven't stopped having fun with my mini dachshund Tammy, we look after each other.


My goals for 2020:

1. Travel to Florida to see my cousin get married.

2. Write even more articles for publication.

3. Fall in love with just one woman who I can spend the rest of my life cherishing and serving (am beginning to think it's a vain desire but something deep down won't stop hoping).

4. Get back to being fully involved in community theatre.

5. Continue to take care of myself, having come so far with that.

6. Keep striving to be in control of my manic-depression and not let it be in control of me.

7. Finally finish watching all of Breaking Bad, not just the first season.

8. Eat a Carolina Reaper hot pepper and video it for readers of my blog to enjoy watching and laughing.

9. Finally find a church to belong to and become part of a real faith community.

10. Draw closer to God... if He would even want me despite my brokenness and mistakes.

11. Keep trying to be the man who Dad would have been proud to have for a son.

Happy New Year!!!

Star Wars Story Group, you got some 'splainin' to do... (more about Snoke)

A few days ago I became an uncle.  Yaaaay me!  Okay, she was born to my best friend from college but the two of us are "brothers from other mothers" if there ever is such a thing.  I'm still going to be "Uncle Chris" and I plan on playing the eccentric relative bit to the hilt where the little lady is concerned.  What more could a kid possibly want?

Anyway, while Weird Ed and his lovely wife and their freshly-decanted spawn were basking in the first hours of being a beautiful family together, Yours Truly felt that  some measure of celebration was in order.  And what better way to mark the occasion than by seeing Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker for the fourth time?

The dovetailing of all that has come before, the symmetry, the complementing... it's a beautiful thing to behold.  Despite initial impressions that the first half of the film is exceedingly dense and loaded with exposition, subsequent viewings have mellowed that somewhat.  And in my mind there is a dire lack of exposition about things that could have been far more blatant.  It's the "less is more" approach.

Want an example?  It's just my personal theory but, I think The Rise of Skywalker did address midichlorians: that microscopic albatross of the prequel trilogy.  Without even invoking the word itself, Episode IX brought up midichlorians and lo and behold it makes sense.  Rey and then Ben using the Force to heal others: sounds a bit like the power Darth Plagueis is said to have wielded by influencing midichlorians, aye?  Except that  being a Sith, Plagueis wouldn't be imparting his own life energy, probably.  That's how Rey and Ben were doing it though: using the Force to influence the midichlorians to impart healing from their own being and onto another.  Try to NOT see midichlorians in The Rise of Skywalker now that you've read those words.

(I could also remark on how Ben giving Rey the full measure of his life force could be perceived as bestowing the Skywalker name on her in all proper sense.  Especially if somehow that life force made midichlorians conceive a child with Rey... but that's too wacky to suggest here.)

Yes, a lot to digest and muse upon about this movie.  We'll probably be doing it until the end of time.  I'm cool with that.  But even so, there is one matter about The Rise of Skywalker that sticks out like a gangrenous pus-seeping thumb, and there is no allocating some peace from it...

Snoke.

Yeah, I know: "Chris you've already written about Snoke on this blog!"  Maybe I don't like it that he was set up to be darker and more malevolent than Palpatine himself.  And he still could have been despite getting slain in The Last Jedi.  Instead we got a cheap trick of Snoke being a clone or an "artificial being" or some other bullcrap.

And it doesn't jibe at all with what the associated canon... emphasis on canon... literature was heavily indicating about the former Supreme Leader of the First Order.  Especially from the novelization of The Last Jedi.

Let's be fair: novelizations aren't necessarily a perfect reflection of their respective films (the novel for Independence Day still has the city destroyer taken out by Russell's crop-dusting biplane: a remnant of the original script prior to changes following test screenings).  And then there is the novelization of Return of the Jedi, which included dialogue between Obi-Wan and Luke revealing that Uncle Owen had been Obi-Wan's brother.  Oh, how much we speculated from that between 1983 and the prequels...

Still, the Star Wars novelizations are - or once had been - considered part of the official lore.  And to a lesser extent, so too could quotes by J.J. Abrams, Andy Serkis and others about Snoke be taken as veritable gospel.  But above all of those in large part it's the Star Wars Story Group guiding the mythology since it came under the Disney umbrella.  Nothing gets canonized without their blessing upon it.

Snoke, however, is Cathar-league heresy from the established doctrine of the saga.

The following is excerpted from chapter 25 of the novelization Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Expanded Edition) by Jason Fry:
Interpreting visions of the future was a dangerous game. Whether Jedi, Sith, or some other sect less celebrated by history, all those who used the Force to explore possible time lines kept that uppermost in their minds. Those who didn’t died regretting that they hadn’t.
Snoke had learned that lesson many years ago, when he was young and the galaxy was very different. These days, what struck him was how much visions of the future left out.
For example, who would have guessed that the girl Rey would be so slim and fragile-looking? She looked lost in the throne room, dwarfed by both her surroundings and the galaxy-shaking events for which she was the unlikely and unwitting fulcrum.
But Snoke knew appearances were often deceiving—sometimes fatally so. Underestimating Rey had nearly cost Kylo Ren his life, after all. Snoke knew better. For he had his own legions of uncounted dead, their ranks filled by those who had underestimated him.
Snoke knew he himself was an unlikely fulcrum, just about the furthest thing from what the tattered remnants of Palpatine’s Empire had imagined as a leader. The admirals and generals who’d survived the fury of the Empire’s implosion and the New Republic’s wrath had envisioned being led by someone else, anyone else: pitiless, devious Gallius Rax; dutiful, cautious Rae Sloane; the slippery political fanatic Ormes Apolin; or even an unhinged but ambitious military architect such as Brendol Hux.
All of those would-be leaders had been co-opted, sidelined, or destroyed, leaving only Armitage Hux, the mad son of a mad father. And that one was but a mouthpiece, a miscast tinkerer whose rantings could only persuade the sort of rabble who blindly worshipped rage and lunatic certainty.
Though galactic history would record it differently—Snoke would see to that—the evolution of the First Order had been more improvisation than master plan. That was another element visions tended to miss.
Palpatine had engineered the Contingency to simultaneously destroy his Empire and ensure its rebirth, ruthlessly winnowing its ranks and rebuilding them with who and what survived. The rebuilding was to take place in the Unknown Regions, secretly explored by Imperial scouts and seeded with shipyards, laboratories, and storehouses—an “enormously expensive effort that had taken decades, and been kept hidden from all but the elect.
But the Imperial refugees’ military preparations had been insufficient bulwarks against the terrors of the Unknown Regions. Grasping in the dark among strange stars, they had come perilously close to destruction, and it had not been military might that saved them.
It had been knowledge—Snoke’s knowledge.
Which, ironically, led back to Palpatine and his secrets.
Palpatine’s true identity as Darth Sidious, heir to the Sith, had been an even greater secret than the Contingency. And the Empire’s explorations into the Unknown Regions had served both aspects of its ruler. For Sidious knew that the galaxy’s knowledge of the Force had come from those long-abandoned, half-legendary star systems, and that great truths awaited rediscovery among them.
Truths that Snoke had learned and made to serve his own ends.
One obstacle had stood in his way—Skywalker. Who had been wise enough not to rebuild the Jedi Order, dismissing it as the sclerotic, self-perpetuating debating society it had become in its death throes. Instead, the last Jedi had sought to understand the origins of the faith, and the larger truths behind it.
Like his father, Skywalker had been a favored instrument of the will of the Cosmic Force. That made it essential to watch him. And once Skywalker endangered Snoke's design, it had become essential to act.
And so Snoke had drawn upon his vast store of knowledge, parceling it out to confuse Skywalker's path, ensnare his family, and harness Ben Solo's powers to ensure both Skywalker's destruction and Snoke's triumph.

So here we have it described in no uncertain terms that Snoke was already firmly established as a character who existed long before the Empire ever came about.  He observed the Jedi and made note of their decline and fall.  It was Snoke, and Snoke alone, who found the First Order and saved it from oblivion in the Unknown Regions.

This is nothing whatsoever like the face value of what was told to us about Snoke in The Rise of Skywalker.  We went from enticing hints about Snoke and his backstory, to his being a cheap and disposable gimmick and nothing more.

I'm not buying it.  Neither, apparently, are a lot of other fans who are just as honked-off that Snoke was treated so shabbily.

Or maybe there really is more to Snoke's history as a character that hasn't been revealed yet.  Yeah, Palpatine said "I made Snoke!"  But it could also be pointed out that Palpatine also "made" Darth Vader, figuratively and literally.  Or like with the Mafia: you aren't a "made man" until you've "made your bones" by killing someone for the benefit of the family.  There are all kinds of ways that "I made Snoke" could be interpreted.

That's what I'm hoping for.  That much is still left for Snoke and that it may reconcile the gaping disparity between the published smattering of detail and those floating Snoke clones on Exegol.

I'm leaning toward Snoke being a Paul von Hindenburg-type figure.  Yes, Hindenburg was the titular President during the Weimar Republic era.  But everyone in Germany knew that Hindenburg was merely a prop for the true ruler of the country: the Nazi party's Adolf Hitler.  Hindenburg became a puppet with Hitler pulling the strings.  And in time, when Hitler had no further use for Hindenburg, he crushed the revered general and tossed him aside.  Hindenburg died not long after.

Now THAT would be an effective and satisfying use for Snoke.  It would make Palpatine even more powerful: that he could co-opt the Unknown Regions' biggest threat into working for him.  Likely without Snoke even knowing he was being manipulated.

So to anyone sitting among the Star Wars Story Group: c'mon guys, fix Snoke.  Make him the villain he deserves to be.  Let him be his own man.  Not a meatbag created by Darth Sidious.  You've tantalized us about there being much bigger and better to Snoke's fictional history.  Time to bring him beyond the shallowness of mere clone-hood.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Return of the Deep-Fried Turkey!

Hey gang, hope the holidays have been going well for y'all!  Christmas was rather good on this end.  I wound up with some Star Wars, some LEGO sets (Christmas is NEVER complete for me without Star Wars and LEGO no matter how old I get), some clothing, my mini dachshund Tammy received a bunch of toys.  And one way or another a lot of new cooking stuff came into my possession.

And speaking of cooking, steer your peepers onto this bad boy:



That's the first turkey I've been able to deep-fry since Christmas 2013!  Between my father passing away just before the following Thanksgiving, journeying across America and to a new hometown, getting situated in a house etc. it just wasn't practical all this time.

But Christmas Eve 2019 was a glorious return to feeding my irrational addiction to fried turkey.  I got a shiny new rig and it was screaming to be inaugurated.  A baptism of fire, so to speak...

Sixteen-pounds of turkey, mega-marinaded with garlic butter and slathered in Cajun rub.  45 minutes in the hot oil and out came a juicy, tender, succulent Christmas Eve feast for friends and family.

My friends, I truly have a home of my own now.  A house is not a home without a turkey fryer :-)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

About Snoke and THE RISE OF SKYWALKER...

WARNING:  This post deals with matters pertaining to Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, which hit theaters less than 48 hours ago.  There WILL be spoilers openly discussed so if you aren't one to have the experience of seeing the movie for yourself ruined for you (take the hint: go see it, now now now!) don't read what I'm about to write.  It is ONLY for those who have already seen The Rise of Skywalker and want to discuss a fairly major element of that movie and the entire "sequel" trilogy as a whole.

No, seriously.  I mean it.  Stop reading if you don't want The Rise of Skywalker spoiled for you.

Still here?

Okay, let it be on your own head.  Here we go...

Let's talk about Snoke.  The late Supreme Leader of the First Order who was infamously bisected by his main boy Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.  And if your reaction was anything like mine during that opening night screening, you probably saw Snoke's upper torso crumple onto the floor and right as the lightsaber lands in Rey's hand you were thinking "NOW what?!  Where is this going?!"

Snoke's death was the last thing we were expecting.  I think in our collective mind we knew Snoke was going to be the ultimate baddie of the sequel trilogy and maybe, somehow, the master nemesis of the entire Star Wars saga from The Phantom Menace on through (that was my expectation anyway).  Instead we had those expectations subverted by Rian Johnson.  Maybe that's why there's so much disdain for The Last Jedi: many wanted it to go the way they demanded it go.  But I digress...

Very early in The Rise of Skywalker Kylo Ren uses a Sith artifact to locate Exegol, a lost planet of the Sith.  Seems that Palpatine's voice broadcasting from a pirate radio station has spooked the galaxy.  Kylo wants to shut it down so he goes looking for the source.  He finds Palpatine: more than a mere clone, less than the man he had been when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi.  And Palpatine greets Kylo with "Snoke has taught you well."

Kylo declares that he killed Snoke and took his place.  Palpatine responds by revealing some canned Snokes floating in big jars, driving the point that Snoke had been a created being all along that had been used by Palpatine.

Heh.  Okay.  Not what many of us were expecting.  I could accept that.  Maybe.

The thing is, Snoke being created by Palpatine doesn't make any sense.

It doesn't jibe whatsoever with established canon. Not one bit.

The precise details of Snoke's life have not been divulged but we are aware of some things.  That he watched the fall of the Republic from afar is one of them (The Force Awakens novelization).  That Snoke was apparently sensed by Palpatine shortly before the Battle of Endor (a number of sources).  That Snoke had at least one other apprentice before Kylo Ren.  That Snoke was fascinated by the Light Side of the Force just as he was about the Dark Side (does that sound like any Sith to you?).  That Snoke apparently had encountered Luke Skywalker before.  That Snoke had long been a collector of arcane lore and artifacts (The Last Jedi novelization).  That the Imperials who became the First Order would have perished without Snoke finding them and guiding them into the Unknown Regions where he "unexpectedly" became their Supreme Leader.  That Snoke's twisted and deformed body came about because of "injuries from battle" as revealed by Snoke portrayer Andy Serkis..

None of these and more allow for any margin other than Snoke already existing before the events of The Phantom Menace and possibly much further back than that.  Snoke is already ancient and not even in the at-times ridiculous nature of Star Wars lore can someone get retro-actively cloned.

Chronologically, the numbers just don't add up.  The history doesn't work out.

And yet, Palpatine more than just knows about Snoke.  He also has clones of Snoke in his possession.

So here's my own take, no doubt one of a jillion and a half floating around already.  It's how it's worked out in my head based on what we've come to know:

I believe that Snoke was indeed his own person.  For most of his existence anyway.  He must have been.  It's the only way to reconcile his history (what little we know of it) with the officially established canon lore.  Snoke really was out there all along, watching the Republic wane and fall and seeing the Empire rise in its place.

It is a classic trope of evil: that it can never truly create.  It can only corrupt.  Consider the works of Tolkien for a moment.  The orcs weren't created out of whole cloth.  They had originally been Elves, captured by Morgoth then tortured and twisted and bred into an obscenity of life in service to shadow.  And corruption is the number-one weapon of Palpatine's arsenal.  He corrupted and manipulate the Republic.  He corrupted the creation of the clone army.  He corrupted Anakin.  He tried to corrupt Luke.  As now seen in The Rise of Skywalker he tried and failed to corrupt his own granddaughter.

For Palpatine to create Snoke as a meat puppet doesn't fit his modus operandi.  It kinda violates it, to be honest.

Palpatine never created anything under his own power.  But he often did take something that already existed, and then polluted it with his own dark schemes.

For that reason alone, I can't buy the notion that Palpatine just created Snoke from scratch.  As the clones of the Army of the Republic derived from the template of one man, so too was Snoke (if that really was a clone all along) generated from someone who lived and breathed of his own accord.  And that's the best that Palpatine could have done with Snoke.  So if Palpatine did clone Snoke, it happened sometime between the end of the Empire during that thirty-years interval between the Battle of Endor and the events of The Force Awakens.

There is another possibility: that Palpatine had clones of Snoke made but for whatever reason didn't use them.  And so that was "Snoke Prime" that Kylo Ren cut to pieces.

Which lends itself to an interesting theory: that Snoke - if he was a force of evil unto himself - was corrupted by Palpatine.  Maybe without even knowing it.  The most powerful wielder of the Dark Side at the time of The Force Awakens, himself being a puppet on a string with no idea whatsoever that he was being manipulated.  And suddenly Palpatine really does become the ultimate "man behind the curtain", plotting wheels within wheels of schemes that none but he can grasp.

Which, in my mind, makes Palpatine a far more dangerous and formidable enemy than anything we had suspected he could have been capable of.

So yeah: Snoke already existed long before Palpatine.  He found and warped Ben Solo into becoming Kylo Ren.  Snoke however was being played with by Palpatine during the era of the First Order.  And when Snoke was no longer needed, Palpatine maniuplated Kylo into killing Snoke.  Snoke was crushed by his true secret master, just as Han Solo warned Ben that he would be crushed by Snoke.

What's with the Snoke clones then?  Who knows.  Backup puppets?  Something further to play Kylo's mind with?  Darth Sidious/Palpatine has lied before in order to get what he wants.  Who's to say he's not lying when he spoke of Snoke to Kylo Ren?

Or maybe it's none of these at all.  Maybe it's not supposed to be.

Perhaps it is merely nothing more or less than one more mystery from the Star Wars saga, that we will eternally be debating and dissecting and having heated arguments over, before shaking hands as fans and acknowledging that we'll never get a straight answer that satisfies us completely.

In that case, then The Rise of Skywalker indeed failed to tie up all the knots.  It gave us a whole new one to unravel.  We aren't going to solve this one.  But that's fine.  It's okay.  Because what is life without mysteries that we will never understand?

If so, then The Rise of Skywalker truly is a perfect capstone of what has come before in epic tale of the Skywalker family.

It is, in every way, a film worthy of Star Wars.