Thursday, August 09, 2018

Lesser-known executive orders of President Trump

As everyone knows, Donald Trump wasted no time in getting to work signing executive orders once he was seated in the Oval Office.  And we all saw the pics of him putting them into effect.  However most aren't aware of a few of the orders he issued after his inauguration.

Fortunately, you're in luck!  Because though I had completely forgotten about these until last night, I was in San Diego when Trump took office and was making sure to thoroughly document the early days of his administration.  So here, for what may be the first time for many Americans, are some of the other EOs that President Trump immediately moved upon...

The "No Celluloid Left Behind" Act:

Bringing whole new meaning to "pork barrel politics":

Just putting into law something we already knew:

Even President Trump's WORST opponents must surely be applauding his wisdom on this one:

He got this one through.  Unfortunately the Senate didn't confirm Dr. Demento as United Nations ambassador:

"We're making reboots, and they're gonna be yuuuuge, and they're gonna be beautiful."

"Hail to the king, baby."

It was a great job, until I was expelled from the country 48 hours later...


Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Do Not Pass Go: An evening with the world's oldest board game

One movie that has particularly stuck with me has been Pi.  Darren Aronofsky's first film hit theaters twenty years ago this summer and fast became a sensation.  Especially among mathematicians, who for the first time had a taut psychological thriller of their very own!

A quick and dirty synopsis of Pi: Max is a math prodigy since childhood and has become obsessed with finding an ordered pattern within the stock market.  What he comes across is far bigger and has him targeted by everyone from corrupt corporate agents to Hassidic Jews (just watch it, it does make sense).  Anyhoo, there are a few scenes where Max goes to visit his old mentor Sol.  And those are some of the best-written and finest played scenes of the entire film (YouTube clip with some spoilers).  But one thing had bugged me since the first time I saw Pi...

"What the heck is that game they keep playing?"

Okay, I knew it was called "go" because that's what Max and Sol referred to it as.  And it held great fascination with Sol, especially when he spoke of it as being "a microcosm of the universe".  Obviously something deeper going on here than simply putting what looked like Mentos and Peppermint Patty candy across an empty wooden Mercator projection.  And when I rewatched Pi again recently, once again I found myself wondering what go is.

So as with most things new to me, I yielded to curiosity and looked further.

Turns out, go is old.  Like, really old.  It was first played in China around 500 B.C.  And it is the oldest continuously played board game in known history, or at least played with the consistently same rules.  Backgammon can still claim to be the oldest board game.  The problem is, what we today know as "backgammon" comes down from earlier games that we still don't know very much about their rules.  The sets exist, including those "of ancient Mesopotamia" with dice made of bone that Locke told Walt about in the very first episode of Lost.  But in all likelihood the favorite pastime of the Oceanic 815 survivors bears little resemblance to whatever those archaeologists pulled out of the ground.

And besides, backgammon has just a few checkers to move around the board.  Making the game be go might have presented logistical problems and inhibited the story flow a tad.  I'm gonna assume that Locke, aficionado of games that he is, is familiar with go.

The game has had many names over the centuries, and it has regional monickers in China and South Korea (and hopefully North Korea also) but for most of the modern world it's called "go".  And interestingly the Japanese word for it is "atari", which is also a term used during a game (we'll get to that soon).  And when Nolan Bushnell was coming up with a name for his new video game company, he thought that "Atari" fit well with his guiding vision.

Bizarrely however, there was never a go game for the Atari 2600.  We got that horrid-sounding Pac-Man port and turkeys like Custer's Revenge and Porky's... but a cartridge for the company's namesake?  It never happened.

But let's not digress.

Anyway, after a few weeks of playing around with a go app on my iPad Pro and looking at resources on the Intertubes about the game, I decided it was time to plunge in headlong and experience go for myself.  To have a go at go.  So last night I went out to go.  And when I came back I had gone and went back from go.

Wait... what were those Korean names for this again?

The website for the American Go Association has a massive list of local go clubs.  I found one near my present location and showed up at their weekly gaming session.  Go, I was told, is still not a terribly big game in the United States and much of the western world, but it has been steadily growing in popularity over the past few decades.  Movies like Pi are probably a reason (just as Dungeons & Dragons has been resurging with a vengeance since Stranger Things debuted a couple years ago).  There were three regulars who arrived around 6 in the evening in the side room of a nearby restaurant, and since go is a two-player game all four of us could be playing.

So, about go.  Very simple game.  The board is a grid of lines.  A full-size standard game is a 19 by 19 grid but those who are beginnners or just want a short game can play with a 9 by 9 board.  There are two sets of playing pieces, called stones.  One set is white, the other is black.  Each player takes a color and beginning with black, proceeds to place stones at the intersections on the grid.  The stones don't move as the pieces in chess or checkers can.  They just stay on the board.  Unless they are removed.  Because the object of go is to possess the most territory at the end of the game.  "Territory" being measured by the exposed intersections around the stones.  Each stone on its own has four of these intersections, called "liberties".  And if a stone gets surrounded on all four of its liberties by the opposing player, that stone is taken off the board and figured into the final score.  It's not about seizing the other player's stones however.  That's just one part of the greater scheme to get territory.

It all boils down to one color of stones getting more coverage on the board than the other.  And it's a ridiculously simple conceit.  But as I am coming to discover through both talking about the game with others and my own meager experience thus far, go is much, much deeper than a mere board game.  The ancient Chinese considered it an essential element of philosophical training for all true gentlemen.  Confucius wrote much about go.  It is a game, a practice of logic, an exercise in intuition, an introspection of one's being... all of these and more, all at once.

Go is a game steeeped in ancient tradition.  It is something that many approach with the trappings of ritual.  Go is a game of legend and go games have become legend themselves.  A particularly infamous match in the 1800s ended with a player keeling over bleeding on the board before dying.  Other games have gone on for months, even years.  And then there is what has come to be hailed as "the Atomic Bomb Go Game": a championship match that was well underway in Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945.  "Little Boy" detonated a few miles away, the blast blew out the windows of the house and knocked one of the players off his feet, and the board had to be reset to where the stones were at the moment of the explosion.  All present did these things after going outside the house to see what happened.   They beheld the first mushroom cloud in the history of warfare, then went back inside to continue the game.  They took a break for lunch and later that afternoon the game was finished.

I dont know how else to put it: that is total bad-ass.  I dare anybody tell me that go isn't absolutely hardcore.  Now THAT is a game I wanna be hunkered down with come the apocalypse!

Well, let's get to my first game of go, last night...

You know how when you're like seven or eight years old, and when Thanksgiving dinner comes all the adults sit at the real table while you and your sister Sally and cousin Oliver and the rest of the kids were around that card table in the corner?  Well, that's how it was sorta like for me yesterday evening.  Starting out on the 9 by 9 board.  But it's all well and good, because I had a great instructor in Brendan, who described the game and how to play it far better than I can for now.

One cool thing about go is that there is a handicapping gimmick that lets everybody play against everybody else regardless of individual skill level.  So even if you're a greenhorn like me, you don't have to get into a flopsweat as if you were playing chess against Kasparov.

Brendan has been playing for a few years now.  Mike, another player who came last night, has been into go for over thirty years.  Leo, the fourth to arrive, has been playing for a decade or so.  And if you want to see what go looks like with two seasoned veterans full-bore into a game...

Something that struck me about this game: it's sense of being an organic experience.  Look at that board, in the game between Mike and Leo.  It starts off empty, but the "feel" of moment, of the session, of the stones and of whatever fancy goes across their minds... what starts as an empty board becomes like a living, breathing organism.  And it merits considering that the total number of possible games of go are more than there are subatomic particles in the observable universe!  I already knew that was the same for chess.  Well, the number of possible go games is exponentially larger than that.

Think about it.  I dare ya.  Think about that until you go crazy.  No wonder there was never an Atari cartridge for this game.  Because even today computers find it exceptionally difficult to replicate the go experience.  They can only somewhat approximate it.  To really "get" go, you have to play it against another human, either in person or via the Internet.

Anyway, Brendan became the first person I ever played an actual game of go with, and he was just as I hoped he would be: merciless and unforgiving at least so far as the rule about "a stone laid is a stone plaid" goes.  Because the best way to learn to play the game, is to PLAY the game just as its meant to be played!  Okay, he encouraged me to take a mulligan in the first of the two games we played, but that was to illustrate something I hadn't seen yet.  Otherwise, a lot of my stones wound up "in atari": the condition of being surrounded on three sides by the opponent and just one stone away from capture.  I missed seeing a lot of stuff on the board that should have been screamingly obvious.  Brendan told me he was much the same when he began.  That a person gets better at this as he or she plays go more and more.

Speaking of "atari", sometimes there's a weird event that happens when the players could be locked into an eternal see-saw of capturing each other.  That's called "ko" and it can lead to a "ko battle" (or as Mike put it, "a gentlemanly hockey fight").  Fortunately there's a rule for that, and if the players get trapped into that situation one has to make a move that's beyond the ko, and that could prove advantageous.  Again, go is a game of both logic and intuition.  With a heavy emphasis on the latter.

Well, by the time I departed for the evening Brendan and I had played two games of go.  The score of my very first game ever had me losing 44 to 4.  The second game though went a bit better.  I still got clobbered 33 to 7... but at least I did capture one stone that night!

And this is how Leo and Mike's board looked like at the end of their game:

Go games don't have a "definite" ending.  They go on until one player resigns, or each player takes a passing turn, or I suppose until they just plain run out of stones.  Or maybe they could add a new rule like they do with Monopoly and how the bank doesn't actually run out of money, you just get to use slips of paper or whatever else is on hand.  And that is likely the only contribution I'll ever make to a grand game deep in millennia of lore and virtue.

And that was my first time playing go.  And I've no doubt that I am just beginning.  This is a game that has serious appeal to me.  I'm looking forward to playing again, and trying to improve.  Something that nobody ever fully masters, I was told.  It's like golf: you can never completely comprehend this game, you can only keep getting better.

Much like how life is supposed to be, aye?

So if you want to have a go at go (no more puns, I promise!) one particularly good resource I've visited often is the American Go Association website.  There is a rather whimsical little tutorial at that will teach you the game better than I ever could.  The American Go Association site has links to merchants that sell go equipment: boards, bowls, stones (which can be made of plastic, glass, clamshell, pretty much most materials but probably not Play-Doh or chicken soup).  You may be able to find inexpensive go sets at your friendly local game store or book seller.  I've seen then priced anywhere from about thirty bucks on up to thousands of dollars... and that's just for the board itself.

But yeah, I'm probably going to play more of this.  Go seems to have a really good community around it, and quite a diverse player base.  And I can't help but think that in time, though it may be decades from now, it's going to become as popular among Americans as is already chess, checkers, and Cards Against Humanity!

Monday, August 06, 2018

So ummmm... a letter from President Trump arrived...

Several months ago, following a mass shooting incident and some remarks he had made about mental illness, I composed a letter to The Honorable Donald J. Trump, President of the United States.  In the letter I shared some understanding that I, as a person with bipolar disorder, have come to discover.  Namely, that mental illness is a condition of the mind, and not the heart.  Over much of the past year especially I have worked alongside many who also have varying types of mental illness.  Not one of them is a person I would ever consider to be a danger to others.  But I also do realize that there is a stigma, and maybe it will be with us for a long time still.  And I suppose there is little that just one guy with a blog can do about that.

Even so: bipolar disorder has wrecked havoc with my neurobiology.  But it can't touch my soul.  That's something still left as a choice to each of us.  We decide whether we will take the path of good or bad with each new day.  And that is what defines us... and no matter what is beyond our control within our grey matter.

Well, it took awhile for me to receive it - because your Friend and Humble Narrator has been busy with stuff here and yonder - but late in June a letter from President Trump arrived, and in it he addressed many of the matters that I was attempting to bring to his attention.  He doesn't touch upon the thoughts I conveyed about mental illness not affecting moral choice, but neither do I get the sense that it was entirely a "form letter" either.  Somebody in the White House read it, and sent it to President Trump's desk for his signature.  More than likely he has written letters about several issues and the one most appropriate for the situation gets used.  Not that I would blame the guy.  Nor can I blame him for the late reply.  I mean, hey... he's the President of the United States!  Dude's got a lot on his plate.  But it's still quite nice to get a response with his signature on it.

Anyway, here it is.  With my current location smudged beyond any reasonable ability to deduce my whereabouts:

Part of me wondered if I should post this without asking for President Trump's permission first.  Then I rembered how busy he is and that it took eight months to get this letter!  I'm gonna assume that it's okay with him.

Anyhoo, Mr. President, if you're reading this: Thank you.  And your concerns and beliefs on the matter are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Fun with animated GIFs!

Seems like lately I've been feeling extra wacky and I've no idea why.  Maybe the twisted creature that is my id is retaliating against the general nastiness that seems pervasive too much.  So the best course of action is to go in the opposite direction and do what I can to make people laugh a little.

Perhaps that's why I've been playing around with GIF-making apps the past few days.  There've been a few that I've cranked out, so I figured I'd share them with y'all.

This first is a few seconds taken and edited from my first movie Forcery.  In hindsight this should have been done a WAY long time ago.  But in any case, here is Frannie telling her hostage George Lucas what she thinks about the "Han and Greedo shooting" thing:

Talk about toxic fandom!

Next up is a result of looking to see if this was already out there.  And it wasn't.  So I set out to fix it.  A few seconds from the Coen Brothers' 2001 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?  George Nelson ("Not 'Babyface'!!!") shooting a herd of cows with his tommy gun as he's being pursued by Mississippi's finest.  Tim Blake Nelson's "Oh George, not the livestock" delivery slays me every time I hear it!

And finally... for now anyway... okay, lemme preface this a bit.  In 1993 computer game company Infocom released Return To Zork.  It was a technologically cutting-edge (for early days of CD-ROM anyway) journey back to the Great Underground Empire that gamers had first visited via all-text adventure in 1977.  It had a live-action cast and for its time an extensive soundtrack.  It was also baffling beyond all mortal reckoning!  And completely unforgiving.  Make the slightest mistake and you were dead.  Or at least a mysterious guardian guy wearing what looked like strips of bacon would appear and take away all of your possessions and you had no choice but to begin the game all over again.

So at one point, when it's time to at last descend into the Great Underground Empire, the entrance to it is a trapdoor in a waterwheeled millhouse.  And sitting atop said trap door is a guy named Boos Myller: bearded, wearing a pizza restaurant tablecloth and drunk as hell.  It's up to you to figure out that you have to make Boos even MORE drunk, get him to give you the keys to his car and then drive him to pass out onto the floor and off the trapdoor.

Boos will forever be remembered for his oft-repeated line "Want some rye?  'Course ya do!" every time he pours you a glass of whiskey.  And I thought it was fine fodder for a GIF but again, an exhaustive search couldn't find one.  So I found that scene on YouTube and manufactured an animated GIF with it:

There'll probably be some more coming as I monkey around with this.  Hadn't made an animated pic since that weird one of my head spinning around when I was in college.  Using a film camera on a tripod, and eight shots of my head as I sat in an office chair and rotated 1/8th for each snap as I held the same face.

Telling you kids here and now: y'all have no idea what lengths we had to go through to cause mischief on the Internet back in the day...

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Something I made a while back...

That's my little girl Tammy, in a photo made by my friend Tim Talley.

Just one of many things I have learned in the past few years.  And anyone who claims that a dog or cat doesn't have a soul, has obviously never owned one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

YouTube Video: Analysis Of The #WalkAway Movement

A few weeks ago on American Thinker, I wrote an article about how the Democrat Party is tearing itself apart.  And in all sincerity that's unfortunate, because I do believe there are good people within that organization (just as there would be in most political parties in America).  However the rising tide of bitterness, rancor, hatred and even suggestions of violence from many attached to the Democrat Party are destroying that party.  So much so that in the article I remarked that the Democrat Party as we have come to know it at the national level will not exist by the 2020 elections and and it may only barely survive past this coming Thanksgiving.

Time will soon tell how accurate that assessment is.  However at the time it was written I had not looked much at the #WalkAway movement.  And now that I have, I am compelled to revise my prognostication.  Because I now believe that the Democrat Party beyond the local and state level is disintegrating worse than most realize.

Instead of another article, earlier today I recorded some commentary to put on YouTube.  Here it is.  Maybe I'll try doing it again sometime.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Charles Kuralt's words of wisdom for journalism and social media

A quote from the great American chronicler of people, from a few years before his passing in 1997.  I guess it came to mind while musing on all the scandals erupting lately from things famous people put on Twitter years ago and are now regretting it.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Trailers for OVERLORD and GLASS

American soldiers fighting undead horror during the invasion of Normandy.  Maybe instead of Overlord it could have been titled The Longest Night.  Get it?  Get it?!  "Yes ladies and gentlemen I'll be here all week, try the salad!"

Just one complaint about an otherwise great trailer: the music.  Not very much fitting for a World War  II setting no matter it's unique conceit.  Could have been more suggestive of the era.  Nonetheless, I will be looking for this one.

And then there is the first trailer for Glass, that premiered during Comic Con yesterday.  Still haven't seen Split but I did hear about its tie-in with Unbreakable: a film I have loved since seeing it when I lived in Asheville years ago.  M. Night Shyamalan looks to be giving us a genre we don't deserve and didn't even know we needed: a "thinkin' man's" superhero shared cinemaverse.  I might be finally catching Split via iTunes later today.  In the meantime, here's the first look at Glass, which breaks loose this January. And to be honest, this is the first trailer for anything in quite awhile that has me stoked about seeing the movie...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Look! New article on American Thinker! Word you've never heard before within! Free toy inside!

Okay so truth be told, I lied about the free toy.  Maybe I was driven to madness by the bowl of Lucky Charms that I am currently enjoying.  Along with the orange juice and banana, everything that a growing boy... errrr, grown man(??) needs.  Anyhoo...

I am very grateful and honored that American Thinker, a commentary site that I have long admired and respected, has published the third article that I have written and submitted for their consideration.  "The Inthinkables" (I looked for that word on Google and couldn't find it already, honest) is about how too much of our society has yielded over its capacity for rational and critical thought and in its place has chosen an almost visceral and hair-trigger instinct toward reacting on the basis of "feelings" unfounded in logic and knowledge.

In short: too many aren't using the minds they were born with.  The rest of us are surrendering too much to them.  The real thinkers are being harassed from public venues and good people like John Schnatter are being driven from the very businesses they founded and nurtured through their own effort and initiative.

Critical and rational thought is being vanquished.  In its place is a Randian horror of mental surrender.  Orwell described Eastasia's dominant philosophy as "death worship," better translated as "obliteration of the self."  I can conceive of no more fitting phrase.  The academic world and the realms of entertainment and media have nurtured and encouraged too many to offer their minds as sacrifice to convenience and their souls to mass approval.  Most have happily complied if they have been cognizant of having a choice at all. 
Nature abhors a vacuum, and so it is that the obligation for reason is abdicated for the intoxication of emotion.  At last, there is no logic whatsoever.  There is only an instinctive response to sounds and sights that seduce or offend.  For some, the condition may be irreversible. 
So kindly allow me to introduce a new word into the English lexicon: "inthinkable."
If you're on the fence about clicking on over to read it, the op-ed invokes Blazing Saddles and Pat Sajak.  Among other things.  But you'll just have to find out yourself.

"The Inthinkables", only at American Thinker.  Load your copy today!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This guy makes real knives out of ANYTHING (even chocolate and underwear)

It takes something TRULY impressive to make me subscribe to a YouTube channel.  But there's a dude calling himself kiwami japan out of... ummm, Japan I guess, who has earned the ultra-rare golden buzzer.  As the son of an accomplished knife maker I have been totally jaw-dropped by kiwami's work.  Because he is demonstrating that real and extremely sharp and perfectly usable blades can be made from practically anything.

So far kiwami has made knives from an Amazon cardboard box (seen in photo), from chocolate candy, from epoxy, from rice, from ice (bet you'll never watch Game of Thrones the same again), from Jello, and now in his latest video kiwami japan has made a deadly blade out of men's underwear.  kiwami japan is working with so many unorthodox mediums that your mind will barely stop reeling and your mouth might never stop watering.  With a minimum of tools (many might already be in your own kitchen or garage) you can follow his tutorials and make your own blades.  The one that is currently interesting me most toward attempting is the carbon fiber knife.  It seems the more practical, long-lasting and durable of the series so far.  Well, that and also because I suck at cooking anything in the kitchen.  It's also the one that I most easily envision Dad taking a stab at (pun horribly intended) in his knife shop.  And kiwami japan's YouTube channel is one I've no doubt Dad would be checking out every day... and he hated computers entirely.

Since I mentioned Dad and his own handiwork, I'm obliged to post some of what he made in his time on this earth.  Incidentally, he learned the art of making Damascus steel from Bill Moran himself.  He was the one who back in the Seventies rediscovered how to forge Damascus for the first time in several centuries.  Anyhoo...

Yup, Dad even made knives out of horseshoes and railroad spikes.  How many he made, I've no idea.  He would make knives for friends just for the heck of it without telling them, just to see the look on their faces when he gave it to them.  All of those you see in the pics above were for sale or commissioned works.  If you see "R KNIGHT" or "ROBERT KNIGHT" stamped on one, it's likely a knife he made.  I've got one in my possession...

...and no, you can't buy it.  Not for all the money in the world.

Friday, July 13, 2018

World Premiere: "Snoke Is Just A Gigolo"

It's Supreme Leader Snoke set to "Just A Gigolo" by David Lee Roth! You'll never look at your Star Wars action figures the same way again...

The idea has been accreting throughout my neurons since at least April. Guess I had no choice but to do something about it. Made on my iPad Pro, took about 11 hours not counting breaks for dinner and playing with Tammy the Pup. Finished just before 4 this morning.

Dear Dave and Disney: please don't sue me!!!!!

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Haven't posted any new pics of Tammy in awhile...

Here she is this morning, not wanting to get out of bed:

That's her favorite blanket that's been pulled off from over her.  Dad would throw it over himself as he leaned back in his recliner and Tammy would jump in his lap then burrow herself completely under the blanket and they would nap together.  It's gone all over America with her.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Got a new article up at American Thinker

"Frankenstein's Body Politic" is about something I've been pondering for some time: that the two major parties have each in their own way been self-destructing these past few years. Except in contrast to my prognostication four years ago, the Republicans have avoided that fate (for now), while the Democratic Party is coming apart in drastic fashion.

An excerpt from the article:
Strangely, the bicentennial of the novel Frankenstein is witnessing a practical demonstration of Shelley's tale of promethean horror. A mishmash assemblage, long on borrowed time, is ripping itself to shreds at the seams. We will never know what agonies might have erupted from the throat of Frankenstein's creation as it struggled to rise. But of the vaster Democratic Party and its fellow travelers in media and entertainment, the death throes prevail across our screens. Those silicon bindings may not be enough to contain the rising lust for wrath.
I am very grateful to and honored by American Thinker for their publishing my second op-ed piece in a month.  Here's the previous article: "The Revolution Will Not Be Finalized".

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

President Trump has become Thanos!

Or is that "Tranos" or "Thrump"?  Well anyway, the idea for this hit me a month or so ago and I spent most of the morning committing iPad Pro and Apple Pencil toward making it happen.  Obviously a homage to the classic cover of The Infinity Gauntlet #4 from 1991: