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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Back from first meeting of the CHILDREN OF EDEN cast

We met for three hours tonight in the auditorium at Rockingham Community College. I got to know quite a few of my fellow cast members (Children of Eden demands a fairly large number of people for this show, which is one of the reasons why it hasn't been run on Broadway yet). As one of the principles I got to bring home a script, but it's not mine to keep and in order to have this copy I had to leave a security deposit. That gets returned to me at the end of the show, when I give the script back.

Then all the principles and some of the kids who'll be portraying animals listened to the 2-disc soundtrack of the Paper Mill Playhouse's production of Children of Eden, the one that gave this musical its final form. For a lot of the cast this was the first time they had ever listened to the music from the show. Since I've been listening to this same soundtrack for almost eight years now, I knew the songs by heart and couldn't help bopping along to the beat, especially when "Generations" started playing :-)

During the listening session, we were each called out of the auditorium to get measured for our costumes. I've no idea what mine is going to look like: all that happened in that regard tonight is that my height was measured along with my chest size and a few other dimensions taken. But since I'm playing Seth and he only shows up toward the end of Act I, I'm thinking it'll probably be something more than the "skins and rough fabric" that Adam and his family wear after the expulsion, but nothing like the colorful pageantry that we see a thousand years later at the beginning of Act II either.

Right now we're scheduled for six performances in June: one each for Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the final weekends of that month. It could go into another weekend, if there's enough demand (and I'm hoping there will be).

We meet again tomorrow night, when we go over the first and last songs for Act I.

Did I say that there are a lot of wonderful people in this production, and that it's a great honor to be working with them?

This is gonna absolutely rock!! :-)

THE INCREDIBLE HULK trailer wrecks great havoc!

The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton is a movie that I really haven't cared too much about. Due in part no doubt to my being among the minority that thought there was nothing at all wrong with the 2003 Hulk film. Personally, I thought that Ang Lee's approach to the Hulk and his world was brilliant and engaging. And that scene toward the end where Bruce and his father have their "meeting", the one that plays out like some bad community theatre performance, is one of my favorites from any comic book-based movie. I also thought the casting in that one was perfect, especially Sam Elliott as General Ross.

Okay well, after watching this new trailer for 2008's The Incredible Hulk (due in theaters on June 13th) consider me not only sold but very excited about this redo/relaunch/revamp of the Hulk's cinematic incarnation!

Looks like it's going to be not only faithful to the original Marvel Comics material but also a great homage to the television series (including the haunting "The Lonely Man" theme).

Mash down here for The Incredible Hulk trailer in Quicktime format!

"Ewoks" Star Wars gospel song

Ewoks, a United Methodist choir and Billy Dee Williams himself. Could this possibly be the greatest Star Wars-themed video ever hosted on YouTube?!

Thanks to Geoff Gentry for passing this along! :-)

Remember that eBay auction we did for the signed copy of TRANSFORMERS: THE SCORE?

The one that we did back in the fall of 2007? Transformers composer Steve Jablonsky gave us a signed copy of score CD and we put it up on eBay, with the understanding that 100% of the proceeds would go toward music education here in Rockingham County. When all was said and done the sale netted over $300!

So, wanna know what the money went toward?

The original plan was to assist the funding of a special concert for the elementary students because at the time we didn't know if we would be able to have it this year. Fortunately that was taken care of. But we were still able to put the proceeds to some good music use.

This is what's called an Orff Xylophone. Its specially made for use with the Orff Approach to music education. Most of the funds from the auction went to purchase this for Monroeton Elementary School in Reidsville.

In the end, just as we'd stated, 100% of the proceeds from the auction got a lot of nice materials for music education here in Rockingham County. I just wanted to make a note of it here, for disclosure's sake (because lately I seem to be doing nothing but disclosure of finances since I'm treasurer of a political campaign and I might as well be on a roll :-)

Grand Theft Auto IV as a test of Christian conscience

No doubt I'm going to draw flack for suggesting this, but it needs to be said. Yesterday afternoon I bought Grand Theft Auto IV.

And having played it for a few hours, as a follower of Jesus Christ I would like to recommend that my mature brethren in the Christian faith (both spiritually and those who are not teenagers anymore, parse that as you will) play Grand Theft Auto IV as well. And not to gleefully look for reasons to condemn the game either.


Because I think that a lot of people who play Grand Theft Auto IV are going to end up condemning their own sense of self-righteousness instead. And I can't say that it would be a bad thing at all if they did.

Grand Theft Auto IV, whether by design or not, might be the closest thing there's been to an actual "Giant's Drink". In the classic science-fiction novel Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, the child Ender Wiggin is given a computer simulation called "the Giant's Drink" as part of his battle training. Nobody is supposed to beat the giant. The whole point of the exercise is to test a student's morality. After countless times of getting killed in the game Ender finally tears loose from the constraints of his scruples and murders the giant in grisly fashion. He becomes the first student to defeat the giant but instead of elation he feels disgusted with himself and abject shame. Ender doesn't like the fact that in order to save his own life he had to kill another... even if it was just a computer game. He "wins" the game, but he finds himself crushed for violating his own principles.

It only took a few hours of playing Grand Theft Auto IV to finally understand what Ender went through after beating the Giant's Drink. And I don't know if I would have fared as well as Ender did either. Because every time I accidentally hit a pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto IV, I have to stop and re-start from my last saved game, and attempt it all over again from there. Because you can do lots of things in Grand Theft Auto IV: Drive cars, shoot guns, make calls on a cellphone, change radio stations or watch television, even eat food... but saying "I'm sorry" is not one of them.

And I'm feeling so bad about the people that I inadvertently hurt in this game, that I feel compelled to go back and try it again, and try to do it right this time, without the wrongfulness of my actions being something that weighs on my mind. If only real life could afford that kind of opportunity...

The technology of Grand Theft Auto IV at last drives the nail into the coffin for the clean kill in video games. This isn't the "twinkle and they're gone" effects of bygone days. When you hit an innocent person in Grand Theft Auto IV, and you hear their realistic cries of pain and you see them grimace in agony and trying to nurse their injuries as they limp away, it becomes a very hard thing indeed to want to have to experience that again. It's even worse when you run over a person and they don't get up again. Ever.

I bought this game expecting something like Death Race 2000. You know: over-the-top cartoony pseudo-violence. Instead Grand Theft Auto IV's graphic ultra-realism completely horrified me. Intellectually, I know that Liberty City doesn't exist. But the depiction of this world and its denizens is so convincing, that it's almost impossible to completely disassociate myself from having empathy for these people.

I don't know if God will ever judge me for an action that I take in a video game. And that's why I think that Grand Theft Auto IV might do a lot more good than harm for many of my fellow Christians. Make no mistake: the world of Grand Theft Auto IV is a lawless one where malicious behavior runs rampant. But the real world is no less vulgar and cruel, and rife with temptation.

But it's not the temptation itself that is sinful. Even Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by no less than Lucifer himself. It's whether we choose to succumb to the temptation that makes a sinful act.

Here, with Grand Theft Auto IV, you can at last confront the evil world like never before... and be confronted by it in turn. Without fear of eternal consequence: the ultimate exponent of the lure of temptation.

In Liberty City, there is no "Christian counter-culture" to run and hide behind. Not that you should try to hide either. It's just you and whatever conscience you can claim to bring, set loose in a world that will destroy you if you're not strong enough in your convictions and your faith. In short, it's exactly the kind of bold life that the Bible instructs us as believers to live in the real world. It's just too bad that it takes a video game to demonstrate that. Maybe Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive should have been given the rights for what became the disastrous Left Behind: Eternal Forces game instead, but I digress...

So if you are someone who considers himself (or herself, no chauvinists we!) a righteous Christian, consider this a test of your character. Either buy Grand Theft Auto IV or rent it or borrow it from a friend. Don't just merely play Grand Theft Auto IV: immerse yourself completely in the character of Niko Bellic. Let your own raw morality become his own.

Just know this: here, in the game, there are no everlasting consequences. You can be as sinful as you wish, and you won't be condemned by your peers. You can steal cars, beat up defenseless people, commit vehicular homicide, and brutally murder your enemies without turning the other cheek. You can supposedly even pay prostitutes for sex. And then kill them in order to get your money back, if the fancy strikes you.

All of these things and more, you can do in Grand Theft Auto IV.

The question is: Will you choose to do them if given the chance, if you knew for certain that there would be no real-world ramifications of your actions?

I have to wonder also: there are a lot of people in America who cheer for the war in Iraq, or even war in general. Too many of those are professing Christians. They cheer for war, I've little doubt, because they themselves have never had to face meaningless death. Deaths in a foreign land are just a statistic to them, and if "one of our own" is hurt or killed then all too often I only hear something about "prayers for the family".

These people don't see past their own lives. They don't bother to realize that God has blessed others with life too, deserving of as much opportunity to seek Him out as anyone else. To such people, a reasonless war in a foreign land is like a video game. And they don't particularly care to understand that those killed in the real world are neither a high score or flickering sprites that quickly vanish when shot.

Could a game like Grand Theft Auto IV actually soften the hearts of people who have such callous disregard for the sanctity of human life?

If there's the slightest possibility of a game like Grand Theft Auto IV driving it into these people's heads that the lives of others are precious and worth fighting for, even at the cost of laying down our own if need be, then all I can say is that I hope that Rockstar Games has many more Grand Theft Autos on the drawing board... because this world sure as hell needs 'em.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quicktime video of the new INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL commercial

Crack your whip at this!

I will confess that I still can't entirely believe this is happening. After a decade and a half of false starts, unfounded rumors and even a few fake scripts (Indiana Jones and the Sons of Darkness, anyone?), part of my mind is convinced that this is a colossal prank hatched by Messrs. Lucas and Spielberg. Only when I'm situated in a theater next month with Dad (we've seen every Indiana Jones movie together since 1981) will I be persuaded that they actually made this thing.

But the part of me that does believe is completely stoked about seeing a new Indiana Jones movie :-)

Fear and Loathing in Liberty City

Things have been going so well lately (and Lord willing the trend will continue for awhile) that this afternoon I went out and splurged a bit, and got Grand Theft Auto IV for the Xbox 360. I got to play the original Grand Theft Auto for a while in 2001 but this is the first time I've bought a Grand Theft Auto game for my own collection.

Initial thoughts?

This is not a game that I would ever let children or even older teenagers play. It's definitely for a much more mature audience. But if you scratch away the mindless violence and sexual imagery, I'm finding that there's some powerful commentary about the state of culture in this game... and isn't it a sad indication that it takes a video game to try to enlighten the masses about such things? The Liberty City of Grand Theft Auto IV is at once a fictional burg and a stark mirror of modern America: a place where the so-called "American Dream" is seeking after cheap thrills and fleeting celebrity. And ironically, with its "sandbox" playing style it's a place where your virtual avatar - who in the story is a recent immigrant from eastern Europe - might have more freedom to roam and do what he will than American citizens do in real life. Now I'm not saying that it's a "cool" thing to run over pedestrians and blow crap up, but you know what I mean...

I'm going to play it some more, and maybe write a full review in the next few days, if I've time for it. I'm also working on a review of BioShock, which I've been playing like crazy since early March and have already beaten... but that's one game that's definitely taking awhile to wrap my brain around as much as I'd like.

Michael Giacchino's "Roar!" from CLOVERFIELD is now on iTunes

Scott Kelly sends word that after three months of a lot of people wanting this, that "Roar!", the instrumental piece by Michael Giacchino that plays over the end credits of Cloverfield (and the only original musical score composed for that movie) is now available for purchase via iTunes as of today. If you have iTunes already loaded on your computer then aim here to go straight to "Roar!".

I just bought it and am listening to it now. "Roar!" is both monstrous and majestic. I thought that in addition to complementing Cloverfield, that it was a beautiful piece in its own right and a terrific homage to the classic Toho "giant monstah" movies that Cloverfield was inspired by.

Incidentally, the version of "Roar!" that you can download is five minutes longer than the one used in the movie. After listening to both - someone sent me a very clean (i.e. no theatrical noises) copy of the movie's version a few weeks ago - I must say that I prefer the edition from iTunes.

I also got the Cloverfield DVD yesterday. Haven't watched all of it yet but it's a beautiful transfer. I can't wait to put both it and "Roar!" on my iPod... and then I can take Cloverfield with me wherever I go :-)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Guess who will be among the CHILDREN OF EDEN!

Well, this day has seen it all.

I spent most of it working on stuff in my capacity as treasurer for my friend Eric Smith's campaign for North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction. This mostly entailed finishing up the First Quarter Campaign Finance Report. Also had a few errands around town.

When Lisa got home from school I gave her a birthday card and the new Mario Kart Wii (also got another Wii steering controller so that we can race each other :-). Then we went to dinner at the Olive Garden in Burlington, and afterward we got another Wii game at the Best Buy near there. Then came on home and I finished the report, and joined Lisa for some Mario Kart Wii. It was a little after 8 when Johnny called to tell me about the Star Wars-themed Deal or No Deal that was on NBC tonight.

And then about thirty minutes ago, the phone rang again.

Remember two days ago when I auditioned for the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Children of Eden?

I just received a callback. They offered me a part!

Which I honestly had to wonder (and I even asked the nice girl this) if they had called the wrong number because my singing was, admittedly... off (and that's being way more charitable than I deserve :-)

Anyways, after almost ten years of wanting to be in Children of Eden, my dream is about to come true! I'll be playing the part of Seth, and whether you've seen Children of Eden before or you just read the Bible a lot, you know that Seth is the son that Adam and Eve have after Abel is killed.

As has happened many other times on this blog whenever I've been involved in some kind of project (running for school board, the Transformers score petition, the Viacom/YouTube copyright fiasco, school uniforms etc.) I'll do my best to chronicle what it's like to do a theatrical production like this, especially in case anyone else ever thought about going for a role in a musical ('cuz I believe that everyone should follow their dreams). I'm just glad that for once it gets to be something thoroughly fun that I'll be getting to write about :-)

Okay, I'm off to celebrate. Starting with playing "Generations" from the Children of Eden soundtrack full-blast on our stereo system!

(And thanks to everyone who wished me luck and even kept me in their prayers when I said that I was going to take a stab at this :-)

Is anyone else watching this Star Wars edition of DEAL OR NO DEAL?

Johnny Yow called about an hour ago to tell me to turn to NBC. There was Howie Mandell as usual, but the models with the cases were all Imperial Stormtroopers (probably members of the 501st, way to go guys :-) and Darth Vader was sitting up in the banker's chair.

I checked it out again a short while ago and the regular female models were back, all wearing "Slave Leia" metal bikinis from Return of the Jedi. Lisa quipped that "That must be every guy's dream right there!"

I don't know if I particularly like the idea of a Star Wars Deal or No Deal because as Lando Calrissian found out the hard way, the last person in the universe you want to have to be forced to make a deal with is Darth Vader :-P

Happy Birthday to my lovely spousal overunit!

Here's wishing a wonderful Happy Birthday to the most beautiful, wonderful girl that God could have ever let any guy have for a wife...

Happy Birthday Lisa, and I love you :-)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

This is why you should vote Eric Smith for North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction

I'm the treasurer for his campaign, but this is the first time that I'm getting to see this. In this video of his appearance at the Wake County Republican Convention a few weeks ago, Eric discusses why North Carolina parents should be fully liberated to send their children to the schools of their own choice - including private school and homeschooling - and he hits on one of the biggest problems facing this country and the one that politicians seem the least determined to address: illegal immigration.

Thanks to Katy's Conservative Corner for providing this!

The North Carolina statewide primaries will be next week on May 6th. Eric is running on the Republican ballot.

Blogger: Google Inc.'s neglected stepchild

For the past few weeks I've been working on an overhaul for this blog. I'm feeling like the time is right for a drastic new look: something that'll pop into a reader's retinas and stay burned in his gray matter. Longtime readers will remember a time when this was a pitch-black site with strange-colored fonts, back when I didn't really know what the heck I was doing with a blog. I gave it the white "newspapery" look a year ago but other than those minor cosmetics, it's basically been the same design for the past four years.

So I've been studying blog designs and what I'd like to do with my own, and I'm seeing what others do with theirs. Like Kevin Bussey's blog, for example. His is about as well-designed and downright slick a personal blog as I've ever seen. And I'd love to be able to do stuff like what he and others are doing with theirs...

...except that Kevin and lots of other folks are using WordPress for their blogging. Which compared to Google's Blogger - which is what my own blog uses - is like comparing an SR-71 Blackbird to a Sopwith Camel. Both will get ya there, but one is definitely more "boss" than the other.

Suddenly I'm feeling like Web 2.0's version of Oliver Twist, daring to approach Google's table to ask "Please sir, I want some more!"

I'm not the only one whose blogging capabilities are feeling abandoned by Google. Ian Lamont laments intensely about frustration with Blogger in a piece at The Industry Standard's website. He argues - and I'm compelled to agree with him - that Google has thoroughly neglected Blogger, which it acquired when it bought Pyra Labs in 2003. The reason? Lamont argues that Google is simply interested in "other things", like Google Maps.

Kinda makes you wonder if Google's possession of YouTube will eventually be revealed as nothing more than a casual flirtation, and whether service on that site will likewise stagnate.

I would like to see Google not just pick up the Blogger ball, but start treating it like a serious resource that should be developed, nurtured and made into a competitive asset. It needs to open the doors for users to implement new toys and widgets, like WordPress and other blogging platforms allow. And Google seriously needs to migrate away from the blogspot.com domain and fully embrace Blogger as not just the top-level domain for its users but a brand name as powerful as YouTube is. What do you think looks more potent: "theknightshift.blogspot.com" or "theknightshift.blogger.com"?

In the meantime, I'll keep working on my humble page here. But I'm already beginning to seriously consider moving my regular blogging business to WordPress. If you're thinking about getting started with a blog, and until Google starts getting serious about improving things with its own service, maybe you should too.

Eating their young: Anti-Paul hijinks demonstrating GOP corruption

Anyone left who still believes that we have to "work within the system" to effect change in this country had better read this and think real hard about what they're advocating.

Because the undeniable truth is: the system no longer works. The system has not worked in a long time. The system is hopelessly broken. We're just now becoming able to see how bad the damage is.

And anyone who still believes we must abide by the status quo and stay within the confines of the system is... well, an idiot.

The status of the Republican Party of the United States isn't much different from that of the Communist Party of China, when you think about it. Both are controlled by hardliner old guards who won't bend and will crush like a bug any new blood that tries to bring fresh ideas to the scene. I'm not talking about Republicans as a whole mind you: I'm talking about the Republican National Committee and too many of the individual states' party leaders. Witness, f'rinstance, the lengths of chicanery they've gone to in order to shut out Ron Paul: the one sincere believer of Constitutional rule of law who's run as a candidate from that party.

At the statewide convention of the Republican Party in Nevada yesterday, the Ron Paul delegates were set to win control in a super-majority of votes. And then GOP officials actually SHUT DOWN their own convention to keep that from happening. As of this morning Nevada Republicans don't have delegates to send to the national convention. All because their party bosses insist on sending pro-John McCain delegates.

I'm especially disgusted at what one McCain shill is quoted as saying in that story...

"But at the end of the day, part of the job of being a national delegate is to do what is best for the party in November. And that means supporting the party’s nominee."
Just drag everyone kicking and screaming into the smoke-filled room and get it over with already, why don't ya?

In addition to the above report by the Reno Gazette-Journal, you can also read a firsthand report by a party member who was there.

Here's a delegate to the convention, who posted a YouTube video about what happened yesterday...

And then I received an e-mail from a friend who said that the same thing has been happening here in North Carolina as well...

The same thing happened at the NC 2nd District. Only they allowed counties to choose the Delegates and when the Ron Paul folks called for a point of order (40 of them) someone else made a motion to dismiss and the chair called it.
My friend further commented that "It amazes me that the GOP will eat their young just because they don't agree with them."

This is the "democracy" that we're trying to convince other countries is a good thing that they should adopt?

And how in the Hell does anyone even remotely like John McCain become the anointed candidate of the supposedly "conservative" Republican Party? More to the point: Why should anyone of good conscience feel obligated, in any way, to support McCain? Is personal conscience the price that must be paid for ultimate loyalty to a political machine?

Has America finally arrived at that terrible line where both rule of law and private character are made sacrifice for sake of power?

Because if so, then America is lost already.

Here's what I think: the Republican rank-and-file, the "grassroots", is finally waking up to what it's own leadership has been doing to it for going on decades now. And that's the last thing the GOP leadership wants. Their control is now more threatened than ever before. And it's become patently obvious that the Republican National Committee and other GOP elites actively despise the grassroots Republicans.

And now it's been laid bare before everyone.

It wouldn't surprise me if this election year is the final one for the Republican Party as a viable political force in this country. The rift between the sincere believers in limited government and the "blue blood" party management that's exploiting them threatens to become the greatest political divorce in this country's modern memory.

And I can't help but think that maybe that will be a good thing. Something as inherently corrupt as the two major parties should be let to collapse and fall into ruins. The Republican leadership should have been thankful for Ron Paul, and for the wisdom and fresh perspective he brought with him. Instead it conspired to shut him down at every conceivable turn.

Now it's going to have to pay the price. If Clinton or Obama win the White House, the GOP's honchos will have no one to blame but themselves.

"The Sontaran Stratagem": No one is safe in new DOCTOR WHO episode

A diabolical race of alien Mr. Potato Heads, inspired by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, hires an evil clone of Google founder Sergey Brin to sabotage every car on Earth with homicidal wacko environmentalist computers and the only person who can stop them is a guy in a blue police box.

Can there be any doubt that this is a new episode of Doctor Who?

"This is your final destination."

"Getting a bit too close to the Nineteen-Eighties!"

"Doctor, it's Martha... and I'm bringing you back to Earth!"

"Technically speaking you're still on staff. You never resigned."

"We've got massive funding from the United Nations, all in the name of homeworld security."

"It's all right for you. You can just come and go but some of us have got to stay behind."

"You need to be careful, because you know the Doctor. He's wonderful, he's brilliant! But he's like fire. Stand too close and people get burned."

"I came to do my job."

"You can't say 'ATMOS System'! Because it stands for 'Atmospheric Emissions System' so it's like you're saying 'Atmospheric Emissions System System'! Do you see, Mister Conditional Clause?!"

"General Staal of the Tenth Sonaran Battle Fleet! Staal the Undefeated!"

"Fifty-three deaths in the same second, man! That is so cool!"


Season 4 of the classic British science-fiction series (although it's actually Season 30, which makes it even more classic) continues to unfold on two continents. While American audiences finally got to behold the season premiere episode "Partners in Crime" (mash here for my original review) over the weekend on the Sci-Fi Channel, our English/Scottish/Irish cousins were enjoying the new season's fourth episode. And as usual, many of them have been kind enough to "export" it via the Internet.

"The Sontaran Stratagem" hails the return of the Sontarans, who haven't been seen since "The Two Doctors" from the Colin Baker era in 1985. The squat, ugly alien soldiers have an, ummm... stratagem for taking over the planet Earth. It involves ATMOS, a company that has created a way to produce zero carbon emissions from vehicles (in addition to incorporating the Global Positioning System). When strange things start happening in connection to ATMOS - namely, dozens of people dying around the world at the same moment in ATMOS-equipped cars - former companion Martha Jones makes a phone call to the TARDIS. The Doctor and Donna are soon on their way.

Ohh-kaaaay, so... what to make of "The Sontaran Stratagem"? It might be the weakest of the new season so far, even though this was a very fun episode. My biggest beef was how the Sontarans were handled. These are supposed to be the Spartan warriors of the Doctor Who saga, and they were treated too much like parodies of their incarnation from the original show. But I suppose that in the context of a Doctor Who episode, they were plenty enough acceptable. I did not like that ridiculous "Sontar!" chant toward the end though. But I might be willing to forgive any shortcomings of the Sontarans themselves after next week's chapter, if it lives up to its ominous preview.

David Tennant is obviously enjoying his time as the Doctor, and that makes his performance all the more fun to watch. Catherine Tate as Donna continues to grow on me, and it's terrific to see Freema Agyeman again as Martha. "The Sontaran Stratagem" also sees the return of UNIT, which gladly welcomes the Doctor back into its ranks. But alas: Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart is not on the scene! But this is just the first-half of a two-part story: maybe Brigadier will come back next week and order "five rounds, rapid" on those nasty Sontarans.

I'll give "The Sontaran Stratagem" 3 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5. Not as good an episode as "Partners in Crime" or "The Fires of Pompeii", but still a pleasant-enough romp involving a long-neglected adversary that deserves some respect. There's also plenty of fun to be had in this episode with lots of classic Doctor Who lore: I especially loved what the Doctor did with Staal's probic vent!

Next week: the Sontaran crusade against Earth continues in "The Poison Sky".

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Today I auditioned for a musical

Several months back I learned that the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County was planning a production of Children of Eden. It's a musical by Stephen Schwartz based on the first six chapters of the Book of Genesis: from the Garden of Eden on through the story of Noah and the Ark. I've loved this show ever since first seeing it performed at Elon when I was a student there. I bought the 2-disc soundtrack CD some years ago, and I've tried to catch a performance of every production that's been done around here since.

From the first time that I've seen Children of Eden I've wanted to take part in a production. Auditions were last night and today for this one. So this afternoon I went out and tried out for it.

Now, please understand something: I know that I can't sing! Every time I play Karaoke Revolution, I get booed off the stage. Lisa will definitely be the first to tell you that I can't carry a tune. Whenever we're in the car and "Bohemian Rhapsody" comes on the radio, the poor girl must endure my attempt to imitate Freddie Mercury (in song anyway). My singing is so bad that whenever we're in a church I don't sing the hymns: I whistle 'em.

But I wanted to give Children of Eden a shot all the same. At least I would be able to say that I gave it my best. There's never any shame in that.

Auditions were at the Advanced Technologies Building at Rockingham Community College. I arrived at 1, filled out some release paperwork, was assigned a number and had my photo taken. When it was my turn to perform I got up on stage and sang the first part of "Let There Be", which is the first song from the show. The one that Father (AKA God) does as he's creating the world. Hey, you have to at least say that a guy admitting on stage that he had no voice training and then proceeds to try out for the part of God has guts, right?

I'm pretty sure that I was off a bit. One of the producers asked me to try to project my voice as if the auditorium was five times larger, and toward the back of the place. So I did that too. And I still probably bombed the tryout!

But even though I might never receive a singing part with that audition, right now I'm a very happy guy for having done this. I'll never have any regrets about having the opportunity and not taking it. As one of the people there told me, "You never know, you might get a callback." Even for someone who couldn't belt out a tune to save his life, there's always hope. And if I never go in front of an audience in this, Children of Eden is such a neat story that I told the producers that even if they just need someone to work backstage, that I'd love to do that much. It takes a lot of different people to put on a show, especially one with such a large cast and crew as Children of Eden. Believe me: having made a few films now, I can attest that it's just as fun being behind a camera as it is being in front of one.

So that was my little adventure for today. We'll see what happens next. Children of Eden is set to run on June 20-22 and then on June 27-29.

I'm absolutely planning to see this, whether it's on stage, behind the stage or as a paying audience member :-)

Grand Theft Auto IV comes out in 3 days

And I've still only played Grand Theft Auto I. Probably means I've got to play the rest of the series before getting this new one, right?

Seriously though, if you want to jump right on in without having to grind through ten years of previous story (there is a story to this game series, right?) then check out IGN's exhaustively researched but wildly entertaining "History of Grand Theft Auto".

And if you'd like to play the original Grand Theft Auto (along with Grand Theft Auto 2) and see how it all began, Rockstar Games has made it available as a free download.

Jock Ewing for President

I've no idea how I found this, but it's too danged funny not to share.

The really scary thing is, this guy does sound like Jock Ewing!

He's got my vote. After 7 years with the illegitimate son of Digger Barnes in the White House, America needs a Ewing!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tonight's LOST was season finale material...

...and we still have five more episodes to see how this season ends!

"The Shape of Things to Come" might have been the greatest episode since Lost premiered almost four years ago. It was the perfect mixture of everything that makes Lost work: strong characters, heavy action, tense moments, moral choices that sometimes go wildly wrong, all the major bits of Lost mythology (DHARMA, Jacob, Smokey to name a few), a bit of humor... and the notorious Lost penchant for flipping the tables completely over on what we're expecting.

I think I accidentally muttered a mild profanity at least three times in this episode. Especially after Ben made his little "call".

Something I caught early in the episode: take a look at the name that's embroidered on the jumpsuit that Ben is wearing when we find him in the Sahara Desert. It's a familiar one to anyone who's watched the DHARMA Initiative's orientation film for the yet-to-be-seen Orchid station. Some theories pop into mind about why Ben was there, wearing what he had... but I'm going to withhold those for the time being ('cuz I got friends who might read this and they haven't seen this episode yet :-)

I think this might also be the Lost episode with the biggest body count since the pilot episode. Don't think I've seen that many people die one-by-one on camera since the final episode of Blake's 7 (a show which is being brought back, incidentally).

So... anyone else now have their feelings about Ben totally changed? Maybe even feel that he's a character to sympathize with (barring what he's now planning to do per the episode's final scene)?

Best show on television right now. And the way things are going, it might someday rate widely as the best show ever made. Can't wait for next week's episode.

By the way, Lisa had gone on to bed (curse this new timeslot!) but after the prologue and the title, when it went to its first commercial break I went into the bedroom and told her "I wish your piano stool was as cool as Ben's!" She won't know what I'm talking about until she watches it from the DVR tomorrow :-)

It's "The Shape of Things to Come" as LOST returns tonight

Lost resumes tonight on ABC (at 10 pm, an hour later than previously so remember to bear that in mind) with the first episode completed since work resumed following the writer's strike.

When we last looked in on the Island, Rousseau and Karl had been shot and Alex was pleading for her life with the unknown assailants. I'm pretty confident we can already figure out who these people are. Rumor is that tonight's episode at last brings the start of the full-blown war for control of the Island between Widmore and the Others.

I'm hearing that "The Shape of Things to Come" is going to be a Ben Linus-centric episode.

And in case you haven't heard already, Lost this season received an extra hour from the ABC execs, and the two episodes that would have been otherwise produced for this season will be passed along to the next two. So everything works out.

As often happens, I'll try to post some comments afterward :-)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ANOTHER petition for TRANSFORMERS: THE SCORE?! Movement afoot to re-release album

By Primus, I never thought that we'd be going through this again. But, it looks like we will! :-)

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, then you're no doubt familiar with the hijinks (among numerous others) that happened this past year regarding the movie Transformers and it's amazing orchestral score by composer Steve Jablonsky. After seeing the movie I went looking for the score's CD in stores. It wasn't available. I made sure to write about it on this blog that I was looking forward to a release of Jablonsky's Transformers score. Lots of people were looking for it too and began coming to this blog, seeking any information for it. Almost on a lark, I set up an online petition requesting that the Powers That Be release the score. And it got slammed! Some drama ensued and I tried to chronicle it here. In the end, Warner Bros. Records published Transformers: The Score on October 9th, 2007. It sold very well on Amazon and became highly sought-after in stores. And for a time, everyone was happy...

Okay well...

It now looks like the victory was short-lived, because Transformers: The Score is no longer being published. At least in hard-copy CD. It's still available as a music download via Amazon and iTunes. But that's not good enough and the demand is still enormous for the Transformers score CD.

How enormous? Right now I'm looking on eBay: there are currently 20 bids for a copy of Transformers: The Score and it's now up to $83. During the past few months I've seen other copies of the CD that have likewise sold at astronomical prices.

So now, once again, there is... another online petition for the release of Transformers: The Score!

I've gladly signed this one, but otherwise I'm not involved in this petition. But I do wish them all the best, because this is a movie soundtrack that stands as tall as any other, and it deserves to have some more enduring space on the music rack in stores or wherever. Months later, and I'm still listening to Transformers: The Score quite a lot! And who knows: maybe Warner Bros. Records is still working on that 2-disc set that we've heard rumored about. If so, I can accept that. But if that's not in the works, then they should seriously consider re-issuing the original Transformers: The Score.

So... ya wanna sign? Because you know that you should. It's your choice, but not really.

Click here to sign

the Transformers: The Score

re-issue petition.

Thanks to Benechia for the heads-up!

"Transform and roll out..." them CDs! :-)

More shredding of Constitution: Supremes give police unprecedented search power

The United State Supreme Court has ruled that police can search and seize evidence even though the search itself is illegal.

This will be abused. The high court has just given "law enforcement officers" (God I hate that term) a blank check to stop, search and seize from everyone on even nonexistent grounds.

No doubt there are good cops out there who wouldn't abuse this... but that does not diminish the fact that this will be abused. And enormously so.

Hell, this would even open the way for corrupt police to plant evidence.

Folks, it's now patently obvious that this government is no longer of the people, by the people and for the people. It is now government protecting its own sorry ass. And that kind of government, friends and neighbors, is not a government worth our respect or support in the least bit.

Maybe it's time for good people still left in this land to instigate their own "Purge" (to borrow a euphemism from the TV show Lost). A good bloodletting might be the only way to restore sanity for ourselves and future generations.

So does anyone still believe that this court is going to rule in favor of the Second Amendment in another month or so?

UPDATE: Pastor takes down Obama/Osama sign, gives pathetic excuse

Regarding Jonesville Church of God in upstate South Carolina that a few days ago caused a furor with it's vile church sign attempting to link presidential candidate Barack Obama to Osama Bin Laden: today it's being reported that Pastor Roger Byrd chickened out and removed the message.

And why did Byrd do this in the first place? In his own words...

"His name is so close to Osama I feeling might be Islamic therefore he doesn't recognize Christ."
Ummmm... saywhu...?

So simply because "Obama" sounded "Islamic" (whatever the hell that means) that this meant he automatically had to be assigned a religion? Isn't that fully counter to everything that Jesus, and then Paul and the other apostles, preached?

Roger Byrd can't get out of this no matter what he tries. It's obvious to everyone that this was a petty blow, motivated by worldly politics, that did nothing but inflict damage to the testimony of sincere believers. There is nothing constructive or beneficial that this preacher and his church did in the least bit.

And if these professed Christians spent as much time living humbly for Christ as they do with obsessing on things of this passing realm, this would indeed be a much happier world.

Some very neat photos of American history

HBO's John Adams miniseries has left me still feeling both floored and haunted. If only everything else on television could be so powerful...

Ever since Sunday night when the finale ran, my interest in real American history (as opposed to the fake pageantry of, say, the current election cycle) has been stoked. Not that it ever went away or anything, but I guess that after becoming so cynical about what America is turning into, I felt a need to look back at what we used to be, and what we could still be again.

So one thing led to another and I found myself looking for the earliest photographs of Presidents that we know are in existence. I wasn't expecting to find any of John Adams (photography was invented the year he passed away and it would be some time before the process was perfected) but I did find this daguerreotype of his son John Quincy Adams: as the sixth President, he's the earliest for whom we have a photograph. This was taken in 1848, not long before he died while serving Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As you study this picture, think about something: you're looking at a photo of a man who was not only the son of John Adams, but who also knew George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and most of the other Founding Fathers. Look into his eyes and realize that he looked into their eyes. This isn't some artist's fanciful rendition, but the actual image of a real person who was very familiar with those great statesmen.

Suddenly, 1776 doesn't seem that long ago after all.

Thomas Lincoln was born the year before in 1775. A photo exists of him also. So far as I've been able to find, this is the only one of Thomas Lincoln. But his son Abraham ranks as the most photographed man in the world up to the time of his death.

Speaking of Abraham Lincoln, here's the photo of him delivering his second inaugural address in 1865 on the steps of the Capitol. It might take you awhile to find him ('cuz it did me too) but if you look very carefully, you can make out one other very well-known visage of the time: that of the famous actor John Wilkes Booth.

Which brings me to the real inspiration for this post. That I wanted to share one of my all-time favorite "interesting" photos from history. Ever since I first saw this as a high school student, something about this one has greatly captivated me. After Lincoln was assassinated by Booth, his body was embalmed and put on a black funeral train that would make a 1,700-mile long winding route back to Illinois for burial. At various stops during the trip, his casket was taken from the train and then carried in a procession to some location where he would lay in state so that mourners could file past and pay their respects.

On April 25th, 1865, Abraham Lincoln's casket was solemnly carried through the streets of New York City...

There was such a demand to watch the procession, that the owners of many houses along the route charged $100 for people to come into their homes and watch from the windows.

So, you see that house on the left-hand side of the street in the above photo? On the side of the house immediately facing the camera, in the second story window, you can see two small figures watching as President Lincoln's casket goes by.

Those are two little boys peering out of that window of their grandfather's house. One of them - presumably the taller - is six-and-a-half year old Theodore Roosevelt, with his younger brother Elliot.

35 years and another assassination later, "Teddy" would be sworn in as the twenty-sixth President of the United States. When he took the oath of office after his own election in 1905, Teddy Roosevelt wore a ring embedded with a lock of hair that had been posthumously taken from Abraham Lincoln as he lay on his deathbed across the street from Ford's Theatre.

For many years I've heard that there might also exist a photograph of John Wilkes Booth, dressed in uniform, at the hanging of radical abolitionist John Brown. If anybody knows if that's true and where it could be found, I'd sure appreciate having you drop me a line about it :-)

So many other photos that I could talk about here. I need to wrap this up 'cuz I've plenty of stuff on my plate today. But before I do, there's one other photo that I'll share with y'all. This one isn't necessarily a "famous" pic but the person it depicts is certainly... interesting.

Boston Corbett, born in 1832 in England and then his family moved to the United States. Died... well, no one knows. In 1858, in order to avoid "sinning", Boston Corbett castrated himself with a pair of scissors! He then went straight to a prayer meeting, which he soon had to leave in order to go see a doctor because he was feeling faint from loss of blood (Gee ya think?!?).

A few years later, as a sergeant in the Union Army, Boston Corbett defied orders and fatally shot John Wilkes Booth. When interrogated by his superior officers (who had been trying to take Booth alive), Corbett explained that "God Almighty directed me" to open fire.

Ya see, if they'd just let us teach this kind of history in the schools, we'd have no problem getting the kids interested in their education :-)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A church sign we'll never see in Jonesville, South Carolina...

Courtesy of Church Sign Generator. Credit for the idea goes to Ed Darrell who suggested it on Kevin Bussey's post about the Jonesboro Church of God, which has upset a lot of people with the ridiculous un-Christlike message on its church sign regarding Barack Obama.

Jesus and Usama... yup, per the logic of Jonesville Church of God, that's certainly suspicious.

Theophysical conundrum: Time, sin, and the universe

Here's something that I've been wondering about for awhile now (actually going on three years). Maybe it's time to let others ponder it too...

We're told in Genesis 5:1 that "When Adam had lived 130 years..." (as the New International Version words it) that he gave birth to his son Seth. This is the first time in scripture that we are told that a person had lived a certain number of years. A few verses later it says that Adam lived 930 years, and then he died.

But are those the years total that Adam lived... or only the years following the Fall, and the entrance of sin into the world?

Because compared to the other antedeluvians, who were born after the Fall, Adam had a fairly equal lifespan. But if the 930 years is the total amount of time that Adam lived, from his creation until death, then Adam was short-changed by God in addition to the punishment of eventual physical demise. Either that, or it suggests that Adam had a finite lifespan from the very beginning whether he sinned or not: a notion strongly contradicted by the Bible.

Could it be that when the Bible gives us the years Adam lived, that these are only the years after the Fall? Because it otherwise makes no sense to give an age for something that is inherently ageless. Unless something happens to that thing or person that does bestow age upon it.

So here's what I'm thinking might have happened...

The time before the Fall was, in terms of quantum physics, an entirely different universe than the one we know of today. It was one that had the quality of being a procession of events, but it was not one that had the quality of time as we understand it. The chief characteristic of time in our universe is entropy: the disordered breakdown and decay of all matter and energy. But that might not have been the way things always were. There's also no way of knowing what that previous universe - the "sinless universe" - was like based on what we can observe today: it's like the ultimate black hole information paradox.

So if this is true, it's possible that per our understanding (though that would certainly break down in the context of the physics of this previous universe) that Adam and Eve could have lived hundreds or thousands of years in a perfect state before the Fall. Maybe a lot more than that. Conversely, they could have sinned just weeks or days or conceivably even minutes following their creation.

Thinking along those lines, Adam could have been alone without a wife for a very long "time" before Eve was brought to him. There's just now way of knowing though. Not from our perspective. But that's possible, too.

And then, only after the Fall... which would have also been the introduction of entropy into the universe, and the beginning of the physical realm as we have come to understand it... would it be appropriate to assign a chronological age to Adam.

Does this mean that Adam possibly edges-out or even blows away Methuselah for oldest human to ever live? No it doesn't, because we're still only talking about age after the beginning of an entropic universe: Methuselah still keeps that title, with no foreseeable competition anytime soon.

Yes, I really do meditate upon simultaneous matters of deep theology and quantum mechanics in the course of my daily musings. It's almost enough to drive one insane. Wait a sec...

Today was EARTH Day?!

I thought it was NERF Day!

No wonder people kept staring at me when I was bouncing that ball everywhere I went...

Tonight we watched LICENSE TO WED

Although technically it was last night, since I'm writing this past 1 in the morning (am working on a few video projects before hitting the sack), but you know...

Anyways, Lisa had License to Wed sent to us via Netflix, and we spent part of the evening watching it. In spite of the harsh reviews this movie has received, I found it to be hysterically funny... and hitting the mark so far as marriage goes more often than not!

License to Wed has Mandy Moore and John Krasinski as Sadie and Ben: a newly-engaged couple that wants to get married at Sadie's family church. There's just one little obstacle that must be overcome first: Reverent Frank (Robin Williams) refuses to wed anyone until they've taken his "pre-marital counseling" course. Usually this takes three months. But with the church's schedule already booked solid, the only date available anytime soon for a wedding is three weeks away. It's either that or wait another two years. Ben and Sadie have no choice but to spent the next few weeks in a pre-nuptial cram session that involves writing their own vows, sexual abstinence, and some very disturbing robot babies.

License to Wed is the first movie that I've ever seen dealing with the subject of pre-marital counseling. Maybe that's why some people didn't appreciate it much, because I don't know if this is a very common practice (Lisa and I didn't do it) but it's certainly one that I would suggest considering for anyone contemplating taking the vows. Robin Williams as Reverend Frank is a bit creepy but still hilarious, and after a number of more "serious" roles in recent years (Insomnia and One Hour Photo to name a few) it's great to see him return to classic form. The breakout star of License to Wed though is "Choir Boy", played by Josh Flitter. Heck, I could watch a whole movie dedicated to this bizarre kid!

I'd say this is one of the better light comedy "date" movies that I've seen lately. Will especially recommend it for anyone married or seriously contemplating it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

South Carolina church's sign shows un-Christlike attitude toward Obama

Could somebody please tell me where there is a scriptural mandate for what the Jonesville Church of God in upstate South Carolina is doing with their sign?

From the story at WYFF in Greenville's website...

Small Church's Obama Sign Causes Big Controversy

POSTED: 4:20 pm EDT April 21, 2008
UPDATED: 10:18 pm EDT April 21, 2008

JONESVILLE, S.C. -- The sign in front of a small church in a small town is causing a big controversy in Jonesville, S.C.

Pastor Roger Byrd said that he just wanted to get people thinking. So last Thursday, he put a new message on the sign at the Jonesville Church of God.

It reads: "Obama, Osama, hmm, are they brothers?"

Byrd said that the message wasn't meant to be racial or political.

"It's simply to cause people to realize and to see what possibly could happen if we were to get someone in there that does not believe in Jesus Christ," he said.


Pastor Byrd, it's an open question as to whether we already have someone "in there" who seriously believes in Jesus Christ today. So why is your church showing such concern now?

And how is what this pastor and his church showing that they sincerely believe in Christ, anyhow?

I said a few weeks ago that this kind of thing was going to continue leading up to the election. And though I'm not now and never will support Obama or cast a vote for him, I'm not nearly so worried about what he might do if he were to become President as I already am about too many of my fellow Christians who are not only frightfully paranoid - when scripture tells us many times to not be afraid of the things of this world - but also show such selective myopia on the basis of worldly politics. George W. Bush is already the most un-Christlike President in American history... so has the Jonesville Church of God ever condemned him?

Pastor Byrd says that the congregation of Jonesville Church of God unanimously voted to keep the message. Too bad they likely never bothered to pray and study scripture about the issue before deciding to press forward.

EDIT 11:43 pm EST 04/22/2008: I couldn't help it...

Courtesy of Church Sign Generator. Credit for the idea goes to Ed Darrell who suggested it on Kevin Bussey's post about Jonesville Church of God's ridiculous sign.

We are sooooo screwed

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain using WWE Pro Wrestling to pimp themselves.

America really is turning into that movie Idiocracy, isn't it?

What a contrast. Last night we watched the finale of HBO's John Adams, which conveyed the virtue and nobility of the Founding Fathers as beautifully as any production that possibly comes to mind. And less than 24 hours later, we see what has become of the fruits of their labors and sacrifice: three of the worst possible candidates for office of President of the United States, using metaphorical bread and circuses to reach out to what is supposed to be an enlightened constituency.

Some smart-alec is probably going to say that this is nothing different than when Richard Nixon appeared on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. But I disagree. Laugh-In was a smart show, and had serious cultural relevance. And that was just a gag anyway. This presentation by the three "front runners" smacks too much of serious campaigning.

John Adams, I'm sorry: we couldn't be responsible with the freedom you and your friends gave us.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Peacefield": A magnificent conclusion to HBO's JOHN ADAMS

There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

That was the most perfect ending for a television miniseries that I've seen since Lonesome Dove. And easily one of the best finales for anything ever produced for the medium.

All day long, HBO had a marathon going from start to finish of John Adams. Lisa and I watched Part 6, "Unnecessary War", and then segued right into the finale "Peacefield". The previous chapter ended with the image of Adams, alone and seemingly friendless, leaving the Presidential Mansion (it wouldn't be called the "White House" for another ten years) for the last time, ahead of the inauguration of longtime friend-turned-rival Thomas Jefferson.

"Peacefield" picks up the story two years later, as Dr. Benjamin Rush diagnoses John and Abigail's daughter Nabby with breast cancer. For the next hour, the final twenty-three years of the life of the second President of the United States plays out as seemingly one unrelenting tragedy after another: the death of Nabby, and then having to watch John as he loses his dear wife Abigail after 54 years of marriage. The final portion of "Peacefield" finds Adams reconciling with Jefferson in their final years, and struggling to ensure that future generations remember the sacrifices that were made by so many to secure freedom for the new country. Which might have been the saddest spectacle of all in "Peacefield": the sight of 90-year old John Adams, looking on John Trumbull's classic painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, telling the artist about how he got so many details all wrong in the picture. So it is that we see Adams and Jefferson as "the last two": the shoulders on whom have fallen the weight of history (although there would still be one final signer of the Declaration alive after the deaths of Adams and Jefferson: Charles Carroll of Maryland).

The final moments of "Peacefield" were everything that I was hoping they would be. The passing of Jefferson, and then Adams, and that final coda before the credits rolled...

Like I said, it was perfect.

Paul Giamiatti deserves an Emmy for his portrayal of Adams. That scene with the painting of the signing of the Declaration alone should be enough to secure that. Laura Linney was fabulous as Abigail Adams. The whole cast and crew poured their hearts into John Adams. And in the end they broke our hearts with it too. Which is as it should be.

HBO, and to everyone involved with John Adams: I tip my hat to you, and will gladly buy the DVD of this the day it comes out on June 10th.

And I'll pray that more Americans might take the time to watch John Adams too. It would do well to remember what Adams and his compatriots did for us, and all too often at such terrible price.

"Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it."

-- John Adams

New DOCTOR WHO this week voyages to the "Planet of the Ood"

"The file is irrelevant, sir. Have a nice day."

"Now that's what I call a spaceship. You've got a box and he's got a Ferrari!"

"We're so not married. Never ever."


"Who do you think made your clothes?"

"I spent all that time looking for you Doctor, because I thought it was so wonderful out here. I want to go home."

"It's a revolution."

"Please have a drink, sir."

"Being with you, I can't tell what's right and what's wrong anymore."

"Every song must end."

Friday night on the Sci-Fi Channel saw the start of Season 4 (or Season 30 depending on how one chooses to reckon it) of Doctor Who here in the States, beginning with 2007's Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned". This was my first time seeing it and to be honest, I didn't care too much for that one. Even by Doctor Who standards, "Voyage of the Damned" was incessantly hokey. I mean: the Titanic in space? It was certainly no "Love & Monsters" (will I ever be able to cleanse my mind of that atrocity?) but it was nowhere as good as "The Christmas Invasion" in 2005 or even the subsequent season's "The Runaway Bride", either.

But this coming week most American viewers will get to see the first regular episode of the season, "Partners in Crime" (read here for my original review), which is a far better episode, and perhaps the strongest season premiere of the revived series to date.

Meanwhile over the weekend "Planet of the Ood", the third episode of the new season, was transmitted by BBC One. It was then bootlegged by many among our Brittish brethren (I'm still waiting for someone to catch that joke) onto the Internet, for downloading by impatient Doctor Who fans around the world. Speaking of which: I do not advocate piracy, and I happen to own Seasons 1 and 2 of the new Doctor Who run on DVD. Why? Because it's honest, it shows sincere support for the franchise especially from across the pond, and because I like being able to enjoy this show on my 42-inch high-def LCS television. And it's also going to be a fun thing to watch with my children someday.

(By the way, Geoff and Phillip and a few other people: I really can't wait to see what you think of "Partners in Crime", especially the last few minutes of it :-)

Anyways, "Planet of the Ood" marks the first time that the Doctor brings new companion Donna to a world other than Earth, after setting the TARDIS for a random destination. It delivers them to a frozen, seemingly dead planet very unlike anything that Donna was expecting. Her disappointment is quickly mollified as a luxury spaceliner soars above them. Then the Doctor hears a mournful song... which Donna strangely doesn't notice. It leads them to an Ood that lies dying in the snow.

Yes folks those lovable Ood – last seen in 2006's intense "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit" two-part story – are back. And true to the title there is now a whole planet of them! If you were left wondering why the Ood were such a willingly servile race to humans, this new episode will provide the answers. Even though you may not like those answers but hey, that's why the Doctor is here!

"Planet of the Ood" continues the hot streak – which some will claim is very unusual this early in the season – that Doctor Who is on right now. I thought this episode has some terrific "hide behind the sofa" moments, but also good humor and even some social commentary that never goes so far with confronting the viewer as to beat them over the head with a message (which is the best way to handle social commentary in any show that's primarily concerned with entertaining people). It also has amazing use of make-up and special effects: the scene where the Doctor is trying to escape the industrial claw-lift is especially cool. David Tennant continues to shine as the tenth Doctor. And Catherine Tate is doing something with Donna that hasn't been done nearly enough in the history of Doctor Who: using a companion to illuminate and explore the many myriad facets of the Doctor's existence. It's a trend that the new show's producers became very good at doing with Rose in Season 1, and time has proven that they're getting even better at it.

If I've one complaint about "Planet of the Ood", it's that this "evil corporation/industrialist" as the Antagonist Of The Week™ shtick is starting to wear thin. Even if it was as a dummy front company like in "Partners in Crime", I'm starting to feel as if too many episodes I'm watching some variation of Weyland-Yutani from the Alien franchise. In fairness though, the context of "Planet of the Ood" made that appropriate for this story, but it's still something I'd like to see a respite from for awhile.

Look for Tim McInnerny from Blackadder as Halpen, the ruthless CEO of Ood Operations: a role to which McInnerny brings much of the humor that he was known for in his earlier series. Fans of the Star Wars series might also recognize Ayesha Dharker, the Indian actress who played Queen Jamillia in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. And another familiar face... even if we never actually see him... from that saga shows up in "Planet of the Ood" as Silas Carson – who played Ki-Adi Mundi and Nute Gunray in the Star Wars prequels – returns as the voice of the Ood.

"Planet of the Ood" gets 4 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5.

Next week: everybody's favorite alien race of evil Mr. Potato Heads returns after being gone for 30 years in "The Sontaran Stratagem"!

The photo that may scare you from ever again buying Chinese-made products

Every politician, corporate executive, and management-type in America who believes that globalism is "a good thing" and that there's nothing wrong with outsourcing our jobs to China, had better take a damned good hard long look at this photograph...

This is what passes as a high-grade pharmaceutical plant in the village of Xinwangzhuang, in the Juangsu Province of China. The guy is harvesting the mucous membranes from the intestines of dead pigs.

The tissue is then processed to make heparin: a drug widely-used in surgery and kidney dialysis here in the United States and elsewhere.

There have now been 19 deaths and numerous allergic reactions reported because of the drug.

I defy anyone to look at that photo, and still tell me that China is a responsible trading partner or that it's "sound policy" to entrust it with so much industry that we could be doing far better at home.

Oh yeah, it's "cheaper" to outsource it. Remember that, Mr. Free-Trade Politician, the next time you're having surgery while getting drugs pumped into you that were made in a "lab" filthier than the average gas station restroom.

The New York Times has plenty more about this on their website, if you can stomach such a story.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lost Infocom games unearthed

Journalist and programmer Andy Baio's discovery of an old backup hard drive used by legendary computer game publisher Infocom has yielded, among other things, some games that were publicly announced but never saw the light of day. The most notable so far is Milliways, the sequel to the game based on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

And if you go to the link you can even find playable games for download, too!

Baio writes that a lot of stuff is on that drive: from internal company memos to the source code and finished files for "every released and unreleased game Infocom made." So are there any hitherto-unknown Zork projects on that thing? And I've heard mention a few times over the years that Infocom had planned a third Battletech role-playing game (it's second, Battletech: The Crescent Hawks' Revenge is arguably the first real-time strategy game ever created). Yeah I know that those Battletech games were developed by Westwood for publishing by Infocom but if there was ever a third one in the works then surely there must be mention of it somewhere in Infocom's archives.

That's why this kind of stuff fascinates me: it's like neo-archaeology. Who know what else is out there floating on long-forgotten hard drives or tape backups, waiting to be found.

So since this has to do with Infocom, and is a discovery of some import, I know of no better way to celebrate than with a hearty drink...

"Want some rye?

'Course ya do!"

(You've no idea how long I've been waiting to make a Return to Zork reference on this blog :-)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bush Administration defends NAFTA, declares "There's nothing broken."

If nothing else has convinced any among my fellow citizens who beyond all reason yet hold to an opinion but that the government of George W. Bush is completely and hopelessly insane, then perhaps this will persuade them otherwise. It's about the disastrous North American Free Trade Agreement. From the Associated Press story...
The White House on Friday vigorously defended the 14-year-old free-trade agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada against sharp criticism from Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

"There's nothing broken. Why fix it?" said Dan Fisk, senior director of Western hemisphere affairs for National Security Council. He acknowledged the administration must do a better job of explaining the benefits of the agreement.


Bush has suffered a major setback on the trade front with the derailing of a proposed free-trade pact with Colombia. Bush sent the agreement to Capitol Hill earlier this month, but the House, led by Democrats, decided to eliminate a rule forcing a vote on the deal within 60 legislative days. The House's decision probably kills consideration of the agreement this year, leaving it for the next administration.

"Leaders in Congress have made a serious error," Bush said in a speech. "A serious error for economics reasons. A serious error for security reasons. It's not too late, however, for them to get it right."


"We think NAFTA works," he said. Fisk said the criticism from the campaign trail has gotten a lot of attention from U.S. trading partners. "Some of the statements that have been made here have made bigger headlines in Canada and Mexico than they have here," he said.

"We want to find ways to, frankly, convince the American people from our perspective first and foremost that this is an arrangement that has worked for us and it's also worked for our neighbors," he said. "It's been a win-win situation."

So countless jobs lost because of NAFA, to say nothing of the millions more Mexicans who have crossed into the United States illegally because of NAFTA's effects, is a "win-win situation" to these people?!

Dear God in Heaven, we are at the mercy of idiots.

I was one of the people who wrote letters and made phone calls about NAFTA way back when. I remember the day the U.S. House passed it. You could say it was the beginning of my cynicism and little since has allayed my fears: that America is no longer controlled by the people but by the big money interests. Indeed, the remarks coming out of the Bush Administration very much confirm that. All they can conceive of are the profits on paper. They do not see, no do they care for, what this has cost the average American.

A few days ago I did something that I had never done in almost 17 years of published writing: I used what is considered the worst possible expletive to describe what is becoming of America. I haven't regretted that I chose to use that word but I have regretted that it was the last desperate arrow left in my vocabulary to convey my anger. Reading these comments out of the Bush White House now tempts me to fire an entire volley at them.

By the way, Lisa and I watched Part 5 of HBO's John Adams tonight. Go see it if you can, and listen to the speech that Adams gives to toast George Washington as the first President ends his term. Now compare that to the simpleton mangling of the current President's thought patterns: "Leaders in Congress have made a serious error... A serious error for economics reasons. A serious error for security reasons. It's not too late, however, for them to get it right."

Ladies and gentlemen, in contrasting between the Founding Fathers such as John Adams, and George W. Bush who we are told is the product after more than two centuries of their efforts, I posit that this is clear enough evidence that evolution into more complex forms of life is a fraudulent theory.

Gasoline prices in Reidsville, North Carolina today

Averaging about $3.39 a gallon. Up about 10-15 cents in just a few days' time. And $4.45 has been spotted in at least two places around town. I had to pay a bit more than $50 to fill up my Toyota Camry.

While gassing-up at a convenience store on Scales Street I had a spirited conversation with one guy and his mom, about the high gas prices. We all agreed: we are being led by "lunatics and madmen" who probably can never remember the last time they had to touch a gas-pump nozzle.

The funny thing of it is, it's not necessarily that the oil is "running out" or even refinery problems right now that's causing the outrageous jack-up of prices. It's inflation, a primary reason for that being that the federal government for the past few weeks has been injecting about $38 billion per day into the economy to boost failing financial institutions like Bear Stearns, etc. That's $38 billion per day of fiat money, without anything really backing it.

And now what these "brilliant" leaders are doing is biting the little guy hard in the pocketbook.

Once again I am reminded of that term that came to mind a few months ago to describe the times in which we live: "the Hell Époque". America cannot long suffer this kind of inept, irresponsible management.

Sometimes I wonder if that was the plan all long, in someone's reckoning.

DC rolling out Gears of War comic this fall

WRAL is reporting that Cary-based Epic Games and DC Comics have announced plans to publish a Gears of War comic book/graphic novel this fall, in the lead-up to the release of Gears of War 2. The story is to be set after the conclusion of Epic's 2006 mega-selling video game, which saw main character Marcus Fenix giving humanity a dire-needed victory over the Locust Horde.

A few days ago I wrote that I'd finished playing the game and how much I enjoyed it but that some more back-story would have been nice. I'm guessing this new comic is going to "flesh-out" the Gears of War saga greatly. Oh yeah, I started playing it again last night on Hardcore mode. So far so good... but I still doubt that I'll ever try it on Insane :-)

No joke: THIS is what Storm Shadow and Baroness will look like in G.I. JOE

Words fail...

There are many more pics of the G.I. Joe actors in their costumes over at What Would Tyler Durden Do, including additional pics of Rachel Nichols as Scarlett, Ray Park as Snake-Eyes, and also Dennis Quaid as Hawk... who looks like a cross between Solid Snake and General Bernard Montgomery.

I haven't seen that many tight butts and rubber nipples in a movie since Batman and Robin: is Joel Schumacher an executive producer on this thing?

Seriously though, I look at these characters, and I feel no attachment to them. No empathy with them at all. The G.I. Joe characters from the Eighties franchise were well-grounded personalities: most of them (other than Snake-Eyes) we were given their names, where they were from, a bit of their history. Their individual costumes were not just a reflection of those characters, they helped to define them too. I see these "G.I. Joe" movie characters, and all I can think of is "They've become nothing more than toy soldiers."

And where is that big crimson Cobra sigil on the Baroness's outfit?

More at the above link.

More American jobs moving overseas

A few days ago RF Micro announced it would relocate much of its work from its Greensboro, North Carolina plant to China. 80 local jobs will be lost at the microchip plant.

And yesterday Dan River, a textiles plant that has been in operation for 126 years in Danville, Virginia, announced it would be closing down. It was a little over a year ago that Dan River was bought by a company based in India.

About time to post on this blog a video of James McMurtry declaring the obvious: "We Can't Make It Here Anymore".

(By the way, I don't agree with everything depicted in this video, especially about blindly supporting unions and the Democrat party... but I think otherwise the style of this clip describes things pretty darned well.)