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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ken Jennings misses question on taxes: no question taxes won't be missing HIM!

Engrave the name of Nancy Zerg alongside those of King David, Luke Skywalker, the 1983 N.C. State basketball team, and anyone else who's ever toppled the reputedly invincible. Seventy-five consecutive nights - equal to three and a half regular seasons of the average sitcom - came to an end this evening on "Jeopardy" as Ken Jennings proved he was flesh and blood after all. But at least he gets to walk away with a cool $2,520,700 before Uncle Sugar comes knocking for his share of the loot.

Incidentally, it was something related to the IRS that dealt the deathblow to Jennings' insane streak. "Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal, white-collar employees work only four months a year," Alex Trebek read aloud during the Final Jeopardy round. Jennings' answer in the form of a question: "What is FedEx?" (it was actually "H&R Block"). Zerg, a realtor from California, succeeded where Jennings failed and no doubt will get to do a Top Ten List on David Letterman's show. I guess all good things must come to an end but look at the bright side: Jennings held his own longer than anyone, he's donating a huge chunk of the money to his church, and Trebek gets a long-earned respite after having to come up with so many clever comments about one contestant!

But you wanna know why it is that Ken Jennings' accomplishment is REALLY mind-boggling? Moreso even that he did so well for so long, I'm stunned that someone like him got onto the show to begin with. I tried out for "Jeopardy" this past May in Nashville and lemme tell ya: it's very tough to make it all the way to a taping in Hollywood. First you have to take a 50-question timed exam with questions much more difficult than get asked on the show. Make 35 or better and you get asked to stay with everyone else who scored high (which I didn't, by the way: admittedly, I'm not all that keen on 17th-century Italian opera) for a brief interview and a mockup round of the game. Then you go back home. If you're lucky you'll get notified a few months later that you've been asked to fly to Los Angeles (on your own nickle) to be a contestant on "Jeopardy". But even THEN you're not guaranteed anything: out of all the folks that show up at Sony Pictures Studios, only a fraction will be selected (by an independent third-party group) to go before the cameras. If you don't score a chance then, you can always retake the exam the next time the "Jeopardy" crew comes to town but again, it's never a surefire thing. I met a guy who'd aced the exam four times, wound up passing the one that I took with him also, and so far as I know he might still be waiting for that coveted invitation from Merv Griffin Entertainment. So for someone like Ken Jennings to slip through ALL those cracks and get on the show and then stay there... well, you can sorta appreciate how the odds got licked bigtime.

Anyway, congrats Nancy Zerg and congrats to Ken Jennings on an awesome run!

A truth so simple that it didn't hit me until tonight...

Liberals don't have any damned idea whatsoever about what conservatives really are.

Conservatives don't have any damned idea whatsoever about what liberals really are.

Why then should I give a damn about conservatives or liberals at all?

The next person who tells me that I should blame something on "conservatives" or "liberals" will be notified that before I can do so, that he/she must tell me the exact reason why it is that I should think that "those people" are so despicable. And if they can't give a sensible answer, they will quietly and politely be ordered to shut the Hell up. It'll be pretty obvious to me by that point that it's going to be a waste of my time to subject myself to the "persuasions" of someone who hasn't bothered enough to exercise the mind God gave him to even think for himself.

Just needed to make that clear. Anyone wants to discuss something with me, I'm gonna hold him (or her) up to high enough a standard as I like to think they'd expect of me also.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Wanna go ape over six minutes of Middle-earth porn? Return Of The King: Extended Edition trailer is online NOW!!

The day before Christmas Eve last year Lisa and I decided that for our next holiday season together, we would begin a family tradition. Being only two years or so into this gig we don't have many traditions to call our own... but this one is really special and it kinda suggested itself. So starting this year - and continuing every year from now on a week or so before each Christmas - we are going to spend an entire day watching the complete The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy as a family.

We want this to be our way of keeping alive a little of the magic that figured so greatly in the first few years of our life together, because The Lord of the Rings has been a part of our relationship almost since the beginning. Lisa had never read the books until the fall of 2000 when we started dating: by the time December '01 rolled around she was a real Tolkienphile. The soundtrack CD for The Fellowship of the Ring got released the day we were engaged, so that morning I bought two copies: one with Frodo on the cover, the other with Gandalf. I was going to let Lisa choose which one she wanted so I dared not listen to it that entire day while waiting for her to arrive (she picked Frodo, as I figured). Leaving Asheville that night for the 3-hour drive to my parents' home we popped that CD in and musta played "Considering Hobbits" at least five times. A few weeks later we did the midnight first showing of Fellowship: another new experience for Lisa. Several months afterward at our wedding, I held up my ring-adorned hand for the videographer and uttered this stanza...

One Ring to rule him all
One Ring to bind him
One Ring bought at the mall
And now she'll ball and chain him
Those are just a few things, 'cuz between both of us there's countless little ways that this story got insinuated into our story. And we want to keep it part of our story... especially as we look forward to sharing it with our own children someday so they might enjoy it as we have.

But in the meantime, we do have at least one more holiday season of fresh Middle-earth goodness from Peter Jackson and the boys at WETA. A little while ago TheLordOfTheRings.net released a six-minute trailer for next month's release on DVD of The Return of the King: Extended Edition. This bad mutha is gonna weigh in with an extra fifty minutes of footage added to the original. Looks like lots and lots of stuff that didn't make the initial cut and Tolkienmongers everywhere are going to absolutely bathe in this. F'rinstance, take a gander at this ugly mug...

That new scene on the left is Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli confronting the Corsairs from Umbar as they're about to invade Gondor. But check out those teeth on the Mouth of Sauron! Bruce Spence must feel like the luckiest actor in the history of anything after this: he was in two Mad Max movies, played the Trainman in The Matrix saga, has landed a crucial part in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and he gets the nastiest human role in the entire Rings trilogy! That's most of the big movie epics that he'll have made his mark on when all's said and done... and ironically both the Star Wars and LOTR roles cursed him with the most atrocious dental hygiene ever.

Awright, 'nuff jawin': slash here for the ROTK:EE trailer! And while we're on the subject of Peter Jackson and what he's working on next with the rest of those stalwart crazy Kiwis, there's this bit of concept art...

...from Jackson's remake of King Kong (still shaking my head about Jack Black getting cast to play Carl Denham, but Jackson knows what he's doing) due out next Christmas. See that tiny woman in the corner? That's going to be Naomi Watts. It's gonna be all black and white or something, Jackson's said: classy move there. Anyway if you wanna read more about Kong head over to MSNBC's story about the production.

Honked-off Muppet threatens Israelis with AK-47 rifle

Now this scares me. We were safe when the Muppets could only beat you over the head with foam-rubber letters and numbers, but now they've upgraded their arsenal. From NewsMax...

Palestinian 'Sesame Street' Urges AK-47 Massacre

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004 10:15 a.m. EST

In a recent episode of the Palestinian version of "Sesame Street," a furry chick character threatens to get an AK-47 and massacre people who have torn down his olive trees, a common complaint by Palestinians against Israeli Defense Forces in the region.

In a scene rebroadcast Saturday by the Fox News Channel, a little girl asks the talking chick, "What would you do if someone cut down your olive tree?"

"I'll fight them and make a big riot," the chick replies. "I'll call the whole world. I'll bring AK-47 assault rifles and commit a massacre in front of my house."


I heard a story years ago that Yasser Arafat almost made a guest appearance on the original "Sesame Street" made here in America (guess he was jealous of Koffi Annan and Hillary Clinton hogging all the fun with Elmo). I guess it could all be just a coincidence.

'Course, I always figured that Bert would be the one who turned rotten. But that wouldn't be the first time that the felted freaks of Sesame Street have hooked up with radical Islamic terrorists, is it? Remember THIS photo that showed up during Mid-East rallies supporting Bin Laden right after 9/11? Yup, it's becoming obvious that we're through the looking-glass here, people: Children's Television Workshop is a front organization for radical terrorism. I don't think EVERYONE there is a raving mad jihadist though: Kermit the Frog always struck me as being the rational one. He'll no doubt be set up as the patsy when this whole thing blows up.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Blazing Saddles is showing on AMC right now

Yeah, I got it on DVD ('twas the very first one I bought after getting the player) but it's too much fun to watch all the edits for television done to it. Not to mention that the TV version usually shows the scenes deleted from the original, like the baptism scene ("Praise the Lord! Pass the chicken!") This ain't just Mel Brooks' best movie ever: it's probably one of the best movies made, ever at all!

By the way, this movie came out like the week before I was born. It's also the very first movie that I remember seeing (when CBS aired it, I was probably 3 years old and was with my Dad as he watched it). Yup, one of my earliest memories is watching Blazing Saddles.

There's a lesson in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanksgiving 2004: Hellfire, Hot Oil, and Turkey Hunger

The most dangerous form of cooking known to man is widely considered to be cutting and cleaning the fugu blowfish. It takes a chef ten years to finish the training required to be certified to serve the dish. The final exam is easy: the initiate prepares a fugu and eats it himself. If he can skillfully slice it up without exposing the delicious meat to the deadly tetrodotoxin in the rest of the fish, he gets his license. If he screws up he dies a horrible death by drowning without water as his brain loses the ability to command the lungs to breathe and the master fugu chef announces a new opening for an apprentice.

Preparing fugu is the most deadly culinary art around. Deep-frying turkey is said to be the second most deadly.

What else can be said about a procedure involving flame and hot oil that propels even professional firefighters into the emergency room with horrid burns? That sends panicked family into the streets as it engulfs their house in smoke and ruin? That uses equipment that has been know to explode minus simple precautions, sending searing-hot contents outward like so much Cajun napalm?

And yet... I'm madly in love with this!

It was two years ago, beginning with a trial-run the week before Thanksgiving, that I deep-fried my first turkey. That one came out great, save for being more than a little burned on the outside. Maybe 15 birds later and I've gotten pretty darned good at both marinading it, then bathing it in Perdition's flame. 'Course, it took me three years after first hearing about it, and then a TON of study into how to do this - what to do and what NOT to do - before finally getting up the courage to take a stab at it. I'll never go back to basted turkey again if I can help it: fried turkey is so amazingly juicy - and with a REAL taste finally, which I never knew turkey even really had - that in my book it's the ONLY way to prepare turkey. Despite the risk of injury and destruction that comes with it. But if you don't mind taking a few common-sense precautions and be patient throughout the process, it's really a very simple and relatively safe thing to do. Just don't approach it as a routine means of cooking: treat each bird as a unique work of art. That's all there really is to it.

Two full-sized turkeys this year. I started marinading them early morning the day before yesterday. For REAL good ideally you wanna try to start juicin' 'em up 36 hours before frying. If that's not possible, at least somewhere around 24 hours. It yields a lot better bird than doing it a few hours before.
The first turkey - a 21-pounder - was the biggest that I've done to date. Even despite my little trick of how you can figure out how much oil to put in the pot, it was enough displacement to send some overflowing and into the propane flame below. I took it extra slow on this one, giving the oil enough time to fill the internal cavity so as to take up some slack. The picture doesn't do it justice but we had a hella good flame going around the pot for awhile there...
350-degree Fahrenheit peanut oil. I've done many turkeys since starting to deep-fry them two years ago and this was the first time I ever came close to injury but only 'cuz the sheer size of the bird played havoc with the setup. It did get in there and the oil level brought down to a safe level, but while lowering it in some oil splattered up and onto my hand. There's a darn good reason why you wear stuff like heavy gloves and eye protection when you do this, kids.
A little over an hour later (figure 3 1/2 minutes of frying time per pound) and here's the result...
Lately some models of turkey fryers have been hitting the market claiming to be safe enough to use by anyone because they're electric, not propane. Some are even supposed to be used indoors (?!?). Blasphemy and sacrilege, I say: turkey-frying is an outdoor sport, done with propane and without any fancy computer to monitor the temperature for you. This is power cooking. This is a man's way of cooking: women and children should be confined to the house while it's going on. I'd even suggest parking all cars and trucks away so that the tires don't melt. It's NOT something for the faint-of-heart or the remotely skittish. You have to WANT to do this enough that even knowing what's at risk, you judge that it's worth getting a turkey this delicious out of it. Come to think of it, you have to be positively crazy on some level to even think of doing this.I mean, people have been killed doing this. I myself would have received horrific third-degree burns on my hand yesterday were it not for the heavy gloves. A lot worse than that could have happened too.

I can't wait to do it again come Christmas!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Civil war looms after election of "Weird Al" Yankovic

Yankovic apparently "fixed" the polls during Ukraine's presidential election and public protests threaten to spiral the country into chaos. News agencies are reporting that although a nationwide general strike has been called by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, Yankovic is already assembling his governing council: earlier this afternoon Doctor Demento was appointed Minister of Health.

Okay, so that wasn't very funny. But every time Yanukovich's name has come up I'm reminded of this guy:

Beware the Flying Shrimp Platter of DEATH!

If this story is accurate, it means that Forrest Gump possesses the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. From the AP via Ohio News Network...

Family sues Japanese restaurant for tossing shrimp

MINEOLA, N.Y. A New York family has filed a ten (M) million-dollar lawsuit, claiming a Japanese chef who tossed cooked shrimp at a man caused him to die ten months later.

The family of the Long Island man (Jerry Colaitis) says he ducked away from the flying shrimp, wrenched his neck and died from complications caused by the surgery he had on his neck.

The family is suing the Benihana Restaurant in Munsey Park, Long Island. The restaurant is known for having its hibachi chefs slice, dice and toss food when cooking the meal in front of customers.

In the lawsuit, the man's wife says her husband was healthy until he went to the restaurant. She says the chain of events that led to his death began with the shrimp.

So a tiny little shrimp caused THAT much grief? Maybe the Benihana chefs were throwing lobsters around that night and everyone in this family was too nearsighted to tell the difference. That's the only credible explanation (which ain't saying much) that backs up what they're claiming. Otherwise, although it's sad they've lost a loved one, this smells too much like a frivolous lawsuit and it'll probably get tossed out of court.

Spike Lee, I owe you an apology

So I'm gonna be up all night: have two turkeys to prepare for deep-frying about 36 hours from now, and in-between injections of marinade (once every 4-6 hours usually) I'm putting the trailer for Forcery together in Premiere Pro. Hopefully the trailer will be online come late Thursday or Friday. And I needed some background noise...

There's only two movies on teevee right now that even remotely interest me. HBO is running Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which if you can ignore the time years later when Pee-Wee's wee-wee got over-exposed, it's still a really good movie. It launched the career of Tim Burton and it has what might be one of THE few legitimately scary scenes in movie history: when Pee-Wee is riding in Large Marge's truck. Classic film that I've seen at least a bajillion times over the years. It's something that I can trust.

The other movie is Malcolm X on AMC.

Malcolm X came out when I was a senior in high school. There was a lot of interest in it back then, but I never saw it. In fact, I've never seen at all, period, as in anything more than a 3-second clip, until tonight. This was the unknown quantity competing for my peripheral attention.

In the end, Malcolm Little won out over Paul Reubens. It's now about two hours into this four-hour-plus monster of a biography... and I'm really, really regretting not having seen this before.

I said that I was working on Thanksgiving dinner and a promo for our film. Since my attention started gravitating toward Malcolm X those projects have still barely started. Just about everything is working in this movie: Denzel Washington's acting, the editing, the pacing... and the directing. I wish that I'd taken the time to watch this before literally almost running into Spike Lee years ago, when he came to our college to film He Got Game. I didn't know who he was at first (I knew about his movies, just not what he looked like) but after finding out, I thought that Lee was too wired, like he'd taken an overdose of No-Doz. He seemed like someone who was too frenetic for their own good. Haven't watched He Got Game yet either (though friends swear that I'm seen walking around in the background in one scene) but I've seen a few other Lee movies. And though Do The Right Thing is still pretty unique, nothing else by Spike Lee has really piqued my curiosity. In my mind he seemed like a director who could only work with variations on the theme of Black American/White American. And after awhile, that gets boring.

But so far Malcolm X is... well, perfect.

No small feat this, considering that its subject was a man possessing so intense a complex character that Malcolm X - I think anyway - became one of the most enigmatic figures of 20th century American history. I wish that I'd caught this in previous years, because so far it's completely changing my views on Spike Lee. Before tonight he seemed too much a hack filmmaker driven by agenda to me. But while yet in the middle of Malcolm X, I'm coming to realize that he's a very talented director with a rare grasp of historical narrative.

Lee should make more movies like Malcolm X and steer away from the angst-ridden projects of his earlier career. This is real art. You don't get something this good by making it come out of a sense of anger or frustration. If Lee ever does something this high-caliber again, I'll gladly pay money hand-over-fist at the box office to catch it opening day.

Gonna go watch the rest of it now whilst I be shootin' up some turkeys with garlic butter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Turning on comments again

Last week I turned off the comment feature. In retrospect I wish that I hadn't.

For awhile it looked like this blog was attracting more than its fair share of (a) 14-year old hormone machines calling themselves "Lance" who get their jollies by pretending to be Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, (b) chronically unemployable beefcakes who vent their rage at the rest of humanity by hacking out inane statements at their keyboards while under the influence of 190 proof Everclear, and (c) garden-variety losers who use pledge-drive time at PBS to phone bomb threats into local stations as dread harbingers of death and destruction unless the network brings back "Red Dwarf". A few people even sent such threats to me.

My initial decision to remove commenting stems from the fact that although I have time to post to my blog when the Muse so leads, I have neither the time or desire to actively police the comments. I'd rather comments be used for serious discussion: meaning that I'm really not that welcoming toward anyone who'll try to convince me that all my worries will disappear... if I only subscribe to one political party or another. One person even said that I was "traitorous" in regards to some of the things I was saying, which had to do with the fact that America has become a self-shamed mockery of her former glory. Well, I'll note this: when you really love a person, how can you possibly live with yourself if you do nothing while that person destroys his own with alcohol or drugs or addiction to porn? Answer: you can't. It works the same between citizens and their countries too... and no amount of blind nationalism can change that.

I got fed-up with the people who insisted that it could. Enough to the point that even though I enjoyed reading the thoughts and comments of most of my readers, it seemed more necessary to keep it a REAL discussion, hard as that became with all the trolls that started showing up. But as a friend told me tonight: "Why should you stop doing something because some idiots can't understand what you're doing? Why should you let them take away your fun from this?" He was right, too.

So, for the time being anyway, I'm going to open up the comments to everyone, including anonymous posters. If abuse begins again, I'll keep the comments going but will find other ways to direct the comments toward meaningful discussion. And if anyone sends in or posts a threat, either to me or another commenter...

...well, guess I'll get to use the IP numbers (that are attached to ALL comments) to track down the person responsible, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

In the meantime, to those of you who may have sincerely enjoyed this lil' site and the fresh content that I'm trying to provide here and were enjoying the commenting for all the right reasons, welcome back! And to those who have just discovered this place: sit a spell, take your shoes off, and y'all come back now ya hear? And feel free to post if your own Muse, or heart, or Holy Spirit leads you to do so. And to those few who were trying to ruin things for other people: take a hike. Or post anyway and reveal yourselves to be the mental munchkins that you are. Or make a threat, so that I can post your lovely mugshot on this blog after you're dragged to the cooler.

(I mentioned "nationalism" earlier. Will write soon about the difference between nationalism and patriotism, and how there is actually very little real patriotism in America today.)

Monday, November 22, 2004

Your laser printer is sending hardcopy to Big Brother

It used to be standard policy in the Soviet Union that if you - whether as a private individual or one of the few small businesses allowed during perestroika - wanted to purchase anything that produced printed material, the party wouldn't let you play with it right out of the box. Instead you first had to take your typewriter, printer, fax machine or copier down to the local KGB office where you would "register" it with the state: by submitting typewritten or printed samples created with the machine. The samples would be kept on file with the KGB so they would have a unique "fingerprint" of your particular device.

If you were ever suspected of circulating any "subversive literature" around, the offending leaflet could be compared to the samples of your machine. If they matched... well, it usually meant you'd won an express ticket straight to beautiful Dzerzhinsky Square in downtown Moscow, of which your hosts made sure that you'd get to tour "the basement". Hey, beats what would happen if you were found with an unregistered printing machine: those were usually dealt with by summary execution.

I mention all of this 'cuz since America is now well into the phase where we've gone beyond laughing at the Soviets and are now determined to actively imitate them, this next story is totally apropos. But think of the bright side: at least this way you don't have to burn gas money trudging your new printer down to the CIA... not when they've got its serial number tagged with the credit card that you bought it with. Convenient, no? Awright, just read this from PC World via Yahoo!...

Government Uses Color Laser Printer Technology to Track Documents

Mon Nov 22, 4:00 AM ET
Jason Tuohey, Medill News Service

WASHINGTON--Next time you make a printout from your color laser printer, shine an LED flashlight beam on it and examine it closely with a magnifying glass. You might be able to see the small, scattered yellow dots printer there that could be used to trace the document back to you.

According to experts, several printer companies quietly encode the serial number and the manufacturing code of their color laser printers and color copiers on every document those machines produce. Governments, including the United States, already use the hidden markings to track counterfeiters.

Peter Crean, a senior research fellow at Xerox, says his company's laser printers, copiers and multifunction workstations, such as its WorkCentre Pro series, put the "serial number of each machine coded in little yellow dots" in every printout. The millimeter-sized dots appear about every inch on a page, nestled within the printed words and margins.

"It's a trail back to you, like a license plate," Crean says.

The dots' minuscule size, covering less than one-thousandth of the page, along with their color combination of yellow on white, makes them invisible to the naked eye, Crean says. One way to determine if your color laser is applying this tracking process is to shine a blue LED light--say, from a keychain laser flashlight--on your page and use a magnifier.


If the practice disturbs you, don't bother trying to disable the encoding mechanism--you'll probably just break your printer.

Crean describes the device as a chip located "way in the machine, right near the laser" that embeds the dots when the document "is about 20 billionths of a second" from printing.

"Standard mischief won't get you around it," Crean adds.

Neither Crean nor Pagano has an estimate of how many laser printers, copiers, and multifunction devices track documents, but they say that the practice is commonplace among major printer companies.

"The industry absolutely has been extraordinarily helpful [to law enforcement]," Pagano says.

According to Pagano, counterfeiting cases are brought to the Secret Service, which checks the documents, determines the brand and serial number of the printer, and contacts the company. Some, like Xerox, have a customer database, and they share the information with the government.

Crean says Xerox and the government have a good relationship. "The U.S. government had been on board all along--they would actually come out to our labs," Crean says.


For the rest of the story punch here.

So... if we're not just following the same procedure that the Soviets used in controlling the spread of printed material, but have instead improved upon it, that's not necessarily a good thing for the people of this country, right?


"Despicable" computer game reloads the JFK assassination

Nope, Electronic Arts didn't roll out The Sims Lone Gunman Expansion Pack while we weren't looking. It ain't a joke either: this is an actual screenshot that I took from JFK Reloaded a short while ago.

Available for download starting today - the 41st anniversary of the JFK assassination - the computer game from British software outfit Traffic puts you in the role of Lee Harvey Oswald at the infamous sixth-floor window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. The left mouse button toggles the sniper scope, while hitting the right one rains down virtual bullets from your Mannlicher-Carcano. Score points by sticking to the "findings" of the Warren Commission, but they’re deducted if you accidentally put a round through First Lady Jackie. Apart from the absence of the cheering crowds (sorry: no "Umbrella Man" or "Babushka Lady" here) you're opening fire on a VERY realistic 3D-rendered simulacrum of Dealey Plaza that Traffic assembled from the most studied motion picture footage in history: the Abraham Zapruder film. Watch the scene unfold in first-person mode, in third-person overlooking Oswald's perch, or from the "Grassy Knoll". You can download a demo of the game that's fully-functional minus being able to actually shoot (thus letting Kennedy safely ride off) or pay $9.99 online to unlock the full game so you can get "JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?"

Well, for starters paying ten bucks to register the game makes you eligible for a $100,000 prize if you're the one who comes closest to replicating Oswald's ummm... "accomplishment". And Traffic is assuming that it was Oswald and no other: "We've created the game with the belief that Oswald was the only person that fired the shots on that day," Traffic's managing editor Kirk Ewing said, "although this recreation proves how immensely difficult his task was."

Having a big cash payout for best imitation of the murder of the century is a pretty cold thing to do, in my opinion. JFK's younger brother Senator Ted Kennedy released a statement calling the game "despicable"... something that's maybe the first thing I've ever agreed 100% with him on. And thinking that a videogame like JFK Reloaded will encourage young people to become more interested in history – which Traffic claims was one of their motives in producing it - is pretty condescending. But I've got to admit: after downloading the demo and installing the optional high-resolution patch, it must be said that JFK Reloaded is an amazing marriage of historical events with modern gaming technology. Simply put, the game looks stunning, though I couldn't possibly shell out money for the full version with a clear conscience.

Meanwhile, unsubstantiated rumors persist that two days from now Traffic will be publishing an add-on pack to JFK Reloaded, tentatively-titled Jail Basement Transfer. Players can either act as Jack Ruby or witness his lunge forward from the perspective of "the Man in the White Hat".

Sunday, November 21, 2004

ATTENTION LADIES: Kyle Williams is officially an eligible bachelor!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to wunderkind writer and teenage theological revolutionary (and great guy to have as a friend) Kyle Williams, who hits SWEET SIXTEEN today. This day holds special meaning for Kyle: he can now drive a car, he can now date his female admirers (of which one has told me that "Kyle looks HOT!") and never again can someone dismiss his thoughts and claim that "he's too young a pundit" out of desperation!

Internet history - and other kinds - got made three years ago this weekend

Would have remembered to post about this yesterday, 'cept at the time I'd been going on 7 hours sleep total across the past four days (most of that time spent working on this film). Anyhoo...

It was November 20 in 2001 that six months of planning, starting from the moment this bizarre plot was first hatched, culminated in a single keystroke. My friend Joshua Griffin did the honors: as Editor of TheForce.net he was the one who had first brought me aboard the site. And more than just a co-worker, he became an awesome friend and brother in the Lord... and a great counselor in all things about love between a guy and his girl. I couldn't bring myself to do this so I asked if he would. How much did I trust Josh? Enough to put the entire rest of my life into his hands... literally!

"It's away!" Josh yelled over the phone as his finger went down on the "Post Article" button. Lisa didn't arrive at my apartment for another hour and a half. By the time she did the entire free world had come to know that she had to be something very special if her boyfriend was crazy in love with her (or just plain crazy) enough to announce just HOW much it was that he loved her!

It was after I had read her a passage of scripture from Ephesians, and then removed her boots and sock to wash her feet in a basin of warm water as a sign of how I wanted to serve her, that Lisa got to see that. I was kneeling beside her by then, wearing the same outfit and holding out the REAL ring (but no lightsaber this time :-) She said "yes" in less than a second.

A few people have told me since that so far as anyone's been able to figure out, this was the very first time ever that a major website like this was used to do a marriage proposal, and possibly even done on the Internet at all. That's neat that TheForce.net got to make history like that... 'cuz it sure did for me and Lisa :-)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

"...Because there were no more worlds to conquer."

CNN is reporting on several angry Greeks threatening to sue Warner Brothers over the upcoming film Alexander. The contention is whether or not Alexander the Great was bisexual.

If this movie is based on the script I read parts of years ago, it would not only be a great flick but the issue might be a legit one for polite discussion. But it so happens that the addition of a single factor should poison the well of historical debate as much as it leads me to weigh against plunking my money down at the box office to see it at all...

Alexander is directed by Oliver Stone.

After what he did with JFK and Nixon, I can only surmise that Alexander of Macedonia was a safe target 'cuz so far as major world leaders go, there are no more for Stone to conquer... errr, I mean "to obfuscate".

Friday, November 19, 2004

A thought that came to me a few days ago...

No minority is so despised and ignored as the individual.

Thoughts and prayers with Condi Rice this afternoon

It's being reported today that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's now-National Security Advisor and soon-Secretary of State, underwent surgery this morning to remove non-malignant growths in her uterus. The procedure is called a "uterine fibroid embolization" and word from the surgeons who performed the task is that Rice came through very well.

I'm led to keep Doctor Rice in prayer this afternoon, and wish her a speedy recover so that she'll soon be back in action and none the worse for wear. Yes, I know: she's one of Bush's innermost cabal and I've made it quite clear - and with very good reasons - why he can't be trusted. How he's deluded a lot of Christians into believing he's the embodiment of saintly righteousness when his real character shows him to be a very bitter, angry, vindictive and hateful man attempting to hide an evil nature behind the Bible. How he and a lot of other people in his administration are making America a far more socialist - and I don't mind saying "fascist" also - state than it's ever been before. And I don't agree with a lot of things that she's said previously...

...but Condi Rice has always been my very favorite person in this White House. Easily the smartest brain in there. On top of the Doctorate in Political Science she's fluent in French, Russian and Spanish. She helped engineer the reunification of Germany. She plays concert cello and her biggest dream is to someday be running the National Football League. And she's the one I'm inclined to find more trustworthy than most of the others in this administration. In a sane world, she'd be living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now instead of working there. Say what one will of the people around her, she's the kind of lady you just gotta admire despite all that.

Psychedelic Sydney: Australians may "trip" over toads in more ways than one.

See this toad? I was looking over the stories on the Oddly Enough section of Yahoo! News and came across this lil' item about how this species - the cane toad - is swarming all over Sydney. Being overrun by a Biblical plague is bad enough, but our friends Down Under had better pray that the cane toad's other "properties" stay off the radar. Or else Australia threatens to become the Haight-Ashbury of the South Pacific...

Ground 'Moves' as Cane Toads Invade Park

Fri Nov 19, 9:21 AM ET
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of poisonous baby cane toads invaded an Australian national park Friday, hopping around in such numbers that the ground seemed to move, an ecologist said.

The ugly amphibians moved into the Arakwal National Park near one of the country's famous surfing meccas, Byron Bay, following an explosion in toad numbers after recent rains.

"You should see the ground down there, it is just black and it is just moving, it is a seething mass of young cane toads, it looks like the ground is moving," local ecologist Steve Phillips told Australian radio.
Park officials plan to destroy as many of the toads as possible before they grow into adults, hoping that once numbers are reduced the threatened wallum froglet and wallum sedge frog populations will pick up.

Cane toads are one of Australia's worst environmental pests.

They were introduced to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 to stop the French Cane Beetle and Greyback Cane Beetle from destroying sugar cane crops in the northeastern state of Queensland.


While cane toads will eat anything and appear easy prey for larger animals, they possess highly poisonous sacs behind their heads which kill predators quickly.

What this Reuters story from Yahoo! neglected to mention was that the Aussies have a potentially bigger problem on their hands than just the cane toad's vast numbers. Here's where the real fun begins...

The poison secreted by the cane toad's glands spreads throughout its body and is very permeable through its skin. In other words, the entire cane toad becomes a poison pill, with a toxin strong enough to kill most enemies of the toad that are relative to its size by mere contact. It's even been known to injure and kill larger animals like dogs that happen to eat the toads. So you'd think that most rationale human beings would known enough to leave the cane toad alone, right?


Turns out that the cane frog is a natural producer of the chemical bufotenine, and it's one of the poison's components. Bufotenine is also a powerful hallucinogenic drug: if your body manages to intake enough of it (usually a small amount) you'll experience an effect very similar to what would happen if you took a drop of LSD. It's similar to mescaline in that both drugs are also found naturally in certain mushrooms (like peyote) that have been used for centuries by Native Americans of North and South America for religious rituals, including the modern-day Native American Church. "Your people go into your churches and talk to Jesus," one practitioner told a white Christian after a long night of the peyote ritual: "our people go into our teepees and we see Jesus!"

The upshot of all of this is, bufotenine is considered a controlled substance. Court cases have upheld Native American rights to use such hallucinogens in religious ceremonies, but otherwise the general public isn't supposed to have access to bufotenine. In fact, possession of bufotenine is considered highly illegal.

Possession of a cane toad, however, is very legal.

Take a wild guess where this is going. Or if you've figured it out, take a wild guess how exactly the bufotenine is extracted from the cane frog by people who want to turn on, tune in, and drop out.

It's been documented for years, but most people still (and for good reason) either haven't heard or can't accept that such a thing as toad-licking goes on in this world. It's really pretty simple: if you want to "trip out" on bufotenine you merely pick up your handy-dandy cane toad and lick its back (supposedly the REAL buzz comes from applying your moist wet tongue to the very top and rear of the toad's head). The poison secreted from the toad's skin enters your body via the capillaries of your tongue and from there the toxin - and the bufotenine it contains - makes its way to your brain and nervous system.

Sounds crazy... but it got so bad for awhile that even the generally strange People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals condemned the practice. Although their concern wasn't so much for human safety as it was for the toads': "We find LSD is a much better animal free alternative," a PETA spokeslady said. "We know the toad licking lobby is powerful, but the message needs to be heard." To which one toad-licker replied: "LSD just doesn't give as intense hallucinations as toad licking. PETA can take my toad away when they tear it from my cold dead lips."

In other words, the Australians are going to have a massive drug abuse crisis on their hands if people over there are as dumb (which judging from the Aussies I've met isn't very likely) as the ones in America tend to be and start licking these things. But on the bright side of things: since you CAN legally own a cane toad and do whatever you want to with it, I think the Australians should make the best of a bad situation and start up a massive industry cultivating and exporting these things all over the world. They could make jillions of dollars from this, could become the Southern Hemisphere's answer to Afghanistan's opium trade... and it would all be legit!

All that said though, I still feel more than a little conflicted about putting my mouth to a toad to suck on its skin.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Ridley Scott making a Halo movie? Maybe.

Halo is something I've never played but have come to be familiar with, since every Xbox owners around me has raved about it for the past few years like it was the only game for that system. I'm still not at the level where I can tell a "Covenant" from a "Master Chief" whatever the heck that is, but I understood way ahead of time that when Halo 2 came out last week that it was going to be a big, big deal for a lot of people. They'll prolly spooge to no end if there's any basis to this story...

Ain't It Cool News is reporting this morning that Ridley Scott might be in talks to turn Halo into a big-screen flick: read the full story by AICN's Quint here. Looks interesting. Though I still have to wonder if Larry Niven could sue Microsoft and Bungie Studios for ripping off Ringworld.

Finally added a syndication feed

If - and Lord only knows why you may feel so inclined - you want The Knight Shift to come straight to your desktop via a newsreader program, you can do that now. Here's the Atom Feed for this blog. Earlier this morning I finally sat myself down to figure out what this feed/RSS/Atom stuff was all about. It wasn't really until I found Pluck during a search at Download.com that everything fell into place and ya know what, this is a pretty neat gimmick!

Oh yeah, I'm going to begin slowly revamping this blog's appearance during the next week or so. Nothing major yet but if you want something different, head over to Zip's Mighty Blog, run by a really cool guy I met at my wife's high school reunion this past weekend. It musta been Zip's picture with Bruce Campbell that turned my mind to think about Army of Darkness for yesterday's entry about Sears and KMart merging.

More later.

Forced medication on our kids?! (Awright Bush-bots, explain how THIS could possibly be conservative or Christian)

Every sensible and conscientious parent in America should swear an oath before Almighty God that they will KILL anyone from the government that tries to do this to their children. Failing to do that would only go to prove that they didn't really love or care for their own kids at all.

Seriously. The line has to be drawn somewhere and if not here... well, then where?

To all the people who voted for George W. Bush a few weeks ago: congratulations, you elected a Nazi.

Because this is exactly what Nazism was as a political/economic system. It was (and is) an all-powerful central government married to corporate interests that serve toward furthering the state's goals in exchange for a wide latitude for profit.

Looks like sometime in the next few days the U.S. Senate is going to vote on the "New Freedom Initiative", Bush's plan to force mandatory mental-health screenings on eventually all Americans, beginning with young schoolchildren. The whole thing is a massive nod by Bush toward the pharmaceutical companies that donated to his political campaigns. In other words, kickbacks and corruption in broad daylight. These companies stand to make BILLIONS when government agents start diagnosing kids for mental disorders and forcing expensive medications upon them... that only these companies happen to produce.

As of this writing Rep. Ron Paul (from Texas) is making an attempt to strip out the mandatory conditions of the bill, so that this kind of thing can only be done by parental consent. Paul is one of the few people on Capitol Hill that genuinely believes in the United States Constitution. Which probably lent itself toward his last effort to stop this going down in flames. With help from his own party, the Republicans: you know, the party of smaller government?

There is nothing "small government" about this. There is nothing conservative about this. And there sure as heck ain't nothing Christian about it either. Whoever conceived of this plan is a madman. And I would like to add my usual comment that whoever came up with this should be "dragged out into the street and shot" but I've no idea if that would entail a visit from guys in trenchcoats and dark glasses and earpieces.

That said though, I'm going to make this vow:

If someone from the government tries to force medications on me without my consent, I will kill him.

If someone from the government tries to force medications on my wife without either of our consent, I will kill him.

If someone from the government tries to force medications on my children without my consent, I will not just kill him. I will shoot him in both legs, drag him screaming to the center of town, make him suffer and die in the most painfully slow manner that I can come up with, and hang his carcass from the nearest telephone pole by its circular reproductive units with piano wire as a warning to the next ten generations of would-be gods that "sic semper tyrannis".

Like I said, if we don't put a stop to this madness NOW, WHEN do we do it? And what can we possibly tell our children when they ask why we didn't stop it when we had the chance?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

"Shop smart... shop S-Mart!"

"Name's Ash. Housewares."

Well why not? With Sears and Kmart merging it sounds a lot better than "Big S".


Hail to the king, baby.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Boy Scouts abandoned as Pentagon retreats on sponsorship

Let me get this straight: our military can take over a hostile town in the middle of a god-forsaken desert... but can't sponsor Boy Scouts meeting on their own bases?

It's almost funny: that our government can topple most of the others in the world, but folds completely when taking on the ACLU.

Whoever made the ultimate decision to implement this policy is an idiot. For one thing, although it doesn't ban Boy Scouts from meeting on bases, it certainly does discourage it, especially overseas where there are no realistic alternatives for meeting places. For another, a very large number of officers in the U.S. military were once Boy Scouts, and a lot of them made it all the way to Eagle Scout. By caving to the ACLU on this, the U.S. government is giving no appreciation to the Boy Scouts of America for the fine young men that have come out of it and into the military's ranks: it's like plowing up your best garden on account of a single gopher.

Read the full story as USA Today is reporting it here.

Monday, November 15, 2004

NEW COMMENT POLICY: Time to separate the wheat from the chaff

Starting a new policy this afternoon: the comment feature is getting turned off. If anyone wants to e-mail me at theknightshift@gmail.com, I will read you comment there and choose whether or not to edit the post to include your remarks.

Wish I didn't have to do this, but over the past several days this blog has attracted - in addition to plenty of good and sincere readers - way too many idiots. One of them, claiming to be a Marine stationed in Washington D.C., resorted to posting threats of murder after finding himself on the losing end of a discussion. I doubt that he was a real Marine: all the ones I've known weren't hot-heads. They're also a smart enough bunch that they can think for themselves: they have to be. This one didn't have an original thought in his head. And a real Marine wouldn't threaten violence or death like this guy was: when you learn how to kill a man, you also learn how not to kill a man. Whoever this phony is, his lack of self-discipline would have gotten him booted out of Parris Island and classified 4F before "Taps" tonight.

I'm not obligated to give him a mouthpiece for his stupidity. His or anyone else's for that matter.

It did cross my mind that I could merely make the commenting available only to registered Blogger users... but that would be unfair to those who wanted to comment but had no desire to start a blog of their own. It couldn't remain something open for just anyone to post to though: not as nasty as some of them have been. All of those have come from people who may or may not have been too coward to publish their identity, so they kept it "Anonymous". It's just me doing this blog, not a staff of dozens, and I have neither the time or the desire to go through and cull out the bad ones from the good. And I believe that if you've something to say and if you really believe in it, unless you've a darned good reason for hiding your identity you better stand up where everyone can see you as you say it. Not doing that destroys the credibility of both your message and yourself.

To all the people who've been serious and considerate toward this blog, even those who may stand in disagreement with me on some things but still gave me a polite and enjoyable discussion: I apologize to you, and it hadn't come to this. But I'll strive to keep it going even if I have to add comments to each post manually.

One of the things in this life that I've never understood

Have a few things to do this afternoon but to kill time while working on other projects I flicked through some TV channels to see if anything good was on (hardly ever watch TV, truth be known, apart from "The Simpsons", "Smallville", "Powerpuff Girls" and "Johnny Bravo" on Cartoon Network, and the Hitler... I mean, History Channel).

Lo and behold, right now HBO is running 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I've seen this dozens of times over the years since I was ten years old. It's been out since 1968.

Can anybody please tell me what the hell is the plot of this movie?!?

I mean, what STORY is being told here??? Big black brick makes apes throw bones in the air, followed by big black brick hurting some dudes' ears on the moon, followed by big black brick making a computer go murderously nuts before said big black brick makes some astronaut guy do an LSD trip then turns him into a really really big baby.

To reiterate: "Huh?"

There's a fine line between genius and insanity, and here Stanley Kubrick dipped his toes into more than enough of both. But it's still his greatest movie ever... and one of the greatest movies ever made. True, it's somewhat dated now: 2001 didn't happen like the film prophesied be (which in 1997 Arthur C. Clarke - who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick - blamed on the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Challenger disaster) but on every level this movie still holds its own against the test of time. For one thing, I know of no other document from the early space age that best represents the hopefulness and optimism that people back then had in the future. That's going to make 2001 especially haunting in years to come: we're going to look back on this movie and the time it's from and ask ourselves "What happened? Where did we go wrong?"

Why did we go wrong? At 30 I'm way young, but plenty old enough to remember reading about the things that were going to happen in my lifetime: colonies on the moon. Pleasure excursions to Mars. Mining the asteroid belt. Something called the Daedalus Project that British engineers hoped to launch toward Barnard's Star and arrive there 50 years later to see if planets were there). A "space bridge" that would connect a station on earth with a geosynchronous satellite so that stuff could be hoisted into orbit without costly rockets... and a zillion other things that a six-year old kid back then daydreamed about seeing before he hit retirement age (at which point Winnebago would be selling an interplanetary mobile home to tool around in).

What do kids dream about nowadays? Do they still look forward to when they can wave back at their friends home on Earth while they're off at summer camp on the Moon? And if they can't... why? Where did we cross the line that turned a far-off glimpse toward a bright tomorrow into escapist nonsense and delusions of grandeur? I mean, given the choice to determine which way this world went, I'd rather it head in the direction that Kubrick and Clarke showed us in 2001 instead of the over-computerized drug-riddled corporate-driven wasteland of William Gibson's Neuromancer (a very good book by the way: it's where the term "cyberspace" was first coined, not to mention paving the way for modern sci-fi like The Matrix). Is it too much to think that we can still aspire for something better than the soulless decadence that we're barreling headlong into? Do any of us dare to dream anymore?

That's one of the things in this life that I've never understood (thought I was just talking about the title of the movie there, huh? :-)

All that said, and for everything it stands for that never came to pass (yet anyway), 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of my all-time favorite movies: even though every time I watch it I can grasp the storyline... but when I wake up the next morning I can remember nothing about what it was really all about.

But next time you do, here's some neat things to keep in mind when you watch 2001: A Space Odyssey:
- Not a single note of music was explicitly written for the movie. Every piece heard derived from previously-composed works, including the film's signature theme from "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss.
- The graphics shown on the computer monitors were all hand-drawn slides. Computer technology could not yet render the complex images expected from those that would be operating spacecraft systems thirty years in the future.
- After production, director Kubrick ordered all the models, sets, and costumes used in the movie to be destroyed. And just to be safe he had the respective blueprints burned and trashed as well. His reason? That 2001 shouldn't be cheapened by future low-budget sci-fi flicks making use of its props (though it also created a major headache when its sorta-sequel 2010 started production in 1983).
- "Daisy", the song that HAL sings while dying was in reality the very first song performed by a real computer, at IBM in 1961. Incidentally, one part of the song goes "I'm half crazy".
- The ACTUAL beginning of the movie is rarely shown on television... and for a long time wasn't even available on home video. It's several minutes of Gyorgy Ligeti's "Atmospheres" (later used during the "stargate" sequence as the monolith hurls David Bowman across countless light-years to the source of its power) played against a pitch-black screen. This overture has been restored in recent VHS and DVD releases.
- Speaking of which, Ligeti sued Kubrick for using his music without permission in the movie. He won.
- The movie is 139 minutes long but contains no dialogue for 88 minutes of its run... including within the half-hours at both the beginning and end of the film.
- HAL's name came from going one-letter away from each letter in "IBM".
- The "floating pen" in the shuttle is actually attached to a sheet of glass that the camera is aiming through. The stewardess merely pulls it off the sheet when she sticks it back into Heywood Floyd's pocket.
- There was real text written for the instructions on the zero-gravity toilet that Floyd uses en route to the Moon. You can read them for yourself at IMDB's page about 2001 trivia.
- Supposedly when the screen says "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" you can listen to "Echoes" from Pink Floyd's "Meddle" album and it perfectly syncs-up with the stargate sequence (much the same way that the band's "Dark Side of the Moon" album can be played alongside The Wizard of Oz).
- During one screening during its initial run, the image of Bowman reborn as the Starchild at the end of the movie caused one theater-goer to run wildly toward the screen screaming "IT'S GOD!! IT'S GOD!!"
And finally, Arthur C. Clarke no doubt put it best when describing 2001: A Space Odyssey: "If you understand 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered."

The Polar Express review

Every ten years or so Robert Zemeckis comes out of hiding and does something that makes you go "Wow!" In 1985 it was the first Back to the Future flick, followed up nine years later by Forrest Gump (maybe one of the most perfect movies ever). So what's Zemeckis got to show us in 2004, especially now that he's re-teamed up with Tom Hanks? Well, it depends...

There are two ways to watch The Polar Express: as a wide-eyed seven-year old kid or as a rationale and "wiser" adult, and the choice is going to shape how you feel when you walk away from the theater. If you don't want to be set up for potential letdown, go in as the kid. Or at least – at risk of giving away the theme of the movie – have a little faith.

The Polar Express is a visual feast and assault on the senses that shreds the envelope that used to hold everything possible with computer-generated animation. It also breaks new ground on how the virtual camera is used. In that respect it's sorta the CGI-equivalent to Citizen Kane, when Orson Welles pioneered striking new camera angles that conveyed the story as much as the actual acting did. I know that juxtaposition of Zemeckis with Welles is going to blow some people’s minds, but I'm serious: there are things in The Polar Express that to the best of my knowledge haven’t been done before in terms of computer cinematography.

But the strength of that was likely an unintended byproduct of the REAL achievement: the ultra-photo-realistic computer rendering. Tom Hanks plays six different characters in The Polar Express, having to endure countless hours of acting before motion-capture cameras with dozens of tiny computer-trackable balls glued to his face to get every nuance of his expressions. Intellectually I knew that but when faced with the actual experience: that was Tom Hanks – the REAL Tom Hanks – onscreen, not a digital doppleganger. It sure as heck doesn't look fake. Very little does look synthetic: at the very least something or a person (the main girl character easily comes to mind 'cuz her face seemed almost fish-frozen at times, like they couldn't get her expressions to work quite right) is only minimally artificial... but the onslaught of vividness around those instances make them pretty forgivable. See the kid at the beginning of the movie? Try and believe that he's NOT a real boy. Sure fooled the heck out of my wife and her parents when we saw the movie two days ago.

All of these and more makes The Polar Express work as I believe Zemeckis intended it to be: a living, breathing illustrated children's storybook (a living, breathing adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's original book, anyway). To that end it succeeds wildly, and I tend to believe that in years to come this will be a classic Christmas movie. The real problem comes in when you try to enjoy this movie on the level of most adults and in that respect, it's a little lacking of things. The plot could do with some beefing-up and there is very little in the way of character development: we aren't even told the names of the boy who first gets on the train or of the girl he befriends (voiced by Nona Gaye from The Matrix sequels). It would have been nice to know something a little more about the train and its crew (including two roles – Smokey and Steamer – that were voiced by Michael Jeter just before he passed away) and without that the whole enterprise seems too surreal: when you think about it for awhile the Polar Express seems like a "train of damned souls" from some 1950s EC Comics book.

When the train arrives at the North Pole we are treated to a vast megalopolis of elven bureaucracy... but there was something missing from its personality a bit, like instead of the focus being on Christmas it's on Santa Claus. That was kinda creepy also: watching millions of elves rallying to fix their gaze on Santa was too much like Triumph of the Will with a Perry Como soundtrack. Still, it was pretty fun to discover how it is that Santa knows who is naughty and nice, with a system that would have made George Orwell beam with pride.

But for all the things that could be said about what it's wanting of, The Polar Express more than makes up for it in utter spell-binding awe. I'd love to see this in full glory on an IMAX screen someday. But even if you can't, The Polar Express is worth the gas and ticket money to check out this holiday season. And don't worry about some of the more negative reviews that have been floating around: you can hear the bell, even if they cannot.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Coming Soon: The civil war of American Christianity

This is the last post I intend to make for this weekend, at least 'til tomorrow night when a full review of The Polar Express should appear here. My mind has been too fixated on the Serious the past few weeks: it needs some time bathing in the Silly. Apart from church and quality time with my lovely spousal overunit, the rest of this weekend is devoted toward reading some good comic books (speaking of which, the last few issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" are something I'd love to touch upon soon) and playing Star Wars Galaxies... which has become a WAY heckuva lot more fun since the space expansion was added a few weeks ago. I'm now flying my own personal Star Wars character around the galaxy in a luxury space-yacht that I christened the "Not For Hire": first person who can tell me where exactly that name comes from gets a Gmail account all their very own. Send your answer here.

But before tuning out completely from more sober affairs, I'm going to posit the following notion for consideration, 'cuz it's one that's grown pretty apparent from this side of things...

There is now a schism within Christianity in America. It is steadily becoming more perceivable that two distinct factions are developing and each of us that profess faith in Christ, whether we realize it or not, will have to choose which of the two sides it is that the heart's desires will find fulfillment. But the difference will become so great that it will be impossible for both sides to enjoy concourse and communion between them. One way or the other, we're going to have to measure and consider which it will be that we are compelled to serve more. And though I doubt that it will entail any violent repercussions, there will arise conflict enough to impact most of our society in more ways than I care to think about at this late hour.

I'll elaborate on this again, probably sometime this week. But if you want a hint as to what I'm talking about: one side prays that our desires will be met, while the other merely prays that "Thy will be done".

More on this later. Now, go to bed!

Anybody remember that old 90s movie Demolition Man? Well...

...who'da thunk that eleven years later it would threaten to become the most prophetic movie in history.
Ads to Back Schwarzenegger for President
California Group to Air Ads Backing Amendment to Let Schwarzenegger Run for President

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Nov 13, 2004 — Californians will soon see advertisements urging them to help give Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other foreign-born citizens the chance to run for president.

The cable television ads, set to being running Monday, are from a Silicon Valley-based group that wants to amend the U.S. Constitution, which limits the presidency to people born in the United States. Schwarzenegger was born in Austria but became a U.S. citizen in 1983.
Schwarzenegger, 57, has said he would consider running for president if the Constitution allowed but hasn't pushed for a constitutional change.

Slam here for the rest of the story.
Y'know, it's almost kinda funny: Rush Limbaugh argued in his 1992 book "The Way Things Ought To Be" that celebrities shouldn't get involved in government based solely on the merit of their being famous: he even used Schwarzenegger as an example, suggesting that at the rate celebs were appearing before Congress that Ah-nuldt would soon be using his role from Total Recall to support manned flights to Mars. Rush spent an entire chapter condemning this. Then ten years later Schwarzenegger runs for governor of California... by using his celebrity status and nothing else to overshadow and crush all competition. And Limbaugh and so many others went nuts for it.

It didn't matter to them whether the right person made it to the governor's mansion in California: they only wanted to "win". And their best shot at it was to line up all their ducks behind a box-office superstar who was practically guaranteed to win. And now some people want to further this one man's career along by going so far as to amend the U.S. Constitution...?!

I like Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor. In a perfect world he'd leave being governor so that he can finally make King Conan: Crown of Iron with John Milius. He's one of my favorite actors and I've a lot of his movies on DVD in our collection here. That does not automatically make him the next Ronald Reagan... and certainly not enough to alter the Constitution to favor any one individual. If it's to be changed, let it be for a more serious reason than this.

The Polar Express: more to say later about it but for now...

Beautiful. Stunning. Incredible. Breathtaking.

The bar has been raised. Again. This was the best computer-generated animation I've ever seen.

Have plans for the rest of the evening, but will attempt to do this movie justice with a real review later this weekend. In the meantime, there's a lot less memorable things that you could spend twenty bucks on: go and grab your intimate other and take 'em to see The Polar Express tonight or tomorrow. And just to be safe, tie a rag around your head to keep your jaw from hitting that filthy theater floor when it drops.

Kyle Williams asks "Will Dems and GOP merge?"

Kyle Williams has a good piece about the closing gap between Democrats and Republicans over at World Net Daily today. He sees the GOP's increasing liberalism as a sure sign that there is nothing definitive between the two and that something must happen to provide a real alternative. 'Course, some of us out here hold that the Democrats and Republicans are really one party already, only masquerading as a two-party system so that people will be more apt to kill each other about it being "us versus them" while the distraction lets the politicians and partisan hacks rob us blind and encroach on our liberties. Yer not supposed to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, don't ya know...

Say what you will about the Soviet Union: at least the ruling regime there was honest about being just one party. They're starting to positively seem like the model of political integrity.

Who the hell is Scott Peterson, and why should I really care?

All I know is that he was on trial for the murder of his wife and unborn child and he got found guilty yesterday. Other than that I've been completely ignorant of this entire case.

Seriously, what impact does Scott Peterson have on my life? None, really.

It wasn't long ago that a man killed the pregnant mother of his child not far away from here in Burlington NC, cut the body into pieces and stuffed them into a trashcan. Funny how that never got any national airplay... but then, a double-murder in a blue-collar industrial town just isn't as glamorous as a double-murder in posh, ritzy California. Low-income assailant and victim versus young married couple where she and the baby died so that he could live the party life again: you tell me which one the TV cameras are going to play up and focus on the most.

Chalk up the Peterson murder case as the latest in a string of incidents - like the OJ trial and JonBenet Ramsey murder - that too many Americans got caught up in paying too much attention to, like a long drawn-out train wreck. Tragic as all of these things were, the real tragedy outside of the courtroom is that a nation obsessed with celebrity and fame is so addicted to finding - or making - a story like this to focus its attention on, that it's distracted from the things around them that REALLY matter.

But it's so much more fun to see Scott Peterson looking at the death penalty here than it is to watch dozens of American kids over the past several days cut to pieces in the streets of Fallujah, I suppose. Even though it wasn't their fault that they weren't spoiled rich kids trying to return to bachelorhood.

Friday, November 12, 2004

If you don't believe that George W. Bush has evil intentions after reading THIS, you're a hopelessly deluded fool

And let me justify that statement by adding this: at age 30, I've spent almost half my life on a farm. Living it. Working it. Blessing it. Cursing it. Laughing at certain times and crying at others. Rejoicing when we had a good year and struggling to help the family during the bad ones.

We were a farm family surrounded by other farm families and that sense of community left an indelible mark on my life. I grew up learning about things like honor and trust from men like my Dad and other men that tilled fields and milked cows. No one around us lacked for the friendly hand of a neighbor.

And no one suffered the agony of being alone when consolation was needed most. My Dad is the strongest man that I've ever known, and I never knew him to shed a tear. Until the day came that a 19-year old kid working on our farm - a young man that Dad had practically watched grow up - was killed in a freak tractor accident. In the short time that he was there Mike became like the older brother that I never had. And Dad, who was a close friend with Mike's father before he died, had taken Mike in under his wing as a protege' and apprentice... and even as a second son.

Every farmer within a five-mile radius of our place descended on our farm that day, as the emergency workers and others worked to recover Mike's body from beneath the tractor. If unable to do anything else they were there for our family, offering words of comfort and prayers. Just letting us know that we weren't alone. If it hadn't been for that kind of sense of common sympathy, I don't know where any of us would have wound up. Without the support we found around us I don't know if I would be sitting here now, years and countless circumstances later, interested enough in things to write my thoughts out to a blog for everyone to see.

You could trust someone back then, even if you barely knew them. At least until they gave you a reason not to trust them... which was so scarce in happening that no single occurrence comes to mind. In retrospect I must lament this observation: Those were the last days of that time when a man's word was his bond.

Farmers - and especially small family farmers - are at once the most critical and the least appreciated segment of any society. Ever stopped to think about the vast influence of the average American farmer? If it weren't for the toil and sacrifice of their long hours, this country would not possibly be able to not only be the only nation in human history capable of feeding itself, but also a good fraction of the rest of the world's population. They get nowhere near the thanks that they deserve, yet they keep doing the work they know and love best... because deep down, they have the satisfaction of knowing that they do the work that the rest of us don't desire but couldn't live without. They've found contentment in their place because they understand its importance. If you want to know a man who is sincerely humbled by his sense of power, talk to a farmer.

All of the above and more applies to farmers around the world, not just here. They might vary in technologies and procedures, but they share a common appreciation of the role that they play and the humbleness in which they accept it. Wherever they may be found, farmers are an honorable lot... which should lead us to be honorable toward them. It should compel us to appreciate them and give them all the honor that's due them.

Except that isn't happening in some places. In fact the United States government - under the direction of President Bush - is not only failing to honor one group of farmers: it's actively insulting them and destroying one of their chief means of livelihood.

I've never met an Iraqi farmer and doubt that I ever will... but I hope all the above has made it clear that growing up on a farm tends to attune one to the demands of being a farmer anywhere. Like farmers elsewhere, our Iraqi brethren have long practiced seed-saving: using the seeds from one season's crop toward the planting of the next. It saves money and it lends itself toward making the farm more self-sufficient. It also has the unintended effect of creating quality assurance: strains of vegetables are inclined to be consistent across several seasons, with the occasional mixing of strains keeping a crop from becoming genetically "stale" across several generations. Turns out that Iraqi farmers are pretty good at seed-saving, and if anyone among that country's population should be given free reign to manage their own affairs as they see fit, it should be their farmers.

Except the Iraqi farmers aren't going to be allowed to cultivate their crops as they believe they should be, thanks to George W. Bush. Turns out that Bush directed his man Paul Bremer to institute a wazoo-load of crazy laws for Iraq's new government when the U.S. handed over sovereignty a few months back. One of 'em makes it illegal for Iraqi farmers to practice seed-saving! Check this out from Grain.org:
Iraq's new patent law: A declaration of war against farmers
by Focus on the Global South and GRAIN
October 2004

When former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer III left Baghdad after the so-called "transfer of sovereignty" in June 2004, he left behind the 100 orders he enacted as chief of the occupation authority in Iraq. Among them is Order 81 on "Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety." [1] This order amends Iraq's original patent law of 1970 and unless and until it is revised or repealed by a new Iraqi government, it now has the status and force of a binding law. [2] With important implications for farmers and the future of agriculture in Iraq, this order is yet another important component in the United States' attempts to radically transform Iraq's economy.

Now, why the hell is Bush purposely mangling the livelihood of farmers in Iraq? Read this and if you still think that profit wasn't a driving motive for sending our soldiers over there, I got some ocean-front property in Nevada to sell you:
For generations, small farmers in Iraq operated in an essentially unregulated, informal seed supply system. Farm-saved seed and the free innovation with and exchange of planting materials among farming communities has long been the basis of agricultural practice. This has been made illegal under the new law. The seeds farmers are now allowed to plant - "protected" crop varieties brought into Iraq by transnational corporations in the name of agricultural reconstruction - will be the property of the corporations. While historically the Iraqi constitution prohibited private ownership of biological resources, the new US-imposed patent law introduces a system of monopoly rights over seeds. Inserted into Iraq's previous patent law is a whole new chapter on Plant Variety Protection (PVP) that provides for the "protection of new varieties of plants." PVP is an intellectual property right (IPR) or a kind of patent for plant varieties which gives an exclusive monopoly right on planting material to a plant breeder who claims to have discovered or developed a new variety. So the "protection" in PVP has nothing to do with conservation, but refers to safeguarding of the commercial interests of private breeders (usually large corporations) claiming to have created the new plants.
In other words, Bush used the power of the United States government - as it was "nation-building" in Iraq - to force Iraqi farmers to abandon their ages-old practice of seed-saving. It's now a criminal act in Iraq to use the seeds that you harvested from one season's harvest and use it in the next! Iraqi farmers are thus compelled to purchase outright only the seeds - genetically-engineered seeds that have expensive patents all over 'em, mind ya - that are being brought into the country by giant corporations like Monsanto and Dow. They stand to make a staggering fortune from the spoils of this war and its reconstruction.

Take a wild guess whose ear a lot of those companies had a long time already before the first troops crossed the Iraqi border?

Here's a hint: he's the same guy who wants to enforce mandatory mental screenings for all Americans so that his buddies in big pharmaceutical companies can make billions from the compulsive medications that will result.

I defy anyone to tell me that forcing the farmers of Iraq to do this - for benefit of companies here - is anywhere close to being an act of humanitarian assistance and goodwill.

It's not. But if you want another term for this, a powerful government bent on controlling everything allying itself with big corporate interests, I'll give it to ya: "national socialism".

Wasn't anything Christian about it when the Germans practiced it back in the 1930s and 40s either.

San Jose school to gymnast: "You vill NOT turn cartwheels undt you vill LUFF it!!"

A few months ago I published "People who should be shot when the revolution comes", a handy guide on who to hunt down like rabid dogs when the breaking-point is reached. It was all tongue-in-cheek, 'course, although there was an ulterior good that it served: when the revolution gets unleashed I want this to help keep the civilian casualty figures low.

Anyway, the second group of people on the list that we should be gunning for are "'Zero tolerance'-happy public school principals" and this next story should make it clear why some of them should be booted down to the pariah caste on... no, beneath the totem pole:
Student Of The Month Suspended After Warning (about turning cartwheels)
WEST COVINA — Doing cartwheels and handstands got an 11-year-old West Covina girl bounced out of school.

Deirdre Faegre, a sixth-grader at San Jose-Edison Academy in West Covina, was suspended Tuesday when she disobeyed school officials who had repeatedly told her not to do gymnastic stunts during lunchtime, ABC7 Eyewitness News has learned

"They told me I can't do it anymore because I can hurt other people or myself," Deirdre told a local newspaper. "There's other kids that do ... but it's obviously only been told to me and I don't know why."

San Jose-Edison Academy Principal Denise Patton said she's warned Deirdre numerous times, talked to her parents and given her lunch detention, but the 90-pound gymnast won't stay on the ground, so she had to suspend her.

"Our first concern is the safety of all of our children," Patton said in the newspaper report. Her acrobatics have "created an unsafe situation for herself and others."

She could accidentally strike another student or hurt herself, Patton asserted.
Mash here for the full story. The principal elaborates further that the REAL reason little Deirdre was suspended was because other students might see what she was doing and try to imitate her stunts.

Let's see, students can now be suspended or expelled for: bringing 2-inch long action-figure guns to school, drawing pictures of guns, accidentally leaving a butterknife in the back-seat of a car, kissing a first-grade classmate on the playground, wearing a t-shirt that offends a faculty member while off-campus, Heaven knows what else, and now turning cartwheels because other kids might hurt themselves copying the tumbler. Sheesh, aren't kids allowed to have a little fun anymore?

One or both of two motives are at work here I think: Deirdre is obviously a very talented young lass... too talented for her own good. She's smart, and she's an excellent gymnast (I found where she trains at: turns out it's the same team that's produced a couple of Olympic athletes). Plus her dad obviously is showing her how to think for herself: double-plus ungood that is citizen. Sad to say but ours is a culture that frowns upon individuality and achievement. The school policy wonks probably look at Deirdre the same way that the Matrix's Agents see Neo: someone who threatens to show everybody how to question the system. They couldn't stand to see her showing off her talent so they slammed the hammer down on her.

Either that, and/or because I've come to believe that for the most part our schools - and our entire current system of government - is hellbent on making the American people into a race of children that will look to the Big Daddy state for all their needs. Think that's worth defying and revolting against? Yer damned right it is. And I'll tell y'all this: any state trooper or police officer in North Carolina that someday tells me that my future six-year old daughter has to be in a baby seat is going to calmly, and quite confidently, told to stick it where the sun don't shine. Why should any of us give a flying rat's butt about these penny-ante tin-plated autocrats?

As ticked-off as I'm coming to be at how screwed-up things are, don't be surprised if y'all read about me getting arrested for taking a ball-peen hammer to one of those red-light cameras someday. Don't think that thought hasn't crossed my mind anyways...

It's from the same college that wildly celebrated the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr...

...parse that as you will.

Bob Jones University president Bob Jones III has sent a congratulatory letter to George W. Bush on his re-election(?). I'm not going to post it here: you can find it at that link or - in case it ever goes down - I found it on Google archived here. But I'll note this: that Jones claims that God is using Bush to grant America "a reprieve from the agenda of paganism," that Bush owes "the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you." That he is eager to follow Bush because "you seek the Lord daily, we who know the Lord will follow that kind of voice eagerly."

Somebody inform Bob Jones III that so far as anyone can tell, Bush has never gone to church - in regular worship with other Christians anyway - since coming to Washington. That's something that's not just encouraged: it's a necessity of the Christian life, that we might hold each other accountable. But I guess when you're hand-picked by the Almighty and somewhat considered God's Second Begotten Son you don't have to be held accountable by anyone, right?

By the way, that bit about the college and Martin Luther King's death is an all-too-true story: when Jones' father, Bob Jones Jr. announced that King had been killed, the assembled students applauded and cheered... especially as Jones declared that King was "an apostate". Jones' daddy didn't get it then and Jones doesn't get it now: that Christians are supposed to rescue lost people from a dying world, and not rescue a dying world for lost people.

That's all that "Christians" like Jones and Falwell and Robertson and Bush and Ashcroft and too many others are concerned with. That's all they see: a world split by factionalism. Where it's practically considered a justifiable biblical mandate to hate one another because those other people are "liberals". It saves them the hassle of having to consider the lives of individuals.

They want to save America... but they don't give a damn about even one person who's hurting for not knowing about God's love for them.

And it's because he really DOESN'T give a damn about other people that Jones is bragging about in this letter.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

"Jesus speaks through the Republicans" or: how some Christians use politics to self-destruct their own religion

Nope, this ain't from The Onion and don't think that I didn't mistake it for parody either 'cuz at first I did. Boyz and goylz, this is legit... unless this was some disgruntled anti-Bush person who took this route to make Bush supporters look ridiculous. After THIS election I'll concede that ANYTHING is possible, that the bar is now so low that there's nothing that people on either side won't do to destroy the other. Anyway, this is from The Morning Call newspaper out of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Here's the direct link if you be so lacking in faith that this is legit. But just in case that link goes down I'm gonna cut-'n-paste the full letter right here:

Jesus speaks through the Republicans

I hope the election of George W. Bush is seen as a wake-up call to all the liberal Democrats who oppose God's will.

It is His doing that George W. Bush is still our president. Millions of born-again Christians helped win this election through our prayers and votes. Jesus speaks through the Republicans.

The Democrats will not be able to win elections until they renounce their sinful ways and stop encouraging abortions, gayness, and trying to take away our guns.

Earl Balboa
Washington Township

Ummmm... no Earl, it wasn't God's will that George W. Bush was elected and if you believe that it was, then you are destroying a bedrock foundation of your own faith because by stating that the outcome of this election was God's choice then it logically follows that there is no free will or choice at all on the part of the individual. And if the individual has no free will then it follows that a person cannot choose whether or not to turn away from sin. Therefore, it logically follows that there was no reason for Jesus Christ to have come... or worse, that He did come but His sufering and death were ultimately meaningless and served no purpose at all. Which lends itself toward only four possible conclusions that can possibly come from what Earl is suggesting here: (1) Jesus Christ was not the Son of God but was a lying ordinary human being, (2) Jesus Christ was not the Son of God because He was terminally insane, (3) God exists and He is insane, or (4) there is no God.

GOD DID NOT DIRECT THE OUTCOME OF THIS ELECTION TO SUIT THE REPUBLICANS. And anyone who suggests that He did had better accept that God made the German people vote in Adolf Hitler or (some will shudder at this) that God decreed that Bill Clinton would be the American President from 1993 to 2001. No doubt that God could have done so, given that He's all-powerful, but He couldn't do that in this situation without violating everything that is in accordance with His nature. Just as He gives each person the choice of whether they will serve Him or not, God gave we the people of the United States the free and clear choice to govern ourselves... which more often than not directly correlates to how much we allow Him to govern our own hearts. But we still have the final choice of determining how this plays out. That does NOT mean that we can make God's plans go awry though: as my best friend beautifully put it to me a few years ago, "you can't mess up with God no matter how bad you do something." Whichever way we screwed this election up - and we're going to screw up regardless of outcome so long as we remain good little slaves to the two-party kleptocracy - God's plans are going to win out in the end. And without anyone, much less a political party, playing a role in it "lest it should boast."

Did God know the outcome of this election (whatever outcome that may turn out to be) beforehand? Given that He's omnipotent, of course He did. But if anything, He allowed it to happen... meaning that He's letting us live with the consequences of our own choices and actions... instead of directly intervening to tilt things one way or another. I mean, c'mon: does anyone not a few cans short of a six-pack seriously believe that Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, Architect of the Heavens, Delver of the Depths, Maker of All Things Great and Small, Sovereign of the Visible and Invisible, Final Arbiter Between Good and Evil, Perfect and Righteous Judge of the Living and the Dead, the Authority From Which All Authority Derives, the Glory Defying Comprehension, the Peace Beyond Understanding, the Wisdom Surpassing All Human Foolishness, the Justice Without Question and yet the Love Without Bounds, the Lord of All That Is Or Ever Will Be... what need or interest could God possibly have with the Republican Party?

But if some people would rather that we wait for a puff of white smoke to come out of the chimney of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to indicate that God has chosen a new President, I guess we can change the Constitution to allow for that too, huh?

The only thing I intend to say about the death of Yasser Arafat

All I'll say is that Yasser Arafat was by admission a very devoted disciple of his "uncle" and that those beliefs are what no doubt played the central guiding role throughout most of the decades of his life. Understanding that, it became very difficult for me to judge the man without the harshest subjectivity.

A Google search for the "grand mufti of jerusalem" string should readily provide everything that you need to know, if you want to know what I meant by all that.

(And for any other historians/students of the occult out there: what Dietrich Eckhardt was to Adolf Hitler, so Hajj Amin Al Husseini became to his close relative Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini... better known as the late Yasser Arafat.)