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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bush did NOT really say this, right?

Didn't watch the State of the Union speech, as I promised earlier. I'm just now reading about it and hearing some reaction to it. A lot of people are saying Bush was slurring his way through this one: wasn't all that on-it verbally. But then again we've come a long way in this country from the days of William Jennings Bryan, haven't we?

But one thing that he said tonight that... I just can't believe he's become this brazen about it. I mean if this was Reagan, or even Clinton who had said this same thing, the animosity this kind of statement would generate would be positively furious. But "God's anointed man for America" George W. Bush says it and somehow it's okay... and it's downright scary to know that there probably won't be a backlash against it.

Here's what Bush said earlier tonight:

"We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy – even though this economy could not function without them."
This very foolish man is letting millions of illegals flood across the border from Mexico... and he dares tell the American people that we need that?!?

Years from now, when America is without shred of doubt a third-world country, with an economy in shambles and being unable to feed even ourselves adequately... well you can thank the "brilliant" leadership of people like George W. Bush for making it happen.

Oh yeah, found this story today about Bush's nephew George P. Bush making the "stunning" announcement that he's moving to Fort Worth, Texas. Only one thing a story like this screams to me (I mean c'mon why is moving someplace a big deal?): This is the guy the Bush clan is grooming to be the "next generation" of politician from their family. Some years after G.W. Bush is out of the White House, George P. is the one that the family will pin their hopes on for reclaiming it. George P. Bush: who campaigned for votes for his uncle while on the other side of the Mexican border. He'll be pimped and promoted as being some kind of "great man" who will save America... and there will be too many fools willing to buy into that, judging by how they fell for his uncle.

More than any other family in our history, the Bushes have betrayed America's future. And if nobody else will state the obvious, then I will.

New blog bears a brimful of Brahms

Darth Larry - fellow Star Wars geek and wicked wielder of the cello - is the only person I know of who searches for Johannes Brahms collectibles on eBay. So he's taken his appreciation of the great German composer to the next level: The Daily Brahms. I'll let DL explain it...
welcome to my new blog. this is my little corner of the web on johannes brahms. he is one of my favorite composers and i thought this would be a fun and interesting project.

in the past year, i've had the distinct pleasure of playing quite a bit of his music. at times, it felt as though he was the only composer i was playing, which, frankly i didn't mind. i've been doing a lot of reading on him and the more i study him, the more fascinated i become of him.

which is where this blog comes in; perhaps a planting ground for everything that's been filtering in my brain about him and his music.

Pretty unique, ya gotta admit that. DL is a heckuva expert on classical music, so I'm gonna lend my ear to his keen insight on Johannes Brahms.

$tate of the Union 2006: It's Christmas in January!

As usual, I will not be watching this year's State of the Union address tonight. I will either be watching a new movie that came in via Netflix, or one of the last episodes from the Lost DVD set that we haven't seen yet. If I'm even interested, I'll read it later.

Or if I do choose to hear it live, I'll do so with my back turned to the television, refusing to set eyes on the screen while Bush talks. Stripped of whatever visual appeal, you instead actually listen to what he's REALLY saying. And just going by my doing that during the past few State of the Unions, I'm not expecting any substance in tonight's either.

We know what's going to happen: he's going to make some empty rhetoric. And then he's going to start telling us how many billions of our dollars he wants to spend on social programs, No Child Left Behind(tm), foreign aid, etc. This is why ever since Clinton my nickname for the State of the Union speech has been "Christmas in January". The State of the Union speech has nothing to do with the actual state of the union, and it's not even a real "union" anymore either, is it? There is now one government that's grown too large, merely divided into 50 localized departments. It's not even legislated that the President has to do this every January either: the Constitution just calls for the President to make reports to Congress about the condition of the country "from time to time". That could be tonight or two years from now, or six months even. It doesn't even have to be a televised speech... but tell any politician that he shouldn't grab the opportunity for free airtime.

That's all tonight's speech really is going to be, sadly: an hour or so of television time that Bush gets to pitch whatever scheme he's got that's going to further put us in debt or deteriorate our Constitution, only because it's expected of him to do so. Dear God, has this country really sunk so low that we so readily allow an installed politician to tickle our ears?

(Yeah, he was installed. So is just about every politician in Washington. What, you think any normal Americans are going to be allowed to walk the halls of Congress?)

Anyone want my advice? Find something better to watch tonight, if you have to watch something. In all probability whatever you find will be a lot more sincere and edifying.

Most underwhelming Oscars nominations ever

Read the complete list here. It's probably the least satisfying Academy Awards nominees list that I've ever seen. I just can't believe what didn't get nominated though. Walk The Line got snubbed for Best Picture. In a perfect world King Kong and Batman Begins would be up for consideration too. Horribly absent is Ian McDiarmid for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In fact Sith only got one nomination - for Achievement in Makeup - and was totally dissed for Achievement in Visual Effects (but War of the Worlds got that, what the...?!). Heck, John Williams's score for Sith should have been nominated too. This list may appeal to some in the liberal-and-proud-of-it arts & croissants crowd, but not me. Just plain blah. My prediction: way too many politically-charged speeches - that no one who has a life will really care for - during this year's awards ceremony.

Monday, January 30, 2006

U.S. government is borrowing $188 billion

An all-time record.

Funny... I remember the retroactive taxes introduced by the Budget Act of 1993, and a lot of us called our representatives in D.C. to not only ask them if this was even legal under the Constitution at all, but to pose the question to them about there ever being any country in history that taxed and borrowed itself into prosperity. Don't think I'll ever forget the hemming and hawing I got from Congressman Steve Neal's mouthpiece (and how come the actual reps and senators never talk to us on the phone like that?).

(I also called to tell him to support Penny-Kasich, if that one rings a bell with any longtime politicial aficianados.)

A little over a year later the party that was doing all the taxing and borrowing and spending was kicked out of power... and now the party that replaced them is doing the exact same thing, but to a far worse degree.

Debt - be it personal or public - is destroying this nation. Just wanted to say that in case anyone says later that nobody warned about it.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Amazon recommended WHAT?!?

Lately I've been on Amazon.com a lot, either for casual browsing or placing some orders. Last month I used it to get the King Kong DVD and a really good book, also about King Kong. The Batman Begins 2-disc DVD that Lisa got me for Christmas also came in that order. She's looked on Amazon for materials to use in the music classes that she teaches, and in the past few days I had them ship some books to a friend going through a difficult situation right now. All things considered, we haven't used Amazon to look for anything really... unusual.

So tonight I go back to the Amazon homepage and was startled - before starting laughing - to see that it had this DVD "Recommended for you":

David Lynch's 1977 movie Eraserhead. I heard about this years ago (back when I was a fan of Lynch's Twin Peaks show) but have never seen it. Or done anything remotely near looking for it. I've no idea why the heck Amazon though this is something that would satisfy some dire need or burning curiosity of mine. Here's the plot synopsis that Amazon gives for it:
"Is it a nightmare or an actual view of a post-apocalyptic world? Set in an industrial town in which giant machines are constantly working, spewing smoke, and making noise that is inescapable, Henry Spencer lives in a building that, like all the others, appears to be abandoned. The lights flicker on and off, he has bowls of water in his dresser drawers, and for his only diversion he watches and listens to the Lady in the Radiator sing about finding happiness in heaven. Henry has a girlfriend, Mary X, who has frequent spastic fits. Mary gives birth to Henry's child, a frightening looking mutant, which leads to the injection of all sorts of sexual imagery into the depressive and chaotic mix."
HOW does Amazon think I wanna see this after only looking for some classic music CDs and a couple of Star Wars books?!

But I like Lynch's style (based on what I've seen of his anyway) and have a thing for black and white movies, and that DVD cover looks pretty darned whacked not to at least look into it sometime, maybe on Netflix. Maybe I will sooner or later. Anyway, I just thought it was pretty funny that Amazon would recommend something like that, considering we haven't done anything (that I know of) that would trigger that kind of connection from Eraserhead to what we usually look for on their site.

Challenger: Twenty years ago today...

It was twenty years ago today, about this very moment, that I was sitting at the end of a long table at my old school. Two of my sixth-grade classmates joined me for lunch. And that's when Ashton told me...

"Hey Chris, the space shuttle blew up."

I thought he was kidding. Only thing I knew to reply with was "No it didn't." The only thing was, Ashton didn't really look like he was kidding at all. I don't know why I didn't take him at his word right then.

Now Shane spoke up: "Chris, yes it did! The space shuttle Challenger exploded after it launched!" And I was still in denial about it. This was all a joke... had to be. Maybe they wanted to see how I'd react to something like that. I remember silently thinking to myself "yeah sure", just sort of going along with them.

And then I happened to catch the table two rows away from where we were sitting, where the seventh graders were having lunch, and whatever the hell it was they were talking about they sure seemed pretty damned shaken up and upset about it. That's when I caught the words "shuttle" and "challenger" and "all dead".

Our teacher happened to walk past where we were sitting. "Miss Martin, I'm hearing that the shuttle blew up. Is that true?" She nodded and said "Yes".

Well, what else can I tell you about that day: the whole class was in shock after we got back from lunch and she confirmed everything to us. That's all we were talking about the rest of the day, there was no more real class. She was a pretty lousy teacher but I gotta give her credit for not trying to focus our attention on lessons when there was a helluva lot more on our minds. I remember a lot of people asking me questions about what I thought about it, me being sorta the resident "space geek" at our school, but I didn't mind being that. Not that I had much to tell them: so far all I knew was what our teacher had told us. Mom picked my sister and I up a little after 3 that afternoon and she told us more about it, said that she'd been watching it on TV all afternoon and that it was "terrible". The car's radio was tuned into a Christian station and one of the announcers was asking everyone to "keep the people at NASA and our astronauts in prayer". We had to pick up something in town for Dad, and it was a little before 4 when we got back home. The very first thing I saw when I came thorugh the front door was a picture of Christa McAuliffe - the "teacher in space" - being shown on television. Then Dan Rather. And a few minutes later CBS ran what was for me the very first time I saw what happened a few hours earlier that morning...

I think I actually said "Dear God in Heaven" after seeing that.

Dad came in a little later from the barn (he was still a dairy farmer at this point) and we all watched some of the coverage together: as he often said about things like this, "this is what you'll be reading about in the history books years from now." CBS played the footage of the disaster maybe a half-dozen more times, before later that afternoon President Reagan spoke live from the White House. I remember that very well: listening to what has since been considered to be the greatest speech of his presidential career. You can read it here if you like, but if you ever get the chance to someday you really owe it to yourself to listen to a recording of it, or watch a video of him doing this. That may have been the last time we had a President who made a speech that sounded seriously presidential. When I went to D.C. a year and a half ago to pay my respects to Reagan as his casket lay in state at the Capitol, it was his Challenger speech that I most kept thinking about.

That's what dominated the rest of the night, and the next day, and the next few weeks after that. At 11 years old I'd already heard that people old enough remembered exactly where they were when they heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, or that JFK had been shot. Now it was my generation's turn to have something forever burned so indelibly into our minds. Everyone who was old enough on January 28th, 1986 will be able to tell you where they were and who they were with, and everything else that happened right after that, when they heard about the Challenger. This has been my own tale to tell.

I don't know what else to say with this post. There's plenty enough information on the Internet about STS-51L, the final Challenger mission, for anyone who's interested. Anything more that I could do here would just be reiterating ground already well-covered. But I couldn't let this day go by without doing what I could to take off my hat in respect to the seven who died that day, and acknowledge that day for the impact it had in not just my life, but that of just about everyone who was around back then.

I don't really know how to close this out: nothing I could write would ever do justice to the memory of the Challenger Seven. So I'll just let the following images speak for themselves...

Challenger launches on mission STS 51-L, January 28 1986

The crew of Challenger
FRONT ROW L-R: pilot Mike Smith, commander Dick Scobee, mission specialist Ron McNair
BACK ROW L-R: mission specialist Ellison Onizuka, Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis, mission specialist Judith Resnik

Friday, January 27, 2006

Most bizarre video I've seen in awhile

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno sings Aretha Franklin's "Respect".

Somebody get this lady an Xbox and Karaoke Revolution, STAT!

Greatest electronic games according to Vox Day

Vox Day has posted a list of what he considers the best "electronic games" of all time (but curiously they're all videogames: not a Simon or Electronic Stratego to be found in the bunch). I think it's a great list... for the most part. But I would have ranked TIE Fighter much higher. And did Vox ever play Pitfall II: Lost Caverns? That was easily the best game ever produced for the Atari 2600: it still holds up even today (and if you have a Gameboy Advance it's part of the Activision Anthology that was released a year or so ago for that system).

Vox also puts Wing Commander on the top ten list: if there's ever a videogame series that deserves a return, that one is it. I just wish I'd been able to play Wing Commander III when it came out... ahh well maybe someday :-)

So what do you think of his list? There's some good comments being left there. I may have to do my own "top ten best videogames" sometime.

57% of those polled want to attack Iran

So says a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll. Which according to the story it's 57% of all Americans who want to go to war with Iran, when it was really only that percentage of those who happened to be polled.

Let me say this from the getgo: the guys running Iran are bad people. That does not mean that the Iranian people are bad. The population by and large must not be punished for whatever their whacko leadership is doing.

I do wonder if we are justified at all in trying to beat the wardrums for attacking Iran now though, three years after getting bogged down in the quagmire that is Iraq.

Yeah, there's no other word for what it is happening in Iraq right now. The moment we pull out our own soldiers, that place is going to collapse like a house of cards. Over two thousand of our best men and women are dead... and all that we've got to show for it is a rising Islamic fundamentalist government. Like we used to say on the basketball court: "Smooth move Ex-Lax".

So we're committed - oh yes, we are definitely committed now, with no easy way of leaving - to Iraq. And now those people from the "neo-conservative" mindset - the ones who believe that it is a virtue for government leaders to lie to their people - are gearing up the people of this country to want to go to war with Iran. A war that could only realistically be fought by large-scale strategic bombing, since our conventional forces are stretched so thin. Some here in America are even suggesting the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Like, isn't this the very same thing we're claiming now that we are trying to prevent Iran from doing?

How is it that the United States is now doing the very same thing that the Soviet Union did: invading countries and setting up puppet governments?

Is this really our problem to deal with at all? Is America now and forevermore going to be the policeman over the rest of the world? Were we even right to assert that role to begin with?

George Washington was right: we should have avoided "foreign entanglements" completely. Over two hundred years later another George thinks he knows better, and mucks us into whatever strikes his fancy.

And the damned thing of it is, there will be lots of politicians and pundits and preachers and the like faithfully falling into line right behind the President as they tell us that yes, we must go to war, because our government knows what's best for us.

Well damn them. Damn them all.

Until Iran presents a legitimate threat to the United States, we should butt out. Let Israel handle this... it seems to be their fight they want anyway.

We should have stayed out of Iraq, and let the people of that land hash things out on their own.

Fortunately, I doubt that 57% of Americans really want to go to war with Iran. I really hope so anyway. Because if that many do want it, it will definitely damper my belief that the American people are still capable for the most part of thinking for themselves.

Disturbed minds can rationalize anything

President Bush is defending warrantless snooping again:
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush again defended his program of warrantless surveillance Thursday, saying "there's no doubt in my mind it is legal." He suggested that he might resist congressional efforts to change or expressly endorse it...
Yeah, but there wasn't any doubt in Charlie Manson's mind that what he was doing was okay either. Hitler was fond of noting that his activities were "legal" too. Didn't that lady who bothered David Letterman for years honestly believe that she was married to him? Wasn't John Hinkley totally convinced that he was impressing Jodie Foster when he shot Reagan?

Ya see, these kinds of disturbed individuals do believe something, beyond any self-questioning or doubt. Nothing can or ever could deviate them from that, or else their entire fragile little worlds would be at risk of coming crashing down on them. To one degree or another they did some pretty bad things and it never entered into their minds that what they were doing could in any way be bad. This is narcissism in its purest form...

...and that's not a good state of mind to have when one is anything, much less President of the United States.

7 myths about what happened to Challenger

Tomorrow will be the twentieth anniversary of the first real event that burned itself permanently into the minds of my generation: the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Highly respected space historian James Oberg has a very good article at MSNBC about what really happened that day. Oberg brings up seven "myths" that have become rarely reconsidered in the two decades since. Among other things he discusses how the Challenger didn't "explode" in the actual sense, how long the crew survived after the event and the fact that very few people were even watching it happen live. It's a good article, and in my opinion addresses the most major misconceptions that I've seen come up over the past twenty years.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Awright Brownshirts, you want more Firefly?

The Firefly Season 2 Project. The plan is to produce another season of the show and make it available for purchase. Here's the intro from the website...
The Firefly Season 2 Project:
Captain Mal and the crew of Serenity need your help to stay flying.

We are looking to push the envelope of episodic television by offering Season Two of Firefly in a groundbreaking new format. Each episode (or the entire season) would be made available for purchase in Standard or Hi-Definition.

It's possible that subscribers may choose one of three playback options; monthly DVD deliveries, TV On-Demand using your cable or satellite provider, or computer viewing via Streaming Download.

It's also possible that a box set of DVD's would be available at the end of the season.

In order for our plan to be successful, we need to take stock of the browncoat recruits that support our cause. It will only take a minute, is strictly confidential, and each profile will take us one step closer to victory!

What an awesome idea! Could it be that the Firefly fans are pioneering the future of entertainment with this? I wish them all the best with this project. And though I never got to see Firefly during its run I know enough good about the show that I gladly filled out a profile on their site... do that if you want more Firefly people!

Now, if only somebody would try and do this with a third season of Carnivale...

Smallville owned everyone's sweet patootie tonight

Holy #&@* what an episode!!

This one had everything. And somebody does die, just as it was advertised... and they ain't coming back! No it's not some secondary character either. Somebody in the opening credits buys the farm in tonight's episode, and its permanent. The last shot we see is the casket going into the ground.

Wish I had a DVR, 'cuz this one merits some watching again.

Rockingham County is going to Hollywood baby!

The place where I grew up is being represented by not one but two singers who got the nod from Simon, Randy and Paula to come to Hollywood for the next round of American Idol:
To the best of my knowledge, Amy Ferrell is a student at my old high school too. I hope she and Halicia Thompson get to go far.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Study says: Democrats and Republicans are equally ignorant

Here's scientific proof of something that I've known for a few years now: Republicans and Democrats both are largely incapable of thinking for themselves. Here's the story from LiveScience:
Democrats and Republicans Both Adept at Ignoring Facts, Study Finds
By LiveScience Staff

posted: 24 January 2006
10:03 am ET

Democrats and Republicans alike are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way, a new study shows.

And they get quite a rush from ignoring information that's contrary to their point of view.

Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects' brains were monitored while they pondered.

The results were announced today.

"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts."

The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.

Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.

The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.

"None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," Westen said. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones..."

More at the link above.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I hope and pray...

...that this lady they keep showing as they go to commercial on American Idol tonight isn't from Reidsville.

This is one of the most bizarre installments of Idol that I've ever seen.

EDIT 9:53 PM EST:She wasn't from Reidsville (thank goodness), but Ronetta sure didn't do Charlotte any favors. That was genuinely painful to watch, but only because this was a symptom of one of the worst things about American character: our unhealthy obsession with the cult of the celebrity. People believe too much that they have to be famous before they have a real identity of their own. Contrast Ronetta's attitude with that of those that have gone far on American Idol: none of them come to mind that didn't have some degree of humbleness and proper perspective.

EDIT 10:11 PM EST: These posts at Free Republic probably say it best:

To: retrokitten

To all NC freepers....we'll pretend this never happened....

2,358 posted on 01/24/2006 6:59:56 PM PST by mystery-ak

To: mystery-ak

What happens in NC stays in NC. :)

2,363 posted on 01/24/2006 7:00:36 PM PST by beandog (Poor, poor Pinkos. Beat at your own little game)

EDIT 10:20 PM EST: May have had some serious differences with the operators of this site before, but the live thread for American Idol at Free Republic has been a hilarious commentary to read alongside these auditions. Well worth checking out.

EDIT 10:34 PM EST: Enter "Kellie Pickler" into Google and right now only 79 returns come up. But already she's got fan websites popping up (Kellie Pickler Fans and Kellie Pickler Online came up immediately). She had one of those bio videos too... meaning she's probably made it into the semifinalists round.

EDIT 10:44 PM EST: The girl from Eden who got through to Hollywood is named Halicia Thompson. And she sang really well. Hope she goes far.

EDIT 10:47 PM EST: Can't recall the guy's name off the top of my head, but the dude from Salter Path (it's a village on the Outer Banks near Morehead City) did very good.

EDIT 10:51 PM EST: Fox 8 WGHP is running footage they shot during the auditions, stuff they've been saving for now. Simon Cowell got to celebrate his birthday here in Greensboro (complete with a cake decorated with the Idol logo). One clip has Ryan Seacrest going into the Stamey's barbecue restaurant on High Point Road, across the street from the Coliseum. Turns out that Simon was eager to eat some real southern fried chicken and beans.

The sound I'm hearing outside my window is that of thousands of my fellow Greensborians running out to get sedatives. Randy said at one point tonight that this was the "weirdest show" they'd ever done. I remember last year's auditions in New Orleans and that was pretty nutty, but I'm hard-pressed to disagree with Randy's assessment. There were times tonight that me and Lisa's mouths was literally hanging wide-open in stunned disbelief... we were like "this can't be our town... can it?"

But all in all, I think tonight was a lot of fun to watch, and maybe poke some fun at ourselves in this neck of the woods. And there were some low points, but there was also some really brilliant talent that is representing us in this competition, and I'm going to really enjoy seeing how far they go.

And, THAT is all I think I'm going to post about tonight's edition of American Idol featuring auditions here in Greensboro. 'Twas great that this lil' burg was the most-watched town in the country, if only for two hours. Lord help us if this show ever rolls into town again though :-P

EDIT 11:18 PM EST: The guy from Salter Path, NC is named Jeffrey "Ryan" Baysden. And he had a really curious accent. He sounds almost English/Australian. But very strong singing voice.

Steve Jobs now the most powerful man in the Mouse House

Disney is buying Pixar. Steve Jobs is now the majority shareholder of the Walt Disney Company.

In the negative column, this really does seem to be the death-knell for traditional animation at Disney, which had eliminated that division already. I was really hoping that they might "go back to their roots". But on the plus side of things, I trust someone like Steve Jobs to put Disney back on track after the two decades of micro-management hell that Michael Eisner ran the company through.

Fanboys back on track

I first heard about Fanboys before Christmas in '98 (in fact, here's the original story at Ain't It Cool News). Ever since then I've wanted to see this movie. It's about four friends who undertake a quest in the fall of 1998 to break into Skywalker Ranch so that they can watch whatever print of The Phantom Menace exists, because one of them is terminally ill and won't live to see the movie premiere the following May. The last I heard anything about it, Fanboys was in production a few months after the initial report, but then word about it pretty much dried up... until now.

Yesterday Ain't It Cool News announced to the world that Fanboys was back! The guys behind this all those years ago never gave up on their dream, and now they're finally getting to see it come to fruition. Pretty inspiring that is, doncha think? Here's wishing them all the best as they work to bring this story to the screen. I just hope they still use the tagline (and that very cool 1979 Ford van) that they had in '99...

They've been waiting for fifteen years.
They're through waiting.

One more example how public schools are messed up

This comes in from "Weird" Ed, and I agree with what he said about it: "Ok, what the HELL is wrong with our schools in the US when this can take place??" From SI.com...
Shirt tale
Broncos fan says he was humiliated by teacher

BEAVER FALLS, Pa. (AP) -- A 17-year-old high school student said he was humiliated when a teacher made him sit on the floor during a midterm exam in his ethnicity class -- for wearing a Denver Broncos jersey.

The teacher, John Kelly, forced Joshua Vannoy to sit on the floor and take the test Friday -- two days before the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Broncos 34-17 in the AFC championship game. Kelly also made other students throw crumpled up paper at Vannoy, whom he called a "stinking Denver fan," Vannoy told The Associated Press on Monday...

Hit the above link for more.

The WB + UPN = CW

Got announced earlier today that CBS and Warner Bros. are merging The WB and UPN networks into a fifth network called CW. No word yet on how this is going to effect shows we like such as Smallville and, ummmm... what else is there?

A king's ransom to he who boots Windows XP on an iMac

Okay, so it's not quite a "king's ransom" (and it doesn't necessarily have to be a "he" either), but currently there's $3338 in the pot for whoever is first to get Windows XP to boot up on one of the new iMacs: the Macs that are using Intel chips as their CPU. The winner must be able to demonstrate that their iMac can boot up the user's choice of either Mac OS X or Windows XP. So far all that's been produced to show for this endeavour are several "bricked" iMacs that have been irreversibly damaged from the effort and now rendered useless: basically a $1600 paperweight. Some are even trying to get the iMac to boot up Linux too. Can't wait to see if someone's able to pull this little trick off.

Will this town rock or schlock on tonight's American Idol?

Lots of people here in Greensboro and the surrounding area will be tuned into American Idol this evening on Fox: tonight's two-hour broadcast is devoted to the auditions that took place at the Greensboro Coliseum a few months ago. On the Fox 8 Morning News earlier today they were able to show some footage of what went down this past October and we got a peek at some of the folks who made it through to Hollywood. There's one girl from Eden that we know passed muster, so at least one person from Rockingham County has a chance at stardom. Simon Cowell said in an interview this morning that the trip to Greensboro was why American Idol is worth doing... but Lord knows if he means our good talent or the bad ones that you keel over laughing at. Anyway, this is what we'll be watching tonight, and I might file a report on my impressions about the Greensboro installment afterward.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Superman is Methodist, and Rogue is a good little Baptist girl

Here's something I came across while randomly skimming the web: Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters (there's also this nifty visual grouping of them by creed). This is an exhaustive look at just about every major character in comic books and what their faith is. I've known for years that Nightcrawler is a devout Catholic (he almost became a priest). But did you know that Superman is a Methodist, that Batman may be a lapsed Episcopalian, that The Thing is Jewish, or that Rogue is a Southern Baptist? Well worth checking out if you're a comics fan or have a theological bent.

Another perspective on cryonics

In the wee hours of this morning I made a post about a Wall Street Journal article regarding cryonics - the freezing of dead individuals in the hope that they may be someday "revived" - and how some people choosing to have this procedure done upon their deaths are arranging for their present finances to be awaiting them upon their anticipated return. I also shared some of my thoughts on the subject, which for the most part stems from my belief that our identities are more than the flesh we inhabit: that death is just one stage of our spiritual growth into what God intends for us to become.

A little while ago Mark Plus, a gentleman who works with one of people interviewed in the article and who is himself planning to receive cryonics treatment, made a comment to my original post. Although I may not necessarily agree with cryonics personally, I was genuinely impressed by the passion and sincerity that Mark has toward the subject, enough so that I have to respect the strength of his faith in this procedure, despite my own thoughts about it.

In the interest of fairness and discussion, because he is personally involved with the original Wall Street Journal story and because a lot of people are probably going to be interested in this, I invite you to check out Mark Plus's blog supersurvival needs, for another perspective on the subject of cryonics. And I'd like to sincerely thank Mark for not only finding this blog and my thoughts on this issue, but also taking the time to present his side of the subject.

The morning after...

So they won't go to the Super Bowl this year... they're still the best young franchise in the league.

Congratulations on a good run, Panthers!

Video: Mexican army invades American turf

Marc at the Bmovies blog is pointing everyone to video footage of soldiers from the Mexican army crossing over into Arizona, in what can only be described as the most flagrant violation of the U.S./Mexican border since Pancho Villa woke up feeling pokey one morning in 1916. Head over to Marc's blog for more (and also 'cuz Marc is a really cool guy :-)

Freezing some assets: A mini-thanatopsis

Interesting article at the Wall Street Journal site about how some people are planning to be financially secure after coming back from the dead. Believers in cryonics (i.e. freezing the body or decapitated head of the dearly departed in the hopes that future technology can restore life) want to ensure that what they've gained in this life will still be waiting for them when they return...
You can't take it with you. So Arizona resort operator David Pizer has a plan to come back and get it.

Like some 1,000 other members of the "cryonics" movement, Mr. Pizer has made arrangements to have his body frozen in liquid nitrogen as soon as possible after he dies. In this way, Mr. Pizer, a heavy-set, philosophical man who is 64 years old, hopes to be revived sometime in the future when medicine has advanced far beyond where it stands today.

And because Mr. Pizer doesn't wish to return a pauper, he's taken an additional step: He's left his money to himself.

With the help of an estate planner, Mr. Pizer has created legal arrangements for a financial trust that will manage his roughly $10 million in land and stock holdings until he is re-animated. Mr. Pizer says that with his money earning interest while he is frozen, he could wake up in 100 years the "richest man in the world"...

At least a dozen wealthy American and foreign businessmen are testing unfamiliar legal territory by creating so-called personal revival trusts designed to allow them to reclaim their riches hundreds, or even thousands, of years into the future.

Such financial arrangements, which tie up money that might otherwise go to heirs or charities, are "more widespread than I originally thought," says A. Christopher Sega, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and a trusts and estates attorney at Venable LLP, in Washington. Mr. Sega says he's created three revival trusts in the last year...

Okay, here's my take on this: trying to gain immortality like this is a horribly wrong thing to do. For one thing, I don't believe this is ever going to work. Even if technology is going to be discovered that might "resuscitate" a cryogenically-frozen corpse, the odds of this future technology bringing back someone who's been frozen prior to this point in time are extremely low. Current "freezing" is going to be considered crude and ineffective: whoever has received this treatment is going to be damaged beyond hope. Not to mention that this technology is probably so far off that the chances are rather slim that any corpsicles existing today are going to still be around tomorrow: most if not all will be lost to accidents, financial failures of cryonics firms, etc.

But the real reason why I think this is wrong is that cryonics is based on the notion that life is bound by the parameters of this physical world. If cryonics does work for a "patient" once, could it be guaranteed that it would work a second time, or a third, or an infinite number of times into eternity? Would such a person really want to go on with life neverending? I don't think so, and this goes back to something that took me a long, long time to understand: that death is not really a bad thing like we are used to thinking it is. It's just one more stage of growth in this life that we have. We just can't see what it's growing into from this side of things. If there were no death, we would each be cursed to live a life bereft of any change: utter stagnation would be our lot. There would be no real meaning to life if it was given the assurance of never having to end or change. Why would anyone want that?

So if anyone asks, I'm letting it be known here and now that I don't wish to be cryonically frozen when my time comes. Let me leave this world the way I've tried to live in it: dignified, but with humor. Just cremate my body while it's wearing my Jedi Knight costume and I'll be happy :-)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The West Wing gets cancelled

NBC giving it the axe after seven seasons. I never watched a single episode, so I don't know anything about how this may or may not be a big deal. Anyone want to chime in and say what this show's been like?

We did get in three more episodes from the Lost Season 1 DVD set today, finishing up with "Numbers", which is Hurley's episode... which was a HECK of a lot of fun to watch.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Just one reason why I'm no longer a Republican

The Republican National Committee is endorsing President Bush's "guest worker" program.

No party that turns a blind eye to the problem this country is having with illegal immigration is something that I wish to associate with.

I never left the Democrats: they left me. Ten years later the Republicans abandoned me too. And neither one is giving me a reason why I should turn back to look... but the GOP is giving me a helluva lot more reason to keep on walkin'.

Friday, January 20, 2006

When the criminal and the insane are rulers of countries

You know, I don't hate the Iranian people. And I seriously doubt that most of the Iranian people hate me. I wonder if the Israelis and the Palestinians seriously hate each others's guts en masse. Did the people of Russia really want to destroy us Americans twenty years ago? Did we want to destroy them? I mean, why were we supposed to hate each other the way we did? It wasn't as if anything had been done to us personally, was it?

No, it's not the people of most countries in this world that do things like start wars and preach hatred of those in foreign lands... it's our leaders. With damned few exceptions, none of them are the least bit interested in serving the people that they are supposed to "lead". They follow their own appetites instead, and consider their people to be mere pawns in the games that they play. This world... and this country especially... is so screwed up because we've allowed too many narcissistic sociopaths to take the wheel. I mean, it's not like they've a brilliant record of management, is it?

No, I don't hate anyone in Iran. I've no reason to. Most of the people in America have no personal beef with them. That still won't stop the warhawks from beating the drums as they have lately (which I am more and more inclined to believe has to do with Iran's move on the oil industry rather than their nuclear research). Is Iran's head guy nuts? Yeah, definitely... even more than anyone I know of in the Western Hemisphere. And it's his fault too that a lot of his countrymen are probably going to get killed.

You see what I'm trying to say here? Us, the British, the Iranians, the Palestinians, the Russians under the Soviet regime... all of us and more have "been had" by a very small group of insane individuals that in a rational world should have been imprisoned at the least, and maybe shot for good measure, for the sake of everyone.

Well, I could say more about this, but there's a really good article by Michael S. Rozeff called "When Rulers Err" that says it a helluva lot better than I can. From his article...

...The higher-ups or rulers who have power produce the big crises and wars. Their subjects, few of whom benefit from them, do not. The masses are not irrelevant, but their impact on major events is secondary. The Iranian people are not making the decisions about nuclear power. They are not issuing threats, and neither are the American and European peoples.

Rulers are men accustomed to gaining and using power. This implies they possess an above average dose of certain characteristics. Benign philosopher-kings don’t become rulers. Those who rule tend to be overly aggressive, rapacious, hard-nosed, opportunistic, pragmatic, cruel, violent, and manipulative. Even if these tendencies are not abundantly present, their power allows freer reign to their worse instincts. Rulers are hawks, not doves. Their number includes more than its share of troublemakers.

Rulers talk to and make deals with other rulers. They aim to maintain and boost their positions by exchanges that give them advantages. These interactions are complex and often for high stakes. Rulers often gamble the lives and fortunes of the peoples they rule...

Common folk, which include most of us, our families and in-laws, working acquaintances, schoolmates, townspeople, those whom we have done business with, etc., do not ordinarily engage in the tactics rulers are accustomed to. Although movies and soaps feature many conniving people, it’s possible that a good many viewers do not think of their rulers being like that and worse. They still do not have a deep realization that their rulers do not have the same ethics that they do. They think of them as acting like ordinary people. Rulers would like the masses to revere their position and power while simultaneously thinking of them as being just men of the people...

Mash down here for more.

Twenty years of "Good Times" and "Melissa"

It was this week in 1986 that the first computer virus appeared. "Brain" is considered pretty benign compared to things plaguing us today like keyloggers and rootkits.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thoughts on an execution tonight

In a few hours over at the state prison in Raleigh, Perrie Dyon Simpson is going to be brought into a small room with a gurney and a window, on the other side of which will be several witnesses. Simpson will be placed on the gurney, strapped down and have needles inserted into the veins of his arms. Upon being given a signal from the warden, unseen technicians will push a button that will deliver three intravenous injections into Simpsons's body: Sodium thiopental to render unconsciousness. Pancuronium causing muscle paralysis. And then potassium chloride to stop his heart.

I've had mixed feelings about capital punishment over the course of my life. I used to be strongly supportive of it. But the path my spiritual life has taken me, especially in the past decade, has led me to believe that it's wrong to take life, that it's left only for God to do that. The only exception being in situations of self-defense, when killing someone is not only the right thing to do but the moral one also, however terrible one may find the idea of taking another's life.

That said, I can't see how Perrie Dyon Simpson deserves anything but death. And it would have been wrong for Governor Mike Easley to grant him clemency. Easley denied Simpson's request earlier today, clearing the way for execution after midnight tonight. Had Easley granted it, he would have nullified the decision of the jury that sentenced Simpson more than twenty years ago. If capital punishment had been abolished in North Carolina by act of legislation, Simpson could have received life in prison. But that never happened... and it would be wrong to decree otherwise by decision of the executive when there is no possible mitigating circumstance in this affair. It may be one of the few things about having a system of checks and balances that we still have in our government, and that has to be respected and upheld. And unfortunately for Simpson, he's going to reinforce that tenet of republican government with his life.

But it was his choice over two decades ago that led him to this night, and no other's. And call me "hypocrite" if you wish but in spite of the part of me that hates the thought of another man dying, justice has to be served, and punishment for evil meted out if there is to be any semblance of law in a society. And if capital punishment is the route that the people of this state have chosen, then few paid for their ticket more than Perrie Dyon Simpson. More than twenty-one years later and this is still something that literally sickens me to think about. It was on a summer night in 1984 that Simpson and his girlfriend Stephany Eurie came to the house of 92-year old retired preacher Jean E. Darter in Reidsville, my old hometown. The day before Darter had given Simpson and Eurie four dollars, some food and use of his home's telephone. When they came back the following night Simpson repaid Darter's kindness with quite possibly the most gruesome murder that anyone in this area ever heard of. I was ten years old when this happened, and I'll never forget the stories I heard about how they found Darter's body... stories that turned out to be all too true. Someone I came to know several years later served on the jury that sentenced Simpson to death: he said that he was against capital punishment too. But the things - like the crime-scene photographs - that he saw in the courtroom shivered his blood too much that he had no choice but to hand down the death penalty... said he would have felt guilty to not have given it to Simpson.

You know, to take the life of anyone, for any reason, is the most terrible failure of all. It means that despite everything you could have possibly done, and despite every desire you had to avoid bloodshed at all costs, you have failed to convince another person of the wrongfulness of their actions. And depleting every other course of action, the only action left to take... indeed, the only action demanded... is to deprive that person of mortal life. That's the core of the belief in the "just war", I think: war is something to be abhorred above all other things on this earth, but sometimes the corruptness of human nature leads to war without alternative. We just have to make damned sure that there is no other option left but to go to war, and for the right reasons: none of which have to do with political or financial gain. But I digress...

Perrie Dyon Simpson is going to die tonight. This society failed to utterly convince him that the brutal murder of his fellow man is wrong. But he failed us by refusing to live by rules that are above worldly jurisdiction: the same rules that most of us do abide by. And tonight he's going to pay for that failure with his life.

Maybe capital punishment is a moral thing after all: maybe this is one way how we defend the right for each of us to live as God would have us do so. But necessary though it may be, I still do not enjoy the thought of another man being deprived of that life for any reason...

...but then, that it has to be this way isn't really God's fault, is it?

What the... Venom and Bryce Howard as Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3?!

Ain't It Cool News was first with the scoop and I'm also just now reading at JoBlo.com that not only is Bryce Howard playing Gwen Stacy (?!?!?) in Spider-Man 3 but that Topher Grace is apparently definitely playing Venom. So the next Spidey flick will not only have more on the complicated relationship between Peter and Mary-Jane, but also Harry's vendetta possibly leading him to become Green Goblin II or Hobgoblin, the Sandman, some way of figuring out how to explain Venom without taking up an extra two hours screen time, and Gwen Stacy thrown into the mix?! This is either going to be the greatest superhero movie of all time... or it's gonna be WAY too much too fast and maybe ruin a great franchise. But I'll be there opening day to buy a ticket... if for no other reason than to see how the heck they run with the Gwen Stacy story.

Wicked Wilson Pickett dead at 64

Just heard about this a little while ago. A heckuva talent. His "Mustang Sally" is one of my all-time favorite songs. Pickett also did "In the Midnight Hour" and "Land of 1,000 Dances".

More info on Idol: Maybe a fair shake after all. Plus: Transgendered singers and the new Lost

The other day I posted some thoughts about American Idol, wondering if it's even a fair competition at all anymore, because some contestants seem to be given an inordinate advantage over others in terms of coverage and visibility. I cited last year's winner Carrie Underwood as an example, noting that even at the audition stage the Idol execs were giving her a bio video and everything.

Well, good journalist/commentator that I try to be, if new information comes in that reasonably disputes something I've written then I've no problem with passing that along too, and let the reader judge for him/herself. And yesterday I was given some new information all right, straight from a source very close to one of the previous winners of the American Idol competition (I ain't saying which one though). According to the source, the producers of American Idol make videos - like the one for Carrie Underwood last year - for everyone who is in the top twenty or so contestants after they've all been sifted from the scores who get brought to Hollywood. At this point in real life although we're seeing the auditions that were taped months ago, the two-dozen or so from which will come the finalists that perform live for the cameras have already been tapped out, and have been for some time. Everyone who's in that semi-finalist group gets to be followed by cameras for background videos to be made of them. But with only so much time to focus on all the good ones (even if the bad ones weren't spotlighted so heavily) not everyone can get zeroed-in on. Which does make sense. And I'm assuming that the nervous cowboy guy last night is going to wind up being one of the top singers because they ran his bio video as well.

Speaking of which, we watched the last 20 minutes or so of American Idol last night, after going through two more episodes from the Lost Season 1 set (the backstories for Charlie and Sawyer) before the new Lost episode aired at 9. So we saw nervous cowboy kid and the "cosmic coaster" inventor. And we also watched this... person... perform:

So is Zachary a guy or a girl? Personally I think it's a female impersonating a male pretending to be a woman, the whole thing being a gimmick to get on the show. Has to be, right? Right?!?

New Lost was pretty good though: I watched the "orientation" film afterward and couldn't help but think that the leader of the Others looks a LOT like an older vesion of DeGroot, the grad student who started the Dharma Project. Just wanted to throw that out there.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Whole new meaning to "pinching pennies"

The world is running out of copper. Fifty years from now the richest men on Earth will be the ones who stocked up on plenty of those 100-feet of CAT 5 cable at Best Buy.

Churches now targets for Kelo seizure

Never thought the day would come in America when the government would start closing down churches, did you?

This past summer the Supreme Court handed down their Kelo decision, in my mind the worst thing the court has done since Roe v. Wade more than thirty years ago. According to the ruling, government can now use the power of eminent domain to condemn private property and give the land to another private party if it's determined that doing so would be financially advantageous (i.e. more tax money coming into the city or state). In other words if you've been living in the same house for the past forty years, with everything on it paid up, and if the town decides that it could make a lot more money by kicking you off your land and putting a Wal-Mart there instead, it can legally do that now.

Some people's houses have already been condemned under Kelo, and now it looks as though not even the house of God is safe. National Review Online is reporting about a church in Oklahoma that is being told it has to vacate its property, so that the site can be cleared for a Home Depot and other retail development.

I wrote about this a month ago, after hearing some Christian legal quisling on the radio say that Christians should do whatever government tells them to do so that government officials won't "get mad" and take their churches away. And after thinking a lot about it, I've come to the conclusion that there's nothing morally wrong at all for Christians in this country to start defying our government openly and brazenly on some things, especially when it comes to our rights... which God has established, not the state. Our elected officials have by and large failed us miserably, and it's once again falling to the common man (and woman) to draw the line and say "to this point and no further". Better we do that sooner than later, if for no other reason than because forestalling initiative now will mean a far harder task at setting things right down the road.

If we don't do that, well... Welkome to Amerika, komrade.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Getting hopelessly Lost

When it comes to television, I'm only slightly more liberal than the Amish. Am that way with most things actually for that matter. I don't desire to spend any time on something unless I'm totally convinced that doing so is not only not a waste of my time, but is enlightening and edifying somehow. I don't want to be merely "entertained"... I want to have to think about it too.

If I'm writing a lot about Lost lately, it's only 'cuz I'm just now finally getting hooked on this show, after a year of this somehow being under my radar. And I can't believe that I've been missing something so good. THIS is a show for the thinking person. It's the rare find that entertains without catering to the least common denominator by insulting the viewer's intelligence. And shows like that have been darned too few and far between.

For the past few days Lisa and I have been watching all the episodes in the Season 1 DVD set that we got for Christmas. Tonight was time for number six, "House of the Rising Sun", focusing on the Korean couple Sun and Jin. It's a good story. But the one that's been on my mind the most since we watched it Sunday has been "Walkabout", the first (of many I hope) episodes centering on Locke... who's emerging as my very favorite character on the show. I've been a fan of Terry O'Quinn for a pretty long time now, ever since he played Peter Watts on Millennium, and it's so delightful to see him given such a deep role that's showcasing all his talents. Every scene he's been in has been nothing short of captivating. If Jack is coming out as the leader of the group, Locke is definitely becoming its spiritual center, or at least the cipher between the survivors and the island.

So this is what we watched tonight, after a very few minutes of American Idol that made it pretty clear it was gonna be little more than plain ol' nastiness all around. Maybe some funny stuff happened, I don't know... but I'm glad we got to watch something instead that will stick with us for a lot longer. I just can't wait to get to Hurley's episode (which is supposed to be in this set somewhere) and to find out more about the mysterious John Locke.

Happy 300th Birthday to Benjamin Franklin

The definitive Renaissance man, scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin was born 300 years ago today in Boston. Pretty cool, eh?

American Idol begins tonight: Who'll be picked to win this year?

Next Tuesday night is when American Idol runs the show about the auditions that took place here in Greensboro this past fall. I'll admit to being morbidly curious as to how many bad singers came out of this town (the auditions here replaced those that were going to take place in Houston had that town not been swamped with Hurricane Katrina refugees). But otherwise I'm not watching, because there's so little doubt in my mind that it's a rigged game. Last year Carrie Underwood was picked to win from the getgo by the Idol execs. I knew she was from the very first time she appeared on the show: how many other contestants at that stage of the game did Fox go all-out to produce a background video for? No other contestants received that kind of attention as Underwood did. It's also pretty safe to say that she got the lion's share of the magazine and tv news coverage... a LOT more than the other eleven finalists. Can she sing? I'll say she can, and very well too... but EVERYTHING was tilted in her favor by those running the show, and that puts too much of a taint on any success she's had since winning the competition last spring. I didn't watch the first season but seasons 2 and 3 seemed more or less "let the chips fall where they may". Last year's was a fixed game though: too much so for me to have any interest in who'll come out of this year's edition. I mean, what's the fun in watching a "fair" contest when the people running it have already decided who is going to win?

American freedom: 1776 vs 2006

Something that occurred to me a few days ago...
"Give me liberty or give me death!"
-- Patrick Henry

"Give up your liberty or you're going to die!"
-- too many Bush supporters

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." -- Benjamin Franklin

Monday, January 16, 2006

Could America ever produce another Martin Luther King Jr.?

Lisa and I spent most of the week after we got married honeymooning in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We'd planned to stay at our rented cabin until Tuesday but we were having so much fun in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area that we spent an extra day there. That still left us with half a week of honeymoon to use up somehow. It was sometime Wednesday that the idea struck to do something really spontaneous, that we hadn't intended to do at all when we started this ride: after we'd check out Thursday, we'd get onto I-40 and head west. We'd go all the way to Memphis and make a "religious pilgrimage" at Graceland.

Well, that's what we did, and it took about eight hours of driving across the length of the state to get there. We saw Graceland and got totally Elvis-ed out. Later on Friday night Lisa and I were on this trolley car that goes through a lot of the downtown area: it wasn't a "guided tour" thing at all, just something to ride for fun. We crossed Beale Street, saw the Memphis nightlife in full swing. And then off to our right I saw a building that looked very familiar somehow. And it took all of three seconds to realize what it was that I was looking at...

It was the Lorraine Motel.

It's the place where on April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed as he exited a room onto the second floor balcony.

We had a good rest of the evening in Memphis, and the next morning drove back to Georgia through Mississippi and Alabama, stopping in Tupelo to visit Elvis Presley's birthplace (how did the King wind up in so much of our first week of married life?). In every way we had a terrific honeymoon. But seeing the Lorraine really had an impact on me after that. It's not everyday you see a place that tragic from American history.

So today is Martin Luther King Day here in the states. Which I've never liked the idea of at all, because if you've ever studied his speeches you'll know that this isn't how Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted to be remembered. He wanted to be recalled as a man of humility, and I'm afraid that what's happened instead is that in the past few decades he's been transformed into an icon of power. Man of God that he was, he would not have desired to be turned into an object of veritable worship. King definitely would not have wanted his memory to be used for political gain either. The man was by no means perfect - yes, I'm aware of the apparent plagiarism that he committed - and I don't think he tried to project that he was in life. So why should we be disingenuous to his memory by making of him what he never was, and what none of us can even be?

Like David - another great leader with many flaws - King relied upon and was sustained by his faith in God. And God rewarded that faith by transforming Martin Luther King Jr. into one of the greatest orators in American history. When I think of great speakers of the past half-century in this country, only three names readily come to mind: John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and King. Each of them has his style of why he is that memorable, but of the three King's was by far the one that most burned itself into the American conscience. Maybe it was because not since Jonathan Edwards had a preacher man been so eloquently powerful.

So this morning I caught myself thinking of something that's pretty darned sobering: could Martin Luther King Jr. have been so successful at conveying his message if he were doing so today, instead of the 1960s?

More to the point: is it even possible at all for another Martin Luther King Jr. to rise to the occassion in today'a America?

Do we still have it within us to produce a King? Or a Frederick Douglas, or a Gandhi, or a Lech Walesa, or any other person who has possessed both the vision and the desire to seek nothing more than the liberty of his fellow man?

All of these men and more possessed one striking characteristic, no matter the background of where they came from: they sought no glory for themselves, and everything for others. They didn't want to be great leaders. They probably would have tried anything but involving themselves in petty politics, and they still wound up not only becoming involved, but turning their worlds topsy-turvy in revolution... and peacefully at that.

Might someone of their caliber still be found in this country today? Or could someone of their stature even be allowed to rise to the fore?

Let me tell you a terrible secret, dear reader. There is a minority in this country - I would even dare say throughout this entire world - that is despised above all others. Throughout history it has been the most loathed and scorned faction of all. Every other group that comes to mind has had its champions, but in contrast to those, the heroes of that which I speak of have been sorely few and far between. On the lists of persecuted minority groups, this one is almost certain to be absent, and not even considered at that.

The minority I speak of is that of the individual.

And that is what this country's next "civil rights movement" must be about. There is every right given to the sundry factions of this land... but very few given to those who wish to be apart from the collective mindset. And what rights they do enjoy are threatened with each passing day: obviously by the bureaucrats. But those merely effect the will of they who hate the individual, because the individual possesses something that those in the faction do not: the simple strength of will to listen to a different drummer and step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

If there is ever to be another leader that America produces who will be anything of the stature of Martin Luther King Jr., that leader is going to be one who speaks not of the rights of the many, but champions the rights of the one.

He (or she) will be someone who looks past the meaningless politics of today's America. That person will not be bound by the cruel illusion that is the "conservative versus liberal" mentality. This person will certainly be no subscriber to either the Democrat or Republican parties. If a Christian, this leader will eschew the corruptness and lust for temporal power that plagues too much of the modern church: the champion of the individual will seek to free the Bible from the flag, not bind it up even more. In every way, this person will fly in the face of everything that we accept as being the status quo... and that person is going to be endangered far moreso than Martin Luther King Jr. ever was.

Because such a person will stand not against one faction, but all of them at once. And whatever supposed "differences" that those groups clammoring for power may have with each other, they will not hesitate to make a concerted effort toward vanquishing the one who threatens the world they have established even as they have been at each other's throat. However much they speak of "tolerance", the voice of that one will be that which must be silenced at all costs. Because if one person dares to speak against The Way Things Are, then he or she would assuredly show others that they too could defy the masters of this world.

In the least, this person will be ignored by The Powers That Be and their lackies in the mainstream press. At most, such a person could very well be marked for assassination. But even that could not stop so determined an individual: far worse than the death of the body is the death of one's principles. "They" are led by a tiny group of madmen who would not hesitate to rob others of their earthly existence. But there is one part of each of us that can never be chained, and can always be denied them so long as we choose to deny them that victory: our own minds. And the person who teaches his fellow man that it is time for each of us to assert the mind given us will be a person marked for destruction indeed... because he or she, like King and Gandhi, threaten the very foundation of society.

Is there such a person to be found in America today? I like to believe there is. That's why I'm writing this right now. I don't know who may read this. Maybe that person is out there somewhere, and he or she will find this essay and ponder what I'm trying to convey here. That is how I have my victory over the things of this world, in my own small way. That is how Martin Luther King Jr. had his victory - by choosing a way other than those of which he was expected to take - and for his effort he was rewarded with greatness. If what I write can reach just one person who could be inspired by it to become the next Martin Luther King Jr., then I will be eternally thankful to God that He led me to write all of this out.

Somewhere out there is the next great orator of American history. And he or she is going to start a chain reaction that throws off the shackles from the minds of the American people. And for the first time ever, we are going to be a people truly of Dr. King's vision: considerate of each other, and not what group we boast of belonging to.

Whoever you are, you're out there somewhere. I pray you will be used by God in a mighty way, and sooner rather than later.

Proof at last that we were at Star Wars Celebration III

One Wednesday evening last April, Lisa and I packed up our little Corolla for the longest road trip we'd ever attempted, and drove off into the dusk. Destination: all four days of Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis. The route we'd plotted would take twelve hours driving time into southwestern Virginia, then up into West Virginia and across what came to be the monotony of Ohio before reaching Indiana... practically all backroads. This was gonna be whole new uncharted territory to us.

It was around midnight when we were headed toward the West Virginia/Ohio state line on US 35, and we saw a sign that said the town of Point Pleasant was 7 miles ahead. And that got my mind reeling: "Point Pleasant, Point Pleasant, Point Pleasant... where have I heard that name before?" Not the Point Pleasant in New Jersey where I have family, but I was sure I'd heard of "Point Pleasant, West Virginia" somewhere...

And then it hit me, and I remembered how it was that I knew of Point Pleasant. And I immediately wondered if we would be going over that bridge. Sure enough a little while later we crossed it. And I told Lisa that on the way back I wanted to take a picture of the bridge.

So a few days ago TNT was showing The Mothman Prophecies, a movie with a lot of problems but more or less is based on something that supposedly really happened: the Mothman sightings that occured in the late 1960s. The whole story took place around Point Pleasant. And the bridge we took over the Ohio River was the Silver Memorial Bridge: the one built to replace the original bridge that collapsed in 1967, claiming the lives of 46 people. The bridge you see in the movie is the Silver Bridge that's there now.

Well, seeing that the movie was on reminded me that after all these months, I've still not posted any pictures from Star Wars Celebration III on this blog. The thing of it is there were so many pictures that it would have made a single post too unwieldy. That and the fact that I was just wiped out from too much Star Wars to have put them up immediately after we got back, and then other things took bigger priority. Maybe sometime soon I'll find somewhere to store them all online and then just make a link to that from this blog, but I can provide some photographic evidence that we did, indeed, make the pilgrimage.

This was taken the first day of Celebration III: that's Deborah, a very dear friend from Texas (and super-talented costume-maker and jewelry designer) and me (note the Forcery t-shirt I'm wearing). Deborah is in her Mara Jade costume. I'm holding the lightsaber that I built for her three years ago for the costume she wore at Celebration II: it's a replica of Luke Skywalker's original saber...

This next one was taken Sunday morning, the last day of Celebration III: Lisa and me in the Artoo Builders Club room, along with Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio. Notice that we (and Deborah in the above pic) are wearing the four-day passes - the ones with Darth Vader printed on them - around our necks. I've also got my lightsaber - the one I built for that crazy marriage proposal stunt in 2001 - clipped to my belt...

Several hours later, on the journey back home, we pulled the car to the side of the road on the Ohio side of the state line. Looming ahead of us through the fog and light rain was the Silver Memorial Bridge. We both got out of the car and Lisa took this photo of me with the bridge in the background...

And there's probably a hundred more pics that we took, and someday I am gonna find the time to get those hosted probably. But if not, at least there's now proof that we came, we saw... and then we came back :-)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Real-Life Project SCOOP space probe brings Lord-knows-what to Utah desert

Here's the story from the AP:
Capsule Carrying Comet Dust Lands in Utah

Jan 15, 8:40 AM (ET)

DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah (AP) - A space capsule ferrying the first comet dust samples to Earth parachuted onto a remote stretch of desert before dawn Sunday, drawing cheers from elated scientists.

The touchdown capped a seven-year journey by NASA's Stardust spacecraft, which zipped past a comet in 2004 to capture minute dust particles and store them in the capsule.

"It's an absolutely fantastic end to the mission," said Carlton Allen, a scientist with NASA's Johnson Space Center.

A helicopter recovery team located the capsule Sunday and was transferring it to a clean room at the nearby Michael Army Air Field. The capsule will be flown Tuesday to the Johnson Space Center in Houston where scientists will unlock the canister containing the cosmic particles.

Researchers believe about a million samples of comet and interstellar dust - most tinier than the width of a human hair - are locked inside the capsule...

I hope that's ALL that's inside that capsule: don't wanna see this happen, do we?

What we REALLY watched last night

We got the "Trash" made and munched on that, but instead of the pilot episode for Lost we watched the latest movie to come through Netflix: Christmas With The Kranks, with Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. And a whole lotta other notable faces: Dan Akroyd, M. Emmet Walsh, Tom Poston (I'd wondered how he's been doing and it was great seeing him again, he plays the priest), Cheech Marin, Jake Busey (who's looking more like his dad with each new film he's in), bunch more. This may surprise a lot of people but this movie is based on the novel Skipping Christmas written by John Grisham (yes the king of the lawyer stories). Allen and Curtis play a couple who won't be celebrating Christmas this year with their daughter because she's out of the country with the Peace Corps, so the Mr. Krank gets the idea (and signs his reluctant wife on eventually) of not having Christmas at all and instead spending the money on a cruise that leaves Christmas day. Which you'd think would be easy enough, and then their neighbors and co-workers start giving them all kinds of hell about it. It's a darned funny movie and a clean one too, with a pretty upbeat message at the end. Well worth watching even if we have just left the holiday season.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

We call it "Trash"... what do YOU call it?

Today has been the windiest day in recent memory that I can remember. Enough so that for the most part we stayed in, out of the wind chill. Had plenty to do though: the website I've been building is finished and went online a few hours ago, and my client seemed pretty impressed by the finished product when he came by this afternoon. In the meantime there was taking down the final bit of Christmas (the tree is bare, I pack it up tomorrow) and playing videogames. We thought of going out tonight (I'm itching to get to Toys R Us and use this gift card that Lisa got me, hoping they'll have the new LEGO Star Wars Slave I set) but instead opted to stay inside and watch the pilot episode of Lost from my new DVD set, which I actually watched a few nights ago but Lisa thought it looked interesting so she wants to check it out from the beginning too.

But right now Lisa is engaged in, I guess you could say she is beginning a ritual that she'll probably be doing the rest of her life. I first did it two years ago and now it's her turn to pick up the tradition. She's in the kitchen right now making a batch of Trash. She did her first one a few days ago and for a first-timer she did pretty good.

What's "Trash"? I don't know if that's the regional name for it, but that's what my Mom and her family and most other people I've known around here call it. It's called that because "there's all kinds of junk in it". I've heard that different parts of the country have other names for it but I've no idea what those names are: if you call it something else, send me a note about it.

So what's this "Trash" stuff? That's our name for Chex Party Mix. You know, that scrumptious melange of Chex cereal, nuts, pretzels, Worcestershire sauce and other seasonings that there just can't seem to be enough of around the holiday season. We always have enough raw materials to make a few batches into February. And Lord help us, we gotta have 'em. Mom makes this stuff like crazy around Christmas and it's always the first thing to go: she gave us a few containers of it this past month, what little there was that Dad didn't eat! Only difference between the stuff we've been making and the original recipe is that we've never used bagel chips, but that's okay. Lisa's got a fresh batch in the oven right now... and it smells delicious!

So that's our plan for tonight: watching Lost and eating Trash. As good a thing to do on a wintery Saturday night as any :-)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Iran and Venezuela: How they threaten American stability

Am taking a break right now, while finishing up a client's website. And while perusing through the news I found this article at the Washington Times (disclaimer: they ain't my favorite news source) about Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. He's proposing starting-up a "Bank of the South" that would provide loans to countries in South America, as a direct competitor to the U.S.-directed International Monetary Fund.

Herein is the real reason why Chavez is so thoroughly despised by many among America's political and financial leaders, and it has nothing at all to do with Chavez's leftist inclinations: Chavez is moving the lower half of the Western Hemisphere out of Washington's control. Bear in mind that several countries south of us have become financially depleted over the past few decades: obviously from corrupt leadership but plenty of it has to do with these countries being in perpetual hoc to foreign interests. That Argentina's government took out such outrageously large loans so recklessly is inexcusable: for that alone, the people of that country and others should have had their "leaders" strung up from the nearest telephone pole by their circular reproductive units with piano wire. But the IMF should never have granted the loans to begin with. IMF's behavior in all of this has been like a bartender who keeps the beer coming even though the customer's obviously had too much to drink. They should have known that there'd be nothing but trouble coming out of this, absolutely must have been aware of what kind of characters they were trusting this money with, but they kept sending the dough down south anyway. The ineptitude of these countries's leaders guaranteed that there was no way the loans could be reasonably repaid: it became loansharking on a grand scale. And over time this is how a lot of countries in South America came to be controlled - however indirectly - by governments thousands of miles away.

So now with Argentina's debt paid off, Venezuelan president Chavez is actively taking steps to make sure that U.S.-led interests won't be financially dominating his region any longer. Say what you will of Chavez: between this, and financing a new South American news network to compete with U.S. media, he is fostering a kind of independence for South America that hasn't really been known in modern times. And this time there's no cut in it for the politicians in Washington and their financial backers. No wonder Pat Robertson wants to kill the guy: Chavez is going to cut off a reliable influx of money toward his neighbors north of the equator.

But whatever Venezuela is doing right now is nothing compared to the threat posed to the United States by Iran... and it has nothing to do with possible nuclear weapons. That's just a pretext tossed out to the American people to distract them from the real reason why the warhawks are now trying to drum up support for an attack on Iran.

For the longest time now, the global oil trade has been done with the U.S. dollar. And that's about all that's really propping up the dollar right now: American money has become such a fiat currency that without the circulation of dollars through oil commodities, there is scarce little reason for other countries to keep using the dollar for much of anything. It's scary, but true: American financial stability is dependent upon the value of the dollar as the sole unit of exchange on the oil market. If another currency starts getting used, it will devalue our dollar significantly. And so far nothing has threatened - or been allowed to threaten - our hold on that.

But now Iran is positioning itself to finally break the U.S. grip on petro-currency.

This coming March, Iran will start up its oil bourse. For the first time oil trading will not be done in dollars, but with another currency: the euro. Remember not so long ago when the European Union was first getting the euro started, and how almost worthless it was? Under Iran's plan, other countries will begin paying for oil on its bourse in euros, drastically increasing that currency's value. The U.S. dollar meanwhile - either incrementally or almost immediately - will be dumped as the de facto unit of exchange... and will certainly suffer an incomparable loss in value. If you think inflation is bad now, you ain't seen nuthin' yet...

Does anyone really think that in the face of this kind of financial threat, that the holders of power in the United States won't try something to stop Iran from going through with its bourse? Call me overly-suspicious, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if it turned out that one of the - if not the - real reasons we invaded Iraq three years ago was because Saddam Hussein had moved the trade of Iraq's oil off the dollar and onto the euro. Iraqi oil was again being bought with the U.S. dollar just a few months after we took over the place. If Iraq was deemed to be even that much a threat to western financial stability - to whatever a degree it was - what is going to happen when Iran attempts the same thing... only far bolder in design?

If this were all a game of chess, it would seem so classic: the king is caught between the knight of the south and the rook of the east. The pawns and pieces are almost exhausted. And there is very little that the United States can do at this point to stay out of checkmate. Between the growing financial independence of Latin America and the possible undercutting of its monetary value by a mid-east enemy nation, the United States faces a severe failure of its economic and foreign policies almost entirely across the board.

The thing of it is, America didn't have to have been caught in a pincer like this. But we've traded away so much of our industry to other countries, and left so little for ourselves... what else is there left, but to practically expect that our "leaders" will lash out in vain desperation?

This is the kind of thing that I think about, when I'm not working on something else.

Okay, break's over. Time to get back to designing that website.

Is Lost's "black smoke" the new Rover?

This week's episode of Lost has a lot of people talking, what with Mr. Eko's backstory and all. The "black smoke" is getting plenty of attention too. Here's a screen-cap of Eko staring it down, courtesy of lost.cubit.net:
If you go to the above link you'll find PLENTY more captures of the sequence, along with some commentary on what was being seen "inside" the smoke.

I'll admit to still being a relative newcomer to Lost, and I haven't kept up with the discussion boards but it turns out that my theory that the black smoke is a nano-machine cloud has been suggested already. Well, the guy running The Regularly Scheduled TV Show Blog has a great theory about what "Lostzilla" might actually be...

"I think Lostzilla isn't a killing machine but more of a machine to keep them on the island. Thus, it killed the pilot after he let them know there was no hope in waiting to get off the island, and didn't kill Locke or Eko since they've surrendered themselves to living on the island."
Do you know what this means if this turns out to be true? It means that the creators of Lost are getting some of their ideas from the 1970's TV show The Prisoner... in which case they're gonna really start screwing around with our heads. Lookahere...
If iomegadrive's theory is spot-on, that means the "black smoke" is doing the exact same thing that the Rover (the homicidal weather balloon) did on The Prisoner!

I can see the final episode of Lost now: Hurley's holding Locke captive down in the hatch and screaming "Who is Number One?!", before ripping Locke's face clean off only to reveal that it's a mask and beneath it... a gorilla. All while the Beatle's "All You Need Is Love" is playing in the background.

Good theory about the black cloud. I like it a lot :-)

TheKnightShift.com gets used... FINALLY!

It only took a little over five years, but at last I'm making use of my theknightshift.com domain name. When I first registered it in October of 2000 I was doing my reporter gig in Asheville, with no website at all to put it on but I thought it sounded too clever to not be the guy owning it. So I swiped it up. And it's been just sitting there all this time, periodically renewed but otherwise not doing a darned thing whatsoever. Think the first people I told about it to were Geoff Gentry and my old discipleship partner, during lunch at Sandy's Subs in Elon one day after church. They thought that was a neat name and Lisa's been telling me all this time that I needed to do something with it. Well finally after one wedding, four moves, eight jobs (two of 'em at one time), two Star Wars movies, a whole lotta nonsense and no kids (yet) later, TheKnightShift.com becomes something I can proudly boast about!

Using it forwards you to this blog, so you can remember www.theknightshift.com (or just theknightshift.com) instead of theknightshift.blogspot.com, but the blog is physically still sitting on Blogger's server. Maybe someday I'll move the entire blog to my own dedicated server and stick my domain onto it, but for now I'm perfectly happy to still use Blogger, and use theknightshift.com as a convenient pointer for everyone I know (and don't know yet). And I might use this on my own commercial services website eventually... but for now feel free to use it to come here :-)

EDIT: Special thanks to Kim in Technical Support at Register.com for helping me fix a problem with the domain forwarding. 'Preciate it a lot Kim!

The Doctor is coming to America! Sci-Fi Channel to run new Who

He's back... and it's about time!! Get it? Ahhh nevermind...

The Sci-Fi Channel is going to start running the new Doctor Who, it was announced earlier today. Up 'til now the only way those of us on this side of the Atlantic have been able to watch the Doctor's new adventures has been to download episodes via file torrent. This past Christmas day there was an awesome Christmas special - the first episode to feature David Tennant as the new Doctor - that was especially fun to behold. Those of us who've been going through the hassle of downloading know only too well that the uninitiated are about to discover something very special come March, when Sci-Fi starts running the episodes: you've no idea what "manic" means until you see Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. There is some serious action, heartbreak, and humor headed this way: can't wait to see what the reaction will be like to the "Bad Wolf" episode featuring the "Anne Droid". The only downside to all this is that the release of last season's DVD set, originally slated for next month, is getting pushed back to June. But that's a minor price to pay for finally getting Doctor Who imported over here. Thank you BBC and Sci-Fi Channel!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

No fun in Smallville political stakes

For the first time since we've been married, Lisa and I aren't watching a new episode of Smallville together tonight. We liked the "Lex-Mas" episode that ran in December very much, but 20 minutes into this new one and it's about nothing but that RIDICULOUS "state senate race" storyline, which has been a snore-bore since the night Tom Wopat guest-starred to ask Jonathan Kent to run for the office. Lisa's now playing a game on my Nintendo DS and I'm sitting at the computer posting a rant.

Nothing about this election plotline has been the least bit believable. I mean really: just what kind of pull does the Kansas state senate have that would entice Lex Luthor to run for the job? Why the heck is Lionel Luthor involved in this anyway? Why are both sides pouring insane amounts of money into their campaigns? They showed Kent's campaign headquarters earlier in this episode. Back in '94 I worked part-time next door to the headquarters of a closely-watched U.S. House campaign, and that was practically a hole in the wall that you wouldn't even know was there if you'd walked past it: It was nowhere near as swanky as what Jonathan Kent has for his state election run. From everything I've heard of it, there's going to be some assassination attempts going on in this race too. So I ask again: how does a state senate seat possibly rate this kind of outlandish attention? Is the Kansas legislature considering a ban on Kryptonite or something?

C'mon guys, this ain't no fun. There's been some good stuff this season, like Aquaman and Brainiac. Can't we see more of that instead of political shenanigans that defy every stretch of belief?

Trying out a new way to blog

This is the first post I’m making to my blog via the Blogger for Word plugin for Microsoft Word.  If you’re running Windows XP or 2000 and have Word 2000 or newer, you can install the plugin and compose your stuff in Word, then publish directly to your blog!  So this is really a test to see how well it works.  This is going to come in handy for the occasional longer article that I write.