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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Doctor is out: Sci-Fi Channel destroys my yearly PBS prank

Right now UNC-TV, the public broadcasting network here in North Carolina, is having their annual "Festival" fundraising campaign. This is when they do stuff like run marathon showings of EastEnders, bring "Mama Dip" into the studio for live demonstrations on how to fry chicken and bake biscuits, and interrupt Sesame Street every little while so they can break back to the studio where Muppets are begging for money.

Okay, it's soooo easy to make fun of, but I like PBS. It's something well worth funding. There've been a lot of good programs on it like Voices of North Carolina featuring Popcorn Sutton and other locals. But none of that has stopped me from playing a prank on them every year for the past decade or so...

Here's how it goes: I start off by calling the UNC-TV pledge line, and I try to time it so that they've got the camera running in the studio. That way I've a chance of seeing the look on the face of whichever poor volunteer that I end up calling. And when they pick up it runs something like this:

UNC-TV Volunteer: Hi! Thanks for calling UNC-TV during our annual Festival fundraiser. How can I help you today?

Me: Uhhh yeah hi. I'm calling because I'd like to make a pledge.

UNC-TV Volunteer: That's wonderful! And we thank you so much for taking the time to support our broadcasting sir. We sincerely appreciate your generosity.

Me: Thank you, thank you very much!

UNC-TV Volunteer: And how much would you like to pledge this evening sir?

Me: I want to pledge ten thousand dollars.

UNC-TV Volunteer: (usually looking stunned) Ten thousand?! Sir that's very generous of you!

Me: But there's one condition.

UNC Volunteer: Sir ummm... what?

Me: I'll pledge the ten thousand dollars if PBS brings back Doctor Who.

That's usually where the line goes "click". One time I did catch the young lady who'd answered my call cracking up laughing in the phone bank area.

Well, I had a good run, but it looks like I'll finally be hanging up my annual "I'll give PBS ten thousand dollars if they bring back Doctor Who" gag, because starting this coming month the Sci-Fi Channel really will be bringing the show back to America! So it would make no sense to keep harassing those poor souls at UNC-TV with this prank.

But, I had a lot of fun with it over the years. The very first time I did it after we were married I really gave Lisa a good scare with it when I said "ten thousand dollars". Now it's maybe time to retire it. But it's something that I wanted to make note of here, and sort of "memorialize" it :-)

"Hotter than a pistol!" Autistic player's story still stuns

In case you haven't heard by now, the breakout sports star of the past week or so has been Jason McElwain of Greece Athena High School in Rochester, New York. In spite of his autism, McElwain (or "J-Mac" as he's known on campus) has been the manager of Greece Athena's basketball team for the past few years, doing everything that was expected of him but never actually playing a game. That changed in the final game of the season, when the team's coach put J-Mac in a jersey and then into the game with four minutes left to play. What happened then is the stuff of legend: McElwain shot twice, missed those, but then made six three-point baskets! He then scored a two-pointer, ending the game (after playing less than four minutes) with 20 points. Here's a link to the story that CBS did on McElwain including video of him playing in the game and sinking all those baskets. Afte the game and he was talking to reporters he said a lot of times that he was "hotter than a pistol!" Amazing story for someone who seems to be a super sweet person.

(And if I were Greece Athena's coach, the first thing I would have done after the game is flagellate myself in the locker room for all those times that the team barely lost while having McElwain right there willing and able to play.)

Now it looks like J-Mac's story is going to be made into a movie. Bunches of studios are trying to get the rights to the tale. Let's hope that it ends with McElwain getting drafted by the NBA for a multi-million dollar contract :-)

And now Dennis Weaver has left us

Over the weekend we lost Don Knotts and Darren McGavin. Now it comes out earlie today that Dennis Weaver died over the weekend also. He was Chester in Gunsmoke and had the title role in the 70's TV series McCloud. But what I'll always remember him for was the first time I saw Weaver in a role, way back one night when this movie ran on television about a salesman in a car being terrorized on the road by a sinister tractor-trailer. I must have been about 5 or 6 when I saw that and didn't know until years later that what I'd been watching was Duel, an ABC "movie of the week" that first aired in 1971 and was directed by some new filmmaker named Steven Spielberg. Good movie to catch sometime, and Dennis Weaver was really great in it. Hate to see him go, and I hope we're done with great actors dying for awhile because we've lost far too many legends in the past few days.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Getting the REAL box for The Simpsons Season 6 DVD set

It's not as creepy as that plastic-faced "king" in the Burger King commercials, but it's still somewhat disturbing to have the Season 6 DVD set of The Simpsons packaged inside a Homer Simpson head...

I got this for Christmas (and bought the Season 7 set the next day, which they give you the option to buy it in either a Marge-head in the same style as the Homer one, or a real box). Inside the Season 6... thing... there was this offer:

Simply mail in this offer sheet and two bucks or so for shipping/handling and 20th Century Fox sends a true box that you can put Season 6 in and have it match up with all the other seasons on your shelf. So that's what I did last month and it arrived a few days ago...

It came in a thick cardboard envelope, that was so big it barely fit inside our mailbox. Opening the envelope, and this is what you get:

I wasn't liking the looks of this. I mean, a box that truly fits in with the rest shouldn't come flat and un-inflated like that:

The instructions that show you how to "build" your Season 6 box. You'd better read these instructions and follow 'em, and pray you don't mess up, 'cuz then you'll be all out of chances to have a perfect Season 6 box, unless you buy another hideous Homer head and mail away another offer.

Here it is, the finished product:

And here you see why this box really doesn't "jibe" with the others. The actual DVD holder drops into the box through the top, where on the Season 7 and all other it's a nice "slipcase" from the sides:

If this had been a real quality box, Fox would have made one that replaced EVERYTHING about the packaging, not just the exterior. But I guess that could be considered a "character" thing: when the kids ask someday how come Season 6 isn't packaged like the rest, I can just whip out Homer's severed head and tell them how Fox botched the marketing on this one.

It does look pretty nice though, a lot more appealing than the "head" case. I really dig the artwork on this box too.

Anyway, if anyone was wondering what this thing actually looks like, and was wondering whether its worth mailing away for, there it is. I'd say it's definitely a thing to get if you like consistency in your collection. Plus it's a heckuva lot easier to store on the shelf.

The Bowie knife my Dad made

My Dad has been working on a Bowie knife lately. The other week he finished it. I thought it'd be neat to post some pictures of it, show off some of his handiwork:

And here's the beginning of my own, the first one that I've worked on in a while:
It'll look a lot better once it's ground and polished. The handle isn't done yet either.

I might post more pics of what comes out of his shop sometime, including his Damascus steel and "railroad-spike" knives.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Darren McGavin 1922-2006

Within hours of losing Don Knotts, another great actor left this earthly realm: Darren McGavin. Which has a tinge of irony to it because in 1976 McGavin and Knotts starred together in Disney's No Deposit, No Return:
From Kolchak: The Night Stalker, detective Mike Hammer, later on he had a memorable appearance in an episode of The X-Files, to many, many roles over the years, McGavin did it all.

But what he'll forever be best known for, at least to people of my generation, will be playing Ralphie's dad in 1983's A Christmas Story...

"It's a major award!"

And Kolchak was a pretty darned good character too!

Don Knotts 1924 - 2006

Well, what can be said that hasn't been said already. The man was a comic genius. And even though Knotts was from West Virginia, his character of Deputy Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show will always be one of North Carolina's favorite sons.

One of the best roles he had was this really nervous corporal in No Time for Sergeants (in which he appeared with future co-star Andy Griffith). It was like an early prototype character of Barney Fife. He also did quite a few movies for Disney and later on appeared for a few seasons on Three's Company.

Two things made the last few seasons of The Andy Griffith Show somewhat less stellar than the earlier ones: going from black-and-white to color, and losing Don Knotts after the fifth season. When the producers made the transition to color, it seriously affected the quality of the comedy. It was like they thought that since the show was getting "upgraded" that it should also become more sophisticated and "up-to-date". In the process they forgot that it was Mayberry's timeless charm that made so many people tune in. Of all the episodes that were made, I don't think any of the color ones are in my top ten list of favorites. And all of my favorites have Barney in them.

Because as Barney Fife, Don Knotts was the heart and soul of The Andy Griffith Show. He was the source of so much of the comedy and after he left, the producers tried to "farm out" the place he had to other characters, and it just didn't have the same charisma that Knotts brought to the show. Probably the best episodes that stick out in my mind that feature Barney are "The Loaded Goat" (maybe one of the funniest TV episodes ever), "Barney's Sidecar", and the one about Aunt Bea's pickles, that had Barney stopping every out-of-town car (including one from Nova Scotia) and giving them a free jar of Bea's "kerosene cucumbers". Classic, classic stuff.

Well, I don't know what else to say, but I'll close this post out with a little song from The Andy Griffith Show (sung to the tune of "My Darling Clementine)...

"Oh my Barney, Oh my Barney
Had a jail and couldn't lock it
Had one bullet for his pistol
Had to keep it in his pocket"

America, the ports, and Napoleonic France

Remember those six American ports that Dubai is set to take over?

Well, it ain't six ports at all.

It's twenty-two ports.

This makes a lot more sense if you start thinking of America as being post-revolutionary France, with Napoleon Bonaparte running things. Being so overstretched in our "empire" we are now selling off some of our holdings to fund it all, like when France sold the U.S. the Louisiana territory. Sorta makes Iraq our own version of Borodino when you think about it.

Actually, I think Napoleon was a somewhat more honorable man than those in charge over here are. At least he never sold France itself out piecemeal to whatever foreign interests could pay the price. Napoleon certainly wouldn't commit national self-flagellation by signing over control of Bordeaux and Marseilles to a British company.

Y'know, the real reason he came to power in the first place is because all the higher-ranked officers started losing it all from the neck-up on la guillotine. Makes you wonder if this country isn't ripe for some drastic leadership change, and see what talent might have the chance to rise to the occasion.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

About the story that USED to be here

After some reconsideration, I decided to pull the article about the Mohammed cartoon. No, nobody threatened me or anything like that (which would have only made me keep it up even more). It's because I'm in the process of "switching over" my more political/op-ed stuff to a separate blog, and keep The Knight Shift for my more "happy/upbeat" material. That's not to say that there won't be "heavy" stuff in this space though. But I do want to keep my various interests in proper perspective, instead of "mushing them" all together. Maybe when I have the new blog up and running, I'll repost the cartoon and my associated commentary there. In the meantime, I'll do my best to keep the more caustic stuff from infecting this space.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

So y'all went looking for Taylor Hicks and found me :-)

According to the stats, about 85% of this blog's new visitors lately are coming in from search engines after they've entered "Taylor Hicks", "Under the Radar", "Hell of a Day", "MP3" and other terms related to Hicks. This blog has suddenly become a magnet for fans of Taylor Hicks to come and find stuff and maybe congregate around. Can't help but feel might proud at that, hope that I can do my share of spreading the good word out about our man Taylor Hicks!

So what y'all think I should do: maybe create a big graphic banner with Taylor all over it for the top of the screen while AI is running? Gimme some ideas, I won't mind turning this place into a Taylor Shrine :-)

The boys rocked tonight's Idol

We watched the girls last night on American Idol and tonight's show and between the two, we felt most entertained by the guys tonight. Last night it was Paris Bennett and Mandisa that I was still thinking about this morning. Tonight... ooh-boy. So many good performances. Being a Carolina boy I might be biased when I say that Chris Daughtry and Bucky Covington did well. Gedeon McKinney and Jose "Sway" Penala definitely have moves in their acts. Elliot Yamin was said to have one of the best voices heard in this or any competition. But I gotta give it up most of all for Taylor Hicks, coming in at the very end (for the next two hours you can vote 1-866-IDOLS-12 for him), taking "Levon" by Elton John and totally making it his own with that unique personality and flair of his. Simon shocked everyone (especially Hicks's dad) when he said that he was wrong about his original assessment of Hicks at the audition. 'Twas two hours well spent, we thought. Hope Hicks and some of the others make the cute come tomorrow night's show.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NOW he threatens to veto something: Bush wants foreign control of American ports

Why in the name of Valhalla is our President Bush hot to sign away control of several American ports to a foreign company run by the United Arab Emirates? He's even threatening a veto if legislators try to block the transaction... which would be the very first time that he's used the veto since he took office in 2001.

He didn't veto McCain-Feingold, and he does nothing about our borders being flooded with illegals and who-knows-what-else... but he's willing to go on record as saying that he'll finally use veto to open up an American vulnerability to a foreign power.

It makes no sense, but you can read all about it here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

An American original passes away: Bill Moran re-discovered centuries-lost secret

Of all the sad news that I've had to pass along in this space lately - and there's been more than its fair share - this is by far the most heartbreaking...

Word reached me earlier this afternoon that Bill Moran, the "Master of the Forge" and knifemaker extroardinaire who over thirty years ago re-discovered the long-lost secret of how to make Damascus steel, died last week at the age of 80.

This is so depressing a thing to report that it literally hurts doing so.

Hanging in my Dad's knife-shop is a photo of three men standing together, each smoking a pipe: Dad, legendary knifemaker George Herron, and Bill Moran. It's hung there for a few years now, like a good luck charm: may good fortune smile on Dad's forge as it has on these two gentlemen.

It was through Dad that I knew Bill Moran. When Dad asked me if I wanted to go down to Troy one Sunday to the community college where Moran was teaching a class on blade forging, I immediately said yes. I'll never forget the first time I met him, the way he smiled and had that twinkle in his eye. So help me, Moran had one of the friendliest smiles I've ever seen from anyone. Most of our family came to know him too. He always took time to talk to anyone who was interested in the fine art of knifemaking, and share whatever knowledge and wisdom - and his was considerable - that he happened to have.

So far as American legends go, God broke the mold with Bill Moran. I like to believe that he would have made his mark anyway with his prowess on the anvil. But what he'll forever be remembered for was when in 1973 he made the first Damascus steel blade to be produced in hundreds of years.

Damascus steel is multi-layered steel. You would recognize it immediately if you saw it, with its beautiful patterns and whorls of color. My Dad recently made a Damascus knife that, after the steel had been folded and re-folded, has four-hundred-and-five layers of steel compressed into one thin blade. It was a high artform in the Middle Ages, but over the centuries the secret of how to produce it had been lost. Moran found out how to do it again, and he shared his newfound knowledge with his fellow knifemakers. The result since then has been some of the most beautiful blades to ever be made... and Moran made the best of them.

This was a guy who was good at his trade, and just had a plain good heart to him. And now he's gone. But I believe that Bill is in a far better place now, and has been happily reunited with the wife he loved so dearly. Part of me likes to believe that he's now turning his legendary intellect and skill toward making more knives, with the finest forge that Heaven can provide.

Well, I could go on, but that would just be adding to what a lot of other people have already said about Bill. There's some really good write-ups about him that I've found: The Washington Post and The Frederick News-Post have articles about him, and the News-Post also a special essay about Moran written by friend Pat Jamgochian that expresses who Moran was far better than anything I could do here. Moran was co-founder of the American Bladesmith Society, and it has set up a special memorial page for people's remembrances and photos of Bill. There's also a tribute to him at Never Yet Melted.

Sorry to see him go. The best words that come to my mind about Bill Moran are the same ones that Thomas Jefferson used to describe Benjamin Franklin: "No one can replace him."

EDIT 11:06 PM EST: Cutting Commentary has a collection of links to stories about Bill Moran and more photos of his handiwork.

Rep. Ron Paul on "The End of Dollar Hegemony"

A little over a month ago I wrote here about how the value of the American dollar was being underwritten by how it is used on the global oil trade. Countries such as Iran and now, as of last week Syria, are beginning to make the transition from the dollar as the standard unit of exchange to the euro, which may dramatically increase the euro's value while significantly decreasing that of American currency.

Now Ron Paul, member of the House of Representatives (and one of the few in government today that I feel is worthy of being addressed as "Honorable") weighs in on this, with very much the same perspective. In "The End of Dollar Hegemony" Rep. Paul outlines the history of the American dollar as a tool for diplomacy and effecting foreign policy over the past century, and how there is now the threat of this being undermined by (a) a long-standing disastrous policy of fiat currency and artifically inflating what value the dollar already had, and (b) the growing disuse of the "petro-dollar" as the currency of international oil markets. A very sober read for anyone who's paying attention to this sort of thing.

Government quashes independent dairy farmers

I'm posting this because as a former independent dairy farmer, this is an issue that I've some passion for and I think it matters to most Americans more than they probably realize. It's about how the government - at the urging of bigtime agricultural co-ops - is putting the squeeze on independent dairy producers, forcing them to adhere to needless and overly burdensome regulations that have nothing to do with the quality of the milk they produce. Here's the story from the Chicago Tribune...
He sells milk for half the price you pay. The feds want to stop him. Why?

By Andrew Martin

Tribune national correspondent

Published February 19, 2006

YUMA, Ariz. -- Hein Hettinga is a dairy farmer but he doesn't spend his days milking cows.

Rather, Hettinga keeps a cell phone pressed to his ear to keep tabs on his empire of 15 dairy farms stretching from California to west Texas, including five massive farms in the desert east of Yuma.

But what distinguishes Hettinga from other large-scale dairy farmers is that he also bottles the milk from his Arizona farms and trucks it to stores in Arizona and Southern California. At one of them, Sam's Club in Yuma, two gallons of Hettinga's whole milk sell for $3.99.

That's the same price as a single gallon of whole milk in Chicago, which is second only to New Orleans in the cost of milk.

By controlling all stages of production, Hettinga says he can produce milk so efficiently that he and his customers can make a hefty profit at dirt-cheap prices. Such vertical integration, as it is known, is increasingly popular in agriculture as farmers and processors try to find ways to eliminate costs and increase revenues.

In the highly politicized world of dairy, efficiency could carry a price. Major dairy cooperatives and milk processors successfully persuaded federal regulators to write new rules that would prohibit the business practices that Hettinga has so successfully put in place.

Under the proposed regulations, Hettinga could continue to process his own milk only if he agrees to participate in a federally regulated pool of milk revenues, which would essentially require him to pay his competitors to stay in business. A bill that would have a similar effect is working its way through Congress.

Hettinga, an outspoken 64-year-old who emigrated from Holland to California at age 7, said the pending regulations were an effort by dairy heavyweights such as Dean Foods and the Dairy Farmers of America, the nation's largest dairy cooperative, to monopolize the milk business.

"Basically, I'm a pebble in the shoe of DFA and Dean Foods," he said. "The only reason I'm a success is they are a milk monopoly and they have raised the price too high. The consumer is getting ripped off."

Both Dean and the Dairy Farmers of America, or DFA, declined to comment for this article...

You know, if most of the small-time farmers in this country ever decided to hold a general strike, they would bring not just this nation, but a lot of the rest of the rest of the world to its knees. Just something to think about. Farmers are some of the most looked-down upon people in a society, but they are also the only ones that are really feeding that society either. It would be in our best interests to not throw up obstacles against them, ya know.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"Red Riding Rashomon": We get Hoodwinked

It snowed at a pretty good clip for most of the day, which made the outside look really beautiful... while it lasted. When we got to the theater it had started getting too warm and what snow had stuck to the ground soon melted. It was gone entirely by the time we came out of seeing Hoodwinked.This was a far better movie than I was expecting when we first went in. The animation style is different than what you'd come to expect if you've only had a steady diet of Shrek and Monsters, Inc. over the past few years, but don't let that deter you: what Hoodwinked may lack in technique it more than makes up for with wit and cleverness. Remember Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon? Well, Hoodwinked is practically the exact same story... but instead of being a murder it's the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood! I didn't readily recognize most of the voices until the credits rolled, but there's a really good crew doing the vocal talent in Hoodwinked: Glenn Close as Granny, James Belushi as the Woodsman (who's not really a woodsman, but you'll have to find out for yourself), Patrick Warburton as the Wolf (who isn't a big bad wolf either... which was the point I realized just how demented this movie really is), Anne Hathaway as Red Riding Hood, rapper Xzibit (the dude from MTV's Pimp My Ride) as Chief Grizzly, and in the first role I've seen him do in years, David Ogden Stiers as Nicky Flippers. This movie has plenty going for it, for both kiddies and the "grown-ups". Think of this as being "Shrek meets The Usual Suspects". Definitely recommended.

Got a fix for some Taylor Hicks? Lookee here!!

EDIT 08:01 PM EST: Looks like Blogger is finally working again. I had to republish the index though and doing so made the original Taylor Hicks post (and its unique URL) disappear, meaning I had to repost this again (which is what the post you're looking at right now is). Apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused someone...

But anyhoo, if yer like me, and especially after the way he faced his fate this week on American Idol (playing his harmonica as he walked toward the judges) you probably can't get enough of Taylor Hicks right now. This is the first guy who, if he won on Idol, I would be there to buy his CD on the first day it's out. Yeah I've always liked Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, but Hicks just flat-out astounds me with his talent and charm. The music is in this guy, you know what I mean? Well, someone saw my last post about him and sent me a terrific rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" by Hicks, and it's definitely going on my MP3 player now. It's moved me enough that I plan on getting Hicks's first CD, now being sold at an independent music store in Birmingham, Alabama, even though there's currently a two-week wait for shipped orders. Here it is, Taylor Hicks's Under The Radar:

But if you want your Taylor Hicks now now NOW, yer in luck: WBHM, an NPR station in Birmingham has an audio interview with Hicks and they've got three tracks from Under The Radar online as MP3 files! You know what to do: right-click and save (or do whatever the heck it is that you Mac users do) and save these bad boys to your hard drive ASAP!
"Hell of a Day"

"Heart and Soul"

"Soul Thing"

Enjoy!! :-)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Late night snack: Putting two BBQ giants together

I am somewhat of a barbecue connoisseur. Over the years I've visited many different restaurants, tried every style there is, and sampled just about every kind of barbecue sauce on the planet. Think the most unique place I've ever been was The Dinosaur in Rochester, New York (it is exactly what it advertises to be: a real honkey-tonk joint). And I never ate at his restaurant but Maurice Bessinger's Carolina Gold sauce - a mustard-based concoction - was pretty darned good, when I was actually able to buy a bottle of it while living in Asheville (it became pretty difficult to find after Bessinger's political views aroused some controversy, but that's another story). I never get into the argument of which style is the best: each one has its own unique characteristics that make it stand out from the rest. But there are still some barbecue places that I not only like more than most, I make it a point to recommend them to others.

So a little while ago I was feeling pretty hungry, and thought about eating some of the chopped barbecue that we got from Short Sugar's Drive-In in Reidsville, North Carolina today. Yeah, they don't cook their meat all the way through in their wood-fired pit anymore (a lot of it is done in an electrical oven) and some people don't like that, but theirs is still a taste that has been called legendary: it was once voted best barbecue in America, even.

(By the way, Short Sugar's is where we shot the final scene of Forcery. With its old-fashioned drive-through it was the perfect place to re-create Mel's Drive-In from American Graffiti.)

Well anyway I nuked up a plate of Short Sugar's chopped barbecue in the microwave. And I almost used Short Sugar's Barbecue Sauce on it, which is probably one of the strangest barbecue sauces around. I'm pretty sure some of the main ingredients are vinegar and brown sugar (some think soy sauce is in there too), but no tomatoes or any other ingredient you think goes into barbecue sauce. Definitely worth getting two or three bottles of the stuff if you ever visit them. I could have gone with that, but then I decided to try something a little different...

Along with Short Sugar's, Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q in Marietta, Georgia is one of my all-time favorite barbecue restaurants. Every time we visit Lisa's family there, we always stop at Williamson Bros. to eat and then buy a gallon or two of their world-famous sauce. Williamson Bros. sauce is more of the traditional sort, but its exquisite taste is unparalleled by anything else in its class that's on the market. Well, we've got a little bit left in the gallon jug we bought the last time we were there, and just as an experiment I decided to use the Williamson Bros. sauce on the Short Sugar's chopped barbecue...

...And, it was incredibly delicious! It was like the very best of both places coming together in perfect harmony in my mouth. VERY good combo, although it left me horribly thirsty (I had some tea on hand to wash it down with). Well worth trying out for yourself if (A) you ever come to Reidsville and can get barbecue from Short Sugar's, and (B) you have some Williamson Bros. sauce on hand. You can order the Williamson Bros. sauce from their website at the link above and have it shipped to you, if you live in some remote place like Idaho and can't get down to Georgia on a regular basis. Maybe someday Short Sugar's will start selling their sauce online too: if and when they do I'll make a post about it at once.

Anyhoo, it was really delicious. So delicious in fact that I felt led to make a post about it, for sake of anyone interested in good barbecue. Sometime in the near future I'll also try to do full reviews on both Short Sugar's and Williamson Bros., along with most of the other good barbecue places that I know of.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

"Shout hallejulah c'mon get happy!"

Power Line is making hay of a Pew Research study indicating that, apparently, Republicans are happier than Democrats. It also says that only 29% of us independents are happy... but hey nobody polled me so what do I know (and I like to consider myself a pretty happy guy).

Here's where Power Line demonstrates considerable narrow-mindedness:

That conservatives (Republicans) are happier than liberals (Democrats) is no coincidence, as anyone who earns a living selecting juries can tell you.
Ummmm, the modern Republican party is not conservative. Its party platform is moderate or centrist... and I would even say tilting toward socialist on too many issues.

But I figured out awhile back that Power Line is more interested in ideology that ideas, so their shilling for the Republicans no matter what doesn't really surprise me. Which is a shame because based on what I know about the guys who run Power Line, they're a pretty sharp bunch. Definitely smarter than to let themselves be used as tools by partisans.

(C'mon guys, this is the freakin' Internet... the whole idea of this place is that you don't have to think what "they" want you to think!)

But back to the issue of "happiness", which Pew thinks is relative to one's political stance. Maybe it's worth pointing out that people like these ladies were also happy, even downright jubilant back in the day...

Doesn't necessarily mean that their being happy was a good thing, does it?

My favorite Idol contestant

We watched American Idol last night, the one where the judges picked the top 24 contestants (12 guys, 12 gals) who'll go on to be judged by popular vote. Yah, I though I wouldn't be getting caught up in this again, but so help me this crop of singers has some people I really, really want to see go far. This might be the best group since Season 2 (the one that produced Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken). And though there's a lot of these singers I'm gonna be cheering for, none of 'em has captured my attention quite like this guy...
It's Taylor Hicks from Birmingham, Alabama. Anyone who's watched this so far - especially last night's show when he entered the judges' room playing his harmonica - knows that Hicks not only sings really good, he seems to have real personality and a heart of gold. Just going by what I've seen of him so far, he comes across as an incredibly humble person too. Which seems to be a key strength for those who've gone the distance on this show. So to Taylor Hicks and all the other contestants: Good luck!

EDIT 1:26 PM EST: I just noticed that North Carolina has four contestants in the top 24... tying with California for state with most singers in this year's competition. The Tarheel crew are: Heather Cox from Jonesville, Bucky Covington from Rockingham, Chris Daughtry from McLeansville, and Kellie Pickler from Albemarle. Throw in the fact that Clay Aiken is from Raleigh and Fantasia Burrino is from High Point and what can ya say: this state really has a set of pipes!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tonight's Lost...

...was intense.

I found it to be darkly ironic that Mira Furlan's character Rousseau hands Henry Gale over to Sayid for torture... when it was Furlan's character Delenn who was mercilessly tortured in the "Comes The Inquisitor" episode of Babylon 5. Anyone who watched that show will know what I'm talking about (and this is the 2nd time in 24 hours that I've linked to the Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5... go figure).

Were those Egyptian hieroglyphics that we saw in red and black as the countdown timer went to zero? Sure as heck looked like them.

Was great to see Clancy Brown in this episode (playing the CIA operative).

I don't think Henry is one of the Others. But I could be wrong...

Solid episode this week. And next week sounds like it's gonna be pure crazy.

EDIT 10:42 PM EST: Found a screencap at Sledgeweb's Lost... Stuff from tonight's episode, "One Of Them", showing the "digits" as the timer went crazy...

What do they mean?! I don't know! And that's why I love this show so much :-)

Wait a sec... so Cheney WAS drunk?!

From my first post about Vice President Cheney shooting a fellow hunter a few days ago:
Part of me is wondering if alcoholic beverages were involved in this thing...
I'll admit that it was a joke. A bad one at that. And then it comes out in an interview today that Cheney really was under the influence of alcohol:
Cheney on TV: Takes Blame for Shooting But 'Unapologetic' About Aftermath, Admits Drinking One Beer at Lunch
By Joe Strupp and Greg Mitchell

Published: February 15, 2006 3:45 PM ET

NEW YORK In an exclusive interview with Fox News' Brit Hume this afternoon, Vice President Dick Cheney took full responsibility for shooting his hunting companion, who has until now been pictured as the guilty party. The interview will not air in full until 6 p.m., but according to Hume, in summarizing the contents, the vice president remained "totally unapologetic" about the long lag in reporting the shooting to the public -- and also said that he had consumed one beer at lunch that day...

This is going to be made out that they were just "good old boys" out having a good time. But really, what kind of "responsible" person is it who would bring alcohol into a situation involving firearms? The military and commercial airliners have what's called the "16 hour rule", which forbids operating aircraft within sixteen hours of imbibing alcoholic beverages. It only makes sense that hunters in the field - or anyone else involved in a potentially dangerous activity - should voluntarily enforce that rule on themselves if they insist on having their beer. That's not a condemnation of anyone who does drink alcohol. That's definitely not a slam against those who enjoy the pastime of hunting. It's just common sense, especially when considering the safety of others.

Just ask yourself this: would you feel safe around someone armed with a shotgun mere hours after he had drank a beer?

Outbound Flight: Star Wars novel soars with Zahn at the helm

Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn is one of the best Star Wars novels I've read in a very long time.

But first: Has it really been fifteen years?

I mean, there's now been more time elapsed since Heir to the Empire, than there was between its release and the premiere of Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. And even then that seemed like an awful long time.

It was a morning in May of 1991 when the news first hit like a blast from the Death Star. A small item in that day's newspaper – accompanied by the classic still photo of Princess Leia putting the plans inside Artoo-Detoo – about new Star Wars stories being on their way. Starting with a novel called Heir to the Empire, the first of a three-part trilogy by a writer I'd not heard of 'til that moment named Timothy Zahn. I read and re-read that story about eight times during homeroom before civics class started that morning. And that's all I was able to think about for the rest of the day... or the week for that matter. The article said the book was coming out in June, so I thought it would be at least a month before its release date.

It wasn't even that long. A few days later on Saturday I was in Waldenbooks at the old Carolina Circle Mall and in the sci-fi section a copy of David Brin's Earth caught my eye. I thumbed through it and at the back of the book saw a page devoted to Heir of the Empire... release date May 1991! I immediately went to the register and asked the cashier if he'd heard of this new Star Wars novel. He took me to the new hardcover releases... and there it was. I bought it at once. By the time Mom had brought the car to Reidsville I'd read Chapter 1. Twice. For the rest of that evening and throughout the last days of my junior year of high school, Heir to the Empire dominated my gray matter.

For those of us who had been faithful to the saga, throughout its almost decade-long term of dormancy, Heir to the Empire was like manna from Heaven. Our patience had been rewarded. Something happened those first few weeks after the novel's release: the longtime fans could practically feel it. It was like we just knew that this was only the beginning, that we suddenly had a bright and beautiful future ahead of us for this story we loved so much. As if a wonderful secret that we already knew in our hearts was about to be revealed to everyone else in this world. If 1977 gave birth to us Star Wars geeks, then 1991 was definitely our coming-of-age year. That was fifteen years ago… and it hasn't stopped yet.

By the time Zahn's trilogy – which continued with Dark Force Rising and The Last Command – wrapped up in 1993, he had forever left his indelible marks on the Star Wars saga. Most obviously, Zahn will go down in history as the man who jump-started off a story that seemed narcoleptic, even dead to some. But especially to dedicated Star Wars fans, Zahn will be remembered for giving us the two most popular characters that never saw a moment of screen-time in any of the movies. The first was Mara Jade, the beautiful assassin who wanted nothing more than to kill Luke Skywalker... before she ended up marrying him.

The second was Grand Admiral Thrawn.

No other new character – outside the prequels anyway – has captivated me like Thrawn did. To this day he remains one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters. From the very beginning Thrawn screamed out cool. Maybe it was the mystery about him: who was this blue-skinned humanoid with burning red eyes? Where did he come from? How did such an alien wind up so high in command of the Imperial Navy? And then there was his mind: even if he were merely human, Thrawn would be eternally notorious for his brilliance as a tactical thinker. This was someone who could study a species' art and completely understand how that race would behave in battle. In a time after Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, Thrawn was a fitting villain you could believe stood head and shoulders with them as their equal. Which is partly why I've never liked how Zahn handled Thrawn's death in The Last Command: that was a punk's way to die, not something befitting so noble a military genius.

That's another reason why Heir to the Empire and Zahn's ensuing books were so well received: Zahn played out the plots with all the skill of a chess wizard. He was – and remains to this day – the acknowledged master of wheels-within-wheels-within-wheels storytelling in Star Wars literature. And with Thrawn, Zahn was at the top of his game. Yes, other writers have also done well with Mara Jade... but Thrawn will always be a character that only Timothy Zahn could write and manage.

Call us Thrawniacs, or Thrawn-aholics, or Thrawnies or whatever: a lot of us didn't want just more Star Wars. We wanted more Thrawn.

And gladly, Timothy Zahn obliged us. In 1997 came Specter of the Past, the first in his "The Hand of Thrawn" duology. Together with the following novel Vision of the Future, we learned a great deal about Mitth'raw'nuruodo: the man the galaxy would better fear as Thrawn. Zahn revealed more about Thrawn and his people, the Chiss. It was discovered that Thrawn was not the warrior-without-mercy that many believed him to be, but rather was someone who simply wanted to serve his people as best he could, no matter the personal cost. Then in 2004 Zahn returned to Star Wars with Survivor's Quest, and expanded upon something that seemed like such a throwaway line years earlier: the Outbound Flight Project.

Outbound Flight, as Thrawn explained to Captain Pellaeon in Heir to the Empire, was a grand undertaking by the Republic in the years before the Clone Wars. Under the guidance of Jedi Master Jorus C'Baoth, Outbound Flight was a mission of exploration taking it into the galaxy's unknown regions before leaving the galaxy entirely to seek out life in the far beyond. Or it would have been, had it not been intercepted and destroyed by a task force commanded by Thrawn... at the behest of Palpatine. Not much else was known about the endeavor until Survivor's Quest, when the Chiss discovered the remains of the great ship and turned it over to the now-married Luke and Mara Skywalker. And even then the story of what happened to Outbound Flight remained enigmatic.

Now, fifteen years after we were first told about the bold voyage, Timothy Zahn returns to the Star Wars universe with Outbound Flight: at last the full account of what happened – and what went tragically wrong – with the Republic's attempt to journey outside the familiar galaxy.

(And in case you haven't figured out already, I'm a huge fan of Zahn's work. One of my most treasured Star Wars collectibles is that first edition of Heir to the Empire, that I later got signed by Zahn. And I'd be remiss if I didn't pass along the link to the interview I did with Timothy Zahn in February of 2000.)

It's five years since the Battle of Naboo in Star Wars Episode I. The Clone Wars are still half a decade away from erupting. Jorus C'Baoth (the original template of the clone Joruus C’Baoth from Zahn's initial "Thrawn Trilogy") is trying to get complete funding for his Outbound Flight Project. He has the actual ship: six Dreadnaughts in a ring formation around a central core. What he doesn't have is the full complement of fifty thousand crewmembers that will be used to found colonies during the journey. Taking up the matter with Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, it is suggested by Palpatine's new advisor Kinman Doriana that if C'Baoth can mediate a dispute in a distant system, that doing so would provide C'Baoth with enough political capital to move the Senate to fully sanction Outbound Flight. C'Baoth and his apprentice Lorana Jinzler are soon on their way – and are met by Obi-Wan Kenobi and his fourteen-year old Padawan learner Anakin Skywalker – little suspecting that Doriana has engineered the entire scheme under the direction of his true master: the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. The Sith Master is secretly orchestrating events so that Jorus C'Baoth will get his full crew, including six Jedi Masters and twelve Jedi Knights. Which will make it all the more easy to destroy C'Baoth and several more Jedi in one fell swoop, thus removing possible interference with Sidious's master plan to control the galaxy.

Meanwhile the Bargain Hunter, a smuggling freighter piloted by Dubrak Quennto, Jorj Car’das and Maris Ferasi is at the edge of Republic space, perilously close to the Unknown Regions and trying to evade capture by an angry Hutt crimelord. The three smugglers make a blind hyperspace jump into the Unknown Regions, and upon exiting into real-space discover themselves confronted by a picket force of alien vessels: the Expansionary Defense Fleet of the Chiss Ascendancy. The trio of humans is brought aboard the flagship vessel, where they meet the commander of the force: a young Chiss officer named Mitth'raw'nuruodo.

Fans of Thrawn will be thoroughly delighted with this book, as we gain considerable new insight on his background in the years before he became a Grand Admiral in the Galactic Empire. Even at this stage in his career, Thrawn boasts a cunning mind, and already is showing his talent at discerning a culture's mindset for his own advantage by examining its artwork. But he's also an officer who is walking a tightrope between what he believes is best for his people and what is thought to be moral behavior as demanded by his rulers. Those who know something about Thrawn and how he comes into service of the Empire will know what I'm talking about: Thrawn's growing belief in the use of pre-emptive strikes, which is severely frowned upon by the honor-minded Chiss.

And speaking of the Chiss, Outbound Flight is must-have reading for anyone who's interested in what is easily one of the most intriguing alien species in the Star Wars mythos. At one point it is explained to the three human smugglers how Chiss government functions: it is probably one of the purest examples of meritocracy that I've ever seen detailed in fiction. We also learn a lot more about Chiss society and language. These details are interesting for sake of the Chiss in their own right, but they also illuminate much about Thrawn's character.

I loved the stuff about Thrawn and the Chiss in Outbound Flight. But where this book really succeeds for me is the story of Jorus C’Baoth and the Outbound Flight Project itself. We finally get to find out all about the original C'Baoth, from whom would come the insane Jedi clone that terrorized the galaxy in the original Thrawn Trilogy. And this is where the book outright shocked me...

...Because Zahn shatters the Jedi mold when he does Jorus C'Baoth. Let's cut to the chase: C'Baoth is a loon! From what little we knew of him from previous books I was expecting Jorus to be ego-centric, and definitely eccentric, but otherwise pretty sane. We find out in Outbound Flight that the original C'Baoth was anything but. His single-minded obsession with Outbound Flight is bad enough. But then there is what can only be called his warped totalitarianism: he tries to create his own "Jedi Temple" within the bowels of Outbound Flight with Force-sensitive children of colonists. He takes control of the mission's legal system. He refuses to listen to the counsel of the other Jedi, including Obi-Wan Kenobi (who along with Anakin Skywalker has been sent by Mace Windu to accompany Outbound Flight to the edge of Republic space). He metes out harsh arbitrary justice for minor incidents without consideration of circumstance. As the novel progresses, Jorus C'Baoth becomes increasingly dictatorial and possessive over every aspect of Outbound Flight. He's like a micro-management Nazi with quasi-mystical powers. And in the end, what happens to Outbound Flight is as much the fault of Jorus C'Baoth as it is of Thrawn... if not moreso.

One of the things Zahn has always done during his takes on the saga is impart to the reader just how vast the galaxy really is. That’s one of the bigger themes of Outbound Flight, to me anyway: the unknown, and how we approach it. On one hand, what we don't know is something that can entice us into discovery and adventure, the human crew of the Bargain Hunter come to find. On the other, fear of it is something that can compel us toward acting with wild irrationality, as happens to the mad Jedi Jorus C'Baoth. In Zahn's hands the Star Wars galaxy becomes not just a background setting, but a major catalyst toward character development. It's a heckuva great tool to have on hand, and I would love to see Star Wars writers in the future come to use it more.

When Zahn first wrote his original trilogy in the early Nineties, he had no idea what direction George Lucas would take the saga with the prequels. As a result there was a lot of supposition about the Clone Wars and critical dates in Star Wars history that doesn't jibe with what we now know is what "really" happened. One of the more glaring examples of this happens in Heir to the Empire, when Captain Pellaeon recalls how "...the early clones – or at least those the fleet had faced – had been highly unstable, both mentally and emotionally. Sometimes spectacularly so..." As we know from the last two prequels, it was the Republic that used clones, not "the clonemasters" that were referenced in The Last Command. A lack of knowledge about how Star Wars canon would shape up was something that couldn't be helped in the years leading up to the release of the prequels, though the various authors did their best in speculation. With Outbound Flight, Zahn doesn't dispute the Lucas-established canon... but he doesn't invalidate his previous work either. A lot of details have been "fixed", but if you bear in mind that Star Wars is supposed to be a legend, and one as protean as the best of them, then it becomes quite easy to reconcile the events of Zahn's previous books with the saga post-Episode III. Personally I think that Outbound Flight is a beautiful work of "retconning". Maybe someday there'll be a concerted effort to resolve all the Star Wars literary fiction of the past fifteen years to be in-line with the bedrock law of the completed movie series. If so, and if done even half as well as Zahn has done with Outbound Flight, then we're certain to have a well-concerted chronology forever free of "canon wars".

By the way, speaking of Star Wars literature, Outbound Flight connects to a lot of it. Characters that were new in Zahn's previous novel Survivor's Quest are "introduced" here. There are also many references to Greg Bear's Rogue Planet and tons of anecdotes about mysterious invaders from outside the galaxy... which longtime readers will automatically understand to be the Yuuzhan Vong from the New Jedi Order series.

Outbound Flight is vintage Zahn-style Star Wars. Reading this, and having it bring back so many good memories about when Zahn's first Star Wars novel came out and thinking about everything that's happened to the saga over the years, made taking it in a very pleasurable experience. It's a solid-written book that finally reveals what happened with an incident we first heard about fifteen years ago, and gives us a lot more about some characters that have greatly intrigued us ever since then. I can't recommend this highly enough to any Star Wars fans who might want both a rollickin' good action story combined with a steady stream of new saga lore to take in. Excellent book. Go read it. Now!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Andreas Katsulas - G'Kar and the One-Armed Man - has passed away

The sad news is just now hitting the wires that Andreas Katsulas has died of lung cancer at the all-too-young age of 59.

Katsulas was a Shakesperean actor who appeared in performances all around the world. But what I'll never, ever forget about him was his portrayal of G'Kar, the Narn ambassador on the television series Babylon 5. Starting from the very first time I saw him in the role, all the way back when the pilot movie aired in February 1993, I was stunned at Katsulas's acting ability. G'Kar was one of the most multi-faceted characters to ever come out of sci-fi television - warrior, poet, philosopher, alien pervert, and then reluctant religious leader - and Katsulas poured every ounce of his passion into bringing him to life. G'Kar was the heart and soul of Babylon 5, especially with how he interacted with Peter Jurasik's character Londo Mollari. But even on his own terms, Katsulas's G'Kar was a force to be reckoned with.

You might also remember that it was Katsulas who played the One-Armed Man in the motion picture The Fugitive. I've always thought that Katsulas in that was one of the things that really helped make that movie so terrific.

And now, he's been taken from us, way too soon if you ask me. A few days ago it was Phil Brown, and now this.

In remembrance of Andreas Katsulas, tonight I'm going to put "The Coming of Shadows" episode of Babylon 5 into the DVD player. Can't think of a better way to honor his memory than to watch one of the best performances that he ever did.

Happy Lupercalia to you and yours

From an article at Wikipedia...
In Ancient Rome, the day of February 15 was Lupercalia, the festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility, who was represented as half-naked and dressed in goat skins. As part of the purification ritual, the priests of Lupercus would sacrifice goats to the god, and after drinking wine, they would run through the streets of Rome holding pieces of the goat skin above their heads, touching anyone they met. Young women especially would come forth voluntarily for the occasion, in the belief that being so touched would render them fruitful and bring easy childbirth.
Years later the Christians would come to associate this holiday with someone named Saint Valentine - though nobody is sure which of the three Valentines it's supposed to be - "cleaning it up" in the process and turning it into a wholesome celebration of love without the need to sacrifice a goat.

Here's something that's grown on me in the past few years: why do we need a holiday like St. Valentine's Day? I mean, love is something you're supposed to share with that special person every day of the year. Real love doesn't need a "reminder" like Valentine's Day to keep it fresh and renewed. Do we really need to spend countless millions of dollars on cards and candy and gifts to give to our loved ones just because bigtime commecialism expects us to?

Well, just something to think about. And call me odd but when I think of Valentine's Day, this is what usually comes to my mind the most...

The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, Chicago 1929

Monday, February 13, 2006

New look and other stuff

As both of my faithful readers have no doubt noticed, this blog underwent a dramatic facelift over the past few days. I'm still tweaking some things but for the most part I really like how it turned out. There are no more vast acreages of blank black space on the sides, and it's not so color-clashy as the original scheme was. It seems to read a lot easier too. The original template will still be "active" for posts dated before my "overhaul notice", if anyone's interested in what it used to look like. By the way, instead of trying to hash out a three-column template on my own, I found several very well-developed ones over at Thur Broeders's templates blog. The one I'm using here is adapted from his tb_b_20051225_black design. If you want to breathe some new life into your blog with a three-column layout, Thur really is your go-to guy.

I'm in the process of effecting one other change to this blog in the near future, but it's more one of philosophy than physical design. For the moment I'm considering it an experiment if anything: we'll see how it flies in "beta testing" before implementing it permanently.

Anyway, hope you like the new look :-)

Bid on eBay for lunch with King Richard

This is one of the coolest charity fundraisers I've ever heard of: an eBay auction for lunch with NASCAR legend Richard Petty and his wife Lynda. All the money goes to Communities In Schools, an outfit devoted to encouraging young people to get their education. As of this writing the high bid (of 14 so far) is $760, with the reserve price so far not being met: I'd guess that's going to be at least a thousand bucks, if not more. I mean, this is Richard Petty - the greatest stock-car racer in the history of the known universe - we're talking about here. Best of luck to anyone out there who's gonna try to win this thing, 'cuz I'd be really envious for a chance to wine and dine with The King and his lady :-)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Just realized something about Cheney...

Dick Cheney is now the first Vice-President to have shot someone since Aaron Burr. It was in 1804 while serving as VP under Thomas Jefferson that Burr had his famous duel with Alexander Hamilton. That was the first and last time a sitting veep got someone with a firearm... until this weekend.

(I always thought that it shoulda been Burr who got his face on the ten-dollar bill... I mean, he won that fight, didn't he?)

Dick Cheney shoots fellow hunter: Is Ana Lucia on Lost really VP's lovechild?

This sounds way too much like what happened on Lost when Ana Lucia shot Shannon: The Vice-President of the United States unloaded his shotgun on a 78-year old man during a hunting trip in Texas this weekend.

Does this sound like someone who's very responsible with firearms to you?

Armstrong said Cheney turned to shoot a bird and accidentally hit Whittington.
Well, it was sort of easy to figure that Cheney was the trigger-happy sort. Never thought he'd ever be that literally though.

Let's be serious about something here: if this man cannot be trusted to handle a loaded shotgun, he should not be trusted enough to handle "the football", if you know what I mean.

Part of me is wondering if alcoholic beverages were involved in this thing...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"Change, my dear..."

This place is due for an overhaul. I'm working on a lot of new stuff - template, graphics, etc. - that I'll be doing some trial-and-error with this weekend and the next few days. Hopefully a better/more fun and engaging blog will emerge from the wreckage. In the meantime if something goes way off-kilter on this page, it's prolly just me monkeying behind the scenes and I'll try to have it fixed in a jiffy :-)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Look at what they've gone and done to Juggernaut!

The more I've heard about X-Men III: The Last Stand over this past year, the more I've come to dread it. The X-Men movies had two solid installments (X2 was in some ways much better than the original even, which is pretty rare) but if even half the stuff I'm hearing about this next chapter is true, well this is going to be a pretty sucky movie. Which is sad 'cuz it does have some potential, like the pics I've seen of Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Henry "Beast" McCoy.

And then there is stuff like what I'm about to show you that goes and deflates my hopes for this all the more...

One of my all-time favorite X-Men characters is Juggernaut: Professor Xavier's half-brother with a lot of attitude and way too strong for anybody's good. Juggy's power is that once he starts moving in any direction, nothing on Earth can stop him. He's not a mutant though, his power is all magical, but I can understand it if they make him to be a mutant for the movie series.

What I can't understand is this: Here's Juggernaut from the Marvel Comics...

I wanted to find a good pic of him along with someone else (in this case Wolverine) to give a sense of just how big Juggernaut is supposed to be.

Now here's Juggernaut (as portrayed by Vinnie Jones) in X-Men III:

Crap on a crutch... he looks like a reject from that old Masters of the Universe movie! Check out those boots: Gene Simmons should sue the producers of X-Men III for ripping off his footwear. Couldn't they have done something to make Juggernaut look bigger? I mean, remember how big Hulk was in his movie a few years ago? THAT is how massive Juggy is supposed to be. How the heck are we supposed to be convinced that this Juggernaut can run toward a building and plow his way straight through it? If he put his helmet on he'd look just like Ram-Man from... holy smokes FROM MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE! At this rate they should put Dolph Lundgren in dual roles as Cable and Stryfe in this thing and just get it over with.

What a letdown. I've been looking for a good pic of the movie's Juggernaut, and this is what I find. There'd better be some darned good word-of-mouth on this movie, if they expect me to plunk down five bucks to see it.

Phil Brown passes

It's being reported at this hour that Phil Brown, who had a storied and colorful career but is probably best known for playing Uncle Owen in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, has died today at the age of 89.

One thing I always found interesting about Brown was that he was one of the American actors who got "blacklisted" during the McCarthy witch-hunt of the 1950s. Brown never had anything to do with the Communists though, not so far as anyone's been able to find anyway. He moved his family to England and continued work as an actor there. It was some years later that he got picked to play the part of a simple farmer in a science-fiction epic that practically nobody felt sure about. The rest, as they say, is history.

I met him very briefly in the spring of 2002, at Star Wars Celebration II. There's a story about that, and it would be really neat to share that because there was a certain kind of irony to it, but I'm gonna hold off on it right now. Just wanted to take that opportunity though to pass along that I got the impression that he was a very nice guy and it was an honor to have met him.

EDIT 6:47 PM EST: Okay, here's the story...

As part of TheForce.net contingent I shared a hotel room with the site's creator Scott Chitwood during Star Wars Celebration II in 2002. The day before it officially kicked off, it was him, editor Joshua Griffin and me up in our room when the phone rang. Someone asked if we could go pick up a wheelchair for Phil Brown. So we hopped in Josh's minivan and off we went. It was on the return trip back that Scott noticed something: we were helping to get a wheelchair for the man who played Uncle Owen, while in Star Wars Episode II Owen's father Cliegg Lars is confined to a "wheelchair" following a Tusken Raider attack.

It was later that night at this fancy dinner-thingy that I got to meet Brown. Like I said before, he was a really neat fella. Wish now I'd gotten his autograph.

If the Internet was around in 1944...

...would Yahoo! have betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis?

The web portal giant is helping the Communist government in China track down political dissidents. At least two of them are now sitting in prison because Yahoo! handed over records that led to their arrest... for the simple crime of sending an e-mail.

Why the hell is a U.S. company like Yahoo! dealing with a government that would rather see this nation destroyed? Why is any American company dealing with China, for that matter.

I mean, will somebody please explain to me why it is that China enjoys Most Favored Nation status with us?

This deal with Yahoo! tells me something: that too many parties, from the elected politicians on to corporate interests, are willing to sell out this country's principles for sake of a fast buck. There is no possible way that this can be defended, no matter who it is that's dealing with for all intents and purposes the sole superpower threat that exists to the United States today.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Found a Spudtrooper!

Last week I went driving around for no particular reason and wound up at the new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Mayodan (I'll refrain from once again ranting about how it makes no sense whatsoever for Rockingham County, North Carolina to have three Wal-Mart Supercenters). Anyway it had just been open for a day so I figured they might have some of the newer Star Wars loot. Including this one thing in particular that I'd been looking for some time now.

And on the Star Wars toy aisle, there it was. I bought it immediately and brought it home. Behold the Spudtrooper...

It has somehow become a big deal among our circle of friends to be able to find a Spudtrooper (helped no doubt by Darth Larry's very disturbing infatuation with Star Wars Mr. Potato Heads). With that in mind I'll post the requisite "meeting" photo between my Darth Tater and Spudtrooper:
They should make a Palpatine Mr. Potato Head: it could be all wrinkly-skinned. But in the meantime I'm just happy to have Darth Tater and the dreaded Spudtrooper sitting atop our TV set where they now reign over our living room.

"Crazy Dave" Hoover is the new Meat Loaf

Three guys stick out in my mind from last night's American Idol, the first covering the "Hollywood week" part of the contest: Garet Johnson, Taylor Hicks, and "Crazy" Dave Hoover. Johnson is the cowboy who broke down in tears after seeing the ocean for the first time in his life (and he sings pretty good too): Lisa especially wants him to go far. Hicks is the gray-haired guy from Alabama who really seems to be a standout individual in terms of his style and personality, and he's a darned good performer too: I really like this guy. And then there was Hoover: the guy who showed up barefoot at the Chicago auditions and claims to be able to talk to the animals. This guy's theatrics totally destroyed whatever chances he had of moving forward in the competition, because the thing of it is Crazy Dave can sing on the level of the other contestants. Jumping from the stage to the judges's table probably didn't help his chances though, given how he almost scared Paula Abdul to death. But I think Hoover is yet going to wind up with a good career. He reminds me too much of Meat Loaf, and the style and theatrics that he's been known for. There's a real niche for that kind of personality and Crazy Dave fits it well.

(Yeah, I know: I said before I wasn't going to watch this, but I'm now a little interested to at least see how the people from the Greensboro auditions do in this competition. North Carolina has produced Clay and Fantasia, and we've a good shot at putting a few more notches on our belt with Idol this season :-)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Song Tapper: Search for music by tapping your spacebar

Lisa found this really cool website through a music educators mailing list she's on: The Song Tapper. Tap out a tune with your spacebar and the site returns you a list of songs that it probably matches. I tried this with the Dukes of Hazzard theme and the Imperial March from the Star Wars movies, and the site figured both of them out. May be good to bear this one in mind if you ever know what the song sounds like but don't know its title.

"HEY YOU GUUUUYYYYSSS!!!" The Electric Company lights up on DVD

Hitting DVD as of yesterday is The Best Of The Electric Company! At last, the breakout PBS hit of the 1970s from the creators of Sesame Street comes home in a four-disc set. They're all here: J. Arthur Crank, Easy Reader, Jennifer of the Jungle, Fargo North: Decoder, Letterman, Paul the Gorilla, Spider-Man, the Cranky Director, DJ Mel Mounds, Road Runner, Lorelai the Chicken, the Short Circus players, those send-ups of 2001: A Space Odyssey... All brought to life by one of the most bizarre ensembles in television history: Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Luis Avalos, Jimmy Boyd, Rita Moreno, Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers, and plenty more.

Definitly worthy of consideration of buying. I mean, where-ever else are you going to find Morgan Freeman looking like this:

Duke beat UNC tonight

87-83 at the Dean Dome (that's Carolina's home turf for anybody not from around here). One of the best played games I've seen in awhile. Have never been much of a Tarheel fan but I gotta say, they were in pretty fine form tonight even though they lost.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Idol contestant sings Jigglypuff lullaby

This must be said: Donnell Bolton is a pretty bold guy. The 20-year old showed up at the American Idol audition in Austin, Texas. And how did he try to impress Simon, Randy and Paula? Donnell did the Jigglypuff song from Pokémon! This one must be seen and heard to be believed, folks. I mean... just daaaaarrn...

Greatest Star Wars action figure ever

Why am I posting so much about Star Wars lately? We were in a lull for a good while there, but in the past few days I've made three posts about it. And there's at least one more coming up in the next day or so. But in the meantime Scott Johnson has this picture on his ExtraLife blog of what may be the best Star Wars figure of all time. Thanks to AfterShock for sending the heads-up on this...

Episodes 7-9: Star Wars Virtual Sequels laid out at last

Finding that stuff about Star Wars Legacy – the new series from Dark Horse Comics that takes place almost a century and a half after the Star Wars movies – I couldn't help but think back to something from several years ago, back when I was on staff at TheForce.net. It was gonna be a pretty ambitious and unique project, and unfortunately it didn't really take off the way I'd thought it would. I never shared much of the details about this with the general public. But with the new direction that the Star Wars saga is taking and with the movies now all behind us, and in case anyone was ever interested in this, now might be a good time to finally talk about what was planned out for the Virtual Sequels Project.

A little over five years ago I came up with what I thought was a pretty neat idea. Remember that TV show Millennium? It only lasted three seasons and the third one was pretty lackluster. Well, a dedicated group of fans took it upon themselves to create the Millennium Virtual Fourth Season. It was an entire season's worth of episode scripts that not only brought the story to a satisfying conclusion, but it also fixed a lot of plot problems that had cropped up along the way.

It was the Millennium Virtual Fourth Season that led me to think about doing the same thing for the Star Wars saga, since there would be no more movies in the series after the third prequel. You know: all that about how George Lucas "originally" planned for it to be twelve, and then nine movies? What if someone tried to "figure out" what the last three movies would have been like? But this being Star Wars, it deserved to be a far more bold effort that simply putting out a script or three.

Here was the idea: extrapolate what a third Star Wars trilogy might have been like, had George Lucas chosen to make his film saga a nine-part story. It wasn’t going to be a "film" series per se (I doubt even the most tenacious Star Wars fans could have pulled this off as a fan film). But it was going to be more than three scripts either. There would have been the scripts, plus a lot of accompanying multimedia: pictures, animations, poster art, heck maybe even a soundtrack to download as MP3 files if someone wanted to give scoring it a try. It was going to be something akin to what Lucasfilm did with their "Shadows of the Empire" thing ten years ago (wow, ten years ago this month, I think!): market it as if it were a movie, but without a real movie to speak of. Part of me wonders if anyone would have tried to make custom action figures out of this, which I would have loved to have seen (particularly of this one character I had in mind, a really squat-looking Jedi, sort of like Gimli the Dwarf with a lightsaber). Have the entire thing put online for everyone to download and enjoy, and use their own talents to add to it for others to enjoy too.

I spent about a year working out the general story. It got announced on TheForce.net early in 2002... and then went nowhere. Part of it was my fault: so much started happening in my personal life that I didn’t get to dedicate as much time as I wanted to it. If I'd announced it a year earlier, a lot more headway could have been made with it. It’s weird 'cuz other than kick off the whole thing and take an "executive producer" role in guiding the general story along, I really wanted to take a "hands-off" approach to it.

This wasn't going to be one fan's interpretation of what happened after Return of the Jedi, where his take on characters and situations might vary considerably from whatever George Lucas might have envisioned. With a lot of people working on it, and holding ourselves accountable to the spirit of the saga, there would be far more assurance that the Virtual Sequels would have all the ingredients of vintage Star Wars storytelling: action, thrills, outrageousness, and of course humor. In a lot of ways this was going to be like the ultimate work of fan fiction. There's no way any one person could do a Star Wars pastiche and do it right according to whatever George Lucas may have had in mind. This was something that belonged to ANYBODY who wanted to contribute. And if someone had an idea that went wildly off-tangent from what I'd envisioned but was better than the original plan, well I was going to be all gung-ho for it. Guess you could say I was more interested in just starting the Virtual Sequels Project off, and then for the most part sitting back and seeing what my fellow fans could do with all their imagination and talent. Not that I wanted to take a lot of credit just for that, mind ya... I was just gonna be happy to see something like this going somewhere.

But that never really happened, not to the best of my knowledge anyway. There were some ongoing attempts to really make it take off, but so far as I know there hasn't been anything to date that's come of it.

Well, in case anyone ever wanted to know where I'd originally planned for this to be headed, here is the lowdown on the Star Wars Virtual Sequels Project...

In approaching what the Virtual Sequels would have been about, I took the approach that the Star Wars movies are a massive morality tale about power. The prequels are about discovering power. The classic trilogy is about struggling with how to use that power. The Virtual Sequels in my mind were to be the next stage in that: they were going to deal with learning when – and how – to relinquish that power, despite the desire to cling to it at all costs. I had that in mind, and something else that I thought would make the perfect ending for this multi-generational saga: I wanted to bring the Skywalker family back home.

Virtual Episode VII was to have taken place thirty years after the Battle of Endor. I figured that would be plenty enough time for Luke Skywalker to at least have a good start on recreating the Jedi order, both from new recruits and whoever may have survived the Jedi Purge (which we didn’t know was called "Order 66" at the time). It also would have allowed time for Luke to marry and have children who would be old enough to play central roles in the story. As for whom Luke would have married to, that was a no-brainer: Mara Jade. Some of the characters from the Expanded Universe were going to be used, but their backstories were going to be radically different than how they’ve played out in the established literature. I absolutely had to use Mara Jade. Her origin as a student of the Emperor would have been somewhat retained, and she and Luke would be married far earlier than where they were in the EU timeline. I wanted to use Mara and I wanted to use her and Luke's children as some of the main characters. In fact, I think it's safe to say that in my plan for the Virtual Sequels, it was in this third trilogy that the female characters of the Star Wars saga would really get their time to shine. Mara, her daughter, Leia… the ladies had a lot more "camera time" in this trilogy. Thrawn was going to come into play in Episode VIII, but other than his basic appearance he was going to be completely different from his EU incarnation. I envisioned him being this Attila-like warlord who would lead his armies out of the Unknown Regions, one more threat as if things weren't bad enough. He would have been a lot like the kind of threat that Count Dooku was in Episode II. Maybe a few other characters, like Leia and Han's children, would have made the transition. Han Solo himself died in tragic circumstances years earlier, alongside good buddy Lando Calrissian. Chewbacca was still alive though, and was honored for his bravery in the civil war by being bestowed the title of chieftain of all Kashyyyk... but I envisioned him being very much like the sullen king that Conan is at the end of Conan the Barbarian. Artoo and Threepio were naturally in the story: Artoo was going to accompany Luke's daughter throughout most of her adventures.

The Sith figured nowhere in my plan. As far as I'm concerned, Anakin Skywalker ended the Sith once and for all when he sacrificed himself to save his son by destroying Darth Sidious. Nor was there any more Empire, not even the most cohesive remnant of it. Palpatine's rule was something like Marshal Tito's in Yugoslavia: he may have been a very bad man, but he did keep the galaxy from tearing itself apart by ruling it with an iron fist. It was only after Tito died that his country began coming unglued and split into warring factions. That would have been the state of the galaxy for a few decades after the fall of the Empire: there would not have been an overnight acknowledgement throughout the galaxy of a new Republic's authority. And without that the galaxy would be rife with power struggle. Imagine a really bad Reconstruction era on a galaxy-wide scale, and that would pretty much describe the situation thirty years after the Battle of Endor. But look at how much wonderful literature – like Gone With The Wind - is based on the Reconstruction. Even without a central villain, there would have been plenty of storytelling possibilities.

But this is Star Wars, and a main baddie is needed. I had a character in mind, and I never really settled on what to name him but for the longest time I referred to him as "the Liege Golem". He was going to be this very shadowy figure, I guess you could say he operated a lot like Darth Sidious did in The Phantom Menace, but over the course of the story he would become a far more overtly-active persona than Sidious ever was. Golem would have really established himself as a worthy opponent in Episode VII, when he killed off a major good guy in a lightsaber duel. Golem – or whatever his name would have ended up being - wasn't going to be Sith at all. He was going to be one more example of what happens after a war, when there's all these unresolved problems and weapons laying around for anyone to pick them up.

Of all the problems that would come with the fall of the Empire, the most glaring in my mind was "what exactly do we do with millions... if not billions... of Stormtroopers?" It's not like they can all file for unemployment, is it? Well, I came up with a solution for what to do with all those Stormtroopers... but it was a pretty nasty one. I would even say that it would have been downright controversial. And it was going to have some very haunting repercussions for one major character, in a downright shocking way... but it was also going to allow for a personal redemption to take place too.

Okay, let's talk about how the episodes in the Virtual Sequels would have gone story-wise.

In the opening scene of Episode VII, two Jedi were arriving on a mission to the planet Naboo (sound familiar?). They were going to be the son and daughter of Luke Skywalker, who wasn't going to figure quite as prominently as one might think he would in the first part of a sequel trilogy. For more than twenty years there had been no trade or communication with Naboo. Luke was sending his children as envoys to re-establish contact with the planet... and also find out why exactly it had been cut off from the nascent New Republic. The reason for that would be discovered fairly early on, when the two Jedi find that Naboo has long been held captive by Stormtroopers from the old Empire. Without the Emperor or even a real government to serve, what Stormtroopers survived the Republic’s "solution" began organizing themselves into nomadic clans. For almost thirty years they'd been driven by a desire to survive and somehow continue a fight that was already lost a long time ago. They were using whatever old Imperial weaponry they could scavenge from the fallen Empire. Their numbers would have been dwindling down significantly, not only because of violent death but being clones they were aging faster than baseline humans. Well, these tattered remnants of the once-vast Stormtrooper legions had found a way to propagate: aided by a mysterious benefactor, they were using Naboo's vast natural resources to set up a massive cloning operation. And their sinister sponsor had provided them with a prime substance from which to replenish their ranks: the genetic material of the very first clone template... a man named Jango Fett.

That was one of the things I wanted to incorporate into the Virtual Sequels: tying them not only to the classic trilogy, but to the prequels also... just as George Lucas connected the prequels to the classics. And one of the things I was really looking forward to doing was to introduce the leader of the Gungans at this point in time, since Boss Nass would have been long gone. So we were going to meet an old, wrinkled and bitter Gungan who was once called something else, but now was known as Boss Jarrius. I thought it would be cool to have one of Jar Jar’s eyes sliced off too, and make him really decrepit-looking.

Well, long story short, Luke's daughter and son were going to make it to Naboo, find out what was going on, and run afoul of the clone clanners. They soon thereafter hook up with some of the natives. Realizing they needed to contact the Republic about this, Luke's daughter steals a ship while her brother stays behind (and would come to grow infatuated with one of the local girls) to try and rally both Naboo and Gungans to stand up and fight these guys. En route to Coruscant Luke's daughter had to land the ship on Kessel for repairs (after taking damage while escaping). Kessel was going to be Roughneck City. And it was in its spice mines that I'd planned for the "movie"'s "faster more intense" thrill ride sequence to take place. It was here that Luke's daughter was going to meet a young miner – no he wasn't going to be five years younger than her – who was going to wind up her ally on this planet. Partly because he conned her into it, but also because she kind of liked the guy, he wound up finally leaving Kessel and going with her to Coruscant. Luke and the Council – definitely more hands-on than it was in the days of Mace Windu and Yoda – decide to lead a task force to liberate the planet. What follows is a battle that takes place on the surface of Naboo, in orbit above it and beneath its oceans, where the cloning facilities were being put into operation. And it would be during this battle that we would really see Liege Golem revealed for the villain he is for the first time... before he KILLED Mara Jade in a lightsaber duel!

Yeah, I said that in my plan for the Virtual Sequels that the women would play a bigger role in this trilogy. Well, in this first act it was going to be a girl's turn to be the one who takes the tragic fall. Mara dies, but the cloning facilities are destroyed and the clone clans are finally repulsed from Naboo. Liege Golem is nowhere to be found... for the moment. For the first time in a half-century, Naboo is finally and truly a free world. And in the "film"'s biggest irony, Luke's son, who wound up leading the peoples of Naboo in fighting off their oppressors, despite not even being from the planet is elected to be sovereign leader of the Naboo... just as his grandmother has been sixty years earlier. So like Episodes I and IV, Episode VII was going to end on a happy, upbeat note.

Episode VIII was to pick up about five years later. The clone clans would still be a major nuisance, but the REAL problem was going to be a vast army that was coming out of the Unknown Regions, led by a strategic genius named Thrawn. I wanted very little to be known about these guys, other than they were really good at decimating whatever planets were in their way (one idea was that Thrawn was going to "carve" his name in kilometers-wide script into the surfaces of any worlds he conquered, as his way of claiming them). The Jedi and Republic were scrambling to figure out how to deal with this threat, but I also had in mind an interlude where Luke was going to return to the Lars homestead, where he grew up, for the first time since he buried the smoldering remains of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It was here that he was going to reunite with childhood friends Tank and Cammie (filmed but not used in A New Hope). This was going to establish the Lars farm for when it was needed later on in Episode IX.

I came up with the biggest disaster of Episode VIII almost a year before 9/11, and to this day it creeps me out how similar my idea was to what happened in real life. Toward the end of the "movie" it had Coruscant being virtually destroyed: the last remnants of the clone army, believing they've been left with no possible way to win, lash out a final spiteful blow to the Republic. The clones were going to commandeer hundreds of Star Destroyers left over from the Galactic Empire, and send them all on a suicide course, smashing into Coruscant's planet-wide city.

The big revelation of Episode VIII was going to be when Golem removed his mask, and his face looked exactly like Luke's! It was to be a scene that brought to mind the Dark Side cave in The Empire Strikes Back. That was when Luke confronted his own Dark Side potential in a vision. There’s an old legend about the wizard Merlin having a "twin" brother, an opposite number to Merlin who was actually Merlin's afterbirth. That's what Golem was going to be to Luke. Remember in the Timothy Zahn novels how it turned out that Vader found Luke's hand after their fight on Bespin, and it was later used by Joruus C'baoth to create the Luuke Skywalker clone? Well, Golem wasn't going to be a clone per se of Luke... he was going to be Luke's severed hand itself! It was going to be revealed that Vader brought Luke's hand to Darth Sidious. Using advanced technology plus his skill in the Dark Side, Sidious was going to "grow" a whole new Luke out of that hand, to be an apprentice if Luke refused to yield to the Dark Side. So imagine Luke's original severed hand, with evil Luke growing out of it.

And it would have gone back to a lot of stuff from the Grail legends, about losing part of yourself and being changed into something more than what you were. Symbolically, Luke was cut off from his own Dark Side when he lost his hand – something that would subtly recollect the moment he looks at his artificial hand during the lightsaber duel in Return of the Jedi – and he grew to become wiser and more powerful because of it. But his own Dark Side potential had now taken form in Liege Golem, and Luke was going to have to confront that. Golem was what Luke would have become had he turned to the Sith, just as Anakin became Darth Vader, although Golem would definitely not be a true Sith at all.

Well, it was going to be revealed that the reason Thrawn's fleet came pouring out of the Unknown Regions was because he was being directed to do so by Liege Golem. This, and Golem's dealings with the clone clans, all figured into Golem's real master plan. He was orchestrating events in a way that the Jedi... and Luke and the Skywalker family in particular... would increasingly be tempted to use their power to intervene and take control of the situation. Until ultimately the Jedi would to rule the galaxy, with the Skywalkers at the top of the heap. Golem wasn't out to destroy the Jedi: he intended for them to take over everything. And this was important to consider about Liege Golem: to him, there was no distinction between Jedi and Sith. There was only power and the will to use it. To him the semantics or philosophical differences didn't matter at all. This was going to be revealed for the most part during the duel between Golem and Luke's daughter: who was going to be given the choice of surrendering now and letting all this carnage cease, or fight on and let the galaxy continue to burn. No limbs got chopped off this time... unless you count Luke's original hand getting severed (again) from Golem's arm. But don't worry he was still gonna be evil as they come.

The final scene of Episode VIII was going to be Luke's daughter and her boyfriend (the guy she met on Kessel... and he was gonna play a heckuva bigger role than I've let on here so far) looking down from the viewport of a Jedi cruiser onto the ruined landscape of Coruscant far below, with smaller vessels carrying survivors straggling into orbit. They decided that they can't put off their love any longer, not with how there are no guarantees. He asks her to marry him and Luke's daughter says yes. It was going to come across a lot like that final shot of The Empire Strikes Back.

Episode IX would take place two years later, and in my mind was going to be as sullen and apocalyptic as it could possibly be. And it was going to finally, once and for all, answer the problem of power and the Force. Luke was going to do something that would forevermore make it impossible for the Force to go out of balance. On the eve of the last battle (of the entire Star Wars saga, so it had to be pretty darned honking big), he was going to give his final command to the Jedi Order: whether the battle was won or lost, they were ordered to disband and disperse. The Jedi were to be scattered to the four winds across the galaxy. There would be no more Jedi Council, no more centralized structure for the Jedi. Never again would the Force be something reserved for an elite few: the Jedi were to flee, and wherever they were led they were to teach others what they knew about the Force. Luke was going to make it so that no one sect – or no one person – would ever use the Force to control the galaxy again. In this way Luke Skywalker was going to become very much a Christ figure: sending "missionaries" unto all nations to "preach" a message.

It was during the final battle that Luke's daughter (who at this point is pregnant, which I had no idea would be analogous to where Padme would be at this point in Revenge of the Sith), her husband and Luke would have their final confrontation with Liege Golem, with it coming down to a lightsaber battle between Luke and his own dark potential. Golem was going to be killed, and Luke would be mortally wounded. Liege Golem's forces (made up of Thrawn's army and a few others, including some former Jedi who left the Order) are beaten in the main battle and we see them defeated in skirmishes around the galaxy. The Jedi obey Luke's decree and scatter. The Republic is in ruins – maybe in even worse shape than it was at the end of Episode III – but with the Jedi now working abroad and throughout it, there is finally the hope of a real and lasting peace to come about.

As for Luke Skywalker, grievously wounded and near death, he commands his ship to be flown to Tatooine. His daughter begins to go into labor. With the suns setting they land on the outskirts of the Lars homestead, which Luke had given to Cammie and her husband. Luke's daughter is taken inside, and Luke tells his son-in-law to take him and Artoo in a landspeeder out into the Dune Sea. They come to a place far in the desert where Luke leaves the speeder, and in his final order to Artoo he entrusts the faithful droid with his lightsaber. Luke tells his son-in-law to leave him, but he refuses. Luke tells him to at least take the speeder a distance away. This his son-in-law reluctantly does, and when he stops he turns to see a ship has landed, with three beings of Yoda's race using the Force to lift an unconscious Luke into their vessel. The ship takes off into the night, leaving only Artoo behind on the desert floor. Luke's son-in-law retrieves the droid and returns to the Lars homestead, arriving just in time to see the birth of his newborn son. The Skywalker bloodline, which left Tatooine almost seventy years earlier, has finally come home.

The End. Roll credits.

Now, all of that is leaving out a lot of other stuff, like one thing about why Luke Skywalker realizes he must take his own family out of the bigger picture of the galaxy, and have it return to more humble roots. It's also leaving out something of a political scandal involving Leia. What I've just laid out is really a pretty rough synopsis of what was going to happen, per the original plan... which like I said could have changed radically according to the input from everyone involved in the Virtual Sequels Project.

A lot of different worlds were going to be featured in this: familiar ones like Coruscant and Tatooine and Naboo, but also newer locales like the barren landscape of Kessel. I've always like the idea of Tarkin's homeworld of Eriadu, a factory planet, and that was going to be used. By far the most disturbing was going to be a "cemetery world", where the entire planet was one massive graveyard... and where a terrible secret would be revealed about one of the main characters. And there was going to be a return to Dagobah and the Dark Side Cave... which at the time I was hoping would be investigated further in the prequels, but that never happened.

The Virtual Sequels were going to introduce a lot of new characters, but also bring back a lot of familiar faces from across the six movies that were really made. I already mentioned how Jar Jar Binks was going to be used. Well, I had a plan in mind to bring a Fett into the story... after a fashion. How it was going to be done is something I'm gonna keep to myself for now, but suffice it to say that if you know anything about Jango Fett's tragic childhood, you might be pleased to know that there was going to be a happy destiny for his progeny after all.

And right now I'm trying to think if I left out anything really important. Even if I did this monster of a post just hit nine pages of length in Microsoft Word, so I'd better stop while I'm ahead.

Anyway, there it is: the Virtual Sequels Project. Even if nothing ever really came of this like I'd imagined it would, I'm glad to finally have this out in the open, for benefit of anyone who might still remember this and wonder what in the world was this trying to accomplish. And who knows, maybe someday someone will take what I've just written here and try to do something with it. Nothing would please me more than to see that happen (well some things in this life would please me more, but you know what I mean).

Any questions? :-)