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Saturday, September 30, 2006

The current situation

There's been something that's been on my mind for awhile, especially since I first got serious about running for public office. I'll probably write more about this later, after the campaign, when I've had a lot more time to meditate upon some things. I can definitely say that ever since throwing my hat into the ring, that it has been a real growth experience in a lot of ways for me. I can't help but think that even if it's not in God's will that I am to win a seat on the school board, that He is using this to plant the seeds within me for something further down the road. I don't know what that might be, but the learning and understanding that He has been guiding me through during this has very much made me a different person over the past couple of months.

Running for local office has lent itself toward much contemplation about where we are as a country. Especially in the past few days and weeks. And I hate to say this but the more I've let this new eye bear down on things, the more disillusioned I've become with the current state of things in America.

How has it come to this: that we are a nation run by a gang of liars and opportunists and petty hustlers and con artists and adulterers... and now pedophiles? I know, that's more or less a rhetorical question because this sort of thing has been going on for so long now that we've actually become inured to it. But that doesn't mean that it's no less a damning conclusion to draw from the shape of things.

Like I said, I'm probably going to have more to say about this in the near future, after the election is finished, however that goes down. But I'll end this post on one thing that I've come to realize: that the root of much of the misery and malfeasance that's taking place in this country is that we have pursued power instead of righteousness before God.

And I'm especially levelling that charge at a lot of the Christians in this land.

(Yeah I mean you too Jerry Falwell: "The Lord will take care of that" indeed!)

Friday, September 29, 2006

More DOCTOR WHO goodness tonight

On the same day that American audiences finally get to watch Season 2/28 of Doctor Who comes word that the show has officially been recognized by Guiness Book of World Records as TV's longest-running science-fiction show. And yep, they're counting the revived series in with the originals too. With a 43-year history and 723 episodes to date under its belt, Doctor Who is still going strong.

And with tonight being when Season 2 (or 28, your pick) debuted here in the U.S., here is the "teaser" video that aired on Doctor Who Confidential last year. This really gives you an idea of what to expect in the coming months...

My yard signs have arrived!

Most of them arrived yesterday (there was one box of metal frames that UPS just dropped off). Here's the finished product:

I used a company called RUNandWIN.com to fill my yard sign order. They did some really amazing work on these signs. They also had a very fast turnaround time from the time I placed my order and were exceedingly prompt in answering all of my queries. They are definitely to be recommended if you yourself ever wind up running for political office :-)

By the way, speaking of printed advertisements for my campaign, here is the bumper sticker that's on my car:

You can buy a pack of blank bumper stickers (2 per letter-sized sheet) at Office Depot. Then download a Word template from OfficeDepot.com and use your ink-jet printer to make your sticker. They're supposed to be pretty water-resistant as they are, but I also gave it several coats of transparent gloss spray paint before I peeled it off the sheet. And so far, in spite of all the rain storms we've had, it looks as fresh as it did when it came out of the printer. No doubt there'll be a lot more fun to be had with these sticker sheets after the campaign is over :-)

"Merry Christmas!" New DOCTOR WHO season starts tonight on Sci-Fi!

When we last saw the Doctor and Rose, they were flying through time/space in the TARDIS having just destroyed the Dalek Emperor. Unfortunately the Doctor had to make a self-sacrifice and absorbed a LOT of energy that was slowly destroying his body. He had some poignant words for Rose (Billie Piper), telling her that she would never be able to see him again... well, at least "not like this, not with this daft old face". The last thing he told Rose was that she was "fantastic. Absolutely fantastic! And do you know what? So was I!"

And with that, the Doctor (who had been played by Christopher Eccleston) regenerated... and became the new Doctor: played by David Tennant (Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

People in Great Britain have already seen what happens after that on Doctor Who. Tonight, American fans will finally get to see the further adventures of the Doctor and Rose. It all starts tonight at 8 o'clock with last year's holiday special "The Christmas Invasion" (I downloaded it the day after last Christmas: click here for my review of it). Taking place immediately after the last moments of last season's finale "The Parting of the Ways", the TARDIS crashes near Rose's old home just in time for Christmas. Tennant's Doctor walks out and collapses outside and Rose spends much of the episode trying to convince Jackie and Mickey that this is, indeed, the same Doctor that she had been travelling with. As the Doctor recovers from his regeneration, aliens arrive and start trying to take over. Won't say anything more than that but there are some really crazy visual gags you have to see to believe in this episode.

"The Christmas Invasion" lasts an hour and a half, and will be followed by the first real episode of Season 2 (or 28 if you're reckoning from old-school Who), "New Earth". Which I didn't think at the time that this was all that strong an opening for a new season of Doctor Who but it does have two things going for it: another appearance by the Face of Boe. And it has the return of the Lady Cassandra: arguably one of the most bizarre Doctor Who villains of all time ("Moisturize me! Moisturize me!"). There are some really excellent episodes coming up though in the next few weeks (like "Class Reunion") and I'll be posting more about them as they're about to broadcast. In the meantime, sit back tonight and enjoy some the newest season of Doctor Who... which is coming about six months earlier than most of us were expecting!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review of "Weird Al" Yankovic's STRAIGHT OUTTA LYNWOOD

Today is the day that "Weird Al" Yankovic's new album Straight Outta Lynwood came out (as if I haven't been talking about this album enough already on this blog over the past few weeks). I've been playing around with the new CD for several hours now – after having to go all the way to the Best Buy in Burlington because no place in Rockingham County has yet to get it in stock – and I can confidently say that the long wait was well worth it. Weird Al is one of the few musicians who has consistently upped his game since the start of his career and with Straight Outta Lynwood he has once again not only met his fans' expectations... he has surpassed them brilliantly.

I've noticed a trend over the past few albums that Weird Al has done: his humor, while still very family-friendly, has definitely gotten a lot edgier/more daring. "Wanna B Ur Lovr", one of my favorites from his last album Poodle Hat, was one of his more outrageous songs (and maybe even a little shocking to some longtime Al fans). Straight Outta Lynwood stays well within the lines of good taste – which is just one of the reasons why I believe Yankovic has enjoyed so much success over the years – but the pattern has definitely persisted in this new album. The result: Weird Al is sounding as fresh with Straight Outta Lynwood as he did when he first burst into the mainstream with In 3-D more than two decades ago. Indeed, if this keeps up I absolutely believe that "Weird Al" Yankovic is going to be entertaining us with new albums for another two decades... or more.

Straight Outta Lynwood is a DualDisc: the CD audio tracks are on one side and there is DVD content on the other. As a result the disc feels slightly heavier than a standard CD. On the positive side of things you're definitely getting more bang for your buck so far as material goes (more on that as the review progresses). The bad news is that, as a label on the back of the shrink-wrap says: "The audio side of this disc does not conform to CD specifications and therefore will not play on some CD and DVD players." And indeed when I tried to play the CD side of Straight Outta Lynwood with Windows Media Player on my computer, there were intermittent pauses on each song that I tried: almost as if the CD-ROM drive was trying to "catch up" or something. However when I tried to play it on a five-year old stand-alone boom-box there were no problems at all. Looks like if I want to listen to Straight Outta Lynwood while I work, I'm going to either have to rip the tracks to the hard-drive (which I was going to do anyway so they'll go on my MP3 player) or play it the old-fashioned way. But if you've got a fairly recent CD player, you probably won't have any trouble enjoying the CD. And the DVD stuff worked just fine when I played it on the computer with PowerDVD.

Awright, here's the stuff you'll find on Straight Outta Lynwood...

Side 1: The Audio CD

1. "White and Nerdy": This could have been my theme song had this album come out when I was in high school. A parody of "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire, "White and Nerdy”" is as strong an opening title for a Weird Al CD as was "Amish Paradise" on the Bad Hair Day album (my all-time favorite Weird Al album for a lot of personal reasons) ten years ago, which is saying quite a bit. Al must have some of the most versatile lips in the music biz, the way he's spewing out those lines a little further into the song. A great song and a hilarious video that Chamillionaire himself has said he likes a lot.

2. "Pancreas": A spot-on tribute to the musical style of Brian Wilson. What if the Beach Boys had all majored in biology? Well they would have probably made a song like "Pancreas". This one is probably going to grow on me after while, the way "Hardware Store" did after listening to it a few more times when Al released Poodle Hat. This song certainly makes me wonder (and not for the first time) about the wonderfully bizarre thought processes that must go on in the head of one Alfred Yankovic, what with associating internal organs with a tribute to Brian Wilson.

3. "Canadian Idiot": The new "Blame Canada". This one is a fine North America companion to "American Idiot" by Green Day. I actually got to listen to this a few weeks ago and it's been stuck in my head ever since. Al makes a mockery of just about every stereotype and motif of Canada out there: from hockey to Kraft Macaroni to Celine Dion. So far as parody goes, Al completely apes Green Day on this one.

4. "I'll Sue Ya": Definitely a style spoof of Rage Against The Machine (so much so that I can easily imagine Weird Al contributing to The Matrix soundtrack if he'd ever been asked to). A hilarious head-banging commentary about people who are all too eager to litigate.

5. "Polkarama!": The only song that I didn't really "get" but only because I'm unfamiliar with a lot of the lyrics (which just goes to show how out-of-touch I've wound up being with recent music, I hate to admit). On every album Weird Al does a medley of other artists' songs... as a polka. Gonna have to listen to the originals before I can really get a sense of appreciation for this one. By the way, my good friend "Weird" Ed has made the excellent suggestion that if Al ever performs "Polkarama!" in concert, everyone should stand up and start doing the "Chicken Dance" at the beginning of the song. It could be the start of a whole new "Weird Al concert thing" like doing the "Yoda chant"!

6. "Virus Alert": Don't know what kind of style is at work here but it sounds like some of Weird Al's mid-late Eighties stuff. This is Yankovic's completely over-the-top warning about opening e-mail attachments because of the threat of computer viruses. Another song that will probably grow more on me with time.

7. "Confessions Part III": As you probably might guess, a parody of "Confessions Part II" by Usher. It's absolutely hysterical to listen to Usher's original and then play this one by Weird Al.

8. "Weasel Stomping Day": The music on this short sounds like it could be used to advertise for an Oktoberfest. A light, violent song about an annual holiday involving putting on Viking helmets and mashing the daylights out of innocent weasels.

9. "Close But No Cigar": Probably the most randomly offbeat song on the CD, sorta reminds me of "Everything You Know Is Wrong" from the Bad Hair Day album. It's about a guy who is hitting on all these girls but finds something insanely miniscule about each one that turns him off.

10. "Do I Creep You Out": Just eight short months ago Taylor Hicks was a struggling musician who had "played in every honky-tonk and chicken coop there is". The man has worked hard, paid his dues, wound up winning on American Idol and for his efforts he's now received the ultimate prize: being parodied in what must be the fastest turnaround in Weird Al history... before his own album even debuts two months from now! A great spoof of Hicks' "Do I Make You Proud". Al definitely nails Hicks' signature vocal style here.

11. "Trapped In The Drive Thru": BEST SONG ON THE CD! And absolutely one of the greatest and most hilarious songs that Weird Al has ever done. This is also the longest song that Al has ever produced to the best of my knowledge ("Trapped In The Drive Thru" clocks in at very nearly 11 minutes), handily beating the lengths of "Albuquerque" and "Genius In France". This is also the first food-related song that he's done in awhile... and very well may be his culinary masterpiece. A parody of "Trapped In The Closet" by R. Kelly, this "hip-hopera" by Yankovic is the story of a husband and wife who are trying to decide what to do for dinner. No joke: I listened to this song three times in a row after buying this CD, it's so uproariously funny. Weird Al is at the top of his form on this song: not only does he imitate everything that R. Kelly did in "Trapped In The Closet" – including dividing the song into three "chapters" – but I think more than anything else on this CD, this one spotlights the full range of Yankovic's vocal talents. An instant classic.

12. "Don't Download This Song": ...which Weird Al already released last month on the Internet as a completely free MP3 download. Done in the spirit of "We Are The World" and all those other "touchy-feely" songs of the 1980s, "Don't Download This Song" is a heart-tugging plea to the listener not to violate copyright laws by swiping songs from Limewire and the like. Even if I'd already heard this song many times since Weird Al posted it on his Myspace page, I thought that this was a great way to wrap-up the album.

Side 2: The DVD Content

A lot of thought apparently went into the production of extra material for this album. That's obvious just from the beautiful menus on the DVD side of Straight Outta Lynwood.

If you have a top-of-the-line home entertainment system, you will be excited to know that the entire album is available on the DVD side in 5.1 Surround Sound (a first for Weird Al). Which we don't have anything like that here, but it's good to know that it'll be waiting for us someday when we do get a rig that nice.

Or if you don't have a 5.1 Surround Sound system, you can enjoy listening to Straight Outta Lynwood with on-screen lyrics and karaoke tracks for each song (no doubt that will be a lot of fun for parties). However it is that you listen to the music, you will also be treated to several childhood photographs of Weird Al.

The DVD side also features videos for each of the six original songs that Al performs on this album. Most are animated (the sole exception is the one for "Pancreas" by filmmaker Jim Blashfield). For these Al wound up getting some of the hottest talent in animation to produce them. The one for "Don't Download This Song" was created by Bill Plympton. "I'll Sue Ya" (pictured at right) was done by Thomas Lee. "Virus Alert" comes from David Lovelace, the creator of Retarded Animal Babies. The guys behind Robot Chicken on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim are responsible for "Weasel Stomping Day". But by far the most bizarre of the videos has to be the one for "Close But No Cigar" done by John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy. "Close But No Cigar" features Cigarettes the cat and more scenes depicting female buttocks than I've ever seen in a cartoon in the history of anything.

Rounding out the video content of Straight Outta Lynwood is "Al In The Studio", a nine-minute long documentary of Weird Al and his band as they work on the album, filmed by Al's wife Suzanne. It's a great look at the fun – and the hard work – that went into making Straight Outta Lynwood. And it has a really sweet closing scene that will make you go "Awwww..."

I could also talk about the 24-page full color booklet that comes with the CD, with lyrics and credits and all that, but this review is getting too long as it is. The only thing I will say about it is that it has what must be one of the most disturbing photos I've ever seen come out of the wacky world of Weird Al (and if you ever read this Al, I'm talking about that one in the very middle of the book :-).

So to wrap things up: I am being very thoroughly entertained by Straight Outta Lynwood... more than I was anticipating even. This newest album by "Weird Al" Yankovic is one of his best ever, and it's going to make a fine addition in my collection along with his other work. Do I recommend this CD? Heck yeah! So go out and buy it. And if you've already downloaded the entire album, GO OUT AND BUY IT ANYWAY YOU HOOLIGAN!

Monday, September 25, 2006

They are mad as hell, and they aren't going to take it anymore

Darth Larry (who has been woefully absent of late even considering his recent trip to Denmark) scores big with some of the first released photos from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which is due out this coming July. Lots of good pics here, including the first I've seen anywhere of Dolores Umbridge.

But this is the pic that I absolutely love...
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of Dumbledore's Army: the secret group that Harry starts training on his own when the Ministry of Magic clamps down on teaching defense against the dark arts. The little blond girl on the right is Luna Lovegood, who was one of my favorite new characters from the book. But maaaan, just look at the countenance of Neville's face. He looks... I don't know if words can really express it, given what Neville's been through if you know the book. The boy is a seething volcano of rage just waiting to violently explode. So help me I honestly believe Neville is going to actually kill Bellatrix Lestrange if he gets the chance... and hopefully he'll get that before this series is out. The Weasley twins are looking pretty fed-up too: if we don't get to see The Escape - the scene where the twins decide it's finally time to leave Hogwarts for good but not before giving a giant "F--- YOU!" to Umbridge - it will be a cinematic sacrilege.

So far, looking pretty good. I'm starting to get strong vibes out of this next Harry Potter flick. Maybe next time we'll have a picture of Grawp to look at.

For crying out loud: I'm ALREADY TAKEN!

Since 6 o'clock last night (it's half-past 1 in the morning now) I've received eight "friend requests" to my Myspace account. All of them are from people I've never heard from before in my life. Every one of them is a young woman. And each one has popped up the same screen every time I clicked on their name to see who the heck this is supposed to be...
I have no idea what the "Myspace Adult Content Viewer" is supposed to be, but there's no way I'm letting that thing touch my hard-drive. Lord only knows what it would do to my system. Neither do I know why so many girls are asking to be my "friend". I've a policy when it comes to Myspace: I have to absolutely 100% know a person before I add them to my "friends" list thingamabob. Every person you see on my Myspace friends - with the exception of Myspace Tom and The Official "Weird Al" Fan Site one - I know from real life.

Why are all these girls trying to get me to add them? I dunno. Lisa says it's because "you're good-looking" to which I asked why doesn't she get slammed from guys as much as me ' cuz she's beautiful... but then again she's got a bunch of our wedding pictures set on her page so maybe that's why. Perhaps if I stick up a photo of her and I getting married as my main pic then these girls will leave me alone finally, 'cuz this happens all the time. Someone suggested that these are people who see that I'm a film-maker and that maybe they think I can get them a role in a flick or something. Well, I hate to disappoint anyone who might think so, but my operation has never had a "casting couch".

So if any young lady is reading this and contemplating sending me a Myspace friend request and I don't already know you, and especially if your profile is filled with photos of a less-than-prurient nature: please don't. I've been in love with one woman for the past six years - the only woman I have ever truly loved - and my heart totally and completely belongs to only two people: God, and her. So kindly desist with sending me Myspace requests that won't get you anywhere at all.

I will welcome anyone who wants to write me a friendly note through Myspace though, and let whatever friendship happens that may spring from that... and you'll find that I'm a pretty loyal guy to have as a friend. But that comes with time: something that I doubt anyone who makes the "adult content" red flag pop up would really appreciate.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Can't wait a few days for more LOST?

I've been too busy all summer to keep up with The Lost Experience interactive game thingy, even though I'm a really big fan of the show Lost and have been trying hard to figure out just what the heck is going on with this island. Well some people have been playing this game and have worked the past few months to piece together all the tidbits of information that Lost's creators have spread around about the show's underlying mythology. And before the new season starts next week, it looks like we might have a lot more to go on now.

This video (which according to the "storyline" of The Lost Experience game was filmed by an anti-Hanso activist) was originally seventy different fragments that had to be spliced together to make the complete film. Among the things you'll find in it: what the DHARMA Initiative is up to (including what the acronym DHARMA means), Alvar Hanso addressing the camera, the origin of "the numbers", footage of the Swan Station being built, a possible explanation for the disease, and what sounds an awful lot like not-Henry Gale wearing a lab coat with his back turned toward us. All of this may or may not be relevant to the actual show (meaning it could just be stuff the show's creators pulled out of a hat to keep us all happy and content throughout the months until the third season starts) but just in case - and especially if you are hungering for even a tiny morsel of Lost to get you through the next week or so - here's the complete "Hanso Exposed" video...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Luke Skywalker is DEAD!

Tonight Lisa and I drove up to Martinsville for dinner - our second time at the place - at Pigs R Us (click here for my initial review of that excellent barbecue joint). Afterward we walked around the mall there for a bit, and it was in Waldenbooks that my eye caught Star Wars: Legacy #3 in the comic book rack. I bought issue #1 awhile back and although I've missed #2 since then, I decided to buy this new issue and take another look at this new direction for the Star Wars saga, even though my confidence in this series hasn't exactly been all that high ever since I first heard about it. I mean, in my worldview of all things Star Wars, the Sith were finished off in Return of the Jedi and bringing them back makes Anakin's self-sacrifice completely pointless.

But, I have to give Dark Horse Comics some credit for boldness with this series. Because in Star Wars: Legacy #3, something happens that I never thought I'd see happen in any Star Wars project: Luke Skywalker has died! Now, Legacy takes place a hundred years or so after Luke's heyday, so I guess his eventual death had to be in there somewhere. But still, it's quite astonishing to see him make an appearance as a shimmering blue "Force ghost" a'la Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke, in full traditional Jedi garb and looking as young as he does at the time of the classic movies, visits his descendant Cade Skywalker (I still hate that name) and scolds him for (a) his drug addiction and (b) turning his back on the Skywalker heritage. Cade makes the astute observation that the Force sure hasn't done the family that much good: just look at what it did to Luke's father.

It's enough to pique my curiosity a bit more about Legacy, and maybe give it a few more chances to convince me that this is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon (whatever the heck that is supposed to actually be). But in the meantime: Luke Skywalker is dead. The most well-known heroic icon of my generation has passed away. Luke Skywalker is six feet under. Pushing up daisies. Joined the choir invisible. Gone to meet his maker. Dead as a doornail. Pretty depressing, ain't it?

(I think they should have drawn him to look somewhere around 80-90 though, and let us see what a much-older Luke would look like. That's my only real complaint about this issue though. Other than that, I thought it was pretty good.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Considering immortalism

Bennett Miller, the director of last year's Capote, is now getting read to delve into the realm of immortalism. That's the philosophy - that some people have tried to put into practice - of escaping the inevitability of physical death. So you have some people who have died and had their bodies frozen in liquid nitrogen (or saved money by having just their heads cut off and preserved) in the hopes of someday medical science getting to the point where whatever killed them will be cured and their bodies restored to life. I wrote something about this back in January, in case anyone's interested. Here's part of the story from the Hollywood Reporter...
'Immortalist' finds home at Vantage

Paramount Vantage is getting into the Bennett Miller business. The indie unit, along with producer Plan B, will develop Miller's latest project, "The Immortalist." The project, which has yet to be written, is a "character-driven drama set in the emerging world of life extension." Details of the plot are still under wraps, but Miller describes it as "not a science fiction film ... (but) a drama set in the very real world of those pursuing biological immortality." He adds: "It's a pursuit that attracts some extremely brilliant, wealthy and influential people. It also attracts tragic figures. This story follows one such person on his disturbing foray into it."

Personally, I find exploring this subject matter to be utterly fascinating. All the more so because it wasn't that long ago that I would have agreed with the motivation of these people and thought that it would be a worthwhile goal to achieve physical immortality.

But today, I don't agree with it at all. Some of my reasons for that have to do with practicality: the chances of "reviving" a dead person who has been cryogenically preserved are infintesimally small, because of a lot of factors (simply repairing the damage from freezing at the cellular level is probably the biggest hurdle). But mostly it has to do with how I've come to understand what it means to grow as a person... and that like it or not, death is part of the growth process, too.

Three of the biggest sagas of fantasy storytelling have explored this theme. In J.R.R. Tolkien's realm of Middle-Earth, the people of Numenore lusted for physical immortality so much that they dared attempt to seize the Undying Lands by force... and incurred the wrath of God Himself. They failed to take something on faith: that death - at least in Tolkien's worldview - was not a bad thing at all. In fact death was a gift to Men from God so that Men would not have to forever be bound within the circles of the world. Incidentally, the Elves of Middle-Earth were envious of their mortal kindred, because it was the Elves' lot to be bound to the world and endure all the mounting weariness that ages upon ages would bring with them. In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien went to pains to describe the curse that comes with physical immortality: living, but not gaining any more life, until every moment was a weariness. Clearly, the spiritual nature of Men and Hobbits was not intended to remain indefinitely anchored to the physical realm: trying to do so had horrific consequences on both body and mind (see Gollum and the Nazgul for evidence of this, as well as the later Numenorean kings who refused to lay down their lives when weariness overtook them). It was only when a person surrendered the attempt to control his mortal fate that he was then able to grow again, as Bilbo did when he gave up the Ring.

More recently, immortalism was touched upon in the Star Wars movies. In Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Anakin is looking for a way - any way at all - to stop what he believes is Padme's inevitable death. And in the process of leading him toward the Dark Side, Palpatine told Anakin the tale of Darth Plagueis: a Sith Lord so powerful that he was able to stop people from dying. But doing so was something that Palpatine hinted at as being "un-natural" (not that THAT would stop somebody like Palpatine). But Palpatine was very much correct: trying to extend one's life past the point when it should be finally surrendered can be considered an accursed thing. It marks the conscious end of life as a growth process and the beginning of physical existence for its own sake... and the only way to ensure that is to accummulate more and more power for one's self. This was something the Sith had embraced completely... but it was not something compatible with the understanding of one such as, say, Yoda. Yoda too realized that death was a natural part of living and growing, and that death was something to be rejoiced for in many ways, not to grieve and be bitter about. And I'm really looking forward to 2008 when a novel about Darth Plagueis is published, written by James Luceno. When it comes out we should come to know a lot more about the Sith and the Jedi and how each, in their own way, pursued immortality.

But lately, the most fascinating examination of the consequences of physical immortality has been found in the pages of the Harry Potter novels. We were given a lot of clues in the first five books but it was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when things really fell into place about Lord Voldemort and what desire it is that has motivated him to commit such horrible crimes. For all his power and influence and in spite of all the fear that others have of him, Voldemort is a person who is afraid to die, which he sees as something shameful and contemptible. It is this fear of death - and his failing to realize that there are things in this world that are worse than physical death - which is Voldemort's greatest weakness, according to Professor Dumbledore. In Half-Blood Prince we learn that when Tom Riddle - the future Voldemort - was a student at Hogwarts, he became fascinated with the subject of Horcruxes: physical objects containing a portion of one's soul. After leaving school Riddle set out to create seven Horcruxes, committing one murder for each one so as to split his soul and imprison a portion of his being into each object. Destroying a Horcrux will destroy that portion of Voldemort's soul with it... but so long as one Horcrux remains intact, Voldemort is physically immortal and cannot be killed. But his immortality is not without its price: Voldemort no longer even looks fully human, so shattered has become his essence. But Voldemort does not care about the damage done to either his body or his soul: death has been cheated, and that is all that matters to him.

There is one more Harry Potter book left, and I have to wonder about what is ultimately going to happen to Voldemort. As Dumbledore put it in the very first book, "to the well-prepared mind, death is but the next great adventure." It certainly seems that Dumbledore accepted his own death without reserve... but how much of Voldemort's mind and soul is there that will meet his almost-certain final destiny? It could very well be that we will come to understand fully what Dumbledore meant when he said that there are things worse than death that can happen to a person.

These may be examples of how the realm of fantastical fiction handle the very real notion of life and death, but I believe there are some great truths to be gleaned from them. As a Christian, I am reminded by them how the world we now live in is not our true home, and that we are not meant to abide within it forever... so why should we desire to have power over it at all? Trying to bargain for more life or more control over the time allotted us just takes away from the time we do have to try and make it worth living while we still have it to live. That's not time I want to waste trying to lord over other people and situations for my own sake, when it's not even within my grasp to have absolute control over it anyway.

Well, I could write more about this, but it's getting late as it is. And I can always write more about this or anything else some other time if/when the notion crosses my gray matter to do so. In the meantime, it's time to give the ol' synapses some much-needed downtime :-)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The officially YouTube hosted WHITE AND NERDY video

Behold the pure genius that is "Weird Al" Yankovic turned loose on Chamillionaire's "Ridin'"...

Gnosticism is alive: "Christian" children worship President Bush at Bible camp

I've yet to actually see the new documentary Jesus Camp that this ABC News clip is about, but I've heard from plenty enough sources to take their word that the kids depicted actually are worshipping an image of George W. Bush.

This movie is about a Bible camp for children in North Dakota. As a Christian, I'm compelled to ask the obvious: why does a Bible camp need a large cardboard cutout image of President Bush at all? What's the purpose of it being there?

The kids are clearly shown praying and raising their hands toward the image of Bush. Are they praying for the man or to the man? If they're simply praying for him, why do they need a physical object representing him to pray toward at all?

The Bible had a very neat word for what this sort of thing is: "idolatry". These children are giving their reverence to a physical object representing something other than God. How is what these children are doing really any different from having a statue of Baal to appeal to in hopes of having some rain?

It's actually a form of Gnosticism that these kids are being taught to practice. They are imbuing a physical thing with spiritual power and hoping to use that to sway God.

Here's the clip. Watch it and judge for yourself...

P.S.: Why does a Bible camp... or any Christian function at all... need to display the American flag so prominently? Personally, I think it's a form of idolatry too when we put the American flag in our church sanctuaries. I mean, do you think the apostle Paul would have ever approved of sticking a Roman "S.P.Q.R." standard in the corner of the church at Antioch?

WHITE AND NERDY: The Video is now online and legit! Plus: a guide to who's who and what's what in the video.

Go to "Weird Al" Yankovic's Myspace page to watch it and not have to be bothered by your guilty conscience for seeing it as a leaked version.

And now, as I promised earlier, here is...

The Complete "Weird Al" Fan's and Nerd's Guide to the "White and Nerdy" Video
02 seconds: The two gangsters in the car are being played by Jordan Peele and Keegen Micheal Key of MAD TV.

15 seconds: The red candles make out the outline of Pac-Man.

37 seconds: MC Escher was an artist who specialized in drawing paradoxes.

43 seconds: That's Seth Green wearing the green jacket. In addition to his acting, Green is known for his love of action figures and writes for Toyfare magazine every so often.

44 seconds: Several of the original Star Wars action figures are on Al's shelves in addition to other classic toy lines being represented.

46 seconds: Al is reading "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking.

50 seconds: The people on Al's Myspace page (not his real one) are from top left clockwise: Bill Gates, Napoleon Dynamite, Mr. Peabody from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, Albert Einstein, Screech from Saved By The Bell, Frodo from the Lord of the Rings movies, Pee-Wee Herman, and Myspace Tom. Additionally, Al has exactly 27 Myspace friends (27 is Al's favorite number).

1 minute 10 seconds: The questions on the Trivial Pursuit card are as follows:

G – In what city is the largest ball of twine built by one man? (a reference to Al's earlier song "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota".)

E – What's the deal with Lindsay Lohan? I mean, seriously?

H – F.D.R. – was he faking it?

AL – On what page does Harry Potter die in the next book?

SN – What is the melting point of a gorilla's head?

Covered-up – How many Wicket Men are there on a 43-Man Squamish team? (a reference to a classic 1965 article in MAD Magazine).

1 minute 21 seconds: The equation behind Al and "Krayzie Bone" is a Schrodinger equation (has to do with quantum mechanics).

1 minute 22 seconds: "Krayzie Bone" is being played by... DONNIE OSMOND?!?

1 minute 25 seconds: A reference to the "Star Wars kid" video.

1 minute 40 seconds: Al is wearing a shirt with Carl Sagan's face on it.

1 minute 51 seconds: HILARIOUS!! Al is editing the Wikipedia entry for Atlantic Records to say "YOU SUCK" in giant letters. Atlantic Records, which is James Blunt's label, wouldn't let Al use "You're Pitiful" – his parody of Blunt's "You're Beautiful" – on the Straight Outta Lynwood album.

2 minutes 30 seconds: Al is buying a bootleg VHS copy of "The Star Wars Holiday Special", which George Lucas has said he would personally like to hunt down and find every copy so that he could burn them.

As more stuff is found, I'll be adding them to the list. In the meantime, go watch the video: IMHO this may the funniest one that Al has done to date yet!

Monday, September 18, 2006

I will finally become the Anti-Christ!

(Let's wait for the shock of that double-entendre to wear off, shall we?)

So help me, I have been in a giggle-fit of hysterical laughter all morning ever since installing the playable demo of Left Behind: Eternal Forces (191 MB download). Based on the best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a real-time strategy game that pits you in warfare - spiritual and otherwise - against the forces of Nicolae Carpathia, AKA the Anti-Christ. Or: play devil's advocate and run the armies of the beast in head-to-head competition against other players. You can play the demo now and the full game will be available for sale in November.

It sounds like a good concept. But for a RTS game... well, let's put it this way: judging by the demo of this game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces makes Star Wars Force Commander seem downright exquisite. And I was probably one of three people that actually liked Force Commander! From the moment I saw the animated logo for Left Behind Games (a deep-space swoop past the Earth as thousands of stylized "souls" fly from the surface) I was tearing up from laughing so hard. And it only got worse.

Well, you can download the game from the above link at FilePlanet, and play it and see for yourself. But I just had to make a post about it. Here's some photo evidence that I waded into this... thing:

Mission select screen...

Character bio screen, which shows if the person you have highlighted is a Tribulation Saint, on-the-fence straddler or lost soul damned for Hell...

Every Christian videogame should have a place where you can train your special-forces commandos...

This is a Disciple right after I selected for him to "Pray". The woman was just converted (and got a nice shiny white new set of clothes the moment she saw the light)...

"COMBAT! In Color..."
The only appeal this game would really have for me is if I let the little "id" thing on the dark side of my intellect come out and thrill to capturing the good guys... before hopefully getting to dispatch them for the crime of not taking The Mark(tm). You know, that part of every guy that likes to play games like Quake just to watch your buddies get gibbed? Otherwise, and this is the serious Christian of me speaking: I don't really see at all how this could possibly be a tool for witnessing for Christ. It... I hate to say this but it kinda makes us pretty laughable. Like the first Left Behind movie (that's the only one of the series I've seen): some Christian commentators noted at the time, it really seemed like not even a half-hearted effort. That's what this game feels like too, just going by the demo. Or maybe the videogame medium just isn't really cut out to make for effective witnessing: that's possible too.

But not just that either, 'cuz Left Behind: Eternal Forces has a really clumsy player interface... one of the worst I've seen in an RTS game, even. When I said that Force Commander looks incredible beside this game, I'm not kidding: for all the camera craziness of that Star Wars RTS, it was a hella lot more easy to control than in Eternal Forces. And I didn't have to feel conflicted about moving all those Imperial Stormtroopers around either...

Well, like I said, try it if you like. If nothing else than because you simply have to see what it's like to fulfill the Great Commandment by going out to set up Combat Training Centers to build up an army for guerilla warfare.

Papal controversy and the very small god of Islam

So some Muslims are now threatening Pope Benedict XVI with death because he quoted an obscure Byzantine emperor who noted that Islam is a religion that kills those who don't agree to follow it.

And these Muslims are proving that the quote by Manuel II Paleologus is inaccurate... how?

I mean, it sure seems to me that if someone was telling others that yours is a bloodthirsty faith, and you wanted to prove it otherwise, the logical thing to do would be to strive to practice unconditional love toward that person, no matter what they were saying about your religion. Or as Someone much greater than I once said, "Love one another..." and especially your enemies.

Islam is certainly coming across as a religion without much confidence in the god it professes to believe in, given threats like these being made toward Pope Benedict XVI and others, be they Christian or Jewish or whatever. I mean, if you truly believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing God, you are supposed to have enough faith to know that He doesn't need your help to defend Himself before petty humankind. He definitely doesn't need you to kill others in His name. So to what extent can Islam really claim to have faith in God at all?

Muslims such as those who threaten "the infidels" do nothing to uphold and build-up their faith, and do everything possible to destroy its credibility. Pursuing God and what He would have us do is supposed to make us flee from our carnal instincts, not cling to them with maddened lust. To follow God and mean it is to be changed in His image, not become more like our own... which you have to admit, on its own human nature tends to be a pretty ugly thing.

I'm not saying this as a Christian pushing my own religion. I'm just trying to say this as perfectly an objectionable person as I can be: that the god of Islam, as those that threaten the pope are presenting him to us, would absolutely appear to a neutral person as a very small and hollow thing that could only possibly appeal to those with the very least of regards for their fellow man. And that those who are making such threats should reconsider what it is that they are doing, if they want the religion they claim to be worthy of any respect and consideration at all.

I have seen the WHITE AND NERDY video

And I'll post more about it tomorrow... after it has the world premiere that it so deserves to have. When I do I'll also post "The Complete 'Weird Al' Fan's and Nerd's Guide to the 'White and Nerdy' Video".

(Want proof that I've seen it? Okay, how's this: pay very, VERY close attention to that Wikipedia page that Al is editing.)

This is the first real video that Al has done in seven years (if you don't count the one he did for "Bob" on the last album, the last one he did was "It's All About The Pentiums"). Personally, I think the "White and Nerdy" video is brilliant!! And very funny :-)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My interview with "Weird Al" Yankovic

Since some people (yeah I'm talking about YOU Dylan!) have observed that I'm going more than a little nuts for "Weird Al" Yankovic lately, what with his new album coming out next week on the 26th, I thought: why not make yet another post about the guy? Well, five years ago this month I was blessed to have the opportunity to interview Weird Al, and ever since I've come to regard that as one of the all-time highlights of my journalism career. So in case anyone's interested, here's the interview I did with "Weird Al" Yankovic for TheForce.net!

The 25 Worst Web Sites

Ten years ago one of my favorite websites was one called Mirsky's Worst of the Web. The guy running it showcased the absolutely most horrendous websites on the still-infant web with a lot of wicked wit. Sadly, Mirsky quit running it the fall of '96, but I still remember some of the sites he found, like this one.

Well, Mirsky may not be cataloguing them anymore but PC World continues his legacy with a new article featuring what they consider to be the 25 worst web sites on the Internet. Some of the bad sites include InmatesForYou.com, Windows Media Update, BidForSurgery.com (sort of like a Priceline for plastic surgery) and Neuticles.com... a site advertising testicular implants for your pet. Wait 'til you see what made PC World's #1 worst web site!

Celebrating Constitution Day

This afternoon Erich Smith, another candidate for Rockingham County Board of Education (click here for his website) held a party in Wentworth to celebrate today being Constitution Day. It was a great time that included a cook-out, a dunking booth (am sorry to say that I didn't bring my swim trunks) and a few other things, including some political stump speeches. Which Eric brought an honest-to-goodness stump for speakers to stand on for. I gave one, the first-ever in my political career, and think I did pretty good considering it was really impromptu. I won a free copy of the Constitution with a smart-alecy answer to the trivia question "Which amendment guarantees freedom of speech?" (I blurted out "the Second Amendment... and I meant to say that!") All things considered, it was one of the more fun things that's happened since I filed to run. Thanks for the good times Eric!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Chamillionaire praises new Weird Al parody

Remember the infamous "Coolio incident" that happened in 1996? Well, looks like that is not going to be happening to "Weird Al" Yankovic this time because Chamillionaire has nothing but praise about Yankovic's new parody "White and Nerdy" (which if you're reading this post around the time I'm making it, you're now listening to it)...
The multi-platinum artist is happy to hear the new version, and holds no grudges towards Al. Cham said, "He's actually rapping pretty good on it, it's crazy...He's Grammy-nominated, man. He goes platinum. It's really an honor when he does that. I remember when he redid Michael Jackson's 'Bad.' Weird Al is not gonna do a parody of your song if you're not doing it big. You gotta be a big dog. He shot the video, and people will see it pretty soon. It's crazy."

Weird Al is highly regarded for his ability to closely mirror the original song, something impressed Chamillionaire as well.

"He's spittin' just like Krayzie Bone on the second verse...It's actually very funny if you listen to what he's saying. The way Krayzie is harmonizing, he does the same thing. It surprised me. I didn't know he could rap like that."

Now we know what Chamillionaire things about having Al parody his work. I can't wait to hear "Do I Creep You Out" and see what Taylor Hicks thinks about that one :-)

"Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs..."

"...Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind..."

The next phase of my campaign for school board is about to begin. Namely, the one where I start to seriously spend money. Here's the debut of the first major expenditure...

This is the yard sign that I'm gonna be planting in as many places as I possibly can over the course of the next month or so. Now, something that hadn't entered my mind... or that I'd even really understood... until our station's head producer told me at work the other day is that in making my signs blue in color, that some people will take that as meaning that I'm a Democrat. Which I'm not: I'm unaffiliated and as non-partisan as you can probably get. All this time I was trying to figure out where this "Red State/Blue State" nonsense came from, and I'm just now getting it. He said that blue has always been the "Democrat color" while Republicans get red. Well what the *@$# color am I supposed to make this sign: green or orange or screaming violet? It's a really dark blue 'cuz of the knight chess piece logo: when did you ever see a chess piece associated with red? Who makes up this "Democrat=red / Republican=blue" crap anyway?! And I didn't want to use black either 'cuz I'm putting out signs for a campaign, not a funeral. But anyhoo, this is the final design and I quite like it a lot. So did everyone else on my staff that I showed this too.

Y'know, for something that seems so simple, designing the yard sign was a major headache. I've had to figure everything from how it's going to look, to what kind of material to have it made from, to what size to make it, how many to order, quite a few other factors. More than I care to recount here. The colors were originally going to be reversed but "Weird" Ed suggested making the lettering, logo etc. white so as to be more reflective at night, and I thought that was a darned good idea.

So that's what'll be popping up around Rockingham County as soon as they get delivered. If anyone living here wants one in their yard, e-mail me at knightforboard@gmail.com and I'll get one to you pronto.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Bush administration won't get serious about sending illegals back to Mexico...

...but it doesn't hesitate to extradite "Dog" Chapman when the Mexican government orders it to.

Rep. Tom Tancredo has published a letter about it. I'm not that big a fan of "Dog" Chapman, but this stinks to high heaven.

ERAGON trailer hits online

I haven't read this book yet. Lisa has and swears it's really good. Guess I'll have one more thing to catch up on before December, which is when this movie is coming out. Anyways, hit here for the Eragon trailer.

The top five videogames of all time

TrustedReviews has some of their staff pick their top five video/computer games of all time. It's a long but good read and includes several games that I'd never heard of before (I did know about the PC Engine though so that sorta makes me a videogame geek). A few good surprises on the list too, like 1998's Blade Runner (which was a VERY good game).

If anyone asks, here's my personal top five videogames of all time, for various reasons:

- Pitfall II: Lost Caverns - Atari 2600
- TIE Fighter - PC
- Super Mario Bros. 3 - Nintendo Entertainment System
- Doom - PC
- Halo - Xbox
I first played Pitfall II: Lost Caverns in 1984 and even today, after completely memorizing how to play a perfect game on it, it's still engrossing. TIE Fighter is bar none the finest Star Wars game ever created. Super Mario Bros. 3 was the NES at its best. Doom... well, as one person so eloquently put it: "Doom will never die... only its players will". And Halo is so beautiful that Lisa was utterly amazed by it the first time we put it in our Xbox. There are other games that come to mind too, - like Tetris and Wing Commander and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - but if you were to strand me on a desert island and give me five games to keep me from going completely mad, those five would be them.

EDIT 3:55 PM EST: Why didn't I think to put Donkey Kong Country on this list somewhere? Maybe I should just post a Top Ten Videogames list someday :-)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ann Richards has died

She was the former governor of Texas. And her mouth was legendary. You might remember her speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, and her immortal line...
"Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."
I used to do a dead-on Ann Richardson impersonation for years, using that line. It was so fun to do: "Poooooooor Jee-orge, he CAIN'T heppit... he was born with a silver FUT in his mowth!" I enjoyed doing that one even more than I did impersonating Ross Perot.

Whatever your political stripe, it has to be said: America has lost quite an original character tonight. Prayers going out to her family.

SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE FINAL DAYS: One of the most uplifting stories of Christian courage I've ever seen

For the past nine months I've been determined... no, obsessed with trying to watch a certain movie. It's a German film, apparently it got very limited showing here in the states and it's due to arrive as an English-subtitled DVD in November. But I haven't wanted to wait that long. This is the story of one of the most inspirational and heart-breaking things that happened during World War II and ever since I first read about these three students years ago, I've been utterly captivated by their courage... and the faith in Christ that sustained them through their trials until the very end. Finding and seeing this film has been one of the bigger projects I've occupied myself with since the year started.

Well yesterday, after making numerous inquiries about it over the better part of the past year, a copy arrived. Not the highest quality that I have been hoping for and I'll definitely be buying the DVD on the day it comes out on November 14th, this is so deserving of space on my DVD shelf. But this is such an important movie that I could not resist talking about it now...

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (click for official website) is the story of the White Rose: a group of college students in Munich who published a series of underground pamphlets denouncing Hitler and the Nazi regime. The film focuses on Sophie Scholl (beautifully played by Julia Jentsch), who was at the center of the White Rose along with her brother Hans and their friend Christoph Probst.

Over the years I've read and studied everything that I could about the White Rose, and I am absolutely floored at the historical accuracy of this movie. But what amazes me even more is that in making this film, the producers did not at all play down the students's faith in God that first motivated them to strike such a blow at Hitler's government, and then gave them the conviction to stand boldly before their accusers in the shadows of a Nazi courtroom. This is absolutely a story of having the courage to stand for Christ even in the face of your own death. Compared to the only other prominent religious movie that's come out in the past few years - The Passion of the Christ - Sophie Scholl: The Final Days stands out as being the far more inspiring tale. This is a movie that should be played for church youth groups across the country, as well as in every high school history classroom.

Everything about this movie is perfect: from when we first see Sophie singing playfully with a friend, to the final moments as she holds her head high and smiles while being walked to the waiting guillotine (that really happened by the way: witnesses said they had never seen someone so serenely accept her fate as did Sophie on the day of her execution). The acting, the lighting and camera-work, the music... good Lord this movie is going to be haunting me for the next few days, I just know it.

I wrote an op-ed column when I was at Elon about the White Rose. I'll say here what I said then: that there comes a time when a person has to stop and look at the way things are going around him or her. And realize that things are not right at all. And then has to have the courage to stand up and say "STOP this @&$% is WRONG!" regardless of how much the temporal authorities have it within their power to kill you for saying it. You have no choice: either you choose to take the stand, or no one else will. And does it really matter that "they" can destroy you in the flesh for doing it? Sophie, Hans and Christoph decided it was better to do what is right in the eyes of God than to do what the thugs in the Nazi regime were telling them to do. Every German schoolchild today knows the story of the White Rose... while those who killed them are nothing but scum in the dustbin of history.

Now, that is real immortality, my friends.

I'm going to post about this again the day the DVD comes out here in the states, but I'm giving you all fair notice now: by any means possible, you absolutely must watch Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Indeed, I can think of no other movie in recent memory that has so much relevance to the world we are even now seeing arise around us... and what the task is that God would have each of us do in spite of it.

Test new weapons on Americans first, says Air Force chief

Good God, they really aren't even trying to hide it anymore, are they? To this United States government the biggest enemy to worry about is the American people. And now we have confirmation about it from the head of the Air Force:
Test nonlethal weapons on U.S. citizens, official says

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.

Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.

"If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne.

"(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."

The Air Force has funded research into nonlethal weapons, but he said the service isn't likely to spend more money on development until injury issues are reviewed by medical experts and resolved.

Nonlethal weapons can weaken people if they are hit with the beam.

Some of the weapons can emit short, intense energy pulses that also disable some electronic devices.

I have an idea: let's strap Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne down on a table and aim several microwave weapons down on him, particularly his genital area. Then turn on the weapons and walk away for the next several days.

These people just don't get it: that they are providing all the reasons why some out there are actively imagining hurting and killing "them".

Let's put it more succinctly: we have much more to worry about from President Bush and his administration and too many of our own military leaders than we ever have from Osama Bin Laden, the president of Iran and all those "terrorists" out there.

News from KWerky Productions: New projects, making a statement with the feature film, and the ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK "update" edit

Time for a lil' update on what's going on with KWerky Productions, the filmmaking outfit founded by "Weird" Ed and myself.

As more time goes by I'm starting to think that it was for the better that we weren't able to make The Charles Schulz Code, because there were problems inherent to it that just weren't going to make it work. And the Da Vinci Code craze is now in such terminal condition that to press ahead with a parody of it... just doesn't have the "coolness" factor to it anymore. So far as short pieces go, Ed and I have an idea for a music video: we'll think about it some more and see if we can pull it off.

Meanwhile, KWerky Productions is entering the political realm, as it's producting at least one and maybe two TV commercials for my school board campaign. One of the commercials is pretty straightforward serious and the other... has something in it that some people are telling me is going to be very controversial. Or very funny. When they're done I'll post them to the campaign's website.

Those are the only projects of our own we are doing right now, but we've started being contacted by a few others who want our help in shooting productions. I've more or less agreed to be cinematographer of one production with a pretty ambitious goal ahead of it. One guy is doing an action-packed martial arts thriller that we're looking to help him with come November and a few weeks ago we were in talks about helping to make a historical documentary... which I am very much looking foward to doing with the people involved in this.

As for the full-length feature that I've been developing since this past spring: I'm still planning to go forward with it, but running for school board has really taken priority over most everything else I've been working on. The general story is there, but no real script yet. When this campaign is over (and Lord willing I'll be elected :-) I'll set to work in earnest on it, and possibly become the world's first independent filmmaker school board member :-)

On a related note: after a lot of thinking about it, and after being offered some VERY nice cameras (we're talking high-definition 3-CCD variety shooting at actual 23.97 fps) I've decided that we're going to make this movie with the same Sony Digital 8 Handycam that we made Forcery with. Why? Because after some of the nonsense I went thorugh last year I'm determined to take the biggest swipe that I can at some people's snooty elitism. By setting out to make the point that anyone... anyone... can be a good filmmaker, no matter what tools they have handy. Guess you could say I'm out to become a populist filmmaker, or maybe an Amish one since I'm so determined to go backwards on the high-tech stuff. But if there's going to come the real entertainment revolution by allowing each person the opportunity to make a great film, it's going to have to fly in the face of what certain "gatekeepers and lords" have decreed upon the rest of us. There's no reason why somebody with an average consumer-grade camcorder can not make a film that is on par with what is coming out of the biggest studios in Hollywood. And hopefully by the time this film is finished and released, I will have demonstrated that point completely.

Finally, the last time I did one of these updates I mentioned something that might be a little "controversial". Well, I tried... honest folks, I did... to use what skills and tools are in my possession to create a "fan-edited special edition" of John Carpenter's Escape From New York. This was not something I ever planned to distribute in any way shape or form: it existed solely as an experiment for sake of my own curiosity. What I tried to do is take the original 1982 movie and with some careful edits of scenery, spoken words, etc. instead of having it portray a 1997 that never happened, it would instead depict a vaguely defined possible future reflecting a New York City minus the World Trade Center towers (in the "update" Snake lands atop one of Donald Trump's skyscrapers) and an America where the PATRIOT Act finally went too far. There's so much material in the original film that I think foreshadows the things we've seen happen to this country in the past five years and I just wanted to run away with all that. Well, the furthest I successfully got was an adaptation of the original screenplay that took into effect all of these present-day factors, from which was extrapolated the grim world we saw in Escape From New York. Maybe I'll post the script someday, if I can be absolutely 100% sure that doing so wouldn't violate any copyright.

And that's basically your KWerky Productions update for this quarter :-)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Those new Star Wars DVDs on sale today? Don't buy 'em...

At least, I certainly won't be buying them. Why should I? We already got the classic trilogy - A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi - on DVD just two years ago. There isn't a single thing that's been changed in this new release from the previous one... nothing at all.

Except the three individual DVDs on sale today also have their respective "original versions" packed inside as a separate DVD disc. Which is something that a lot of fans (myself included) have been wanting for a long time now. What isn't being told to the average consumer is that the original editions of each movie are fairly low quality, having been taken from the laserdisc release of the trilogy back in the 1990s.

Basically that's all you're getting if you buy this new release hoping for something new: a re-release of a letterboxed (NOT anamorphic like just about every DVD produced today is) laserdisc that will not look clean and pristine compared to the more modern prints... to say nothing of how bad these are going to look on a large-screen television.

Star Wars fan though I am, I just can't see how anyone can justify getting these DVDs, if they already have the 2004 trilogy set. Now, if Lucasfilm ever "discovers" good quality prints of the original editions (they claim they were all destroyed in the making of the Special Editions... which would be archival sacrilege if they really allowed that to happen) and makes an archive-quality DVD set of the very first editions of the classic Star Wars trilogy available... well you better believe that I'll be there first in line to buy them all.

But that's not what we're getting today. And there's no reason why we shouldn't be getting them.

So if you haven't already surrendered to temptation, have the courage to hold up... and be content with the 2004 DVDs. I mean really: why would anyone want to buy an exact copy of something they already have?

Since the 26th can't get here fast enough...

There are two big days looming on my calendar during the next couple of months: Election Day on November 7th when we'll see what comes of my school board campaign. And September 26th, which is two weeks from today. I plan on being at the local Wal-Mart at 2 in the morning (gonna give 'em a few hours to get it out on the shelves) to buy "Weird Al" Yankovic's latest album Straight Outta Lynwood. Just 14 days away... and I can hardly wait!!

But while we are waiting, there's plenty of timeless Al stuff to keep us smiling... like this one. Can't believe it's been ten and a half years since this video debuted. Where does all that time go? Well anyway, this is probably not only Al's best video ever, but one of the best music videos of all time. Here it is: from the Bad Hair Day album it's the music video for "Amish Paradise"!

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 + 5 years

Five years ago this morning, a little before 9 AM, I was crashed asleep on the couch in my apartment in Asheville when the phone rang. It was Mom, asking me if I was watching TV. After working the night before and then up 'til late helping with some major news stuff on the website I used to staff on, I'd only gotten to bed around 2 in the morning. So I mumbled something about "no, just woke up". She said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The first thing that came to mind was that it was probably an accident: I was envisioning some small private plane crashing into it, like that military one that hit the Empire State Building years ago. "Accident"... that's what I first thought about.

"And then another plane hit the other tower a few minutes later."


Now, that's no accident.

I could share what happened the rest of the day, but in going over old posts I realized that I'd already written out a really good synopsis of what happened to me that day two years ago, so instead of reiterating it here I'll let you go there and read if you feel led to do so.

But there is one thing from that day that I'll post here: the America Online Instant Messenger chat between "Weird" Ed and I that took place a short while later. I'm still writing from my apartment in this and he's at work. This starts just a few minutes before the towers fell...

Chris: was taking a nap this morning: it was a big night for TFN, we had our TPM DVD coverage. i was taking a nap when Mom called and said to watch this

Chris: now reporting a car bomb exploded outside the State Dept. building

Ed: yeah, I had heard something right before I came back to my office...

Chris: the WTC towers are leaning to one side now

Chris: one might collapse entirely

Ed: I had heard that they have already collapsed...or at least the top sections had

Ed: but I am watching the CSpan feed and wondering why there are so many stupid people in this country

Chris: they're "sheeple"

Chris: they think and say just as they're told to say

Chris: what the...

Chris: ummm did i miss something just now?

Ed: what are you talking about?

Chris: wasn't there a tower there just a few seconds ago?

Ed: *nod* the live feed on CSpan just showed it collapse....like the implosions I have seen on TV..

Chris: i mean... all i'm seeing now is

Ed: the top just fell onto the rest of the building and it went down...

Chris: Ed... oh holy [expletive], smoke's going ALL over the city

Ed: *nod*

Chris: man this is too much. i've never said "f" like that before

Chris: holy [expletive]

Chris: it's...

Chris: Ed are you seeing this?

Chris: we just saw the World Trade Center... just go

Ed: *nod*
There's much, much more from that day. Throughout the day I had AOL IM conversations with Ed, Chad, my Mom, my sister, and my friend Deborah (who I'd only known through the Internet but got to meet her and her family a few months later at Star Wars Celebration II). The only time I left my apartment was to drop in on my two landladies for a bit (by far two of the sweetest ladies I've ever known :-) and then to work in the computers department at the Best Buy in Asheville for a few hours, where the total number of customers we had that day could be numbered on one hand. Then it was back to the apartment where I talked with Chad - who was working at the CNN Building in Atlanta - until past 1 in the morning on the 12th.

I saved every single one of those AIM conversations, just like I've always done. But the ones from that day are particularly... haunting. Someday I'm going to share those with my children, so that they can get an idea of something about what it was that we went through that terrible day. If nothing else even as personal correspondence they're a primary historical source... and I've no doubt there are multitudes of other stories out there from that day.

Anyway, since today's the fifth anniversary I thought that since everyone else is recapping what they were doing that day, that I might as well share my own story. As for any personal commentary, I will only say this: that 9/11 was the greatest criminal act that has ever happened on United States soil that so far has still gone unpunished. Those responsible for it have still not been brought to justice... and probably never will so long as our attention is being directed elsewhere. In the meantime since then, it can only be said that whatever Osama Bin Laden was trying to do in orchestrating the attacks, he was successful... because he made the United States capitulate to him by becoming a nation in fear instead of a nation resolved.

We were angry as hell five years ago today. We should still be angry: at those who did this to us as well as those who exploited it for their own selfish interests. I said it on this blog yesterday and I'll say it again: America is not supposed to be a land that spies on its own people or harasses young and old at airports or does anything else that our founders tried their best to steer us away from.

This isn't the country that existed on September 10th, 2001. And there's no reason why it can't be again, either.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A revelation

It is far easier to change the past from the future than it is to change the future from the past.

How 9/11 could have been prevented (and how to prevent an airline terrorist attack from ever happening again)

Tonight ABC is going to be starting their two-part miniseries The Path to 9/11, which you probably heard is supposed to not reflect all that well on the Clinton Administration in the years leading up to the attack. So Bill Clinton and a lot of Democrats are trying to force ABC to not air the thing at all. This of course is being attacked by the Republicans... who not that long ago were trying (and succeeded) to get CBS to not run a miniseries about Ronald Reagan. I could point out the hypocrisy of the entire situation - regarding everyone involved - but I know now that it would only be an exercise in futility.

So tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I'll probably make a "retrospective" post sometime during the day to reflect on where I was, how I heard about it, the moment the towers collapsed that are eerily recorded in an AOL Instant Messenger conversation between a friend and myself... what a lot of people will probably be doing tomorrow in their own ways.

But right now, I want to talk about something that's been on my mind a lot the past few days: how the 9/11 attacks could have really been stopped from happening at all... and how we could prevent such an attack from ever happening again, if we want it bad enough.

Here's the crux of the problem as I see it, and it's only gotten worse since 9/11: we are too damned dependent on the government to protect us from even the slightest threats. Somewhere along the way we forgot that we are Americans... and that means we're supposed to look after ourselves and each other, without begging Big Brother to do it for us.

Let us be candid: gone are the days when FDR told us that "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." But in the time since 9/11 the refrain has become "Be in fear because they are out to get you!!" The biggest mistake we as Americans made in the days following the attacks was to let the federal government dictate the conditions of our anger and our response to that anger. We let this government - led by a very small man who is a narcissistic exploiter of tragedy - define our identity, instead of it being We The People who determine that for ourselves. The true American response would have been to resolve to punish those who did this to the utmost of our ability and to make a solemn vow that the criminals who did would not, could not, make us change one iota of who we are and how we live.

But that didn't happen. And I've said it before but I'll say it again: Osama Bin Laden won on 9/11, because he made America choose on its own that it would not be the nation its forefathers had built it to be. The America I grew up reading about in history books didn't spy on its own citizens, or harass children and elderly people at airports, or impede travel without "proper papers", or a lot of other things that were only supposed to happen on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Yes, we have freedom of speech and I have liberty to write these words... but once a nation begins to slide even the slightest down the path of fascism, it is very hard indeed for those freedoms to persist indefinitely.

So now you know that I believe that the federal government - led by this presidential administration - has used 9/11 to gradually strip away our liberties. We didn't have to let that happen if we had refused - with force if necessary - to let it exploit this tragedy to cower us even more than Osama did when the planes hit that morning.

The short of it being: we have to stop looking to the federal government to protect us at all. Hell, it can't even secure our border with Mexico... why should we take it at its word that it's going to keep another terrorist attack from happening again?

No, don't look to the federal government. Definitely don't look to the George W. Bush, who has done little else but sell us out since the day he came to Washington.

Look to yourselves instead. The first line of defense in this country isn't its armies or navies or air forces... it's you.

So you want to know how we could have prevented 9/11, and how we can make sure this never, ever happens again? It's really very simple...

Start letting civilians carry firearms on commercial airlines.

Ask yourself this: would Mohammed Atta and the rest of the 9/11 hijackers have been able to overtake a single plane had even one responsible passenger been onboard with a gun? Would they have even considered going through with their suicide missions if it crossed their minds that there might possibly be several armed passengers aboard their intended flights? Certainly the 9/11 hijackers were crazy... but I doubt they would be so insane as to not take that into consideration had there been the slightest threat of retaliation if they tried to pull it off once in the air.

Here's the plan: as a strong believer in the Second Amendment, I hold that the right to bear arms is the most important right we have, because if all else fails it is left to us - in writing, even - to settle what is right by armed might. But I do not believe that just anybody should be allowed to bring a gun aboard a commercial airliner.

So I propose allowing civilians who have proved they are responsible individuals to become licensed as "citizen marshals". Such persons will not be affiliated with any law enforcement agency or the government at all. Being appointed "citizen marshals" merely means that they have no outstanding criminal record, that they possess qualities of good character and are otherwise sound and considerate human beings. Being a citizen marshal would be an unpaid position... but then, anyone wanting to be such a marshal for the right reasons would not want any financial compensation anyway.

Citizen marshals would be the only regular civilians who would be allowed to board commercial passenger planes with a firearm, and adequate ammunition. They could even be given a special badge that designates their status for all to see. Ideally, there would be more than one citizen marshal - with guns - aboard each flight.

The thought of becoming a citizen marshal should not be entertained lightly by anyone, and there should be incentives in place to dissuade those who might potentially abuse their appointments. The penalties for doing so - be it from impersonating a licensed citizen marshal to unholstering a firearm aboard a plane in flight without legitimate caues - should be extremely severe. As much or even more than what we expect from police officers who "cross the line".

But... a flight with an armed citizen marshal or two (or three or four) would be the safest possible airline trip in terms of passenger safety outside of technical malfunctions. Even the mere possibility that a jetliner might have a citizen marshal onboard would automatically make that plane a "poison pill" for anyone contemplating a terrorist act.

Ask yourself again: would Mohammed Atta and his fellow terrorists been so quick to pull out the box-cutters on September 11th, 2001 if the slightest thought entered their minds that not only might they not reach the cockpit, but that they would be shot dead the moment they started trying?

I don't think so. I don't believe that any terrorist - who is hoping for a "successful mission" - would ever try to pull off such an act, if they knew they would be impeded from reaching their goal by the very people they are trying to terrorize.

No, looking to the federal government is not, and will never be, the answer to the question of our safety. We must start looking at ourselves, and decide on our own that we are going to take up the rifle in our own defense against all enemies... be they foreign or domestic.

Citizen marshals: it's an idea well worth considering, I do believe.

Hell, in a sane world, every citizen in this country would be a marshal, anyway.

Why I don't want an iPod

Sales of Apple's iPod are plummeting, according to a story from The Observer. Here's one of the reasons that are discussed...
Although it has sold nearly 60 million actual iPods and a billion downloaded songs worldwide, cracks have begun to appear in the edifice. The Zandl Group, a New York-based trends forecaster which regularly interviews a panel of 3,000 consumers aged 25-35, recently picked up its first significant criticisms. 'The iPod is far and away the most popular tech gadget with our panellists - however, for the first time we are hearing negative feedback about the iPod from some panellists,' said the organisation's spokeswoman, Carla Avruch. 'Panellists cite that the batteries are not replaceable, so when they die the entire player must be replaced,' she said. 'We have heard from some conspiracy theorists that the batteries are made to die soon after the warranty ends.
This is the #1 reason why I refuse to invest any good money in an iPod. For it to not have a replaceable battery is one of the most insane business decisions I've ever seen, right up there with the conscious choice by Sony to make the Betamax VCR not able to record more than an hour of television. I don't know why Steve Jobs and the other suits at Apple haven't considered the fact that consumers would gladly buy extra batteries for their iPods for a myriad of reasons... not the least of which is being able to have a spare or two handy for when the iPod runs out of juice on long trips. Or when the iPod battery runs out after two measly hours of watching video like a couple episodes of Lost. There's no reason in the world why anyone should be robbed of this obvious convenience. But I guess in the world according to Apple, nobody is supposed to ever be more than a few hours away from a readily available electrical outlet.

(I guess Apple doesn't want the extra $$$ that selling spare batteries would generate, either.)

Hey Apple guys: offer us an iPod with user-replaceable batteries, and I will gladly reconsider striking it from my Christmas wish list. In the meantime, I'm perfectly happy with my 20 GB Dell Pocket DJ MP3 player. Yeah, it might not have a replaceable battery either... but its able to hold a charge much longer than the iPod. And I might add that after a year and a half of using it, I haven't noticed any degradation of battery output at all, and I use it plenty often enough. Might be worth thinking about getting a Pocket DJ if you're hot to get an MP3 player while manufacturers twiddle their thumbs on giving us replaceable batteries.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Peter the YouTuber talks about S-E-X

"geriatric1927", also known as Peter the British pensioner, is at it again... and you won't buh-leeeeeve what he's telling us about this time! An absolute must-see if for no other reason than for how he grabs your attention within the first 15 seconds of video. Has Peter finally gone too far?! Nah, I don't think so: he's actually very polite when he talks about how the subject was handled in the youth of his generation. I will say this though: Peter the YouTuber has officially replaced Isaac Asimov as "The Sensuous Dirty Old Man" :-P

Friday, September 08, 2006

AGAIN?! Now "Canadian Idiot" by Weird Al hits online

For the second time in 24 hours, a song from "Weird Al" Yankovic's upcoming Straight Outta Lynwood album has appeared online. A little while ago somebody (that I haven't been able to recognize from any previous correspondence) sent me a very high-quality MP3 of "Canadian Idiot", Weird Al's parody of Green Day's "American Idiot". Last night it was "White and Nerdy" that appeared on Chamillionaire's Myspace page. And the other week Al released "Don't Download This Song" (as a legitimate free download of all things). At this rate we're going to have every track on Straight Outta Lynwood available over the Internet by the end of next week.

So what's "Canadian Idiot" like? It's a spot-on spoof of the original by Green Day, poking fun at everything stereotypical Canadian from hockey to beer to guns. I like it a lot (then again I like just about everything Weird Al does so I might be biased a bit :-) I just hope that this is the last song from the new album that gets leaked before the CD's street date: I mean, there has to be something fresh to make us ought to want to buy the album that much more, right?

Look at it if you wanna

No way am I going to post the pictures of this thing here. It wigs me out too much to even think about it. But in case anyone's interested: "Weird" Ed found an... interesting... collection of photographs. What they are of is anyone's guess. Here's the blog post he made on his Myspace page about it. You can find more images from the link he's got there. I'm warning ya though: I took one look and the first words out of my mouth were "Ye gods... what the hell IS that thing?!" If you have nightmares tonight after taking a gander, don't say I didn't warn you.

How SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE should have REALLY ended

Too funny...

EDIT 8:19 AM EST: I just found where this video originated from. It's a site called How It Should Have Ended and there's even MORE hilarious stuff to be watched over there. You just have to see this one for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory...

Forty years ago today...

...a little television show called Star Trek debuted.

Live long and prosper.

(P.S.: the original show will always be cool.)

ANOTHER new Weird Al song makes its way online!

Wow... "Weird Al" Yankovic really needs to slow down these online releases or else we'll have heard all the songs on his next album by the time it comes out on the 26th :-) Without any kind of announcement about it or anything the first track from Straight Outta Lynwood - the parody of Chamillionaire's "Ridin'" titled "White and Nerdy" - is on Chamillionaire's Myspace page right now! So far I've listened to it about three times and it's playing again now. I was really wrong though: I was so sure this song was going to be about Napoleon Dynamite. But it's still pretty funny. This could have been my theme song when I was in high school :-P

Thursday, September 07, 2006

That's gotta hurt

The above photograph is that of a cell phone lodged in the intestines of an inmate in an El Salvador maximum security prison. Here's the story via Yahoo!...
Cell phones found inside four prisoners
Wed Sep 6, 10:57 PM ET

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador - Cellular telephones were found inside four prisoners in El Salvador's maximum-security prison, authorities said Wednesday.

The discovery was made Tuesday at the prison in Zacatecoluca, in central El Salvador, after suspicious officials took X-rays of each of the inmates, federal corrections chief Jaime Villanova said.

The names of the prisoners, all members of the dangerous Mara Salvatrucha gang, were not released in order to avoid jeopardizing an ongoing investigation that began a month ago, he said.

Capt. Juan Ramon Arevalo, director of the prison known as Zacatras, said the gang members had introduced the cell phones, wrapped in plastic bags, into their bodies through their anuses. Authorities also found nine cell phone chips and one charger.

"Each one had a cellular with a number of chips," Arevalo said, adding that one also had hidden a charger in his anal cavity.

The inmates allegedly used cell phones to direct criminal activities on the street from inside the prison, Arevalo said. The smuggled phones were found during an investigation at prisons throughout the country amid complaints from business owners of extortion by gang members.

Prisoners change phone chips frequently to avoid being traced, Arevalo said.

The police have doubled their security levels to combat the criminals.

Makes you wonder how painful this thing is if it's set on "vibrate".