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Saturday, June 30, 2007

RACE TO THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: The Chamber of Secrets is now closed

Starting with this past Monday night, I have resolved to re-read the entire Harry Potter series, as a lead-up to the release of the seventh and final book - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - now three weeks away. Early Thursday morning I finished the first book. And about ten minutes ago I completed the second chapter: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Funny thing: for awhile I've thought that Chamber of Secrets was the weakest of the Harry Potter series by far. Having read it again, in light of everything I know from the subsequent novels... well, I definitely have newfound respect for the second book. There was a lot of stuff that J.K. Rowling put right in plain sight, years before it was picked-up on again. The vanishing cabinet that plays such a major role in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? There it was the whole time... along with its sister cabinet. Other stuff that may or may not be important by the time the saga concludes: things about death and ghosts that I caught in the chapters about Nearly-Headless Nick's "deathday party" and why Moaning Myrtle chose to haunt the toilet. There is something in Chapter Ten, "The Rogue Bludger", that made me do a double-take. The Horcruxes? Rowling put them right in front of us too, still way early in the series. This lady is the modern master of Chekov's Rule of Drama. And there were a few other things too that I caught this time, that I might write about as an edit to this post later.

So in less than five days, I've re-read the first two Harry Potter books. Up next is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the one that I've re-read more times than any other Harry Potter book (what can I say but that I'm a huge fan of Sirius Black). I might have that finished by Monday. And that will be the last of the "easy riding" because the next three books after that each weigh in excess of 700 pages at least. And there's now only 20 days left.

But, I've conquered worse. This will get done in time for Book 7 :-)

George W. Bush's most savage sin of all

After more than six years of George W. Bush being President, it still hadn't hit me about what has been the most absolutely horrible atrocity he has committed during his time in the White House. And then today I read "The Worst Tragedy Of The Bush Presidency" by Christian minister Chuck Baldwin... and it hits me like an anvil between the eyes:

George W. Bush has almost completely destroyed sincere Christianity's foothold in America. And in its place, Bush has allowed a blasphemous god of power to take the place of Christ in the hearts of many, many professing believers: idolatry on an unprecedented scale.

Here is some of what Chuck Baldwin says in his piece...

... the worst tragedy of the Bush presidency lies with something even deeper and more permanent (if that is possible). The worst tragedy of the Bush presidency is the damage he has done to the image and influence of Christianity. It is no hyperbole to say that George W. Bush has done more to demean and mitigate the positive influence of genuine Christianity than any single person in American history. And I do not say that lightly.

Because George W. Bush successfully portrayed himself as the ultimate Christian president, his life and policies are indelibly linked to the very definition of what it means to be a Christian in public office. The Religious Right also share in this perception, as they almost universally and totally gave their allegiance to Bush. Hence, as far as most Americans are concerned, George W. Bush is a Christian, and, therefore, his philosophies and ideas are assumed to be Christian as well. THIS IS A TRAGEDY OF UTMOST PROPORTIONS!

For example, Bush has reshaped Christianity to include the acceptance of torture, the launching of unprovoked, preemptive (not to mention undeclared) war, the denial of constitutional rights to American citizens (whose legal status may be redefined at the whim of the President), the doctrine of religious egalitarianism (Bush repeatedly declared, "Christians and Muslims worship the same god"), the neglect and even repudiation of constitutional government (by his repeated refusal to allow the Executive branch to be held accountable to congressional scrutiny or judicial oversight), and the inattention to secure borders and national sovereignty (through his infatuation with providing amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and his unilateral decision to merge America into regional, hemispheric political and commercial entities).

As a result, not only do non-Christians look askance at Christianity, many genuine Christians have had their entire philosophy regarding Biblical principles uprooted and redefined. Worse still, many Christians have, either wittingly or unwittingly, chosen to adopt Bush's brand of Christianity, and in so doing, have abandoned genuine Bible Christianity.

There is much more at the essay's link.

Trust me: if you are the kind of Christian who, as Stanley Hauerwas has put it understands that "the God of God and Country is not the God of Jesus Christ", then prepare to be filled with righteous anger after reading this piece.

If I were a character on THE SIMPSONS ...

A few months ago it was "Chris as a South Park character". Now today, after all of these years of dreaming and courtesy of The Simpsons Movie website, I am finally a character from The Simpsons! Looks pretty much like me, right down to that weird bit of hair on the right-hand side of my forehead that does its own thing without going one way or the other on the part (it's not so pronounced just after a haircut but after a few weeks you really see it). My Simpsons avatar is also wearing denim jeans (my usual style) and dark brown shoes which are meant to be my hiking boots. Lisa thinks that brown and green are my best colors, so I colored "my" shirt brown. And since I'm somewhat of a "fight the status quo" sort, I put the upraised fist/sign of defiance on my shirt.

Pretty nifty, eh? Head over to the movie's site to register an account and you too can be a Simpsons character! Thanks to Shane Thacker (who doesn't look too shabby as a Simpsons 'toon either) for the great find!

TRIBULATION HOUSE: Whacked (and wicked funny) Christian novel is a must-read!

A short while after finishing my review of Kingdom Come (thank heaven that's the last we'll ever see of Left Behind... hopefully) I found out about another book that was coming out around the same time. This one also dealt with Pre-Tribulation Rapture theology, but with a twist: it's story was about what happens when Christians obsess about the Rapture to the point of ignoring the work that God has provided to occupy ourselves with until He does come. That alone would have piqued my interest. That the book's page on Amazon described it as a "quirky apocalyptic gangster novel" only fueled my desire to know more. And that this was a Christian satire novel that was - gasp! - said to be uproariously funny settled it in my mind: I absolutely had to read Tribulation House by Chris Well.

It wasn't until two days ago that I found a copy: at the Books A Million in the Concord Mills Mall. Tribulation House is such a genre-bending story that most bookstores, even Christian ones, don't seem to have it in stock. They should though: especially the Christian outlets like LifeWay and Family Christian. With Tribulation House, Chris Well proves that Christian fiction can not only be rollickin' good entertainment when it really wants to be, but that it can share profound wisdom and insight that leaves a person more enlightened for the time spent reading it.

Did I mention already that Tribulation House is also the most hilarious Christian novel that I've ever read?

Did I also say that after the dreck that Left Behind became, that Tribulation House is the most spiritually refreshing Christian fiction that I've read in a very long time?

I can't believe how much more I hate Left Behind now. Not just that series, but a lot of stuff on the "Christian culture" front. We should be giving God nothing short of our best efforts, in everything that we do. Including the entertainment we create. Instead for years now we've had this bass-ackwards approach where we give a blunt-force sermon some thin veneer of "enjoyment" and then expect people to be hooked by The Message, as if that is what's going to draw the crowds. Except it doesn't work and those we are trying to witness to only end up laughing at us that much more. But I'm beginning to sense that a lot of Christians have realized what we're doing wrong, and are now actively working to do something about it. The recent movie Facing the Giants (read my review here) and now Chris Well's Tribulation House "get" it. And I'm especially glad that Well makes a good commentary about that in his novel: maybe others will pick up on it also.

Tribulation House has a number of storylines, at the center of which is Reverend Daniel Glory, the prominent minister of a Kansas City church. Reverend Glory has confidently announced to the world that he has calculated the exact date and time of the Rapture: on October 17th at 5:51 a.m., Jesus will come for the true believers. Which is joyful news for church member Mark Hogan. And since his days on Earth are numbered, why not enjoy them a bit? Hogan immediately begins an insane spending spree that culminates in his lust for a $22,428 dream boat... which he can't get right away because his credit was declined at the showroom. No worries, figures Hogan: he'll just borrow the money he needs from the mob. Then he can buy his boat and enjoy clear sailing right up to the Rapture. And when Jesus comes, he'll be in Heaven and won't have to fret about the gangsters coming to collect what he owes them. And that's exactly what Mark Hogan does.

And then the Rapture doesn't happen. And the details of Pre-Tribulation theology aren't something that organized crime figures usually care to hear about.

Rife with slick dialogue and rich in pop-culture references, Tribulation House is an engrossing tale about family squabbling, Mid-West mafiosos, urban politics, whodunit murder, and an American brand of Christianity that's much too fixated on the Second Coming for its own good. With that much craziness poured into one book, Tribulation House can't help but be a joy to read. This wasn't just the funniest Christian fiction I've read: Tribulation House was one of the funniest books that I've ever read! And the part of me that seeks out opportunity for spiritual growth in this kind of literature... well, I finished Tribulation House feeling quite satiated on that front, too. Chris Well seems to be a Christian writer who is seriously tuned-in to my wavelength (which may or may not be a good thing): some things that he writes about in Tribulation House, in a lot of ways they affirmed a number of things that I've thought about lately. I definitely feel blessed in that regard to have read his book.

Chris Well is the Elmore Leonard of Christian fiction. I don't know if Christian literature realized it had such a vacuum, but I am thrilled beyond belief to discover that Well has found it and filled it. This isn't Well's first book, nor will it be his last: Tribulation House ends with an opening for a sequel, and apparently this is Well's third book set in Kansas City featuring two police detectives - Griggs and Pasch - who investigate organized crime. I will definitely now seek out Forgiving Solomon Long and Deliver Us from Evelyn, along with his next volume when it comes out. I especially like the character of Charlie Pasch, who I identified with a lot so far as Christian struggles go. And in regards to Hank Barton, the candidate for public office in a race filled with over a dozen characters and who also has a wife named Lisa... well, let's just say that my jaw dropped more than a few times at reading about what he goes through (see my posts about running for school board if you want the full skinny).

The last really good novel that I remember reading was Michael Crichton's Next (you can also read my review of that here), and after that has been a six-month run of turkeys like Hannibal Rising and Empire (which was ESPECIALLY disappointing for me, given that it was an Orson Scott Card novel) and Kingdom Come (the Left Behind book by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, not the DC Comics graphic novel masterpiece). Tribulation House by Chris Well finally breaks the streak. I give the biggest props that I can muster to this book. Absolutely recommended!

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK remake script gets amazingly positive early review!

We've known for a few months now that New Line was remaking Escape from New York, this time with Gerard Butler as Snake Plissken (the role in the original that's probably most responsible for catapulting Kurt Russell to fame). I really liked Butler's portrayal as Leonidas in 300 but all the same: an Escape from New York remake? That's one of my favorite movies of all time, in spite of how "dated" it now is.

I've thought for awhile that a remake wasn't necessary: that John Carpenter or somebody should just "enhance" the original. So much did I think this was a good idea that a year ago I attempted my own "re-edit" of the 1982 original movie. The "Chris Knight edit" was going to be more timeless, set during a vague point in time in a post-9/11 world. I managed to "tweak" the audio so that Hauk tells Snake that he's landing the glider atop Trump Tower (since the World Trade Center was no longer there). And I was able to completely remove the center's twin towers from the shot where we first see the city after rising over the wall. But the most complete that the project got was the "retouched" script, which I just worked to update some details. Other than that, it was the very same story. And I haven't wanted that to be messed with one bit.

Well, guess what...

Merrick over at Ain't It Cool News wound up with a draft of the script for the Escape from New York remake. And what does Merrick have to say about this project?

...let's concentrate on my theory about what legitimizes a remake…or what ingredients make for a "successful" remake. From my perspective, there are two factors that might make a remake worthwhile:

1) Do the current filmmakers demonstrate a respect for/understanding of the source material they're drawing from?

2) Do whatever NEW elements filmmakers bring to a remake a) Feel like organic extensions of the story they’re remaking, or b) Help realize qualities that couldn’t be brought to the screen the first time around (due to budgetary limitations, social restraints, or... whatever)?

Which brings us back to the script for New Line's currently-in-development remake of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Does it meet the above criteria? Surprisingly enough... bewilderingly enough... and I never thought I'd say this... ever... SO FAR... YES!!!

There are spoilers galore in his review. If you don't want to read those, let me put it this way: after reading Merrick's take on this, if this is the direction that they're taking with redoing Escape from New York, then this is one movie that I am absolutely anticipating as much as any other. The new Escape from New York sounds as if it's going to be among the most faithful and respectful to the original material out of all the remakes that we've seen too much of in recent years.

I just can't begin to say how excited I am all of a sudden for this movie! So count Escape from New York as a movie that I'll be making period reports about between now and it's premiere.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Firehouse Subs: One HOT sandwich shop!

Yesterday afternoon Lisa and I were in the area around Concord Mills Mall in Concord, North Carolina and we decided it would be a good time to get something to eat. On the south/east side across I-85 from the mall, she got a burger from Wendy's and I spotted a place called Firehouse Subs. Since I'm something of a submarine sandwich connoisseur, I decided to give Firehouse a shot.

I'm glad that I did! Firehouse Subs is a fairly new chain out of Jacksonville, Florida. It has the distinction of being the only food franchise that I know of that's founded by firemen. One consequence of that is that Firehouse Subs has a great firefighting motif around the place... and judging by how the company presents itself on its website, it takes a lot of sincere pride in that and pays much homage to those of the firefighting profession.

I ordered the Italian Sub, minus mustard and mayo (a real Italian submarine in my book uses either oil and vinegar or some kind of Italian dressing, not mustard or mayonnaise). It took a little longer to make the sandwich than, say, a place like Subway does, but that's because like Quizno's they cook the meat at Firehouse. That gave me time to look around the place: as I alluded to already, there's a firefighting decor in the place. The soft drinks were Pepsi products and I got a large Mug root beer (a great root beer that I can only find in sandwich places around here, not in cans or bottles). And while waiting for my sandwich to be finished I noticed something: running practically the full length of the counter, Firehouse Subs has just about every brand of commercially available hot sauce. Including two varieties of Dave's Insanity! Which I have never tried before but have heard all kinds of wild tales about, like how it's supposed to burn the skin on your arm if you drip any on it. They sell most of these sauces at Firehouse, too. I wound up buying a bottle of Dave's Ultimate Insanity. Expect a full report on this soon... if I dare open the bottle.

And then my sandwich was finished and brought to me. How was it?

Exceptionally delicious!

I hope and pray that we get a Firehouse Subs somewhere in the Greensboro area soon. But until then, whenever we're around the Concord area, I'm going to make it a point to stop by Firehouse Subs and get a sandwich. We like going to the mall there every now and then already, and knowing about this new sandwich joint is going to make the two-hour drive there that much more terrific to look forward to!

Why I don't want an iPhone

Among other things, the battery in the iPhone is non-replaceable. The thing is built into the iPhone, just as the battery is sealed inside Apple's iPod and cannot be replaced by the user (or at least not without voiding the warranty).

That's plenty enough reason to not desire an iPhone. The mark of a truly useful gizmo is how hassle-free it is. And after a year of use, I do not want to have to send off my iPhone for a new battery (if Apple will even allow for that, considering how this seems to be intended to force you to buy the latest iPhone at that point) when I am more than perfectly capable of swapping out a battery myself. There's no need to handicap the user's ability to do something that is routine practice.

Besides, six hundred bucks for a telephone seems more than a bit... extravagant.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

New vlog entry: America needs new heroes

Another in what is threatening to become a regular series of "vlog" entries. This one was inspired by today's vote in the Senate which killed amnesty for illegal aliens... for now. But in this I also go into how America has a serious need for a new generation of leaders to take the reins from the ones who have been exploiting her for too long:


On Monday evening I started reading all of the Harry Potter books, in the lead-up to the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in just over three week's time. A short while ago I finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, the first novel in the series. That's about the fourth time that I've read that book and if this rate keeps up, I should definitely have the other five done in time for the seventh and final chapter of the Potter saga.

Next up is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which is probably my least-favorite of the entire series. But in light of what we've come to know of Voldemort in the subsequent books, maybe there'll be something new that I'll catch this time in reading it again, in that light. Anyways, I'll start reading that later today (it's way early in the morning now, so I'm gonna catch some ZZZs for now).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Norman "Firehat" Liebmann unloads on Bush the "Megamoron"

Of all the writers on the 'net that I've made a habit of regularly reading - and there aren't that many, truth be known - few have held my admiration longer than has Norman Liebmann, AKA "Firehat". Liebmann is the guy who created the classic television series The Munsters, among other things. And he's always had a rapier-like wit that he'll turn loose on anything deserving of derision. Well, today he tears into George W. Bush, with a wrath that can only be called legendary. A very brief sample:
In trying to fathom the immigration policy of George W. Bush, if we rule out treason, stupidity becomes the default explanation – and an explanation that is not an excuse. It is remarkable that anyone as trivial as Bush can manage to provoke such hostility. Bush traveled the world as a President and returned as a refugee.
Mash down here for more.

Possible crater from the Tunguska blast found

Researchers from the University of Bologna in Italy have identified what might be a crater from the Tunguska blast in 1908. The alleged crater is a bowl-shaped lake that seems to be a recent geological feature. There's evidence of buried rock beneath the lake that could have come from an asteroid or cometary remnant. And a few other details seem to jibe well, too. Very cool stuff if this bears out: the Tunguska event is perhaps the most frustrating natural disaster in modern history, since it was two decades before the Russians were able to send a team out to study the site. We still don't know what happened that day, 'cept it was detected as far away as England and it knocked horses plum off their legs for hundreds of miles around.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

First "vlog" with YouTube quick capture

First time recording a video straight to YouTube with my webcam and microphone. This may or may not be a "regular feature" on this blog (obviously "Crapshoot with Chris Knight" didn't get far, but I might just save that for "big" stuff)...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Every Harry Potter book ... in less than a month

A few weeks from now on July 21st, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - the seventh and final chapter of the Harry Potter saga - will be published. We pre-ordered our copy last week. On the night of July 20th (which ironically will be me and Lisa's fifth wedding anniversary) we'll be at the Border's bookstore on High Point Road in Greensboro to be part of the midnight festivities, just as we did two years ago. I'm considering putting together some sort of costume for the night, which will be the first one I've done for a Harry Potter character. But who to go as? My first inclination is to go as Professor Severus Snape, since my dark black gown from high school graduation looks perfect for the role. Except that if I show up as Snape I'll probably get lynched and killed on the spot by a gang of angry adolescents.

In the meantime, with twenty-five days to go, I'm going to take a stab at reading all of the Harry Potter books, leading right up to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ...

So that will wind up being every Harry Potter book in the space of a month. I'm going to start later tonight with the first book: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. Can I do it? My friend Jenna Olwin started on May 31st so she's got a way head start. Hope I can catch up with her in time. And the plan is to take down notes of things that I'm going to notice this time around: seemingly small details that may or may not have significance in the last novel. I'll be posting reports here as I finish each book :-)

So now I've joined the mob on Facebook ...

Yegads, that place is even creepier than Myspace! Don't know how much time I'll ever spend on there but if you can find me on there, give me a holler.

BLADE RUNNER and THE THING are a quarter-century old today

Twenty-five years ago today, two movies debuted in theaters: Blade Runner and The Thing.

Personally, I think these are two of the most classic movies ever made. That a quarter-century later we are still debating so much about each of these films should say something about their timelessness. For what it's worth, I've never thought that Deckard was a Replicant in Blade Runner. I'm really looking forward to the definitive release of this movie on DVD (including Ridley Scott's "final cut") later this fall. And so far as the ending of The Thing - to this day the scariest movie that I ever saw - goes, well... it speaks for what the whole movie is about. To me, The Thing was less about the alien than it was about the paranoia among the crew of the research station. By the way, if you want to know more about The Thing, I know of no finer resource on the 'net than the excellent Outpost #31.

Thanks to Ain't It Cool News for reminding us of today's anniversaries!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Portraits of my girl and me

Back in November, a few weeks after the election, Lisa and I had some formal portrait photos made: the first since our engagement pics a few years ago. We've had these all this time but our scanner was broken and it wasn't until this past week that we got another one.

Anyhoo, here's Lisa and me...

The Knight Shift breaks 400,000 visits

In the last little while this blog has had its 400,000th visitor. Kewlness!! :-)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ron Paul supporters VS. Fred Thompson supporters on Meetup

Fred Thompson is supposed to officially announce he's running for President next week. Right now he's the darling of the Republican head honchos, and of a mainstream press that, as I have noted many times on this blog, is too lazy and more interested in maintaining the status quo than doing anything that might jeopardize that. And if you were to listen to them, you would believe that there is this "massive groundswell" of support for Fred Thompson out in the public.

Okay well...

Credit denvervoipguru on the Ron Paul Forums for finding this. It's the current number of people using the website Meetup to "meet up" and coordinate activities promoting their favorite candidates.

Here are Fred Thompson's "meetups":

And here are Ron Paul's "meetups":

Fred Thompson has 72 Members. Ron Paul has 14,673. Fred Thompson has 5 cities represented on Meetup... whereas Ron Paul has 323. There is one event being organized through Meetup for Fred Thompson supporters, while Ron Paul's have 482.

And yet according to most of the stateside press, all of this Ron Paul vibe is being generated by, at most, a couple hundred enthusiasts who live in their parents' basements, don't have girlfriends and are too dumb to realize that they are "throwing their vote away".

So I have to ask: on the level playing field that is the Internet, where is a comparative amount of support for Fred Thompson or any other candidate, as opposed to that which seems evident for Ron Paul? I mean, it seems that if Fred Thompson's support is this vast, that it would certainly approximate that of a "second tier candidate", doesn't it?

If anyone has an explanation for this discrepancy, I would love to know what it is.

Happy Birthday Phillip!

Word on the street is that today is Phillip Arthur's birthday (or maybe it's tomorrow, I forget which day exactly). Phillip is one of the coolest cats that I know and one of the most darned creative fellas I've ever known. So here's wishin' ya a Happy Birthday, Phillip :-)

Friday, June 22, 2007

I'm getting tired of seeing this "Old Indy" crap

Yesterday on the official Indiana Jones website, this photo - taken by Steven Spielberg - was posted, the first in more than 14 years of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones:

Ford looks great! I never had any doubts that he would fit back into the role again. But showing this pic ain't the reason I'm making this post. I'm here 'cuz I'm completely fed-up with this "age-ism" nonsense.

Just about everywhere that I've seen this photo or otherwise heard about the next Indiana Jones movie being talked about, I see where he's referred to as "Old Indy". Look people, he is not "Old Indy". He is an older Indiana Jones... just like you and I are gradually getting older... but other than being old-er, what differentiates this Indy from the one we first saw in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Yeah, older, maybe a little wiser, more developed as a person (as experience is supposed to do for anyone) but this doesn't make him somehow less of a person. Fercryingoutloud, didn't anyone see George Hall's portrayal of 93-year old Indy in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles? Even that on up in years, Indy is doing stuff like sliding down stair railings and driving fast cars and is still hot with the chicks. That was the very same Indy that we've seen and will see again at younger stages of life: the years have changed him a little, but this is still the same guy.

It's like this: we get older. None of us can escape that. But we don't get "old" unless we really want to be. If we really believe the world when it tells us that we are "old". And Indiana Jones is a character who will never get old.

That said, I am definitely looking forward to seeing Harrison Ford as the older Indiana Jones come next May.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Die before you die ..."

Regular readers of this blog will have probably caught the slight edit that I made on this page last week. It's the quote nestled between the header and the main body:
"Die before you die. There is no chance after."

-- from Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

The very first time I read that, it was four days before Lisa and I were married (and you wouldn't believe what book I found it in). So it's been almost five years that I've had to think about it. But it's only been in recent months, and especially the past few weeks, that I've come to understand what it really means...

I wish I had known this a long time ago. Especially when I was in college. There are some who might read this who will understand what I mean by that. It was something that I couldn't even vaguely comprehend back then. But now that I have, now that the wonder and majesty of understanding has sunk in...

...It is as though I have been re-born. Again.

"Die before you die. There is no chance after."

I can think of nothing so beautiful or poetic that encapsulates, in so few words, the freedom and boldness and zest for life that comes with seeking after God and His will, as that quote.

Ten years ago, from some of the wisest people that I have ever known, I first heard of something that was a very alien term for me at the time: "Dying to self".

It's taken me all of these ten years to fully grasp what that means. And now that I have...

Anything is possible.

My dear friend Jenna Olwin is one of the contributors at Silhouette. It's a blog of Christian writing from people mostly in the state of Washington. The other day I read Justin's most recent entry, "Mourning Eve". In one of the most poignant and touching essays that I've ever read, Justin writes about the loss of his mother this past year. I wrote something like this once some years ago, after my beloved grandmother died. But where our essays deviate wildly apart is that Justin is a far better writer than I will ever be, for his expression of an amazing understanding and hope that can only come from the depths of a profound wellspring of faith...

It appears that most Christians jump ahead of themselves, not in promise but in ignorance and fear, and forget that one of the necessary ingredients for resurrection is death. [If you're about to make a comment using the words rapture or second coming, you've already missed the point.] This trivialization has the same applicable effect as talking about forgiveness without talking about sin.

Getting a glimpse at the genuineness of death stretches your faith. I'm still dealing with some anger and bitterness issues [the loss of a mother, a widowed father, a yet to be child that will miss out on a rockin' grandma, etc.] but have an increased hope in how majestic victory over death must be. As a follower of Christ, a universalistic afterlife dependent upon personal merit is out of the question. Fallen by nature and beautiful by design we are – but our beauty won't save us. However, the truth of the grace of Jesus, which is bigger than my own Christianity, is something to hold onto. We need a savior... and that Savior needs to be as real as death.

This world is dying. The world dies because it lusts to stay alive according to its own terms. Ironic, isn't it? That the more this world struggles to hold onto what it has, it just keeps losing more and more.

We are dying. Each and every one of us. We die in flesh, but most of all we die in spirit when we let our fear overtake us...

...and the world dies a little more for it.

We cannot escape our fate. But in crucifying the old self, we can let die our fear of death and fully embrace that life which God has given us. Die to self, and God will free you to accomplish anything.

"It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high."

Some might say that there is little to choose between the two ways. But there is all the difference in the world.

Die before you die. So that you may know what it means to live.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Why Iowa Christian Alliance and other "evangelical conservatives" won't support Ron Paul

There is going to be a forum for presidential candidates in Des Moines on June 30th sponsored by Iowans for Tax Relief, and a group called Iowa Christian Alliance. And most of the Republican candidates will be present. Except for Ron Paul. Why?

Here's the word from the Ron Paul campaign blog:

Ron Paul Excluded in Iowa

Iowans for Tax Relief and Iowa Christian Alliance will host a presidential candidates forum on Saturday, June 30th in Des Moines. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, Tommy Thompson, and Tom Tancredo will participate.

Ron Paul, however, will not participate. Why? Because he wasn't invited.

We heard about this forum from numerous supporters in Iowa who asked why Dr. Paul was not going to participate. Those supporters assumed that Dr. Paul was invited.

The campaign office had not received an invitation so we called this morning; thinking we might have misplaced the invitation or simply overlooked it. Lew Moore, our campaign manager, called Mr. Edward Failor, an officer of Iowans for Tax Relief, to ask about it. To our shock, Mr. Failor told us Dr. Paul was not invited; he was not going to be invited; and he would not be allowed to participate. And when asked why, Mr. Failor refused to explain. The call ended.

Lew then called Mr. Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Christian Alliance, to talk with him. Mr. Scheffler did not answer so Lew left a message. He has yet to respond.

Why are the Iowans for Tax Relief and the Iowa Christian Alliance excluding the one Republican candidate who scored at the top of every online poll taken after the MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN debates? Why are they denying Iowans the opportunity to hear from the Republican presidential candidate whose popularity is growing by the day?

Just out of curiosity, I went to the website for Iowa Christian Alliance. And it's pretty much what I was expecting. They're an off-shoot from (but now unaffiliated with) the Christian Coalition. Actually I learned a lot about Iowa Christian Alliance's priorities just by the visual cues on the front page of their website.

And now I understand why it is that Iowa Christian Alliance will not invite Ron Paul to their presidential forum...

Because Ron Paul doesn't favor military interventionism that figures so well into a lot of evangelical Christian pre-trib Rapture fantasies that have guided American foreign policy more than you really want to know.

(And I say this as a follower of Christ, and one who has lived most of his life being exposed in one form or another to this mentality.)

You have to understand something about the kind of mindset that is working against Ron Paul so far as "right-wing Republicans" go. There are two "brands" of evangelical Christian conservative thought going on in America. One - the really nasty one, is Christian Reconstructionism, sometimes called Dominion Theology. And its adherents believe that they must gain absolute control over the Earth before Christ returns. They hold that their purpose is to "prepare" the world for the Lord's coming, and make it ready for Him to govern. To that end, they often make it quite clear that they want to institute capital punishment for things like homosexuality and abortion and even "disrespect to parents", if they gain power over systems of government. I doubt this movement will ever gain serious traction.

The other one, Dominionism (not to be confused with Dominion Theology, we'll get into why they are different in a minute), has had an enormous influence on American politics for going on forty years now.

This is the kind of theology taught by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and now continued largely by people like James Dobson and D. James Kennedy. Where Dominionism differs from Dominion Theology is that Dominion Theology/Christian Reconstructionism tends to greatly believe in a post-millennial "end of the world", hence its emphasis on "preparing" the world for Christ's return. The more popular Dominionism that was spread in the modern era by Falwell and Robertson preaches that the Rapture must take place first, then a period of tribulation and then Christ's millennial kingdom.

There are some things that the two movements have quite in common. Achieving temporal power is the most obvious. This lust for political power is so pronounced that it often seems that preaching the Kingdom of Heaven as Christ taught about is a distantly second priority... if it's even a priority at all.

Oh very well, I'll go ahead and say it: too many Christians in America have made "winning elections" a far more important thing than living the life that Christ has called us to live. And that is partly why America is suffering as she is: because a lot of Christians have prostituted their principles for a fleeting measure of glory. But I digress...

But in addition to this desire for political power, Dominionism also has a terrible obsession with the Apocalypse. Probably because they have a fear of death (which they shouldn't really) and want to avoid it via the Rapture. And more than most people really know, even with the popularity of books like Left Behind and other Rapture media, there are a LOT of folks who want nothing more than for Armageddon to come... and they think that God isn’t moving fast enough so they feel obliged to "help" Him out.

This is something that they have been actively working toward for years, now. All those young people from Regent University that are working in the Bush Administration: ever wonder "why Regent?" Because Regent was founded by Pat Robertson with the express purpose of training young evangelical Christians to someday "change the world" but a more accurate statement might be to "control the world". And the reason why "evangelical conservatives" flock to support George W. Bush, will steadfastly refuse to abandon him even in spite of all evidence that his is the worst presidency in American history?

Because they sincerely believe that George W. Bush has been anointed by God to set events into motion that will work to usher in the End Times.

Incidentally, this is exactly why these same "evangelical" types are so hot to support Israel no matter what: part of pre-tribulation teaching is that Israel will be largely destroyed before the Second Coming. These people are eager to help Israel so that it will be wiped out! But lobbying groups like AIPAC don't mind why these people believe what they do, so long as these lobbyists can keep employing these "useful idiots". But that's a whole 'nother post for a later time.

All of this is why these same people, in the next presidential election, will be quick to support the most military-interventionist-minded Republican candidate that they can find (I'm assuming they will probably love Fred Thompson now, especially in light of his remarks about going after Iran). Because supporting him, in their minds, will be part of the great plan that they have been working on for decades now. Have invested their children's lives in helping it come about, even...

...and Ron Paul would absolutely wreck all of it, if he were to be President.

Ron Paul would bring the most realistic foreign policy to the White House that we’ve seen since... well, since Reagan at least (and even there some will argue that many policies of that administration were influenced too much by the pre-trib thought as well). Paul definitely WON'T be guided by delusions that he is being led by God to do something apocalyptic with the Middle-East. That's also why the Bush camp would rather Paul go down: Ron Paul's success would repudiate the entire illusion that George W. Bush has somehow been "favored of God" all this time.

And if it's not bad enough that Ron Paul would postpone the Apocalypse, his belief in a strict interpretation of the Constitution plays major havoc with the "evangelical conservative" belief that it must seize power over people's lives in order to create a "moral" country. Just as Ron Paul would be and is now shunned by "liberals" who want more government control over our lives, so too does their "conservative Christian" counterparts, who have just as much hunger for power... if not moreso.

That is why Ron Paul will not be supported by the so-called "evangelical Christians" for the most part: because he's not going to be a "team player" so far as helping God along with the end of the world goes, and he doesn't believe that some people should be given more power... even if they do ask for it in the name of Christ.

I'll close this post with one of my favorite quotes by Stanley Hauerwas, which I think encapsulates this situation better than anything I could say:

"Let me be as clear as I can be: the God of 'God and country' is not the God of Jesus Christ."

-- Stanley Hauerwas

PUNCH-OUT!! Trailer

Nothing I say can prepare you for how cool this is:

This was done for some video contest sponsored by Nintendo. I think it's one of the most brilliant videos ever put on YouTube. Oh yeah, and "Little Mac" has his own Myspace page, too!

If only Mike Tyson had behaved himself and not got his name stripped-off the Punch-Out game...

EDIT 6/21/2007 2:00 a.m. EST: The contest was something called Nintendo Short Cuts Showcase... and Punch-Out!! didn't win anything! But it's sure a huge hit on YouTube.

Amazing that a four-and-a-half minute short film about a Nintendo game produced by a gang of good friends would be something that's much more fun to watch than the full-length Super Mario Bros. movie done by a major studio.

Monday, June 18, 2007

So it took Star Wars to get me to finally watch ROBOT CHICKEN ...

If you're a Star Wars geek, chances are you caught last night's Robot Chicken Star Wars special on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. I tuned in. Now, up 'til last night I had already seen this lil' Star Wars clip from the Robot Chicken show...

But last night was the first time, ever, that I tuned in specifically for Robot Chicken on TV. So I watched the Star Wars special (which was hilarious!) and then, decided that I see what "regular" Robot Chicken is like.

I haven't laughed this hard at television in... I don't know how long!

And I can't believe that I haven't watched Robot Chicken until now!

For a long time, I've thought that television had become stale, without anything "new" adding vibrancy and vitality to the medium. And then Lost comes along, and re-defines dramatic storytelling. And now here is Robot Chicken, which I think not only re-defines but firmly establishes humor for our generation. I will admit that there were a few things that I saw following the Star Wars special that were crude, maybe even a little sick...

...but it was entirely, absolutely, clever. And funny.

I don't know that much about Seth Green other than he was in one of the Austin Powers movies (I never watched any of those past the first few minutes of the original) and that he has a cameo in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "White and Nerdy" video. But based on just what little I saw last night, I do now believe that Seth Green is to this first decade of the 21st Century what Lorne Michaels was to the Seventies and Eighties: the defining mind of television comedy. I wound up watching all of the Robot Chicken segments up 'til the time they started repeating (Cartoon Network ran the Star Wars special at the head of each hour from 10 p.m. last night until about 6 this morning) and not once did I feel that my intelligence was insulted. Quite the contrary: I can't remember seeing something this smart (the sight of Santa Claus's sleigh pulling up next to three prostitutes and him bellowing "Ho Ho Ho"? Or Barney Rubble going on a killing spree for Fruity Pebbles? I could hardly stop laughing!).

If you missed it, StarWars.com has the entire Robot Chicken special up online for viewing. Highly recommended stuff here.

And as for Seth Green, if he ever reads this: you won yourself another faithful viewer for Robot Chicken last night :-)

Fortune and glory

Today is a day that a lot of us thought would never happen.

Today begins something that a lot of us have seen promised for over ten years now, only to have our hopes dashed time after time.

And for those who know the wacky history of this thing, it's hits especially hard that today...

...is the day that filming starts on the fourth Indiana Jones movie.

Somewhere right now, as these words are being written, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are once again directing Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.

Think about that.

Isn't that just... the coolest thing?!? :-)

The last time Ford donned the fedora, it was in a cameo appearance as an older Indy in an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (see pic) that broadcast on ABC on March 13th, 1993. That episode had Indy and this Native American fellow racing through snow to keep a sacred artifact out the hands of some bad guys. Ironically, the episode aired during the now-infamous "Storm of the Century". We were lucky to have been one place that didn't lose power: it was weird with us being surrounded by all that snow, and then watching Indiana Jones playing around in all that snow during the episode.

And now, Ford is picking up the bullwhip again.

On May 22nd 2008, Dad and I are going to see this movie... just like we've seen every other Indiana Jones movie together.

Just one thing that I have to wonder about, since this is being made by both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg: are they using George's digital, or real film a'la Spielberg? Or has George rigged up a digital camera that only looks like it's shooting on film so as to trick Spielberg into shooting shooting digitally? :-P

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bludgeon: One of the best Transformers EVER

I said in my post about getting Transformers toys for the first time in a long while that my favorite Transformers character was Bumblebee (with Brawn a close second). There was another one that I almost mentioned, but didn't because I wasn't sure how many people would even vaguely remember: I mean, Bumblebee and Brawn were in practically all the episodes of the original cartoon. But since there's something of a "Transformers renaissance" going on leading up to the release of the Transformers movie a few weeks from now, I thought it would be fun (and enlightening) to recollect who I think was the greatest leader the Decepticons ever had...

The first time I'd heard of Bludgeon, it was in the pages of Transformers: Generation 2's issue #1 from Marvel Comics, way back in the early Nineties. There's a scene where Optimus Prime is reflecting on the Autobot-Decepticon war that raged in the original series. I'd only bought the issue on a lark, and I had no idea how the first comic line had wound down. But in this scene, Optimus is remembering all of the Decepticon warlords and other enemies (including Unicron) that the Autobots fought during the conflict.

One of them, shown in side-profile, was a skull-faced... thing... that Optimus identified as being "Bludgeon".

A few pages later Bludgeon was mentioned again, and there was considerable awe from Optimus at something that Bludgeon did: apparently he was far more successful at establishing a Decepticon empire than Megatron or Shockwave or anyone else had been. I didn't buy any more issues of Transformers: Generation 2, but that "geek" inside me always wondered about who this Bludgeon was, and why he should be remembered so fearfully.

A few years later once the Internet really got going, I inquired about Bludgeon. And I finally got my answers...

Bludgeon was one of the later Transformers from the franchise's first series, released in 1989 as the initial interest was finally waning. He was a Decepticon who was also a Pretender: a Transformer who not only could "morph" into a secondary vehicular mode, but also had an organic "outer shell" that he could hide within to diguise his very nature as a robot. Unfortunately for Bludgeon (the toy anyway) he came out at a time when Hasbro was "efficiently-resizing" all the Transformers, so instead of being box-worthy his toy was on a scale akin to the "mini-vehicles" that came bubble-carded (not that there's anything really wrong with that...).

But make no mistake: regardless of his size as a child's play-thing, Bludgeon was serious business! It would be Bludgeon, and not Megatron or Starscream or anyone else, who would be the absolute leader of the Decepticons into the twilight of the Transformers comics' first run. And for good reason: Bludgeon was a brilliant strategist, and a visionary in every sense of the word. He was also one of the deadliest warriors in personal combat that Cybertron ever spawned: Bludgeon's bodycount is beyond all reckoning. Whether it was by a shot from his cannon in army tank mode, or (more usually) at the point of his sword, Bludgeon rarely missed his target.

But what I found fascinating most of all about Bludgeon, was that he was the very first example we saw of the Transformers race having religion and a spiritual nature. Some have derided Bludgeon as being "a joke" who was "lost in weird superstitions and mysticobabble". I thought that Bludgeon was an earnest seeker of the truth (something of a "Berean-bot") who ultimately found that his faith had, sadly, been a product of warped teaching.

All in all, Bludgeon was a capable warrior with a commander's truest sense of perspective, and the fiercest sense of honor. No wonder he became something of a favorite among die-hard Transformers fans.

Bludgeon made a few appearances in Transformers: Generation 2, before he was usurped from leadership by a rebuilt Megatron (who showed no lack of great wisdom by hiring Cobra Commander to re-engineer him into a tank... don't ask). The last we saw of Bludgeon, his head was a trophy on Megatron's wall. I don't know what happened with Bludgeon in any of the other incarnations of Transformers comics. But hey, Transformers have endured just as bad if not worse and still come back (that sight of Optimus Prime in the final panel of Transformers #5 in the original Marvel series still wigs me out!). I like to think that Bludgeon is still out there in that continuity somewhere, waiting to be re-activated.

So that's my little tribute to Bludgeon: the finest commander the Decepticon legions ever had. If you'd like to know more about him, there's plenty of info (including lots of pics of his toy and his appearances in the comics) at The Bludgeon Home Page.

Hey who knows: maybe someday I'll track Bludgeon down on eBay and pose him on top of my computer, too :-)

EDIT 11:46 p.m. EST: Found two amazing pieces of computer-rendered artwork depicting Bludgeon. One shows him wielding his sword and the other shows Bludgeon's actual robot form emerging from the Pretender shell...

Click here for more renders of Bludgeon by Rainking!

Video of WGSR interview about the July 9th "costume party" protest

There's apparently starting to be some interest in the stating of my intentions a few days ago that I would address the Rockingham County Board of Education at its July 9th meeting... fully costumed as a Jedi Knight. The only thing that I am leaving off the ensemble is my lightsaber. For one thing, I am being extremely cautious in adhering to the school system's weapons policy: even though this is not a functional weapon by any means, I'm not taking chances. For all intents and purposes, this is simply a "different" mode of attire than what you usually see at a school board meeting. As it is, I don't see this being construed as a special circumstance, and I'm not going to intentionally make it one, either.

Besides, I have something much better than a lightsaber that I intend to take with me. You could say that I will be a Jedi without a lightsaber... but one well-armed with a Sword: parse that as you will. People will know it when they see it.

This clip is from yesterday's Star Talk on WGSR Star 39 in Reidsville. Mark Childrey interviewed me (via telephone) live on the air about what happened at this past week's meeting of the board, and the plan for next month's meeting, including my inviting any other opponents of the Standard Mode Of Dress (S.M.O.D. or "school uniforms") to likewise come dressed in wacky attire, in protest of the board's indifference toward the public regarding this matter.

Speaking of which, that is why I am protesting in this manner. Yes, I'm against S.M.O.D. very much... but it has really started to bother me that the board - which is supposed to be hearing and representing our concerns - is ignoring why it is that we don't want the uniforms and instead is beginning to play political football with the issue. That's what this is all about: if the board will not pay attention to our words, then we should - peacefully of course - oblige them to pay attention to us in other ways.

And I do mean something that I say in this clip: that there are members of this board that I respect. I respect them an awful lot. With the exception of a very few, I've no reason not to respect any of them. But we out here in the public have a moral obligation to speak up when something's not right... as it is here.

Anyhoo, there's the first (and probably last) TV interview about the "Hey PAY ATTENTION TO US, Darnnit!" protest planned for next month's meeting. If this should get any more press attention, I'll be sure to post the appropriate links.

Thanks to Tyler Richardson for providing the video!

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I'm assuming this is going to be the final one-sheet for Transformers...

Now this looks epic!

First look at Batman's new suit in THE DARK KNIGHT

Credit Ain't It Cool News for scoring the public's first gander (courtesy of Entertainment Weekly) of the new Batman suit that will be seen in The Dark Knight, next year's sequel to 2005's Batman Begins.

First thoughts? I'm kinda liking it, but it seems too "specially manufactured". One of the things that I liked about Batman Begins so much is that it shows Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) going through the process of building up Batman's equipment and arsenal, and rich as he is it was like he had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for some of the things he used (like how the Tumbler became the Batmobile). The only items we saw him fabricate on his own were the Bat-throwing stars and the design for the cowl (which he had to contract with an overseas company to build the parts for that). But I suppose that with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) now heading operations at Wayne Enterprises, that there's all kinds of good stuff that Bruce can have R & D cook up without bringing undue suspicion.

Now if we can just get a really really really good look at the Joker from this movie...

This 16-year old girl "gets it" about illegal immigrants

A sixteen-year old girl shows more common sense and wisdom than most of the sorry lot in Washington D.C. put together.

Heck, I think she has shown more profound wisdom on the issue of illegal immigrants in this two-minute clip, than George W. Bush has in his entire time as President.

As bad as things are right now, I have to say: if this young video blogger is an example of the generation that is arising, then I do feel hopeful and optimistic about our future.

Ruth Graham has passed away

Ruth Graham - the wife of evangelist Billy Graham - passed away this afternoon at 5:05 p.m. at the couple's home in Montreat, in the North Carolina mountains, at the age of 87.

She was born in China, which I didn't know until just now. Ruth and Billy had been married for 63 years, after meeting while students at Wheaton College in Chicago.

Prayers going out from here to the Graham family tonight, as they are no doubt from all over the world.

Judge orders TorrentSpy to surrender its RAM (yes you read that right)

It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If so, then this judge's comprehension of technology is downright lethal.

In federal court in Los Angeles last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Chooljian, who is presiding over a lawsuit filed by the Motion Picture Association of America against TorrentSpy, ruled that TorrentSpy must turn over to prosecutors the RAM in its server.

This is not a joke. The judge has declared that the information in the RAM is evidence and that it has to be handed over. She has told TorrentSpy to unplug the RAM and give it to the prosecution.

Will she subsequently charge TorrentSpy with destroying evidence when it's determined that there isn't any data on the chips?

That has got to be the dumbest ruling that I have ever seen a judge make, or one of the dumbest anyway.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The first TRANSFORMERS I've bought in 20 years!

My "inner geek" is starting to have a really positive feeling about Transformers, the upcoming movie based on the classic toys. I was 10 when these things first hit America and to say that they had a huge impact on our young lives would be a massive understatement. So I've got a little fondness for the concept. Guess if you wanted to peg me on the map so far as where my sympathies lie for which "canon", I'd have to say that I'm a fan of the Generation 1 Marvel Comics continuity (I still have a copy of Transformers #1 in pretty good condition, too!). But I was also a faithful viewer of the cartoon series with the voices of Peter Cullen (who will return as Optimus Prime in the live-action movie), Frank Welker (the hardest working man in show business, bar none), Chris Latta (great talent, he is very much still missed), "Scatman" Crothers (I've always had the hardest time watching The Shining because I keep thinking "hey that's Jazz!"), Casey Kasem (who quit the show in the aftermath of the "Carbombya" fiasco)...

Okay, so I'm letting that "inner geek" come across as a bit of a nerd also... I don't care :-)

Anyway, the toys for the Transformers movie (toys based on a movie based on toys... how about that) came out a week or so ago. And this past Sunday night, still feeling great from all the good things that happened over the weekend, I went to the local Wal-Mart and did what I had decided to do if I felt that I'd done well on the Praxis: I treated myself to a new Transformer toy. The first one that I would have bought in over 20 years!

And I knew which one that I wanted too: Bumblebee. Of all the Transformers, he was my favorite (with Brawn running a very close second). He's a rather different character in the movie than his original incarnation though: instead of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, live-action Bumblebee will transform into a 1974 yellow Chevrolet Camaro. I've also heard that the movie's Bumblebee is supposed to be much stronger/more capable a warrior than the classic version (in the prequel comic he apparently hurt Megatron... yowza!!). Anyhoo, I knew that I wanted to get the new Bumblebee, so I brought him home (after paying 'course).

I still hadn't gotten him out of the package to play around with ('cuz all Transformers need a little bit of loving play) come Monday afternoon, and by that time I had to head off to the month's school board meeting. As I said early yesterday, that didn't go very well. Overcome with frustration, and since it was so late that I didn't want to cook a meal from scratch, I stopped by Wal-Mart after the meeting and got a frozen pizza. And partly because good-guy Autobot Bumblebee needed a foil, but also because I wanted to feel a little good about something that night, I went back to the toy aisle and got Barricade: the Decepticon who turns into a Saleen S281 Ford Mustang police car.

And tonight, I finally got them out of the packaging and started playing with them...

Here are Bumblebee and Barricade side-by-side, still in their packaging. Note how Bumblebee has the Autobot insignia in red on the upper-right part of his card and Barricade has the Decepticon logo (also red) in the same place on his.

And mostly so you can see their mondo-bizarro mugs (which are unlike anything we saw in old-school Transformers) but also to show more of the detail in car mode, here is a close-up of Bumblebee:

And Barricade:

You can't tell very well from the pics, but on the side of Barricade in his police car mode instead of "To protect and serve..." there is the phrase "To punish and enslave..." along with the Decepticon symbol incorporated in a stylized police department logo. Pretty wicked!

Here are Bumblebee and Barricade, still in car modes, but now able to roll out wild and free...

Now we get to the fun part: transforming them! Bumblebee - the 2007 model from the movie - is much more intricate and complicated than how he was when he was the Beetle circa 1984. The very first Bumblebee toy, you could literally have transformed in less than five seconds. I think it actually took me five minutes to fully transform the 2007 edition. There's a "concealed" button on top of the hood that you have to push in order to really free-up the transformation, and I kept pushing as hard as I thought might reasonably be expected from your average child. Finally I had to press down hard, and the thing finally started to open up. I can imagine that this is going to frustrate most kids who get this toy. After the button was pushed and the front of the car could swing down, that liberated the arms to swing out toward the side. Then the back of the car has to be separated into halves down the middle to form the legs: again, some difficulty because of the weird way Bumblebee's calves and feet are hinged. But finally I got him in full robot mode and standing.

Barricade was considerably harder to transform. The first thing you do is swing the front of the car down so that the grille pops out... which transforms into the Decepticon Frenzy (more about this in a sec). Then you swing the arms out, the torso down and the legs apart, and you basically have your robot. Simple, right? But putting him back into car mode was an exercise in agony. I spent probably ten minutes, if not more, trying to make him a police car again. The problem was the legs/rear half of the car: they kept not fitting quite right. Again, I can envision lots of kiddies taking Barricade to their fathers and saying "Daddy can you make him a car again, please???"

Here are both of them half-transformed...

And here are Bumblebee and Barricade (and Frenzy, sigh...) in full robot modes...

One thing in the favorable column: these Transformers are much sturdier than anything that I ever played with in my youth. For one thing, the entire robot is meant to be one piece (how many of the original Transformers did we lose pieces to because we had to attach hands, heads even etc.?) They are also much less likely to break: the original Megatron's arms were very flimsily attached to the body: no telling how many kids had to get his arms Krazy-glued back to his shoulder... if they were lucky. When I was transforming Barricade back into car mode, his "feet" kept snapping off... but since just about every joint on these toys is either a sturdy hinge or a ball-and-pivot, it was a very simple matter of "popping" them back on! I can definitely say that the design/manufacturing process for these toys has drastically improved over what it was two decades ago.

On the negative side of things: I do not like "Frenzy" one bit. I'm sorry, but that is not Frenzy: not the Frenzy that we grew up with, anyway. The original Frenzy (pictured at right) was one of the "tapes": a Decepticon who transformed into a cassette tape and got to ride around inside Soundwave's chest, along with Ravage and Laserbeak and Frenzy's brother Rumble. He was one of the smallest Decepticons, but he could cause a lot of trouble. This... thing... called "Frenzy" in the 2007 Transformers movie looks like he transforms into one of those piles of wire coat-hangers that always seem to accumulate on the floor of your closet. Here's a picture of what he'll look like in the movie at the Transformers Wiki. I've no idea what he changes into for the movie, but I'm not too impressed with either how he looks or that he pops-out of Barricade's chest like a second-rate Soundwave deployment.

But those quibbles aside, getting to examine the movie's toys have raised my hopes for the movie itself. And that's partly why I wanted to play with them to begin with: so that I could report on my blog about how this thing is "feeling" now less than a month before the film's release. So far, so good. I'm sensing the same kind of vibe that I had when I bought the alien action figure from Independence Day back in '96. And I got two new props to pose atop my computer! These will probably be the only toys from Transformers that I get though. I'm definitely not getting the Optimus Prime voice-changing helmet... especially after reading what Harry Knowles does with his ("it's fantastic for what...?!?).

Fred Thompson as an example of media controlling perception

"Rivals try to deflate F. Thompson campaign"

Why should this be so important?

Rivals have tried to "deflate" their political opponents since the dawn of time. And there's been plenty of corporate-driven attempts lately to "deflate" candidates like Ron Paul. Especially like Ron Paul. Don't they warrant the same level of concern?

A lot of people in the parties and the media would really like it if "their choice" Fred Thompson is, in the minds of the American people, made out to be an "unfair target" of other candidates. Didn't we see enough of that when Bill Clinton was running for President?

Watch last night's appearance on WGSR by opponents of the uniforms

Last night at 8 P.M. on WGSR, Mark Childrey spoke with Samantha Fettig, Samantha's son Chris Fettig, and I as representatives of P.O.T.S.M.O.D.: People Opposed To Standard Mode Of Dress. Monday night's meeting of the Board of Education was discussed heavily. Here's the link to where you can watch the show in Windows Media format. Thanks to Richard Moore for hosting this.

I will wear my Jedi costume to the July 9th meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Education to protest the uniforms

And I invite anyone else who wants to protest the board's indifference toward us on the school uniforms issue to likewise come dressed as outrageously as they wanna be (within reason of course).

I had originally thought to come to the meeting wearing V's costume from V for Vendetta, but won't do that out of respect for public safety concerns. That, and because it would be really hard to speak to the board from behind a Guy Fawkes mask.

Please, if you want to join along with this protest, do not wear something that has a full-face mask.

The board - for the most part anyway - is not listening to us. They apparently paid not one whit of attention to what we had to say to them when we spoke during public comments at Monday night's meeting.

Even if they refuse to pay attention to our words, we can make them pay attention to us all the same. Let them have no choice but to see us show that we do not want the Standard Mode of Dress.

I intend to go to the July 9th meeting at the Central Office at 6 P.M. (not the previously-used time of 7 P.M., meetings now start at 6) in full Jedi regalia from the Star Wars movies. And I will address the board in such attire. That's all I plan to do. The protest will go no further than how I will have chosen to dress for the evening and my remarks to the board, which will be as respectful as they were at Monday night's meeting.

And I ask anyone and everyone else who does not want the Standard Mode of Dress at Reidsville Middle School and Reidsville High School, who is likewise frustrated with the board's unwillingness to acknowledge our opposition, to do the same thing. Show up in something that under any other circumstance you would not wear to a Board of Education meeting. Wear a Halloween costume or a funny hat or a gimmicky t-shirt or even a sign taped to your regular shirt that reads something about your being opposed to the uniforms. Sign up before the meeting to speak if you feel led to do so. Be courteous... but stern... with your remarks to the board.

In every other way let it be a normal meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Education... except that the board will have to confront not only our verbally-stated concerns, but a daringly visual - and peaceful - show of mass resistance to the Standard Mode of Dress.

Let's turn that boardroom into the set of Let's Make A Deal.

And don't think for a moment that this won't be covered in some way. There will be cameras, including video cameras. I will be contacting all of the local media outlets and even quite a few others to let them know about this next meeting and the intended protest of the school uniforms.

Yes, this is - admittedly - a stunt. But at this point I see no other way how to force the board to acknowledge us, and the fact that we do not want the uniforms at the schools, and why it is that we do not want the uniforms.

If the board refuses to hear us out, then it's up to us to escalate our peaceful resistance of the uniforms to the next level: one that, unless they are blind in eye and mind, they cannot help but take note of.

July 9th. The Central Office in Eden. 6 P.M. I will be there in full Jedi costume to speak to the board.

And I cordially invite everyone else who wishes to do so to also express to the board in their own fashion their frustration at how we are being ignored.

Don Herbert - AKA Mr. Wizard - has passed away

This one really bothers me, and you know why? Because years ago somebody told me that Don Herbert had already been dead for a few years and it really broke my heart to hear that. I believed it. And all this time he was still not only alive but apparently very active, as evidenced by his website.

I first saw "Mr. Wizard" on TV at a friend's house in, I guess this was like 1985, and she told me that this was a guy who had been on TV when her dad was our age. And from the moment I saw him I thought that Don Herbert was cool! Ya see, I've always been a geek for science, but about the ages of 8 to 13 I was uber-geek for science. Don Herbert was like the first person I ever saw on television that I felt I could understand and that he could understand me on that level.

But I think the big part of the magic of Don Herbert that even though he knew all this stuff about science, he never "spoke down" to you. He made science so that anyone could understand and feel proud for learning about it. And he was exceedingly humble about himself too. He never used his awesome power pretentiously. There's a famous story about one experiment he was trying to do during his first show back in the Fifties and how, for some reason, it just wouldn't work. "Well kids we'll just try again tomorrow!" he told his audience. The next day, it still didn't work. I think he kept at it four or five times before it finally worked. The whole time, Herbert didn't lose his cool, he just kept rolling and laughing and smiling about it.

Then some years later after first finding out about him, when I was in high school, there used to be these little vignettes of science that he would do that were syndicated to local shows throughout the country and The Good Morning Show on WFMY happened to run them while I was getting ready for school. It was like 15 years ago that I last saw Don Herbert on television. And then a few years after that I'd heard that he was no longer with us. Except it turns out that he was still very much with us.

And now,

Don Herbert, known to generations of viewers as "Mr. Wizard", passed away yesterday at the age of 89. For real. The cause of death was bone cancer.

I didn't know this until I read the article, but Don Herbert was one of the guests on the very first show of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC in 1982. That by itself should say something about how neat this guy was.

Rest in peace, Mr. Wizard. And for all the wonderment that you brought to so many of us over the years, thank you.