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Monday, January 30, 2012

How George Washington nearly became our first zombie President

Immediately following his death in 1799 at the age of 67, a plan was proposed to reanimate the corpse of George Washington.

The strange but true tale of raising up the first President of the United States as one of the undead is found on IO9.com's Secret History feature. It's long been known that Washington likely died from waaaay too much bleeding at the hands of physicians who were trying to treat the great man's case of sore throat. Back in the day it was prevailing wisdom that one of the primary causes of illness was "bad blood". Get a flu or fever or something and the village doctor would come over with his bloodlettin' instruments (or in some cases, live leeches) and commence to draining the precious red vino of life from your veins. And that's what happened to poor George, who probably would have survived the sore throat if left to his own devices.

Anyhoo, Washington's body was put on ice until time to bury him (he'd instructed that to wait a few days so he wouldn't be prematurely buried). And that's when William Thornton comes into the story. The designer of the United States Capitol building had the radical idea of thawing Washington's corpse with blankets, then pumping the lungs full of air and giving it a transfusion of lamb's blood (thought at the time to have magical reanimation powers). This would, theoretically, bring George Washington back to life.

Washington's family didn't give Thornton a chance to attempt his experiment. Maybe it was for the best.

(Living or dead or undead, George Washington still has more leadership and intelligence than everyone working in the city bearing his name put together.)

Mash down here for more about the saga of Zombie George Washington.

Kermit and Miss Piggy slam Fox News!

The Muppets opened in cinemas domestically on the week of this past Thanksgiving. The ladyfriend and I saw it and loved it!! I keep hoping and praying that somebody will make an '80s Robot toy so I can put it on my desk: 'twould look so nice next to my chunk of the Berlin Wall, my Darth Sidious figure and other stuff.

Okay well anyway, it turns out that back when the movie first came out, Fox News claimed that The Muppets was a front for some devious liberal agenda! Because the film's villain, Tex Richman (played and rapped by Chris Cooper) is an eeeee-vil oil baron out to acquire the Muppets Theater by any means necessary. Seems that Fox News thinks that little kids are going to be turned off from capitalism.

Ehhhhh... whatever. I saw that movie and the only thing "liberal" is a cameo appearance by James Carville (speaking no lines) as one of several celebrities manning the phone banks during the telethon.

So The Muppets is on the eve of its international release and during the press conference the Fox News matter came up. And Kermit and Miss Piggy addressed it brilliantly! Here's the clip!

Might we be seeing a feud soon between Kermit and Bill O'Reilly? Personally, my money's on the frog.

Saw THE ARTIST for the second time yesterday

Is it really that good? Why, yes. Yes it is!

And I think that I enjoyed it even more the second time!

Incidentally, it was literally a sold-out screening yesterday afternoon when we caught The Artist for the second time together. Even knowing what was coming, Kristen and I were still thrilling and reacting to it as if it were last week's showing all over again. It was already my favorite movie from 2011 and the more I see it and think about it, the more it's becoming one of my all-time favorite movies ever!

Here's my original review of The Artist: one of the most captivating and creative motion pictures that I've seen in a woefully long time. I'm so looking forward to owning the Blu-ray of this as soon as it comes out :-)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

3-D Printing: The next battleground for digital copyright law?

Been a might busy on numerous fronts lately so I haven't had much of a chance to get in a game of Warhammer 40,000 in awhile (though that also owes to the fact that I've been building up my army of Orks, muhahahahahaha!!!)

Anyhoo, it's from the world of 40K which this next item comes from. Seems that Swedish torrent-trackin' site/political party/new religious denomination The Pirate Bay, which has already made a name for itself letting users search for songs, movies, video games and books, has now added 3-D models to its database.

Which means that through the ever-improving technology of 3-D printing, it is now possible to download physical objects via the Internet.

Here's how it works: you download the model and using a 3-D printer, the computer lays down layer upon layer of plastic or resinous material, gradually building-up a physical object. Right now the technology is still pretty rough, not to mention hideously expensive. But, it's rapidly getting cheaper and more refined...

So only a week or so since The Pirate Bay started offering links to 3-D models and already they're in legal trouble. Lo and behold this first bit o' litigation comes from Games Workshop, the producers of the wildly popular Warhammer 40,000 miniatures wargame. As was reported on the Huffington Post's website, Games Workshop sent a cease and desist order to The Pirate Bay after finding that one user had uploaded a 3-D file from which folks could download a Space Marines Dreadnought.

Lemme 'splain why this is significant. In the universe of 40K, a Dreadnought is a bipedal walking tank piloted by a Space Marine who, though grievously wounded and near death on his own, is given a new lease on life as a cyborg. And the model for this attractive bit of tactical tabletop weaponry costs in the neighborhood of fifty dollars American.

Now you start to understand why Games Workshop is eager to nip this in the bud before it has a chance to blossom. Games Workshop is charging copyright infringement and The Pirate Bay has acquiesced by removing the link to the model's file.

I can see why this will be a problem. And as much as many people complain about the high cost of Games Workshop's models, I for one can understand it. The craftsmanship of that company's artists is top-notch: we're not only buying the models, we're giving compensation to the men and women who come up with these crazy good minis!

But even so, and as many of this blog's readers know already, I have a lot of issues with much of digital copyright law, while at the same time absolutely respecting the rights of the content's originators.

Wanna know what I think? The quality of the finished products are fairly crappy. At least, they are right now. That won't last for much longer though. And when the time comes when 3-D printing is as ubiquitous on our desktops as the monitor and speakers, companies like Games Workshop should not only be ready for it but embrace it as a new market. I can certainly see Games Workshop selling official 3-D models to print via a client application right at your own computer. Need some new appendages for those Tyranids? Just click "buy" and you'll be entitled to one digitally-rights managed set of horrific slashing arms for your gene-stealers! Need more? Simply add to your quantity of purchased product. Easy-peasey, Japan-easy! Games Workshop gets its due and the end user gets official models and parts for his or her army! Hey, that's the model which has worked wonders for iTunes. I don't see any reason why it won't work for 3-D printing either.

There's some exuberant discussion going on right now at Bell of Lost Souls, my favorite 40K-dedicated blog (I visit it several times a day, and they cover a lot of other wargaming mini systems as well). Definitely worth checking out to see what other, more seasoned wargamers are saying about the implications of 3-D printing not only on this hobby but on culture as a whole.

As for how things stack up currently, I don't think Games Workshop needs to worry itself too much. Here's a picture of the printable Dreadnought in question...

Good Lord, that thing is HIDEOUS!! I wouldn't dare bring such a fugly model to the table. Nor would any other respectable 40K player. Even the ones who allowed that one guy to use a Coke can as a substitute for a Carnifex.

Interview with Nigel Farage on the future of the European Union

Good friend of this blog Danny de Garcia II sends word that he's scored a terrific interview with the ever-illustrious Nigel Farage, who has been representing South East England in the European Union since 1999. Ironically, Farage has also emerged as one of the EU's biggest and most conspicuous critics! For those who have been watching the economic and political situation over the past decade or so in Europe, Danny's interview with Farage is quite an eye-opener.

Here's an excerpt...

DDG: Many Americans are closely watching Europe and the ongoing debt crisis. Do you believe the situation is under control or are there more surprises to come?

Farage: The European Union - not Europe, actually - is collapsing under the weight of its own over-regulation, enormous subsidies (to its supporters) and attempts to rule the world through "soft power" (i.e. money) as well as the implications of its absurd currency-and-customs union. Most of this is not on the balance sheet, for credit-rating purposes, but it is there, in the real world, where the EU-crats do not appear to live. Anyone who believes what these people say is certainly in for some surprises.

Mash down here for more of Danny's interview!

Friday, January 27, 2012

A thought from this morning's meditations

I follow Christ not so that I might flee from death. I follow Christ so that I might chase after life!

And there is more difference between the two than night and day.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finally finished BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY

I'd had Batman: Arkham City, the follow-up to 2009's mega-hit Batman: Arkham Asylum, since its release date back in October. Hadn't devoted much time into it though until this past week. Guess I'm still trying to distract myself from Mom's passing (now four weeks ago) and since anything Batman is best enjoyed in the dark of night, that's when I've been playing it.

There are still some side-missions that I'm working on, but I finished the main story yesterday morning, after starting a new game fresh last week.

Just one word: YOWZERS!!!

Forget it being just the greatest Batman video game ever. Because Batman: Arkham City is... the greatest Batman story ever told, in my book. That you get to be Batman makes it all the sweeter.

That is the ballsiest ending of a video game that I've seen ever pulled off. Not gonna spoil it if you haven't played it yet but, it's something that has been done VERY rarely in the entire 70-some year history of the Dark Knight and this is the first time that it's been done in the scope of a video game... and somehow that made it all the more poignant and powerful.

I don't know WHAT the heck game studio Rocksteady is going to do for a third Arkham game, or how it could possibly top this one, but I've no doubt that it's coming. All the clues are there, especially (SPOILER highlight with mouse to read) the fact that Harley Quinn is pregnant with Joker's baby! Now if that ain't the proverbial loaded gun on the wall, I don't know what is. My guess: Arkham 3 will see all hell break loose on the streets of Gotham City itself. It was a massive mistake to hole up all that criminally psychotic potential within the walls of Arkham City. Maybe the next game could be called Batman: Arkham Unleashed or something...

A good video game is like a good book: the person should go away feeling that it was time well spent. That, Batman: Arkham City accomplished in grand style. Have to give this game my highest recommendation, folks. Also well worth buying first-hand so you can get the Catwoman side-story download included with it.

Bev Perdue, AKA "Worst Governor EVER", won't seek re-election

The news out of Raleigh today - which will no doubt be enjoyed by many across the Tarheel State - is that Bev Perdue, known on this blog as the WORST governor that North Carolina has EVER had, will not seek re-election to a second term.

Kinda historic, given that since our governors have had the ability to run for re-election since the late 1970s, that all of North Carolina's governors since have run for and won second terms. Perdue is going to prove to be the break from that.

Wouldn't surprise me if she wound up with a job offer in Obama's second term (providing he's delivered one) but even so: that Bev Perdue will no longer be in the governor's mansion is terrific news. This lady has no clue how much her tax increases have wrecked havoc on this state. Not to mention that she once advocated getting rid of elections (seriously).

As for Governor Perdue, I've only one other thing to say:

"Well... bye."

Newt Gingrich promises permanent Moon base by 2020

That's if he's elected President, 'course (and if he wins re-election in 2016).

Read about Gingrich's plans for a lunar establishment here.

I just couldn't resist having some fun with this...

"To the MOON, Alice!!"

Nicol Williamson - the greatest Merlin in film history - has passed away

"There are other worlds. This one is done with me."

The sad word came yesterday that Nicol Williamson, the legendary British actor who will forever be best remembered as giving us the finest portrayal of Merlin EVER, in the 1981 film Excalibur, passed away last month at the age of 75.

Williamson brought his considerable talent to bear whether he was on screen or the stage. At one point he was considered the finest living actor in the world. In addition to Merlin, Williamson will also be noted for his performance as Sherlock Holmes on drugs in The Seven Percent Solution.

Thoughts and prayers going out to his family. Think I'll pop in a DVD of Excalibur this afternoon in his memory.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Eagles are come upon us

Something I noticed yesterday evening...

Here's a photograph from northern Europe of some of the Aurora Borealis resulting from the massive discharge of solar particles hitting the Earth this week:

Looks rather like a great big bird of prey, doesn't it?

Compare that to this painting by Ted Nasmith, titled The Eagles of Manwë:

"...And out of the west there would come at times a great cloud in the evening, shaped as it were an eagle, with pinions spread to the north and the south; and slowly it would loom up, blotting out the sunset, and then uttermost night would fall upon Númenor. And some of the eagles bore lightning beneath their wings, and thunder echoed between sea and cloud.

"Then men grew afraid. 'Behold the Eagles of the Lords of the West!' they cried. 'The Eagles of Manwë are come upon Númenor!' And they fell upon their faces."

-- from "Akallabêth",
The Silmarillion
by J.R.R. Tolkien

Nasmith's work is inspired by that section of The Silmarillion in which Tolkien shares the tale... and the proud and tragic fate... of the race of Númenor. The Númenoreans were about to break the Ban of the Valar: that they should not sail further west than they could see their own lands. The Ban was put in place so that mortal men would not be tempted to seek an immortality which only God Himself could grant.

It does not end well.

With that in mind, this week's natural phenomenon looks positivalutely Tolkien-ish, don't it?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Massive coronal ejection en route to Earth

The largest ejection of charged particles from the Sun since 2005 is currently speeding toward Earth at 5 million miles per hour. It's due to hit us sometime tomorrow.

In recent months I have made it known that for the past number of years, I have been observing a correlation between this kind of solar activity and an increase in significant seismic activity. You can read about them here and here and here and most recently from October here. So in keeping with that, I am going to strongly suggest that this latest storm of energy which the Sun is throwing at us could possibly trigger severe earthquake activity.

Just something to maybe bear in mind these next few days and weeks...

RAGE and RARE: A proposal for two new laws

In recent days I have been mulling over a notion for two related bits of possible legislation, and I would like to submit them for discussion.

It seems to me that there are some people in this land who refuse to acknowledge the right of others to seek after and call out to God as best they can, in sincere and dignified manner. I do not believe that the Founding Fathers possibly had "freedom of speech" or "freedom of expression" in mind when such individuals take drastic action to interfere with and even deprive their fellow citizens of coming together for purposes of solace and worship. In more polite days, such individuals would have been run out of town on a rail, if not outright shot for the publick good. But since the constabulary frowns on that sort of thing lately...

First, I would like to suggest the Racketeering Against Grieving Expression Act, or the RAGE Act for short.

Per this law, those convicted of conspiring among themselves to deprive others of the right to mourn in peace during funeral services would serve a mandatory sentence of one year in prison. Second-time convictions and subsequent convictions would result in two-year prison sentences, accumulative.

Secondly, I would suggest the Racketeering Against Religious Expression Act. It could also be called the RARE Act.

Similar to RAGE, RARE would make it an imprisoning offense for conspiracy to deprive others of the right to peaceful religious worship.

Every person has the right to seek God as best he or she understands Him.. But that right ends where the right of others to do the same begins.

As with RAGE, RARE offenders would serve one year in prison for the first conviction, and two years for all subsequent convictions, also cumulative.

RAGE and RARE are meant to safeguard the rights of all to speech and expression. Yes, even the rights of the idiots at Westboro Baptist Church (and others who I don't care to mention by name). But they also acknowledge that everyone else has the same rights too... and it shouldn't take too much common sense to know when to respect those.


Chris watches THE ARTIST and loses his mind over its beauty and brilliance!

The Artist is the best picture that came out in 2011. Nothing else comes close. I found myself thinking that yesterday as we were watching it (at the Carousel Grande Cinema 15 in Greensboro) and the more and more that I've thought about it since the more resolute I am in that belief.

They just don't make movies like this anymore, folks. And I do not mean anything about how director Michel Hazanavicius chose to make this a (largely) black and white silent film in the style of the late 1920s (including maintaining the era's 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which I thought was truly class). This is... well it's the kind of movie that if you've ever complained about how movies aren't as good and clean and imaginative as they used to be, then you owe it to yourself to see The Artist.

It's just quite simply the most amazing film that I have seen in a long, long time!!

The Artist is about George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin), an actor enjoying enormous success in the silent movie era of motion pictures. By accident he meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a young admirer who finds herself in a photo alongside Valentin on the front of the next day's Variety. Valentin goes out of his way to give Peppy a role in his next film.

It seems to be all going so well until two years later when the "talkies" burst onto the scene. Valentin derides it as just a passing fad, and to prove it he produces and finances his own silent movie. But audible dialogue has won over the vox populi, and Valentin's days as a silent star are dashed. He must watch in growing despair as the studios go for younger, fresher faces... which includes Peppy.

I'm not going to synopsisize it anymore, folks. Because you really oughtta go into The Artist unawares. It has won a slew of awards already and looks poised to be a major contender at this year's Oscars. If so it owes it as much to the insanely strong ensemble casting as it does to its beautiful cinematography. Look for John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Malcolm McDowell among others. But the real scene-stealer has to be Uggie, the actor (yes, he is!) playing Valentin's dog. I swear folks - and I'm far from the only one in this as it turns out - but Uggie's performance demands that he gets a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. That dog pulls off more sincere heartelt acting than a lot of performances in movies nowadays.

Okay well, I don't honestly don't know what else to say 'cuz The Artist blew my gray matter apart with its style, its story, its acting and its comedy (of which there is plenty). HIGHLY recommended!! And I shall most certainly be adding the Blu-ray of this movie to my collection as soon as it becomes available.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

America: Welcome to the urinocracy

I am officially coining a new word: "urinocracy".

It's the best term that I can come up with to describe what this country has become, after observing what is going on with the Republican primaries this election season. Then it occurred to me that this really is what the United States has devolved into.

What is a "urinocracy"?

Urinocracy (noun): Government of, by, for and determined by adults who engage in pissing matches with each other.

Seriously: Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney? Are either of these two grown men showing us the maturity needed for the most powerful job in the world?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

For those enduring hardship...

Today's trial is tomorrow's testimony!

It's dogs barking "Imperial March" from the Star Wars movies!!

This is a "teaser" for Volkswagen's commercial during this year's Super Bowl. Yes, Super Bowl commercials now have teasers for them. And even so this is already the greatest Super Bowl commercial in the history of anything...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Movies from alternate realities

Imagine if, five decades before James Cameron set to work on it, it had been Howard Hawks instead who gave us Avatar... starring William Shatner, Natalie Wood, John Wayne, Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner?

It would probably look just like the poster on the right. And that's just one of the many very kewl "what-if?" scenarios that artist Peter Stults has come up with in "Movies from an Alternate Universe". Stults has brilliantly executed a series that... well, just try not to imagine Christopher Walken as the T-1000 when you see this rendering of Terminator 2: Judgment Day!

Great work Peter! And thanks to Kristen for directing our attention to this great feature :-)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

iPad fun with Zoe and Wally (AKA the girlfriend's cats)

This evening Kristen and I were hanging out in one room of her apartment when we heard her cats Zoe and Wally meowing outside the door. I had an idea so I grabbed my iPad, turned on the camera and slid it partly outside under the door. The results? Hilarity!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy 40th anniversary to SANFORD AND SON!

It was forty years ago today, on January 14th 1972, that Sanford and Son starring Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, premiered. In the four decades since then Sanford and Son has come to be regarded as one of the funniest - and finest - television series ever.

You know you want it: here's the classic opening titles, with that theme composed by Quincy Jones...

But why stop there? YouTube is hosting full episodes of Sanford and Son so if you've never seen the show before (you big dummy!) or you haven't caught it in awhile, here ya go!

Special thanks to Chad Austin for alerting this blog to the day's significance. And beans and diseases to him!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tired of negative political ads? So am I (and I'm gonna do something about it...)

Four years ago I made a solemn vow to myself, and I have kept to it. Not only that but my conscience has rested much better because of it...

I pledged to not vote for any candidate for public office who runs even a single negative campaign ad against an opponent.

I'm telling y'all right now that the ballot I cast in 2008 had a lot of wide open empty spaces. But the candidates that I didn't vote for, it can't be said that they didn't earn that. Either because I believed they were not suitable for office on their own merits, or because they violated the terms of my vow.

Look folks, seriously: if a candidate spends millions of dollars attacking his or her opponent instead of telling us "This is what I believe and this is how I want to serve you...", why should we trust them with our precious votes?

Is a candidate more interested in being a public servant, or is a candidate more interested in the office, along with the power and influence that comes with it?

How a person conducts himself or herself during a campaign - I believe anyway - indicates the character of that person when he or she gets elected.

If a candidate can't run without running a vicious, nasty negative campaign attacking a candidate, then all that really tells me is that that candidate lacks the creativity, the vision, the leadership qualities to be in an elected position.

I know something of what I speak. I've run for office before, once. I produced three TV commercials on my own. I designed my campaign's yard signs and newspaper ads. Nothing of that material was negative... and I came really close to landing election. Not only that but the campaign earned worldwide attention and praise, so don't even think about telling me that "being nice" won't work.

I guess I just couldn't live with myself if I ran a campaign ad aimed at "the other guy". And I don't see how any other candidate could live with himself or herself either.

We need candidates who will present themselves and what they believe in, nothing more and nothing less than that. If they can't be honest in that much, then they shouldn't be running, period.

But as for the matter at hand...

I have created a new Facebook group, Political Candidates Running Negative Ads WILL NOT Get My Vote. It is just what it sounds like: a group for those of us who have pledged to not vote for anyone who runs a negative ad attacking a fellow candidate.

I know. Some will be saying "But Chris, this is only electing the incumbent! Who is in office is more important than how they play the game, the ads they run, the attacks they make!"

I don't believe that. Because how they play "the game" demonstrates the kind of person that they will be when they get into office.

"We have to do whatever we can to (throw Obama out, defeat Mitt Romney in the primary, etc.)!!"

That's how it always starts. "Get the other guy." It is time for that to end.

There has to be a beginning somewhere. Let it begin with us.

Please keep in mind: This is NOT something I'm associated with or in opposition against any one political candidate or party. What this group is organized about is in regard to something that every political party... and too many politicians within each of them.... is guilty of perpetrating.

It's very simple: a candidate who runs even a single negative ad aimed at an opponent, DOES NOT DESERVE OUR VOTE.

Any political candidate that does this only demonstrates that he or she is after the office for its power, NOT to serve We The People.

Candidates should PROVE to us why THEY deserve enough of our trust to vote for them at the ballot box.

Telling us not to vote for "the other guys because...", ain't gonna cut it anymore.

I am fed up with candidates pulling this kind of crap. They are an insult to me, they are an insult to my community, and they are an insult to the United States of America.

There will be no change for the better in American government until we, the PEOPLE, choose AGAINST the negativity, the anger, the blind hatred that is dominating our political process.

Those who would exploit our baser instincts should be PUNISHED, not rewarded with elected office.

I pledge that if ANY candidate produces and runs for broadcast, print or any other published media even one negative ad or phone call or whatever, then I will NOT vote for that candidate. Ever.

And I sincerely invite you to pledge to do the same.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review of STAR WARS: DARTH PLAGUEIS: Luceno's latest well worth seven year wait!

"Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? It's a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise that he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even stop the ones he cared about from dying."

-- Supreme Chancellor Palpatine,
talking to Anakin Skywalker
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

If you are a fan of Star Wars to whatsoever degree at all, leave your chair right now and IMMEDIATELY go to your nearest bookstore and buy a copy of James Luceno's Star Wars: Darth Plagueis. Or go to Amazon.com and order a copy from there. However the heck you must, well... you must! Because Star Wars: Darth Plagueis wildly exceeded my ridiculously high expectations for this novel: a tome that many of us have been waiting nigh on seven years for!

There are two massive reasons why I've been stoked about Darth Plagueis. That it's about the eponymous Dark Lord of the Sith who - if you read between the lines - you already know was the mentor of Darth Sidious, AKA Palpatine: the future Emperor and master of Darth Vader. All we've solidly understood about Plagueis until now is from that "ghost story" which Palpatine shares with Anakin in Revenge of the Sith: how Plagueis discovered a path to physical immortality. It becomes the most tantalizing lure that soon brings Anakin to embrace the dark side. But between that and how eventually he was murdered by his disciple, Darth Plagueis has been a massively black question mark: one that legions of fans of the saga have wanted to be addressed for most of the past decade.

The other big reason why I've been looking forward to Star Wars: Darth Plagueis is that it's author is James Luceno: easily among the top tier of Star Wars writers today. And this is a novel that he's been on record as wanting to write since 2005, just before Revenge of the Sith came out. At the time Luceno wanted to pen a tale about how Darth Plagueis and Qui-Gon Jinn in their own unique ways pursued immortality, but how Jinn found the "right" path to it. And for a time it looked like we were going to get that book, along with the backstory of Darth Plagueis.

Then about five years ago the word came down from on high at Lucasfilm that Luceno's Darth Plagueis book had been cancelled. The official rationale given was that it was "decided that this was not the right time to delve into Palpatine's back story and Plagueis's beginnings..." I figured that Plagueis and Palpatine was a subject that was going to forever be a gray area ripe for fan speculation. But then about a year and a half ago it was announced that Darth Plagueis WOULD be published after all.

So here we are in January 2012. Getting my copy of Darth Plagueis was the first thing that I did when I had time on Tuesday morning. I took my own sweet time reading this book and finished it yesterday afternoon.

So was it worth waiting seven years for? Do we finally get definitive answers about the shadowy history of the future Emperor Palpatine and his own Sith Master?

Ohhhhhhh yeah bay-bee!

Heck, I was authentically shocked at how much previously-hidden lore gets exposed in Star Wars: Darth Plagueis. This might be the most revelation-packed Star Wars novel in the history of anything. Luceno went for broke with this and apparently he had loads of input from George Lucas himself about Plagueis and Palpatine, and in my mind there is no question that this might be the most canonical piece of Star Wars literature in many a great moon. And in the hands of accomplished saga storyteller James Luceno - who previously delved into the history of that galaxy far, far away with Millennium Falcon and Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader - Darth Plagueis is a masterful work of personal drama, political intrigue and philosophical treatise... all at once!

Darth Plagueis begins 67 years before the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and the entire book is essentially a "trilogy", with each third covering a two-year span of time. It's a lot of chronological ground to cover in what amounts to 368 pages of narrative, but Luceno's tactic is extremely effective. When the story begins we find that Plagueis, a Muun, has been apprenticed for many decades to Darth Tenebrous: a Bith Sith (who'da thought a race of jazz artists could produce such a dastardly Dark Lord?). Being of the line of Darth Bane, Plagueis soon dispatches Tenebrous in true Sith fashion. He then makes his way back home to Muunlinst where he enjoys public power and authority as Hego Damask, Magister of the InterGalactic Banking Clan. Among other things, Damask runs his own Bohemian Grove-style yearly retreat for the galaxy's top businessbeings and politicians, complete with drunken debauchery and ultra-violent mayhem. But his real passion is for his secret lab: a place where Plagueis is doing all sorts of nasty experiments on living organisms and the midi-chlorians residing within their cells. You see, Plagueis is hellbent on stopping the Rule of Two for all time... by finding a way to be the very last Sith Master: one who will never die. His quest to accrue and consolidate his power behind the scenes soon brings him to Naboo, where Plagueis intercedes in a planetary political crisis. It is on Naboo that Plageuis comes to notice the son of a nobleman: a young man seething with ambition... and possibly something more.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is Palpatine. And we learn more about the future Emperor in Darth Plagueis than we have ever learned before. We come to find out about Palpatine's family, his formal education and the beginnings of his political career. We discover how Palpatine came to be a Sith Lord under Darth Plagueis (just as Plagueis also reflects upon how he became a Sith under Tenebrous). We are shown Palpatine taking his first Force-ful steps down the path of the dark side, and we are there as he is given a new name by his tutor: "Sidious".

Palpatine's rise to power and secret Sith education comprise much of the second part of Darth Plageuis, as Plagueis continues his dark experiments in midi-chlorian alchemy. One notable event which happens during this period is when Palpatine is given a Zabrak infant: the future Darth Maul (bigtime props to Luceno for tying The Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network in and how it gets reconciled with previous Maul-y material!). And gradually we begin to see other pieces of the larger game come onto the board: Jedi Master Dooku's growing dissatisfaction with the Jedi and the Republic they are sworn to serve, the cloners of Kamino, the corruption in the Senate, and the rise to prominence of gangsters like Jabba the Hutt and factions such as the Trade Federation.

And behind all of these disparate threads are the fingers of Darth Plagueis, who is secretly weaving them into the culmination of a thousand years of the Sith's plan to take control of the galaxy for the greater good. But things begin to go awry just as Plagueis learns that the Jedi have discovered a young boy on Tatooine with the highest midi-chlorian count ever recorded: something that leads Plagueis to wonder...

This is a dense book. I think even the font size might be smaller than normal for a Star Wars novel. And Luceno has packed it with lore gathered from the length and breadth of the Star Wars mythos. Expect lots of pleasurable nuggets to be found if you're a serious Star Wars enthusiast, but even if you aren't this is a rollickin' dark, violent, fun and at times even a funny read. In short: everything that a Star Wars story should be... and with Darth Plagueis, James Luceno has not only raised the bar but also put it on top of the whole heapin' mountain.

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis gets my absolutely highest recommendation. It may not have turned into what James Luceno had originally envisioned, but in my opinion what it has become at last is something far more accessible and enjoyable. And if the Flanneled One is wise, he will now let Luceno be turned loose on that tale about Qui-Gon Jinn and the Whills that we know is also out there somewhere.

In the meantime, go get Star Wars: Darth Plagueis. Do it now. Or, perish in flame. It's your choice, but not really.

Obama's recess appointments: I smell hypocrisy

So it's coming out that a bunch of Republicans, including senators Orrin Hatch and Mitch McConnell, are expressing concern about President Obama making recess appointments when the Senate was not in session. Former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese is saying that Obama is committing "a breathtaking violation of the separation of powers."

Oh please...

The Justice Department headed by Eric Holder is defending the appointments as legal. Y'know, just like the Justice Department under President George W. Bush defended his firing of the United States attorneys as being legal. Just like John Yoo went out of his way to argue why his boss Bush should be given powers of a dictator in everything but name. Just like Samuel Alito sought to increase the power of the President by means of redefining so-called "signing statements".

But now the shoe is on the other foot. It's a Democrat in the White House. It's a Democrat running the United States Department of Justice. And right on cue, the Republicans are feigning righteous indignation when we all know that they would have been totally down with helping "their own kind" get away with crap like this.

Just another reason why I cannot in any good conscience support either the Democrat or Republican parties.

The end of general-purpose computing?

It's a bit of a long read, but Corey Doctorow has published an exceptionally well-written piece at Boing Boing about the direction that general-purpose computers are going in regard to SOPA (the "Stop Online Piracy Act") and other dubious legislation. Doctorow recounts the history of digital rights management measures, how they have all ultimately failed and will continue to fail, and how it is driving information as we know and enjoy it to become way too specialized.

Here's a snippet...

...Ultimately, the question is whether every PC should be locked, so that their programs could be strictly regulated by central authorities.

Even this is a shadow of what is to come. After all, this was the year in which we saw the debut of open source shape files for converting AR-15 rifles to full-automatic. This was the year of crowd-funded open-sourced hardware for genetic sequencing. And while 3D printing will give rise to plenty of trivial complaints, there will be judges in the American South and mullahs in Iran who will lose their minds over people in their jurisdictions printing out sex toys. The trajectory of 3D printing will raise real grievances, from solid-state meth labs to ceramic knives...

Regardless of whether you think these are real problems or hysterical fears, they are, nevertheless, the political currency of lobbies and interest groups far more influential than Hollywood and big content. Every one of them will arrive at the same place: "Can't you just make us a general-purpose computer that runs all the programs, except the ones that scare and anger us? Can't you just make us an Internet that transmits any message over any protocol between any two points, unless it upsets us?"

Anyone else having visions of the future that William Gibson gave us in Neuromancer, with its black market computer shops and software dealers?

"When PCs are outlawed, only outlaws will have PCs!"

Dude's BRILLIANT poem about why following Christ means rejecting religion


Just... wow.

"So for religion, I hate it. In fact I literally resent it. Because when Jesus said 'It is finished', I believe He meant it."

I can think of any number of people who I would love to tie down and make them watch this video. This dude, well... he gets what it means to follow Christ.

Legalists, don't watch this if you hate squirming!

Monday, January 09, 2012

I need to laugh. Heck, we ALL need to laugh...

Trying to move forward on some things, after the events of the past few weeks. Our family is still dealing with Mom's passing, and all of the matters pertaining to that.

I'm gonna try to resume blogging in earnest during the next few days, 'cuz a lot of y'all have been sending some really nice compliments and condolences, and apparently this lil' site is a pleasurable pastime for more people than I had realized. That means more than I can possibly convey. So for sake of this site's regular readers as much as my own, I need to get back into the swing of things.

I can share the news that my first real film project in quite a long time is in the very early stages right now. It's something that Kristen and I had the idea for together so we're writing it together! Lord willing we'll start shooting it in the spring. The hard part is finding the right props, though I'm pretty sure the cigarettes and sweaters will be easy to score...

Okay well, we could all probably use a good chuckle, and I know I could. So here's something that I've always found hysterically funny for some reason or another. From 1941 it's Tex Avery's last black and white animated short: "Porky's Preview"!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey: Where to buy it!!

This has been one of the crazier past few days in this blog's history. Ever since Discovery Channel aired the final episode of its hit series Moonshiners a few nights ago the traffic to The Knight Shift has been ginormous! Seems that all the writing I've been doing over the years about Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton has put me on the radar of likker lovers across the Intertubes. Since the Moonshiners finale aired many of those - and quite a lot of new readers - have been coming here with but one question above all others...

"How can I get some of that Popcorn Sutton moonshine???"

Here's the post that I made back in October when Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey first went on sale. Look at all those comments that have been left since the other night. That ain't even half of the correspondence that's been coming in to my e-mail address (one reader shared a rather interesting story about getting caught making 'shine in Saudi Arabia).

Okay well folks: I can't directly help procure Popcorn Sutton's moonshine white whiskey for you. But I can now point you to a resource that'll help you locate it for legal sale!

The OFFICIAL website for Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey went full-blown LIVE yesterday. When you get past the age-gate you can find plenty more information about Popcorn's life, his trade, aaaaaaand a page with locations of places now selling Popcorn's legal likker! Right now there are only three places listed, each of them in Tennessee (one in Knoxville, one in Nashville and the remaining vendor in Memphis). I am also receiving unverified reports that it has been spotted elsewhere as well (including one possible location in Charlotte, North Carolina). Anyhoo if you're hellbent on getting some of Popcorn Sutton's good stuff, your best bet is gonna be with visiting the website and going from there.

And in case anyone is wondering, I have not yet been able to treat myself to any of Popcorn Sutton's moonshine (regardless of what it's called). I'm not a drinking man by any stretch but for this, I do plan to make an exception. I figure I can't very well write as much about the man as I have and not sample his craft. I'm hoping to fix that soon however. Expect a write-up about it soon. And if y'all are really good there might even be some accompanying video :-)

Friday, January 06, 2012

Separated at birth?

Something I noticed a short while ago...

On the left is Paul Krugman, columnist for The New York Times. On the right is The Most Interesting Man in the World, spokesman for Dos Equis beer.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Watch MOONSHINERS on Discovery Channel tonight! So sayeth Popcorn Sutton's widow!

Recent events in my personal life have kept me from watching Discovery Channel's new hit series Moonshiners, but many have told me that it's a most excellent reality series about those free souls who make likker in true Appalachian style!

I shall however be tuned in tonight (as well as having my DVR set to record) as I have just received word straight from Pam Sutton, the lovely and vivacious widow of moonshining legend Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton, that tonight's episode is supposed to feature Popcorn rather heavily.

I can attest that interest in Popcorn Sutton is soaring of late, as this blog is getting slammed with visits from people Google-ing about Popcorn and his trade. But I should also note that nowhere on The Knight Shift (so far that I know of) can there be found plans to build a moonshine still of one's own. And trust me: people are looking around here :-P

Incidentally, I have also received word that the Third Annual Popcorn Sutton Tribute is set for the first weekend of this coming August! I was able to attend the one this past summer and... well let's just say if last year's second one is any indication, the town of Maggie Valley has a huge, huge thing on its hands that is primed to become a major regular regional event. Will post more as we get closer to summer.

In the meantime, Moonshiners runs at 10 p.m. tonight on Discovery Channel!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

We can go no further on this side of Jordan...

The array of flowers that were placed atop Mom's casket. The two pink ones are meant to represent her two children...

The teddy bear that my sister Anita placed inside Mom's casket on the morning of the funeral. I enclosed a letter: the last piece of writing that I ever did for my mother.

The casket at the graveside, immediately following the service...

The final resting place of Mom's earthly body, after the grave had been filled...

Southern hospitality

A representative sample of all the food that friends and family brought to our house last week following Mom's death. I swear, we had enough fried chicken alone to run the Colonel out of business!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Mom's memorial video from the funeral service

Three days ago we laid Mom's body to rest. I keep saying "Mom's body" because that wasn't Mom at all, not really. Everything that made Ruby Knight the wonderful, amazing and deeply beautiful woman that she was, God brought into His presence last Wednesday morning and out of that room at the hospice. All that we did two days later was to commit her earthly remains to the cemetery. It was as far as we are able to go in this world.

I am still recovering from it, although I'm sincerely shocked at how well I've been able to maintain myself through it all. Have there been tears? Absolutely. But... my girlfriend keeps telling me that I'm stronger than I was a year or so ago, when this would have completely devastated me. Probably to the point of needing severe medication. But this past week has seen me the furthest thing from that. Maybe the most composed in the face of tragedy that I've ever been. And I really don't know how that could come to be, except by the grace of God.

I am going to be writing a more fitting memorial to Mom on this blog in the next few days, as my thoughts are able to more clearly coalesce. But until then, thought I'd share this with all two of The Knight Shift's faithful readers. Wilkerson Funeral Service was extremely helpful to our family in this time of need, going above and beyond the call of a mortuary firm. But then, it's Wilkerson: I would have expected no less from such a fine, established company. I wish we could have had time to find more photos, but they did a terrific job in assembling the following video which played in the chapel during visitation. I just uploaded it to YouTube a short while ago, mostly so that family who couldn't make it to the funeral can get to view it. Thought I'd share it with this blog's readership as well...

Sunday, January 01, 2012

"Every one I know goes away in the end..."

Maybe the greatest music video ever made. Filmed shortly before June's passing and Johnny's a few months later. Trent Reznor wrote the song, but Cash made it all his own.

And also the song most on my mind this night.

Here is Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt"...

It's a new year!

Here's praying that 2012 will be a better one for each of us.