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Friday, November 30, 2012

Michael Jackson's THRILLER was released 30 years ago today

Ignoring the obvious - that soon thereafter he began his downward spiral into cosmetic catastrophe and overall instability - it will forever be acknowledged that once upon a time, Michael Jackson was a musical genius. As well as a masterful performer on stage and in his music videos. It was not without reason that he was dubbed the "King of Pop". How long he maintained that title is debatable... but Jackson did earn it.

Thriller, Michael Jackson's masterpiece album, was released thirty years ago today, on November 30th 1982. It remains by a significant margin the best-selling music album in history.

So in honor of Thriller's thirtieth anniversary, here is a photo of the artist behind it. Along with two other celebrated figures from a far, far better era...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

U.S. Government spent $100,000 determining if Jesus died for the Klingons

Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma has been digging into the details of the federal budget. Among the things our government is spending our money upon: inventing roll-up beef jerky, the study of goldfish swimming patterns and an iPhone app for scheduling coffee breaks.

And then there's this: $100,000 of taxpayer money to look into the question of whether Jesus Christ died for the Klingon race. Yeah those ridge-headed alien warriors from the Star Trek franchise.

Incidentally, all of the above examples were found in the United States military's budget.

From the story by Heather Clark at Christian News Network...

An Oklahoma senator has released a report outlining what he believes is some of the Pentagon’s most wasteful spending. Among a number of odd items includes a workshop on how Christianity would be affected if aliens were proven to exist.

Senator Tom Coburn is known to be the “waste-watcher” on Capitol Hill, as he investigates unnecessary spending in various branches of the government. On Thursday, he issued what some consider to be a laughable list of Defense Department expenditures that have nothing to do with defense.

In addition to $1.5 billion being spent... was a workshop blending Christianity with the existence of aliens.

The event, entitled “Did Jesus Die for Klingons Too?,” focused on “the implications for Christianity if intelligent life were to be found on other planets.” According to the Global Post, actors such as LeVar Burton and Nichelle Nichols were present, and an “intergalactic gala celebration” was included, at which attendees were urged to don “starship cocktail attire.”

Klingons are are a group of aliens from the fictional sci-fi television and movie series Star Trek, which originated in 1966 and continues (at least in movie format) to present day. The series deals with a band of aliens and humans that seek to solve the problems of the universe, tackling topics such as imperialism, class warfare and racism. Some episodes are also said to have addressed sexism, feminism and religion.

And to think there are some who wonder why so many Americans lately want to secede from the federal government.

$100,000 to look into salvation for the Klingons. I don't care if it's only one dollar: that's our money which has been entrusted into the public treasury... and it is a sacred trust. Even a mere cent used on such a frivolous matter is inexcusable.

But just for humor's sake...

vaD joH'a' muSHa' qo'vetlh ghaH ngeHta'Daj neH puq vaj 'lv HartaH Daq ghaH dlchDaq yln reH

(Courtesy of MrKlingon.org)

Georgia city hall has a moonshine still (and it's legal too!)

This honestly shouldn't have to be said again, 'cuz I've made enough fuss about it already. But even so...

Folks, I really, really can not help anyone to build, buy or otherwise acquire a moonshine still.

The hit TV series Moonshiners is in the midst of its second season and as last year, this blog is getting slammed with visits from good people looking for information about moonshining in general and about Popcorn Sutton in particular. I'm very honored that The Knight Shift has become such a popular resource for this aspect of Appalachian culture and the most famous practitioner of the art.

But, ummmmm... this sincerely is all that I can do at the moment, friends and neighbors. The moment that such information does become readily available, I'll not only post where you can buy stills but I'll publish blueprints and plans for them too! Hey, I wanna see how a thump keg works as much as anyone else, but right now my hands are tied.

Meanwhile in the mountains of Georgia, the craft continues. Albeit in a most curious location...

The Washington Post has a pretty wild story about moonshiners setting up shop in the town hall of Dawsonville, Georgia. Now lest anyone think that Dawsonville has gone bust and these guys are squatters spiting "the man", y'all should know that the 'shine is being brewed legally! Something of a joint venture between the distillers and the town, among other things to preserve the mythology of moonshine in this part of the country.

I really dig stories like this. But I'm also of a mind that this is a very astute move on the part of the Dawsonville town fathers. What with the way the nation's economy is going down the tubes and how local municipalities are financially struggling, it's encouraging to see a city manufacturing and selling a product with marketable value. Yup, when hyperinflation hits and a hamburger will cost $100 million, Dawsonville will have a serious item of barter on its hands :-)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Worst. Timed. Commercial. Break. Ever.

Last night's The Walking Dead on AMC brought back the intensity after the past couple of weeks' relative calm (which was needed, after what happened to Lori). This series is consistently demonstrating why many consider it to be the finest show on television right now.

But that's not the point of this post. Instead I have to remark that what you're about to see is either gross negligence or brilliant marketing.

At the end of the next-to-last act of this week's episode "When the Dead Come Knocking" we find Rick and his team trapped in a cabin, nearly surrounded by ravenous walkers. To escape they have to throw a freshly-killed dude out the front door as a distraction. Rick and company flee through the back door while the walkers start munching.

That's the setup. That's all you need to know.

So watch the final few seconds of that act, then look at what AMC did with the commercial break!


Too bad KFC isn't using their "Finger Licking Good" slogan anymore, huh?

The accidental(?) scheduling of the ad has gotten lots of attention, including from folks who haven't seen The Walking Dead yet. So I'm wondering if there was method to the madness. If so: well played AMC, well played.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey Frying... IN COLOR!

Kristen's brother Scott Bradford was a witness to the turkey deep-frying on Thanksgiving two days ago. While maintaining a safe distance (and maybe more than that) he shot some terrific video of the action. Scott edited it together and now for your viewing pleasure y'all can watch the searing heat and tormentuous oil in all its glory!!

Scott also posted the video on his own blog, and he testifies to the exquisite and juicy taste that in a turkey can only be achieved by frying it.

Larry Hagman, 1931-2012

In memory of Larry Hagman, who passed away yesterday at the age of 81, here is a classic scene from Dallas of his character J.R. Ewing - one of the most despised villains in television history- telling it like it is to on-again/off-again wife Sue Ellen:

In his memory, we should go out today, find a drunken woman, and slap her.

Friday, November 23, 2012

2012 Thanksgiving: What I am thankful for

It's not Thanksgiving Day right now. It's the day after: often called "Black Friday". Which as some astute observers have noted, we spend one day being thankful for the things we have by spending the next day trampling all over and killing each other trying to get the things we don't have.

Admittedly, there are some things which I do not have at the moment, that I have been in constant prayer about. But I must also acknowledge that I have been far, far more blessed than I would have ever thought possible. During this past year and a half, this has honestly been the happiest that I have been during the course of my entire life. In fact, I feel like my real life is just now getting started...

...and I've a feeling that God might have plenty more good in store yet to come.

So in what I hope is going to be a continuing tradition of The Knight Shift, here is what I am thankful for this year...

I am thankful to finally have a female miniature dachshund puppy, who at times is a lot of aggravation but has still won my heart since the first moment I held her.

I am thankful to have come a long way in managing my bipolar disorder. It has taken the better part of a decade to arrive at this place. And I am exceedingly thankful that publicly chronicling my struggle with this illness has apparently become an encouragement to others. If even one person comes away stronger from reading about my having bipolar, then that alone makes writing about it worth it.

I am thankful for Dad, who has been a true encouragement for me during this past year.

I am thankful for friendships which have endured and for those friendships which have been made since last Thanksgiving.

I am thankful to be getting my creative mojo back. Something which had been missing for the past number of years, for a variety of reasons. I am now back to working on some video projects as well as something else, which Lord willing I will be able to announce sooner than later.

I am thankful to have read many more books in these last several months than I have read in a long, long time! I should finish A Dance with Dragons sometime next week, which will make me caught up finally on the entire Game of Thrones series (well that's what I'm calling it anyway...)

I am thankful to have traveled to Oregon this past June. To have driven through the Columbia River Gorge and to have stood a mile or so away from Mount St. Helens: truly one of the most humbling experiences of my entire life.

I am thankful for Doctor Who and The Walking Dead, which I enjoy watching with my girlfriend.

I am thankful for ballroom dancing, which I am getting better and better at (I can now do the cha-cha, the foxtrot and the swing in addition to rumba and waltz!)

I am thankful to have not gone to jail yet for having a perverse sense of humor.

I am thankful for root beer.

I am thankful for finally playing Diablo II, even though it only took me twelve years to get around to doing so.

I am thankful for this blog, which is about to hit nine years old. And that it seems to have gained even more regular readers and I will endeavor to keep them entertained, enlightened and generally enthralled for a long time still to come.

I am thankful that yes, there WILL be more Star Wars movies! I am thankful for knowing that I will get to take my children to see a new Star Wars trilogy. That Lord willing, I will get to see new Star Wars movies with their children. What a time to be alive.

I am thankful for second chances.

I am thankful for Kristen, who is a far better girlfriend than I could ever deserve to have. I had never thought that I could be this happy, but God certainly has when He put Kristen into my life. There is not a day that goes by that I don't thank Him for the honor of being her boyfriend... and there is not a day that goes by that I don't tell her that I thank God for her.

Most of all, I do thank God for all that He has done, and that I do now see how He has been working across my entire life. To my shame, I had doubted for awhile that He was listening to me, that He cared at all. Now, I know better.

There are more things that I could probably come up with, but those are some of the bigger ones. And Kristen, her parents and I are about to go see Skyfall, so I should wrap this up anyway.

And no doubt next year, there will be even greater things to be thankful for :-)

Deep-fried turkey, Thanksgiving 2012 Edition

Another Thanksgiving has come... and with it, once again, another round of Yours Truly doin' up some deep-fried turkey!

This year's Thanksgiving was special, in a number of ways. For one, I'm spending it with Kristen and her family. For another, this marks my tenth anniversary of deep-frying turkey! So for those reasons and more, I wanted this one to be extra special.

Here's the turkey chosen to be sacrificed to the flames and the oil. I found one weighing-in at just under 15 pounds: the perfect mass to feed a gang of six! What you see here is the turkey on the spit ready to be fried, after spending thirty-three hours of being marinaded and rubbed down with Cajun seasoning.

In this next photo the oil is almost hot enough to lower the turkey in. The cooking temperature is 350 Fahrenheit. I heat it up to 375 though to begin with, because the temperature is going to drop precipitously when the turkey goes in. Of course, the bird has been patted down good and dry on the outside to keep nasty hot oil from spattering out. Looking at the pot with much interest and anticipation is Kristen's father...

Here we go, (not so) fast and (plenty) furious!! Kristen's brother Scott is shown taking photos, albeit from a considerably safe distance...

Awright, this next picture requires some explanation. The oil was in the pot and I had just turned on the burner when I realized to much horror... my thermometer was broken!!! The trusty instrument that had seen ten years and many, many fried turkeys had died. And at the WORST possible moment too!
No time to panic though. Not as one working with hazardous materials. Certainly not as an Eagle Scout. Kristen's mom and brother made a quick jaunt to Wal-Mart and found two thermometers, neither one of them built with deep-frying safety in mind but hey, ya gotta takes what ya can.

So here is me in what Kristen calls the "fisherman pose": lowering a candy thermometer into the oil with a wire coat hanger!

But, the new thermometer came through with flying colors. And 45 minutes later...

...the culinary masterpiece was ready to be admired for its beauty and its juicy, delicious flavor!

I'm always looking for new ways to improve my turkey-frying technique. There were a couple of tricks that I employed this time for both product quality and personal safety. With the exception of the thermometer emergency, the entire process was by far the smoothest and cleanest that I've ever had.

'Twas a most excellent Thanksgiving dinner! The turkey came out great, and there was the terrific desserts made by Kristen's mom and sister-in-law (Melissa makes the most potent chocolate cupcakes in the history of anything).

And now, I get to enjoy a few weeks' respite before doing this all over again for Christmas. For which I've already been threatened with getting chained to the burner until I make enough fried turkey for everyone who's been demanding it this past year :-P

Update 7:19 pm EST: D'oh!! I forgot to document the music that I chose to fry too! That's also an important part of the ritual.There were a number of albums which came to mind. I think up to a few weeks ago the obvious choice would have been the Game of Thrones Season 1 soundtrack. But then there came the big news of October 30th...

So in celebration of the imminent return we shall be making to that galaxy far, far away, I had Disc 2 of The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edtion playing from my iPod. Not just John Williams' finest composition for a Star Wars movie, but in my opinion the definitive Star Wars orchestral score album!

It was released in February of 1997. And in spite of being the most vintage album to be used during my rituals, it was spot-on perfect for the task. And just after telling friends that this would be the music of the hour, the news broke that Lawrence Kasdan will be returning to the gang and he's writing Episodes VIII and IX! Truly a good omen :-)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kristen's Love-ly haircut

I'm spending Thanksgiving with Kristen at her house, along with her family. And as all two of this blog's regular readers well know I go crazy with deep-frying turkey every year for this holiday (and usually Christmas also). That means starting about a day and a half before time to fry, getting the bird all juiced-up with marinade.

So yesterday afternoon, after the third round of injection and putting Cajun rub all over the turkey, I decided to take a little nap. Kristen had gone out to do "some errands" after work. I was still asleep when she returned.

She woke me up. And that's when I saw her shocking new hairdo...

She's never had it that short before! But it was all for a great cause: Locks of Love. It's a nonprofit group devoted to making hairpieces for children who have lost their natural hair due to disease, chemotherapy etc. So Kristen not only got a stylish new 'do, she is making some good kids really happy.

It's still gonna take me awhile to get used to it though... :-P

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stop Christmas, I want to get off

Let's dispense with the floridity and get to the point:

The holiday season has been damn near ruined by commercial madness.

I'm hearing that some families are having their Thanksgiving gatherings destroyed by Wal-Mart and other retailers mandating their employees be working on Thursday morning. Yeah you read that right: a number of stores are opening at noon on Thanksgiving when everyone else will be gorging on turkey and watching football.

I got a bad vibe when stores like Wal-Mart and Target began putting the Christmas stuff out before Halloween. That's two full months of holiday marketing. One-sixth of the entire year devoted to holiday spending.

Now the radio stations are following suit. 99.5 out of Greensboro - which has traditionally not begun playing Christmas songs until the day after Thanksgiving - is already blaring out 24 hours round the clock of holiday music.

Gad-dommit, STOP IT ALREADY!! I'm bipolar dammit! It's already hard enough for me to slow down my mind. I don't need the year to go by any faster! Neither do most other people. But that's what is happening as a result of the extended holiday season: the year is going by faster. Too fast. The holidays should come at us bursting with joy, not creeping upon us like so much unstoppable kudzu.

I'm this close to just calling off Christmas entirely this year. Not only not giving presents but demanding that I don't receive presents either. This ain't what Christmas is meant to be about. It's supposed to be about family, friends, good times, being thankful for what God has blessed us with...

Did we not learn anything from all those years of A Charlie Brown Christmas?

This is going to be the first Christmas that I spend without my mother. A few friends during the year also lost parents. For some, they know that this will be the last time they will have the holidays with a loved one.

Not all the money in the world, no amount of dollars spent, will ever fill the vacuum left by a beloved friend or family member.

Call me sentimental, but it seems like this is a time to be appreciative of what we have now, instead of accumulating mere material "things". I for one would certainly like to have Mom for another Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the rest of my life I will be haunted by old hurts between us that never really got resolved. It would have been nice to have the time to reconcile those and have just a little more time to share. That will never happen. But I refuse to let that be with anyone else that I care for.

This Thanksgiving, I choose to be thankful. This Christmas, if I don't receive anything at all, that's not going to keep me from enjoying the company of those that I love.

When I consider the madness that will no doubt ensue in a few days' time, it makes me almost wish that this country would have a hard crash. Perhaps then it would bring us to our senses. Compel us to get our priorities back in order. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy getting some Christmas presents: it just isn't perfect unless I get a new pair of sweatpants, some LEGOs and at least one Star Wars toy. But is any of that the focal point of my holidays? More like a nice cherry on top.

Anyhoo, Jennifer Waters at MarketWatch has a considerably recommendable story about retailers ruining Thanksgiving in their war for "Black Friday" bucks. You might have already read it 'cuz it's making the rounds quite a lot already. It's enough to make one pause, and forsake heading to the stores at all on Thanksgiving Day.

Who knows: if enough people stay home, maybe the retailers will come to figure out that it's not worth the money to open the doors earlier than sanity allows.

Friday, November 16, 2012

No more Twinkies: Labor union destroys Hostess

I hope the idiots in the photo on the right are happy.  Those are some of the members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union who went on strike against their employer: Hostess Brands, Inc.

The union has about 5,000 people working at Hostess. As of this morning, their months-long strike has put themselves and thirteen thousand others out of work.

The big news at the time of this writing is Hostess going out of business and liquidating its assets. The company could no longer afford to be in business as a result of the strike. More than 18,500 people are now unemployed.

What a colossal committing of ass-hattery.

But hey, at least the employees responsible can rely on the union bosses to back them up. Not to mention getting government unemployment checks. All out of spite for a measly 2% decrease in pension that Hostess put on the bargaining table. Yeah, win the fight for a tiny amount of pension but put nearly 20,000 people out of work and destroy a favorite snack food for everyone.

Like they say on the basketball court: "Smooth move Ex-lax!"

Labor unions are worse than useless. If this doesn't demonstrate that, I don't know what possibly could.

Better stock up on your favorite Hostess-brand goodies, folks...

...'cuz they're about to be gone. Forever.

(I can't imagine any other company right now wanting to buy out Hostess and putting their goodies back into production: it'd cost too much to relocate factories to right-to-work states, and would anyone in their right mind in this economic environment want to go through the hassle anyway?)

It is the end of an era, my friends. A darn shame too, seeing as how Hostess snacks helped to end the reign of terror of so many supervillains back in the day.

Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho-Hos, Fruit Pies, Wonder Bread: get 'em now, friends and neighbors. Their value will be greater than gold as barter items on the underground market when the sh-t hits the fan. Probably sooner than later.

But if I were the CEO of Hostess, I wouldn't have put out a press release or called a news conference about what has been done to his company.

This is how I would have delivered the message...

TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 premiered 30 minutes ago in theaters across America

"Our long national nightmare is over."

Until my dying day, I will deny that those are real vampires.

Not afraid of sunlight? Not repelled by crucifixes or holy water or garlic? Casting shadows and appearing in mirrors? Not sleeping in coffins? Being "sparkly"? No fangs at all?!?

"Vampires" my butt. Those are, at most, people with severe eating disorders.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What does the Bible say? Homosexuality and marijuana use are legal!

And not just legal but apparently endorsed.

Found this on Facebook and it was too good not to share...

Just more proof that if you study the Bible hard enough, if you want to find something, you can find sanctioning for just about ANYTHING in it!

Okay, in all seriousness: I know and would dare say most everyone else knows that the Bible does not condone sexual immorality or drug abuse. But scriptures can... and indeed have... been twisted by selectively choosing out of context and inane literalism to create beliefs and doctrines that have no merit and indeed do not exist from study of the Bible as a whole.

No matter where you're coming from though, that graphic is still funny :-)

Bob Buckley turns in a BEAUTIFUL story about tobacco barns

When it comes to North Carolina architecture, there is no more ubiquitous an example than the humble tobacco barn. You can barely drive half a mile in the rural farming areas without seeing at least one or two dotting the landscape. With some of them dating back a century and more, they once exemplified this state's agricultural acumen like nothing else could.

And it is not without some sadness that in the modern era, most of them have fallen into disuse. Once they hummed with hard work and a handsome payoff. Now, no more. But the barns still stand: a testimony to times gone by and a tradition that many families maintained for generations.

For those reasons and more (not the least of which is the gorgeous cinematography and editing by Stewart Pittman) I can't recommend enough that y'all check out this Buckley Report story by WGHP Fox 8 reporter Bob Buckley. Buckley and Pittman deserve an Emmy for this, easily...

Special thanks to good friend Mark Childrey for being the first to spot this and passing it along!

(Along with props to historian extraordinaire Bob Carter for a great exposition about tobacco farming :-)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just back from SKYFALL

Go see it. Now. Trust Chris. And trust Chris's girlfriend too.

Let's just say this: I loved Casino Royale. I enjoyed Quantum of Solace. BUT...

Skyfall is what those first two movies were building up to. Daniel Craig has been James Bond for the better part of a decade. And now with Skyfall his James Bond is at last, now and forever, 007.

If you've seen it already then you understand. If you haven't yet well... you are in for a hella wild and 'splosive ride!!

Best. Bond. Movie. Ever. I have to see it again!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

37 years ago tonight came "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

It was on November 10th, 1975 that the Edmund Fitzgerald, the largest ship on the Great Lakes, sank into the depths of Superior. She carried twenty-nine men down with her.

The following year, Gordon Lightfoot recorded what is almost certainly his best-known song. It's also one of my personal favorites, and when I found this on YouTube I had to post it here too.

Accompanied by video and photos from her construction on through her tragic end and beyond, here is "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"...

You can read more about the Edmund Fitzgerald at its Wikipedia entry.

And some years ago, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the disater, I wrote a retrospective about the ship and its good crew.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

And on the day after...

...we still woke up. The sun rose again. There was a new morning. Life did go on.

In fact, it couldn't sincerely be said that much of anything changed at all.

This country, this world even, is not made by the grace of a single man or woman. An individual can render it grievous harm however.

But in the end, America - and every other country for that matter - is the result of the diligence of her entire people. And I tend to believe she is only as good as the lengths her people will go to admit that they are not wise enough to govern this land with mere human reasoning.

Acknowledging that much is the beginning of the enlightenment that the Founders prayed we might have. We've lost sight of that, and that has to be said regardless of what "party" we might belong to.

I'm going to have more to say about this election in the coming days. Including some things that may not be very popular, but I think they need to be said anyway.

In the meantime, congratulations to everyone who won his or her respective election.

I wrote that four years ago, on the morning after the last presidential election. Thought it was worth sharing again this morning.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Somebody voted for me for President!

Hey, I got a write-in vote from Florida for the office of President of the United States!

Not a joke: that is a real ballot a friend turned in this afternoon. I doubt I'll win but hey, at least someone thinks I'm more qualified for the job than Roseanne Barr. That's... something, I suppose!

As for my own vote for President:

There it is. That's it. The space on my ballot for President was left unmarked. Untouched. Unsoiled. As virgin as the wind-driven snow.

I had thought of writing in "Rufus T. Firefly". Until a wise friend convinced me today that a write-in vote for a fictitious character or anything like that would have been just as waste of a vote as those who blindly vote straight-ticket. That a much more morally powerful vote would be to choose not to participate in that particular madness at all.

Wanna know what most led me to not vote for anyone at all?

I believe in the sanctity and preciousness of human life. I believe that nothing has done more irreparable damage to our value of the soul than abortion. It is as Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: "The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion... And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?" and "Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants."

I cannot vote for Barack Obama because of his steadfast belief that innocent human life can be destroyed out of "choice".

Nor could I vote for Mitt Romney because he has gone on record many, MANY times as likewise believing that abortion should be upheld and even protected. Enough times in fact that I can not and do not trust his very convenient "conversion" on the issue prior to running for President. "Pro-life" George W. Bush had a "pro-life" Congress to work with... and they did NOTHING about abortion but token gestures!

I brook no doubt that Romney will/would be doing just as much.

And I am not entirely comfortable with Gary Johnson's position on the matter either.

So this afternoon, since were no candidates who I could feel confident enough about trusting my vote with, voted for no one for President.

My hands are clean and tonight my conscience is absolutely clear.

It can not be said that I "wasted" my vote.

And neither can it be said that I lent my consent toward this country's being apparently hellbent toward colossal ruin.

But I'm still honored that in the state of Florida, however miniscule it might be, that someone was willing to put their faith in me as President :-)

Monday, November 05, 2012

This week's THE WALKING DEAD was the darkest yet

And that's sayin' something about this show...

Congratulations producers of The Walking Dead: you finally brought television its most gruesome and disturbing birth scene since Robin's delivery in V: The Final Battle all the way back in 1984:

Yeah. It was sicker than that even.

"Killer Within" raised the stakes. Dropped jaws. And most of all, broke our hearts.

Due to peculiar circumstances at the moment I'm not catching The Walking Dead until the day after it airs (well I could if I wanted to, but I'm an honorable boyfriend who can only experience this story together with his girlfriend :-) and when Facebook and Twitter went berzerk about this episode last night, well... it was a long 20 hours to wait. But that was a hella thing to be patient for. I'm gonna be numb all night after watching that.

Anyone else wanna argue that The Walking Dead is not the best show on television right now? Let's hear about something else. 'Cuz if there is, I wanna watch it too.

In the meantime, so looking forward to next week's episode! And speaking of The Walking Dead and my girlfriend: Kristen and I applied to attend this year's Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival next month in Austin, Texas. I went to the ninth one in 2007 and we were hoping that this could be an "ultimate movie date night" for us, but we didn't get on the attendance list (with 170 being picked out of 3000+ it was gonna be tough no matter what). Anyhoo, Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News and the founder/emcee of the festival gave applicants the option of making a video: their interpretation of a scene from their favorite movie. Kristen came up with a crazy awesome idea and we filmed it two weeks ago. I thought it'd be fun to share it here :-)

So here is Kristen and her spin on a well-known scene from Love Actually:

American politics: How to level the playing field

The game is rigged. We all know it.

So why do we tolerate it?

America owes the old Soviet Union an apology. At least the Soviets had one party rule and were honest about it.

Tomorrow is the national election day in the United States. But nothing will substantially change as a result of it. The two major parties, corporate interests and the mainstream media have perpetrated a massive con on the American people: making us believe that there are only two parties that count when in truth they are much the same.

I will not be voting for either one of the two major candidates for President. Neither of them has done anything to earn my trust. I will vote for another. Some may call that "throwing your vote away". I disagree.

Any vote from one's earnest conscience is a valid one. As I see it, it is the straight-ticket vote which is the real wasted vote. Anybody who blindly and without question votes straight down a party ticket is wasting their vote. Worse: they are shirking the responsibility of freedom that too many men and women fought and died so that they might have said freedom.

I won't go back to being a slave of the system. Long ago I saw it for what it really is: a machine keeping most Americans intellectually hostage, when every one of us can choose liberation over captivity.

It is not easy. But it is worth it.

The system is broken. The system has no vitality left to it. All that is left is stagnation. America is a nation of political and philosophical vacuum among its leadership. The damn system has been made to keep out people with new and refreshing thoughts and ideas.

I'm going to have to answer to my children someday about why this country is the way that it is. I'll be damned if I have to tell them that I didn't do my best to leave them a world just a little bit better than how it was when I came into it.

So what would I suggest that could reinvigorate the United States and make this a land of true freedom and place of ideas and opportunity again?

Pass a new amendment to the Constitution. It could even be considered an amendment to Amendment One. It would read thusly...

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of political party.

In one fell swoop, partisan politics would be eliminated. There would be no more favoritism toward one party or toward two parties or toward any other.

Come to think of it, Amendment One might already outlaw favoritism toward political parties. I've seen plenty enough Christians who think that voting Republican is a God-ordained ordinance. The same with a lot who vote Democrat with theistic zeal. Political parties are the only religion a lot of people seem to have. But all the same, clarifying the point would not be a bad thing.

Keep in mind that this amendment does not outlaw political parties. Parties would and should exist, if people want them as a coalescence of common notion. They would be de-fanged. But as organs of nomination, they would be even welcome, because...

Candidate party affiliation will be removed from the ballot.  No more "D"s and "R"s on the ticket.  No more "I"s either, because they simply wouldn't be needed. If a candidate meets the criteria to be put on a state's ballot (which should be reasonable for all prospective candidates), then he or she is on the ballot... but as himself or herself, and not as a representative of a party. It would make straight-ticket voting impossible. It would also force a lot of people who haven't done it nearly enough to be informed and think critically before casting a ballot.

And when it comes to Presidential elections...

The Commission on Presidential Debates will no longer be the sponsor of Presidential debates.  The debates used to be the province of the League of Women Voters. Then the Democrats and Republicans colluded in 1988 to create the Commission on Presidential Debates. It was the proverbial wolves guarding the henhouse. The commission is controlled solely by Democrats and Republicans as a "bipartisan" organization, with funding (most of it secret) from a number of major corporations. Of course these are the only Presidential debates that the major news media choose to cover.

So, disband the commission. And let every candidate who has been qualified to appear on the ballot in each of the fifty states take part. That means that candidates nominated from the Libertarian, the Constitution and other significant parties would be welcomed on the same stage as the Democrats and Republicans... while the truly radical parties with agendas running counter to democracy and capitalism (such as the Communist Party USA) would in all likelihood never appear. I mean, they could theoretically with enough support... but it is not a fair and honest battleground of ideas when only two parties collude to lock out all legitimate competition.

Don't think that will work? Believe that more than two parties would only bring on confusion and discord?

Abraham Lincoln was one of four candidates who were listed on the ballot in the 1860 election. Lincoln only received just shy of 40% of the vote.

Do I believe that this is a country with thoughtful leadership that would seek to implement such measures?

I believe that it could be.

But I am realist enough to know that it is next to impossible. Corruption looks after itself, after all.

But as for myself, I can still choose to think for myself. To follow my own conscience. And if I am so led, to cast a vote against the demands of those around me.

I can't put it any better than how Captain America did when he spoke to Spider-Man during Marvel's Civil War arc...

Click to enlarge

Here I am.

"No. You move."

1956 TV appearance by Samuel Seymour

Good friend "lowbridge" informed me about this a few years ago, so I've got to credit him with the find. It's a story that's gained renewed interest because of a certain upcoming movie.

So who was Samuel Seymour? He was the last surviving witness of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

And Mr. Seymour lived long enough to talk about it on national television (sharing a stage with Lucille Ball, among others).

From February 9 1956, here is Samuel Seymour's appearance on I've Got a Secret:

Pause for a moment, and consider: Samuel Seymour was five years old when he heard the gunshot in Ford's Theater and saw John Wilkes Booth jump down to the stage after shooting Lincoln in the back of the head. Seymour was 96 when he passed away two months after being on I've Got a Secret.

No doubt there are many still living today who watched Samuel Seymour tell his story on television.

A century and a half seems such a long time... until we consider how few lifetimes fit within it.

There are photographs existing today of veterans of the Revolutionary War, posing in their uniforms. Photography was invented in 1826: the same year that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away. It was within the realm of possibility (though it never happened) that we could have had real pictures of either or both men before they died.

A relative of mine passed away ten years ago this month. He witnessed the Hindenburg explode. I got to hear him tell me about it from his own lips.

On the scale of history a hundred years is nothing. A thousand years is nothing. Between now and the time of Christ, there have been a mere twenty lifetimes.

Think about that. I certainly do.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Bold prophecy about Election Day

You know what's going to happen to America after Tuesday?

Nothing. Not a damned frazzling thing.

We will still be taxed too much.

Abortion will still go on.

TSA will still be molesting children and elderly people.

We will continue to be over-extended militarily.

Companies will keep relocating their production overseas.

Children in our schools will continue to be taught to obey and not question instead of encouraged to think for themselves.

Government power over us will continue to increase instead of diminishing.

Our economy won't stop being based around fiat currency.

The Constitution will continue to be ignored by lawmakers and the judiciary and the White House.

NOTHING will change after Tuesday... except perhaps a different set of faces upon which we'll blame for the folly that we ourselves allowed to happen. Because we didn't want to buck the status quo.

Some call that "being comfortable". I call that "being enslaved".

All we'll be doing on Tuesday so far as higher offices go is choosing a new overseer for the plantation. The funny thing is: we can choose to walk off of it any damned time we want.

So why aren't we?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Top Ten Greatest Fictional Statesmen

We deserve better.  We should have demanded better.  We should have had higher expectations from those who asked to be entrusted with crafting laws, with the public treasury, with judicial integrity, with command of the military.

Let's stop the bullcrap and be honest.  I mean, SERIOUSLY honest.  With an election looming in the next few days here in the United States, we have been incrementally conned and conditioned to have practically nobody to cast a vote for other than smooth-talkers and snake-oil salesmen.  Incumbents and challengers ready willing and able to sell their soul for a little scrap of power... and fools that we are, we seem only too willing to give it to them.  Sometimes I wonder if most of us like being treated with such contempt by those who allege to serve we the people.

In short: we have a surplus of politicians and too damned few statesmen.

What is a statesman?  Someone, man or woman, who puts the good of those they serve above his or her own desires and ambitions.  True statesmen are not politicians.  Politicians care only for the trappings of office and don't care how they get it.

For the past several years I have had a rule by which I abide when it comes to casting a ballot.  It is very simple: if a candidate's campaign creates or sanctions even one negative ad aimed at an opponent, I do not vote for that candidate.  To me it indicates that the candidate is a politician, not a statesman.  Statesmen will hold up under scrutiny per their own virtues.  They don't want or even need to attack the virtues of others, even if said virtues are lacking.

Right now, my ballot for next week has some pretty wide open spaces.

How has it come to this?  Could it be that... we as citizens have forgotten what a statesman is supposed to be?  That we can no longer recognize the qualities that make them leaders and not mere "politicians"?

Maybe.  In fact, I would dare say, unfortunately... yes, we have.

So if sincere and selfless and capable leadership cannot be found in our real world, perhaps a look toward movies, books and television is in order.  Assembled here are the top ten men, women, and other beings from fiction who best exemplify the various aspects of statesmanship, along with the qualities for which they are best known.

Who are they?  Find out after the jump!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Shumate revs up the spiritual engine with CARS AND CHRISTIANITY

Awright, disclaimer time ('cuz I believe in that sort of thing): I've known Stephen Shumate for most of my life, though it's been the better part of twenty years since we've corresponded at all. But as is such these days we wound up hooking up again through Facebook. I've always thought Stephen as being one of the wisest and coolest people I've ever met (not to mention adventurous: he used to do crazy dangerous whitewater kayaking and probably still does).

When it caught my eye that Stephen had written a book, well... that certainly piqued my attention. Especially when the title of it is Cars and Christianity.

When I saw that title I was honestly expecting something very different. Like, maybe a book about the physical nuts 'n bolts of automobiles as much as contemplation upon spiritual life. Technical geek though I be, the inner workings of cars and trucks continue to mystify me (though that hasn't stopped me from getting three speeding tickets so far this year, but I digress...) and I was anticipating that Cars and Christianity would provide multi-disciplinary education across two disparate fields of interest. Alas! It did not.

But Cars and Christianity is, however, a very thoughtful lil' tome of reflections upon the grace of God and the seeking after Him for guidance and wisdom. One that will be readily accessible and enjoyable to anyone.

Cars and Christianity presents the walk with Christ as an auto restoration project (much like the one Shumate undertook with his '73 Corvette shown on the cover). The life of the believer is one that begins as a banged-up embarrassment of rusted chrome and Bondo-filled panels: one that MAACO wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Yet the Master Mechanic that is Christ is more than sufficient to repair "every single dent and scratch", as Shumate puts it. So it is that in the beginning, the Christian's car is made better than sparkling new.

And yet, as Shumate notes, far too many Christians are content to leave their cars sitting in the garage: accumulating dust and quietly rotting under the hood. And that's not what our spiritual vehicles are intended to be! Our cars are supposed to be driven hard and fast on God's highway, trusting Him to guide us even amidst smoke, snow and any other adverse condition. No life should be left idly in park. Indeed, that isn't much of life at all. But to hit the road as a believer in Christ is to have a more action-packed adventure than possibly anything depicted in Easy Rider or Thelma and Louise. All we have to do is be willing to put the key into the ignition.

Wonderfully laden with insight and humor, Cars and Christianity invokes everything from NASCAR racing to the quirks of GPS. My only complaint about it is that I was left wanting more. But as a first-time book, it is a terrific work of analogies and applications for long-time Christians and new believers alike. I certainly came away from reading it feeling that it was time well spent... and time leading to deeper reflection upon my own faith.

Cars and Christianity is available as softcover printed book and one of those new-fangled Kindle readers (and it can also be used on an iPad with the free Kindle app). BUT READERS OF THIS BLOG are getting the book for just $5.00! Simply head on over to this page that Stephen has set up for you nice folks and enter B7NY3ZL8 as the discount code. So you're getting a fun and edifying book, putting money into Stephen's pocket AND saving some coin for yourself all at the same time! Is that a great deal or what?!

Anyhoo however you get it, Cars and Christianity gets this blogger's seal of approval. And I hope that this is only the first of many, many books still to come from Stephen Shumate :-)

Penka Kouneva's A WARRIOR'S ODYSSEY: a journey across emotion under fire

In the almost nine years of writing on this blog and not a few write-ups about music, I can't recall doing any review of an original orchestral composition. Mostly it has been soundtracks and albums by "Weird Al" Yankovic.

So it is that when a copy of A Warrior's Odyssey - the new album from film composer Penka Kouneva - arrived for review, I made the approach with more than a little trepidation. Composing a review for a movie score or studio album is one thing. Writing it for a more classical work is a whole new thing for me (and my iPod is loaded with everything from Wagner to The Three Tenors in Concert 1994, believe it or not.)

And now, after listening to A Warrior's Odyssey a bunch of times... I can't honestly claim that I have skill enough to write about how magnificent an album this is!

Kouneva is no stranger to dramatic composition. She has previously collaborated with other artists, including Steve Jablonsky on the soundtracks for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Gears of War 3, as well as contributing to The Matrix Revolutions and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. With A Warrior's Odyssey however, Kouneva is relying on the music itself to convey a sense of experience of - and very personal evolution ensuing from - the brutal realm of modern battle. There are no visuals playing on the screen or in your head to juxtapose this album with.

And it doesn't need them, either. A Warrior's Odyssey is a flowing work of eighteen tracks making up a triptych of movements. They beautifully convey drama in all its buildup and resolution, without a typically requisite plot to steer it with. But Kouneva arouses emotion with such skill and thoughtfulness with A Warrior's Odyssey that it stands beautifully as a work unto itself, without needing a commercial story behind it.

And really, music like this can evoke thoughts and images better than any soundtrack could. "Waiting for Dawn to Break" brings to mind the fleeting night and anticipation of the combat to come. The next several tracks take us quickly into the fray of battle, interspersed with moments of personal conflict, with Track 4 - also titled "A Warrior's Odyssey" - the masterpiece of the tapestry's first part.

It's onward from "Forgotten Steeples", the eighth track, that A Warrior's Odyssey really takes off from a glorious opening round. These are the moments of introspection: all-too-brief and desperately grasped moments of reflection, doubt, wonder.

The individual focus is washed away again in the deluge of war with the album's third section. And here is where Kouneva flexes all her considerable talent, masterfully interweaving the album's previous forays into both personal emotion and the brutality of battle. I found my three favorite tracks from this part to be "Fading Fortitude/The Battle Must Go On" and "Pilot Bombardier and Dogfights" (each of which has been nominated for industry awards) and "Airplane Bound for the Skies": the album's grand finale.

Penka Kouneva has enjoyed an already stellar career in Hollywood, but I have a strong feeling that A Warrior's Odyssey will prove to be her real breakout album. One that will put her in high demand as both a commercial composer and originator of the highest caliber of classical style. So it is that A Warrior's Odyssey gets this blogger's highest recommendation for your music library! Click here to find it at Amazon.com. Or head on over to iTunes and purchase it there if you can't wait for a nice shiny disc. However it is that you buy it, you won't regret that you did!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Congratulations Jerel and Grace!

Awright, so it comes almost three weeks too late. I've had a lot going on here and it just kinda slipped my mind.

But a wedding is always a good thing to celebrate!

So to great friends Jerel and Grace: congratulations on your nuptials! You guys had a beautiful ceremony and I am thankful to have been there to see the two of you off on your adventure through life together.