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Sunday, December 30, 2012

One last photo from 2012 Holiday Season

Kristen and me on Christmas Day at her parents' house...

Despite everything she says, I still insist that she is far too sweet, fun and beautiful for a guy like me to be blessed with :-)

I am feeling led to say something here. That this Christmas was, for more reasons than I can possibly count, THE best Christmas that I have been able to enjoy in a very long, long time.

It was the first Christmas that I have had without Mom. In fact, it was a year ago today that we had her funeral. And in a lot of ways this was a trying and difficult year in other aspects as well.

But when I see the person I was a year ago, the time that I was going through then... and then now, how far God has brought me in that time, how He has blessed me more than I possibly deserve. And then how Kristen had promised that this was going to be a wonderful Christmas...

It was. It really was.

And Lord willing, next Christmas will be even better ;-)

Out-of-whack priorities

Good friend, Baptist minister and wise Christian brother (he's certainly wiser than I shall ever be) James Hodges made an observation earlier today. I'm sharing it here, because in so few words it speaks volumes...
Why should we worry about the 'fiscal cliff' when we have already fallen over the 'moral cliff.'
Unfortunately, all too true.

Perhaps there would be no concern of a "fiscal cliff" at all if we had chosen to long ago steer away from the moral cliff.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Truly scarier than the Sith...

For as long as we've been watching Star Wars movies, I can't recall anyone drawing attention to this one fleeting but horrifying image from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi...

Ewoks. With blaster rifles.

For the good of the galaxy, let us hope the triumphant Rebels never allow them to leave Endor.

Friday, December 28, 2012

THE WALKING DEAD set to Adele's "Skyfall"

Massive spoilers in this video, 'cuz it covers everything from the start of the first season on up to the third year's mid-season finale.

If you're caught up on The Walking Dead, you still won't be ready for the abundawundawesomeness of Jonathan Wong's video. He's masterfully edited together clips from The Walking Dead and set it to Adele's hit song "Skyfall", the theme from the latest James Bond movie.

If you only watch one YouTube video this week, watch this one. If you only watch ten, watch this one ten times!

AMC oughtta hire Jonathan, this vid is so dang cool!!

"Taps" for a true soldier and statesman

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

"Stormin' Norman"

1934 - 2012


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"The Snowmen" is blowing every DOCTOR WHO fan's mind right now!!

HOLY &#@$!!!

I was prepared to write up a review of 2012's edition of what has become a much-anticipated holiday tradition: the Doctor Who Christmas special. And then showrunner/writer Steven Moffat louses it up by making everyone's job at writing about it ridiculously almost impossibly hardcore crazy difficult.

So on this side of the pond "The Snowmen" just finished transmitting on BBC America.

Good. Lord...

"The Snowmen" has done what no other Christmas special before has done: it has sent Doctor Who COMPLETELY off the rails like a highballing freight train. The lever is broken and the brakes are GONE, bay-bee!!

Halfway through the story I was already set to declare "The Snowmen" to be not only the best Christmas special we have yet seen, but to be one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. This was a Doctor (Matt Smith) we have never witnessed before in any incarnation: tired, world-weary... and dare I say apathetic? Smith has steadily been turning the Eleventh Doctor into a far darker character than we've become comfortable with. The tragic events seen in "The Angels Take Manhattan" have taken their toll on the man who was once savior of worlds.

It also didn't hurt that we got to see the return of Madame Vastra and her associate/wife Jenny, and Strax (who had such wonderful wacky and trigger-happy lines in this special that many on Twitter are demanding that he be the next companion for the Doctor).

Then there were the Snowmen: perhaps the most nightmarish and twisted villains we have seen in any Doctor Who story in recent memory. And there could have been no better actor to give them life and a voice than Ian McKellen. Richard Grant also brought a sinister presence as Doctor Simeon.

So let's get down to brass tacks: "The Snowmen" as a story all its own blew the minds of everyone watching tonight. But then there was that last half or so hinting at something else amiss.

And then came the last few minutes...


Doctor Who is now totally off the chain. And so begins the era of Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara: perhaps more than any other companion in nigh-on fifty years of Doctor Who, set to be a major enigma in the already-enigmatic life of the Doctor.

This will go down in history as the Christmas Night that melted the gray matter of Doctor Who fans across the globe. And there will be NO end to speculation between now and when the show returns in April for the second half of the current season.

"The Snowmen" gets an unprecedented FIFTEEN Sonic Screwdrivers out of a possible five from this reviewer. Yes, it's that good.

Best. Doctor Who. Christmas. Special. Ever. Must. Watch. Again.

To a very many people...

To friends in far places,

To friends not forgotten,

To friends never to be seen again within the circles of the Earth,

To friends who will ever be cherished across the the years, until we meet again at last on that distant shore,

To friends who will be loved always, though they may never know it...

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

"It wasn't us Protestants, honest!"

This evening I had the opportunity to do something that I've wanted to do for most of my life: attend the Christmas Eve Mass at a Roman Catholic Church.

I am very happy to report that it was as beautiful as I had long expected it to be. Although I am not Catholic, nonetheless I came away from the experience feeling that God had ministered to my spirit in a way that I have needed Him to these past few days especially.

That, and it was a pleasure to celebrate the birth of Christ with my Catholic brethren. Turns out that just about all the Christmas hymns were those that I had already grown up with :-)

Here's a photo I shot just before the Eucharist tonight at St. Veronica's...

The church was packed solid! We had to sit in one of these three adjoining hallways that had been furnished with extra chairs. St. Veronica's has, I think four Christmas Eve services in order to accommodate everyone.

And then there's what happened later, which at least one person described as the "most thrilling Mass ever!"

As the Eucharist was nearing its end (this one little kid gave me a REALLY crazy look when he saw that I was still sitting down and not getting up at all to take part in the Eucharist)... that is when the fire alarms went on all over the church!! So the priests had to administer the Host to the last few parishioners with loud noise and flashing lights all over the sanctuary. The alarm could be delayed for a few seconds before going full-blast again, so some poor deacon was in the back of the building frantically deactivating the fire alarm every few seconds, trying hard to not miss a beat.

A group of parishioners were coming back to where we were sitting after having the Eucharist. And... I tried, Lord knows I tried to hold back folks, but I just couldn't help myself...

I blurted out "It wasn't us Protestants, honest!"

Turns out that in the narthex at the entrance of the church, where some of the overflow crowd was sitting, a baby accidentally pulled a fire alarm lever.

So this is how my first Christmas Eve Mass at a Roman Catholic Church ended: with two fire engines arriving at the scene...

Not quite how I always envisioned a Christmas Eve Mass to wind down, but exciting all the same :-)

It's Christmas Eve and the snow is falling

Awright, so it's hard to make out in the pic... but trust me, it is snowing at my location. And at a pretty good clip too! Maybe we'll get a White Christmas. There was one in Reidsville two years ago. Where I am now, perhaps a chance for an even bigger one.

Oh yeah, no traditional Christmas post this time as in years past. May be some pretty neat stuff that I'll be putting on the blog the next few days :-)

Tammy's first Christmas

Don't ever let it be said that anybody in this wacky family lacks for gifts on Christmas!

This pic is actually a few days old, but I wanted her to go ahead and start enjoying it. Here is Tammy - now a very psycho eight-months old - with her new doggie bed :-)

She's come a long way from the bed she made on her first day with us...

Sunday, December 23, 2012


After dinner tonight (which may or may not have been in celebration of today being the Festivus holiday) Kristen's sister-in-law Melissa presented me with a gift: her rendering of one of the many memorable moments from our trip to Oregon this past June...

That's Uncle Bob and yours truly, when I suggested we drive from our rental house in Hood River all the way to the Pacific coast. Because that was when Astoria was having its annual Goonies Weekend and I always wanted to see the house from that movie.

Alas, we did not make it that far. Maybe we'll be there in 2015 for the big party they're already planning for The Goonies 30th anniversary :-)

Raggin' on Rudolph

Two thoughts about the reindeer who went down in hist-o-REEEEEE...

1. If Rudolph's nose is THAT bright, and also such high-energy because of its intense red hue, assuming it's radiating out the lumens of at least the running lights of a commercial airliner and that it's shining right at his face...

...Rudolph should be totally blind by now!! Even one trip around the world would have been more than enough to burn out his retinas.

I hope Santa sleeps easy with this on his conscience.

2. Johnny Marks wrote "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in 1949 as part of a publicity campaign for the Montgomery Ward's department store chain.

Just think: if the company had insisted upon royalties every time that song was played or performed or sung in public by school choirs and Brownie troops, Montgomery Ward's would still be in business!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Who are we to You?"

Ever since I first saw this movie in February, it has lingered on the edges of my consciousness like no film before has.

And of all the wonder that is to be found in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, this is the scene that has most entranced and enchanted me.

As I wrote after watching it then, this is a movie that dares to ask God "Why?", before providing the same reply that God gave to Job.

Now that the thought occurs to me, I might even suggest watching The Tree of Life after studying the Book of Job from the Old Testament. Yeah: read everything from the beginning, on through Job losing all but his life and then to the monologues by his friends (some help they were!) and exactly before hitting the point where God comes in to answer Job, go to this scene in The Tree of Life and let that paraphrase what God says.

What God has said to Job and to every one of us who has demanded of Him, "Answer me."

The music is "Lacrimosa" by composer Zbigniew Preisner. And as soon as I find the CD of it I am absolutely putting it on my iPod.

Just felt like posting something beautiful at this late hour...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When firearm magazines are outlawed...

Handgun and rifle magazines are selling out at Wal-Mart and other retailers and the prices for them are soaring on eBay and other sites. One gun shop in Charlotte did more than $1 million in sales yesterday: the most it's had in over half a century of business. With the increasing likelihood that the Obama Administration and too much of Congress are going to attempt restrictions on guns and magazines, people are gettin' it while the gettin's good.

So I can't help but think: a magazine isn't much more than a metal box with a spring. Come to think of it, that's all a magazine is. I could very easily manufacture a rough but working magazine - holding as much ammo as I wish - in a machine shop. Apart from the spring, EVERYTHING that I'd need to produce a magazine in an hour or so's time is within ready reach of me.

Hey, I've made knives. Making parts for guns would be the next logical step. And there are many with far greater skills who could produce not just the magazines but full-working guns, and possibly mass-produce them at that.

Not to mention that rapid-prototyping - AKA "3D printing" - is already allowing for production of magazines and other gun parts on your desktop. Before very long if you want a gun, you'll be able to download one from the Internet. Literally.

I'm guessing that if government restrictions are placed on firearms and magazines, that there will be a vast underground market for those produced in home shops etc. And every one of them will be unregistered and untraceable.

I'm just sayin', is all...

The Doctor is getting a new TARDIS console!

In six days "The Snowmen" cometh. And it's just been announced that they'll be voiced by Ian McKellen (yup, Gandalf himself).

And the Doctor will be waiting for them. Not just in new threads but a whole new control room for the TARDIS...

The Doctor Who Christmas specials have been very hit-or-miss for me. One one hand we've had "The Next Doctor", "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" and the beautiful tale that was "A Christmas Carol"... and then there have been turkeys like "Voyage of the Damned" (right up there with "Love & Monsters" as one of the all-time low points of Doctor Who history). But I've a ridiculously good feeling about "The Snowmen".

Anyhoo, the more I look at this redesign of the TARDIS console/control room, the more I'm digging it. And apparently that really IS a whole new costume for the Eleventh Doctor! Matt Smith describes it as "a bit Artful Dodger meets the Doctor." Some pics have him wearing a top hat with the new ensemble. And he's still wearing the bow tie. Bow ties are cool.

(What? Y'all think I wouldn't find a way to work that in? :-P )

"The Snowmen" premieres on Christmas Day: on BBC One for our Brittish brethren across the pond and on BBC America for us colonists.

Robert Bork has passed away

Look, I know about the guy's role in the Saturday Night Massacre. There were a number of beliefs that he held to which I do now and always will vehemently disagree with, particularly with his stance on jury nullification. He also was way off about the Second Amendment, holding to the notion that it was intended for participating in government-sanctioned militias.

But I've also long believed that in spite of those and many more qualms about the man, Robert Bork truly - as best he understood - adhered to the highest principles in respect to law and the Constitution.

And claims from petty politicians (like Ted Kennedy) aside, it must be agreed by all: Bork was a brilliant jurist in every sense.

Judge Robert H. Bork passed away this morning at the age of 85.

Thoughts and prayers going out to his family.

And I have to wonder today - as I have many times over the years - what the United States Supreme Court would have been like if Bork had been on the bench.

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's the REAL first trailer for STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS!

Eleven days ago J.J. Abrams' boys at Bad Robot let loose their teaser for Star Trek Into Darkness. Paramount is officially calling that one an "announcement" for the upcoming movie.

Then this afternoon they release what they're claiming is the actual first trailer for it.

Confused? Yeah me too kinda.

But I think most will agree: this could be, so far, the most intense and poignant trailer for a Star Trek movie ever:

You're gonna have to watch it in Quicktime if you wanna see it 'cuz at the moment the Paramount lawyers are having it wiped like crazy from YouTube. Besides, you REALLY want to watch this in full beautiful Quicktime anyway. Trust me :-)

Still no word on whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing Khan. But right now the confidence is pretty high that Alice Eve's character will be Carol Marcus. And then there's that final shot from this trailer that will remind everyone of a certain famous scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan...

Gotta love a good mystery!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Victoria Soto, 1985 - 2012

Victoria Soto, teacher of first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She had just turned 27. Bright, beautiful, with a love of teaching and her whole life ahead of her...

She was killed during Friday's massacre after hiding her students in a closet, then using her body to shield them against the bullets.

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
-- John 15:13 (New International Version)

Chris sees THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. On a regular screen. In ol'-fashioned 24 FPS. And 2D.

And I STILL loved every freakin' awesome minute of it!!

I also must say from the getgo that if Peter Jackson and his fellow scribes on this movie's screenplay keep up their vibe, that they will have no problem whatsoever filling out the next two films of the trilogy with a healthy balance of action and Tolkien-ish fluff. Maybe we should lobby Jackson to prepare for work on a three-part adaptation of The Silmarillion as his next project. Then we can have nine movies about the history of Middle-Earth sitting on the Blu-ray shelf. But I digress...

M'lady Kristen and I caught The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yesterday afternoon, on a normal-sized screen (there's no proper IMAX screen in the immediate vicinity) and in time-honored 2D. And not in that newfangled 48 FPS either (I'm getting reports from all over the place that the higher framerate really can and does induce severe headaches, but that in IMAX 3D it's supposed to be better somehow). In other words, I experienced An Unexpected Journey in much the same way as I did The Lord of the Rings trilogy on the big screen a decade ago. I note this in case the reader might wonder how I think The Hobbit so far is jibing with those three movies.

The short and sweet of it is: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is how a prequel should be produced. This movie blends and meshes so seamlessly with The Lord of the Rings that one might easily think Peter Jackson shot all of these movies simultaneously. The only thing that obviously sticks out is Martin Freeman as the younger Bilbo Baggins. Ian Holm for a number of reasons did not return to play Bilbo for the bulk of the story. But it is sweet delight to see Holm come back as Bilbo on the eve of his 111th birthday party along with Elijah Wood as Frodo. Those two look so unaged at all that one wonders if they have had the One Ring all along.

But Martin Freeman as Bilbo sixty years before The Lord of the Rings: I totally bought into his portrayal of the hobbit who notoriously goes running off (to the chagrin of his sensible neighbors) after Gandalf and the dwarves for an adventure beyond the borders of Bag End.

The narrative proper begins with Bilbo recounting the story of Erebor: the Lonely Mountain on the far side of Mirkwood Forest, over the forbidding peaks of the Misty Mountains. The greatest of the dwarven kingdoms of Middle-Earth (so renowned in fact that Men and Elves alike paid homage to King Thror), Erebor produces both fabulous riches and unsurpassed craftsmanship. But it's not to last. The wealth of the Kingdom Under the Mountain draws the lustful eye of the dragon Smaug, who devastates Erebor and the nearby city of Dale. Keen eyes will spot, among the Dwarven refugees fleeing Erebor, the first-ever Dwarf women to be depicted at all in any work inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's mythology. A detail with no direct bearing on the story, but an altogether brash and bold one all the same. And we don't get a good look at Smaug just yet: at this point in the trilogy he's more like an indomitable force of nature: a tip of wing here and end of tail there is the only glimpse of the living beast turning Erebor and Dale into a smoking ruin.

Several decades later we find Bilbo smoking his pipeweed and bidding a "Good morning" to Gandalf (Ian McKellen), in the scene straight out of novel. It was exactly how I imagined it more than twenty years ago when I first read The Hobbit. But that's just the appetizer for an even grander spectacle: the thirteen Dwarves who arrive for an unexpected party that night at Bilbo's home. I bet little kids watching this movie will be hideously tempted to throw dinnerware, dishes and bowls around the kitchen (parents, take note!).

Well, if you've read The Hobbit, you'll know pretty much what to expect story-wise from here on out. But that's not all there is to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Jackson and his team of writers (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and contributions from Guillermo del Toro) also filled out the story with a considerable amount of lore from across the width and breadth of Tolkien's legendarium. Gandalf at one point mentions how there are five wizards in all, even mentioning the infamously-mysterious Blue Wizards (though Gandalf remarks that he can't remember their names). We get to see Radagast the Brown (wonderfully played by Sylvester McCoy, AKA the Seventh Doctor from Doctor Who): a fellow wizard who has "gone nature boy", roaming across Wilderland in a sleigh pulled by rabbits a'la Mad Santa. When the party arrives at Rivendell we are once again presented with Elrond and Galadriel (Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett, respectively, from the previous trilogy). And though I knew he was in there somewhere, it nevertheless was an honest shock to behold Christopher Lee once more as Saruman. Again I ask: HOW do all these people look like they've not gotten any older in ten years' time?? Great makeup I know, but still...

Ian McKellen as Gandalf is the most welcome reprisal from the earlier trilogy. And I thought that this time around, McKellen brought notably more humor and action prowess to a role already rich with the burdens of wisdom and gravitas. Indeed, at times McKellen's Gandalf the Grey comes across as more eager and able to fight in battle than does the reborn Gandalf the White from The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his gang of homeless but hearty Dwarves are fun to watch, regardless of their circumstance. I think my favorite of the bunch is Bofur (James Nesbitt): not just an honest and up-front Dwarf, but also the one wearing the coolest-looking hat. I want one of those!

And then there is Andy Serkis as Gollum. Serkis (who also gets a Second Unit Direction credit in this film) has lost nothing and in fact seems to have gotten even better at playing the fallen hobbit-kin. More than anything else in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Serkis' Gollum is the "flip-side" of the same coin that we'll see again in The Lord of the Rings. If Gollum was wretched and loathsome in that trilogy, he is no less here... but ridden throughout with a tragic and even saddened nature. There is little wonder why Bilbo ultimately shows pity and stays his hand from slaying Gollum. But even knowing that well beforehand, I was almost giddy about seeing Bilbo taking the quick and easy path. "It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble", Kristen said later. But then, Gollum would not have played - as Gandalf believed he would - the role he did in The Lord of the Rings. This is also the most convincing by far that we've seen Gollum: as much as we were persuaded of his on-screen appearance in The Two Towers and The Return of the King, WETA's crack effects team has made him even more persuasive for The Hobbit.

Some are saying that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey could use with "some fat trimmed off". I'll have to say that I agree somewhat with that. The scene with the mountain trolls (who first "appeared" in The Fellowship of the Ring seems especially longer than necessary. There are other sequences that I wish had been more elaborated upon. A shot in the first trailer for The Hobbit of Bilbo looking at the shattered pieces of Narsil, the sword that cut the ring from Sauron's hand at the end of the Second Age, has tantalized me for a year but for whatever reason wasn't included in the theatrical cut. That would have been a terrific way to tie The Hobbit's intimate tale with the grander epic spanning the eons of Middle-Earth history. Maybe that'll make the extended version Peter Jackson has promised will get released on Blu-ray.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is considerably brighter than The Lord of the Rings, in terms of both cinematography and story. The Shire even looks more hopeful and optimistic than it does when we first see it in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's The Hobbit was primarily a children's story, and to that Jackson and his team hold true. It is certainly a fitting segue into The Lord of the Rings, but it's also one that is far more conscionable about its intended audience (though the adults will no doubt love it too!).

It would not have been a proper Middle-Earth saga helmed by Peter Jackson without the compositional talents of Howard Shore. I bought the soundtrack CD three days before the movie was released and already had been listening to it like crazy ("Song of the Lonely Mountain" especially) but hearing his score accentuating the film on the big screen was an even richer experience. The "Erebor" theme fits in well with the others Shore had already composed, many of which return from The Lord of the Rings. The "Concerning Hobbits" bit plays throughout, but also listen for the "One Ring" motif. Especially juxtaposed with the goings-on at Dol Guldur.

I'm just realizing that this is the first time on this blog that I've reviewed a Peter Jackson movie set in Middle-Earth. I wrote a review of The Fellowship of the Ring for another site the day that movie came out in 2001. A lot has happened since that time, both in the world beyond my own door (sadly, not a round one) and in my personal life. Watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey left me feeling the most optimistic, upbeat and cheerful about adventures yet to come than any movie I can recall watching in the past few years.

And it's just getting started...

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gets this blogger's most abundawonderfully HIGHEST possible recommendation! However you see it (and I might check it out in IMAX 3D 48 FPS at some point), do not miss its theatrical run. This really is a movie to enjoy at least once with a proper audience.

Come back next year for a review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Police say Oates chewed up Hall's face!

No not THAT Hall and Oates!!

(And just to be safe, it wasn't that Police either...)

Mash down here for the strange but true story of Hall and Oates giving whole new meaning to "Maneater".

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Jedi Knight" now 7th most popular religion in UK

First it was Darth Vader joining the Lutheran Church in Iceland...

...and now the "ancient religion" of the Jedi is the seventh most practiced faith in the United Kingdom! Nearly 180,000 people in Great Britain and Wales put their religion as "Jedi Knight" during that country's most recent census.

The warrior-monk creed from the Star Wars saga came in after Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism.

Ehhhhh, Star Wars ubergeek though I be, this would be going too far in my book.

But then again, Star Wars mixing it up with religious practices can have some pretty fun results...

(Please forgive me Jeff, but I've been wanting to use that pic for a long long time... :-P )

First photo of DNA in all its twisted glory!

Nearly sixty years ago, James Watson and Francis Crick figured out what DNA - that mega-long molecule containing the blueprints of organic life - looked like. All they had at the time was deduction through observation and x-ray crystallography (don't worry, it took me awhile to learn how that worked, too!) to figure out the double-helix arrangement. But they had no way of actually seeing the darned thing.

Now for the first time, scientists have been able to visually image DNA using a novel technique with electron microscopy and a teeny tiny "bed of nails". Hit the above link for more about how Enzo di Fabrizio and his fellow boffins at Italian Institute of Technology pulled it off.

As for the first real picture of DNA, behold:

Photo credit: Enzo di Fabrizio/Italian Institute of Technology
WOW! It's the double-helix determined by Watson and Crick... but look at how tightly packed that thing is!! Doesn't look as spacious as those colorful twisty ladders we all saw in our high school biology labs, does it?

Amazing, that that much information about the design of you, me, every person on the planet and all other known forms of life on Earth, takes up so tiny an amount of space within the nucleus of a cell. I heard years ago that if you took all the DNA of your body and strung the individual molecules end-on-end, that it would reach from the Earth to the Sun.

Looking at that picture, I'm finally believing it.

The high school student who unleashed the very first computer virus

It wouldn't be at all surprising if trillions of dollars have been spent in the name of combating computer viruses, to say nothing of the countless hours of lost productivity and technical havoc that those malevolent digital prions have wrought.

And it all started thirty years ago this year, with a high school student's innocent practical joke.
Rich Skrenta in 1989:
Blame HIM for having to buy all that
anti-virus software.

The Register has a fascinating in-depth interview with Rich Skrenta: the creator of Elk Cloner: now recognized as the first-ever computer virus. Skrenta, then fifteen years old in 1982, got a little more interested in the Apple II than might have been healthy for anyone, but it started benignly enough: writing his own text-based adventures and learning advanced coding. Then inspired by a string of "hysterically funny" pranks with disks he would loan to friends, he came up with Elk Cloner. It was his attempt to alter a floppy disk's contents without actually touching it. Elk Cloner would run in the background of the Apple II and "hop" to floppy after floppy...

It soon got beyond Skrenta's control.
The boot sector virus was written for Apple II systems, the dominant home computers of the time, and infected floppy discs.

If an Apple II booted from an infected floppy disk, Elk Cloner became resident in the computer’s memory. Uninfected discs inserted into the same computer were given a dose of the malware just as soon as a user keyed in the command catalog for a list of files.

Infected computers would display a short poem, also written by Skrenta, on every fiftieth boot from an infected disk:

Elk Cloner: The program with a personality
It will get on all your disks It will infiltrate your chips Yes it's Cloner!
It will stick to you like glue It will modify ram too Send in the Cloner!

Elk Cloner, which played other, more subtle tricks every five boots, caused no real harm but managed to spread widely. Computer viruses had been created before, but Skrenta’s prank app was the first to spread in the wild, outside the computer system or network on which it was created.

It's hard not to admire the young Skrenta's technical prowess, in a perverse sort of fashion. He inadvertently became forever a part of technological history, after all!

Mash down here for the full article.

The worst school massacre in American history

38 children and six adults killed. Several dozen wounded. The assailant killed himself.

That was the toll from the Bath Township Consolidated School Massacre in Bath Township, Michigan. On May 18, 1927...

You can read more about it here.

Incidentally, not a single firearm was used in the worst school massacre in the nation's history.

It is not what is in the hand so much as what is in the heart.

Thoughts and prayers going out to the people of Newtown, Connecticut this afternoon.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Far over the Misty Mountains rise..."

I held off on listening to anything from Howard Shore's score for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey until my grubby lil' paws had hold of the soundtrack CD when it was released on Tuesday. I went for the collector's edition, which has extra tracks, lots of nifty pictures and a bunch of liner notes about Shore's return to the music of Middle-Earth.

So all the cool kids knew about this song already (it was released on the Intertubes a few weeks ago) but the track I've playing like crazy over and over again from this score is "Song of the Lonely Mountain", performed by Neil Finn.

This is what'll presumably be playing when the end credits roll on the first part of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy.

"Beautiful" doesn't begin to do it justice. Now I loved the songs that played over the credits of each of The Lord of the Rings films (I've remarked a few times over the years - maybe a bit seriously - that the perfect song to have played at my eventual funeral should be "Into the West" by Annie Lennox from The Return of the King). But "Song of the Lonely Mountain" more than any other that has been produced for Jackson's Tolkien-ish movies... this seems even more appropriate in tone for the story at hand. It's exactly what I imagined Bilbo was feeling, when I first read The Hobbit many years ago, when he listened to the dwarves singing about heading off to reclaim their rightful kingdom from terrible Smaug.  Hearing their words, finding one's self listing off to far away mountains and forests and treasures... and adventure.

No wonder Bilbo went running off into the wild.  Heck, after listening to a song like this, I would too!  If there were any more wild to run off into... sigh.

And the rest of the soundtrack is awesome too! "Blunt the Knives" is the sort of song that I would sing if I were drunk.  Which I'm not a drinking man anyway. But If I were I would sing "Blunt the Knives". Anyhoo...

So looking forward to seeing this movie!! That won't come until Saturday. In the meantime, this album is gonna be spinnin' away like mad on my stereo!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seeing red

It's "POYN-set-EE-uh" dammit!! NOT "POYN-set-uh".

Dammit don't you people recognize a syllable when you see one?!?!?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Butt-Numb-A-Thon! When you absolutely positively can't get to Austin...

My eyes, ears and brains are frazzled after this weekend... but in a good way!

Some readers will remember five years ago, when I attended Butt-Numb-A-Thon 9 in Austin, Texas. What the heck is a "Butt-Numb-A-Thon"? It's an annual 24-hour long "film festival" in Austin, Texas, hosted by founder/grand poobah of AintItCool.com Harry Knowles. A full day of movies (some vintage, some new) and all kinds of ingenius insanity interspersed throughout! Definitely something that one would be grateful to experience even once in a lifetime. Five years later and I'm still very fond of the memories of Butt-Numb-A-Thon. As well as still haunted and horrified by Feels So Good and Farewell Uncle Tom, but I digress...

Anyhoo, Kristen and I applied for this year's Butt-Numb-A-Thon, and we each made a video for the optional "extra credit". We were quite proud of our respective applications... but Alas! We didn't get in. But with about 10,000+ people competing for around 200 seats, that's understandable. We're gonna keep applying until one day, hopefully, we make the cut and can go to BNAT together. Butt-Numb-A-Thon 14 wrapped up Sunday afternoon and word from the lucky ones is that it was one of the best programmed ever.

But shortly after the attendee list was posted, Kristen and I came up with an idea: "If we didn't get to attend Butt-Numb-A-Thon in Austin, let's make our own Butt-Numb-A-Thon experience at home!"

So it was that Do-It-Yourself Butt-Numb-A-Thon was born. And that's how we spent the weekend and it was a BLAST!!

The objective: recreate the wild variety of films shown at a typical Butt-Numb-A-Thon, with surprises for everyone participating. Along with the traditions, the food, the humor, as much as would be humanly possible with a "play at home" BNAT. No one would know what all of the actual movies we would be watching were, 'cuz if we did that would defeat the purpose of DIYBNAT, right? Right.

So here's how it worked: there would be 12 films altogether that we would watch. Kristen would pick 6 and I would pick 6. Each of us would choose movies that we were certain the other person had not seen but just in case, we each had "alternates" on hand. On Friday night we flipped a coin and Kristen won: she chose to go first when we began on Saturday morning, and then I would show mine. The other person wouldn't know what he/she was about to watch until the person presenting it gave it a proper introduction before setting the DVD/Blu-ray/Roku playing. It would alternate like this until we had gone through all 12 movies.

Could we pull it off?! Dare we attempt so crazy a plan?? Well Kristen is not just beautiful and sweet but she is intensely geeky... and I'm as borderline as they come. It was worth trying at least once and if this past weekend was any indication it might become a regular tradition :-)

We began at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. And it would not have been a proper Butt-Numb-A-Thon anything without first kicking it off with that hallowed BNAT tradition: the trailer for Stunt Rock...

Then we went straight to Kristen's pick for Do-It-Yourself Butt-Numb-A-Thon's opening film:

Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird (1985)

I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. It's as sweet and thoughtful and wrought with humor as any with the Muppets (incidentally this was the last Muppet movie that Jim Henson worked on before his death). But I also couldn't help but think while watching it that Follow That Bird is a movie that could not and would not be produced today.

The reason for that is the foundation of the plot: that Big Bird is found by a social worker who sends him away from Sesame Street so that he can be with his "own kind" in a town in Illinois. Big Bird finds these dodos (literally) no fun at all so he flees his bureaucrat-imposed new family and strikes out for Sesame Street. Now think about it: would modern-day Sesame Street make social workers out to be the bad guys? Pretty doubtful. I'm trying not to be "political" at all with that assessment but, there it is. That retroactive anachronism along with this movie being released just before Snuffy's long-awaited "reveal" to the adults of Sesame Street makes Follow That Bird something of a time capsule of the way things used to be on this classic show, and could be again. Seeing the gang take off in various wacky vehicles to find Big Bird is fun to behold, especially the sight of Bert and Ernie (with Ernie at the controls) flying across America in a biplane. Now if that doesn't scare ya, I don't know what will. A delightful movie with a good plot and cameo appearances by everyone from Waylon Jennings to John Candy. And a fun way to kick off our personal Butt-Numb-A-Thon!

Then it was my turn, and for my first entry I chose...

Ma and Pa Kettle (1949)

Actually a sequel to The Egg and I. Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride were such a riot in that movie as Ma and Pa Kettle that Universal realized they had a hot thing on their hands and made nine more films featuring the Kettle clan! 1949's Ma an Pa Kettle brings the outrageously raucous family out of their ramshackle farmhouse and into a "house of the future" after Pa wins a slogan contest. There is a real story here, but most of the fun is in witnessing Ma and Pa and their fifteen children running amok trying to make sense of the technology in their new digs. It's hillbilly hijinks of the highest form! And like all classic comedy the Ma and Pa Kettle series has not only withstood the test of time, it seems more timely than ever. Lots of laughing during this one.

Next up was...

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)

Louis Malle's 1987 film - based upon his own experiences - about a student in a Carmelite boarding school during the Vichy Regime of occupied France. When three new boys are brought to the school, Julien (Gaspard Manesse) teases and bullies them along with his classmates. And then Julien discovers that Jean Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö) is secretly a Jew, along with the two others boys, being harbored by the compassionate priests of the school.

Before DIYBNAT I thought that apart from The Day the Clown Cried I must have seen every movie ever made about the Holocaust. Apparently not. Au Revoir Les Enfants is a poignant tale of childhood innocence amid senseless hate in a time of war. A movie about the Holocaust should leave you feeling either (A) unimaginably saddened or (B) pissed-off with anger. This movie left me feeling both. We don't see the horror of the concentration camps but somehow, watching children suffering for nothing more than their religion roils the emotions like very little else can. A very powerful film and to me, a genuine discovery of foreign cinema at its finest.

About six hours into DIYBNAT, more or less. Time to unleash...

The Long Ships (1963)

Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, and a shockingly lithe Russ Tamblyn in a tale of pre-Christian Vikings, Muslim Moors, berseker orgies, grand theft funeral boat, alcohol, the gnarliest execution device ever depicted in a motion picture... and one big-ass bell!

The Long Ships is hammy fun from the golden age of epic filmmaking. Richard Widmark is the Viking adventurer Rolfe, who claims to know the location of "The Mother of Voices": a bell "as tall as three tall men" made of pure gold. Never mind that such a thing defies all known physics (the weight of all that gold would make the thing collapse beneath its own weight). Anyway, Moorish sultan Aly Mansuh (Sidney Poitier) is obsessed with finding the bell, believing that such a thing made by infidel Christians from gold pillaged in the Crusades should by all rights be in Islamic hands. Rolfe escapes Mansuh and makes his way back to his Nordic homeland so as to raise a crew to find the bell, only to learn that his shipwright father has been conned by the king. Hey, no problem: let's just steal the ship dear ol' Dad made for King Harald's eventual Viking funeral! Of course, Rolfe and company wind up on the Barbary coast and back in the hands of Aly Mansuh.

Two things that everyone who's seen this movie seem to always remember about it: the Mother of Voices itself, and the "Mare of Steel" aka "the playground slide from Hell". Imagine a childrens' sliding board, except instead of the board it's a 20-foot long curving razor blade in the shape of a horse's tail. Now imagine some shlub getting forced to slide down that thing belly-first. Oh yeah and for good measure there's a pad of foot-high steel spikes down below. Rolfe doesn't seem impressed, until Mansuh demonstrates both device and Moorish obedience by having his wife pick one of his own soldiers to "ride the Mare of Steel". The look of terror in that poor dude's eyes when the wife says "Do you believe in Allah? Go then" makes up for the visual lack of an eviscerated corpse... but hey, this was the early Sixties after all. Just let your imagination make up for it. Yeah, it's not the quality of El Cid or The Vikings, but The Long Ships seems determined to be more of a "popcorn movie" than anything else. Widmark pulls off a dashing and at times dastardly Rolfe, but the real neat thing to watch is Poitier as the sadistic Aly Mansuh. It's kinda unsettling to see Poitier take a stab at villainy, but he's amazingly good at it... in spite of the general hokiness around him. Would love to have this movie on Blu-ray someday.

Then it was Kristen's turn again. And believe it or not, until this past weekend I had never before seen...

Three Amigos (1986)

I'm probably the only person on Earth who had yet to see Three Amigos, so I'm not gonna write too much about it. Retro-actively it's like The Artist meets Zorro meets Galaxy Quest. Or something. I dug it :-)

Awright, it was my turn to show a movie next. And I didn't do this to be cruel to my girlfriend. Honest. Really...

The Black Hole (1979)

Kristen's terse reaction after watching The Black Hole spoke volumes: "I can't believe that was supposed to be a children's movie." She hadn't been born when Disney released this movie in 1979, but I remember it well: the TV commercials, the trading cards, the action figures, the illustrated storybooks and "read-along" book and record sets in the kiddie section of the bookstore... I didn't see The Black Hole until some years later and all that time I thought it was a science-fiction film for children.

Then I watched it.

Good Lord...

What the hell was Disney thinking? No wonder this is the studio's only motion picture known to have sent children into counseling and therapy. The Black Hole is the cinematic equivalent of a gingerbread house: using the sweet seductive candy of cute robots and ray guns to lure unsuspecting youngsters into a dark spiraling tale of obsession, slavery, metaphysical and theological insanity, and gruesome murder. Maximilian alone was more than enough to arouse the shivers in even adult viewers. And then to propel the viewers into a vision of Hell itself...

I would bet real money that during its theatrical run at least... at least... one parent at the film's conclusion raised a fist at the screen while crying out "Damn you Disney... DAMN YOU!!!"

Okay, it's a movie with problems. Lots and lots of problems on top of its misplaced priorities and sense of tact. But no matter those things, The Black Hole is always going to be a classic film curiosity. This was Disney's first-ever film not to be rated "G". Also one of the last to have an overture playing before the start of the movie. Disney came up with a system to track moving matte shots for the effects work. The U.S.S. Cygnus is arguably among the best-designed space-going vessels in movie history. The sinister Maximilian - a robot with surprisingly little limb articulation - remains a memorable nightmare of mechanical rage. And hey, there's that beautiful score that John Barry composed for the film!

But I think what most left an impression upon Kristen was the sight of Anthony Perkins - Norman Bates himself - being cuisineartted by those spinning blades on Maximilian's arms.

I say again: What the hell was Disney thinking?

Kristen had chosen the next movie well in advance. Curious, how this juxtaposed with the one preceding it. In retrospect, we needed it. Time to come back to Earth... even if it's the most brutally frigid place on the planet.

March of the Penguins (2005)

Too short. I wanted more. March of the Penguins is 80 minutes long... and I wanted more. The cinematography of this film is stunning. Never has so much white looked so gorgeous. This documentary about the year-long mating cycle of the Emperor Penguins touches upon a universal sense of love and nurturing that is hard to not empathize with. A story of species survival and yet, so very human.

Halfway through March of the Penguins, it occurred to me that filmmakers had to go onto that Antarctic ice shelf to shoot the footage. Thankfully, the camera and sound crew get their face time in the end credits... but if there's more about the making of March of the Penguins on the Blu-ray, I might have to pick it up just for that particular behind-the-scenes material.

Next up was something that I had intensely been looking forward to having Kristen watch...

Doctor Who: "The Deadly Assassin" (1976)

It's not a motion picture but since Harry Knowles chose to screen the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" at Butt-Numb-A-Thon 9, that was enough precedent for me. My girlfriend, as big a fan of Doctor Who as she is, had never seen a single episode of original Doctor Who! And I have been trying my darndest to convince her that the original series for all its low-budget frailties stands toe-to-toe with anything from the Eccleston/Tennant/Smith era. This far into Do-It-Yourself Butt-Numb-A-Thon, it was too late for her to back out now, muahahahaha!!

But that said, I'm rather proud of choosing to show her "The Deadly Assassin".

Considered by many to be one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever, "The Deadly Assassin" ran across four episodes in the fall of 1976. The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) has a premonition of the President of the Time Lords being assassinated. Returning to his home planet Gallifrey to prevent the murder, the President is nonetheless killed. The only person see firing a gun was the Doctor. With only hours left before execution for the crime, the Doctor announces that he will run for President.

And then, things go all crazy.

It's the only story of the original series to not have a companion, and that actually works to "The Deadly Assassin"'s advantage. Having the Doctor on his home turf of Gallifrey without a companion tagging along shows us what the Doctor is capable of when left to his own devices.  It also provides a full-bore, unadulterated look at Time Lord culture... and it's not necessarily a flattering one! But that's just a side-dish to the real treats of "The Deadly Assassin": the political intrigue that builds up to not one but two epic action sequences. One of which, the now-legendary "Matrix battle", is thought by many to be the VERY first use of the concept of virtual reality in science-fiction history.

Gallifrey, Time Lord politics and history, corruption, sly jabs at American government, the Master in classic deadly form, psychedelic combat, one of the most controversial episodes in BBC history, and Tom Baker as the Doctor... what more could anyone possibly ask for? The perfect story to introduce anyone to the mythos of the Doctor.

The girlfriend's turn again. Movie #9 was...

Pay It Forward (2000)

This movie makes me regret that I didn't go into teaching full-time, because having seen it I really want to be the kind of teacher that Kevin Spacey plays here.

Between seeing dead people and becoming an artificial boy, Haley Joel Osment portrayed Trevor: a middle-school kid who takes up his social studies teacher's challenge to "change the world for the better".

In general, Pay It Forward is a pretty good movie. I think it could have been stronger in the second third. But there's a real heartbreaker of an ending that makes up for whatever small faults this film has. Best to not say much else about it though, if any among this blog's readers haven't seen it. I did come away feeling as a better person for the time spent watching it.

Time to bring on the tenth movie of Do-It-Yourself Butt-Numb-A-Thon! What turned out to be the second foreign film of the weekend...

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)

I first saw this at ActionFest in 2010 and when it came time to pick possible movies for DIYBNAT, this was the first to make the "short list". South Korean filmmaker Kim Ji-woon's spaghetti Western-ish The Good, The Bad, The Weird is high-octane, heavy ordnance action across the post Japanese-invaded Manchuria of the 1930s. A map purported to lead to a Qing Dyanasty treasure becomes the sought-after prize of an uphold-the-law bounty hunter, a vicious hitman and gun-for-hire, and a bumbling bandit. As well as the Imperial Japanese Army, numerous gangs and assorted black market scoundrels.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird boasts one of the ballsiest train robberies in the history of anything, crazy choreographed gun battles and a full-tilt wacko chase across the desert that easily rivals Indy's pursuit of the Nazi truck from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Rife with as much humor as action, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is the kind of film that deserves wider appreciation on this side of the Pacific pond. Kristen was certainly thrilled by it! That's when I knew that I had chosen well :-)

By this point we had clocked in about 21 hours of DIYBNAT. Unfortunately we wound up not going the full twelve movies, for various reasons (having done a real BNAT I can attest that it would have been much easier to be in a real movie theater a few thousand miles from home, without all the "real life" obligations demanding attention here and there). But we did wind up going out on a strong note all the same...

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

One of the few comedies that Alfred Hitchcock made. The Trouble with Harry is, as Kristen put it in her intro, "about a dead body that just can't stop moving". This black comedy has Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Jerry Mathers (yup, the Beaver himself) and Shirley MacLaine (in her first film role) as some of the oddballs who variously come across the corpse of Harry Worp in the countryside of their Vermont village. You'd think that at least one of these people would have thought about notifying the proper authorities, huh? Their negligence to do so leads to dark humor of the kind that Hitchcock was known for but very rarely took to this wild an extreme. A really fun and crazy comedy about the foibles of human nature.

And that was our Do-It-Yourself Butt-Numb-A-Thon. The final film was set to be Avatar, but at three-plus hours long (it was gonna be the director's cut) and real world necessities had us stopping after eleven movies. Still, for one weekend that was a pretty hardcore slate of film variety!

And we had so much fun with it that we are already talking about making this an annual tradition! Perhaps next year inviting a few friends to come over to endure and enjoy 24 hours of films alongside. Would Kristen and I love to get into the real Butt-Numb-A-Thon together one of these years? Yeah, absolutely.

But nobody has to completely miss out on the fun of a BNAT, with a little planning and resolve to experience a wide assortment of movies. Especially movies that one might otherwise never consider giving a looksee.

So if come next November you find yourself downfaced because for whatever reason you didn't get into Butt-Numb-A-Thon (most of us have been there after all), chin up! Get some good friends together and run your own Butt-Numb-A-Thon! Consider it a way to demonstrate your love of film if you can't make the glorious pilgrimage itself :-)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

EVERYONE in U.S. under virtual surveillance by federal government (and why)

The government of the United States is not of the people, by the people and for the people. And it has not been for a very long time. Maybe not even in the memory of anyone alive today. We all know it. Unfortunately there seems to be damned little we can do about it. But having spent most of my life as a historian I also know that the established order can and eventually will be overthrown, no matter where or when. Either by outright revolt or crashing down under its own weight.

What is the "established order" controlling America? Steve McCann at American Thinker has a thorough understanding of it: an entrenched system of career politicians, sellout journalists whose lust for limelight eclipses love of truth, elitist academic types depending on the public treasury to justify their inflated sense of self-important, lobbyists and crony capitalists with a vested interest in making sure things stay the way they are, political hacks...

Corruption looks after itself.

That's why it should come as no surprise that according to a former top encryption analyst with the National Security Agency, the United States government - through the Federal Bureau of Investigation - is compiling the mother of all data mines: a vast repository containing EVERY e-mail, tweet, text message and God knows what else sent by American citizens. WITHOUT the Constitution-mandated search warrants for such a thing.

What surprises me however, is that if William Binney is telling is us true, then it represents a brazenness we haven't seen yet from our own government. It's been the understanding of many who have researched such things that for at least the past decade the National Security Agency has employed a system called ECHELON to monitor communications not just within America but throughout the world. Indeed, it's the international scope of ECHELON which has allowed the NSA to keep a listening ear on American at all: ECHELON keeps tabs on phone calls and electronic exchanges between the geographical United States and other countries... which, the government argues, does not require judge-approved warrants. A colossal using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law. Not that that should be a surprise either...

But according to Mr. Binney, our government has taken it to a whole new level of abuse:

The FBI records the emails of nearly all US citizens, including members of congress, according to NSA whistleblower William Binney. In an interview with RT, he warned that the government can use this information against anyone.

Binney, one of the best mathematicians and code breakers in the history of the National Security Agency, resigned in 2001. He claimed he no longer wanted to be associated with alleged violations of the Constitution, such as how the FBI engages in widespread and pervasive surveillance through powerful devices called 'Naris.'


"...what I’ve been basically saying for quite some time, is that the FBI has access to the data collected, which is basically the emails of virtually everybody in the country. And the FBI has access to it. All the congressional members are on the surveillance too, no one is excluded. They are all included. So, yes, this can happen to anyone. If they become a target for whatever reason – they are targeted by the government, the government can go in, or the FBI, or other agencies of the government, they can go into their database, pull all that data collected on them over the years, and we analyze it all. So, we have to actively analyze everything they’ve done for the last 10 years at least.


"It’s everybody. The Naris device, if it takes in the entire line, so it takes in all the data. In fact they advertised they can process the lines at session rates, which means 10-gigabit lines. I forgot the name of the device (it’s not the Naris) – the other one does it at 10 gigabits. That’s why they're building Bluffdale [database facility], because they have to have more storage, because they can’t figure out what’s important, so they are just storing everything there. So, emails are going to be stored there in the future, but right now stored in different places around the country. But it is being collected – and the FBI has access to it."

A long read, but technically rich and altogether persuasive.

Why must our government believe it has to look upon We The People as potential enemies to be numbered, catalogued and monitored?

Because to those in power, the established order must be preserved at all cost. Because, again, corruption looks after itself.

Personally, I think Batman had the right idea...

Even the Caped Crusader "gets it" (click to enlarge)

Someday, perhaps this country will crash hard enough to knock the lechers and parasites off of their lofty perch. Perhaps then true leadership will come to serve the American people. There would be few better gestures of faith in the common citizen than to abolish the National Security Agency, reign-in the FBI and give the CIA a good hairy eyeball.

"So... shall we begin?" STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS teaser is online!

I'm telling y'all here and now, that when Star Trek Into Darkness comes out in May... that for the first time in my life I will show up on its premiere night wearing a Starfleet costume. And I will wear the uniform proudly! I even have an idea for it but you good readers will have to just wait and see :-)

So what is it that would so motivate your friend and humble narrator to make such a drastic departure from his usual space saga haberdashery?

Boldly go and watch this teaser trailer! Do it NOW!!

Okay, I am going to place my bets now: that is Khan Noonien Singh who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing. And that's my final answer until we know for sure. Because whoever Cumberbatch's character is he is absurdly strong, agile and blessed with apparently superior intellect. Sound like a certain genetically-enhanced superman to me...

And the rest of the teaser ain't too shabby either :-)

Wanna see it even better? Set your phasers to "fun" and watch it in full high-def glorious Quicktime here!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

First official image from ENDER'S GAME

This is not a good sign...

That's Harrison Ford as Graff and Asa Butterfield as Ender, in the first official pic from the production of Ender's Game, based on Orson Scott Card's classic science-fiction novel.

For the record, I think Butterfield is a terrific and astounding young actor. The first time I saw him in anything it was in Hugo and he brought a spirit and sense of adventure to that film that I hadn't seen from a movie in an awful long time. The kid has a brilliant future ahead of him.

But looking at that pic, with his Ender getting stared-down by Graff... I can't but wonder if this film is being cast well at all.

It's like this: Ender should be smaller. And younger. Butterfield in this photo looks like he could be Ender Wiggin, but a few years down the line. At this point in his career, freshly arrived at the Battle School, Ender needs to be more prepubescent. And much more puny. One of the things about the novel that resonated most with me (and a lot of other readers) was that Ender is almost a primal force of nature contained within the body of a very small and very young boy. And then how the adults turn that boy into something to be used and exploited and ultimately employed as a weapon of mass destruction. Ender's Game is a very moving tale of innocence lost and that it's not just Ender but a bunch of children who likewise are being trained to fight the Formics no matter the personal cost... it makes the loss of innocence that much more a damning thing.

We need to see that in the eyes, in the stature of Ender. And I just can't see that here.

But, I've been wrong before. We'll find out next year.

(Though I do think that Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham was a severe stroke of genius casting :-)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

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

Eleven months ago I posted this video following the death of my mother. It seemed like the song most reflective of the emotion that I was feeling.

In the past few weeks no less than five people who I had known for most of my life have also passed away. There are a few with us still, who are now being comforted in their final days.

Yesterday a friend for more than thirty years, a person I had known since kindergarten and came up through high school with, was taken from us.

I posted it on Facebook late last night, and some said that it was the perfect song for what a lot of longtime friends and family are going through right now. And since she was a huge fan of country music, it seemed all the more appropriate to use it here too, in her memory.

Michelle, we thank God for the time He gave us with you. We will always remember your bubbly personality, your beautiful smile, and your zest for life.

Until we all meet again...

Monday, December 03, 2012

Assault on Woodbury! Mancave! TYREESE! Mid-season finale of THE WALKING DEAD is a blaze of gory!


Andrea?! What the hell are you doing still hanging around Woodbury?!?

The last episode of AMC's The Walking Dead until Season 3 resumes in February was beyond mortal hyperbole. It aired yesterday evening but at the moment I'm still unable to catch it until either Monday mornings or evenings ('cuz that's how I'm currently able to "watch" it with Kristen). So just after 6 tonight we cued up together and I cranked up the DVR.

Good. Lord.

The very first moments of "Made to Suffer" finally brought to TV a character from the comic series that fans have been demanding almost since this show began: Tyreese! And I don't think it was at all coincidence that we got a fleeting glimpse of a certain other character in this episode: Tyreese is no doubt going to become the lieutenant and force of accountability that Rick needs and has always needed, whether he realizes it or not. Chad Coleman is gob-smogglingly bringing it as the pro football player-turned-zombie holocaust badass.

Chandler Riggs, as he has throughout this season, shows us again why he deserves at least a Best Supporting Actor nomination at this season's Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Carl.

For the sake of those who haven't seen "Made to Suffer" yet, I do not want to go too much into anything that happens with Rick and his group when they invade Woodbury to spring Glen and Maggie out of the Governor's stockade. Which Kristen has made an interesting observation: that the two main locations this season are the prison and Woodbury. Isn't it weird that the prison has come to symbolize life and freedom while Woodbury - the nice little town - is the embodiment of bondage and death? Now that's some curious irony if there ever was any.

That said, I am soooo not gonna discuss any at length what happened inside Woodbury during and following the rescue attempt. Except to say that if what we witnessed within the Governor's "mancave" is any indication, we should be EXTREMELY worried that AMC will have the balls to do worse come February.

(Ha-ha-ha, "very funny Chris", yes I should get me to a punnery...)

The Walking Dead is fast becoming maybe the best show of the last decade and a half. It's not about a zombie apocalypse: it's about human nature and what it becomes in the face of cataclysms large and small. There is no "black and white" in this series... but there are some pretty wild shades of gray. It's hard not to sympathize even a smidgeon with the Governor, and for all the good Rick has within him there is also a growing darker side coming out.

Just... wow. I'm reeling from this one, folks. Gonna have to watch it again to absorb it all. A very, very solid episode, and better television than we deserve. Thank goodness it's on basic cable.

Is China home to most of the world's Christians?

There is an interesting article at the Catholic News Agency's website about the condition of religion in present-day China. Particularly, it presents notable evidence that China will soon have a larger Christian population than any other country.

But in reading this, I am compelled to wonder if the Chinese might already have most of the world's Christians. Maybe more than all other countries put together.

Could that be even possible?

From the article...

During a recent book launch in Rome, a noted theologian said that China will be home to the majority of the world's Christians within the next two decades.

“Interfaith dialogue is something that China, which will have the world's largest Christian population in 20 years, lives with every day,” said Harvey Cox during the presentation at the city's Jesuit Gregorian University.

Cox presented the book “Catholic Engagement with World Religions: A Comprehensive Study, in dialogue with its two editors” on Nov. 30 with Cardinal Karl Josef Becker, a German theologian of the Vatican's the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The editors include Ilaria Morali of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who also presented the book, and Cardinal Becker.

Cox, who teaches at the Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts, said the new book “will play an invaluable role” in determining “where we've been in the past, where we are now, and where we're headed.”

“There are two world phenomena happening right now,” he added. “The first is that we can't recognize Christianity as a western religion anymore and the second is that countries with the fastest growing number of Christians don't have a Christian culture or traditions.”

Keep in mind that Cox and Becker are speaking from a Catholic perspective. It is perfectly understandable that they will be presenting their beliefs strictly as Catholics. And though I myself am not a Catholic, I find it intensely fascinating that China might soon have more Catholics than any other nation.

But in terms of Christianity in general... and in keeping with the author's discussion of religious discussion among a variety of viewpoints... I can't but believe that China is home to most of the world's Christians right now.

It has been well known for decades that there is a significant number of "underground churches", or "house churches", which harbor a vast amount of followers of Christ - belonging to no denomination and whose members likely wouldn't even care about denominationalism at all - existing throughout China. We don't know how many Christians in addition to practicing Catholics there might be in that land. There are some who suggest that the population of underground Christians might number in the hundreds of millions. All of whom worship Christ outside the knowledge of the government of communist China. Each practicing their faith in the full understanding that if found out, they risk persecution, imprisonment, and possibly worse. Many are enduring unspeakable hardships even now.

And yet, the body of Christ as counted across the width and breadth of all the followers of Christ, is not only persisting in China but thriving. With a vigor and enthusiasm and sincerity that dwarfs the Christianity... or perhaps "churchianity"... in the western world. Including the Christians of the United States.

What if such hardship and persecution has led to the community of Christians in China becoming far more vast than all of the Christians of America, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Africa... combined?

Yes. Today. This very moment.

And wouldn't it be something if within the lifetime of many reading this blog, that the United States will see an influx of missionaries coming to America from China and other Asian countries to preach Christ to us, rather than sending "our" missionaries abroad?

Because Christianity in the United States... and I can only write about America in this sense because it is the land which I observe every day... has deviated and devolved into something that is fixated more on the material than on matters eternal. We have become a spiritually stagnant people and the church in China, to be honest, puts the "God and Country" brand of our American Christianity to shame. We go into our brightly-lit and brazenly decorated houses of worship every Sunday, listen to "positive preaching" and come out none the worse for wear until the following Sunday, with little or no real encouragement or holding ourselves accountable to God. The believer in China must seek out dim and dark rooms to quietly pray and sing hymns in total silence. But I have spoken to a number of believers from that land, and not one of them has been anything but cheerful and exuberant about their faith in Christ. For them, to seek after Him is absolutely worth the dangers of being discovered by their own government.

And I can't help but wonder what could be if that same eagerness and optimism borne out of love of God and others would catch on at last in my own country.