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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Alfie Evans and Prince Louis: A Tale of Two Britains

While the western world has been obsessed this week with a baby boy born into a family that to be perfectly honest lives in ultimate luxury while producing nothing but a tourism industry and fodder for gossip magazines, another little boy - born to parents who work hard to provide a happy home without need or desire for celebrity - was denied nourishment and life support by order of the High Court in Great Britain.

But few people outside of England, it seems, heard or ever bothered to hear about Alfie Hastings, who had a severe brain condition.

His parents and others tried their very best to save his life, but the judges of Britain decreed that Alfie was a lost cause and a drain on the system.  And so Alfie should die.

Which, he now has.  As of this past hour or so.

Louis and Alfie.  Baby boys born in the same country.  One will never know want or hunger or discomfort, the other has been taken from a Mommy and Daddy who loved him very much and did everything they could to give him a fighting chance to live.

If the situation had been reversed, and Prince William and Kate given birth to a child with the same medical condition as Alfie Evans... would the British courts have ordered and enforced a mandate that their baby boy must die?

Friday, April 27, 2018


It was a Friday afternoon in the spring of 2008.  A friend was running for state office in North Carolina and I had been serving as his campaign treasurer.  And at a rally in Chapel Hill he had been given the hearty endorsement of then-presidential candidate Ron Paul.  Meeting Dr. Paul was a great honor and I was feeling pretty good about things.  So en route back home, just on a whim I decided to take in a movie that was just released that same day.

Said movie was Iron Man (read my review here).

Ten years later, dozens of movies and many television spinoffs later (and maybe someday we'll see those intersect with the main films... I mean how hard is it to get Peter Parker into the offices of Nelson and Murdock for legal advice?!) and what seems to me like two or three other lifetimes, the grand experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come to this: Avengers: Infinity War.  And if you had told me when Iron Man was coming out that this would be the result of an unprecedented concerted effort across a full decade, I would have said "Not possible.  It's never going to work."

It worked.  And when the final credits began to roll at the premiere screening last night here at a local cinema somewhere in North America...

There was no applause.  There was no cheering.  There was no praise.  There was no laughter.  There was no crying.  There was nothing at all.  Except collective shell shock.  It was an audience reaction I had never seen during a lifetime of watching movies at at theater.  To be honest everyone looked drained.  Like seeing Joker at the end of Full Metal Jacket: that "thousand yard stare".  It was like all of us had the same thought: "did that just happen?  Did that REALLY just happen?  What was that?  NOW what?!"

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been pure orchestrated cinema magic.  And Avengers: Infinity War is the massive conflagration that it has all been building up to.  EVERYTHING that has come previously ties into this film, even the bits and pieces that seemed so inconsequential.  Now we know: nothing has been inconsequential in this saga.  As with all the best magic tricks, when it's happening before your eyes and you don't even realize it, and then you whomp yourself upside the head stunned by the sheer genius of it...

Everyone who has contributed to this over the past ten years deserves utmost appreciation.  And the Brothers Russo - Anthony and Joe - are going to see their work on this film the subject of study in storytelling for many years to come.  Avengers: Infinity War is a perfect ensemble film.  With a cast of zillions it would seem nigh on impossible for everyone to have a chance to show their virtues.  And yet, there is not a character you've come to love (or hate) across the MCU that doesn't get their moment to shine.  They play their parts in a tapestry stretching across the cosmos, the stakes couldn't be higher.  And the Russos pulled off a dance most elegant with them all.

If you've been following every iota of the MCU material, you will be rewarded immensely with this movie.  And even if you haven't (memo to self: need to watch Black Panther) you are most likely still going to have no problem following along with Avengers: Infinity War.  I still haven't seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 but found it no trouble at all to accept Mantis with the barest minimum of exposition.  Again, more of the beauty of this franchise at work.

It's been a long time since I've reviewed anything on this blog.  And maybe I'm just out of practice.  But more likely it's because Avengers: Infinity War shatters the superhero movie oeuvre wide open, that I find myself inadequate to write more about it without risking tipping a hand about the details of the film.  And this movie merits more than any other in recent memory going in cold.  If you've seen it already, heed the hashtag campaign of #ThanosDemandsYourSilence and be considerate of those who haven't the opportunity yet.

However, I will remark on something and if this doesn't whet your appetite then I don't know what will.  For the better part of ten years we've been seeing Thanos teased on screen, either as silent cameo or in fleeting "stingers" mid-ending credits.  And apart from the Marvel comics themselves Thanos has remained a pretty obscure figure in pop culture.  Most people outside of the comics fan base have been seeing Thanos and probably asking "Who's he?  Why should we care about this corrugated-chinned purple guy?"

After this opening weekend of Avengers: Infinity War, they will care.  Thanos has just shot up the charts to the top of the Greatest Film Villains Ever.  And somewhere Mike Friedrich and Jim Starlin must be wielding massive grins on their faces.  That the character they created forty-five years ago has come out of left field to threaten all of creation.  Bookstores this weekend are going to be selling out of 1991's The Infinity Gauntlet trade paperback.  And if there is any sanity left at the Academy, then Josh Brolin will get a Best Actor nomination.  There has never been a cinematic bad guy like Thanos before: someone with this kind of complex character and motive and power to manipulate.  Brolin breathed an all-too rare depth into Thanos and he's set a platinum standard for all movie nemeses to come.

If Star Wars Episode 9 is even half as good as Avengers: Infinity War, then we are gladly going to forgive every mis-step that saga has made.  Even Jar Jar Binks.  Yeah, I said it.  I went there.  THAT is how mind-blowingly awesome Avengers: Infinity War is.

I gotta give Avengers: Infinity War my highest possible accolade for a comic book-based film.  Go see it as soon as you can.  And remember: DO NOT DISCUSS SPOILERS AND AVOID SPOILERS HOWEVER YOU CAN!  Because Thanos wouldn't like that.  Don't make Thanos angry.

(By the way... and you should know this by now... stick around for the end of the credits.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

When the odds are against you, remember Luke

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Social commentary from the grim darkness of the far future

Y'know, if the Emperor of Mankind hadn't embarked upon his crusade to wipe out ALL religion from humanity, the galaxy would have been a much better place.  Some things are too ingrained into the human psyche.  The need for spirituality is one of them.  Attempt to deprive a people of that, and disaster will be the outcome.

Anyhoo, just an idea for a pic that crossed my gray matter last week.  Had a dilly of a time finding the right image from the Horus Heresy but in the end Horus himself cuts a fine jib.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Retro-Internet on an iPad Pro

For whatever reason, over the weekend I found myself musing on how far the Intertubes have come from the crazy days of dial-up PPP and ICQ and RealPlayer (you kids with YouTube have NO idea how well off you are). And just for fun I wondered how much of the "classic" Internet from its earliest years could be replicated on my iPad Pro...

Turns out: quite a bit!

Here's what I came up with after reaching back into the inner fog of time immemorial, or at least those strange days of college. Trying to find analogies on the App Store of everything that most of us had as Internet utilities on our PCs or, if you were fairly wealthy, laptops. Don't even think that we had smartphones in those days. "Internet" and "phone" usually meant waiting until your roomie was finished talking to his girlfriend before you could fire up the 14.4 baud modem (sorry about that guys).

The resulting group of apps, which with usual creative flair I dubbed "Old School Internet":

I still hate that %#$@ Gopher icon, looking at me, grinning, mocking...

That's pretty much what most people had on their Windows and Mac machines, absent having an account on a UNIX server (which students at most colleges and universities were given access to so even if you didn't have your own PC then, you still had quite a bit of Internet power to do uhhh... "work" with).

Aesthetically the most glaring omission from this group is Apple's Quicktime Player, which was the precursor of the H.264 video standard now so ubiquitous on most devices. Quicktime became the most commonly used - and most trusted in terms of security - video format on the 'net in a fairly short amount of time, supplanting RealMedia and some other competitors. But since the descendants of Quicktime are built into every browser (and Apple-built product) nowadays anyway, a dedicated Quicktime app would be worse than redundant.

For the web brower app, instead of using Safari as comes with the iPad Pro, I opted to include Firefox. Why? Because Firefox is the successor of Netscape Navigator, which was derived directly from Mosaic: the first "killer app" in Internet history. Mosaic was the first browser to incorporate the ability of using graphics and also gave greater control over fonts and text sizes. So let's pretend that this is Netscape Navigator, or even Mosaic:

The last website that Kip Chalmers ever saw...

That's the "official" website of Wyatt Oil. If you get the reference without Google-ing it, go buy yourself a candy bar and pretend you bought it from me. I'm not going to give you the candy bar because if you know the reference you already realize that giving it would be a violation of moral code.

If we seriously wanted antiquated Internet by any means, we would have to get e-mail through a UNIX system and using the Pine program. We used Pine with our accounts on the server at Elon (my own account name was was knigr5c0) but I don't have a UNIX server handy at the moment. So instead let's find an app that approximates the kind of program most of us used with commercial Internet providers. For a long time I used Eudora, made by Qualcomm. But there is no Eudora on the App Store and I didn't want to use the E-Mail app that comes with iOS devices, so I used the Google Mail app instead:

Just imagine it without the Nigerian scammers...

And now we're getting into the good stuff! I'd venture to say that the vast majority of Internet users have either never heard of Usenet or it's a vague notion playing on the edge of memory. But once upon a time Usenet was how a LOT of productivity - more or less - happened on the Internet. I know of at least two major websites, still going strong today, that spawned from their founders being active on newsgroups.

Okay so what's a "newsgroup"? Basically a big trove of publicly posted e-mails on just about every subject imaginable and some that Hunter S. Thompson wouldn't hallucinate matter how much acid he'd drop. I'm still trying to figure out what alt.muppets.bork.bork.bork was supposed to be about. Anyway, if you were a Star Wars geek, rec.arts.starwars was the big central place to pow-wow at. There was a hierarchy (more or less) and to be an "official" newsgroup it had to be voted on by Usenet, errr... users. Otherwise they were an "alt"-something. And of course this being the Internet even then one had to take anything you'd find on Usenet with a massive cow lick of salt.

I sincerely thought that Usenet wouldn't be around anymore, and I can't even remember the last time I went to a newsgroup. But there are a few Usenet servers still around. Most of them are with ISPs and are included with monthly subscription, but some out there are free... IF you can connect to them. No luck on that. Still, having a Usenet reader on my iPad is pretty neat:

Before Facebook and the Russian hackers THIS is how we got our fake news...

Telnet is a utility that is still often used in academia and other purposes. Not so much today by most private users but once upon a time this was one of the best arrows in your quiver. Telnet is remotely logging in to another computer, and usually a very BIG computer, and using it on your own desktop. It's how most of us checked the e-mail on our student accounts when we lived off campus. It's also how you could play MUDs (Multi-Level Dungeons) and join in the community on ISCA BBS. Operated by Iowa Student Computing Alumni, ISCA BBS was the "hang out place" for all the cool kids... even if we only had plain ASCII text on a screen.

So I found a Telnet client on the App Store and out of pure muscle memory typed the address, expecting it to not be there at all...

... but it WAS!


Holy crap!! ISCA is still running!! Wish I could remember the name of the account I last used on there. My first screenname was "The Man Eating Cow" and over the next couple of years I was "Jedi Master Yoda" and "Let My People Go" and a few others (why so many names? There was a girl at Elon who was stalking me. Long story...). I joined this time as "TheKnightShift" and was welcomed by pretty much the same screens that came up every time I ever logged in before.

And then there were MUDs.  Something I never got into but they were popular enough that you knew what they were.  The MUDs were essentially an MMO like World of Warcraft, except all-text.  If you ever heard of a waaaaay old game called Zork well, a MUD was pretty much Zork with a few hundred people running around inside of it.  And some of them are still online!  If you want to telnet into one of the more famous ones from the ancient times and give it a try here's the official website for ShadowMUD.

FTP means "File Transfer Protocol" and is one of those things that is now running under the hood even if you don't know (or care) that it's there.  Still, it gets a fair bit of usage, particularly when bulk uploading or downloading material.  Here is one FTP utility I found in the App Store:


I could never make sense out Gopher.  It was a search engine thingy that let you look for material on Gopher servers, usually at universities and major libraries.  If it was out in "Gopherspace" you could easily find it.  IF it was in Gopherspace that is.  But it must still be used and appreciated because there is at least one Gopher client for iOS devices and I'm assuming for Android also:

"Gophers, ya great git! Not golfers! The little brown furry rodents!"

I figured that a text-based browser like Lynx wouldn't be on the App Store.  If it is, it's so obscure that it didn't show up in a search.  And some might wonder about the point if a web browser that shows only text.  But there is quite a good rationale for it.  Lynx and other text-only browsers can tie in to software that converts the words into audible speech.  Hence, even thoughs with little or no eyesight at all can "surf the web".  Pretty neat aye?  There are some textual web browsers for the iPad Pro and other mobile devices. However none of them make it plain "Amish-style text".  All they do is strip out the graphics and other bells and whistles and generate text with the formatting, fonts etc. intact:

The Knight Shift: Apocalypse Mode
Because the wasteland cares not for your bandwidth...

And that's pretty much how it was two decades or so ago.  We were the pioneers.  The ones who had to dial in through a landline and hope that there weren't so many connections that we couldn't log in.  Who could only share photos with other users (like that girl who sounded so cute) by giving them our snail-mail address and wait a week for a Kodak print to arrive.  Who had to trust that the character waving at us inside a MUD really did have a sword equipped before we stormed the castle.  Who had to uudecode that file from a newsgroup, having good faith that it really was a pic of a computer-animated dewback from A New Hope: Special Edition and not something obscene.

That's how we had our Internet.  And we LIKED it!

"Now get off my lawn!"

Friday, April 13, 2018

Sequels, Side Stories, Social Justice... A NEW Star Wars Post!

A never-ending epic mythology loved by many, would be betrayed and killed for by everybody, and is agreed upon by none.
-- from The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (1906),
    appended to by Christopher Knight (2018)

The Force Awakens.  Rogue One.  The Last Jedi.  And in six short weeks Solo...

Clearly, much has happened in the past two and a half years since this blogger - said by some to be more enthusiastic than might be healthy - has posted anything at all about Star Wars.  And that last time was about The Star Wars Holiday Special!

Little wonder that a few had written e-mails asking if I was still alive or if I had gone Amish or something.

Happily, I can sincerely report that my love for the Star Wars saga is still there.  As much as it ever was.  It's been part of my life since childhood and someday many decades from now I plan on making everyone giggle at my funeral by being laid out in my Jedi Knight costume.  I lived as a fan and I'm going out as a fan.

However, that's not to say that some things about this mythology, now firmly in the hands of Disney, are beyond concern and commentary.  Writing as I am now, with three new Stars Wars films just since November of 2015 and a fourth incoming (which will finally push the number of the franchise's movies into the double digits and we are NOT counting that "Clone Wars" animated movie) there is a sense of fresh perspective to approach from.  So let's punch it!

The Sequel Trilogy

"This will begin to make things right," Lor San Tekka tells Poe Dameron with the first spoken words of The Force Awakens.  Was he speaking about the situation of the galaxy now thirty years past the events of Return of the Jedi?  Or was it a sly jab at the prequels: a trilogy panned by many... and not without reason... as being when Star Wars went off the rails?  Whether it was Michael Arndt, J.J. Abrams or Lawrence Kasdan who wrote that line, he must have had a giggle-fit while typing it.

But for whatever reason, the sequel trilogy so far seems to have galvanized many against Star Wars more than the prequels ever did.  And I can't understand that.  Not at all.  Because so far that has happened... the sequels are proceeding EXACTLY as George Lucas meant for them to go!

Way, waaaay back in the day when Episode VI was still being branded as "Revenge of the Jedi", Lucas described in interviews with Reader's Digest and a few other outlets that the Star Wars saga would someday have nine films total.  That after he finished Return of the Jedi that work would begin on Episodes 1 through 3 and then years after that would come the final trilogy.  That one would be about an older Luke, who even then Lucas was noting wouldn't be in the story at the very beginning.  Lucas emphasized that there was to be one ubiquitous thread through the tapestry he was weaving: the droid duo of Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio.  The droids were witnessing this vast story unfold around them, and even at times play critical roles in the tale.  And someday far into the future they would be sharing the entirety of the Skywalker family's adventures with others who would be recording the story and pass it along to others.  Artoo and Threepio were the ciphers through which we would witness this grand epic.

Sometime later, around the early Nineties or so, before the official announcement came out of LucasFilm that writing had begun on Episode 1, George Lucas said something else.  That the then still-planned sequel trilogy would be more "philosophical" than the previous films had been.  That they would be about the concept of power, and what it means to have it and wield it.  The sequel trilogy was also intended to delve deeper into the Force as a concept.  To dissect and examine the Light and Dark sides as had never been done before.

How is this not what the sequel trilogy has been thus far?  Because it seems pretty on track to me.

We know that Lucas' original plot for the sequel trilogy as he gave to Disney at the time of the acquisition was scrapped in large part. But that doesn't mean the themes and motifs he was aiming for were chucked out also.  It would surprise me if Lucas didn't have a large role in consulting about the sequel trilogy.  It's HIS story, after all.  No one knows about where it was headed toward better than he.  In years or even decades to come it will probably come out that he had a bigger hand in the sequels than many would express approval for at this time.  But sooner than later, when it's all spread out before us and we can see the ebb and flow of the Skywalker Family across the span of seventy-some years of story time, it will make sense.  I have faith in that.

So, The Force Awakens was much better than I had anticipated, and it has only grown on me with repeated viewings.  And then came The Last Jedi: the film that schismed the fanbase as few thi... okay as nothing had before, including Jar Jar and those ridiculous midichlorians.

Lemme just go ahead and say it: The Last Jedi is the greatest Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back and in time I believe it will be widely renowned as THE best of the series by far unless Episode 9 supplants it.

Rian Johnson didn't play it safe at all.  He incinerated the garden.  Then he burned down the house for good measure.  Sometimes you have to destroy utterly so that you can rebuild and grow and make it better.  "Let the past die, kill it if you have to".  It was time to let Star Wars grow and blossom into something it had never been before but was always meant to be.  And that wasn't possible if it was still clinging to our own expectations.  This is a multi-generational saga of a kind that has never been done in American cinema before or perhaps ANY cinema at all.  But it has to be allowed to evolve and burst forth.  To not be the domain of one or two generations of fans but to belong to ALL of us.  And that's the meaning of the final scene in The Last Jedi: that beautiful moment where the children at the fathier stables are playing with makeshift dolls of Luke Skywalker.  And that one kid uses the Force to nonchalantly grab his broom before looking up at the night sky in wonder and hope...

That would have been the PERFECT final scene for Episode 9.  But it also punctuated Luke Skywalker's character arc and its appropriate ending: as the legend he was always meant to be.  Flawed though he was, Luke rose above that and become something greater.  Something far more powerful than he could have been as the failed and fallen Jedi exile.  In his final act, Luke understands and accepts the choice of Obi-Wan Kenobi decades earlier.
Would we have dared rob him of that, because of our insistence that Luke fit to our own demands of narrative?

Is The Last Jedi a perfect movie?  No.  There are problems I have about its sense of internal chronology (something I might make a separate post about soon).  But it accomplishes what needed to happen for this saga to be something that would be passed down to and appreciated by our children, and our children's children.  And I absolutely must tip my hat to Rian Johnson for having the guts to do that.

By the way, for what it's worth: my Snoke theory sucked, too!

The Standalone Films and New Trilogies

Opening night of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for me was a cinema on the outskirts of San Diego.  Unfortunately it was the first time ever that I had seen a Star Wars movie at a theater without the company of any friends.  However I like to think that I made some new friends in the hour or so before the projector cranked up.  The Lord does provide, it seems...

Rogue One demonstrates how good the Star Wars franchise can be from here on out if it's allowed to take risks.  Yes, it was about the stolen plans for the Death Star.  But from that one bit of line from the opening crawl of A New Hope Gareth Edwards and his team painted into being, with strokes both bold and fine, a vista perhaps grander than any we've seen on this magnificent canvas.  It was dark, and mature, and unforgiving... and it wasn't afraid to let people we fast came to care about die.  Rogue One was the Star Wars movie that emphasized war in all its savage and gritty horror.  Star Wars needed that, more than it realized.  And that nightmarish moment when those poor Rebels hear the mechanized breathing down that blackened corridor and the red saber ignites...

I kid you not: the whole heapin' theater went BERZERK with screams of terror.  So many of us left the premiere screening with a "thousand yard stare", in stunned disbelief at the butchery we had witnessed.  And that is when I knew: Rogue One succeeded.

Now, we aren't quite at Solo yet.  That's coming next month.  And I can barely believe it either, how much I am NOT enthused about this next film.  Maybe it's the tumultuous production history that's plagued it.  Maybe it's simply that it's not a story that necessarily needs to be told.  But based on the past few trailers, I'm beginning to be hopeful.  It will likely be the first Star Wars film that I won't catch on opening day, but that's okay.  I'm hoping to see it together with friends that weekend though... and that matters more.

My criticism here is that Disney has set a precedent for Star Wars stories beyond the nine episodes of the Skywalker saga.  But by no means should ALL the Star Wars films to come be tethered to that core epic.  It's a big galaxy.  It's a big HISTORY: some 25,000 years of lore and it's barely been scratched into.  If Disney is afraid of lack of marketability with new characters removed from the Skywalker storyline, it shouldn't be.  Well into The Force Awakens I found that Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Renn, though I had known nothing at all about them... they had become characters I was genuinely feeling for and empathizing with.  By the time Han and Chewie showed up, I had accepted Rey and the others as being as much a part of this saga as any other character.

There are a lot of stories to tell in that galaxy far, far away.  Across a massive geography and span of eons.  Given how well he did with The Last Jedi, I'm looking forward to what Rian Johnson can show us with his new trilogy.  However...

Saga Over-Saturation

Let me be blunt: I'm afraid that we are getting too much Star Wars WAY too fast.  For so long we went three years between new Star Wars movies.  And then it was sixteen years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace.  Come a little over a month from now we will have had FOUR new Star Wars motion pictures in less than two and a half years!

Is it too much too soon?

It's not an uncommon concern.  Many longtime die-hard fans are wondering if cranking out Star Wars movies so rapidly is a wise tactic on the part of Disney.  If the toy sales related to The Last Jedi are any indication, there is a fatigue that is setting in.  At 12:01 this morning the new merchandise for Solo: A Star Wars Story went on sale.  I'm going to venture to say that the Solo stuff is going to be the worst selling in Star Wars history.  And it won't be a reflection on the film itself so much as it is how TIRING it is to be assaulted with Star Wars on what is now practically a nonstop basis.

I'd rather have GOOD Star Wars, than to have Star Wars NOW.  Moderation and delayed gratification are great virtues to adopt.  One film a year, every Christmas holiday season, would be plenty.  Perhaps without ever intending to, Disney established a wonderful holiday tradition for all to share and enjoy when they released The Force Awakens and then Rogue One in December.  The Last Jedi continued the tradition and ideally Solo should have been the entry for 2018.

Much the same can be said of Disney's plans for Star Wars in television (maybe I'll finally catch up on Star Wars: Rebels soon.  So much Star Wars, so little time...).  If there are one or two concurrent series, there shouldn't be much fatigue in that (I mean hey, CBS has how many CSI shows now?!).  But if I have to someday load onto my iPad Pro the app for the Disney Star Wars Channel - 27 different series for $9.99 a month - I'm gonna say "forget THAT!"

Remember Disney: we want GOOD Star Wars, not necessarily a LOT of Star Wars.

Diversity and Social Justice Agendas

This is the big one that worries me.

It completely mystifies me: the kerfluffle about Rey and Finn and Poe and Rose and Holdo and pretty much ALL the Rogue One team members...
Some are angry that casting in Star Wars has become "politically correct".  Some are complaining that Star Wars isn't "diverse enough".  And I can't understand either.

Maybe it comes from growing up on a dairy farm in rural North Carolina.  As a young child, my life was filled with so many different people.  It didn't even occur to me that I was "white" and some were "black" and that some were "hispanic".  They were simply people.  Just individuals.  And when I saw The Empire Strikes Back at age six I never saw Lando Calrissian as a "black man".  Even that young I saw that Lando was a unique and complex person who was stuck in a very bad situation.  He was a good man who had been compelled to do something bad and it was because he was looking out for others and not himself.  But was he a "black man" doing that?  Not to me.  He was a man though.

That's not good enough today.  Now we have to fill a social agenda quota: make "so many black" and "so many female" and whatever.  And then there are those who despise the fact that the main hero of the sequel trilogy is a girl.

And it is all completely bollocks.

I don't know how else to put this, but here it goes.  In the Star Wars galaxy there are NO black people.  There are NO white people.  There are NO Asians.  There are NO hispanics.  Whatever planet humanity hails from in that universe, Europe and Asia and Africa are long forgotten if they existed at all.  Those are PEOPLE, dammit!  And to pick this one out and that one out as "examples of racial diversity" is to insult too much of what Star Wars is supposed to be.  We are supposed to be focused on these characters' qualities of virtue and integrity and moral being, not their skin color.

Huh.  Seems that Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about that once upon a time.

It shouldn't matter what color is the skin of the actors and actresses, or where they come from on Earth.  The question is: are these actors and actresses the RIGHT ones to fill the roles?  It's the good of the story that matters, not any "special interests".

And so far as Rey is concerned: seems that roughly half the population of humanity is female.  And there has been a male character at the forefront of every episode in this saga until now.  Let the ladies have their turn.  They have statistics on their side.

As I said before: I want good Star Wars.  I want Star Wars to be something for everyone.  But it cannot be everything for everyone.  And therein rests the greatest peril to this galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars is a mythology about ideas.  It is not meant to be, and never should be, about ideologies.  And though it hasn't occurred in the film series itself yet, there are already indications that the saga may be taken down paths it should never venture toward.  A "quick and easy way", as Yoda might have cautioned.

So, let's get to the heartmeat of the matter...

I and many others were appalled by Chuck Wendig's Aftermath novel trilogy, which takes place following the events of Return of the Jedi.  They are by a country lightyear the absolutely worst literature of the new Star Wars canon and Wendig insinuated (in a blog post so laden with profanity and raw hatred that in a sane world he should never again be allowed to write for the franchise) that all of the bad reviews that Aftermath received were because "bigots" didn't aprove of his social agenda in that novel and its two followups.

No, Aftermath wasn't given bad reviews because anyone was "a bigot".  Aftermath and its sequels were given bad reviews because the plot was terrible, the characters were cardboard-thin, the dialogue was abominable, there were too many elements from our real world that ripped us out of the suspension of disbelief (playing Settlers of Catan, seriously?), there was an ignorance of science that would be unforgivable in ANY fantasy setting (a single comet spawns an entire asteroid field?  That must have been one big-ass comet...), that what should have been the thrilling Battle of Jakku was turned into a dreary bore.  It was as if an A-list director had been given a hundred million dollar budget to remake Tora! Tora! Tora! and instead made a film about the Pearl Harbor Post Office.

But since it's been brought up...

Aftermath's many flaws were exponentially magnified by Wendig deciding that he would turn Star Wars into a platform for his own social justice agenda.  

Which did nothing whatsoever to alleviate that myriad of flaws which would have been there regardless.  Perhaps if he had been subtle about it.  That particular issue has been touched upon a number of times in what is now considered to be the "Legends" brand: that vast body of work once and still so lovingly referred to as the "Expanded Universe".  It was not anything remarkably new.

But Wendig was hellbent on shoving his own agenda into the faces of those he disagreed with.  People who only came to his books because they trusted him to give them a good solid Star Wars story that would respect them as fans.  He did not do that however.  And based on the rantings and ravings he posted on his blog, Chuck Wendig seems to have a very real and visceral hatred of those who do not believe as he does on some matters.  Just as the Dark Side always does, be it there or in our real world, that hatred within him corrupted his work.

That must never be allowed to happen to the Star Wars franchise as a whole.  And perhaps Disney will have learned something from allowing a propagandist to contribute canon to the saga.

I don't want Star Wars to be a "liberal" mouthpiece.  I don't want Star Wars to be a "conservative" mouthpiece either.  Or for it to be a stage from which to be pro-Christian or pro-atheist or in support of this party or that party... Star Wars is supposed to be BETTER than that.  It's supposed to be something timeless and to harness it to temporal causes, regardless of ideology, would tear apart the greater core of what makes Star Wars so dear to people of all races and creeds and perspectives.

Star Wars should never, ever become a political platform.  Star Wars should never, ever become a social engineering platform.  It shouldn't be co-opted into becoming a stamp of approval or endorsement for anything of our fleeting temporal concerns.  Star Wars is about the heart of the human condition and the universal truths of wisdom and folly, of good and evil.  It belongs to "them": to those who will come after.  When we make it about "us", we are depriving them of some of that.  Maybe even depriving them of all of it.

Maybe Disney wasn't fazed by one author going off the reservation like that.  But the films are an entirely different affair.

Because one of the riskiest things that ANY business can do, at all, is to involve itself in politics.  Because doing so puts the customer base in jeopardy.  Dick's Sporting Goods is learning that even now: sales at its stores have plummeted since the company joined in with the recent matter of gun purchases.  Target has taken a ginormous retail hit in recent years after announcing policies regarding restrooms.  And the half-empty (often worse) stadiums this past season are testament to the "success" of the National Football League making a social agenda more important than kicking a pigskin.

Disney's own ESPN should be sufficient warning: honk off most of your audience and there WILL be a price to pay.

Without remarking upon any issue at all, one way or another, I must make this observation and Disney would do well to consider it.  See that ginormous swath of red across America from this past election?  That's where most of the people who buy tickets to Star Wars movies are from.  Those are also where most of the families that buy Star Wars toys and clothing and books and posters and video games live.  Yeah, there are plenty of Star Wars fans in those blue enclaves along the coasts and in the northeastern United States and around the metro areas... but the red is where most of the action is at.  That big burning crimson is where most of those billions and billions of dollars in merchandising sales alone are being generated from.

That is not a judgment against anybody.   That being said, I can genuinely attest that very, very few of those families would buy action figures of characters who were engaged in some kind of behavior that is in dire opposition to sincere convictions and beliefs about right and wrong.  And it would decimate or worse the overseas market for Star Wars.

That isn't what fans of Star Wars want or deserve.  They... we... want something we can share and enjoy in common, no matter what our stance and vision and notions might be in this real world.  Inflicting the real world so blatantly into this saga out of selfish ideological interest would ruin Star Wars for all.  It would be worse than the proverbial killing the goose that laid the golden egg.  It would be LITERALLY killing whatever that is laying the golden eggs.

Somehow, I like to think that Disney knows and appreciates that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

616 days later...

Oh be nice!  I'm just a blogger.  It's not like I'm George R.R. Martin or anything...

Journeys of self-discovery don't lend themselves well to blogging along the way.  That grew apparent in Dallas where was made the most recent entry of this strange chronicle now fourteen-some years along.  An abrupt a hiatus was never desired: with a graphic parodying the fad of the hour, made in our hotel room, air conditioning cranked to the max as Tammy the Pup and I waited out the 115-degrees of afternoon sultriness.

Attempting to document everything about this journey, predicated from the start on following God's lead no matter where or when or how He did so, became an exercise in futility.  It wasn't...  and it still isn't... about the minutiae.  It's something else.  A deeper quality.  It is a virtue that cannot be known without taking that first step.  It is an unnamable quality of introspection and self-questioning wrought into being by Providence through the places and people and predicaments and peculiarities that come about along the way.  Dare take a respite to record it all for something like a blog and you miss a beat, lose a rhythm, let a moment rife with potential slip through your fingers.

So I stepped away.  For how long, I didn't know or even care to know.  There was always the intention to come back to The Knight Shift: lumps and all a labor of love for the past decade and a half.  I had no idea it would be for THIS long.  But it had to be this way.  Returning any sooner out of blogging's sake would have been a taking away from the experience.  Would have been that much less that I would have allowed God to work with.

My focus as a writer, as a historian, as an observer of the world around me, has always been toward trying to see the bigger picture.  But I had never turned that same focus onto myself.  My own life had been a thing episodic.  Perhaps because...  I didn't see my life as having any significance in the larger story?  It had been a piecemeal work.  Just accepting whatever I could as it came along.  Being thankful for the portions of good that had been allotted me these last several years.  Hoping.  Waiting.  Praying.  For something better.

When you have come to the end of everything that you are, there are two choices left to you.  Wait to die.  Or break free.  The way of one is of comfort.  The way of the other is uncertain.  One is safe.  The other, perilous.  One is a slow and lingering death, of the spirit if not of body.  The other holds no promise of happy life, yet embodies the essence of life itself.

One is to trust in nothing at all.  The other is to take a leap of faith... and thrill to see what happens next.

After everything that has happened in my life over the past several years, and despite what some family wanted, I made a break for it.  Escaped.  Took off and didn't care where to.  Didn't even know what the end result would look like except that I desired purpose, happiness, something of my own that could not be found where I was.

That most will never dare such a journey is an enormous tragedy.  But I don't know if I chose this or if it was chosen for me.  More than once I have learned during two decades of being a Christ-follower: when God wants you somewhere, He will do anything and everything to maneuver and manipulate you into a situation where you have no other option but to move a certain way, go a certain direction.  It may not be the easiest path in life.  But it certainly is life and life abundant that is promised us.

On the morning of June 12th, 2016, Chris Knight and his dog Tammy set out in a Toyota Camry.  It was packed with bare essentials for what was intended to be a search for a new home.  Clothes, a dog food and water dish, pocketknife, iPad Pro, Boy Scout compass, and a cast-iron skillet.  Because you never leave on a epic journey without a cast-iron skillet.

Nine and a half months later he returned briefly.  But he wasn’t the same.  And nearly a year since then he is even more changed, now some distance further still somewhere in America.

In that regard… I suppose if this is what God wanted of me, it has worked.  And maybe I don't have that full measure of happiness I've desired yet.  But at long last for the first time in my life I have freedom.  And at this current place that my dog and I have been brought to I have been trusted with a degree of creative power, of rare appreciation, and even a bit of leadership.  I have been given responsibilities that I'd never imagined could be there to fulfill.  And it feels awesome!

I should not be alive to write these words.  And had I heeded the selfishness of others I would have been hostage in the cruelest prison for all my days.

But to quote Steve McQueen's final words in the last scene of Papillon: "Hey you bastards!  I'm still here."

Take a leap of faith.  Make that first step onto the path, as Bilbo Baggins.  Let something greater than yourself guide your way.  You might just be surprised at how far you will go.  Be it out into the world or deep into your own heart.

So what has happened these past twenty-two months?

Adventure.  Misadventure.  Joy.  Sadness.  Thrill.  Heartbreak.  Moments of clarity.  Moments of confusion.  Appreciation of friendship.  Bitterness of betrayal.  Gratefulness to God.  Doubting God at all.  Hurting.  Healing.  Coming to terms with much of my past.  Allowing myself feel long-roiling hate... so that it could finally be allowed to die.  Seeing the world with new eyes, and putting an end to old illusions.  Letting go.  And learning to live again for the first time.

I suppose some synopsis of the past year and a half is called for.  Fair enough.  In no particular order:
  • Looked upon the Pacific Ocean for the very first time on Thanksgiving Day 2016...

  • Finally visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
  • Made a brief ride through Branson, Missouri.
  • Found out that I had been mispronouncing "Taos" for the past few decades.
  • Got my kicks on Route 66 (and yes I made sure to have the theme from the television series playing on the car stereo) through a few towns.
  • Watched little girls play hopscotch on the sidewalk of a small American town, something I didn’t think happened anymore.
  • Was offered a job on a new television series (long story, VERY long...)
  • Spent an afternoon with Matt, a friend from college, who also gave me a tour of Fort Leonard Wood.
  • Discovered the hard way that pecan pie does not seem to exist west of Phoenix.
  • Was offered an Android Smartphone and a lewd act in exchange for thirty dollars by a prostitute in Albuquerque (then the light turned green and my foot hit the pedal...)
  • Got arrested at a United States Navy facility because my iPhone gave bad directions to a Subway sandwich shop.
  • Witnessed my miniature dachshund pee and poop precisely on the Continental Divide.
  • Got to discover what makes Kansas City barbecue such a worthy competitor to North Carolina barbecue.
  • Fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting the Palomar Observatory and seeing the Hale Telescope...
  • Had a chance encounter with Danny Trejo, who said that Tammy was a beautiful dog.
  • Crossed the Rio Grande several times.
  • Did a Facebook Live video from inside a marijuana store in Colorado (no I did NOT buy anything!) then had to drive almost four hours back to the hotel with my clothes reeking of the smell of weed.  NOT fun at all!
  • Visited the Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan presidential libraries and paid my respects at the final resting places of each.
  • Saw the Grand Canyon for the first time and stood transfixed by the majesty of it...

  • Was asked on numerous occasions in California where was I from, because it’s customary for me to always open doors for ladies and “guys just don’t do that here in California”.
  • Was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona...

  • Drove down the Vegas Strip with the window rolled down and Tammy standing in my lap as Elvis sang “Viva Las Vegas” from my car stereo.
  • Got to meet MANY longtime friends for the first time in real life.
  • Spent a day at the Very Large Array radio telescope complex.
  • Bought “real” Blue Sky crystal meth at the candy store that made it for the television series Breaking Bad.  Also found Saul Goodman’s law office (now a bar and grill), Tuco’s headquarters, and Walter White’s house (no I did NOT throw a pizza onto its roof)...

  • Made an entire IHOP in Oklahoma City crack up laughing with an impromptu impersonation of Charles Kuralt.
  • Stood outside the gates of Graceland with Tammy (who is a hound dog... get it?).
  • Had to explain to the sales associate of a Build-A-Bear on the West Coast that you simply DO NOT send a teddy bear in a Duke basketball uniform to the home of a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus, even if it IS a Christmas present for his eight-month old daughter.
  • Fulfilled another longtime dream: drove along a desolate highway through the desert, not another vehicle in sight, with the car window down and listening to "Mrs. Robinson".
  • Did something I had wanted to do since I was six years old: visit Meteor Crater near Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • Drove atop Hoover Dam.
  • Met a lot of fascinating people and made new friends along the way including but not limited to: Marissa (who once appeared in a Super Bowl commercial), Tom T. Hall (who as my father did, enjoys Sir Walter Raleigh smoking tobacco), Candice, the Japanese Man, Mr. Peppy, Ophelia the Maid, Steve the Geek (who also has a dachshund), and Benjamin the pastor of “Church Sid’s Canoe” which is a fine bunch of good folks.
  • Somehow ended up in Sedona, which is kinda like Pigeon Forge if it was run by Shirley MacLaine.
  • Spent a few hours visiting the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier.
  • Got to eat gelato for the first time in my life.
  • Made an excursion into Utah but did not see any polygamist enclaves.
  • Visited the memorial on the site of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
  • Saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story three times.  And Doctor Strange twice, the second time with my dear friend Bethany (so thankful we finally got to meet in person!)...
  • Was told that I was "the best writer who has come through the door in a very long time" and that unfortunately there wasn't a budget for another reporter.  I'm still counting that as a pretty good experience.
  • Got to meet a fellow expatriate of Rockingham County working in a restaurant in Emporia, Kansas.
  • Visited Mount Wilson Observatory, where Pluto was discovered.
  • Found out firsthand that one MUST have a full tank of gas when crossing the Mojave Desert (unless you WANT to pay five bucks a gallon, at a run-down store filled with knockoff knick-knacks and Jehovah's Witness literature). 
  • Briefly met Dr. David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church.  The visitors parking lot of which is bigger than many Walmart parking lots.
  • Sought out and found EVERY Krispy Kreme between Memphis and Los Angeles.
  • Walked around a Native American pueblo that has been continuously inhabited for a thousand years.
  • Stood on the plains of Kansas on the night of the Fourth of July and watched fireworks being lit by towns from horizon to horizon all around me.
  • Had a very surreal evening witnessing the returns of Election Day 2016 from a hotel room in Phoenix.
  • Played chess with a blind man... and lost!
  • Was recognized because of my 2006 school board campaign ad by a former Eden resident… in a Target store in Southern California.
  • Realized that I was the only white person among at least a hundred Navajo in a supermarket.  That was pretty cool!
  • Visited the home and tomb of Will Rogers.
  • May or may not have fallen in love a few times... and yet the quest goes on.
There is more, lots more.  But that's the gist of what transpired during almost two years and 18 states and more than 20,000 miles of a boy and his dog across America.

So, what’s going on lately?  What happens now?

Currently I am in another place, somewhere in America.  Working with an amazing group of people on some projects while also pursuing my own.  Starting to blog again was on the "to-do" list so if you're reading these words you already know that's a success.  There is also an idea for a full-length film, my first in a WAY long time, that I've started writing the screenplay of.  Not a comedy or parody this time: it's an honest-to-gosh drama, or something.  And the way I plan to shoot it is going to be challenging and fun.

I'm not where I want to be.  Still not there.  But by the grace of God and the encouragement of many friends, both new and old, I am getting there.  There is movement.  And that alone is a grace to be thankful for.

Can't promise anything about the tone and style of The Knight Shift from here on out.  I came back but as Gandalf told Bilbo, "you won't be the same again."  And that's definitely me.  "I ain't changed but I know I ain't the same" as that song by The Wallflowers goes.  But I'm gonna be inclined to say that y'all will recognize some familiar milieus just as you will find some new perspectives.

So... let's see what's out there THIS time!