Wednesday, September 23, 2020

I rarely watch episodic television, but...

...Transplant, a Canadian-produced medical drama that's found a domestic home on NBC, has reeled me in as hard as any show has.  Ignoring that many American folks will have a time translating from the metric system (the patient's temperatures aren't really THAT chilly) Transplant has a unique premise, intrepid plot, and a fine ensemble to carry it out.

Heading the cast is Hamza Haq as Dr. Bashir Hamed: a refugee from Syria's civil war who fled with his sister and is trying to resume life as a physician.  The trek brings him to the emergency room of a major hospital in Toronto (following an incident that surely impressed his boss, but that's spoiler territory).

And it's solid, solid television.  Last night's episode, the season's fourth, is the kind of thing that would be seen for in-class discussion in a course on ethics.  Hamed is honest, almost to a fault.  And he hasn't been willing to cut corners on getting transcripts from his university back in Syria: being an enemy of the state when you're at a state-run school kinda has its complications.  Meanwhile a fellow doctor is confronted with a matter of patient confidentiality involving a drunken driver who killed a woman.  And oh yeah, on top of it all Hamed is also Facetime-ing a how-to for a roadside amputation thousands of miles away.

It takes a lot... and I mean a lot... for a series to convince me that it's worth my valuable time to watch.  I used to be that way with The Walking Dead but I lost track of that show (blame real life matters throwing a monkey-wrench into the works).  Before that it was Lost, and I don't think there's been anything else new since then.  But I've become rather enamored with Transplant.  Looking forward to seeing how this series develops.

Transplant is on Tuesday nights on NBC.  Next new episode airs October 6th.

EDIT:  I should have mentioned Star Wars: The Mandalorian, but that was a given anyway.  And it took getting every season on Blu but I did finish up Game of Thrones.  Which if anyone asks, I thought it had a perfect ending.

Monday, September 14, 2020

And this is why I can't and won't support Black Lives Matter

Just one of the reasons why I have not and can not jump on the big bandwagon issue these past several months. There were a LOT of organizations of various sorts that came out with broad statements of support. I knew all along that it was foolish to make a statement about ANY political issue. Due legal process has not run its full course. Many have yielded to the moral outrage of the moment, without weighing whether it was wise.

And now this has happened and there is growing backlash against the movement, its leaders, and its "protestors". From the very beginning it has been borne of anger and that has given way to outright hatred and now the very many incidents of violence, and as we see here attempted murder of two innocent Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies. Not just the attempt itself: "activists" and some leaders of the same movement tried to prevent the officers from receiving proper treatment at the hospital's emergency room.
I am going to make a bold, bold prediction, and I am absolutely serious. It is not something I say lightly, it is not said in anger or with any ill will toward anyone. And this is just the historian in me. Someone who has studied matters like this at great length, for most of his life.
Here it is: Black Lives Matter will sooner than later be seen as a movement that inflicted far greater harm than any good. This article at The Wall Street Journal, and many other articles about the situation with the two officers, illustrates why.
And the longer Black Lives Matter is given inconsiderate support the worse this is going to get.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

I am a bad Star Wars fan (for abandoning the sequel trilogy)

There is a rumor... rumor mind ya so take this with an industrial sized salt lick... that somewhere in the Disney Vault there rests a cut of Star War Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker that is drastically different and better than what was released theatrically last Christmas.  This cut was allegedly assembled by George Lucas: the Maker himself.  This edit supposedly adds new material, removes several elements we saw in The Rise of Skywalker's theater version and perhaps even has a new ending.  The result is a film that is at least forty percent altered from the original cinematic release.

It is supposed to fix the problems that The Rise of Skywalker has, as well as many of the problems that the entire sequel trilogy is rife with.

It is the hope of many fans that "the George Lucas Cut" - IF it exists at all - will be released eventually, and sooner than later.  One possible venue would be Disney+ (where The Mandalorian and the complete The Clone Wars series have made their home).  One must wonder how much the Disney execs will be watching the upcoming release of the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League on HBO Max.  Success for that cut would certainly compel Disney to cast an eye upon potential product for its own streaming service.

I bring up the Lucas Cut rumor because I am increasingly finding myself hoping and praying that it's true.  And that it will get released.  And that it is just as magnificent as it's being made out to be.

Because at this point that's what it's going to take to make me respect the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

Yes folks, there it is.  I am going to always and forever be a Star Wars fan.  But going forward... I'm going to try to forget that Episodes VII, VIII and IX ever happened.  Because there are substantial problems with what should have been a final fulfilling arc in the Skywalker saga.  Problems which can not be ignored any longer.  As far as I'm concerned the Skywalker tale on film ends with Vader's redemption, the Emperor's death and Luke's reunion with his friends amid the celebration on Endor.

Because it is now abundantly clear that Disney had no idea what it was doing when it produced the sequel trilogy.

It was Daisy Ridley's comments this past week that made the kill shot.  It seems that even after the cameras stopped rolling there was indecision about Rey's parentage.  At one point or another she was related to Obi-Wan Kenobi, or was Palpatine's granddaughter, or just what Kylo told her in The Last Jedi: "no one".  I wish she had been nobody special.  It would have made Rey a much more potent character.  Better than that: it would have reinforced the notion that the Force belongs to anyone and everyone.  That it was not the sole provenance of favored lineages like the Skywalkers or the Palpatines.  One of the major themes of A New Hope was that a hero can come from the most humble of beginnings.  Rey was set to follow that theme.  And then they made her a granddaughter to Palpatine...

Did these people seriously understand Star Wars at all?  Did they even care?

Blame can be assigned across the board.  I'm not going to bother divvying it up.  But mistakes were made.  Atrocious mistakes.  The components were there for a majestic trilogy, the one we had been long promised but had come to believe would never be made.  All of the pieces were within ready grasp.  They even had the cast of the original trilogy willing to sign aboard for the project.

The sequel trilogy had everything going for it, seemingly.  And they messed it up.

Personally, what was most unforgiving about what happened in the sequels was how Snoke was treated.  Here was a new character - a fantastic character - perfectly set up to be a truly horrific and fascinating villain.  Snoke brought about the reaction that Darth Vader evoked during his first onscreen appearance: even without knowing anything about him, we knew he was evil.  And we hated him for it.  And we wanted to see more of him.  Snoke had presence.

I can look past how Snoke was killed in The Last Jedi.  What I can not look past is how sloppily it was made out to be that Snoke was just a puppet for Palpatine.  It was complete laziness, and trepidation, and a failure to give Snoke the respect he deserved.  He deserved much better.

Star Wars deserved better.  It still does.

Could I somehow come to give the sequel trilogy enough lenience that it takes a rightful place with the six core saga films that came before?  Yeah.  Yeah, I could.  And I think that many if not most of the Star Wars fans put off by the sequels - and there are loads of them - could accept the sequels.  But not like this.  They treasure this mythology too much than to accept second or third best.  And Disney erred grievously when it took those fans for granted and saw their wallets more than their hearts.

If the rumors are anywhere accurate, there is a cut of The Rise of Skywalker that is a true chapter of the Star Wars saga.  A film that addresses the problems of its immediate predecessors and not only complements them, it makes them better.

I hope that rumor is a true one.  Because if Star Wars has taught us anything, it is that nothing is beyond redemption.

EDIT 09/14/2020:  Had a moment of realization this morning.  Obi-Wan Kenobi said that a ship the size of a TIE Fighter could not get so far out into space on its own.  Yet in the sequel trilogy we see TIEs swooping in and out of lightspeed all the time.  They even follow the Millennium Falcon, aka "the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy".  What kind of consistency is THAT?!?!?

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

First trailer for DUNE is epic!

Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Dune just dropped its first trailer.  And it looks insane!!  The film itself is due in December and here's hoping that the theaters (and everything else) will finally be wide open because this looks to be a movie screaming for the big screen experience.  Love the reveal of the sandworm!

Turn your peepers toward this, ladies and gents:


Will Villeneuve's Dune succeed where two previous adaptations have come up short?  I thought the Sci-Fi Channel's version was an admirable attempt (and it did give us the follow-up Children of Dune) and however glorious a mess it was, David Lynch's Dune has a hypnotic quality to its production design.  But those didn't quite nail it.  Or maybe Dune is one of those stories best left to the book and the reader's imagination.  We'll find out in a few months.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

To this blog's friends in Texas and Louisiana:

Thoughts and prayers going out to you as Hurricane Laura approaches.

Longtime readers know how much hurricanes and other tropical systems interest me.  This one already rivals Katrina.  I hope this blog won't be as busy with Laura as it was with Katrina fifteen years ago.

(Has it REALLY been that long?)

Hurricane Laura as of 06:44 pm EST on August 26 2020

Sunday, August 16, 2020

A scenario

 Something put together during the hour of the wolf: that time between 2 and 3 in the morning when you can't sleep and your mind is running through a myriad of thoughts all at once...

It goes like this:

America is thrown into turmoil as a result of a November election that sees no clearly declared winner and in fact is endemic throughout the country's state and local elections.

Factor in that the United States is still in the midst of COVID-19 and this does not look to alleviate anytime soon.

China takes advantage of the chaos in America and fully deploys its naval might in the South China Sea. Taiwan is invaded. American military along with Japanese and Australian forces engage.

North Korean hardliners in that country's army, frustrated with Kim Jong Un for various reasons, depose their leader and install Un's sister as the glorious new leader. North Korea invades the south with China's tacit blessing.

Meanwhile Beijing opens another front. This time in the west, against the Uyghur minority. This becomes a campaign of full-blown ethnic cleansing. And once the real horror of it becomes unavoidably apparent, interests to the immediate west of China become motivated to interfere.

This will be mostly lead by Turkey. And Erdogan, obsessed with restoring the old Ottoman glory (he's already converting Haggia Sophia back into a mosque) mobilizes against perceived Chinese intrusion but also begins his own campaign against religious and ethnic minorities. Armenians are once more targeted. Persecution of minorities spills over into northern Iraq. Once more the Yazidi are fugitives in their own land.

Russia is enraged by Turkey. God only knows what Putin would do. A "crusade" against the "infidel Turks" is altogether possible. There remains some bitterness among the faithful about what happened in 1453 when Mehmet and his boys took Constantinople. Expect sympathies from Greece and other Balkan states against Turkey.

Poland becomes the one really peaceful island in the midst of this. I say that for a number of reasons. I don't see Russia doing anything there. It's not like the Nazis are back and taking over eastern Europe.

Western Europe however becomes hit with numerous terrorist attacks conducted by radical Islamic groups. France is hit especially hard.

I can't figure out what else may be.  It was already 6 a.m. when I first posted this to Facebook and my brain was frazzled after a marathon session of Fallout 4.

But to be succinct about it: the dominoes have fallen and World War III is now underway.

Like I said: a scenario. One of very many.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Unreliable Narrator, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Sequel Trilogy

Many of you  by now are hearing the rumors: that Kathleen Kennedy is on the way out as matriarch of the Star Wars franchise.  That the operation will soon be run by either Jon Favreau or Dave Filoni.  That the entire sequel trilogy is going to be scrapped and "re-made".

Personally, I doubt that last one is going to happen.  Because I can't but think of all the little girls I've seen dressed as Rey for the premiere of the past few Star Wars movies.  Rey is a true heroine to them.  Heck, she is for me too.  But especially to young girls who look to Rey as a role model.  Not I or anyone else should take that away from them.  Besides, Star Wars was ripe for a female character on par with Luke Skywalker and young Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Rey fits the role perfectly.

But I won't deny that the sequel trilogy is the worst of the three.  I first had a bad feeling about this when it became clear that too much of The Last Jedi was going to be spent on the Resistance fleet fleeing from the First Order.  And then Snoke getting killed.  And then the reveal that the enemy of The Rise Of Skywalker would be a resurrected Emperor Palpatine...

I've had a theory for many years.  It's about Star Trek, the original series.  So many episodes of that show are timeless classics.  And then there were the utterly hokey ones like "Spock's Brain".  You know, the episode where aliens run off with Spock's gray matter so it can serve as the new computer running their indoor plumbing.

How hokey can you get?  But it begs the question: did the over-ridiculous premise of the episode disqualify it from being canon?  Because it just doesn't seem, you know... "Star Trek"-ish.

I've a solution to that.  How the bad Trek can co-exist with the good.  Those episodes are actually fake captain's log entries that James Kirk made when at times he was feeling extra bored.  And then decades if not centuries later the data dump of the U.S.S. Enterprise is being researched by historians who don't know any better.  And they find the stuff about the brain stealers and the space Nazis and whatever else and they assume that those things "really" happened.  When in fact it was just Kirk having his fun.

That's my theory and I'm sticking by it.

So what bearing does that have on a post about Star Wars?

I've re-watched The Rise Of Skywalker at least a dozen times now since it became available on iTunes and then Blu-ray and now on Disney+, and... how should I put this?  It's frustrating the heck out of me.  Part of me likes it.  Part of me is "meh" about it but the larger part of me can't stop thinking how much makes no sense.  Like travel times through hyperspace: it shouldn't be that instantaneous.  And how Palpatine is brought back so late into the entire saga.  A lot of small issues that accumulate.  Plenty enough of them lingering from the previous film The Last Jedi.

And now... I sadly lament that the Star Wars sequel trilogy - episodes 7, 8, and 9 - are the weakest of the entire series.  When they should have rivaled the original trilogy in greatness.

But then something hit me.  And this is going back a ways...

George Lucas was saying as early as 1982 how the entire Star Wars saga was one story being told by the droids Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio.  It was the tale of the Skywalker Family, being shared with the Whills: a mysterious sect that among other things recorded the history of the galaxy.  And their collection of such stories became "The Journal of the Whills": something that Lucas later described was a larger work of which Star Wars "was just a piece".

Let's assume that was and is and ever shall remain George Lucas' notion about how the story of the core Star Wars legend came about.  We can be assured that hundreds of years after the events of the Skywalker saga, Artoo and Threepio are passing it along to the Whills.  We can trust their word.  They were THERE during that time.  They saw it all happen.  Especially Artoo.  At least, they saw everything from The Phantom Menace through Return Of The Jedi.

But did Artoo and Threepio necessarily witness the later events with such clarity?

No.  They did not.  Apart from traveling aboard the Millennium Falcon during Rey's search for Luke Skwyalker, Artoo went nowhere.  He had been in near-total shutdown for years prior to Rey and Finn's arrival.  And Threepio?  He certainly wasn't off on any cosmic adventure.  Not without his little blue buddy.  Threepio was just hanging around the Resistance base, in Leia's company.

It can be safely assumed that the true chronicle of that part of the Skywalker legend ended with Return Of The Jedi or thereabouts.

So does that mean the sequel trilogy is all trash?  Nope.  Not at all.

Because there was another droid who was witnessing those events.  From the first moments of The Force Awakens, BB-8 was an active and integral part of the sequel trilogy.  And we can rest assured that he chronicled as best he could the larger events around him.

The thing is, BB-8 might well be what is termed an "unreliable narrator".  And if he is sharing his knowledge with Artoo and Threepio (who go on to share it with the Whills) it may not be entirely accurate.  BB-8 is a plucky little droid but he seems confused at times.  Maybe he has a circuit burn out in his memory, as a friend has suggested.  Maybe he's just in way over his cute lil' head.  However it is, BB-8's accounting of history might be severely handicapped when compared to that of Artoo and Threepio.  Those two have a counterpart-level base of understanding.  They are check-summing and error-correcting each other.  BB-8 has no such advantage.  And so it is that, sadly, BB-8's recording of many details is spotty at best.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that BB-8's part in the chronicle is ALL bad.  In a general sense his chronicle is accurate.  And if he tells Artoo that Rey goes to Tatooine to bury Luke and Leia's sabers and that she assumes the Skywalker surname, we can be confident that's what really happened.

It also allows for a lot of leeway of interpretation.  Snoke?  He could have been "made" by Palpatine.  He could also have been some Dark Side shlub who existed long before Palpatine was even born (and The Last Jedi novelization indicates that he was).  Hyperspace travel?  That's BB-8's interpretation of what he was told by Rey and others.  The casino?  Okay we can take BB-8 at his word that's what happened.  There are dozens of elements of the sequel trilogy that defy logic... unless we can accept that they're being conveyed by an unreliable narrator.

I put it to the test.  I re-watched The Last Jedi and The Rise Of Skywalker, per my new paradigm.  And lo and behold it works.  It really, honestly works!  The sequel trilogy is much more palatable now.  After fanwanking my synapses to the breaking point trying to "suss it all out" with the problems of the final three movies, suddenly there is a silver bullet for it all.

But in a funny way, I can still accept the quirks and at times misfires of the sequel trilogy as being part and parcel with being true Star Wars films, even without having BB-8's flaws being the cause of it all.  Because in the end, Star Wars is a legend.  And legends are rarely if ever clean cut affairs.  They don't need to be, either.

It's just that it's nice now to have a reason to accept the sequels as belonging with the other six movies after all.

Monday, July 06, 2020

In memory of Charlie Daniels...

Daniels and his band performing "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" in concert:

Saturday, June 27, 2020

It's June 27th! Time to play... THE LOTTERY

The classic 1969 short film adaptation of Shirley Jackson's eternally controversial horror tale:

For a film now over fifty years old it holds up exceptionally well.  I think every college freshman English class in America shows this to its students.  Sharp-eyed viewers will spot a very young Ed Begley Jr. in this.

On race and human nature

Several years ago I went to hear James Earl Jones give a lecture. He said something I will never forget. "Who am I? Obviously, I am partly African descent." But then he added "I am also part Cherokee. And also part Irish. Who am I?" Jones elaborated that he was a person of many ethnic backgrounds, and that "it is not right to call me an African-American." It was more important to be simply an American, with all of the nuances that come with that.

I think of my own racial background. I am part English, part Scotch, part Irish... and also 1/16 part Cherokee. My great great grandfather and his two brothers walked all the way from Oklahoma Territory to Patrick Springs, Virginia. Several years later my maternal grandmother was born. I'll always find that fascinating (and who knows, maybe Jones and I are distant relatives!).

But those things don't really define who I am today, any more than Jones said that he felt obligated to be black, or Irish, or native American.

Last night I remarked to a friend (and I hope she and I can always be friends regardless of our differences): human weaknesses doesn't "pick and choose" who is like this, and who is like that. No matter our ethnicities, we are ALL beholden to human nature. And human nature is ubiquitous: none of us are exempt or immune to it.

I believe there is such a thing as racism. But it is extremely wrong to ascribe racism - or any other weakness of character - to one "race" or another and no other. I have seen racism across the board, coming from practically every ethnic group I have encountered. I have seen white racism against black, black racism against white, white and black each harboring prejudice against Asian descent, one Asian culture prejudiced against another. I have even seen black against black racism...

Get the picture?

Human nature. It's not determined by skin color. One way or another we each have stock in it. And it really ISN'T about color of skin, or creed, or anything else. It's about how each of us, as individuals, CHOOSE to respond to that nature. And also how we choose to respond when others allow their own natures to overwhelm reason.

Don't let a weak and petty thing like "race" be a rationale to excuse yourself from human nature. We are all in this together, without favor.

And you never know: you might be a lot less "white" or "black" than you've come to realize. Heck, you and I may be relatives from somewhere up the line. Although whether you want to admit that I'm in your genealogy should probably be better left an exercise for the reader :-)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

On race, history, honor, and statues

This might upset some people. I can understand. Bear with me here though...

In 1828 the United States Congress passed what came to be called "the Tariff of Abominations". It was meant to protect northern industry. Instead it inflicted enormous harm on southern manufacturing and agriculture, especially the cotton industry. And no place was more hit by the consequences of the tariff than South Carolina.

This led to the Nullification Crisis of 1832. South Carolina declared that the Tariff of 1828 did not apply to within its borders. It effectively set the state of South Carolina against the United States of America. Fortunately cooler heads eventually prevailed, a new tariff was approved to South Carolina's satisfaction, and everyone was happy.

But think about it: the American Civil War could well have broken out thirty years earlier.
I believe that civil war was going to happen regardless. It was inevitable. In fact, it was practically guaranteed when the Founders approved the 3/5th compromise that counted black slaves as "three fifths of a free white person". The Founders may have been the greatest collection of minds in modern history. But they were not infallible. Whether they understood the consequences of their actions or not they had set in stone regional differences and rivalries that would explode into open conflict nearly eighty years later.

It was just a matter of when. It was also just a matter of who it would be who fate decided would be the ones who fought in that war. And no matter which side it was - be it Union or Confederate - those men were faced with the hardest decision of their lives. It certainly weighed on Robert E. Lee, who had to choose between the country his grandfather had helped to found and the people of Virginia: the ones he considered his countrymen.

The best that could have happened for the Civil War was that it would be led by good men, whose wisdom had failed to avoid the conflict, but nonetheless trusted in higher Providence to establish a final justice. And I believe that's what happened at Appomattox Court House. When Robert E. Lee - still resplendent in his officer's gray - surrendered to the ruffian-looking Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant said something that day. He told it to his fellow officers and to the men under him: "they are our countrymen again". Indeed, they were. The great controversy had drawn to a close. It had cost each side dearly. It no doubt hung on their consciences for all the rest of their lives. But that was the die that had been cast and they could not have avoided it.

And over the ensuing decades, they WERE countrymen. Fellows who had shared a common bond. Together again. With no animosity among them. One of the most beautiful photos I've ever seen is circa 1910, depicting two then-elderly former opponents embracing as brothers. And why shouldn't they be?

I believe that no matter which side of the conflict, they found with as much honor as was afforded them. We may not agree with who fought on what side, but that's really not for us to judge. Those men (and women) did the best they could do with what was given them.

Let me be blunt: they all fought with honor.

And I do believe, with utmost sincerity, that we can honor them all.

My heart has been breaking to see the statues of so many fine and honorable and decent men being torn down, by people who have no grasp of real history whatsoever. They certainly are not people of honor. And now they are venting wrath against the statues of individuals who had no part whatsoever to play in the Civil War. Last night it was a statue of Francis Scott Key that was toppled and vandalized. A rational person must ask: "Why?"

I have a private ritual, every January. I've honored it for a long time now. I remember the lives of two great Americans, whose birthdays are very close together. They are Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert E. Lee. I can't see how they are all that mutually exclusive. Why? Because each was a Christian man of deep faith, who was a person of his time. And he did the best with the hand dealt. Indeed, I can't but believe that on some level they were as kindred spirits. What a meeting that would be!

What am I trying to say with all of this?

There is a rage loose upon this land that is NOT representative of who we are called to be not just as Americans, but as friends and neighbors. As family. This isn't what we're supposed to be at all. It's not just the statues. I'm seeing worse than that between people who just weeks ago lived in contentment with one another. What happened? A very terrible turn of events was exploited, by people who devote their lives to exploiting, and it set off a powder keg that didn't have to be there to begin with.

Am I arguing that the status quo should have been maintained? Certainly not. I don't believe in a "status quo". I believe that there is always going to be room for improvement. I believe that ours is a family that can strive together to find ever more who we are supposed to be. We've come a long way already toward that. It would be a tragedy if that was undone now.

But that is what I am seeing happen now. All the progress that we have made, together, is being torn apart.

We have had people of honor, throughout and across the entire spectrum of American history, whose examples we are meant to heed. We stand on the shoulders of giants, no matter their skin color or creed or whatever. Not perfect people... but then again, who has ever been perfect? Only One who I know of, and He lived two thousand years ago. We have squabbled over what it is to follow His example ever since. But for all of our failings, we still have that sense of common decency and respect for one another.

It would be an enormous crime against our ancestors, if we continue to destroy their legacy.
I will not, in the demanded context, agree that "... lives matter" except to say that "all lives matter". And they DO. But I choose to go deeper: "All INDIVIDUALS matter". And isn't that what has come before has been all about? That we are not judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. A great man said that. I prefer to believe that he was correct.

We are better than this. It's not too late to pull back from the present madness.

It's not too late to be countrymen again.

And it shouldn't take someone like me to be saying all of this.

Just my .02

Friday, June 12, 2020

Fried chicken... in an air fryer!

A few weeks ago Amazon delivered a Ninja Foodi air fryer/pressure cooker into my grubby little paws.  Since then I have had a fistful of fun cooking just about everything in it!  Hot dogs come out exactly like baseball park wieners, and I'm getting the hang of baby back ribs.  This past week a friend told me that you can cook steak in it.  I didn't believe it at first but I put a rib-eye into it a few nights ago.  The steak was cooked perfectly medium throughout, with a spot-on warm pink center.

Okay well that's all good... but what about making chicken in the air fryer?

My first attempt, had I posted photos of it to social media, would have gotten me banned from Facebook on grounds of violating community standards.  It was the worst culinary exercise that I have ever tried.  The meat itself was juicy and edible but that was only after you got past the... crud... that was supposed to have been the crispy skin.

But never let it be said that I am deterred.  Part of the fun of cooking is that you get to experiment.  And hey, even my first ever deep fried turkey came out of the pot more than a little burned.

So a few nights ago I gave it a second try.  Had a pack of eight drumsticks and that made for three experimental batches in the fryer.  I played around with technique and on the third batch... the chicken came out exquisite.  Cooked beautifully, crispy outside... and the taste was pure Southern delectable.

Batch #3 - the best product - is the two pieces on the upper right of the plate

With everything else going on right now, I thought it was time to post something more upbeat and educational and fun.  So if you've got an air fryer, here is how I made air-fried chicken:

Chicken (I used legs but you could do this with breast or whatever)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon salt

Before doing anything else, open up the fryer and spray the basket with a thorough amount of cooking spray or oil (vegetable, canola, olive, etc.)  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!  I discovered that this keeps the chicken crust from sticking to the basket.

Mix the flour, black pepper, paprika, and salt thoroughly in a bowl.

In another bowl mix the buttermilk and eggs (making sure you've cracked the eggs and poured the inside yolk into the bowl... just making sure you're paying attention ;-)  

Wash each chicken piece thoroughly.  Pat dry.  Then drench the piece in the bowl with the buttermilk mixture.  When thoroughly covered place piece into bowl with flour mixture, rolling it around until it's completely covered.  Place chicken piece on sheet of foil or cooking sheet.  When enough pieces have been covered in flour mixture, spray cooking spray/oil on the pieces.  Place pieces with sprayed-side down into the basket.  Close fryer and turn on 350 degreees at 16 minutes.  Halfway through cooking time open the fryer, spray chicken, and turn over.  Cook for the remainder of the time.  Remove from fryer... and enjoy!

EDIT 3:06 PM EST:  Just for the heck of it, here's a pic of the air-fried steak from the other night:

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Regarding "racial justice"

A thought that occurred tonight:

The notion of "racial justice" is a wrong one.  The problem is that to have any kind of justice at all there must be a baseline standard against which to compare and contrast and ultimately judge.  "Racial justice" does not really possess that.  Which race is the standard?  Black, white, Hispanic, Polynesian, Brazilian... what?

I will posit that "racial justice" introduces far more problems than it solves.  It elicits and encourages envy and anger.  Sometimes wildly misplaced envy and anger.  And we are seeing the fruit of that anger right now.

Yet obviously there is an issue.  There has been one and always will be so long as human nature endures.

If "racial justice" is the wrong idea to pursue, then I would suggest "racial neutrality".  Which is much more open ended and challenging.  Racial neutrality emphasizes that all races are equal across the board, without respect or condescension toward anyone.  It is not just an outward goal to strive for, but an inward reflection of how one perceives and interacts with all people.

Personally, I would rather have racial neutrality than have racial justice.

Then again, all my life I've seen all people as equal anyway.  I have never understood racism during that time and I can't understand it now, however form it takes.  So what do I know?

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

This article was a heartbreaker to read...

Let me preface this by stating from the start: I know fully well that bad cops exist.  There is a city in North Carolina that I am forever going to loathe going through because of one incident that involved both city police and county sheriff's personnel, and that was almost twenty years ago (oh the perils of being a puppy-eyed cub reporter getting knocked around by the world for the first time).  I believe that there are few things as bad as any member of law enforcement who consciously betrays what it means to take an oath and puts on the badge.  And this blog has chronicled law enforcement abuse so many times that it's gotten its own tag.

In short: I get it.

But I'm also grateful for being able to still appreciate that the good cops far outnumber the bad.

Three situations come to mind as I write these words.  One happened not too long ago, and it revitalized my trust and confidence in the members of law enforcement in general.  Two of its representatives assured me that an incident I brought to their attention would be pursued as much as possible, and I have taken their word on that.  The second involves the prank video I made four years ago of a rocket launcher destroying that "new statue" in Reidsville, North Carolina's downtown area.  Two police officers came to my front door (fifteen minutes away from town!) to ask about it.  There was no warning issued, they seemed pretty amused by it actually.  It was just that apparently someone reported it to Homeland Security and they had to follow up on it.  They were confident that I was harboring no real explosives and a good laugh was had by all.

The third situation regards my having severe enough mental illness that I have had to be taken into custody numerous times by members of law enforcement.

Yes, I have had to be handcuffed.  I have had to be put into the back of a police cruiser or sheriff's vehicle.  I have been frisked for potential weapons and escorted under guard into hospital emergency rooms.  All of these and more.  And not once have I felt like my dignity as a human being was violated.  Every officer involved in those sporadic situations has behaved with utmost respect toward me and I hope that I reciprocated that to them.

(There is also the matter of how many times during the course of my current profession, that I have witnessed law enforcement officers interact with some of the most neglected people in our community.  That alone has brought about renewed appreciation for their efforts.)

Right now there is a lot of commotion about cities disbanding their police forces.  Travis Yates, writing at the website Law Officer, has penned a heart-rending essay about why that will sooner than later not be necessary.  Because members of the law enforcement community are finally becoming so discouraged by what they must deal with that they are now actively asking young people to reconsider going into the profession.

I have to agree with Mr. Yates, on every point.  And if Minneapolis commits to its plan to abolish its police department, then it truly will become "Mogadishu on the Mississippi": a lawless realm of total anarchy.  Give it a year and it will not resemble the Minneapolis of today... and I don't mean that in a good way either.  It is not a situation that will be remedied by bolstered social programs and increased bureaucracy.

It's an eye-opening article, and it made me reassess my own perspective on those who put on the uniform.  It also led me to discover Blue Line Bears: an endeavor by a young lady in Florida to provide teddy bears to children of those who have fallen in the line of duty.  I was so impressed by the effort that I reached out to them to thank them.  There's an option to make contributions on their site and I'm going to ask that any readers of this post consider that.

As for the people of Minneapolis and other cities: you would do well to read Mr. Yates' words and ponder them deeply.  And then if you are still led to do so, go ahead with your plan to abolish the police force wholesale.

The rest of us will be watching.

Friday, June 05, 2020

A photo for our time

I've posted this photo before.  It seems more timely than ever.

This picture ran in newspapers across America in the winter of 2012.  It depicts a family friend and fellow farmer, John, along with my father Robert Knight.

This photo hangs on the wall in my office at my job.  There is rarely a day when I don't stop to admire it.  It says so much, without saying a word.

In its own way, it says everything that I'm feeling led to say.  Without a single word.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Have been thinking more about the George Floyd case...

Some additional notions that I have been pondering, though I said earlier that there would probably be nothing more that would be remarked upon:

1.  The death of George Floyd was a tragedy, make no mistake about it.  But it was not necessarily a racially-motivated death.  It is now coming out that the officer who knelt on Floyd's neck already had an established history of troubling behavior in his role as a law enforcement agent.  It is altogether possible that Mr. Floyd's ethnicity didn't even figure as a consideration in the officer's mind, as well as that of the other officers involved.

Not everything is about race.  Or needs to be.

2.  The handling of George Floyd's death was a matter germane to local jurisdiction and that's ALL as far as it should have gotten.  There should have been proper investigation, including objective autopsy (there are now two autopsies with different results competing with one another).  Such a matter as this demands that there be as objective and thorough an examination as possible, with regard toward all parties involved.  The people of Minneapolis deserved no less.  The family of George Floyd deserved no less.

But of course it became a viral video, one that the media picked up and ran with, and now... well...

3.  Speaking of the the media, it is 10,000% culpable in this disaster.  There is likely not another situation in American history where the news media has been responsible for precipitating so much devastation.  But as is also 10,000% of the time there will be no holding anyone in the media accountable.  And speaking as a former journalist, what I have seen is beyond the pale.  These are not the actions of those in a profession devoted to seeking and reporting the truth of the matter.  I can attest without reservation that too many in the journalism racket are actually proud of the mayhem that they have helped to unleash.

Incidentally, I am never going to chalk myself down as a fanatic for the guy, but the media is trying to perpetuate the claim that President Trump's visit to the church a few days ago was preluded by confronting protestors with tear gas and rubber bullets.  We now know that this did not happen, according to United States Park Police.

4.  Impartial handling of the case has been rendered impossible.  Mob justice has prevailed.  Anything going forward is going to be poisoned with the threat of more rioting and violence.  It is going to be impossible to empanel an impartial jury after this debacle.  Because no juror will want to have it on his or her conscience that he or she voted "not guilty" in a case after a full and fair presentation of evidence, if said presentation merits a not guilty verdict.

In short: the rule of law in the George Floyd case - figuratively speaking - has been strangled.

5.  Scott Adams - the creator of the Dilbert comic strip - has made a brilliant observation in his video podcast: the "black leadership" presuming to speak on behalf of all African-Americans is for all intents and purpose without a rudder and has NO idea what it is trying to accomplish.  For all of the rioting and calls for social upheaval, there is not a single solid idea that has been put forth from these "leaders" about how to accomplish it.  As Adams put it, nobody in the crowd seems to have a typewriter or a pencil to capture any ideas that come to mind.  Adams further remarked that there is currently no leader approaching the caliber of Martin Luther King Jr.  I am compelled to agree with him on that.

6.  Much of the reaction to the Floyd murder... and again, something that may not have been racially motivated at all... has been either out of fear or out of political opportunity or both.  For God's sake, LEGO has now jumped into the fray and telling its stores to not display sets depicting cops or the White House.

I am going to draw flak for proclaiming this, but I'm not going to jump on this particular bandwagon.  It is mob mentality, it is madness, and someone's got to say it dammit.

7.  The mob mentality we are now seeing is too much like what transpired during the French Revolution, when "the wisdom of the crowd" wrought anguish and worse upon the innocent.  Thankfully it is not at the point of beheadings and mass drownings.  Not YET anyway...

8.  An example of that last point is what has happened to Grant Napear, the longtime announcer for the Sacramento Kings.  Napear merely tweeted that "all lives matter" and for that he was driven from his position.

9.  I am going to state without hesitation that all lives do matter.  That all human lives are precious and sacred.  Indeed, I will posit that the Founding Fathers had it all wrong: it's not "all men are created equal".  It should be "all men are created sacred".

10.  The last words my grandmother spoke before she died were "I love everybody."

That's not a bad way to live, when you think about it.  Too bad that the way things are going, saying those words will probably be soon worth condemning over.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

All that I'll likely post about the George Floyd "protests"...

Some are seriously suggesting that the looting taking place in the "protests" (note: they are not protests, they are bouts of purposeless violence) are justified because "white people looted" for thousands of years and that's "loot" that now fills the museums.

Which is the most ridiculous thing that I've heard all month and believe me, I heard ridiculous this past month.

99.99% of the inventory of museums has been found in archaeological expeditions, or donated, or otherwise legally obtained. In the vast majority of these there was no present legal owner of the property, because said owners were long dead without any identification.

What is happening now however, across America, is outright theft of private property, whether it belongs to a store or to individuals or is in the custody of legitimate government. It is being done by people who have no respect toward the notion of ownership.

Others with greater minds than mine have remarked that private property ownership and the right to have that, are among the most basic elements of a free society. Take that away and there is no regard for anything that follows. And we are seeing that happen now in cities throughout America: the throwing aside of respecting the property of others, watching the anarchy and madness that inevitably follows.

I'm old enough to remember the riots that broke out in Los Angeles following the Rodney King case verdicts. Thousands of buildings were set on fire, many innocent people were killed. Those weren't "protests" either. Those were acts of violence absent any responsibility or regard for human life. Among the buildings destroyed were many owned by African-Americans as well as Caucasians. The ONE exception was stores and other buildings that were owned by those of the Korean community. Why were they spared? Because the store owners LITERALLY took to the roofs of their property and held vigil with handguns, rifles, and whatever other firearms they possessed.

THAT is where the rioting and mayhem is taking us. If some will not respect the property of others, then the owners of that property are justified... more than justified even... to protect said property by any means necessary. Up to and including potentially depriving others of life. If property is the product of one's own efforts and sacrifice, then that person WILL be forced to defend it by any means necessary if his or her back is pressed against the wall.

I don't want to see it come to that any more than any other sane human being would.

What we see happening now however, is not sane. And the perpetrators are fast compelling those who respect law and property to consider taking measures that would be regrettable for all involved.

 Just my .02

Friday, May 29, 2020

FORCERY is fifteen years old!

It really does seem like just yesterday when we were slathering that fake blood all over Chad's legs, and making a springtime drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway look like blizzard in the Colorado mountains.  And turning a cousin's living room into Skywalker Ranch.  So much happened since then and yet, our cast and crew became a family that has endured.  More than endured even.  And for that, I'm thankful that this project got seen through to the end.

Yes, it has indeed been fifteen years since the release of Forcery: that Star Wars fanfilm parody of the Stephen King movie Misery.  I'd wanted it to be ready before Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith but it didn't quite make it.  Still, it was late May of 2005 when it was first unloaded onto the Internet and about a year or so later it was "serialized" (because of time restrictions at the time) onto YouTube.  And then everyone could behold the tale of George Lucas (Chad Austin) being held captive by Star Wars-obsessed uberfan Frannie Filks (Melody Hallman Daniel).

I will be the first to admit: it looks a little dated now.  We shot it with a couple of standard definition camcorders, and I did my best to color grade it to look more cinematic.  The car going off the road in the blizzard well... no doubt someone could CGI that easily today.  And there is one effect that I wish we could do over again because it would be ridiculously easy to fix and that's my faulte entirely.  Sometimes I wonder if it could have been edited better but again, that's on me.

All the same, quirks and all, Forcery was a little film that could.  And it made its way from the living room of a few friends' houses to the big screen and some bigtime media recognition.  Clips of Forcery were heavily featured in the acclaimed documentary The People vs. George Lucas and I've been told that some of it was even shown on Japanese television (which would be one of two times that this blogger's work has been on TV in the land of the rising sun... but I digress).  Knowing that's your lifelong best friend being projected onto the screen at Cannes: it was more than a little startling.  Like, "we did THAT?!?"

But most of all, Forcery was a binding and bonding experience for those who came together to make it happen.  It would take reams of virtual paper to chronicle all the good that came of it.  And I'm too infamous already for writing long stuff, but here's one example that took place a few years ago.  Know this though: that I am now and will forever be proud of the effort that so many made to turn this little film idea into a reality.  THEY are the ones who Forcery is accredited to, far more than it ever could be to me.

Anyhoo, Happy 15th Birthday to Forcery!  And if you want to see it right now now now, you're in luck!  You can watch it in fairly large scale via the Forcery page on this blog and some nice chap uploaded it to YouTube.  So strap yourself in and prepare for fifty-four minutes of a film that some said couldn't be done and others said should not have been done.  They don't count though (but that's another story :-P )

And one last bit of fun: I turned what is arguably the most-quoted line of dialogue from Forcery into an animated GIF.  Feel free to use it elsewhere :-)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

"The End" came to LOST ten years ago tonight (plus: some personal theories)

It seems like an entirely other world ago now.  When the wait between new episodes could be not just weeks but months away.  There was no "binging" a series on a regular basis.  And streaming television was still yet to come.

I was in a different place also.  Still reeling from a divorce.  Wrestling with the worst symptoms of manic depression.  Alone.  Confused.  And, well... lost.  Looking for a purpose, as John Locke was.

There had never been a television series like Lost.  And there never will be again, ever.  At least, there never can be for me.

The medium has changed too drastically.  Viewer expectations have become too impatient.  The audience demands definitive answers, when once upon a time such a thing as "exercise for the reader" was a treasured virtue.  To be sure, some series - such as The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones - followed admirably in the wake of Lost.  But those are basic and premium cable, absent the restraints of broadcast network television.

And as frustrating as "The Iron Throne" was to many Game Of Thrones fans, it only remotely approached the level of controversy as did Lost's final season leading up to "The End".

Always live together, and you'll never die alone.
Lost's series finale came ten years ago tonight.  It capped off six years of a phenomenon that had engrossed millions, fueled so many classroom and workplace discussions on the mornings after, and unleashed countless online forums where fans dissected everything from the sounds of the Smoke Monster to Egyptian hieroglyphics.  From those frantic first moments of Oceanic Flight 815's wreckage on the beach of an uncharted island Lost was mythology painted with a broad, broad brush.  And it was going somewhere, was set to give us closure.  Right?  Right?!? 

But here we are, ten years later, and the fans seemingly more galvanized than ever about "The End" and what preceded it.

Me?  I thought "The End" was not a perfect episode, but it didn't have to be.  It was as fitting a conclusion to Lost as there was likely to be.  And while we will forever be debating whether there was some master plan that was followed - with every element having an appropriate reason and backstory behind it - it must be admitted, however begrudgingly, that "The End" was pure Lost.  And really, would we have wanted it to be any different?

Others will have already written with more eloquence about "The End".  But on this occasion, I thought it might be fun to share some of the theories I've had over the years about Lost.  A series that we will forever be theorizing and conjecturing about.  Why not add my own into the mix?

First off...

WHERE was the Island?  How can it move?

I don't believe the Island was something "movable".  It had a solid geological basis somewhere and we can know that because of its volcanic origin.  But I do think that access to the Island was something fluid and malleable.  It's the approach to the Island that is constantly moving.  Going back to the quantum physics that the DHARMA Initiative boffins were messin' around with, the Island is somewhat "superpositioned" in the real world.  It might be geologically located in the midst of the Pacific, but the access points to it change from time to time so that someone flying over the Atlantic might come upon one of the "windows" that Eloise described.  Or arrive at the Island by boat in the Mediterranean (as Claudia and her people did).  So think of the Island as a fixed point, with spacetime warped around it seemingly haphazardly.  Going back again to what Eloise told Jack and his friends however, the windows through the warp could be calculated (with the help of an Apple II computer and that really strange Foucault's pendulum down at The Lamp Post station).

So no, the Island itself was not moving.  But how you came to the Island certainly was!

How old is the Island?  When did the Egyptians, the Romans etc. get there?

The Island itself is probably a few million years old, give or take an eon.  But we're wondering how long people have been coming there.

A major clue comes in "The End", when Desmond enters the Heart of the Island.  See those characters carved in the walls and on the "cork"?  Those are Phoenician: predating ancient Egypt.  It can be surmised that the Heart of the Island was primarily the work of this earlier culture.  As for what purpose: who knows.  But they're the ones who are ultimately responsible for all of the crazy on the Island.

The Egyptians came some time after, and they built the statue of Taweret, the wheel chamber, etc.

Then came the Roman castaways of which Claudia was one.  And who gave birth to Jacob and his brother.

Wait... it was the Man in Black and the Romans who built the wheel, right?

The Man in Black and his compatriots were building a wheel, not THE wheel.  Not the one that we see Ben Linus turning in the fourth season finale.

The evidence?  The Egyptian hieroglyphics on the wall of the chamber.  The fact that Mother destroyed the Man in Black's own chamber before he could finish his wheel.

Are you saying that Jacob and the Man in Black came after the Egyptians were on the Island?


That's impossible!  The Egyptians had the Smoke Monster in their wall carvings.  So the Man in Black was before they came!

The Man in Black and the Smoke Monster were two different entities.

Work with me here.  We ARE theorizing after all...

The Smoke Monster has long, long been part of the Island's place in the scheme of things.  Way before the birth of Jacob and his brother.  The Smoke Monster is a tangible representative of evil itself and that evil must always be contained.  Just as Jacob told Richard when he was showing him that bottle of wine: the Island is a "cork" keeping the bottled-up darkness from spilling out.  And for a time, whether by the Phoenician culture or the Egyptians, that representative was held back.

Until Jacob threw his brother into the Heart of the Island.  Which was the catalyst for everything that came after.

Entering the Heart killed Jacob's brother.  We can know this after the tearful farewell that Jacob gave his brother and the Mother.  Jacob didn't treat the Smoke Monster as if it were a new incarnation of the Man in Black.  But what happened at the Heart did free the Smoke Monster from captivity.  And Jacob would spent the next two thousand years trying to make up for his mistake.

What would happen if the Smoke Monster got off the Island?

Hell would come to the world.

We got a glimpse of it with Sayid, after he was resurrected in the corrupted water at the Temple.  It was "the sickness" that had been spoken of before, and now we know what it did: it darkened the heart of the infected.  As Lennon translated from Dogen, Sayid had been "claimed" by the darkness.  And later on Sayid described how he couldn't feel anything: that he had become emotionally deadened.

Now imagine that same deadening happening to millions, if not billions of people across the face of the Earth.

Jacob was right: the Island was a cork and it was holding back something that if it became free, it would spread.

Maybe "The End" didn't make it clear enough but those were REALLY high stakes that Jack was playing for when he fought the Smoke Monster's Locke form. 

What is the meaning of "the numbers"?

Ahhhh yes: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.  And how mad we did get trying to figure those out.

The answer is at once ridiculously mundane and metaphysical.  And it helps to bear in mind the Valenzetti Equation that was written about on the blast-door map.  In The Lost Experience real-life game at the time, it was revealed that the numbers are factors in the Valenzetti Equation: a formula calculating how long manking has before driving itself into extinction.  One of the purposes of the DHARMA Initiative was to change at least one of the factors, and thus stave off that extinction.

Basically, the numbers are intrinsic to the fabric of the universe.  THAT is why they keep showing up.  They surface because... well, it's their nature.  And DHARMA is trying to change the numbers and consequently, the universe itself.

So the numbers are at once pretty boring and also utterly fascinating.

Who was that in Jacob's cabin?

My gray matter has discombobulated itself a zillion ways from Sunday trying to figure out who it was we briefly saw in that chair when Ben took Locke to the cabin.  And later the same figure apparently appeared very briefly when Hurley found the cabin. 

It wasn't the Smoke Monster-as-Christian Shepherd, we can disregard THAT possibility by process of elimination.  And it obviously wasn't Jacob himself.  Even though it seems that Jacob was using the cabin at some time or another, given the dialogue when Ilana and Bram arrived with their group.

I've no idea who it is and the showrunners probably never knew who it's supposed to be either.  It's almost a disappointment, albeit an intriguing one.

What DID happen at the Swan site?

Basically, Daniel screwed up with his calculations.  And the Island proved him wrong: changing the variables did not affect the past.  Jack, Kate, Sawyer etc. had to be on the Island in the present day, and the Island brought them there.  That's the best that I can come up with.

What about the polar bears, the "Hurley-bird", the source of the DHARMA food shipments, some other stuff?

Those got answered in "The New Man In Charge": the eleven minute "mini-episode" that was included in Lost's home release.  Here it is if you've never seen it.  It's pretty much the very last moments of the Lost mythos that were produced.

Who was David?  Jack never had a son in life.  Why does he have a son in the "flash-sideways" afterlife?

Of all of my theories, this is my most favorite.  Because not once have I ever, ever seen anyone who has come up with this...

David Shepherd is the son of Jack and Kate.

Dylan Minnette was perfectly cast as David.  I mean, just look at the features he shares with Jack and Kate.  Especially Kate's eyes.  And Jack's hair.

But how and when did David come about?  Ahhhhh... now that IS an interesting question and the answer is an astounding one.

Before leaving for the Ajira Airlines flight, Kate came to Jack's home and was pretty adamant about the two of them making love.  I believe now that doing so was part of the plan: that Kate had to become pregnant

Because... what did Eloise tell Jack, Kate and the rest?  That they had to replicate, as closely as possible, the conditions of the original Oceanic 815 flight.  Which, among other things, had a pregnant young woman aboard.

Kate was proxying for Claire, who was nine months along with Aaron at the time of the Oceanic crash.  Locke's dead body was proxying for that of Christian and now it was Kate who was a stand-in for Claire.

Nine months later, after Kate and the other survivors returned home, she gave birth to David.  And it was in the flash-sideways that Jack got to be the father he never had the chance to become in life, to his own son.

That is where David came from.  He wasn't some "figment" of the flash-sideways.  He was flesh and blood, and presumably lived a long life and then was united with the father he never knew.

That's my VERY longtime theory about David Shepherd.  And I'm quite proud of it.

And the voices?

The Island's mega-electromagnetic qualities "trap" the souls of some.  The ones who can't "move on".  But as "The New Man In Charge" implies, such people are not beyond the realm of helping.  And that's the very best that I can come up with.
Okay smartie pants, what about...

I would love to be able to figure out the reason for the Egyptian characters on the Swan Station's countdown clock: the one that turns red and black if the numbers aren't entered in time (some have translated it to mean "cause to die").  Why did women who conceived on the Island die during pregnancy (a fate Sun avoided after escaping and giving birth in the outside world)?  How exactly did that lighthouse - the thing that spied on more people than Alexa - work?  Who was...

Look, I am not going to attempt to answer ALL of the mysteries about Lost!  That's for others to work out on their own.  Who am I to deprive others of intellectual exercise?  Just watch the show and suss it out for yourself!  Besides, it's more fun that way.

Anyhoo, here's saluting you, Lost.  Gone, but NEVER to be forgotten.

Monday, May 18, 2020

"This mountain don't dare blow up on old Harry!"

Those were the words of one Harry Truman (no relation to that Harry S Truman) in the days prior to the eruption.  Truman had a lodge on the side of Spirit Lake, in the shadow of Mount St. Helens.  He lived there with twenty-some cats, and I guess being almost ninety years of age he was just too stubborn to listen to geologists who were screaming at him to get out of the area.  That giant building bulge on the north slope of the mountain didn't seem to impress.

A few days later, an earthquake triggered the lateral blast on the north flank.  The entire top of the mountain and the north slope were blown away.  Harry Truman and his cats are now somewhere 300 feet beneath ash and rock that eventually formed a new Spirit Lake.  In all the eruption killed 57 people, including volcanologist David Johnston.  His camp was directly in front of the blast area.  Johnston's final frantic words over his radio: "Vancouver!  Vancouver!  This is it!"

That was forty years ago today, May 18th 1980.

Back in 2012 I got to visit Mount St. Helens.  Standing at the Johnston Observatory (built on the site where the gifted young geologist had made his camp), looking across the still-blasted wasteland and into the crater, thinking about how much taller St. Helens used to be...

It was utterly humbling.  The photos I had seen could not compare to seeing the thing up close.  And St. Helens is still considered active.  Every so often a plume of steam or ash rises out of the crater.  Another eruption someday is still altogether possible.  Just as eruptions are possible on nearby Mount Hood and other peaks in that part of the Cascades.

We propose nothing in the sight of nature.  That is what came to mind as I looked into the maw of what is still deemed to  be a fairly medium-size volcano.  Pinatubo's eruption in 1991 was much worse and sent global temperatures dropping.  Krakatoa did much the same and in fact, its eruption was heard from thousands of miles away.

And on that Sunday morning in May the world indeed beheld that mountain dared blow up on old Harry.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Forty years later and still the greatest...

Happy Fortieth Anniversary to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, premiered May 17th, 1980 at the Kennedy Center and then wide release a few days later.

Now and probably for all time, the very best installment of the entire Star Wars film franchise.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

COVID-19: It's time to reopen America

I'm still  choosing to be coy about where fate landed me after I left North Carolina almost four years ago.  Even so, I still keep an eye on my old home state, and I'll forever be proud to have been a son of the Tarheel State (even if my basketball proclivities lay toward Duke, but I digress...).

Right now I'm sitting in some abject disbelief at North Carolina's governor Roy Cooper insisting on keeping the state closed for all intents and purposes.  Neighboring states like Georgia are slamming the doors wide open for businesses large and small.  South Carolina places of worship have begun to crank up for regular services.  So far none of these places have recorded a rise in COVID-19 cases.  If anything the infection rate is dropping.

There is good reason for that.  We are definitely on the back side of the coronavirus situation.  "Shelter in place" deterred the virus from spreading when it was most contagious.  It served its purpose and it served it well.  But there is very little good that will come out of continuing this hunkering-down.  Viruses of the airborne vector - like COVID-19 - tend to follow a very defined track of lifespan over the course of a few weeks or months at most.  To be brief about it: the virus has been mutating into strains that are less contagious and hostile to human physiology.  As I like to put it they are "mutating downward", not up and into worse strains.

So what would I recommend to North Carolina, and to the United States as a whole?

Reopen.  End shelter in place.  Ask that those who are most susceptible and concerned about COVID-19 to remain in self-isolation for the next few weeks or even months.  But as for everyone else it should be business as usual again.  It's almost purposefully infecting the virus into oblivion as the much-ballyhooed herd immunity kicks in.  It won't fully eradicate the virus, but it will put us on track toward ending the threat much faster and more reliably than waiting for an effective vaccine which may never come or will arrive, at earliest, a year and a half from now.

We have shied away from the virus.  Now it is time to begin aggressively confronting it when it is most vulnerable.  And it is time to begin an aggressive return to life as we knew it before COVID-19 became a cultural byword for microbial horror.  This isn't the Spanish influenza.  This isn't even polio.  But it has been a pandemic and we can be proud of ourselves for staving it off before it became something far worse... and for the very first time in history.  Western medicine has prevailed magnificently in this regard.

And now is the time to declare victory.  Let there be jubilation in the streets and the bars and the barber shops and the churches!  Let's see some real leadership - in North Carolina and across America - boldly proclaim that we've beaten this thing.

Otherwise, the cure will go down in history as worse than the disease.  It's already well on track for that.  Time to let real healing begin, throughout our country.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

My mother, the monster

Maybe I'm sharing too much with this post. But it hasn't been anything that I haven't divulged already to some, if only to "get it out of my head" or else lose my mind.

Only in the past few years have I come to realize how much my own mother was a monster. There were moments when she could be sweet and loving, but now I wonder if that was just a show. That was the side she showed most people. But a few of us saw her for what she really was: Bitter. Hateful. She had, as one close friend told me, "a kernel of cruelty". She seemed to enjoy humiliating me in front of others, especially friends and sometimes co-workers. She did a lot behind my back to sabotage my chances for happiness... up to and including things she was saying to my former in-laws before my ex-wife and I were married.  God only knows what that would have been without her interference.  I certainly would have been a better person with life in general if He had given me a better woman as a mother.

It is the memories of my mother that are most at the heart meat of the therapy that I have been undergoing. Thankfully, those have been working and working terrifically. They take the sting out of the memories. They are making me assured that it was never "me" that was bad. It was that woman, who called me "retarded" and would blow cigarette smoke into my face and who blamed me for her own lack of relationship with God. It was that woman who would slap me in public, who threatened to smear human feces in my face, who never gave more than hugs bereft of any empathy. Mom was, I see now, a highly functioning psychopath and someone who was NOT a Christian at all. And that is what hurts more than most: how she turned God into a weapon to beat me over the head with, not a God who is loving and merciful and looks past our faults and frailties. Mom never forgot my fault and frailties. I don't think she forgot them with anyone.

My mother was the kind of woman who ruined the funeral of an uncle I was close to. No, really. She literally ruined a funeral. All for her own selfish sake.

But I was expected to love her, because "she's your mother". Now I understand that love can never be demanded. It must be EARNED. Including for one's own parents.

My life would not be so screwed up all along, had there been a TRULY loving and caring mother in my life. One who was sincerely beautiful in spirit. But as it is, she was not that and she poisoned that house and everyone within it. And I'm thankful that I got to see Dad happier than he had ever been before, in those final years before his own passing.

Why am I sharing this?

If you have a true and sincerely loving mother, or you did have one, be thankful. NEVER stop being thankful for that. Thank God every day that He blessed you with her. There are some of us who never got to have that, and it seems we will never stop asking Him why did He trap us with someone like that. Many are the days when I wish that I had just died in the delivery room, as I almost did. Instead He gave me to a woman who should never have been a mother in the first place.

If you are not like me, then you should consider yourself very, VERY blessed indeed. Because, like I said, some of us didn't get to have that. And I for one am as envious as can be that other people got to have that loving mother.

That's all that I'm going to say today. On this Mother's Day, if she is the kind of mother that God intended for them to be, let her know how much you appreciate and love her for that. If she is no longer here, thank God that He let you have that. And maybe you never had that kind of mother. Perhaps there are other women who have become like true mother figures in your life. In that regard, I have been immensely blessed. THEY are the ones I prefer to think about on this Mother's Day. They are the ones who stepped up to bat and showed me what real motherhood is all about.

I know of what I speak. I know what was missing from my life. I pray that no one else has to know that kind of vacuum.

Thank God for your mother, if she is or was the kind of mother that a woman in that place is meant to be.

That's all I know to say about the subject.  Don't expect me to write about it again.  I've said what God was leading me to say.  And that is enough.