Sunday, July 31, 2005

CAFTA: How to make an elected representative prostitute his principles

You need to register (for free) with the New York Times website to read this, but there's a fascinating (and disturbing) article about what happened behind the scenes that made CAFTA pass by two votes this past week. If just one Representative had voted against it, the measure would have been tied and thus no passage. As it turns out the pro-CAFTA cabal found their needed vote in North Carolina's own Robin Hayes, who had previously been rabidly against CAFTA. I swear, this account reads like something out of a Mario Puzo novel. Sign up with the Times site (if you haven't already, and give a fake address and phone number if you don't wanna give 'em your real one) and check this story out.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Did a Clinton-era mandate doom Columbia?

I've been reading about this during the past few days since the Discovery launched: that because of regulations that Clinton pushed when he was President that severely limited the use of freon, that the foam material on the outside of the space shuttle's external fuel tank became pretty lousy and that's why that piece of foam hit and doomed Columbia two and a half years ago. Pardon My English has a good post about it that's well worth a read. Personally, I think that since the shuttle program only has 5 years' of scheduled used anyway, to go back to the previous type of foam and for good measure do something that's not been done since the third-ever shuttle launch: cover the external tank in a lot of white paint. Paint tends to put a protective layer on top of whatever it's covering :-)

Good pro-homeschooling essay at Sierra Times

Nancy Levant writing at Sierra Times about homeschooling versus public education. Her piece's opener is damn depressing, but accurate...
I have very little hope for this nation. The bulk of the populace is still clueless as to the Executive Orders, Acts, and partnership bureaucracy system that have turned our Constitutional Republic into a new banana republic. The ongoing ignorance of the masses is beyond all comprehension and reason.

The Southwestern U.S and the West Coast have become a foreign and illegal nation. Every Constitutional right is under perpetrated and highly orchestrated attack, and still the masses watch TV, sports, drink beer, and do and say nothing. Most don’t even know that anything has changed. And why is that? Because public education has changed American people into silent, sacrilegious, non-reading, pleasure-seeking, group-thinking morons – that’s why.

She's right. I don't have much hope for this country either. Our "elected officials" no longer even pretend to be our representatives for the most part, our "government" is become an unholy melange of political and corporate interests, we are engaged in a dubious war overseas that is stretching our defense capability to the breaking point, the border situation is a humungous crisis that threatens just about everything, Congress and this President just voted to broaden the damage that NAFTA did a decade ago, and as Nancy is saying here: our education system is a joke this country's people couldn't care less. Believe you me, my wife and I will homeschool our children... but I shudder to think about what kind of world it is that our children are going to be inheriting.

It's times like this I gotta keep thinking of Gandalf's words from Fellowship of the Ring: "All we have to decide is what to do in the time that's given you." Just do our best and let God make everything else settle out as it's supposed to. I keep telling myself that, anyway...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Army of Darkness on Sci-Fi Channel right now

I swear this must be one of the most funny torn-up movies ever made.

CAFTA passes House 217-215

If I were to post the things the darker half of my nature is tempting me to say right now, Blogger.com would not only suspend this blog indefinitely, they would track me down, drag me out and have me shot, burn down my apartment, and sow the ground with salt.

This is a dark night for America. It was horrible over ten years ago when NAFTA passed, and it just got a lot worse.

The 217 that voted for this are traitors. The President of the United States is a traitor. To their country, the Constitution they swore to uphold and their fellow men.

Remember what I said last night about the border situation? Between that and this, that John Titor guy's talk about a civil war this year is starting to look a lot more viable.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Her love is real... but she is not

If there's ever a major jump in artificial intelligence, we are in serious bat guano if it gets coupled to this new technology. From the BBC:
Japanese develop 'female' android
By David Whitehouse
Science editor, BBC News website

Japanese scientists have unveiled the most human-looking robot yet devised - a "female" android called Repliee Q1.

She has flexible silicone for skin rather than hard plastic, and a number of sensors and motors to allow her to turn and react in a human-like manner.

She can flutter her eyelids and move her hands like a human. She even appears to breathe.

Professor Hiroshi Ishiguru of Osaka University says one day robots could fool us into believing they are human.

Repliee Q1 is not like any robot you will have seen before, at least outside of science-fiction movies.

She is designed to look human and although she can only sit at present, she has 31 actuators in her upper body, powered by a nearby air compressor, programmed to allow her to move like a human.

"I have developed many robots before," Repliee Q1's designer, Professor Ishiguru, told the BBC News website, "but I soon realised the importance of its appearance. A human-like appearance gives a robot a strong feeling of presence..."

Looks like the Cylons have already beaten Adama's rag-tag fugitive fleet to Earth:
On the brighter side of things, this is going to make for some wonderful employment opportunities in our future...

CAFTA vote in House coming today?

Am hearing that the vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement in the House of Representatives might be coming as soon as today.

Any member of the House who signs onto this is a traitor worthy of putting against the wall. Ditto for everyone in the Senate who did (guess who that was from North Carolina) and anyone else for that matter.

Our "representatives" no longer represent their constituents. They only screw them. For however much money they can get out of us.

On top of the previously-mentioned illegal immigration, this is what is destroying our country... and hardly anyone is giving a damn about it.

This is where and how America's next civil war begins

From the Associated Press via the Monterey Herald:
Tensions rise along San Diego Border between Minutemen, protesters

SAN DIEGO - Clashes between California Minutemen and protesters are heating up along the Mexican border with reports of shots fired and an alleged scuffle between a state senator's aide and a university professor.

The confrontation between University of California, Riverside, ethnic studies professor Armando Navarro and Mark Belgen, an aide to Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Carlsbad, allegedly occurred July 16 in the border town of Campo. The area, about 40 miles southeast of San Diego, is where several dozen anti-illegal immigrant activists have set up watch for migrants crossing the border. They are expected to continue patrols through Aug. 7.

Belgen was accompanying Morrow to Campo to support the California Minuteman Project's anti-illegal immigrant border patrol group, modeled after the group that monitored Arizona's border earlier this year. He alleges that Navarro kicked him.

Belgen was unhurt and told the North County Times he waited to report the incident until late last week because initially he did not know kicking was considered an assault.

Navarro, who heads the immigrants rights group National Alliance for Human Rights and was protesting the Minutemen, declined to comment to the newspaper, citing the seriousness of the allegations.

A message left for Navarro on Tuesday was not immediately returned. Morrow's office declined to comment, citing a pending investigation.

Minuteman volunteers and protesters have traded accusations in recent weeks...

I'm amazed that this hasn't registered on the national radar screen that much. Well, yet anyway.

The past few weeks and months have seen a lot of trouble brewing on the border with Mexico. And it's our own government's fault. President Bush outright refuses to do anything about the illegal immigration problem... hell he's practically inviting them to keep coming in! Congress is unwilling to tackle the crisis because with the exception of very few in the House or Senate, they're all afraid of losing Hispanic votes. Fercryingoutloud, conservative "hero" Grover Norquist just said that "It’s not clear to me that opposition to immigration is a vote-moving issue."

What the #$@% is going on here?!?

Lately I've been wondering a lot about the infamous John Titor, and whether he was really a time-traveler from the year 2036. Ya know why? 'Cuz he said a civil war in the U.S. is in its seventh year by 2012: a civil war between the United States government and rural American citizens. That would put it starting either this year or next. And there's nothing closer to pushing us over that brink as is the border situation. Regular American people have already begun doing the job that their own government refuses to do, illegals and criminals are shooting at American citizens from across the border and sometimes even well beyond it, and the Mexican military has even given escorts to "immigrants" streaming over the line. I'm all for legal immigration... but what's happening illegally is stretching our resources and infrastructure to the breaking point. Sooner or later - and more likely than not it'll be sooner - it's got to snape. And it ain't gonna be pretty.

Keep an eye on the U.S.-Mexican border over the next few months. It might be, in the words of a Chinese curse, in for some interesting times.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

We are so DOOMed

The first time I heard about this it was 1994 and Ivan Reitman was supposed to direct it. Eleven years later and the movie version of Doom is finally coming out. Over at IGN.com they have an exclusive trailer for Doom. Wonder if the movie includes that legendary wonderful "Barney the Dinosaur" WAD that we all enjoyed back in the day...

Enough time has passed that I can comment on this

Do not do not DO NOT click on this link if you haven't read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yet. My wife is reading it now and I've had to be VERY careful not to let any spoiler-ish material slip my lips. Suffice it to say: I just wanted to make note that in regards to a certain "something" regarding this book, that I made a perfect call on it well before it had been released.

I'm pretty good at that. Sometimes. :-)

Oops, guess we can't say "Roll out!" just yet :-(

In light of that last post about the live-action Transformers movie in '07, Ain't It Cool News is now reporting that the project is getting torn apart by its producers. At issue is whether or not to use the original cartoon's cast of voice actors.

My take on that is this: get an entirely new crew of voices. The cartoon was good for its day but it's now time to re-introduce the Transformers for a new generation... and redefine it for another that should now be expecting more. Think of the talent that's available today to do this: I can't help but think of Liam Neeson for the voice of Optimus Prime, or Sean Astin as Bumblebee. Besides, many of the original actors have sadly passed on, including Chris Latta (as the irreplacable voice of Starscream) and Scatman Crothers, who I never knew until now that he did the voice of Jazz, but thinking back on the cartoon I guess he did! Anyhoo, there's been so many iterations of the Transformers (my favorite was the Marvel comic, BTW) that it'd be wrong to limit the vision for the movie to just one: let the big-screen live-action feature stand on its own, with its own unique cast of actors.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

July 4th of 2007 will never get here fast enough...

Ooh-boy, just got back into town after a coupl'a days and found a real treat over at Ain't It Cool News.

In the name of all that's good and holy... was that Devastator?!??

Click here to see what I'm talking about. When you go to the video, the good stuff starts about 2:00 into it.

Spielberg. Bay. The Transformers. As of this moment my future offspring now has a legend for their own generation. And sonuvagun, it's one of mine's too :-)

(P.S.: there's even more stuff over at TransformersLive.com, including a video presentation by Steven Spielberg.)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Another deep essay by Kyle Williams

If you want to wrap your brain around something really meaty read the newest piece by Kyle Williams over at WorldNetDaily.

V for Vendetta trailer hits the net

No, this ain't a big-screen movie about the man-eating alien lizards that NBC shocked us with back in the mid-80s...

I will be there opening day to see this, even if I can barely explain it to anyone else I know. I borrowed this graphic novel from a friend in college about ten years ago. It's... interesting, to put it mildly. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore is something like "George Orwell's 1984 meets Batman meets Moore's Watchmen meets Guy Fawkes meets Terry Gilliam's Brazil", if any of that makes sense at all...
In brief: the graphic novel was set in an alternate-history Great Britain where a Nazi-ish regime came to power. Mysterious and masked V runs around doing neat things like killing those in power and sabotaging government-run broadcasting, all in a bid to sow chaos and let anarchy reign supreme. Being an Alan Moore work, it naturally became a comic book classic... in addition to being a thought-provoking commentary on totalitarianism and creeping fascism.

And, it looks like in the hands of the Wachowski Brothers, this movie is going to nail the comic pretty darned close (which doesn't happen much with an Alan Moore adaptation). I don't really know too much about this to be honest but just going by the trailer it looks like they're edging away from the "almost-happened" reality and putting this into the realm of our possible future. This might be a perfect movie for our times, as evidenced by this quote from the trailer...

"People should not be afraid of their government. Government should be afraid of their people."
Well worth checking out the trailer and not just because of Natalie Portman's dead-on impersonation of Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3 either. There's also this curious lil' visual...
That's John Hurt looking EXACTLY like that tele-screened image of Big Brother from that movie version of 1984 (the one with the songs by Annie Lennox and Eurythmics) that Hurt was in over twenty years ago! I saw this and laughed so hard I almost spewed Coke all over the monitor. That's just gotta be intentional humor on the part of the Wachowskis. Anyhoo, mash down here for the V for Vendetta trailer and watch shaven-head Natalie Portman and the guy who played Agent Smith lead a violent upheaval against tyranny and oppression.

Open the Windoze and look at the Vista

It's been almost four years already, and Bill Gates thinks that's long enough to go without a new operating system: Windows Vista will be arriving late in 2006. 'Course they announced Windows 95 a few times and it kept getting pushed back more and more, so it may yet be '07-'08 before this sees shrink-wrapping.

Sobering thought that until very recently there were only three things that people would line up for at midnight to pay money for: a new Star Wars movie, a new Harry Potter book, and a new Windows OS. Soon it'll only be Windows on that list. That's a pretty sad statement about us when you think about it...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Scotty has read his last technical journal...

James Doohan - better known as that most lovable of Starfleet engineers Montgomery Scott or just simply "Scotty" - has died at the age of 85.

I met him once, very briefly. Super nice guy, Doohan was. I just read that he was a veteran of D-Day, even lost part of a finger on one hand during the fighting.

He beams up to the good company of fellow Enterprise crewmember DeForrest Kelly (Dr. "Bones" McCoy). I don't know what else to say but: Warp speed, and God bless Scotty.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My thoughts on John G. Roberts as Supreme Court nominee

I don't know much about this guy, but from what little I've read so far he sounds like a pretty strong practitioner of judicial restraint. Eager to see what his views are on the Second Amendment and the recent Kelo decision (the one that allows cities to steal private land and give it to rich developers) but I found this quote by Roberts to be quite interesting indeed...
"We continue to believe that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled."
Roe v. Wade is the classic example of bad litigation coming from the bench. If Roberts feels that way too about it, I'll be rooting for him to clinch the job.

You see, I can praise Bush for something if he ever gets it right!! :-)

About "that thing" in Half-Blood Prince...

Someone read my review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and shot me an e-mail saying "whatever happened isn't that big a deal is it?"

Oh yes it is.

The more I think about it, what happens at the end of chapter 27 (that's as far as I want to go in pinpointing what exactly it is) may well go down as one of the top ten all-time greatest moments in English literature: right up there with Sherlock Holmes's apparent death at the hands of Moriarty, Sidney Carton at the guillotine and the final showdown with Moby Dick. This might be the first real classic moment of literary drama in the twenty-first century.

This is like the 1980 "Who shot J.R.?" thing all over again: that kind of gripping. 'Course the big question after that episode of Dallas was "Who shot J.R.?" In this case it's not so much a matter of who but WHY did this happen? Theories abound. I don't know which one to believe but if anyone's wondering, you're going to have to highlight this next part to see it 'cuz it's "inviso-texted": SPOILER - highlight to read Dumbledore wasn't pleading for Snape to spare his life... he was pleading with Snape to end it! Keep in mind that Dumbledore is NOT someone who's afraid of death: as far back as Sorceror's Stone he was telling Harry that "for the well-prepared mind death is but the next great adventure" or something. In Order of the Phoenix he tells Voldemort that there are things worse than death and not understanding that has always been Voldemort's greatest weakness. It's like Dumbledore knew that death was finally here and he wasn't going to contest it. But there was something going on there that we don't know yet. I think Dumbledore is definitely dead i.e. he ain't coming back, but I've got a gut feeling that even his own death was part of some larger plan that will fully unfold in Book 7. Hey I called it last week that Dumbledore would die and was right about that, maybe I'm right about this one too :-) END SPOILER. So there it is, set down for the record for later consumption.

So with Half-Blood Prince done, I'm finally going to read Eragon by Christopher Paolini, which several friends have told me is an excellent book. I might file a report on that one later too :-)

That's a darned tempting target for any snipers...

I don't have the heart to post this picture here: AfterShock found it so you're going to have to visit his blog instead.

William Westmoreland is dead

Just coming off the wires that retired U.S. Army General William Westmoreland has died at the age of 91.

Westmoreland was the commander of the American forces during the Vietnam conflict. I've never thought that was a war worth our fighting in, but Westmoreland did the duties given him to the best of his ability, as honorably as anyone could hope for in that kind of situation. I think his was the classic example of a general whose hands were tied by the bureacrats back home... the ones that nowadays would never see a real battlefield even once in their lives. It was a mistake made then and it's a mistake being made now and there's a lot of good soldiers that are going to take flak for it for years to come, just as Westmoreland did and wrongfully so.

But, that is an argument for another time. Right now, time to remember a great American, a loyal servant to his countrymen, and for me personally a fellow Eagle Scout.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Two great articles by Vox Day and Kyle Williams

These are two of the best writers working today, I honestly believe. They're definitely the two best regulars that WorldNetDaily has writing for itself. First up is Kyle Williams's piece from this past Saturday on "evangelical Republicanism":
...I still consider myself very much conservative in the way I view government, morality and even theology. Yet, I firmly believe the way the American evangelical leadership has responded to the power struggle of politics is reprehensible. When I really began to believe – not just intellectually, but with my life – the message of Solomon's Ecclesiastes, I began to think critically about the way Christians relate to the world and specifically culture and politics, and it seems as if the message of evangelical Republicanism is teetering on the edge of idolatry when it comes to whom or what we give our allegiance...
And then today Vox Day files this piece about Christians "saving" society:
The liberal theologians are correct in one regard: Jesus Christ was a revolutionary. He overthrew a tyrant worse than Nero, King George and Stalin combined when he defeated the prince of this world by means of his death on the cross.

And yet, in America, Christians have somehow become the de facto guardians of the middle-class taxpayer's dream. Cleanliness, an adjustable-rate mortgage and a three-car garage are not next to godliness, they are considered to be rather more important. There is, I submit, more faith in George W. Bush than Jesus Christ in the evangelical wing of the Republican party; one imagines that Karl Rove will soon prophesy of the Third Coming of The Bush, a King of the South of pure blue blood who will save America from the Scarlet Woman of Arkansas...

Both are well worth checking out. So go do it. Now!!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"Dirty Harry" Potter: Half-Blood Prince a brutal read

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the least "Potter"-y book of the series. Almost 24 hours after finishing reading it I feel... depressed, but not let down. This was NOT what I was anticipating at all. And you know why that is? It's because of something that hit me as we left Border's bookstore late Friday night...

The next Harry Potter book is probably two or three years away from now. By then, I might very well be a father myself. This is the last fictional series that I picked up during what, I guess you could say has been the extended drama of my youth (though a lot of people tell me that I'm the kind of guy who'll never, ever really completely grow up :-)

I read the first Harry Potter book in the summer of 2000 during a particularly rough period in my life. It's what I was reading when I first started talking to a girl named Lisa that I'd met over a Christian website. Harry Potter kept me going and Lisa kept me going, through some turmoil and turbulence. I read the next two books in the series, and then the fourth (ironically Goblet of Fire was the first Potter book I ever bought, while it was still hot in hardback). A year and a half after reading Sorcerer's Stone we saw its movie on opening day. A few days after that I was asking Lisa to marry me. We've seen every Harry Potter movie the day they premiered and I've done two midnight rollouts of new books since we've been married. This is something that wound up intertwined in our lives, ya see. And the next time that I buy a chapter of this epic, my life probably won't be anywhere near the same as it has been.

And I guess that by now I had taken it for granted that Half-Blood Prince was going to follow the standard Harry Potter formula: cruddy summer with the Dursleys, hooking up with Ron and Hermione, leaving for Hogwarts, meeting the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, surviving Hagrid's critters, staying out of Snape's way, stumbling onto weird stuff that later turns out to be a plot by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, solving the mystery like the Scooby-Doo gang and then heading home for another cruddy summer with the Dursleys, end of book, bring on the next one. That's what I thought was coming. That's what I wanted to be coming. Guess that at this point I've gotten too comfortable, like I know what I should be expecting from the Harry Potter series.

And then J.K. Rowling goes and totally messes it all up. This could have been the last time I got to really enjoy a Harry Potter book in the final years before taking that step to father a generation of my own. This could have been a pleasure of a read. It could have been a safely comfortable thing to enjoy. Rowling took it and made the last 70 pages or so a tortured nightmare that I keep telling myself "No, she didn't really do that... did she?" It literally woke me up several times last night. No other book ever left me feeling this unsettled.

And that's why I think, in the end, that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is by far the most powerful – and the most realistic - novel of its kind that I've ever known.

I think the signs come pretty early on that this time Rowling is going to do things different in this stage of Potter's tale. I won't share what those are but there are a few... subtle clues... that suggest something bad on the horizon. Bad things do happen here: there is stuff in Half-Blood Prince that makes Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith seem lukewarm in comparison. Just like Episode III those things don't happen immediately: they come slowly, after the tantalizing promise that things just might turn out great after all. And then... WHAM!!

And when they come, Rowling doesn't let up. She went all-out here to make this the most painful Harry Potter book to date. There are things that happen in this book that would easily make it the cruelest children's book of all time. It's a mean, unrelentingly brutal read that, I think it will shake up a lot of adults who have followed the series thus far. It sure as heck shook me up.

Rowling doesn't play it safe. Life doesn't play it safe either. There's no guarantee that you and your best friends are going to be able to wake up a week or a month or a year from now and congratulate yourselves on outwitting the bad guys while coming out unscathed. The things that you thought you could expect all too often turn out to be the most bitter of disappointments. The people you thought you could count on... they can become the worst of traitors. You never see it coming. Those things happen more times than you can readily count in Half-Blood Prince, just as you never see them coming in real life either.

And in the end, there's no promise of comfort. There's just the unknown journey ahead, and all you can do is suck it in and plow forward and pray for the best, despite the worst. That's all Harry can do. And isn't that all that any of us can do, if we really want to live the life given us?

But anyway, about the book...

The opening chapter has the Prime Minister of Great Britain (I'm assuming it's supposed to be John Major, since per previous books this one can be calculated to begin in the summer of 1996) receiving a visit from Cornelius Fudge: the just recently-sacked former Minister of Magic, who is staying with the Ministry in an advisory capacity. Mysterious disasters and unexplainable deaths have started happening all over the countryside, beleaguering the Prime Minister. Fudge explains that they all relate to the war in the wizarding world, which has gotten so bad it's started spilling over into the Muggle (non-magical folk) realm. The new Minister of Magic is introduced, the following chapter takes us down an ominous street called Spinner's End, and it's not until Chapter 3 that we get our first glimpse of Harry Potter. Barely two weeks after the events of Order of the Phoenix, he gets escorted by none other than Dumbledore himself away from the Dursleys and back into pursuit of "that flighty temptress, adventure."

But first, there are some matters to take care of: Harry’s inheritance of everything that Sirius Black possessed being one. Another is the rehiring of Horace Slughorn: a retired professor known for "having favorites" among the Hogwarts students. With those affairs in order Harry returns to the Burrow, home of the Weasleys and his best friend Ron. The rest of the summer is spent dwelling on recent events in between visits to Diagon Alley for a little bit of school supply shopping. And visiting Fred and George's new practical joke store. And keeping a wary eye on Draco Malfoy, who Potter suspects from early on of being in cahoots with Voldemort.

Then the Hogwarts Express takes the story back to Hogwarts School. As conventionally happens in a Harry Potter story. And that’s just about the last conventional thing that happens in this book.

Among the chief sub-plots of Half-Blood Prince is Harry's quest (under guidance from Dumbledore) for Tom Riddle's origins, before he became the Dark Lord Voldemort. We find out about Riddle's parents, his time at Hogwarts, and his obsession with something called a "Horcrux". Harry divides his time between these private "classes" with Dumbledore and his regular schedule, which includes Defense Against the Dark Arts. Once again, Rowling has a new teacher for this particular class. Who is it? Ahhh, that would be telling. Suffice it to say it's something that a lot of Potter fans would have never seen coming (and you can probably deduce what I mean by that already). There is also the matter of the Potions book that Harry uses during this term: one filled with countless bits of helpful advice scribbled within its margins by someone known only as "the Half-Blood Prince". Naturally, who the Half-Blood Prince is becomes another part of the arc. Albeit, the conclusion of which I can see how it was all laid out in plain sight, but would have never guessed it would end as it did.

I've never been a big follower of "relationships" stories or subplots, so the tangled web of infatuations between Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and the rest didn't intrigue me all that much. However the state of things toward the end of the book, I think it was quite satisfying. Harry and his gang are definitely not mere hormone-mad teenagers by the end of this part of the saga: they are taking to their roles as young men and women with a lot of maturity, and I think it's safe to say that by the end of the book we know exactly how the relationships are going to play out by the end of Book 7 (assuming that everyone lives long enough to graduate from Hogwarts... if graduation is even an option anymore).

For the first half of the book, it could be considered life as usual during a normal year at Hogwarts.

And then, things start going... bad.

Very bad.

As in, if it can possibly go bad, it does go bad.

And then it gets a whole lot worse.

Starting around Chapter 25, things go downhill in the worst possible way and they don't let up. The little "id" monster deep inside me wants to scream aloud what happens, trying to exorcise the anguish that literally came in reading those last few chapters of the book but... I've resolved to not spill the beans here. But after reading some of the Harry Potter forums I can rest assured that I'm not the only one going through this. Dear Lord, I hope J.K. Rowling doesn't have a public e-mail address or phone number, because this is the kind of thing that caused R.A. Salvatore to get death threats after he killed off Chewbacca in one of the Star Wars books. It's something that is almost definitely going to outrage just about everyone who's faithfully kept up with the series. It'll positively rattle you to the core. You NEVER see this coming, not really. Even when you think you do, you keep telling yourself "No, she won't go that far." But she did.

And by the end of the novel we realize with a great deal of sad clarity that the Harry Potter who came to us as a wondrous-eyed eleven year old is gone forever. In his place is someone more like "Dirty" Harry Callahan, or Bruce Wayne, or Roland from Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Harry has become a far more grim and angst-ridden young man, forced to grow up into an adult in a world that would never make sense even if it were bereft of all magic. You can almost see the murderous look in his spectacled eye as he sets out to do what must be done. Imagine Charles Bronson with a magic wand... and that is what Harry Potter has become.

Rowling has apparently said that Half-Blood Prince is one-half of a single novel, with the second half coming later in book #7. With that in mind I think that Half-Blood Prince feels a lot like The Matrix Reloaded in that it supposedly will lead directly into the final volume of the Harry Potter series. This is the first time that any Harry Potter book has ended on what could be called a cliffhanger. It has much of the same tone as The Empire Strikes Back did when it ended. It answers many questions but it introduces seemingly just as many other mysteries, including the one that Harry Potter fans will no doubt be debating endlessly for the next few years: Who - or what - is "R.A.B."?

For the past five books we've watched J.K. Rowling pull doves out of her hat. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince she pulls out a crocodile.

And that's about all I can say about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before the lesser angels of my nature start blabbing about more than I care to share with those who are still blissfully un-spoiled and unaware of what it is that transpires within the pages of this tome. But I will say that this is by far one of the richest – and the most thought-provoking – fantasy novels that I have ever read. And definitely the best Harry Potter book to date.

9.5 stars out of 10 (and I ONLY gave it less than a perfect score because Half-Blood Prince had hardly any appearances by my favorite character, Mad-Eye Moody :-).

Midnight launch of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at Border's in Greensboro

Well, finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince about 30 minutes ago. Going to need some time to let it all "sink in" 'cuz this one packs about the biggest wallop I've ever seen for a kids' book.

Is it even still safe to call it that anymore? I will say this again later: there are things in this book that make what happens in Star Wars Episode III seem mild by comparison. J.K. Rowling did not keep things safely within the borders at all: she went all for broke on this one, and it's positively going to horrify a lot of people that she not only pegged the needle but broke it completely loose off the meter. This is like the final episode of Blake's 7 for little kids, where all the main characters were KILLED OFF one by one. Darn nearly artistic rape and Rowling is going to get nominated "Cruelest Person of 2005" after word gets around on what she did here.

But more on that later. Time to finally focus on what happened 24 hours or so ago...

Border's bookstore on High Point Road in Greensboro, North Carolina. Where we went to for the midnight launch of Half-Blood Prince. Counting this and the "Midnight Madness" for new Star Wars toys a few months ago that's three times this year so far I've gone out for something crazy at midnight. Only three things bring out this many people out this late: a new Star Wars movie or toys coming out (which'll never happen again), the rollout of a new Windows operating system, and a new Harry Potter book. After the next book we're only left with Microsoft software. That's a pretty sobering thought...

Inside the front door. You checked in at this table and got one of the golden tickets that gets you inside the choco... I mean, you got one of these tickets that has your spot in line to buy a copy of the new book:
About twenty-seven thousand people (mostly ages 12 and under) were packed inside Border's last night...

Naturally, some came dressed in the spirit of the books...


I told these two young ladies that I wanted to take a picture of 'em for my blog. They wanted to know where to find it at so I hope they'll forgive me for how late it was that I posted their picture here :-)

That last one was probably my favorite costume of the night: AWESOME job creating a Gringott's Goblin banker from the books! Here it is again with two other costumed fans...
These three won the costume contest about 10:30 or so, and part of the prize was that they got spots #1, #2 and #3 in line to buy Half-Blood Prince.

And even the Border's employees got into the act (this guy's dressed up like Harry's owl Hedwig):

At 12:01 AM on the dot, the doors to the inner sanctum of Border's opened up way in the back and a crew of associates started hauling out the hermetically-sealed high-security boxes (that had been kept under lock and key under penalty of mangling) onto the floor and toward the registers. Midnight - magic hour - had come at last...
...and the Border's folks wasted no time unleashing the mayhem...
We got our copy at the register about 12:45 AM. Way, WAY sooner than two years ago when I went to the local Barnes & Noble instead (where I understand it that they had everyone outside the store before midnight). Border's had a well-organized event that went well for everyone involved. Anyway, here's our copy...
I'll be posting a full review tomorrow. This is one of those things that you need time to digest, to dwell upon some before you can do it any justice with a real encapsulation. Some things in it I'm gonna want to go over two and three times, just to see what I "missed" the first go-round. Expect more tomorrow or maybe Monday. In the meantime, do yerself a favor and pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: there's things in this book that break all the rules of literature, so you owe it to yourself to check out what will soon become an instant classic.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

27 chapters into The Half-Blood Prince and...

Whoa.

Let me rephrase that.

Whoa.

It can't ever be said that J.K. Rowling plays it safe.

This is about as mean a thing to do as there's ever been done in a book, kids' or no. This is the sort of thing that would make one squeamish if it had happened in a far more mature book.

That sound you're hearing this weekend is millions of children from ages 6 to 106 screaming in abject horror.

Three chapters left to go in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Let's see how this ends...

The half-way point of The Half-Blood Prince

Just finished the Chapter 16 (of 30) of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which puts me at page 348 out of 652. I started reading about 1:30 a.m. this morning, right after we got back from the "midnight party" at the local Border's bookstore. Will have photos up from that soon, but at the moment I'm too engrossed in this book. Finally put it down for the night at 4 and then picked it right back up around 10 this morning. I might have it finished very late this evening, after which I'll try to knock out a report. Suffice it to say, it's a good book: maybe the best one to date. It has a lot of the good elements that Prisoner of Azkaban had going for it... yeah, that's the one book already in the series that this one is reminding me of. It hits the ground running from Chapter 1 (which answers a LOT of questions that readers might have had about the wizarding world over the past several years) and doesn't let up. Lot of mysteries getting resolved, new ones cropping up, and something that I don't think any Harry Potter fan ever, ever expected to happen (all I'll say is, it involves Professor Snape, so that could mean anything). Anyhoo I had originally thought about posting "updates" to this blog after every few chapters but it's proven impossible to stop for even that much. So, expect another post after I'm done reading Half-Blood Prince along with photos from last night's festivities :-)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Man, this just wigs me out to look at it...

Philip K. Dick is dead. Nevertheless, Philip K. Dick is making live interview appearances at Comic-Con in San Diego this weekend.

Click on the link if you like. I gotta say, that's just darned creepy-looking.

President Bush supporting CAFTA here in North Carolina this afternoon

I just saw that on the noon news broadcast. Bush is speaking at Gaston College near Charlotte, promoting the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

For him to speak about that, here in North Carolina, is sorta like Heinrich Himmler making a speech in the middle of the Warsaw ghetto about the merits of "relocation".

Seriously, that takes some brazen bones to do that here. North Carolina has lost countless jobs in the textile industry under the North American Free Trade Agreement and now CAFTA only promises more of the same. Pretty soon, this state won't have much of an industrial base in anything left to stand on.

If anyone asks me why I have it in for Bush, why I believe he's a horrible president, this is the reason. This and his HORRIBLE stance on illegal immigration. Ross Perot warned about that "giant sucking sound" of American jobs heading overseas after the passage of NAFTA over ten years ago: people laughed at him then, but he was right. CAFTA is just going to be more of the same. You gotta understand something about the mindset of Bush and others like him: they don't believe in a sovereign United States of America. They don't believe we should be our own country. To them, we should have NO borders with Canada and Mexico. We should instead be one large North American superstate... conveniently, with Bush and his family and other "elites" like them in charge of it. That's where they've been taking us for decades and now it looks like they're pretty close to achieving their goal.

This is the kind of thing that American patriots used to take up torches and pitchforks - and a lot worse harmful items - to protest by whatever means necessary.

By the way, our senators Richard Burr and Liddy "I'm not a real North Carolinian or conservative Republican but I got installed in the Senate by the GOP anyway" Dole both voted in favor of CAFTA. A pox upon BOTH their houses!

Forcery having worldwide appeal

As of this morning, Forcery has been featured on no less than two websites from the Netherlands, three in Great Britain, two in France, one in Taiwan (I don't even know anyone from Taiwan... yet anyway :-), two in Belgium, two in Norway, and even one out of Luxembourg.

I sorta feel like the Jerry Lewis of the fan-film scene now :-P

Thursday, July 14, 2005

This week's sign that the Apocalypse is upon us...

21-year old woman in Myanmar now a man after growing a penis.

Following the Judas goats over the cliff...

Really good essay by Butler Shaffer over at LewRockwell.com. Titled "Saving a Dying Corpse", Shaffer writes about how it is that the American people are so blindly following to ruin men of little integrity or scruples...
An Associated Press news report told of 1,900 sheep following one another over a cliff in Turkey, resulting in the deaths of 450. The sheep had been grazing when, without explanation, some members of the herd began leaping from the cliff. The others followed the lead, providing an example of “sheepish” behavior.

What a fitting metaphor for the herd-oriented behavior of humans. Political systems – along with various corporate interests that have produced the homogeneous corporate-state – have succeeded in getting people to organize themselves into opposing herds. These multitudes are placed under the leadership of persons who function like “Judas goats,” a term derived from the meat-packing industry. Judas goats are trained to lead sheep to the slaughterhouse, slipping safely away as the others are led to the butcher. Political leaders take their flocks to the deadly precipice, depart to the safety of their bunkers, and allow herd instincts to play out their deadly course. With the help of the media, Bush, Blair, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al., perform the Judas goat function quite well, rousing the herds into a “let’s you and him fight” mindset without occasioning the loss of their own blood. You will not see any of these smug, arrogant creatures in the front lines of battle: that is the purpose served by the “masses” (i.e., the “herds”).

Long but deep reading well worth the time to take it in.

Cooter tells Dukes fans to steer away from Hazzard movie

Found this at the Gwinnett Daily Post in Georgia: Ben Jones AKA "Cooter" on the old The Dukes of Hazzard show is telling fans to avoid the upcoming movie like the plague...
Jones urges fans to stay away from ‘Hazzard’
07/14/2005

By Doug Gross

The Associated Press

ATLANTA — If television’s ‘‘Crazy Cooter’’ has his way, fans of the ‘‘Dukes of Hazzard’’ may be speeding away from a new movie version of the cornpone classic faster than the Duke boys running from Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane.

Ben Jones, a former Georgia congressman who played the wisecracking mechanic on the popular series from 1979-85, said profanity and sexual content in the film make a mockery of the family friendly show.

‘‘Basically, they trashed our show,’’ said Jones, who now lives in the mountains of Washington, Va. ‘‘It’s one thing to do whatever movie they want to do, but to take a classic family show and do that is like taking ‘‘I Love Lucy’’ and making her a crackhead or something.’’

Jones said he read a script of the movie, which is scheduled to be released next month, and that it contained profanity, ‘‘constant sexual innuendo and some very clear sexual situations.’’

I've heard nothing but bad about this movie. Why oh why did Burt Reynolds and Willie Nelson sign up to make this?!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rove/Plame has turned today's Republicans into yesterday's Democrats

The long-term legacy of the George W. Bush presidential administration is not going to be a model of American virtue and Christian decency. It will instead be remembered as one of - if not the - most mean-spirited, corrupted, and generally nasty executive terms of office in American history. And Bush is only going to compound history's verdict that much more if he continues to keep Karl Rove in the White House.

Ironically, Bush could salvage a lot of dignity by firing Rove today and holding him accountable for anything he may have illegally or unethically done. But I'm not counting on that happening.

By most indications, certainly more than can be readily countered or refuted, it was Rove who blew the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame in order to "get even" with Plame's husband Joe Wilson for crossing the Bush cabal. Per this administration's own definitions, this should be considered a case of wartime treason. Bush himself promised dire consequences for whoever was responsible. There should be an earnestly dire attempt to get to the bottom of the matter by everyone - and I mean everyone concerned. Instead the Bush White House is either stonewalling or blank-faced denying that Rove did anything wrong while continuing to support him, no questions asked. And instead of scrutinizing their own house, they are attacking the sources of the allegations: Wilson, Plame, Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper who is supposed to be testifying this week to the grand jury looking into the matter, anyone else who's now daring to question this administration. Wilson is now being branded a "liar" while Rove's lawyer says that Rove didn't really name Plame as being undercover... meaning that "Wilson was bad so we admit attacking his wife." Yesterday Rove's lawyer accused Cooper of "burning" Rove... ummmm yeah attack the guy who is probably going to testify against you anyway before a grand jury. Like we used to say on the basketball court: "Smooth move Ex-Lax."

I don't know if this is really legit or not, but Raw Story just posted the Republican "talking points" on how to discuss the issue. And so far the Republicans are following their cues to the letter.

All of this makes me sadly shake my head. It wasn't all that long ago that something along very similar lines - but involving a lot less than wartime betrayal - was happening in Washington. And back then it was the Democrats defending Bill Clinton: committing baseless character assassinations against anyone thought to be "the opposition", disseminating "talking points", trying to rally the faithful (I can't believe that MoveOn.org is still around), etc. And it was the Republicans on the offensive. I know, I was there: I was watching Free Republic during the Clinton impeachment (back when it was still an intellectually engaging website, before it became a cage full of Bush-obsessed howler monkeys) and the Republicans were out for blood. I thought they had a very good case to press. The Democrats sounded desperate and shrill: some of them genuinely made my ears hurt after listening to them screaming against the "right-wing conspiracy" on the cable talk shows.

Well, it's seven years later and the tables have turned a full 180 degrees. The Bush administration is now as suspect as Clinton's ever was... if not more so. The offensive team is now scrambling for higher ground.

In short: what the Democrats were under Clinton, is precisely what the Republicans have become under Bush. The Republicans is literally a faction that was so obsessed with the enemy, that it became the enemy.

I should feel a bit of smug satisfaction at this turn of events: this administration is finally having its just desserts after five years of unprecedented pride and arrogance and everything evil that comes with them. Instead I feel regret at what has become of America. This is no longer a country where elected officials are the acme of common virtues. Instead those officials have become like much of the rest of America: a nation of bullies. Things like honor and truth now play second-fiddle to "smart" political maneuvering and "getting away" with it. Not one or the other of the two major parties is solely to blame: they are both at fault. Along with a lazy media that's grown soft from corporate ownership and a complacent people that would rather tune in to see if Michael Jackson is found guilty than pay attention to how it is that evil men are stealing their children's national birthright.

Am I expecting "justice" out of the Rove/Plame affair? No, of course not. I never expected justice out of the Clinton/Lewinsky thing. But that doesn't mean I'm compelled to celebrate such back-handed chicanery either.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

AfterShock reviews Guild Wars

And AfterShock LIKES Guild Wars an awful lot apparently :-) Check out his review over at AfterShock's Gaming Haven. This is one game I'm seriously considering getting: I got a chance to see it a few weeks ago and it's just plain beautiful. It's also the only massively-multiplayer role-playing game that I know of that doesn't have a monthly fee! I'm probably going to be getting this soon for myself. This review only whets my appetite for it more.

So... how about the chapter titles for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Plus: "Dumbledore dies?!?"

These are legit. For real. Have it on good authority that these are the actual chapter titles for Harry Potter #6 that a lot of us (the lovely "spousal overunit" and I included) will be standing in line at midnight this coming Friday night in the local bookstore to get. I've no idea what most of these could possibly be referring to (and I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix right now) so parse these as you will...
1. The Other Minister

2. Spinner's End

3. Will and Won't

4. Horace Slughorn

5. An Excess of Phlegm

6. Draco's Detour

7. The Slug Club

8. Snape Victorious

9. Half-Blood Prince

10. The House of Gaunt

11.Hermione's Helping Hand

12. Silver and Opals

13. The Secret Riddle

14. Felix Felicis

15. The Unbreakable Vow

16. A Very Frosty Christmas

17. A Sluggism Memory

18. Birthday Surprises

19. Elf Tails

20. Lord Voldemort's Request

21. The Unknowable Room

22. After the Burial

23. Horcruxes

24. Sectumsempra

25. The Seer Overheard

26. The Cave

27. The Lightning-Struck Tower

28. Flight of the Prince

29. The Phoenix Lament

30.The White Tomb

Chapter 22 is the scary-sounding one. I've heard that a major character dies in this one (which will honk off a LOT of readers if its anything like the character J.K. Rowling "offed" in the last book). Las Vegas should do a "betting odds" thing for this. Personally I'm betting that Rowling kills off Dumbledore. He's like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of this story, the "elder master" who's been guiding Harry into wisdom and experience... but for the apprentice to really come into his own, the master must step aside. That's what's being set up right now, I think. Dumbledore's death will be the final thing that "clicks" it all into place for Harry to fulfill his destiny. That, and because nothing would ratchet up the "oh CRAP NOW WHAT?!?" element for this saga than to kill off its number-one figure of goodness and authority. The clues are all there, including these chapter titles: "The Phoenix Lament"? That's Dumbledore's phoenix Fawkes crying over his dead master. "The White Tomb"? Who else could be buried there? Why else is Dumbledore shown on the cover of book #6 with Harry? He's never been on the cover of any others before now, so this is like finally getting his time in the spotlight before the curtain falls. Yeah, light a candle and say a prayer for Albus Dumbledore: his days just might be numbered.

The good news is, I'm also betting that Dumbledore comes back somehow, either "resurrected" in the flesh or as a ghost (remember what Near-Headless Nick said about that toward the end of Order of the Phoenix, hmmmmmm?).

Monday, July 11, 2005

It's MONDAY NIGHT LIVE with Ken and Mark!

Back in April I reported the return of a local institution: the ever-intriguing, most curious and always entertaining "Monday Night Live" call-in show on Reidsville, North Carolina's WGSR Channel 39. Back in my high school days this hour-long show was THE highlight of the week for us (parse as you will whatever message that is about how much excitement we had in good ol' Reidsville :-) Well it took three months but tonight I finally got to see the show, still hosted by Mark Childrey and Ken Echols. And I'm happy to report that the unique chemistry that made "Monday Night Live" work so well is still working its charm as strong as ever! I would even say that in the almost ten years since its first run ended that "Monday Night Live" shows good seasoning: it's still as witty but there's a good edge to it. Or maybe it was just weird hearing Ken and Mark talk about "Googling" something and giving out the URL for "Monday Night Live"'s website. Either way, it was a real joy seeing it once again and I couldn't resist calling them up once again for old times' sake. Mark even brought up Forcery and I got to give out the movie's website address, in addition to talking about some of our stars and how we filmed some of it at Short Sugar's Drive-In. The show is now 90 minutes long, whereas the original ran for an hour: plenty enough time to run contests where they gave out such curios as weird sun-faced clocks and "Anthony Perkins as 'Mother'" Psycho action figures (no I'm not making this up) while intermittently showing clips from an old movie called Maniac about two doctors in a morgue with a cat running around it... no I'm not making any of this up. I must say, it was entertaining enough to make the short trip from out-of-town to my parents' house to watch it well worth it, and it was enough to make me want to see more of the show now that it's back. I just wish that we could watch it here: maybe they'll give it a live streaming feed on the Internet someday. If they do, I will gladly give them a prominent link somewhere on this blog for your convenience and viewing pleasure :-)

Terror attack "imminent" within next 90 days?

This one caught my eye bigtime. It was four years ago, arond late June/early July of 2001, that a few reports surfaced in the press indicating that Osama bin Laden was planning a massive attack on the United States in what was then considered the very near future. Most of the reports got pushed toward the rear for sake of "bigger" stories, like the stem cell research debate and the Gary Condit thing. I remember those stories pretty well though, and did think about them a lot when 9/11 happened. I think a couple of them even appeared on WorldNetDaily, which is where this next story comes from. I know, it has a rep for sometimes over-sensationalizing an issue and it's still a little too partisan shills for the Republicans, but otherwise I've never had a reason not to respect it. All that said, this story they published Saturday merits some consideration...
Intel analyst: Attack on U.S. imminent

Former Israeli agent says government not preparing citizens

Posted: July 9, 2005
1:00 a.m. Eastern

Terrorists will try to carry out an attack on the United States within the next 90 days, a former Israeli counterterrorism intelligence officer predicts.

Juval Aviv, head of the New York-based intelligence company Interfor and a special consultant to the U.S. Congress, told Fox News his information is based primarily on intelligence "floating in Europe and the Middle East."

An event is "imminent and around the corner here in the United States," he said. "It could happen as soon as tomorrow, or it could happen in the next few months. Ninety days at the most."

Aviv, author of "Staying Safe: The Complete Guide to Protecting Yourself, Your Family, and Your Business," said Americans should look at what happened in London and expect mass transportation to be the next target of attack.

"We have put all of our emphasis, right or wrong, on the aviation area," he said. "What has happened, in the last two to three years, based on information we have, the terrorists have realized that they cannot hijack a plane in America soon because the passengers are going to fight back."

(SNIP)

"What they're going to do is hit six, seven, or eight cities simultaneously to show sophistication and really hit the public," Aviv said.

But this time, he emphasized, it will not only be big cities.

"They're going to try to hit rural America," Aviv said. "They want to send a message to rural America: 'You're not protected. If you figured out that if you just move out of New York and move to Montana or to Pittsburgh, you're not immune. We're going to get you wherever we can and it's easier there than in New York.'"

Mash here for the rest of the story. If this does happen, I'll bet good money that it will be because the perpetrators easily crossed the border from Mexico, or perhaps from Canada. Our border security is a sham and a half, and so far President Bush and a complacent Congress are doing nothing to improve the situation. You can't have a secure nation without recognized and enforced borders of some sort. That doesn't mean we erect walls on the north and south and barricade both coastlines, but it does mean that we cast a more wary eye on who is coming into our country and for what purpose. As it stands now, it's almost as if Bush and crew are inviting disaster to sneak across into America.

Expect bad repercussions across the board if this intelligence guy's warning has some validity to it. I don't know if it does or not, but I do know that it was this same time four years ago that we got a warning, and we didn't heed it very well.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

NY governor Pataki: "Your vehicle vill be vulnerable to us undt you vill LUFF it!"

From WNBC in New York comes this item, another step forward for the Pin-Striped Gestapo gang...
Law Bans License-Plate Spraying To Foil Radar, Cameras
Law To Take Effect In 120 Days

POSTED: 9:54 pm EDT July 8, 2005

UPDATED: 1:19 pm EDT July 9, 2005

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Gov. George Pataki on Friday signed a new law that bans using sprays or other synthetic materials to hide license plates from radar and camera detection.

The sprays, available online and elsewhere, create a gloss invisible to the naked eye that reflects the flash of radar or traffic cameras, making it difficult to identify a license plate by electronic means.

"It's important that law enforcement have the ability to identify all vehicles that use our public roadways, and anything that hinders their ability to do that is clearly a public safety hazard," Pataki said in a statement.

The law will take effect in 120 days.

This has nothing at all to do with the ability of "law enforcement" (which is a wrongfully-applied term anyway: the old-fashioned "peace officers" is more appropos). This does have everything to do with revenue-enhancement for the state though. This law is targetting those spray-on reflective glosses that are specifically intended to foil "red-light cameras", which are already a breach of personal privacy and civil liberty by the government. To which I say: to hell with 'em. If the state can't produce a living, breathing witness against you in a court of law when it seeks to deprive you of your property (i.e. money) it has no right to press a case against you at all. And YOU should have every right to make it as difficult as possible for the state to even pursue such a thing against you. Pataki isn't giving a damn about "public safety": he knows that such cameras are a HUGE money-making racket that most people won't even take the trouble to contest, instead opting to pay the fine and trusting "Big Brother"'s judgement against their own. And anything that gives the average person an advantage over Big Brother... well, can't very well have THAT now, can they? Next thing you know, regular folks will be getting even MORE uppity, start thinking they know better than the state official do after all.

If Pataki is going to seriously enforce this law, I hope and pray that the people of New York state will go on the offensive... and debilitate as many of these ILLEGAL cameras as possible. And there's lots of ways to do that, if you exercise a little creativity (wink-wink).

Friday, July 08, 2005

Dennis threatens Florida

Great, just great: Mr. Wilson moves to Florida and now THIS happens to the poor guy...

Man kills self after hearing spoilers for Harry Potter #6 (?!?)

Man, I don't know if this is for real or not. If so it begs the question: has there been a recent epidemic of Star Wars fans committing suicide now that no more movies are coming in that saga? From Jewish World Review:
Man commits suicide after learning Harry Potter spoiler

By Andy Borowitz

'I no longer have a reason to live,' says despondent fan

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A rabid Harry Potter fan took his life yesterday after inadvertently learning a plot spoiler from the soon-to-be-released J.K. Rowling opus, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

Jude Ralston, 32, of Hudson, Ohio left a suicide note indicating that since overhearing the plot spoiler at a shopping mall earlier in the day, "I no longer have a reason to live."

Click on the above link for more.

The Homeland Security Threat Level Muppet-Meter now on this blog

This has been around for at least two year now, I remember first seeing it just before the Iraq war started. Didn't know that this system was still being used but in light of yesterday's bombings it's not only still around, it's been elevated to "orange". Personally, I always thought this color-coded system was pretty silly. But since it's yet with us and going up 'cuz of recent events, might as well have a little fun with it to make us smile. Here's the original graphic, if you feel so led to play around with it for your own blog, workplace, military installation etc.

I'm thinking about doing a Star Wars version, with Jabba as condition "green", Artoo as "blue", maybe those red guards the Emperor has as "red"... or maybe do it like Star Wars planets: "Dagobah", "Hoth", "Tatooine", "Bespin", and use Mustafar for "red". Anyway, feel free to adopt/adapt this if you like.

Yesterday's London bombings hits beloved Harry Potter location

I just realized something a few minutes ago: one of the bombs that went off yesterday in London was at Kings Cross Station. That's the very same train station with the legendary Platform 9 and Three-Quarters from which the Hogwarts Express leaves every year in the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling has said a few times that ever since her books came out that kids like to play around there a lot, trying to find the platform so they too can leave for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

It's not a "big" thing to notice about all of this, but I did just happen to catch that a short while ago.

Monday, July 04, 2005

NASA hits mark with cosmic ballistics

Looks like the Deep Impact mission - that shot an 800-pound "bullet" into comet Tempel 1 - was a success:

"Yup, she got blowed up real good!"

Smash here for the official NASA Deep Impact page, with lots more photos and movies from the probe's approach.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

GONE FISSION: Filmmaking among the half-lifes and free radicals

So a few weeks ago I got a phone call from a friend and associate, who had an... interesting... offer for me. I got asked if I'd be willing to be hired for a filmmaking job. Guess you could say it would have been my first real gig as a professional: heh-heh, going from no experience to amateur filmmaker to seasoned pro in the space of a few months. Well, there's plenty about this that I still don't know, and I'm looking for any chance to further my knowledge and understanding of this field. Then my friend went on to talk about the equipment we would be using: the cameras would be much nicer than anything we used on Forcery. Top-of-the-line units, the three CCD chips variety (that's the route we'll go on our next movie) we're talking here. Top-notch gear all around. A strong cast of trained and experienced actors. Was I in?

"Heck yeah!" I said.

There was just one catch, my friend told me: it was going to be an unusual filming environment.

Namely, we would be working inside...

A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT!!
Yah that's probably what enters most folks' minds nowadays at the mention of "nuclear power plant". But THIS is what nuclear scary was all about before Homer hit the scene...
1979's The China Syndrome, the debut of which coming just weeks before Three Mile Island probably didn't hurt it much at the box office. That's not what first entered my mind when I was told where we'd be doing this at, though. Instead, this was...
Silkwood. Positively one of the most frightening movies you'll ever see, because this was a true story folks. Yeah, when someone starts talking about movies and nuclear power, this one always is first to enter my mind. Google has a lot more about Karen Silkwood if you're interested.

Couldn't talk about this kind of subject without giving this guy at least a passing mention either, eh?

Awright, where were we? Oh yeah... told my friend I'd definitely do it. So I headed out of town for several days this past week to film at the nuclear facility.

Now, I can't say which nuclear plant we were at: "Wally" (not his real name), the plant's liaison to our filming crew, asked me not to publish the name of this facility. I don't want to say where it was either, 'cuz there's not that many nuclear power plants in any given area, right? Nor does the nature of our filming lend itself toward talking much about that. But I can show some photos I took inside the place, along with some information that wouldn't necessarily identify it.

In lieu of being able to show any photos of the plant's exterior, I'll use this:

It looks a lot like Springfield Nuclear Power from The Simpsons, believe it or not. With the exception of more cooling towers (and they are nowhere as high as the ones at C. Montgomery Burns' establishment). Otherwise the one we were at has two reactors, and sits on a readily-available source of water. The plant we were at is a pressurized water nuclear reactor plant: the reactor heats up water but instead of turning into steam, high pressure keeps it liquid and has it flowing past another conduit containing water, turning that into the steam that runs the turbines attached to the generators. What this really means is that there are two separate water lines: one running through the reactor, and one coming into contact with the outside environment. No excess radiation gets out, unlike a boiling water reactor that uses steam made in the reactor to power the generators (and in case anyone's interested, Chernobyl was an entirely different reactor altogether). I asked "Wally" if this plant used heavy water and he said it doesn't: it's a "light water" reactor, and I found out later that's because it's using enriched uranium and plutonium for its fuel. And there is one other very cool bit of information about this nuclear plant and I'd love to share what that is on this blog... but I can't! This nuclear plant is the only one in America that's doing this particular something and that would make identifying it all too easy. Suffice it to say, it's something that absolutely stunned me when he told me about it.

We filmed for a few days and on the last one I whipped out my camera and took these pictures...



Our director took this photo of me...
Here's another shot of me, next to a "CAUTION - HIGH RADIATION AREA" sign...
"Hey look at me, I'm getting an accidental overdose of gamma radiation that's altering my body chemistry!"

Ignore the "Bartlett Nuclear/Bruce Long" on the helmet, 'cuz that wasn't the plant we were at. I've no idea where Bartlett Nuclear might be. And my name ain't Bruce since last time I checked :-)

Okay, something that needs to be said before going any further: we were not, at any time, exposed to high doses of radiation. We were told by "Wally" that nobody goes anywhere near the actual nuclear reactors unless there's a DARNED good reason for doing so. Normally that would be something like loading new fuel rods into the reactor. Otherwise, it's keep way, WAY away from it (especially if you're a newly pregnant woman). Forget what you've seen on The Simpsons: the Springfield Nuclear Plant would have been shut down in a heartbeat if it existed in real life. There are literally safety protocols on top of safety protocols at the plant we were working in: every system has a backup, and there's redundant backups for those backups. Not to mention that this was an incredibly dedicated staff on site: for every hour they spent working there, they spent just as much if not more in training and study, mostly regarding safety. Even if you're fresh out of the U.S. Navy from working with reactors onboard submarines, you're looking at two years of training before you're turned loose on civilian equipment. Anyone think Homer could do something like that? :-) Anyhoo, if there ever was any worries about something... bad... going down at a nuclear plant, what we saw at this facility would easily allay those fears, so don't fret about a Chernobyl happening here.

So where were these photos taken? Inside what is called the Flow Loop simulator. Training directly around the actual reactor isn't the hottest of ideas but something is still needed for hands-on experience. The Flow Loop simulator replicates just about every kind of environment that could be expected in and around the reactors and generators. That's where we were at during part of our filming. We got to see for ourselves: there was only normal background radiation where we were set up at, nothing abnormally high or even slightly high at all. Still, I couldn't resist having some fun in the place while we were there 'cuz hey, it's not every day you get to be turned loose inside a nuclear power plant!

...Better shot at the "workers" inside the simulator. Those are really dummies posed around a mock hazardous material spill.
...Big tank of glycol: wonderful coolant but hideously expensive. They have the actual stuff ready to train with here though.
...Big, BIG replica of a diesel engine. The actual diesels are located further inside the plant, at the generators. If anything were to happen that incapacitated the reactors from running the turbines, these babies can kick in and keep the juice flowing.

'Course, since the thought of a guy like me running around in a place like that is too frightening to contemplate, I had to take a picture guaranteed to scare most sane people...

And, that pretty much sums up where we were at last week when we did this filming. I left knowing much more about filmmaking than I did prior to this, and learned an awful lot about the nuclear power industry. And got some really neat material for my blog, all in one shot!

Did Karl Rove leak Valerie Plame's being an undercover CIA agent to the press as political revenge against her husband?

Something I've been watching develop since Friday night. I just thought it'd be cool to be another blog making note of that well before the steaming pile of guano REALLY hits the high-velocity rotating apparatus.

Kyle Williams writes a piece touching on it this weekend, by the way.

Best line thus far that describes Forcery

"It's like a Troma film, but with less violence."

We're still giggling after reading that one :-)

We caught War of the Worlds a few days ago...

...and it's a pretty good movie. My favorite of the summer thus far is still Batman Begins though, even moreso than Star Wars Episode III. But for a Spielberg movie, War of the Worlds had a lot more depth for its characters than he usually gives them.

Being a Spielberg movie, it also has plot holes big enough to drive a Mack truck through. Like, the "lightning storm" that Ray and the other folks in New Jersey are watching is supposed to have knocked out ALL electrical power. So why does the camera focus-in on this one guy who's using a camcorder to videotape the tripod after it rises from the ground?

Not trying to be nit-picky, but that's something that really did stick out like a sore thumb.

If you've ever read the original novel by H.G. Wells, you'll find that this movie is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, with a lot of nods back to the source material: Tim Robbins' character is named Ogilvy, f'rinstance.

I wish they would have given the aliens a flying machine though, like they had in the book.

I have returned...

...after a pretty interesting week. Among other things I was involved in some filmmaking in a really unusual environment.

Will have photos up from it soon.