Friday, September 28, 2012

Just watched the first episode of LAST RESORT

This blog's regular readers know that I do not keep up with television very well. The number of series that I've watched on a routine basis can be counted on one hand. And until last year there were never two that I watched concurrently during a season: those being Doctor Who and The Walking Dead.

But I might have to make a lot more room on my DVR, if last night's premiere of Last Resort was any indication.

ABC's new series follows the crew of a (fictional) United States Navy intercontinental ballistic missile submarine, the U.S.S. Colorado. Minutes into the pilot episode and amidst a ship-wide celebratory tradition for crossing the Equator, the Colorado receives orders to fire its nuclear warheads at Pakistan. The thing is, the orders did not come through official channels, but through a secondary channel. When Captain Chaplin (Andre Braugher) demands hardcore confirmation of the launch order, all hell breaks loose: the Colorado is fired upon by another U.S. Navy vessel and believed destroyed. The United States government blames Pakistan for attacking the Colorado and promptly launches its nukes. With World War III dawning, Captain Chaplin surfaces his ship off the beaches of Sainte Marina in the Indian Ocean and promptly takes over the island (which includes a handy-dandy NATO communications station). Chaplin then puts out an ultimatum to the world: Sainte Marina is an independent state under his command and anyone coming within 200 miles of the place will get fired upon.

He isn't bluffing. And to prove it he launches one of the sub's missiles at the United States.

There are moments which stretched credulity: I mean, could a submarine surface with such surgical precision beneath a rubber raft? To say nothing of a sub sitting on ocean rock bottom. But even so, I found myself surprisingly immersed and captivated by the premise and execution of Last Resort's first episode. With the crew of the Colorado on their own and trying to prove their innocence while figuring out who sent the launch order, it's like The Fugitive as envisioned by Tom Clancy. The ensemble casting also reminds me somewhat of Lost (look for Robert Patrick as one of the Colorado's officers), along with the narrative split between the outside world and an island locality which threatens to bring out the worst (and best) of its inhabitants.

All in all, I found it a satisfying episode. One that will warrant me keeping an eye on Last Resort for at least the next few weeks to see if it merits regular watching.

The statue of Buddha made from a meteorite and acquired by Nazis

That's not the most weird headline I've ever made for a blog post, but I must say: that it's certainly among the most interesting! It's not often that the worlds of archaeology, astronomy, chemistry and history come together so boldly.

The statue on the left, dubbed "the Iron Man", was found in Tibet sometime around 1938, by Nazi scientist Ernst Schäfer. It's thought that it represents the Buddhist god Vaisravana. The statue isn't terribly large but given its all-metal composition it is rather heavy. Schäfer thought it would be of particular interest to his superiors because of the swastika symbol carved upon its chest (Schäfer's expedition was to research the origins of the Aryan race). So the statue was packed up and sent to Germany and eventually found its way into the possession of a private collector.

The statue was likely carved in the tenth century, at most. But it's what it was carved from that makes it really neat: an iron-nickel meteorite that probably crashed to Earth sometime around 10,000 years ago along the border of present-day Siberia and Mongolia!

Furthermore, this is the only known statue carved in human likeness to have been made from a meteorite.

And incidentally, the swastika symbol found on the statue is - or was anyway - a very common symbol in many Asian cultures, as it was thought to represent good fortune. The swastika can be found on statues, in embroidery and many other works of art. It was only when the Nazis arose that Hitler and his followers twisted it into the symbol now sadly synonymous with evil.

LiveScience has a more in-depth article about the Nazi-found meteorite Buddha statue.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What good is the United Nations, anyway?

I always thought that the purpose of the United Nations was for countries which recognize each other to come together for the furtherance of peace. That it was meant to be a platform for raw hate and threats of violence seemed anathema to that purpose.

But this week Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - head of a government which has done more to sponsor terrorism than any other during the past thirty years and which has consistently threatened the safety of the United States - has addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. And once again Ahmadinnerjacket or whatever the heck his name is, has vowed to wipe the country of Israel off the map.

There are two questions that I can neither find suitable answer to or rid my gray matter of. First: Why the hell are we letting Ahmadinejad/Ahmadinnerjacket into the United States? I don't buy into the notion that the United Nations is "neutral international ground". Ahmadinejad is not only the head of a government which has sworn itself as an enemy of the United States, but there has been substantial evidence in recent years that he was involved in the taking of hostages from the American embassy in 1979.

Imadinnerjacket should have been arrested the moment he landed. He certainly should not have been given free parking for his Air Iran jet at Andrews Air Force Base: the same place where Air Force One is kept and maintained.

Second: Why does the United Nations tolerate and even invite the presence of such a man and the government he represents, when neither have demonstrated that they have any intent of civilized and peaceful co-existence with their neighbors?

I understand that in the history of mankind, and no doubt for all the millenea to come, nation will disagree with nation. Sometimes those disagreements come to martial clash of arms. I've never been so foolish as to believe the United Nations could ever bring about total peace on Earth: that would be a miracle left to God Himself, so fallen and inept is the nature of man.

Even so, that whole "swords into plowshares" thing, I thought the United Nations took that seriously. And cheering the mad ravings of a genocidal lunatic is the furthest thing from diplomatic civility in the pursuit of peace!

It's like this: either the United Nations demands that its member states acknowledge and respect the right of each other to exist and to utterly strive to avoid war, or the United Nations stands for nothing more than being a colossal joke sitting on the East River in Manhattan.

One of the bigger criticisms of the League of Nations was that it was too weak to have prevented World War II. Might future history books record that the United Nations was incapable of reigning-in one of its members from igniting World War III?

If not, and if the United Nations is tolerating such behavior even now... then what good is the United Nations at all?

Ostrich Pillow power-nap accessory

This project was asking for $70,000 on Kickstarter in order to become a reality. As of this writing it has raised $76,272.

So coming soon from design firm Kawamura-Ganjavian, it is the Ostrich Pillow!

Here's the product's description...

OSTRICH PILLOW is a revolutionary new product to enable easy power naps anytime, everywhere, OSTRICH PILLOW ‘s unique design offers a micro environment in which to take a cosy and comfortable power nap at ease. OSTRICH PILLOW has been designed to allow you to create a little private space within a public one, to relax and unwind. Its soothing soft interior shelters and isolates your head and hands (mind and body) for a short break, without needing to leave your desk, chair, bench or wherever you may be.

And if you put it on backwards it makes an excellent snore-suppressor!

Thanks to Kristen for finding this :-)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ma Chalmers lives, and she's destroying school lunch

Please tell me that isn't a soybean that Michelle Obama is extolling the virtues of in that photo.

The current First Lady has somehow become the nation's Food Czar, with a capacity of recommending, implementing and apparently enforcing her own policies on the country. No other First Lady has enjoyed such power. Not even the much-beloved Nancy Reagan, who channeled the massive respect given her toward no more a gesture than encouraging America's children to steer clear of drug abuse, was granted such authority to wield.

Michelle Obama, however, is hellbent on imposing her own whacked nutritional vision upon the children of those who "just said no".

Michelle Obama has directed the United States Department of Agriculture to mandate school lunches that can best be described as "skimpy" and "lacking". Not to mention downright unpalatable. The government is determined to limit elementary kids to 650 calories and high schoolers to 850 calories.

Hasn't Michelle ever paid attention to her own children? I mean, elementary kids are supposed to run around and be energetic and that burns up calories. To say nothing of high school students engaged in sports like football and basketball. I was on our high school's swim team and I ate a lot to have fuel for practice and meets: I don't think I could have gotten fat if if I tried during a season.

The students are starving, they know it and they also know who's responsible for it. Some enterprising youngsters have even begun operating black markets for such federally-verboten items as chocolate syrup and potato chips. The kids just don't want to be commanded by the government about what they can and cannot eat when their parents are supposed to be in charge of their nutritional needs. One of the obvious consequences? Vast amounts of food getting wasted and thrown away.

And yet in spite of it, the government is blaming the children for apparently lacking enough wisdom to enjoy federal oversight of their lives! From Kyle Olson's article at TownHall.com...

Nancy Carvalho, director of food services for New Bedford Public Schools, was quoted as saying that hummus and black bean salads have been tough sells in elementary cafeterias. That means even smaller children are going through the day fighting hunger pains, which can never be considered a good thing.

One government official tried to put the blame on the students.

"One thing I think we need to keep in mind as kids say they're still hungry is that many children aren't used to eating fruits and vegetables at home, much less at school. So it's a change in what they are eating. If they are still hungry, it's that they are not eating all the food that's being offered," USDA Deputy Undersecretary Janey Thornton was quoted as saying.

I know of no other way to put it than this: Michelle Obama has become Emma "Ma" Chalmers.

If you've never read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Ma Chalmers (mother of Kip Chalmers: he who instigated the chain of events that led to the horrific Winston Tunnel disaster) comes in fairly late in the novel. With the national economy imploding under the weight of looters and moochers and as the transportation infrastructure is collapsing, Ma Chalmers comes on the scene with her national mandate for soybeans...

But thirty million dollars of subsidy money from Washington had been plowed into Project Soybean -- an enormous acreage in Louisiana, where a harvest of soybeans was ripening, as advocated and organized by Emma Chalmers, for the purpose of reconditioning the dietary habits of the nation. Emma Chalmers, better known as Kip's Ma, was an old sociologist who had hung about Washington for years, as other women of her age and type hang about barrooms. For some reason which nobody could define, the death of her son in the tunnel catastrophe had given her in Washington an aura of martyrdom, heightened by her recent conversion to Buddhism. "The soybean is a much more sturdy, nutritious and economical plant than all the extravagant foods which our wasteful, self-indulgent diet has conditioned us to expect," Kip's Ma had said over the radio; her voice always sounded as if it were falling in drops, not of water, but of mayonnaise. "Soybeans make an excellent substitute for bread, meat, cereals and coffee--and if all of us were compelled to adopt soybeans as our staple diet, it would solve the national food crisis and make it possible to feed more people. The greatest food for the greatest number--that's my slogan. At a time of desperate public need, it's our duty to sacrifice our luxurious tastes and eat our way back to prosperity by adapting ourselves to the simple, wholesome foodstuff on which the peoples of the Orient have so nobly subsisted for centuries. There's a great deal that we could learn from the peoples of the Orient."

Ma Chalmers exploits her "friendships" and political pull to bring the bulk of the country's available railroad cars to her soybean collective in Louisiana, while at the same time a record harvest of corn and wheat - more than enough to feed the country - is bulging at the seams in Minnesota... and the farmers have no way of moving it.

It does not end well.

In Minnesota, farmers were setting fire to their own farms, they were demolishing grain elevators and the homes of county officials, they were fighting along the track of the railroad, some to tear it up, some to defend it with their lives--and, with no goal to reach save violence, they were dying in the streets of gutted towns and in the silent gullies of a roadless night.

Then there was only the acrid stench of grain rotting in half-smouldering piles -- a few columns of smoke rising from the plains, standing still in the air over blackened ruins -- and, in an office in Pennsylvania, Hank Rearden sitting at his desk, looking at a list of men who had gone bankrupt: they were the manufacturers of farm equipment, who could not be paid and would not be able to pay him.

As for the government-mandated soybeans...

The harvest of soybeans did not reach the markets of the country: it had been reaped prematurely, it was moldy and unfit for consumption.

"Unfit for consumption." That's a good a description as any for darn near everything coming from our "brilliant" leaders in Washington D.C.

I don't even keep up with football...

...and even I can't believe what happened during last night's Seattle/Green Bay game.

I was wondering late last night why my Facebook and Twitter pages were going crazy. Now I know.

Can't say it any better than how one friend put it: "The NFL has become the WWE."

If you're still trying to figure out this mess, Mash here for ESPN's report.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Secret to male longevity: CASTRATION!

Hey guys: wanna live longer? Lose the family jewels.

(I tried to find an accompanying image for this, but the only ones readily available pertained to barnyard procedures, "shock" websites and full-color medical techniques...)

Discovery.com is reporting a new study about castrated men which finds that eunuchs live quite a bit longer than, errrr... "normally equipped" males. The researchers delved into records of Chinese dynasties, including the last of the court eunuchs from a century ago. From the article...

The researchers found that the eunuchs lived 14 to 19 years longer than other men did. Three even lived to 100 or more, a feat of longevity that remains relatively rare among men even today.

The effect wasn't just due to fine palace living either, since kings and other male members of the court had the shortest lifespans of all. The eunuchs also spent time both inside the palace and out.

"Since castration extends lifespan by reducing male sex hormones, we still believe that the effect would be the same today," Min told Discovery News. "In fact, castration was also performed in the early 1900s in a Kansas mental hospital. Castrated patients lived 13 years longer than intact patients, which is similar to (the results) of our study."

However...
The possible negative consequences of castration include "decreased libido, depression and loss of physical strength," according to coauthor Kyung-Jin Min of Inha University.
No doubt.

I bet asking for grant money to fund this research took balls!

(I'll stop while I'm still ahead. Oops...)

Tip of the hat to Erik Yaple for coming across this article.

Guilty as charged

What had been a terrific and fun-filled Saturday night with my girlfriend and two close friends ended up crashing hard with an e-mail I received shortly after returning home...
Chris, just wanted to let you know that I am de-friending you because basically you are not a friend. Like most other "christians" I know, you seem to be two-faced and unreliable... my "christian" friends seem to be about the most worthless and unreliable of any that I have. I have atheist and agnostic friends who I trust implicitly. At least you've shown me that "christians" truly are a lying, two-face bunch of hypocrits.
That was written by someone who I have known for over thirty years. I cannot be responsible for the choice that this person has made in severing our relationship.

But it is true: I am a hypocrite.

So is every other Christian. Every Christian who sincerely lives and strives to put God first and foremost in his or her life will admit to it, at least. And I would dare say that every Christian who ever lived has been a hypocrite in one way or another. Sometimes in plenty of ways... and I'll admit to being more guilty than most on that charge, too.

Yes, Christians are hypocrites. We are sometimes two-faced and we can be especially unreliable! We even lie sometimes. In short: we are every bit as stupid, scurillous and scoundrelous as any other human being. That we dare to be so ridden with faults while yet claiming to follow One who lived perfectly makes us out in the eyes of many as being the worst of low-life scum.

I know that I am a hypocrite. In more ways than I want to share here.

But neither am I afraid to admit that I am a hypocrite. And so long as I find myself convicted of hypocrisy... which will be until the final breath leaves my lungs in this fallen world... I will continue to confess that flaw in my character.

I am a hypocrite. But it is not what I want to be. And the only hope I have of being sanctified is to continually surrender that frailty to God.

Yes, those who seek mercy from God will be granted mercy. I have no reason to doubt that those who are secured in Him will remain secure forevermore. But rather than being reason to rest from our nature, to orient one's heart toward Christ entails the life-long process of sanctification... and as I have discovered during my own faith journey, that becomes the most difficult and painful part of all in this path we have chosen.

Why must it be so? I have thought about that much over the years. And nothing else makes as much sense as this:

That knowing how frail and fallen we are, we as Christians are not to persuade others to become Christians. We are however meant to persuade others of Christ. And there is no greater way than to show His work - that which is finished and that which He is still accomplishing - in our lives.

If evidence is demanded for conviction, then I will gladly plead guilty every time.

Last night we watched HUGO

I cannot remember the last time that a movie has so captivated me, that the next day I am still overwhelmingly enchanted by its beauty, its grandeur, and its sense of humanity.

 Hugo came out late last year, but until last night I knew precious little about it save for some of its cast and that it was directed by Martin Scorsese. And that it was based on a book. And that it was in 3-D. Maybe that was one reason why I didn't see it in theaters earlier, because truth be told I have become exhausted with the 3-D fad. Too much use of it in places where it shouldn't be used at all.

After watching Hugo for the first time however, I am kicking myself for not catching it during its theatrical run. I would pay good money just to watch that very first shot of the train station in 3-D, because even on a 2-D high-def television screen it was jaw-droppingly gorgeous!

So neither Kristen or I had ever seen this movie before. A friend of ours let her borrow it, so yesterday evening we settled in for a Sunday evening's enjoyment of some cinema. By the time the film's title is shown to us, several minutes had gone by but so entranced were we by the story and the visuals that we hadn't even noticed it was missing until it finally turned up. And it just kept getting better from there...

Good readers, I'm gonna choose to not go into a terrible amount of detail about Hugo. This really is a movie that you owe it to yourself to go into as unaware as possible. I mean, there are so darned few surprises in this world these days. Especially, it sadly seems, in the movies. And if you genuinely want to experience the movie the way they once were and could still be again, then you can not possibly go wrong with Hugo. Boasting the finest-assembled cast in recent memory - with Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, and Asa Butterfield turning in a wondrous performance as Hugo - this movie is an epic triumph in every sense.

Hugo gets this blogger's absolutely highest possible recommendation! I'll be getting the Blu-ray of this for my library for sure... and Lord willing I ever have children, this is one movie that I'm exceedingly looking forward to watching with them.

Now if that ain't praise for a movie, I don't know what is :-)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Musing on mere religion

I will not make being a Christian more important than being in Christ.

Burger King hassles customers at McDonald's in Rome, Georgia

Police in Rome, Georgia (a town that I have some firsthand knowledge of) are on the lookout for none other than the Burger King himself, who allegedly stood outside the McDonald's restaurant there and commenced to handing out free hamburgers.

From the CBS News story...

Police were called to a local McDonald’s in relation to a disturbance caused by a man dressed as the Burger King.

In a police report provided to the Rome News-Tribune, officers indicated that they were summoned to the fast-food restaurant around 1 p.m. on Monday, in response to a call about a suspicious person on the premises.

The person was allegedly resplendent in full Burger King regalia.

Police stated that, upon his arrival, the Burger King mascot reportedly began to hand out free hamburgers to customers, and stopped to take pictures with several children.

Officers were additionally told that one child ran away from the man in fear, the paper learned.

Only ONE child ran away?! I'm a grown dude and the King wigs even me out.

Might as well have some fun with these pics that I collected last year when Burger King retired their creepy mascot, but haven't used yet...




And even though it's not about King Creepy, this is still too good not to share...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Trailer for THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

And high-def Quicktime versions of the trailer are up at trailers.apple.com. We wants it my Precious, yesssss...

I made Kristen promise me something late last year: that we will see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey together at its midnight premiere, Lord willing, no matter what. Seeing this trailer has stoked my longing for this movie that much more. December 14th cannot get here fast enough! Okay yeah it can, but you know what I mean...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Obama Administration brings back Bush-era "free speech zones"

Students at Wright State University who were protesting against Joseph Biden when he visited the campus last week were quarantined a quarter-mile away from the Vice President by the Secret Service. This happened not once, but twice. The rationale given by the Secret Service: they "didn't want the protesters to be too close to the motorcade."

Before any Republicans or Romney supporters cry "foul" about this, it would be well to remember that this exact same thing was routine policy during the presidency of George W. Bush! But that fact hasn't deterred a number of people on "conservative" websites from claiming that the Secret Service is violating the First Amendment, that Obama is violating the Constitution ad nauseum... when Obama's predecessor, a Republican president, was also insulating himself from public dissent with the very same methods, and on a much more chronic basis. Very many of Bush's following at the time had no problem whatsoever with the First Amendment rights of protestors being quashed. But now that the shoe's on the other foot...

"Free speech for me, but not for thee." I guess depending on who has the power, more animals really are more equal than others.

I don't want to hear any whining about Obama or Biden's use of "free speech zones" from past or present supporters of George W. Bush. As far as I'm concerned, come January we'll have had at least twelve years of regime by successive egomaniacs with narcissistic disorder. And I don't give a flying rat's butt which party either one belongs to.

So people: what's it going to take for us to quit supporting this sham?

This is the greatest Star Wars thing I've seen in YEARS

A seriously talented dude on YouTube with the username "otaking77077" has created what is by every possible measure the most astounding work of Star Wars art that has been produced in a very, very long time. Fellow YouTuber "JPL4185" added some music and sound effects from pre-existing sources. But it's the animation that will drop your jaw and have you begging for more...

Mr. George Lucas, THIS is the Star Wars that we the fans desperately want to see!! No more of that CGI stuff. otaking7077 has taken Star Wars and animated it in the style of Robotech and it is in this blogger's opinion the purest Star Wars sequence that I have seen since... dare I say it... the original trilogy. I especially loved the details inside the TIE Fighters that were liberally taken from the LucasArts X-Wing computer game series.

You know what watching this makes me feel like? What it was to be a Star Wars fan in the early to mid Nineties. That magical, mystical time after Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire reignited our love for the saga. That near-decade before the prequel trilogy when all we had were the novels and the comics and each other across the Internet. It was the Golden Age of Star Wars fandom and this animated work by otaking77077 took me totally back to that.

THIS is what Star Wars once was, and what Star Wars could be again.

And in a sane world, this dude will get hired by Lucasfilm immediately so he can give us a traditional animated Star Wars epic. Make this a television series, and the ratings would shatter the roof.

"A Town Called Mercy": Spaghetti western, DOCTOR WHO style!

Before getting into the review, I wanna say from the getgo that I thought this week's episode further demonstrates a theory I've had for the past few years: that the Doctor is an unconscious agent of God. Last year's "The Doctor's Wife" might have supported that notion, but I mean, c'mon: how is it that the TARDIS is always landing in a time and place that the Doctor is needed? How else... unless there is a Higher Power guiding the Doctor, whether he is aware of it or not?

Anyway...

In spite of the beautiful special effects work (along with the reunion of Harry Potter alums Mark Williams and David Bradley, each of whom turned in fine work) I found last week's "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" to be somewhat lacking. Maybe that's because it came on the heels of this season's Doctor Who premiere "Asylum of the Daleks", which was a hard episode for any chapter to follow.

But I was thoroughly pleased with this week's episode, "A Town Called Mercy"...

It's 1870, somewhere in the American west. In the years following the Civil War, the town of Mercy welcomes any and all who are looking for a second chance from their past. Including those who may not be from Earth at all. But the quality of Mercy is threatened: a cyborg gunslinger stalks the outskirts of town. Anyone passing (or who gets exiled) beyond the wooden plank-defined border finds himself prey for a high-tech kill.

Of course, the Doctor (with Amy and Rory in tow) finds himself in the midst of it all.

I've always thought that the best Doctor Who stories were those which examined and tested the Doctor's morality and ethics. "A Town Called Mercy" is one of those stories. Some might even be reminded of "Genesis of the Daleks", which had Tom Baker's Doctor weighing whether he had the right to commit genocide on the Dalek race before it had a chance to become a threat.

"A Town Called Mercy" is a far smaller, more intimate setting, but just as powerful nonetheless. The strength of Matt Smith's performance as the Doctor has consistently been when he's compelled toward the last Time Lord's darker, more guilt-ridden nature, and we see that in spades here. Indeed, the scenes of the Doctor wielding an honest-to-goodness pistol are sincerely striking. Disturbing, even.

Look for Farscape's Ben Browder as Isaac, the sheriff of Mercy. And Murray Gold composes a score that truly recollects the westerns of decades gone by. All in all, a very satisfying episode.

"A Town Called Mercy" gets 3 and 1/2 Sonic Screwdrivers. And dang nearly 4.

Next week: "The Power of Three".

Unintentionally hilarious children's test answers

WARNING: This might be the most gut-bustingly funny link that I have ever directed this blog's readers to! Kristen and I enjoyed looking at these last night and we literally could not stop laughing! One of them in particular (feel free to guess which one) had me so hysterical that I was nearly keeled-over on the floor. If you are sitting at a desk with a drink, it is HIGHLY advised that you set the beverage safely down before clicking on to this page at HappyPlace featuring inadvertently hilarious test answers from children. And if you're a teacher or otherwise involved in education you'll especially get a giggle out of these :-)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

At #5 on Cracked.com's list of The 6 Most Baffling Political Ads Ever Aired...

...it's... me!

That was almost six years ago. I really am never gonna live this down, am I?

Well, it was a lot of fun running for school board. The entire experience, I mean! One that I would never trade for anything. I learned a great deal more about election laws and running for office than I had ever known before. I didn't win a seat but that's okay: it was a great run, I campaigned my own way and kept it positive, upbeat, and I wanted to present my beliefs in an enlightening and entertaining fashion. I wanted just ten people to vote for me, and wound up getting nearly forty-seven hundred.

But I didn't for once believe that this commercial was going to grab any attention beyond Rockingham County... and much less still be going strong more than half a decade later!

Well anyhoo, Cracked.com has my Star Wars-ish school board campaign ad at #5 on their list of The 6 Most Baffling Political Ads Ever Aired.

And if you haven't seen it for yourself yet, here's the link to "Christopher Knight for School Board TV Commercial #1".

Now, it would be really nice if the video that I spent most of the afternoon shooting got even a tiny amount of that kind of attention...

Warhammer 40K wildly popular among U.S. military personnel

Warhammer 40,000 Sixth Edition came out over two months ago and I still haven't gotten to play with the new rules! Just been busy on multiple fronts. Which makes me look positivalutely pathetic compared to what these dedicated players go through...

Slate Magazine has a terrific article about how the futuristic tabletop war game is incredibly popular among the men and women (okay, mostly men) of the United States armed forces, and especially with many who are serving overseas in places like Afghanistan (including players such as Army Sgt. Steffan McBee, pictured). Warhammer 40K's publisher Games Workshop estimates that perhaps 25 percent of its very large American player base are active-duty personnel: some of whom go to great lengths to have their stockpiles of miniatures shipped safely to their duty posts around the globe.

What's the appeal of a war game played on tabletops with plastic and metal models? Members of the armed forces enjoy the tactical thinking and execution critical to carrying out a 40K battle. But there is also the more hobby-ish aspect of assembling, painting and oftentimes customizing the models. One Marine comments that the strenuous regimented lifestyle of the Corps obligates an attention to detail that carries over well into the grim darkness of the far future that is Warhammer 40K.

It's a most excellent write-up by Alan Siegel, and one that'll have you appreciating anew what our armed service folks do to keep themselves entertained far from home. And hey, as a devout Ork player it makes me proud to be in good company with United States Marines who also enjoy a fine WAAAGH! :-)

A-maize-ing: World's biggest QR code

On the fertile green plains of Alberta, Canada, the Kraay Family has engineered the world's largest QR code into a cornfield.

And yes, the code works! Hold your smartphone outside the window of a hovering helicopter and when you point it at the code you'll be directed straight to the Kraay Family Farm website.

The QR code takes up about 1.1 square miles of land and has just been verified by Guinness as being officially the world's largest functioning QR code. It's just the latest in a tradition going back more than a decade for the Kraay family: every year they do a "maize maze" featuring wildly intricate designs in their cornfield.

Mash on over to Engadget for more about the Kraay family's techno-agricultural art!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Behold the world's oldest known color motion picture!

In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became President after the assassination of William McKinley. The Wright Brothers were still experimenting with gliders and motorized propellers. Tsar Nicholas II reigned in Russia and the British Empire mourned the passing of Queen Victoria. A child named Walt Disney was born in Chicago. Guglielmo Marconi used his newly-invented radio to send the first trans-Atlantic signal.

Meanwhile in England, a photographer named Edward Turner was experimenting with color negatives and the recent advent of motion pictures. Among other things Turner recorded footage of his three children, Hyde Park, and traffic in London.

More than a century later and after exhaustive research, it is now being reported that Edward Turner's film is the oldest color motion picture that has ever been found.

Wanna see it? Of course ya do!

The palette of the macaw is particularly striking. But after watching the soldiers marching and the Union Jack flittering, I can't help but wonder what might have been had Turner's process and Kinemacolor later on become more widely available. I mean, just imagine the color footage that could have been made of World War I a few years later.

Edward Turner himself passed away at the much-too-young age of 29 in 1903. But it's great to see him and his work getting appreciated today.

Federal Reserve begins QE3

This can't end well...

In-vitro adoptions rising among evangelical Christians

Krista Kapralos writes a most fascinating piece in The Washington Post this week: about how evangelical Christians are coming to the forefront of adopting frozen embryos that have been fertilized in-vitro. The article cites that there could be approximately 600,000 embryos being stored in liquid nitrogen around the United States. And that in keeping with their pro-life values, many who identify themselves as conservative Christians are choosing to legally adopt children... and then carrying them to term on their own.

From the article...

The embryo was frozen in liquid nitrogen when Gabriel and Callie Fluhrer found it. They didn’t know whether that embryo would grow to be a boy or a girl, or whether it would even grow at all.

But to the Fluhrers, it was worth the risk. That tiny collection of cells was a baby, they believed. And if they didn’t pluck it from the warehouse where it had been stored since its biological parents decided they didn’t need or want it any longer, it was likely to die.

“If we’re going to stand against abortion, it’s not simply picketing a clinic,” said Gabriel Fluhrer, a public relations and publishing coordinator for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. “It’s doing the hard work of adopting the orphans around the world, whether embryos or orphans living in China.”

Anna Fluhrer was born in December 2010: from a frozen embryo to a healthy baby girl.

For some reason or another, I found myself studying human embryology last week, particularly the first few days and weeks of the zygote. Something that keeps fascinating me: how the heck does a little ball of cells like that know how and where to achieve bilateral symmetry? That seems like such a tiny detail but for the life of me, I can't figure it out.

Pondering about that reinforced something that I was told years ago by someone in the medical profession: that a baby truly is a miracle. There are a thousand things that could go wrong in a pregnancy, but more often than not a healthy human being is born. We don't appreciate that nearly enough.

So back to this story: as a person who strongly believes that human life begins at conception, I have to applaud that there are many people who are willing to demonstrate their ethics in this fashion. I'm also of the mind that medical knowledge is a wonderful gift from God and that it absolutely can be a blessing for those who need it, including for those who on their own cannot conceive a child.

But I'm also now seeing how my friends among the Catholic persuasion are onto something as well with their church's position that in-vitro fertilization is wrong. Because of all those hundreds of thousands of lab-fertilized embryos, many of them won't be implanted at all. Quite a number of them are fertilized but otherwise not viable for coming to full term. And therein is the ethical problem: that the in-vitro procedure, in an effort to bring about new human life, must also acknowledge that human lives will be lost as an unavoidable consequence.

I'm not coming down one way or another about this. Just wondering aloud if, perhaps, in some ways the miracle of medical technology exceeds our moral grasp.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Two sequels to INDEPENDENCE DAY being produced

"Welcome to Urf"... again.

(Hah-hah-hah, did you see what I did there? Did you?!)

Word breaking this afternoon is that TWO sequels to the 1996 sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day are in the works. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich are trying to get everyone from the original back on board. Right now the follow-ups are titled ID Forever Part One and ID Forever Part Two. How clever...

I have extremely mixed feelings about this. Yeah, even considering how much of a fan I was - and always will be - of the original. 1996's Independence Day was a unique product of its era. It should remain as much. At the same time it was such a great concept now tied down to being so dated a film that it's one of the few movies that I could see a reboot/remake being in order. Just as long as those eyeball-goggling practical effects make a return.

Oh yeah, it's also been announced that the sequels will be filmed in 2-D and then converted to 3-D in post-production...

"AWWW HELL NAW!!!"

A tip o' the hat to this blog's good friend Drew McOmber for passing along news of this... thing.

Why the hell do we even have embassies in Egypt and Libya?

Civility is a chosen virtue. It cannot be imposed or expected from those who refuse to accept it and its responsibilities.

Time to get out of the Mid-East until "countries" like Egypt and Libya learn to behave. Pull EVERYTHING out, including all those billions of dollars of aid they get from us one way or another.

If they want to return to barbarism that bad enough, who are we to stop them?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fire the striking Chicago teachers... and ban them from the classroom for life

More than 400,000 schoolchildren in Chicago are without educators today after the teachers union there went on strike. I say "educators" lightly because by some accounts nearly 80% of eighth graders in Chicago public schools don't have adequate reading skills.

So these "teachers", who are already paid on average between $71,000 and $76,000 before benefits, and are only working nine months out of the year anyway, are going on strike because a 16% pay raise apparently isn't enough. These people's starting salary is $50,000.

Chicago is paying an insane amount of money out of the public treasury and getting some piss-poor results from it. So who the hell are these "educators" to demand more pay?

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel should take some real leadership initiative and order every teacher back into the classroom within 48 hours, under penalty of being banned for life from teaching in the city's public schools. Just as President Reagan fired thousands of air traffic controllers who went on strike in 1981. I don't doubt that there are many sincere and dedicated teachers out there looking for work and who would be exceedingly satisfied to take those positions... and for a far more sane rate of pay, at that.

Would Mayor Emanuel have the courage to defy the teachers union like that?

Never mind answering that question. I was being facetious.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Hound of the Baskervilles?

It is seriously foggy this morning. Like, the kind of fog that Arthur Conan Doyle used to vividly describe as covering the moors of Britain in his Sherlock Holmes stories.

So after letting Tammy out to do her "doggie business", the notion struck that there might be a photo opportunity.

And here she is, bounding out of the mists like a ferocious creature in murderous pursuit of prey...

Okay, granted: a four-month old miniature dachshund puppy is not that ferocious. But please don't tell her that :-)

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

"Asylum of the Daleks": Season premiere of DOCTOR WHO is certifiably insanely good!

Is it just me, or has Doctor Who suddenly become a bigger presence in American pop culture than ever before? Every Barnes & Noble I've been into lately has an entire table devoted to Doctor Who books and other merchandise. Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly earlier this summer. A friend in Roanoke spotted a comic book store this past week: the marquee outside said "TALKING ABOUT REGENERATION" to advertise Doctor Who stuff inside.

I've been watching Doctor Who since the winter of 1981. But in more than thirty years I've never seen the Doctor and his mythology as wildly popular on this side of the pond as it is now.

It's been almost a year since last season's finale "The Wedding of River Song" and more than eight months since "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe". However you figure it, this is the longest respite we've had since the BBC brought Doctor Who back in 2005. But showrunner Steven Moffat sure knows how to make the wait worth it...

I wasn't able to see "Asylum of the Daleks" until the morning after it premiered this past Saturday night. And I didn't get to write about it sooner but I have watched it twice more... and I'm still not getting enough of it! This is by far the strongest premiere of Doctor Who that we've seen yet and if this is any indication of what Moffat and his crew have in store for us the rest of this season, we are in for a hella dark and scary ride. Maybe even darker than last year's series...

"Asylum of the Daleks" opens with a sweeping and frightening vista of a place we haven't seen in a very long time: Skaro, the original home world of the Daleks. In quick fashion we witness the Doctor (Matt Smith) - still believed dead by the universe at large - along with Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill) abducted by human agents of the Daleks and brought to what might be the most horrifying place we've seen yet in Doctor Who history: the Parliament of the Daleks. Yes folks, seems that even the Daleks have politicians. And right when you'd think that they are ready to at last exterminate their oldest and greatest nemesis, they screech out a frantic plea: "Save us."

It's a prelude to what is doubtless an even more horrifying location: the Asylum. A cordoned-off planet containing millions of insane Daleks: the absolute worst and most uncontrollable of the most evil alien race in all the universe. And now it looks like the inmates are going to break loose.

It's a terrific story, and in finest Moffat-scribed fashion one replete with twists and surprises. It is also a hoot to see every Dalek variant since the show's beginning represented in the Asylum, including the Special Weapons Dalek first (and last) seen in the 1988 story Remembrance of the Daleks. My one beef with the episode is that I was extremely looking forward to seeing all of those insane Daleks going full-tilt whacko, when for the most part we see them inert and passive. Well, except for the ones in the intensive care ward... but you'll just have to watch to see what makes them such a special case. All in all though, this was a rollickin' wild and fun opening for the season. Showing the Daleks madder than usual was quite an innovative way to re-emphasize their evil nature. And by the end of the episode we get fairly good confirmation of what will be this season's motif: the question that was mentioned in "The Wedding of River Song". The first question. The oldest question in the universe. Hidden in plain sight. The question that the Doctor has been running from all his life...

"Doctor who?"

Like I said, if "Asylum of the Daleks" is any indication, this season is going to be in-tense.

I'm going to give "Asylum of the Daleks" Four and 1/2 Sonic Screwdrivers out of a possible five. And next time on Doctor Who: "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"!