Thursday, February 28, 2013

Something that has not been witnessed since 1415

Pope Benedict XVI, retirement, abdicates, abdication, Roman Catholic Church, history, helicopter

Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to depart the seat of Bishop of Rome voluntarily instead of dying in office, flies off by helicopter: leaving the Vatican and the post he has held since 2005.

Now begins sede vacante. The "time of the empty chair". One which in the days and weeks ahead, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church will seek to fill in prayerful guidance. Thus will this most persistent of institutions continue with a lineage of leadership stretching back to the ancient of days.

But in the meantime, though I am not Catholic, this blogger wishes good luck and godspeed to Benedict XVI. May his days be long and fruitful!

Man arrested for releasing red helium balloons for girlfriend

Found a rather strange story about Anthony Brasfield, who was arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol on a felony charge.

His crime: releasing a dozen or so red and silver heart-shaped balloons into the sky for his girlfriend.

From the article at Sun-Sentinel.com...
Also watching the romantic gesture: an FHP trooper, who instead noted probable cause for an environmental crime.
Brasfield was charged with polluting to harm humans, animals, plants, etc. under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act.
Endangered marine turtle species and birds, such as wood storks and brown pelicans, seek refuge in John U. Lloyd State Park, about 1.5 miles east of the motel.
Between 2008 and 2012, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said there were 21 arrests statewide under the rarely used environmental crime statute. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Five years in prison for setting loose some cheap helium balloons? He should feel lucky. Back in the old days, releasing red balloons into the air could possibly trigger World War III.


I'll 'fess up: in addition to this being a screwy story about environmentalism gone amok, I just wanted a reason to post Nena's "99 Red Balloons" video.

(And yes, I know the original German title is "99 Luftballons"...)

Eustace Conway: Independent mountaineer versus the government

Eustace Conway, mountain man, mountain men, Bob Buckley, Buckley Report, Fox 8, WGHP, government
If there had been Watauga County bureaucrats running the country following the Revolutionary War, the United States would have never expanded past the Appalachians.  It's a wonder we survived before the advent of indoor plumbing...

Eustace Conway, a resident of Boone, North Carolina who's been featured recently on the History Channel's series Mountain Men, is now facing the prospect of his land being condemned and control of it taken from him by the local government.  Watauga County officials are insisting that the nature school on Conway's land isn't up to code and is in violation of numerous health and safety regulations.  Conway believes that he's being targeted because he advocates a more traditional "back to nature" approach to living, one which is at odds with "modern" culture and its trappings of collective expectation.  He cites that his property has been the way it is for the past 26 years and has routinely passed inspections, but only now is it coming under the hammer of the goons in Boone.

Fox 8 WGHP's Bob Buckley has turned in a terrific piece of cinematography and narration in his Buckley Report about Eustace Conway.  Y'all would be well enlightened and even entertained by what this colorful character has to tell us about his life and his current plight.  Especially this...
“I live in a much different way and I’m glad for it. Basically, I’m living like the American heritage pattern of all of our ancestors and the modern world isn’t. They don’t know how to accept me. This is supposed to be the land of the free, government is supposed to help people and protect their individual liberties and freedom. That’s not what’s happening here. My gosh. This is the country that I pledge allegiance to?”
So this dude has put up a couple of old-fashioned outhouses on his own property and the government is trying to take his land because of it? Have I got that right?

Good Lord. This country really has come off the rails.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Behold the very strange and bizarre "Dimensions in Time" DOCTOR WHO special from 1993!

During the first afternoon of Mysticon in Roanoke this past weekend, following the opening panel with Peter Davison there was a special treat(?) presented by the good folks at Gallifrey Pirate Radio.  This was the last time that all of the then-surviving Doctors were brought together for a story.  Although as you can see the canonicity of this is debatable (okay, pretty much null and void) and you'll no doubt notice how William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton are resurrected with all the glorious CGI capability that the early Nineties had to offer, it's still a fun lil' vignette for Doctor Who fans...
Fourth Doctor: "Mayday! Mayday! This is an urgent message for all the Doctors. It's vitally important that you listen carefully to me for once. Our whole existence is being threatened by a renegade Time Lord known only as the Rani! She hates me. She even hates children! Two of my earlier selves have already been snared in her vicious trap. The grumpy one and the flautist, do you remember? She wants to put us out of action, lock us away in a dreary backwater of London's East End, trapped in a time-loop in perpetuity. Her evil is all around us! I can hear the heart beat of a killer. She's out there somewhere. We must be on our guard and we must stop her before she destroys all of my other selves! Oh... Good luck, my dears!"
So from 1993 here are Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and a whole gaggle of Doctor's companions, classic enemies and whatnot fighting The Rani (Kate O'Mara) in a crossover with the BBC's EastEnders.  In the very first Doctor Who special for Children in Need, here is... "Dimensions in Time"!


If you thought that was something, you should try to sit through The Airzone Solution as Kristen and I did on Sunday afternoon.  I've got just one thing to say: "Colin Baker in the shower".

This is Obama's Mariel Boatlift

In 1981, Cuban president Fidel Castro released over a hundred thousand Cubans - many from jails and mental health facilities - who made their way to Florida in what became known as the Mariel Boatlift.

Mariel Boatlift, Cuba, Florida, United States, 1981, illegal immigration
Photo credit: State Archives of Florida
In 2013, United States president Barack Obama this week has directed Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano to release "thousands" of undocumented immigrants - many of which are being held for criminal offenses - from facilities in Florida.  And Texas.  And Arizona.  And Louisiana. And Georgia.  And California.  And probably other states.

This is allegedly because there is no money in the government coffers to pay the ICE agents and the automatic budget cuts (the "sequester") goes into effect this Friday.

The response from the White House today is that we could expect an increase in terrorism and massive illegal immigration.  Yeah that's right: reduce the number of illegal aliens in the country by increasing the number of illegal aliens in the country...

illegal aliens, illegal immigration, flipping the bird, the finger, grabbing crotch

 ...and we'd better do it "or else".

Call it what you will, but I can't see how it's anything but blackmail on a national scale.

In a different time and a better reality, what Obama and Napolitano are doing would be an impeachable offense.  But that was when there was the rule of law in America and not the rule of men.

Nothing good will come of this.  It is an obscene dereliction of duty and forsaking of oaths of office.  And there will be hell to pay.  For the entire country.

Middle-school students threatened by faculty over "offensive" t-shirts

Michael McIntyre, t-shirt, Marines, school
Genoa-Kingston Middle School student Michael McIntyre is a young supporter of the men and women serving in the armed forces.  So much so that he has taken to show his enthusiasm for the United States Marine Corps by wearing this t-shirt (left).

But in spite of wearing it many times to school, Michael has now been threatened with suspension by his school's faculty and administration unless he removed or "covered up" his Marines shirt.  It was deemed inappropriate and against school policy to have an image of a gun.

It's the sort of story that we're hearing too much of lately: public school students either threatened with suspension or suspended outright because they draw pictures of guns, or point their fingers like guns on the playground, or even go "bang bang!" at each other.

Now it's a t-shirt that says "Marines" and features two military rifles crossed.  As if Marines have any other tool of their trade...
Aliens, Hicks, Frost, Marines, harsh language
"What the hell are we supposed to use man? Harsh language?"
Pull the trigger here for the full story at usofarn.com.

Meanwhile in Florida, student Summer Schreiner was told she'd be suspended from school if she refused to doff her t-shirt bearing a pro-abstinence message.  From the story at the Christian Post:
A school in Florida asked an 8th-grader to change her t-shirt carrying a message of sexual abstinence that she received at a Christian conference, saying it is "inappropriate." The t-shirt the 15-year-old girl was made to change into said, "Tomorrow I will dress for success."
Summer Schreiner of Cocoa, Fla., wore a t-shirt with the words "Don't drink and park... accidents cause kids" to class at Clearlake Middle. She says she was told by the assistant principal to change it because it was "inappropriate."
"I got through lunch, and on my way back, the assistant principal tells me I need to go to the office and change my shirt," she told Fox 35.
Summer received the shirt the night before at a conference organized by The Silver Ring Thing conference, which seeks to "create a culture shift in America where abstinence becomes the norm again rather than the exception." After teenagers make the pledge of abstinence, they receive a silver ring.
"I was pretty upset. I thought it was silly," Summer said. "It's not like I was wearing a curse word or something that was promoting violence. It's the shirt I got at a conference that is something that is very important to me."
Is it just me, or do too many school systems seem to have a requisite that teachers must lose their common sense before being employed?  If she were a few years older Summer could probably go to the nurse at her high school and get free condoms, no questions asked.

No, I won't put my children through a public school system.  Not if the public schools keep up with this ludicrous behavior.  My children aren't here yet but I already love them too damned much than to subject them to this kind of insanity.

DIABLO III on consoles WON'T require online?! What the...

Diablo III, Blizzard, Activision, Diablo, computer game, Windows, Mac, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, always online, offline play
This past summer I wrote about being a newcomer to the Diablo computer games and how much now I wanted to play Diablo III.  The thing is, I'm not happy one bit about the latest entry in the series requiring a constant Internet connection to play, especially being the kind who favors the single-player experience over the multiplayer (true MMOs being the exception).  Ever since Diablo III rolled out last May the game has been plagued with hordes of problems involving the "always online" obligation.  It has made no sense whatsoever and it has been the one major obstacle toward my choosing to invest any money toward this game, and that's no doubt what's kept many others from buying it as well.

Now comes word that software studio Blizzard Games and its parent company Activision might - gasp! - have heard the complaints and taken them to heart!  Sorta.  The upcoming port of Diablo III to the PlayStation 3 and new PlayStation 4 consoles will NOT require a persistent Internet connection.  In the greater scheme of things it means that the PlayStation 4 itself won't need to be always-online to function (Microsoft, take note!) but for PC and Mac players of Diablo III it comes across as an insult.  The only real purpose of the constant Internet for this game was its Real Money Auction House, which players can buy and sell in-game loot and gold (and which Blizzard takes 15% of the profit).  Many have suggested that the Auction House was the true goal of Diablo III and that everything else about the game was just decoration... which might make Diablo III the most expensively beautiful Internet sweepstakes client in the history of anything.

Blizzard and Activision are taking a step in the right direction, but they need to go much further.  As I wrote back in July about how to fix Diablo III, the always-online requirement for Windows and Mac players needs to be halted (which would let the Linux users enjoy it without worry) and players should be given the choice to opt-out of the Real Money Auction House.  If it's fraud that Blizzard is concerned about, I can think of a dozen ways how that can be addressed without the cost of convenience (and good sense) to the players.

I don't own a PlayStation 3 and I doubt that I'll get a PlayStation 4 (no offense meant to Sony's faithful gamers).  But I will eagerly give Diablo III the benefit of the doubt and my money... and many others would certainly do likewise... if Blizzard could give PC gamers the same respect as our console-playing friends.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Getting SHERLOCK-ed

Sherlock, BBC, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Sherlock HolmesI will admit: last month when my girlfriend started swooning and gushing over the BBC series Sherlock, telling me that "you have to watch this!" my internalized reaction was something akin to "oh geeeeez... NOT another Sherlock Holmes adaptation."

No disrespect intended but seriously: how many times can one go to 221 B. Baker Street and not know what to expect?  I've probably watched all the Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone, along with 1985's Young Sherlock Holmes (does John Lasseter's computer-animated stained-glass knight still astound, or what?) and everything in between.  Even The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother.  Be it straight adaptation or screwball comedy, when it comes to Holmes I've seen it all.

But Kristen wanted to share that weekend together watching the six episodes comprising Seasons 1 and 2 of Sherlock.  Quietly resigned to anticipating nothing to write home about, I settled onto the futon with her and the cats as the Roku began streaming away.

Leave it to series creators Steven Moffat (Doctor Who's current showrunner) and Mark Gatiss to shatter my expectations more than I have experienced from any television series in at least ten years.  Sherlock is arresting television of the highest caliber.  And with production beginning next month for Season 3, I find myself going positively bonkers with giddy waiting for the new episodes.

Sherlock takes everything about Holmes and his world and throws it wholesale into the gamut of the Twenty-First Century. I know what some of y'all are thinking: "oh crap you mean it's 'Sherlock Holmes is a fish out of water' again?!"  Be of good cheer: Holmes is not cryogenically frozen and thawed-out in modern-day London (yeah I even saw The Return of Sherlock Holmes).  THIS Holmes is a character so firmly planted in the Twenty-oughts yet wildly faithful to the original stories that one envisions Arthur Conan Doyle composing his Sherlock Holmes tales on a laptop at Starbucks.

I'm going to first remark that Martin Freeman as John Watson is one of the many things that make Sherlock such brilliant drama.  Freeman's Watson is a considerably traumatized British army doctor who served in Afghanistan (an update to Doyle having Watson in the second Anglo-Afghan war).  Coming to have Holmes as a flatmate at 221 B. Baker Street (owned by Mrs. Hudson, delightfully played by Una Stubbs) and the growing friendship between him and this strange "consulting detective" gives us an average person's perspective on Holmes, but it is also compelling to watch Watson's recovery unfold for its own sake.  Part and parcel to that is the blog that Watson maintains about Sherlock's various cases: another slick upgrade for the new millennium.  I first got to behold Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and quickly became a fan.  It's even more a joy to watch him as Watson.

Sherlock is not your standard television fare.  With two seasons there have been only six episodes.  But you'll be hard-pressed to notice.  Each runs an hour and a half and they are packed tight with a florid spectrum of drama and humor.  Indeed, I felt like I was watching a series of high-budget motion pictures rather than a series produced by the BBC.  The episode titles alone hint at the direction of the show: "A Study in Pink" and "The Hounds of Baskerville" will elicit a smile from even the casual Holmes fan.  Many will spot the many sly nods and winks at the original Holmes stories (incidentally, the episodes themselves are credited as being based on Doyles' works).

But what has captivated me most about Sherlock is Holmes himself, portrayed with power and precision by Benedict Cumberbatch.  And I'll tell you why: Sherlock's Sherlock is already the character who, more than any other that I can remember from television, I find myself identifying and empathizing with the most.  For all of those who ever wanted to have Sherlock Holmes' deductive abilities: forget about it.  Because here Sherlock is revealed as a man whose observational prowess is as much curse as blessing... perhaps more so.  Cumberbatch's Sherlock is a surly and antisocial man divorced from many facets of the human condition by what can only be described as enhanced mental acuity at best and highly functional mental illness at worst.  There are certainly indications that Sherlock has Asperger's syndrome and that his deductive skills are a thing that can not be turned off.  Distracted from, yes (sometimes by firing pistols at the walls) but a complete escape from?  Never.  Whatever falls into Sherlock's line of sight, his mind falls upon with the focus of a laser and analyzes with brutal calculation.

It is something that Sherlock cannot control.  Exactly like a mental illness such as bipolar disorder.  And if ever there was a character on television who most reflects what individuals such as myself and many others have to endure, Sherlock's Holmes is that character.  A hero (or anti-hero) for the rest of us.  And a much-needed reminder that whatever it might be that prevents us from most fully engaging in the society around us, we can turn it into a tool for good.  Maybe even a tool that will be much appreciated by others in due time...

The writing, the acting, the cinematography, the gorgeous London scenery... all of those and more make Sherlock hopelessly entrancing.  The show's score by David Arnold and Michael Price is as hypnotic as it is elegant, particularly the theme music (which I often find playing away in my head... and I don't mind that one bit).  It's also available on iTunes.

Sherlock is television the way it could be and ideally should always be.  There has been darned few series of this quality from America studios.  With Sherlock, our Brittish brethren have set a high bar and one that us Yanks would do well to be inspired and encouraged from.  Whether you watch it on streaming video from the Internet or BBC America or on Blu-ray (which I shall endeavor to purchase soon), Sherlock gets this blogger's highest possible recommendation.  It is television of the finest kind and it is not something you want to miss!

I just downloaded a functional .22 pistol

DEFCAD, 3D printing, 3D prototyping, 22 pistolIn two months' time DEFCAD has garnered more than three thousand visits an hour and nearly a quarter-million downloads.  What makes up the bulk of that traffic?

Guns, guns, guns.  Parts for guns.  Accessories like suppressors.  Ammo casings for NATO and Warsaw Pact small arms and rifles.  Even combat munitions like hand grenades.

And they all work too.

Provided you've a 3D printer, the right materials and a few other items that can be bought at most any hardware store, you or anybody else can spend a nice relaxing evening or weekend putting together a small arsenal in your home office.

Sorta brings whole new meaning to desktop publishing a magazine, huh?

I just downloaded a .22 single-shot pistol from DEFCAD, designed by a user named "caboose".  The entire ZIPped-up file was over half a megabyte.  I don't possess a 3D printing setup but in the future, that will probably be a standard appliance in many homes.  I may take a stab at it then, if not sooner.

There's an intriguing article at Venture Beat about DEFCAD, including an interview with site founder Cody Wilson.  Among other things he notes that DEFCAD is getting lots of visits from foreign countries.  Might we speculate that at least some of that is from places with stringent gun control?

Why smuggle in weapons for your revolution when you can just get it off the Internet?

'Course, this will probably mean that 3D printers are soon to become a restricted technology.  But hey, "when 3D prototyping is outlawed..."

When worlds collide? Comet C/2013 A1 may hit Mars next year

2013 is promising (or threatening, depending on the stock one puts in omens) to be an incredible year for comets in our sky.  Depending on where you live there are two and maybe even three of those cosmic iceballs that may give us quite a show.  In a few short weeks Comet PANSTARRS will become visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere: perhaps more brilliant than any in more than a decade.  Comet Lemmon, found late last year, could turn into a moderately bright beauty for our friends south of the Equator (and certain gases in its tail are giving it a green color).

The big, big show is still to come.  This fall brings Comet ISON... and it could be one massive honker of a spectacle, folks!  If you remember Comet Hyakutake in the spring of 1996 and how enormous it was (I'll never forget how it looked during spring break at Elon College), ISON could possibly eclipse that.

And now there is Comet C/2013 A1 waiting in the wings: a visitor from the far-flung reaches of the Solar System that might... emphasis on might... have repercussions for places close to home.  Namely, Mars.

Comet C/2013 A1 (credit: Carl Hergenrother)
C/2013 A1 was first spotted by Robert McNaught in Australia early last month and since then astronomers have been scrambling to figure out where it came from and where it's going (the comet, not Australia).  More observational data is needed to crunch the numbers but as things stand now, C/2013 A1 (can't we just call it "Comet McNaught" like we would have in the old days?) harbors a possibility of colliding with Mars on or around October 19th, 2014.

Hit here for more about C/2013 A1 at Discovery.com's article.

Ever see those photos of Shoemaker-Levy 9 when it smashed into Jupiter in 1994?  It wasn't one complete body: it was a big chain of teenier fragments of the parent comet after it was broken apart by Jupiter's gravity.  The smaller chunks flew into Jupiter like pearls loose from a necklace and you could see the impacts from Earth with even a medium-sized telescope.

Now envision one solid mass of rock, dirt and ice the size of three or four big-a$$ mountains smooshed together, and that mass rushing toward Mars at about 126,000 miles per hour.  Toward the planet next door.

Depending on where you live and the sky conditions, if C/2013 A1 hits Mars, it might well be visible with the unaided eye.

Assuming that it hits Mars at all.  Or that Marvin doesn't get to it with his Illudium Q36 Exploding Space Modulator first...

Marvin the Martian, Bugs Bunny, Exploding Space Modulator
"Where's the 'KA-BOOM!'? There's supposed to be a C/2013 A1-shattering KA-BOOM!"

The strange Cold War bar codes across America

Mysterious bar code on the ground, United States, Cold War, surveillance aircraft, spy satellites
The "bar code" at Walker Field, Maryland
Adjacent to the runway of a Navy airfield in Maryland is a paved rectangle.  And within that area are a series of quadrilaterals painted bright white, in pairs and ascending in size.

By itself its existence would be a mystery, or at least a curiosity.  Except that it is one of dozens to be known throughout the United States, with most of those found near military bases and other restricted facilities.  Some remote locations have entire arrays of the "bar codes" stretching for miles toward the horizon.

So what are these test pattern-ish arrangements?  Based on available evidence, they seem to have been put in place by the government during the first few decades of the Cold War.  With tensions high between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the advent of high-altitude aircraft reconnaissance - and then "spy" satellites - became an important asset of military intelligence.  And as with any other system of optics those high-flying cameras needed a means of determining that they were properly focused.

The rectanglular codes, therefore, are apparently intended to calibrate the zoom and resolution of aircraft and satellite photography.  F'rinstance: letting an SR-71 use one to adjust its precision camera before sending it to fly across the Iron Curtain.

From the original article at Mail Online...
Consisting of a concrete pad measuring 78ft by 53ft and coated in a heavy black and white paint, they are decorated with patterns consisting of parallel and perpendicular bars in 15 or so different sizes.
This pattern, sometimes referred to as a 5:1 aspect Tri-bar Array, is similar to those used to determine the zoom resolution of microscopes, telescopes, cameras, and scanners.
The targets function like an optician's eye chart, with the smallest group of bars discernable marking the limit of the resolution for the camera being tested, according to the CLUI.
'For aerial photography, it provides a platform to test, calibrate, and focus aerial cameras traveling at different speeds and altitudes,' the CLUI adds.
'The targets can also be used in the same way by satellites.'
Ironic, aye?  That military secrets from fifty years ago are now wide-out in the open because of that same technology and Google Earth.  Anyone with a desktop or tablet can now view what likely had been classified top secret by the CIA.

I wonder what else might be on the ground across the fruited plain, waiting to be discovered...

THE WALKING DEAD: "I Ain't a Judas" brings an appreciable respite

The Walking Dead, Carl Grimes, Chandler Riggs, I Ain't a Judas, AMC
Did anyone else come away from this week's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead thinking that regardless of how little time we saw of him, that the highlight of "I Ain't a Judas" was Carl (Chandler Riggs) talking to his father Rick?  Because that's what keeps sticking out most in this blogger's mind ever since watching it last night.

I have said it before and I will say it again: if Chandler Riggs doesn't get an Emmy nomination this year, then I will be more than extremely disappointed.  Carl is a character who has solidly destroyed the mold of child characters on television and Riggs deserves some mighty high accolades for the strength, courage, restraint under stress and sheer wisdom that he has portrayed for such an exceptionally young actor.  Carl is becoming a true leader right before our eyes.  The scene before the opening title where he comes to Rick, telling his dad that he should let go because he's taking on much too heavy a burden: that was pure dramatic gold.

And then there was Hershel's no-holds-barred rant at Rick: he wanted this Rick-tatorship... and it's time that he began owning up to it.  In Scott Wilson's hands Hershel has become the group's sage voice of sanity.  Maybe Wilson will get an Emmy nod too (as well as Norman Reedus).

"I Ain't a Judas" was obviously heavy on Andrea (Laurie Holden) and her moral quandary: whether to return to the friends she has been with since before leaving Atlanta, or to remain at Woodbury with the Governor.  In that regard this was considerably a less action-packed chapter of The Walking Dead than we have gotten used to... but after the past several episodes I think that a quiet respite was needed.  Indeed, perhaps even desired more than we initially realized.  The focus of the episode was squarely on Andrea.  More so even than Merle (Michael Rooker) now becoming officially part of Rick's gang at the prison.

(Something else I noticed: duct tape was used at least twice in this episode.  Must remember to stock up on plenty of it when the zombie apocalypse hits.)

"I Ain't a Judas" lacked the gory violence that usually comes from this show every week.  But it was certainly no "filler" episode either and I think that sooner than later we'll be thankful that we got this.  It's very apparent that Rick and his people will soon be facing war with Woodbury and it's nice to have some time to breathe easy before the conflict erupts in earnest.  An altogether well-orchestrated episode, and it looks like next week's will be even better.

"Hitler did nothing wrong"

Worst. Wi-fi network name. Ever.

wi-fi, Adolf Hitler, wireless networking, Mysticon

That is a screen capture I made of my iPad this past Friday when I was at Mysticon at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood in Roanoke.  The hotel itself deserves bigtime props for opening up its own wi-fi network to all of the convention goers.  That's what I was doing when I was inside my iPad's network settings and saw... that.  We were waiting for the Peter Davison panel to begin in one of the hotel's ballrooms.  I haven't even made the image a JPG as usual: that's the original PNG file.  All I did was change the file name.

I know wi-fi SSID names need to be unique but c'mon: that is beyond the tasteless.

Tammy Tuesday: Nose for trouble

Despite a regular and healthy regimen of doggie treats, pieces of ham (leftover from my breakfast every morning) and the occasional flake of popcorn that falls to the floor, Tammy is bound and determined to sniff out more yummy bites!

Tammy, miniature dachshund, dog, trashcan

Monday, February 25, 2013

We met Peter Davison!

Mysticon 2013 transpired across space and time at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood in Roanoke, Virginia this past weekend!  Among the special guests were bestselling science-fiction author Orson Scott Card (I finally have a signed copy of Speaker for the Dead, the book that dang nearly destroyed my Spanish grade in my sophomore year of high school and I mean that in a good way) and none other than Peter Davison.  Yup, the Fifth Doctor himself!

And speaking of Doctor Who, I have never seen the Doctor and his mythology so represented by fans at a sci-fi convention.  I mean, there were people in TARDIS costumes, fercryinoutloud!  Those were mostly ladies in blue dresses bedecked with windows and the "Police Box" plaque on the door.  There were literally dozens of guys in Eleventh Doctor costumes (including not a few red fezzes), along with a healthy dose of Fourth Doctors, a number of Tenth Doctors and at least two Ninth Doctors.  For the first time in my life I saw a First Doctor costume, a Third Doctor getup and a Seventh Doctor (he even had the umbrella).  I have to say: it was quite refreshing to be at a convention where the quantity of Doctors vastly outnumbered that of Starfleet officers, Jedi Knights and vampires.

But anyhoo, yesterday morning Kristen and I got to attend "Breakfast with the Doctor" in the hotel restaurant.  This was something with very limited attendance but Kristen pounced upon tickets for it as soon as they went on sale.

Here she is with Davison...
peter davison, doctor who, mysticon, kristen bradford, fifth doctor

And here I am with Davison on Saturday afternoon.  He even signed my DVD of "Earthshock" (which he told us in a panel discussion on Friday was his most memorable Doctor Who story)...
Peter Davison, Doctor Who, Fifth Doctor, Mysticon, Chris Knight

And did I tell you that there were Doctor Who costumes at Mysticon or what?  Here's me with one of Kristen's friends.  She made a crazy awesome Weeping Angel costume that would be hard to keep your eyes off even if the Angels weren't quantum-locked homicidal maniacs!

Mysticon, Doctor Who, Weeping Angels, Chris Knight
The very last photo ever taken of The Knight Shift blogger
Chris Knight, who forgot that one must NEVER take his eyes
off of a Weeping Angel.
And a good time was had by all :-)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Was the real ending to John Carpenter's THE THING in plain sight all along?

John Carpenter's 1982 science-fiction horror film The Thing is one of those movies that no matter how many times you watch it over the decades, you can always spot something new that you've haven't caught before. Case in point: I had never noticed that Doc Copper has a nose-ring until almost two years ago. It's the smallish details like that which keep the debate and discussion going about The Thing... and I'll admit that nearly thirty years after I first saw this movie, I still haven't figured out who was where and for how long at Outpost 31.

But I had thought that there was nothing major left to be discovered. Nothing at all. How could there be, in a movie that I've bought no less than three times for my personal library (the latest being the gorgeous Blu-ray that I watch every time I get snowed-in during winter). Heck, it's a movie so near and dear to my heart that I had already put the Blu-ray version on my iPad long before good friend Lee Shelton alerted me to this story about The Thing and its classic ending. Specifically, how John Carpenter possibly answered the last big question about the story and it has been right in front of us the whole time.

If you haven't seen The Thing (shame on you!) and you don't care about spoilers, it's like this: in the final scene, the only survivors of the camp are helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and mechanic Childs (Keith David). With the entire outpost destroyed and the hard biting cold of the Antarctic night bearing down on them, it is only a matter of time before they freeze to death. The film ends with both men starting at each other, wondering if the other is fully human.

Here's the comment that started it all, from one KicksButtson on Reddit.com...

A friend of mine, back when he was an assistant, spent a great deal of time with John Carpenter doing interviews and the like for video games and comic projects. I was discussing my conversation with Larry Turman with this friend and he said

"You know, I asked John Carpenter about The Thing."

"Oh yeah? What did he say?" I asked.

"He said he never understood where all the confusion came from. The last frame of The Thing is Kurt Russell and Keith David staring each other down, harshly backlit. It's completely, glaringly obvious that Kurt Russell is breathing and Keith David is not."

I looked at my friend for a minute, soaking it in. Straight from the horse's mouth.

"That's a pretty subtle cue to expect the audience to absorb having seen severed heads grow spider legs and run around," I said.

"That's the genius of The Thing," my friend said, and we moved on to other subjects.

As soon as I read that I whipped out the iPad and went to The Thing's last scene.

And son of a gun... it's true.

MacReady's breath is so visible, so unavoidably obvious, it can't be anything but an in-your-face indicator of something significant.

But there is no breath at all coming out of Childs. He comes out of the darkness, he talks to MacReady, and he's not breathing.

Well played, Mr. Carpenter. Well-played indeed. Looks like I'll have to be watching your movie at least another dozen or so more times, just so I can study where Childs goes and when.

Hey all of you DOWNTON ABBEY fanatics...

Most of you have seen this already, I'd bet. The only thing I know about Downton Abbey is that it has the inimitable Maggie Smith among the cast and for that alone I'm gonna make time to eventually watch this show.

This series must be a big deal. For one thing my Facebook front page was loaded with all kinds of numbstruck horror over the weekend because of the Downton Abbey season finale. And then there's the fact that Sesame Street has now spoofed it! Even without knowing the particulars of the source material, I thought this was pretty funny.

So here is "Uptown Downton Abbey"...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A troubling trend in News & Record journalism

The News & Record in Greensboro - the region's largest newspaper - has a story on the front page of today's edition about last night's resolution by the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners to restore the Confederate Soldiers Monument in downtown Reidsville (see earlier post here).

For some reason or another Joe Gamm - the reporter who wrote the story - chose to include the following in his article...

"After a court approved replacing the monument, vandals spray-painted the words 'Monument is coming back' on an auto body shop run by an African American businessman who outspokenly opposed returning the statue to its original spot."
Could somebody please explain to me: What does the above reference by Mr. Gamm have anything... anything at all... to do with what happened to the Confederate monument from the time of the accident in 2011 up 'til today?

Because I can't find any legitimate reason whatsoever.

What I do see however see is a not-so-subtle attempt to inject an inflammatory issue into the matter at hand, when said issue is NOT germane to the discussion at all.

"Objective journalism"? Hardly. It's not the first time I've seen such writing employed by the News & Record lately either. Earlier this month Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson suffered a heart attack. The News & Record article made a teeny mention of that significant fact, choosing instead to harp on the lawsuit that Johnson is facing from the United States Department of Justice in regard to alleged racial profiling.

Nothing personal against Mr. Gamm. But I expect better out of the News & Record and every one of its writers (many of whom I have come to know and respect over the years). Unfortunately there is an appearance of considerable bias in what is otherwise a well-written story. However one such aside as this - when its sole seeming purpose is to inject overtones of racism into a matter demanding sobriety of senses - throws everything about it into question and doubt.

And that isn't meant to suggest any disparagement or diminishing the grievousness of the vandalism done to Ernie Pinnix's property. Vandalism is a severe crime regardless of the motive. It should be prosecuted because it is a crime, regardless of why the perpetrator did it. But that incident was, or at least should be, a completely separate matter from the Confederate monument.

Mr. Gamm, News & Record editors: this isn't proper journalism, and we all know it.

Again, do better.

Rockingham County commissioners UNANIMOUSLY approve restoring the Confederate monument!

The message went out loud and clear last night from citizens and their elected representatives alike: "Mayor Festerman, tear down this tree!"

Confederate Soldiers Monument in downtown
Reidsville, North Carolina prior to the
May 2011 accident
Lots of friends who went to yesterday evening's meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners conveyed the good news: that by unanimous vote, all five board members passed a resolution calling for the return of the Confederate Soldiers Monument in downtown Reidsville.

And what's more, there was not one person at the near-capacity public hearing in Wentworth who spoke against restoring the monument.

Let that lil' detail sink in, friends and neighbors. During a two-plus hour public meeting that had been announced and advertised well in advance, nobody came to the podium to insist or remotely suggest that the monument remain absent from the town's landscape. That alone indicates the overwhelming belief across the community is that the Confederate Soldiers Monument should go back to its rightful place as a memorial to the men of Rockingham County who, for whatever reason God or conscience led, volunteered to serve and defend what they saw as their homes and their loved ones.

The Confederate Soldiers Monument (seen at right in its proper glory) had stood vigil at the intersection of Scales and Morehead streets in Reidsville since its dedication in 1910. But in May of 2011 the monument was severely damaged and the statue atop it smashed into pieces when a driver fell asleep and crashed into it.

In any other municipality to be found across America, the logical and obvious thing would have been to repair the statue, restore the monument to its previous condition and then let it all stand anew, as if nothing had happened and none the worse for wear. The driver's insurance would have paid for all the work that would have been required.

Except this is Reidsville, North Carolina we're talking about. Oh the people here are fine. But this town's current administration is so drunk on power that it would put Boss Hogg to shame.

So instead of letting things run their proper course, Reidsville's city government removed EVERYTHING pertaining to the monument and WITHOUT consulting the citizenry or even letting it be known that the monument was going to be pulled out at all! There was no due process whatsoever on the part of Reidsville City Council and Reidsville Mayor James Festerman.

Mayor Festerman arbitrarily chose to have the Confederate Soldiers Monument removed wholesale. In its place has been a butt-ugly eyesore that has variably taken the form of a massive planter or the town Christmas tree (the current occupant of the site). I've taken to calling it "Festerman's Folly".

And what has Maximum Mayor James Festerman the First of His Name to say about it? He's gone on record as decreeing that the Confederate statue is "never" going to be returned to its original location.

Huh. If that isn't the mentality of a dictator, then I don't know what would be.

Festerman insists that the monument is a magnet of "controversy". But it had never been before. If there is any now it is only because some people demand to see controversy around the monument. Apparently the fact that it's a (gasp!) monument to soldiers who fought in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War is enough to... something. Rationale on the part of Reidsville government in the matter has been spotty at best.

Confederate history enthusiasts - many dressed in period costume - have protested for the return of the monument at the site for most of the past two years. It should also be borne in mind that these have been people from all walks of life, both white and black. Those peaceful assemblies ended when the Reidsville Police began prohibiting the protestors from the traffic circle. Okay, actually the protestors were limited to six inches of space in which they could stand (for realz, folks).

Anyhoo, for most of this time a group of citizens calling themselves the Historic Preservation Action Committee (HPAC) has been doing some admirable work toward restoring the monument to downtown Reidsville. As HPAC members have noted, the monument is one toward all the Confederate soldiers of Rockingham County, not just the ones from Reidsville. And that's something that shouldn't be done away with at the whim of one person.

Last night the county commissioners weight in. From the Save the Reidsville Confederate Monument page on Facebook...

Big news tonight from Wentworth, North Carolina! The Rockingham County Commissioners unanimously adopt a resolution in favor of putting the monument back up in Reidsville.The County Commissioner's chamber was filled with those in favor of the monument being restored. All those who spoke from the public were in favor. Not a single negative comment from the public! Emotions were high and it was a standing ovation as the commissioners voted all in favor. Although this resolution has no legal binding withing the City of Reidsville, the Reidsville City council has some pressure on it and now has some explaining to do to the public. More to come as it develops.
Commissioner Craig Travis remarked that "We're talking about a City Council that's run amok. If you don't like what they do, vote them out. The cities need to be held accountable." Indeed, it is now coming to light that there have apparently been some seriously under-handed shenanigans on the part of Reidsville officials to not only obscure and obfuscate its citizens in regard to the monument, but also some illegalunethical legal finagling involving the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I'm gonna be listening for more about that particular item especially...

If you wanna read more here are all the posts that have appeared on this blog about the monument since the 2011 accident. And fellow Reidsvillian Rob Jernigan has been all over this matter since Day One: here's his Speaking Up & Out news site, which Rob has said will be hosting video of last night's meeting later today.

If this momentum keeps going, it wouldn't surprise me if Festerman's Folly was ripped out by the end of the year and the Confederate Soldiers Monument put back where it belongs.

I'll be praying that there is enough shred of sanity to make it so.

EDIT 10:39 a.m. EST: D'oh! Rob works fast! Here's the video from last night's meeting that he just posted...

It's the start of Tammy Tuesday!

Beginning today, look forward to a weekly (meaning: as often as I can remember to do it) photo of Tammy: my miniature dachshund! These won't necessarily be a just-taken pic of her. It'll be whatever is in the Tammy-file that I think might bring a smile to y'all's faces. But since she's still just ten months old, there aren't that many photos of her that I could have made anyway.

Here she is from last week, looking content in the "nest" she's made with a blanket in the recliner...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Last night's THE WALKING DEAD nearly made Chris lose bladder control!

And mind ya, that was just from the final five minutes!!

Two things I will say before anything else: that after "Home", this week's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, David Morrissey has damned-well earned enough street credo to be top choice to play Randall Flagg in that forthcoming film adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand.

Yeah, just try to get that idea out of your head now that I've put it there. I dare ya...

Second: Daryl Dixon is the most awesomesauce-loaded BAD-ass on television since the invention of the cathode ray tube:

Norman Reedus more than deserves an Emmy nod this year, for the life he's brought to Daryl. Along with Chandler Riggs (hey, wouldn't it be soooo appropriate if both Daryl and Carl got supporting actor nominations?).

"Home" delivered everything that has made The Walking Dead the best drama series on television right now. I emphasize "drama" because it was past the halfway mark of this episode before we saw any walkers get offed. But when that finally came we got perhaps the most gruesome zombie-slaughterfest of the series to date (note to self: a hatchback is a potent weapon against the undead).

(By the way, Merle might be dumb, but he did at least have the good sense to ummmm... "disarm" himself before he answered the call of nature. 'Fess up now: how many others out there also caught that.)

The dialogue between the Brothers Dixon following the Skirmish of Yellow Jacket Creek was so compelling that I had to rewind the DVR and watch it again. Glenn has become a man motivated by wrath: something we haven't seen before in the poor guy. I'm feeling conflicted because as much as that kind of thinking tends to lead one to a bad end, you gotta admire how this show isn't afraid to shake its characters down to the core.

Andrew Lincoln went 3/4ths of this episode before getting a spoken line of dialogue. But even so, he's so persuasive playing Rick as a broken and despondent man that it was almost like watching silent film of the finest form.

Yeah, everything about "Home" was spot-on flawless.

And then came those final five minutes.

I ain't saying anything else, for sake of those who haven't caught the episode yet, 'cuz it really is worth it to go into this episode pretty cold. But I will make this comment: that what we saw at the end of "Home" was NOT the real war with Woodbury. That is no doubt still to come. And if the final minutes of "Home" are any indicator, when the full-bore all-out conflict comes it is going to make everybody watching it scream out and cry for Momma.

And that music that Bear McCreary came up with for the attack (including the "bomb") was terrific! Yet one more reason why we need to get a proper soundtrack CD or three of his The Walking Dead work (hey AMC are you guys listening yet??).

If "Home" isn't the best episode of The Walking Dead so far, it's pretty dang close. Gonna watch it again later tonight :-)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Air Jordan: Forever young

The people who I tend to admire the most are those who stay true to themselves, but also know how to change and grow as they get older. People who don't let time wear them down but instead become the better for it.

This is one such person...

The Knight Shift says "Happy Birthday" and wishes all the best to Michael Jordan - perhaps the greatest player that the game of basketball has ever known - on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday today!

From YouTube's front page today...





I'm not saying anything. This blog has involved me in enough litigation already. I'd rather save having to call the attorneys for the big big stuff.

Why you SHOULDN'T buy THE WALKING DEAD AMC Original Soundtrack Vol. 1

EeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEYYYEEEEEAAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH...!!!!!!!

This is not cool, AMC. Not cool at all.

A little while ago my beating heart be stilled when I read that the first soundtrack album of AMC's megakewl series The Walking Dead is set to be released on March 19th!

I know, right? Happy-dance time. Because there has been a massive demand for a soundtrack CD from this show for ages. It's at least more than a year overdue.

What have we wanted all this time? Nothing less than The Walking Dead's orchestral score. A bona-fide album of all the major pieces that Bear McCreary has composed for this show. EVERY bit of the music that has been most-desired on a quality album, going back to Season 1.

So are we getting that on March 19th?

LIKE HELL WE ARE!!

Lemme put it this way: I don't possibly see how The Walking Dead: AMC Original Soundtrack Volume 1 can honestly be called an "original soundtrack" with a straight face. Much less marketed and sold to us.

Here's the upcoming CD's cover...

Here is the album's official page on AMC's website, which includes the track listing. There is one - count 'em, ONE - track that could be called something from the score: the title theme. And that one isn't even the actual theme at all but a remix!

I'm getting a little tired of this crap. Longtime readers of this blog know what I mean. Remember the nonsense we went through to get Steve Jablonsky's epic Transformers score released on an album? A lot of people bought that Transformers "soundtrack" CD because they believed in good faith that they were getting Jablonsky's music... only to find that they had been deceived. Some of us pitched a fit (and righteously so) to get a legitimate score CD released. Heck, THOUSANDS of people signed that petition! In the end it finally got published (though I will admit: there is evidence that it was going to be released eventually anyway but hey: "the squeaky wheel gets the grease", right?)

To its credit, that first Transformers album did not say "Soundtrack" on its cover. It said "Music from and inspired by..."

AMC has the gall to call THIS The Walking Dead album a "soundtrack"... and it's... well, it's just gosh-#$&@ dishonest marketing. I see one track in that listing that I would want. That's "The Parting Glass". And I already have that via iTunes.

AMC, listen up: I would be extremely happy to pay good money for a true album of Bear McCreary's The Walking Dead score. So would many, many other fans of the show as well. Remember the music that played at the very end of "Beside the Dying Fire", as the camera panned up and we got our first-ever glimpse of the prison? Or that tense piece in the final scene of "Better Angels" as Rick and Carl are standing in the field, unaware of that gigantic herd of walkers that were approaching the farm?

Those and a bunch more McCreary pieces from Seasons 1 and 2, we are eager to get our grubby paws on. We want this more than you might imagine. We do not want this new "Original Soundtrack Vol. 1" when to call it a soundtrack is disingenuous at best.

So be warned my fellow Walk-aholics: if you are looking for Bear McCreary's The Walking Dead soundtrack score, it won't be on The Walking Dead: AMC Original Soundtrack Vol. 1. I don't know what precisely to call this album: maybe an "inspired by..." compilation. But it is not an honest-to-goodness soundtrack in the least shape or form.

AMC, fix this. You know what needs to be done.

Don't make us go all-petitiony and media-mayheming on y'all...

Friday, February 15, 2013

Meteorite(s?) smashing Russia this morning

CNN and Fox News are proving they're worse than useless this morning when it comes to breaking news! The "big story" in the U.S. this hour is still that damned Carnival boat that was crippled at sea for the past week.

Meanwhile our friends in Russia are having to deal with a real-life Michael Bay movie unfolding even now...

Check out these bits of footage that are coming in from the Urals, especially the vicinity of Chelyabinsk, where a few hours ago the area was struck by a barrage of meteorites:




There are reports as of this writing that at least 500 people have been injured, mostly from glass shattering because of sonic booms as the meteorite or meteorites exploded in mid-air. However a lot of fragments hit the ground (including crashing through a zinc factory). I'm not hearing of any fatalities yet. Let's pray that there are none.

However to the best of my knowledge, the Chelyabinsk event today has produced about 500% more injuries than all the wounds caused by meteorites of the past sixty years or so combined. The one that best comes to mind right now is one lady in the Fifties who was struck on the leg by a tiny meteor fragment that crashed through the roof of her house as she lay on her sofa watching television.

Twitter is going nuts at the moment with even more footage and tons of photos that witnesses took of the meteor. This is not going to be a situation as difficult to document as the Tunguska event was.

Now hearing that authorities are considering the possibility that more strikes may be expected.

What a week this has been. First Benedict XVI announces his retirement, now this. I'm doubly-cursed to be a fanatic about both history and science (especially astronomy). What's that they say: "No rest for the wicked".

Seriously though, this is gonna be something to watch over the next few days. No doubt even more footage and pics are gonna be making their way onto the Intertubes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

So... about that "Peter of Rome" thingy...

sigh...

Honestly, I did not want to address this at all. I'll admit some wacky speculation on this site before (mostly a reflection of an earlier incarnation, a few "regenerations" back in Doctor Who parlance) but the last thing I want is for this blog to descend into conspiracy-theory territory. The sort that the History Channel has been devolving into the past few years...

"I'm not saying that it's aliens... but IT'S ALIENS."

But seeing as how FOUR e-mails have come in during the past 48 hours, asking for my take on this, it might as well get some blogspace. And this is the only time that I'm gonna touch upon this.

The gist of the inquiries has been: "Hey Chris, what do you think about the next pope being Petrus Romanus from the Malachy prophecy?"

It's one of the more prominent bits of odd lore accumulated over the centuries. That in 1139 an Irish archbishop named Malachy (later Saint Malachy) had a prophetic vision of all the popes that were to come until the end of time. Supposedly Malachy wrote down his vision as a series of Latin phrases for each respective future pope. And then - so the story goes - his recording of the vision was put onto the dusty shelves of the Vatican's archives and forgotten until 1590, when it was found anew.

There is considerable evidence suggesting that Malachy's "papal forecast" is a forgery created shortly before its "discovery". Nonetheless, there are many who contend that Malachy's purported "New Fathers Almanac" has proven remarkably accurate in recent centuries. You can read the entire prophecy yourself, if you feel so led. Indeed, it is a curious coincidence that the phrase corresponding to John Paul II, "De labore Solis", has been translated as "from the eclipse of the Sun"... and that John Paul II was born during a solar eclipse in 1920 and was buried during a solar eclipse in 2005. It was curious enough that I made a blog post about it at the time. Parse all of this as you will...

Anyhoo, after John Paul II's respective entry we get this: "Gloria olivæ", meaning "The glory of the Olives". That Benedict XVI chose his papal name in reference to the Benedictine Order, a symbol of which is an olive branch, has not gone unremarked by, ummmm... "certain folks".

Here is where things threaten to get completely wonky...

The very next pope after Gloria olivæ is "Petrus Romanus", translated from Latin as "Peter the Roman". And here is Malachy's alleged description for this pope:

In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis civitas septicollis diruetur, & Judex tremêdus judicabit populum suum. Finis.
Translated into English thusly:
"In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations, at the term of which the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the formidable Judge will judge his people. The End."
So according to Malachy's vision, the next pope, "Peter the Roman", will be the occupant of the Vatican when the end of the world finally happens.

Some have suggested that Peter the Roman will be the Antichrist, or at least the False Prophet described in the Book of Revelation.

And we thought Aerys II Targaryen was bad news...

Awright, well... what do I think about this, Saint Malachy's "Prophecy of the Popes"?

I think a lot of people are about to be disappointed.

I do not believe that there is anything particularly mystical about Malachy's prophecies. For one thing, any one of the mottoes listed could be interpreted a dozen ways and more. The phrase corresponding to John Paul II has at least three that I'm aware of, including one that would mean "From the turmoil of the east", AKA from behind the Iron Curtain of eastern Europe (John Paul II coming from Poland in the days of Communist rule). For another thing, it remains quite possible that there exists, in the case of Saint Malachy's purported vision, a thing as "self-fulfilling prophecy". The "Prophecy of the Popes" certainly must be something that every Catholic clergyman is aware of. It's not hard to imagine that it would lurk on the subconscious edge of all who have ever been involved in the higher administrations of the Roman Catholic Church and thus, might play an unacknowledged part in the roll call of popes.

So lemme be succinct: I believe that after Benedict XVI steps down as pope on February 28th, that there will be the prescribed Conclave of the College of Cardinals. A new pope will be elected. He will be according to our Catholic brethren the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, the successor to Saint Peter. And then at the end of his term, whether by death or by resignation, he will be succeeded by another. And that pope will eventually be succeeded. And so on.

In other words: Malachy's prophecy will probably be rendered thoroughly kaput during the next few years. If not months, or even weeks. Over four hundred years of worrying about the end of the world (at least on the papal forecast's watch) will cease. The "Prophecy of the Popes" will become considered an odd relic of Armageddon-ish hysteria.

But I don't think for a moment that the Mother of All Silly Seasons isn't descending upon us fast and hard. If you thought that the "Mayan Apocalypse" stuff was crazy, y'all ain't seen nuthin' yet. Heck, I've seen more essays and articles about "Petrus Romanus"/"Peter the Roman" - from both the mainstream press and "new media" such as established blogs - published in the past 48 hours than I've seen during the past fifteen years put together.

Brace yourself, Dear Reader. The wackiness is already ramping up and it's about to go full-tilt balls-to-the-walls off-the-chain bonkers.

Be of good cheer! Lord willing, I'm gonna be an old gray man taking my grandchildren to see Star Wars Episode XXVII someday. And long before that happens we will have all forgotten about the imminent hysterics.

But I have to confess: I'm probably going to be in a near-constant giggle-fit watching the stuff that's going to be happening soon:

"I'm not saying it's the end of the world... but IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD."

Unprecedented: Handling the retirement of Benedict XVI

If love of history is a vice, then the past couple of days have been hardcore porn for me.

Inclement weather brought on icy roads this past Sunday night, so I decided to stay over at my girlfriend's house and leave early the next morning. I was already awake up in the guest room when the news broke that Pope Benedict XVI had announced he would be resigning at the end of the month. It was shocking enough to send me racing downstairs to knock on Kristen's bedroom door to tell her about it.

I'm kinda glad for the early-morning insomnia: Lord only knows what would have happened if I was halfway asleep and heard something like that. Probably have broken my neck trying to tumble out of bed...

This sort of thing is absolutely fascinating to me. It has been very nearly 600 years since the last time a pope left of his own accord... and that was amidst severe theological strife within the Catholic Church. It is certainly something that has been scarcely contemplated - if at all - that might transpire in our modern era. And by all accounts Benedict kept his decision close to his heart, letting extremely few senior clergy in the loop about it until Monday morning Rome time.

(What I wouldn't have given to be a fly on the wall at the Vatican PR office when they got handed that for a press release...)

The reaction of the College of Cardinals? Probably something along the lines of... and please forgive my germane lingo... "Oh crud, NOW what?!?"

So, after six centuries of knowing what to do when a sitting pope died, how is the Church going to handle a resignation?

The most interesting live Twitter-ing I've ever followed was courtesy of of Father Roderick Vonhogen: podcaster, writer and go-to guy of all things Catholicism-related (and word on the street is that he's a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen). You can visit his official website here. Yesterday morning he was on Twitter like a madman, sharing the official press conference given by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

I was intently following along. And what did the good padre have to report about His Holiness' imminent departure from the business of the Holy See?

- Today being Ash Wednesday, the celebrations will continue as scheduled but will be moved to Saint Peter's Basilica because of the enormous crowds that are to be expected.

- Benedict XVI's final general audience will be on February 27th, the day before his resignation takes effect. It will be in Saint Peter's Square, again because of the vast number of people that is anticipated.

- Apparently there will be no special ceremonies or celebrations to mark Benedict's departure. He will simply "leave working at the office" at 8 p.m. that evening, as is his usual custom.

- Where does a former pope live? In Benedict XVI's case it will be to a small monastery on the grounds of the Vatican. The monastery of Mater Ecclesiae is now being prepared to be Benedict's future home.

- But what are we supposed to call the man who once was pope? This is apparently something still being discussed but for the time being, "Papal Emeritus" is the current term.

- Benedict XVI and the incoming pope will decide if Benedict will have a part in the installation of the new pontiff.

- "This is a new situation" regarding the Ring of the Fisherman: the ring which each pope wears and is used to seal official documents. It has traditionally been smashed in front of witnesses by the Camerlengo (Cardinal Chamberlain) immediately upon the death of the pope so as to prevent forgeries that might be produced during Sede Vacante: "the time of the empty chair". The Ring of the Fisherman and all other official effects pertaining to Benedict XVI's ministry will be destroyed as usual... but they just haven't figured out how to do it yet.

- Benedict XVI will not participate in the selection of the next pope. The College of Cardinals will be "autonomous", Father Roderick reported. And Benedict XVI is prohibited from taking part in Conclave (the College of Cardinals' secret deliberation and election, during which the cardinals are sequestered away in the Vatican with no outside correspondence, communication or departure whatsoever until a new pope is chosen). For one thing he is past the age of 80: the cut-off for cardinals to be electors in a papal election. For another, Benedict XVI is no longer a cardinal anyway (I thought that was especially interesting).

- Preparations for the Conclave will begin on March 1st. Conclave must begin no sooner than 15 days and no later than 20 days after the resignation of Benedict XVI.

- As Father Roderick conveyed from Father Lombardi: "the Pope doesn't gather the cardinals for the new conclave; they are smart enough to know that they should be here in March."

I am not a Catholic, but I have always found the history and procedures of the Roman Catholic Church to be extraordinarily gripping stuff. And it's not gonna get much more gripping than what is about to occur during the next several days and weeks.

Pay close attention to this time, good readers! Regardless of your religious persuasion, this might well be something you can tell your grandchildren about.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

BattleMech in the Russian Revolution wrecks havoc with Australian students!

From the land Down Under, The Age has the following very strange story of historical revisionism and giant robots. From the article...

VCE scores changed over Battle Tech Marauder confusion

February 8, 2013
Jewel Topsfield

One hundred and thirty confused VCE history students had their scores adjusted after an artwork featuring a mysterious robot who appeared to be assisting socialist revolutionaries in 1917 was accidentally used in last year's exam.

The VCE exam body apologised after the doctored version of Storming of the Winter Palace by Nikolai Kochergin formed part of a question about the Russian Revolution in the History: Revolutions exam.

The altered image had been sourced from the internet.

While many students did not notice a giant robot - rather like BattleTech Marauder II – in the background of the artwork, others were distracted by the strange image, suggesting it was anything from a statue of prime minister Alexander Kerensky, who was supported by the Mensheviks, to the battleship Aurora.

A Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority spokesman said that of the 2379 students who answered that question in the exam, 130 or 5.5 per cent, had their scores adjusted due to the robot.

The exam body looked at every student's answer to the question in relation to their marks on the rest of the paper.

Where their score for that question was significantly lower than the projected score, it was adjusted up to the expected range.

The VCAA spokesman said 27 students referred to the robot image in their answer.

Click on the above link to see the original painting as well as a close-up model of a Maurader II BattleMech.

Those students were way off anyway: everyone knows that Alexsandr Kerensky piloted an Atlas BattleMech, not a Maurader II!

(That's all I got.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

The world in 1415

I was already up in the wee hours of the morning when the news came out of the Vatican that Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, announced that he will be resigning the papacy at the end of this month.

My first thought was "is this a joke?", but that notion lasted the better part of 8 seconds. When it finally sank in that His Holiness would, indeed, be exiting the post he has held since succeeding John Paul II in 2005, my mind went reeling. And it hasn't slowed any throughout this day.

I am not Catholic, but I did know that it had been a long... like, a waaaay long time, since a sitting pope had left the Holy See by choice. It turns out that the last time was Pope Gregory XII. That was in 1415.

Nearly six hundred years ago.

Ummmm... "wow"?

Consider the world that was in 1415...

There had actually been two popes: a result of the "Papal Schism". One pope held court in Rome and another in Avignon, France. Gregory XII's resignation as Bishop of Rome was meant to be a "healing gesture". It also signaled an end to much of the papacy's political power.

The Protestant Reformation was one hundred years in the future. It would have to await the birth of Martin Luther in 1483. However in that very year of 1415, Jan Hus had been burned at the stake for having "heretical" beliefs in defiance of papal supremacy. His teachings would soon give rise to the Moravian Church.

The Renaissance was beginning in the city of Florence.

Christopher Columbus was 36 years from being born.

The Hundred Years' War raged between England and France.

Joan of Arc was five years old.

The Roman Empire still existed, albeit a tiny fragment of its former glory.

The Ottoman Turks had begun to concern the powers of Europe. The Ottomans' conquest of Constantinople would come 38 years later. The Ottoman Empire would endure until 1922 following the defeat of the Central Powers in World War I.

China, Siberia and eastern Europe were still fresh from the dominion of the Mongol Empire founded by Genghis Khan. It would be another sixty years before the Rus' of Muscovy would finally win their freedom from the Mongol and Tartar hordes.

The Moorish kingdoms controlled north Africa and much of Spain.

Much of Europe was still recovering from the Black Death.

The Aztecs were at the height of their power in what is today Mexico. The Mayan culture still flourished in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Inca civilization dominated South America.

The average life expectancy throughout the known world was 40 to 45.

Like I said: "wow".

And then when one ponders the world then, and all of the history which has transpired between then and now...

Pay close attention, dear readers. Today's announcement is in many ways the most historic event from the religious realm in half a millennium. A voluntary abdication/resignation from the papacy has happened before, but nowhere close to any time in the annals of the chronicled modern era.

I was blogging a lot about the passing of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and the election of his successor. I thought it would be a long time before I'd have to wait to see the white smoke again. But now, it might well happen before the arrival of spring.

Interesting times, folks :-)

Saw WARM BODIES yesterday...

I can't decide if Warm Bodies is a zombie movie with romance and comedy or if it's a romantic comedy with zombies. Either way, I enjoyed it.

(Yeah I'm making two posts in a row about zombies. I'll refrain from overkill by stating here that we also saw the trailer for World War Z and it looked much better than that ad that ran during the Super Bowl"big game".)

Warm Bodies is something I haven't been familiar with before: a zombie movie from the zombie's point of view. R (played by Nicholas Hoult) is a recently undead who wanders around the ruined shell of an airport. The shambling corpses are split into two varieties: the "regular" zombies who continue to shuffle along in mimicry of the patterns of their former lives. And then there are "bonies": those zombies whose decomposition has brought them too far gone to be helped. And all the while we're getting a running commentary of monologue from R courtesy of voice-over. Sorta like the flip-side of the Zombieland coin.

R's "life" is in the shadow of an armed enclave of normal humans (led and controlled with an iron hand by John Malkovich) which sends scouting parties out on a regular basis to find food, medicine and ammo. Unfortunately one one such mission a party is attacked and R encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer), the bossman's daughter.

What ensues is like a classic age-old tale of star-crossed lovers. Except she's young and smart and beautiful and he's... dead.

I know. It sounds like twelve degrees of total hokey. And to be honest I wasn't too crazy about Warm Bodies when I heard about its premise. But having seen it, I cannot but confess that it was a cute little movie and quite worth spending an afternoon watching (especially with a girlfriend). In a genre that has become stretched thin and tired and oh so terribly anemic, Warm Bodies is a refreshing breeze that succeeds admirably.

And the zombie genre could learn something from it, too!

THE WALKING DEAD returns with "The Suicide King"

It's currently taking me about 20 hours to watch a new episode of AMC's The Walking Dead after it premieres on cable. That's out of voluntary choice however, because I'm a good boyfriend. See, m'lady Kristen is a huge fan of this show too... but since we're over an hour away from each other and she doesn't get regular cable (note to self: get Roku as soon as possible) we just wait 'til our schedules can jibe the next day, then we sync my DVR and her Internet streaming and voila: we get to see one of our favorite shows together after all!

But I gotta tell y'all: with it being more than two months since the crazy events of "Made to Suffer", those 20 hours between last night and early this evening were torture to wait through...

"The Suicide King" picked up right where "Made to Suffer" ended: with brothers Daryl and Merle together at last. Unfortunately they're in the middle of Thunderdome: Woodbury Edition (did anyone else feel like chanting "Two men enter, one man leaves!"?) and The Governor insists upon a show despite Andrea's protests. What followed was one of the best firefights we've seen yet as Rick and crew came to the rescue.

But action ain't the biggest reason why so many of us are hooked on The Walking Dead. This is a well-written, well-plotted drama about very human characters, their relationships and their conflicts with each other.

And right now the two biggest conflicts to watch are The Governor and Rick. As much in conflict within themselves as they are with the world around them. And since we just know that they and their respective factions are going to eventually meet face-to-face...

Two thoughts about this episode. First, David Morrissey has now firmly established his portrayal of The Governor as the most menacing, diabolical and certainly manipulative bad guy on television today. The "benign dictator" schtick is losing its benign and if anybody in Woodbury cares, they fast forgot about it. Especially after that little speech that Andrea gave. Who doesn't think that she was doing exactly what The Governor wanted her to do?

But that stuff was small potatoes compared to watching Rick Grimes' continuing descent into madness.

If Andrew Lincoln gets nominated for an Emmy, that scene at the end of "The Suicide King" is what will be aired at the ceremony: I'd wager money on it. Bless his heart, the man is trying hard to keep the group together, to maintain some hold on his purpose, on his mind, on his soul. We've seen lately how that's been tentative at best and then when hit with the matter of Tyrese and his group...

Good God. The man has gone cuckoo for Cuckoo Puffs full-tilt wacko. Remember that scene in John Carpenter's The Thing where Wilford Brimley went nuts and began shooting and chopping up the place with the fire axe? Well if Hershel, Glenn and Tyrese don't get Rick sedated and restrained Lord only knows what he'll do to himself.

(At least now it makes sense why a certain cast member's name is still in the opening credits...)

Chad Coleman's Tyrese is fast becoming one of my favorite characters on this show ever: there's a quiet and thoughtful determination behind that brute strength he carries, and that's something the group is gonna need. It was also fun to see his former football colleague Hines Ward as a walker (if you missed him, he gets a fairly good closeup before getting thrashed bad right after the group is through the fence fleeing Woodbury).

Not the best episode we've seen this season (it's gonna be really hard to top "Killer Within") but still an altogether solid episode to return from a mid-season hiatus from, while changing up the board for what will doubtless be harsher stuff to come.