A Place in History
The 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions were considered at the time to be the greatest offensive football squad ever put together, piling up a whopping 47.8 points/game en route to an undefeated season, but not a national title. One of the few seasons that the BCS could have salvaged, Nebraska got the sentimental vote thanks to Tom Obsorne never winning a National championship (at the time), so the voters decided to give him one on a platter.

ESPN this week is running a fantasy matchup to see where SportsNation voters feel the 2005 USC Trojans will stack up against history's top 11 teams. According to the voters, Penn State got the #4 seed of all-time, despite no official national championship. The top three haven't been nominated yet, but I doubt you'll see the Cornhuskers. Here's the text from ESPN:
    No. 4 Seed: 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions

    Undefeated, untied, uncrowned -- unjust? The 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions had one of the greatest offenses in the history of college football and produced three of the top nine picks in the 1995 NFL draft. However, the fifth undefeated team in Joe Paterno's career didn't win a share of the national title, as Nebraska was voted No. 1 in the polls.

    The Lions' potent offense, which featured Kyle Brady, Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins, Bobby Engram and Jeff Hartings, averaged 47.8 points and 520.2 yards per game with near-perfect balance -- 250.9 yards rushing and 269.3 yards passing. The 47.8 points is the highest post-World War II average by any Big Ten team.

    The Nittany Lions were the best team that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The same week they throttled No. 21 Ohio State 63-14, No. 3 Nebraska beat No. 2 Colorado 24-7 and the Huskers vaulted to No. 1 for good. It didn't matter the Lions already had wins over No. 14 USC and at No. 5 Michigan as well, and then blew out No. 12 Oregon in the Rose Bowl. It wasn't enough to pass Nebraska.
Still a bitter pill all these years, but we all knew that historically, our team would be the one to go down in history as #1. I've already done my part, but YOU can still help us out by voting for the Lions.


Paterno's Birthday Present
Today, Joe Paterno officially enters what a friend of mine would phrase as his "mid-to-late 70's" by turning 79. In a landslide, Joe Paterno has won his third AP Coach of the Year Honor. I consider this award to be (in order):
    (1) A reward for delivering a Big Ten title and an amazing turnaround season
    (2)A vindication that his coaching prowess has not left him
    (3) A defacto apology by the media for their irreverent and ignorant hounding of a great coach to retire in 2004.
For what seemed like an eternity, I've had to endure the constant barbs, criticisms, and insults from not only the media, but friends and, yes, Penn State fans, who have jumped on the idiotic media bandwagon and called for Joe's head. He's too old, he's senile. Blah blah. When I respectfully disagreed with their opinions, they'd treat me like I'm crazy or maybe I'm turning senile. Even one of my best friends from Penn State was teaching his daughter to say "Joe Pa must go".

In this article, the AP says that "Despite going 4-7 in 2004, Paterno was convinced that the Nittany Lions were on the verge of good things." Having watched every single game, and having written about just how close we were to winning, I can tell you he wasn't full of it. But nothing I could say then would have convinced anyone, so I put my faith in my coach and my team. I also made a preseason bet with a naysayer that Penn State would be in the BCS. He eagerly shook my hand on that one. Who could've predicted? I did. I'm proud of my coach for not listening to his critics, to doing things the way he wants, to being the greatest. Happy Birthday Joe, and many more.

Bonus: Joe was also selected Home Depot Coach of the Year.


Sense and Sensibility
In the biggest landmark evolution decision since a little monkey trial, the Christian Right were denied an early Christmas gift:
    HARRISBURG, Pa. - "Intelligent design" is "a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory" and cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.

    Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said.
The case was brought up because advocates of ID wanted a disclaimer read about Evolutionary Theory prior to its teaching in biology class. Judge Jones (I kind of like the ring to that) went on to discuss the content of said disclaimer, in some of the least equivocating and harshest language I've seen in a decision:
    Jones blasted the disclaimer, saying it "singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource and instructs students to forgo scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere."
The judge even saved a little 'something-something' for those who had supported the idea in the first place, and it was of the same flavor:
    The judge made a point of criticizing the school board members and the "breathtaking inanity" of their decision. Â?It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy," he wrote.
How do you really feel about it? Although my brother's nickname for me is "Judge" (from Caddyshack), I'd have a hard time being as restrained in language as my esteemed namesake. Intelligent Design is slyly repackaged Creationism for the new age, and I'm happy to see that in at least one instance, we can uphold the constitutional separation of church and state. Now about "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays"...


Moving Day
Although the title is a golf term that refers to the third day of a four-day golf tournament, I thought it appropriate to describe the repercussions of Sunday's NFL games, especially with respect to the Washington Redskins.

DC is known to many as a transitory town, and I'm probably one of those people, moreso because the cost of real estate is just ridiculous that when I do get a place, it'll be somewhere in the burbs. (I rent a house in Georgetown for very cheap.) I've glacially made my way south over my lifetime, starting out in Western NY and a Bills fan, to the Philly area and gradually assuming the identity of an Eagles fan through several years there and at Penn State (although I never gave up my Bills allegiance). Finally, I headed one more step south about 10 years ago down to Foxhall Rd, where I've been since. Over that time, I've maintained my Eagles & Bills identities, while keeping a soft spot for the Steelers and Redskins based on family ties (NFL Sunday is complicated for me).

Recently, one of my acquaintances who used to live in Philly and has been a lifelong Eagles fan that he was making the transition over to being a Redskins fan after about 10 years of living down here. My first instinct was to yell, "Traitorous dog!" Although I have become more of an Eagles fan than a Bills over the last 10 years or so, I have family in both areas, and I haven't been up to Buffalo in quite some time, so it was a more gradual transition. Plus, the two teams were never in conflict with each other, safely in different conferences. However, going from Eagles to Skins is changing intradivisional allegiances. As I imagine Jaquandor would say about going from Bills to Patriots, this is blasphemous.

Therefore, though I've now logged more time down in DC than up in Philly, I just can't bring myself to root whole-heartedly for the Skins. I didn't grow up in the area, and it especially seems false in the face of my friends around here who have been Skins fans all their lives. That said, it was pleasing to see the Skins crush the Cowboys Sunday, because we do have a common enemy in those Dallas fans, and I am in the habit of rooting for my friends' teams (when their interests do not directly conflict with mine). And on the same day, while the ConsistiSkins made mince of Dallas, the stars aligned to put them back in the playoff race. Not only in the race, but now in control of their own destiny. Because of their conference and divisonal records, they own the 6th spot wildcard, jumping over Atlanta, Minnesota, and the aforementioned Cowboys who all lost this weekend. Now all (ha) they have to do is beat the Giants at home, and then for the grand finale, beat my Eagles at the Linc.

Now for a little confession. I can honestly say I wouldn't mind if the Redskins got in the playoffs. If they beat the Giants at home, I think they will have earned it, and although, I suppose, *hardcore* Eagles fans will want to play the spoiler, I'd rather keep the buzz up around the DC area and have a team to support. But next season we're going to reclaim our division.

And, for a final note of fun, apparently if you are a paid employee of a Dallas sports team, you shouldn't grab the PA microphone and cheer for the Redskins.


Ellen Pompeo
I don't know what it is in particular that strikes me about Ellen Pompeo, who is probably most famous for being a part of the ensemble of Grey's Anatomy, a show I've admittedly never watched in its entirety. She's apparently won for 'Breakout Performance' for a female in the Teen Choice Awards this year, an honor that probably comes with some chagrin as she's older than I (she was born in 1969). Her film career is much less notable, with only supporting roles (and very minor) for Old School, Daredevil, and Catch Me If You Can. I may have to pick up Moonlight Mile just to see how she is in it. I was turned off the film when it came out because I sensed it was a little too contrived, but then I've been (somewhat) wrong before.

In fact, I couldn't figure out where I first saw her until I did a more thorough search, and then I remembered she played this whacked out girl named Laura Kendrick on an episode of Law & Order, where she helped rape her sister and then later on confessed that it turned her on. Probably one of my favorite episodes in the series because of all the twists and turns and shocked, and she sold the role. Anyway, there is a point to this. Probably the maturity in her eyes and the little crook in her smile, but for whatever reasons that I view the world in my own skewed way, even fresh off the heels of having seen Scarlett Johanssen in all her glory, I find Ellen Pompeo to be far hotter.
The Island by The Bay
Although I did rent the 40 Year-Old Virgin on its first night of release, the film that I first chose was of greater interest to me, not just because of the blonde but because of the premise and the potential. The second film I've seen recently to not be a disappointment despite lackluster reviews and fair box office, Michael Bay's The Island is a blend of thought-provoking science fiction, pulse-pounding action sequences, and a palpable feeling of dread throughout the picture. And it works, although you have to get past a few moments of sheer unbelievable survival (i.e., falling off a thirty story building, surrounded by exploding wreckage and bullets) and melodramatic this-is-your-slow-motion-closeup moments (i.e., the end). If you've seen any Bay film previously (I'm looking at you, Armageddon), and forgiven these excesses, you'll have no problem here. What's better, he's actually learned to hold back on a lot of the crapulence. Compared to recent efforts, this is actually a restrained Michael Bay.

The Island succinctly combines the elements of Logan's Run, The 6th Day, and Coma. In fact, if one tries, you can picture Mr. Bay himself pitching his idea to the studios. ("I'm thinking 'Logan's Run' meets '6th Day'... with maybe we 'Coma' it 10%...") Well, maybe the first two because it's unlikely that a studio executive could go back more than 25 years. In summation, occupants of a walled-in community are told that the outside world is 'contaminated' and that they can get to the one unspoiled paradise ("The Island") by means of a lottery (Logan's Run). In reality, they are illegally-raised clones of wealthy people in some near-future time (The 6th Day). Unbeknownst to them, their pick on the lottery signifies that their organs are needed for harvesting, which also means they will be murdered in the process (Coma). Combine some witty exchanges, neat and gruesome effects and some intense chase sequences and you've got your film.

As with my FF review, I note that the film is far from great, but still quite enjoyable. The inevitable encounter with Ewan McGregor's 'sponsor' (read: real-world double, who refers to his clone as his 'insurance policy') where they compare accents is funny (McGregor's Scottish to his American), and Scarlett Johanssen has a couple of lines that are funny, but clearly don't distract from her status as a complete babe. Naturally, as with all Bay films, you can predict just about everything that is going to happen, it was about 10 minutes too long, and the ending was a little too pat (but then, these are more of his notorious traits). That said, I'd recommend The Island as a mostly satisfying way to spend a Tuesday. Today.

PS. The title search on Amazon brought up an old film, completely unrelated that used to scare me in my youth, called Island. Starring Michael Caine, it was about modern-day pirates in the Bermuda Triangle. I remember it most for some of the shockingly brutal attack scenes. I wonder if they would be that shocking anymore.


Best return address ever
Since I don't plan on moving to Poland anytime soon, I suppose it's time to start planning a heist of this street sign. Of course, I can't imagine some local isn't already rubbing their hands together in devious anticipation of such a snatch.


Okay Four
I have to admit it, I didn't hate Fantastic Four, the film I rented as promised. Now, this is a far cry from going and praising this film, but I was actually pleasantly surprised at the viewing, owing probably quite a bit to my abyssmally low expectations going in -- there's nowhere to go but up. Granted, I'm a forgiving audience, having owned and read quite a few FF comics in my time, but you'll see I'm far from glossy-eyed.

First, let's dispense with the ridiculous hype around the "Exclusive inside look at X-Men 3". This turned out to be 1 minute and 40 seconds of the producer talking about what would be happening in the film, interspliced with clips from the first two movies. I've gotten more off reading some fan-boy's site. An utter ruse to get me to rent the DVD. Damn it, I hate when they are clever.

My expectations set even lower thanks to the "Inside Look" commercial-length feature, I eased into the picture. This isn't easy, because it takes all of about ten minutes to introduce every major character, set conflicts, establish love interests, launch into space, get irradiated by cosmic rays, and get back home. Not a lot of room for dialogue, it feels a bit rushed, but I felt it worked decently well. Surprise #1.

Surprise #2: The characters. Chris Evans' performance was a bit contagious as the hotshot punk. He was comical, goofy, brazen, shallow, and fun to watch. And what's more very true to the comic book character. In fact, every one of the four was loyal to what they were in the comic. The interactions between the charcters were part of what made the FF such a popular comic.

The two major distinctions that the Fantastic Four had over any other hero/team was that they functioned as a family and they were public figures -- no secret identities. The latter was captured well in Sue's escape from the media via stripping -- and turning invisible, naturally. (Jessica Alba losing her clothes would not cause anyone to lose interest.) Also, the Thing's constant problems with touch-tone phones or holding a glass in his hand were pretty amusing. As a family, you have the love between Reed and Sue, the brotherly atagonistic relationship between Johnny and Ben, and the 'best friends' Reed and Ben, to highlight the major interplay. All of these were ably dealt with, to the level that I felt they were taking a page right out of the comics.

Going into these films, you need suspension of disbelief to get past the super-powers. Little did I know you would also need to overlook some pretty obvious flaws. Teleportation, for instance. Somehow each member of the crew who went into space somehow gaining the ability to teleport in addition to their powers. Characters would appear suddenly when minutes before they were across town, or improbably aware of the circumstances. The most obvious was when Ben was transforming himself into the Thing in the Baxter building at the end, which produces an electric-light show. Reed is watching this from Dr. Doom's skyscraper about a mile away. Less than a minute later, at the penultimate tense moment, naturally, The Thing crashes through the wall and rescues them. Teleportation! Poof!

Then you have Ben's shallow wife archetype. Seriously, I get that The Thing isn't attractive (to a human -- for all I know he may be the cat's meow to a boulder), but I think it was a bit unnecessary to have him be immediately rejected by his wife (whom he adores, of course), twice, once when he first comes home and the second, after he's caused/saved dozens of lives. Cornball.

Also, their introduction as 'heroes'. Poorly orchestrated, basically The Thing causes (by saving a suicidal guy's life) a huge, violent multi-vehicle crash on a bridge, and the other three (who just happen to be driving over the bridge) help save some lives. The one I couldn't figure out is why Reed tells Sue to strip so she can get them past the crowds. The first thing she does when she turns invisible is to start pushing through the crowd that's blocking them and say 'Excuse me!' Wow, good thing she was invisible, or that would have never worked! (In retrospect, it's pretty clear that the logic involved was getting Alba into an underwear shot, and for that I loudly applaud the film's writers.)

Understand that the film is written in a tongue-and-cheek manner, rather than the realism of recent superhero films. Yeah, it's got some problems, but it wasn't as bad as most everyone said. It's not a waste of a rental fee, but the sequel better step it up a notch.


Fantastic Alba
Although it has been announced that there will be a sequel to this summer's critically panned Fantastic Four, I have yet to pass judgement myself.
I'd consider myself to be a casual fan of the comic series; I probably have about 40 or so of the title in my stash, but I never really got all that into it, although I'm versed enough to know who Willie Lumpkin is. That said, the reviews shied me away from seeing it in the theater. That, and reports that extra money was spent on the Mr. Fantastic effects after The Incredibles came out. Never a good sign when a cartoon film homage (and a great one) makes the original nervous.

Of course, I'm going to at least rent the DVD when it comes out this Tuesday. And, although you should (rightly) suspect that it is more a shallow worship of Jessica Alba that drives me, my bonus motivation to spend the four dollars is the news that the DVD includes an exclusive inside look at X-Men 3. (The teaser trailer is due any day and will be attached to King Kong, which sadly has no Alba, but a very nice portion of Naomi Watts.)

Update:The X-Men teaser trailer is up and running. Good glimpses of Angel, Juggernaut, and Beast.
BCS, Penn State, and Florida Oranges
Before I get rolling, let's give credit where it is due, and that's to Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions for securing their first ever BCS Bowl game, the illustrious Orange Bowl, where we'll be playing Florida State on January 3rd, 2006, prime time. I'm excited about playing in the Orange, but I don't think it's a good matchup.

Florida State are the "ACC Champions" by virtue of the way the division was split up, and somehow getting a home game for the championship. Granted, the Hokies chokied, but at the end of the day, FSU shouldn't have even been playing in the game. They were and are the third-best team in the conference. I'm irritate because FSU is rewarded for being lucky enough to be in a crap division and play one good game so they get to play a virtual home game in the BCS. Also, PSU is the only team with anything to lose in the game. I'd hardly call that a good 'matchup'.

I respect good matchups when I see them. All the other bowl games are good matchups. I was dying to play Notre Dame. That would have been a good matchup. This BCS media machine have these two schools playing not because they are evenly matched (they aren't) or that their records are close (please), but because they have the two winningest coaches in NCAA history, period. It was the only recourse for the BCS system that got screwed, this time by the inclusion of a team who have absolutely no business playing in a BCS bowl game when there are at least 20 better schools ranked ahead of them.

Well, believe it or not, the government may be getting involved. Last week, congress issued a statement. "Calling the Bowl Championship Series 'deeply flawed,' the chairman of a congressional committee has called a hearing on the controversial system used to determine college football’s national champion." I don't know if it is the oversight of the government, and I don't care, because the college presidents and Atheletic Directors have absolutely no intention of ever going to a playoff system. If not this, then we just accept our fan fates as the helpless observers of presidential greed.


In the news of the discomforting, the BBC is reporting that French surgeons (natch) have performed the first face transplant:
    Surgeons in France have carried out the first face transplant, it has been reported.
    The woman had lost her nose, lips and chin after being savaged by a dog.

    In the controversial operation, tissues, muscles, arteries and veins were taken from a brain-dead donor and attached to the patient's lower face.

    Doctors stress the woman will not look like her donor, but nor will she look like she did before the attack - instead she will have a "hybrid" face.
I'm hard pressed to think of another procedure that has considerable physical, ethical, and psychological dangers. Firstly, the donor must still be alive (presumably in a catatonic state). Taking another's face just is creepy in itself. Obviously, the concept has been explored before in films, none more unsettling than John Frankenheimer's Seconds. It's only a matter of time until this procedure is perfected and as elective as a face-lift.


Least Favorite Movies
I could start with some outrage, some pithy, biting comments about the author, but really what I have is just shock that I really like 5 of Jaquandor's 10-least favorite films. Of all time. Hell, I would put two of them in my top twenty list, but that's moot. I suppose it just reconfirms my notion that people are predisposed to like different things. I also know this because I sat down and debated the king of tomfoolery on IM about the validity of The Usual Suspects, and after forty minutes of frenzied typing we were no closer to agreeing on anything, except that we disagree.

Of course, this might fortell my involvement in the hater's club by listing my most-hated films, but I choose to not participate in the exercise. This is not because I don't want to act like a fan-boy-hater (although that should be excuse enough), it's because I can't recall that I've actually made myself sit through a movie that I, over the course of the film, started to despise. If you have done so, and you aren't paid to write reviews, then you are a tool. It would be a lot better to write about beginning or ends of movies (or books -- I can get list out right now for that) that caused me to just tune out or turn off the DVD or throw the book across the room.

Okay I've teased enough -- short list of books that I've thrown across the room from disgust at some point:
    LOTR: Fellowship of the Rings -- Mid-beginning. After about six goddam chapters of 'they're walking', I got really really bored and I never bothered to read any further. Borrrrrring.
    Along Came a Spider -- Beginning. Nominated for most childish and obvious use of foreshadowing ever in a sentence, there was a passage in chapter two that read like the guy writing it was twirling his mustache. I could not believe that someone didn't stop him. Literally, I chucked the book at the wall.
    The Lovely Bones -- Ending. The only book I have read to 'jump the shark' at the end. The first 300 pages are an amazing, heartrending, well-written masterpiece. When the main character suddenly, inexpicably, turns the novel into science fantasy, the heavy brakes are put on. I had to re-read the passage six times because I couldn't believe the writer pulled that stunt. If you've read this book you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Now that's a list you can agree with. Or disagree. Whatever.
The Rise of Vader
It didn't take long for the Extended Universe to pick up after Revenge of the Sith. Just released, Star Wars: Dark Lord - Rise of Darth Vader purports to follow the exploits of Vader immediately after his birth and demonstrate how he earned his reputation. I'm a lot more intrigued to read this stuff than the (albeit excellent) Labyrinth of Evil, the lead-in to ROTS. Probably because we've never been told the story of Vader in-between episodes III and IV, the last remaining hallowed canon ground of Star Wars. Also probably because I'm quite the fan.

Via The Force.net
Farewell and adieu...
To one of the greatest jackasses that I have ever seen play the game of NFL football, T.O. is officially done for the season. I'm thrilled to have this pain's 4-week suspension upheld by the arbitrator, just as I am the decision by Andy Reid to bench him for the remainder of the season until he can be shipped out. Granted, I'm not happy that we haven't won any games in the meantime, but that's not really all about T.O. In fact, our QB needed to have surgery weeks ago and was never 100% this year, and our defense has been atrocious. The fact is, our whole team has been beat up, bruised, and mentally battered this season (and off-season), and it's time to take care of business. First step, get rid of distractions, step two, get healthy.

And, yes, I was a supporter of T.O. for the last two years, much like an understanding or tolerant parent. [Most of the venom I'd hear about were from fans of other teams, which I found to be ridiculous. That these people would be so preoccupied with our player and his antics certainly confirmed that (the vast majority of them:) Redskins fans desperately needed a winning season.] And, like a parent who has a troubled but talented kid, you make excuses, bend the rules, and try to see things from his perspective so that things will work out. But there comes a time when you realize your kid has been acting like a spoiled primadonna and has been consistently pushing the envelope to see just how far he can get away with things. Worse, it's likely he doesn't even realize what he's doing is hurtful, wrong, and stupid.

The parental organization, tired of his constant backtalk, beratement of their quarterback and leader, and overall whining, took the necessary step of punishing their supremely talented and unruly receiver. And like any spoiled kid, once he realized that he couldn't get away with it any more and he might have to pay for his wrongs, he immediately turned repentant and humble, trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. Only daddy Eagle didn't buy it for a second. Neither did the arbitrator. [Neither did my father, when I was acting like a brat, to his credit. I remember my dad telling me on the way home from some social function at which I misbehaved that I was going to get a spanking later. I can tell you that is the worst feeling to know it's coming, and I tried, like T.O. (although I'm just not quite as strong), to talk my way out of it.]

T.O.'s going to his room without supper for the rest of 2005. If he's allowed to come out and play by another stepfather who thinks he has a sterner stick, it'll be interesting to see if in the form of timeouts or spankings (for the record, T.O. just got spanked). Good luck with that. And good riddance.


Watching, waiting, hoping
After this week's solid 31-22 win at Michigan State, the Penn State Nittany Lions have claimed the Big Ten title and the automatic BCS bid, which, thanks to the Miami loss this weekend, parks them squarely at #3, on the doorstep to, dare I write it, a national championship game. Damn, if Fresno State had a little more, they'd be in it right now.

Joey Johnson has a good article on the Lions and their amazing turnaround that has them on the verge of a national championship game:
    USC has a 33-game winning streak, but it must defeat cross-town rival UCLA on Dec. 3. There’s another 50-42 game waiting to happen. So you must at least acknowledge the possibility of a USC defeat, even though the Trojans have beaten the Bruins six straight times.

    Texas has proven its talent and depth — over and over again. A loss at Texas A&M on Friday afternoon? Don’t see it. A loss to, say, Colorado, at the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 3? Don’t see that either. But you never really know.

    Just in case, the Nittany Lions await. More than a consolation prize, they would be worthy of the Rose Bowl, although the argument would be tremendous in the one-loss community.

    LSU, Virginia Tech, Oregon, UCLA, West Virginia and even TCU might be in the conversation. And let’s not forget that a trio of two-loss teams — Auburn, Ohio State and Notre Dame — might be playing better than anybody right now.

    But on merit, not sentiment, Paterno and Penn State have earned their spot at the front of the line.

    Penn State began the season unranked and unloved, picked for somewhere near the middle of the Big Ten standings. Paterno, who had four losing teams in the past five seasons, had been ransacked by critics who insisted he should retire. The only thing he could do by sticking around, they said, was harm his reputation.

    Instead, Paterno has enhanced it.
Yeah, the odds are against Texas or USC blowing up in the next couple weeks, but it's a shot. Although a lot of people really want to see the Texas-USC matchup, and might be disappointed if one of them stumbles, the media would soon forget about that. The story of the year, the underdog comeback of this century would be how Joe Paterno, who that same media tried to have run out of town last year, brought his team back to the top of the heap. Actually, that story is already playing out -- it's just a matter of if it completes at the Orange or the Rose Bowl.
Nic Fit
I don't really have bad nicotine cravings, at least not to the point where I'd try to open an airplane door in mid-flight for a smoke.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Mediocrity
In an admirable attempt to keep the same principle leads for each movie before they start growing noticably too old for the parts, the producers of the Harry Potter film series have been cranking them out at a pretty rapid rate, each successive film already in pre-production before the current one is released. After Chris Columbus did the first two movies, unsatisfied with the constant work schedule and aware that the prolific Rowling has five more books in the queue, he relented the reigns as director for the third installment, opening the door for Alfonso Cuaron. He, with the third movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, took advantage of darker and more complex material to craft a stand-alone masterpiece, a film with atmosphere, drama, and feeling that immediately commanded a place in my DVD collection (where the previous two had not). Almost immediately after my experience at the theater was complete, and knowing Goblet of Fire was already in production with director Mike Newell at the helm, I wondered two things: (1) Did he know that the gauntlet had been thrown down, and (2) Was he sweating?

The title of this little excursion should clue you in to my answer to those questions. Suddenly becoming a litmus test of a director's chops, Newell showed unerring fair-to-goodness in making an enjoyable film, a good film, a sure-fire pretty okay time at the movies. Clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours, the best compliment I have was that it didn't seem like it was that long. Granted, Newell had to cram in 700+ pages of a great book into watchable time, so the task was daunting to begin with, and unfortunately, for the first forty minutes, we feel rushed through the story. The first third of the book dealt with the Quidditch World Cup, an event that I overheard several people in the audience pre-screening eagerly anticipating. What we got amounted to a cameo, with the Cup getting maybe about 2 minutes of screen time. Out of 147. This set a precedent in my mind from which the film never really recovered.

Newell doesn't butcher the film, but compared to Cuaron's vision, he seems like a pretender. The look of the movie is nearly identical to Cuaron's, with that same slightly-washed out look and darker, edgier sets. But it feels like a copycat move rather than a direction, and without a steadier guide at the wheel, you end up with a bland facsimile of a film. It's good because of the material, but not any better because of the director. Like the first two installments of the series, it's passable, enjoyable to a point, and certainly worth a rental. It is not worth sitting next to some kids who won't shut up during the film (I won't even get into the fact that their mother brought two under-10 year-olds to a PG-13 film on opening day, when clearly she hadn't screened the film herself. I hope they have nightmares -- there are some squirmy scenes indeed.).

Again, this isn't a bad film. It is a good film representation of a great novel, but it doesn't have feeling, it doesn't have urgency, and well, it won't have my DVD money either.


Rivalry weekend
Well, it has come down to the last regular season game for my Penn State Nittany Lions. On Saturday (nationally televised on ESPN at 4 PM), we have a chance to outright win the Big Ten championship with a victory at our rival Michigan State. Said victory would ensure that we would represent in the BCS, and the way things are looking right now, that would mean a matchup against our 'old school' rivals Miami (not of Ohio) in the Orange Bowl. Although there is a chance that USC and Texas could lose one of their remaining games and thus catapult us (given a win Saturday, knock on wood), in practical terms, that is just plain betting on a horse with bad odds. Or, to get even more colloquial, "that dog just won't hunt."

Back when PSU entered the Big Ten in '93, I had mixed feelings about us joining a conference. It was done to help all our other school sports -- football, which it goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, was a national independent powerhouse (thanks in no small part to JoePa). Ironically, the program I wish it helped more than it has, basketball, continues to be average, although we did have the notorious catchphrase-generating upset victory against North Carolina in the 2001 NCAA tourney. (For those of you who aren't familiar with my antics, after that game I kept my arms raising above my head, and for months after that, 'arms raised in victory' became part of my IM and demonstrative language.)

Up until that time, Penn State's regular season schedule would always include Miami and Notre Dame, two teams that we considered to be rivals. Those games were, for lack of a better descriptor, awesome. Although, the Big Ten is a nationally respected top-tier conference, with plenty of excellent teams, I thought it wasn't worth losing those great games.

As it is with all conferences, rivarlies are a central part of the life-blood of college sports. No game inspires more good ol' hatred than playing against your arch-nemesis. For PSU, that nemesis was to be Michigan State. Michigan State? Hwuh? I remember thinking that Michigan or Ohio State would be better (read: more worthy) matchups than MSU, but of course, theirs is the best college football rivalry going.

This year, for example was particularly demonstrative of that mentality. Since the beginning of the season, I've been saying that the Ohio State game was the biggest game of the year for us. It turned out to be a helluva game, and ESPN's second-largest audience ever. The following week, our heartbreaking last-play (last second) loss to Michigan left me in shock for days afterward. God, how I wanted to win that game, and I am so proud of our team's amazing comeback effort and 4th Quarter drive (in which we survived two fourth-and-long plays. In Ann Arbor, that ain't no joke.

In short, I just don't get up for Michigan State like I do for these other teams. But that is slowly changing. It has taken a few years (11, to be specific), but I am slowly coming to dread/anticipate our annual season-ending showdown for the Land Grant Trophy. This year, because we have so much at stake and they are in position to be a huge spoiler. This year, because they would love to take us down a notch from our comeback-season. This year, because they are jerks and our boys are going to fight our enemies with the venom they deserve. Rivalry weekend, indeed.


Watching the Saga in Order
Now that the Star Wars series is complete, it's possible to finally watch it in chronological order. I, of course, cannot go back in time and watch it anew, nor am I sure that I really want to. While watching them in order would certainly change many dramatic angles in the story, and add a lot of heft to a lot of original trilogy scenes, I also don't want to give up the feeling of 'holyshittery' when Vader revealed his heritage to Luke.

As much as it has become a part of popular culture to know who Luke's father is, it's sometimes difficult to fathom that NO ONE saw that one coming. Hell, in the interim between 'Empire' and 'ROTJ', there was a lot of debate regarding whether Vader was lying to Luke. (I remember being absolutely sure that it was true. Not because I was smart or perceptive, but because I thought, "Wow, wouldn't that be the coolest twist??")

In any event, should I somehow manage to have children someday (task 1) and then somehow manage to shield them (or it) from the media and friends so as to avoid spoilers (task 2), the question remains, do I start with the original trilogy or the prequel trilogy?

I haven't determined the answer just yet, but thinking it through is Tosy and Cosh, who has written a perspectus of what it would be like for a new viewer to watch the series in chronological order. Worth a read and the reactions are pretty funny.


Fascism right at home
Even if you do live in the DC/VA/MD metro area, it's unlikely that you knew about the District's uber-strict "drunk"-driving laws. I put that word in quotes to illustrate what happened to a lawyer recently after she had a glass of wine with dinner:
    Debra Bolton had a glass of red wine with dinner. That's what she told the police officer who pulled her over. That's what the Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test indicated -- .03, comfortably below the legal limit.

    She had been pulled over in Georgetown about 12:30 a.m. for driving without headlights. She apologized and explained that the parking attendant must have turned off her vehicle's automatic-light feature.

    Bolton thought she might get a ticket. Instead, she was handcuffed, searched, arrested, put in a jail cell until 4:30 a.m. and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
The arresting officer's words are even more chilling:
    As D.C. police officer Dennis Fair, who arrested Bolton on May 15, put it in an interview recently: "If you get behind the wheel of a car with any measurable amount of alcohol, you will be dealt with in D.C. We have zero tolerance. . . . Anything above .01, we can arrest."
Yes, folks, thanks to a DC council decision years back, our police force in DC giddily enforces the letter of the law against Ms. Bolton, charging a sober driver with drunk driving. The comical aspects aside, this police policy actually encourages people to lie when pulled over. Seriously, why would you ever confess to a single beer or glass of wine if you knew they could take you to jail just based on that? Welcome to the nation's capital of zero tolerance.


As much an American pasttime as anything else, the tradition of consuming food and beverages in the parking lot outside a football stadium is one I try to partake in at least once a year. Granted, I have plenty of opportunity as I live in Washington, DC, but that's not where the 'best' tailgating is to be had.

Sports Illustrated has been running a poll to determine which stadium is your favorite tailgating spot in the U.S., and it has come down to two: Ralph Wilson Stadium (Buffalo Bills) vs. Happy Valley (Penn State). I'm one of the few (well, at least for those who read this blog) who can boast that they have been to both, the latter many times, and the former a few. Although the fans in Buffalo have a great tailgate, it doesn't compare to 100,000 strong (that's conservative, because I know a lot of people who go just to tailgate, and don't even have tickets) at University Park. To catch a glimpse of why I'm right, tune in to College GameDay Saturday.

And a vote for me is a vote for 'righteousness'.


I'm borrowing from a blog (via Jaquandor's links) that cite some quotes from the Unbearable Lightness of Being that struck the blogger as life truths. One in particular had that affect on me:
    Tomas came to this conclusion: Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).
Upon reading this, I felt the amazing desire to scream "DUH!!" For the vast majority of my sexual life, I have been able to separate the two emotions (or 'passions' as it were) very easily, but haven't quite seen it put to page so succinctly. Just based on that one I'll have to check the book out (although my judgement may have already been ruined by the movie).
Why not call him "Dork" to save time
I've seen a lot of couples in my lifetime struggle with the naming of a baby (not me, thanks), but even though I'm a fan of comics, I had a "No... It can't be... not--" moment when I read this:
    In New York City, Nicolas Cage's wife of 14 months gave birth on Monday to the couple's first child together. The couple named their baby boy Kal-El -- the birth name of Superman.

    No details were given as to why the couple was inspired to borrow from the Superman mythology in naming their child, though Cage is known for being an avid comic book fan.
Although I'm usually don't like to read the hater fanboy comments that follow the stories, I did scan one that was perfect.
    You know some geek kid is going to beat the crap out of him at school and say "Kneel before, Zod!"
Yes, kneel, and for all our sakes, vote. Heck, even Clinton had to do it.


We are... Penn State
I'm positively brimming with energy today, and very likely the rest of the week. If you have to ask why, I'll patiently inform you. In our first game against a ranked Big Ten opponent, we handed out an old-fashioned 80's-PSU-style thumping of Minnesota. I watched it in its entirety, surrounded by PSU friends from college, and we were just beside ourselves with giddyness. I mean it was the most unbelievable one-sided win I've seen in years. It exceeded every expectation, probably best displayed when the Gopher's "biggest hitter" tried to tackle our QB head on and was thoroughly concussed. That kind of exceeding.

I've been glowing ever since. Although today is going to be a monster day at work, I am just beside myself with glee. A columnist from the Front Row summed up my physical feelings perfectly:
    Everyone keeps saying "We're back." But what does that mean? What is back, and how do we know for sure that we are it?

    If you ask me, "Back" is having a goosebump-inducing team. It's physically feeling the anticipation for this Saturday's game against No. 6 Ohio State.

    It's dreaming of being in the Top 10, and the knowledge that it really, truly could happen within one week's time.
Recognizing that PSU might just be on the rise, ESPN chiefs decideded the game of the week: State College PA will be hosting the ESPN College GameDay crew for our prime-time nationally televised matchup. I am just chomping at the bit for Saturday night. JoePa rocks.


X3, you make my life complete
Watching the Emmy's the other night, you may have said to yourself, "What the hell kind of hairstyle is Hugh Jackman wearing?" Or, if you were me (you are not), you would have said, "Ooooh -- have they started filming X3?"

The answer is yes -- production is underway, with a target release date of May 26, 2006. I'm actually quite relieved to hear it, not just because I'm looking forward to it, but with the addictiveness of this era of summer blockbusters, I need as many studio-cranked hits as they can muster. Give me the juice!

As you all know, or should know by now, I was a big fan of X2. It managed to be bigger, better (as sequels are ruled to do), more exciting, and yet kept an interesting plot without resorting to special effects to carry the tale. As such, it ended up being the best superhero film to date (beating out Spider-Man 2 by a slight margin). And of all the superhero franchises, the X-Men have unbelievably large cache of cool characters, both good and evil, to pull out. To boot, some of their storylines are legend, such as the 'Dark Phoenix' saga, referenced at the end of X2. The question is, with all these resources at the producer's disposal, what are they going to do next? In short, another large, bold movie or are they going to screw the pooch?? (In shorter, for some, when are we gonna see Gambit?)

Well, X3 started off inauspiciously with the hiring of uber-hack director Brett Ratner, instead of Bryan Singer, who is busy putting his stamp on the Superman movie series. 'Superman Returns' opens two weeks after X3's posted date, so I'm pretty sure that the schedule is rigid. Anyway, after I heard the 'Brett' news, I kinda tuned out of speculative internet sites. Until I saw THE HAIR again, and then I got curious.

XMF, a site dedicated to the next film (clued to me by Cinescape), has a lot of insider data. For instance, the cast continues to get more and more impressive, and as for the characters, the list is growing. Multiple Man has been cast as a member of 'Omega Red's faction', but according to the report on XMF, that is just one little bit of what to expect:
    The brotherhood want to get to the phoenix, she is confused and about to rise. Magneto knows this, and wants to take advantage of it. He splits up his men, and decides to create diversions so the X-men can’t get to the phoenix. But he fails, because the scene clearly starts off….

    Part 1 - Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Xavier, & Storm are there where Jean Grey (The Dark Phoenix) Is rising, by there surprise Magneto and Mystique are also there. Xavier and his team seem to be there to aid Jean, while the brotherhood seems to be there to corrupt. A bit of powers begin to fly, brother hood vs. x-men and at a point phoenix versus everyone.

    Part 2 - Close by in the forest you can see Wolverine running, nothing was explained about that. He was probably on his way to the other older x-men. Next thing you know Omega Red, Gauntlet, Multiple Man and a bunch of Omega Red’s henchman surround him. By some sort of coincidence some sort of military ( XMF was NOT told what the name of the faction was but we do know that they have something to do with the Sentinels. ) show up and the surround all four mutants. Multiple Man multiplies and takes them on, as Gauntlet and Omega Red take on Wolverine. This scene is brotherhood diversion one.

    To sum it up: Wolverine Vs Omega Red, Gauntlet, Multiple Man. Unknown faction against all the mutants. Double fight in one.

    Part 3 - As said, happening at the same time, a fight at the X-mansion begins. New brotherhood members Pyro, Scarlet Witch and Avalanche approach the frontal area of the Xavier Institute. Approaching them immediately are Rogue, Ice Man, Jubilee and X-Kid. Right away conflict flares and without any explanation to why they begin to fight, it seems to of been acknowledged it wasn’t a friendly meet and greet.

    Part 2 summed up: Avalanche Vs Jubilee, Pyro Vs Ice Man & Rogue/X-Kid Vs Scarlet Witch.

    Part 4 - You can’t leave out the biggest and badest it seems, because when all this is going on, who would’ve thought Juggernaut was on campus as well. Luckily Colossus was around. Colossus faces off at the X-mansion with none other then Juggernaut. Good thing he had help available from x-student Kitty Pryde aka Shadow cat.

    XMF was not given exact information on which team beat each team in each moment, but expect a classic x-men clash. This is the fight scene X-fans have been dying to have, and here it is. This is a rewritten perception of the information we were given. It was rewrote in a way that you guys can read it and probably enjoy it more. We were told that this scene is 7-10 minutes long, and really wasn’t a big part of the movie at all. Its looking good for X3. This is from the same source who gave us the information on Omega Red & Gauntlet, we support this 100% and can tell you this is fact, and not fiction.
Holy crossovers Batman!! The weirdest thing about all that is that Vinnie Jones has been cast as Juggernaut. Although it would be interesting to have the cockney bully play Xavier's jealous brother, Juggernaut is monstrously huge. Well, I guess they are going to use a lot of CGI or maybe even have the character be CGI (this would make sense as Kelsey Grammar is cast as the gymnastic Beast). In any event, if even 70% of this ends up being true, I'm already wringing my hands in anticipation.


Dream Job v.1.0
It's been quite some time since I've done any significant writing for the infamous work-in-project that is my book. I'd gotten 50,000 words in and was forced to stop, not because I'd written myself into an impossible scenario, but because I hadn't done enough backstory to really know how things should be playing out. And if the author doesn't know, I can tell you that's the quickest way to contradict yourself and not only confuse the reader but likely piss them off as well.

Unfortunately, once I set down the pen and got to plotting, I was forced to confront the reality of the structure. Yes, I had a beginning, middle and a (in my opinion) helluva good end. Yes, I had scenes I definitely wanted to put in for action. I had a bunch of dialogue and revelatory exchanges, too. What I didn't have were was the, well, cyctoplasm of the piece. The goo that holds it all together and makes it a work. I had too many elements and not enough connectors to make them all make sense. In short, I suffered from an overabundant imagination for thinking up cool ideas and a stagnant imagination for how to put them all together. Or, perish the thought, whether some should be included in the first place. The story that I want to put down is ambitious, and thus the plotting and backstory that needs to be written is like a book in itself, just much shorter, told in paraphrasing, and murderously complicated (and far more than it should be, which is why this process is ongoing).

So, over the last 4 years (cringe) since I've written new pages I've set to thinking about the plot and slowly working it together and also working the term 'myth' into my status as a writer. Unfortunately, at the beginning of that time, I was laid off the job I had at the time, so I was a little distracted with the attempts to find gainful employment. And then, when I finally found another job, it kept me far busier than I had been previously, learning new technology, inventing procedures, etc. In short, I started to become a little more caring about my career, such that it was, and wanted to put a little elbow grease into it. And writing could take a back seat. Not dead, but certainly needing a good dusting every now and then.

In that format, I've been operating at a snail's pace (but a pace nonetheless), coming up with answers to plot questions once in a blue moon, tightening up the project one small pull at a time. This weekend something just popped into my head while I was on the eliptical machine (the vast majority of my plotting 'revelations' happen there when I'm zoning out), and I rushed back to work to write about a page of backstory that finally connected one of my most worrisome dots. I won't say that I'm near the end of the plotting, but it was another gigantic pull towards the final product.

One of the best things about writing is when you get those little moments and you write some little phrase or scene and you know it's cool. Those are the great days. The worst days are the ones where you sit and stare at a page and try to wring something, anything out and it just-will-not-come. Unforunately, I've found that like anything in life, you need balance to accomplish anything. You can't have the good days without the bad, and the only way to have the good is to think about what needs to be done and work at it. Just keep at it, as much as possible.

And why am I writing all this on the blog? Because of the little moments, and because there are apparently job openings right now for a position where your cool moments will be even cooler:
    IGN FilmForce can exclusively report that Lucasfilm is seeking screenwriters for its planned TV series based on George Lucas' Star Wars film saga. Keeping with Lucas' penchant for security, the show will be scripted at the bearded one's secluded Skywalker Ranch. Work will commence this January.
Talk about the best job ever. I wonder if they'll post on Monster... and get 40,000 replies (including mine).


Anyone for tennis?
Well, I sure as shit wasn't going to stay up to watch it last night, but the Agassi - Blake quarterfinal match from the US Open has already been compared to that of Connors' emotional run back in 1991. I've been getting up at the crack (crack for me = 7 AM) of dawn for work, and I'm planning on heading out to watch the first game of the NFL season, so I wasn't going to even start watching when it came on at 10:30 last night. My instincts served me well, for I not only knew Leia was my sister, but the match lasted until 1:15 AM. Double grande latte, indeed.

Fortunately, thanks to the instant-reply capability of USA network, I was able to catch the last 2/3 of set 5 at the gym today, and I can tell you if the entire match was like that, the hype is on the mark. It was some of the most intense, well-played, back-and-forth, crowd-involved, emotional tennis I've seen since, well, that Connors-Krickstein match they show every year there's a rain delay. Also made for a riveting workout, as I got on the treadmill and was running with the intensity of the match; I kept running into the front, seemingly infused with the energy of the play (in reality it some low-grade speed I got from "Benny"). In any event, as the players finished, both equally spent and yet aware of the moment, they smiled as they met at the net. Blake said to Agassi, "It couldn't have been more fun to lose," and I smiled involuntarily.
More Marvel
Well, Marvel Comics has finally taken the obvious step to ensure the quality and integrity of their characters that are represented on film. In short, adopt a 'do-it-yourself' mentality:
    Marvel has announced they will change their name from Marvel Enterprises to Marvel Entertainment. The plan is for the company to produce films based on its own properties.The company has identified ten characters & groups it will develop as potential feature franchises: Captain America, Avengers, Nick Fury, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Cloak and Dagger, Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, Power Pack, and Shang-Chi
Jaquandor reminded me of this topic, and clearly has only a casual knowledge of what he speaks when he disparages a title he barely read called 'Power Pack', a comic about a group of adolescents with super abilities. I actually have issues #1-20 in the 'archives'. I have read them many times, and contrary to Jacquador's questionable opinion, the first dozen-or-so issues were quite intriguing. I thought they were pretty well written at the time. Perhaps I'll revisit next time I'm up at the 'rents. In any event, of the new titles Marvel has listed as potential movies, that one is far more interesting than some of the others.

The most questionable on the list are Nick Fury and Blank Panther. The latter makes the list look like 'Hey -- let's throw in this guy to get the 'black' crowd.' If you were going to throw someone in, why not the 'Falcon' (or Luke Cage)? Probably because he'll be included in the 'Avengers' franchise, although that logic should be also applied to 'Ant-Man'. In short, both guys have no powers and were among the least remarkable characters I can recall. Even though they have potential, you're going to have to go a long way to making a franchise out of them. Better served as back-up for Captain America, really.

And if you are going to include 'Ant-Man' and 'Blank Panther' (again, hwuh?), where are the other more prominent Avengers like Iron Man or Thor? Well, golly they are in production already. So much so that this whole list smacks of being the last one on the gravy train more than wanting to keep the integrity (of the remaining B-characters who haven't had movies made of them yet). Some would like to see the 'Silver Surfer' but it's tough to visualize that without having a cackle about the rationality of taking a guy on a flying surfboard seriously. My only contribution to the not-already-tagged list would be Captain Mar-Vell, who died a long way back of cancer (after, ya know, saving the universe).

All that tripe said, I would certainly fork over my $10 bucks to go see Captain America (the 1991 farce-of-a-film, which I have seen, is just plain embarrassing), the Avengers, and Cloak and Dagger could have potential. But the one on the list that I would jump to see is Dr. Strange, some of whose comics are amongst my favorites. The character's ability as Sorcerer-Supreme would lend countless possibilities toward films, and if done right and true to the character (one would imagine this was the whole purpose of Marvel wanted to do these films themselves), could be one of the best ever. Just saying.


Why I Love to Hate Religion
Perhaps the most common reaction I receive when people find out that I have a love/hate relationship with religion is bewilderment, and I can understand this point. To a lot of people I meet, religion is something that either they are a part of (some grudgingly) or that they avoid all costs. For me to read books about religion is analogous to a person who hates spiders doing research about them every now and then. That may not be the best analogy ever devised, but comparing a spider to religion is about as charitable as I can get.

Of course, growing up, my view of God and such was a lot different than it was now. I have no doubts that my upbringing had a lot to do with my distaste for the cloth, but I suffered nothing so melodramatic as abuse or an exorcism growing up. In fact, I always had a kind of weird fascination with it, because of three basic reasons.

First, as a child the answers you get to your questions are circular in logic at best ("Because it says so in the Bible.") and mysterious at all other times ("God works in mysterious ways."). When you're young, it's not very proper to question the authority of parents, teachers, or adults when they give you the run-around(hell, try doing it as an adult). Of course, these non-answer answers (the gifted go on to be politicians) only spurred me to look elsewhere for the 'answers' (such that they are). Of my gifts, I have an inquisitive nature, and an innate need to understand WHY things work if I'm going to have anything to do with them.

A counter-example would be cars. I don't work on cars, I am not fascinated by cars, so I have no care about the difference between a carburetor and a radiator. To many an average American, this is nothing short of incomprehensible. Luckily, I, again, don't care. What I care about is spirituality, the existence of an afterlife, "God's will", etc. Many of these same people who can't understand why I am not changing my own oil will blithely believe whatever they were taught in Sunday school, or accept whatever religion their parents had. For as important question as "do you have a soul", to shrug and tow the line is near blasphemy. And I love to blaspheme.

Second would be the movies. Two of my favorite films of all-time come from the 80's. In fact, from the same year (1981). The first is the rollicking serial-adventure story, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the second, Chariots of Fire. 'Raiders' has more obvious and more action-packed religious themes, with Mr. Jones searching for a relic of Christian myth. (You'd think the Nazi's would have guessed from the thrashing they get from the Hebrew God at the end that killing Jews wouldn't be a good idea, but then I guess no one ever found out about it. Here's a lesson from westerns, Jehovah: always leave one baddie to tell the tale.) 'Chariots' is the true story of two English runners, one Jewish and one Christian, who run for different reasons and different Gods. It is a fascinating and enthralling study of both men and the impact they had on the Olympic games of 1924.

Both films have intense moments of religious awe, some melodramatic, some beyond belief, some that make you wonder. As a 10-year-old filmgoer, already beginning to seriously question what belief or God is, my fires got stoked by some great filmmakers. And really, is it any coincidence that George Lucas had a hand in one? I've always had a fascination with religious-themed movies, and if done reasonably right (e.g., The Prophecy, Constantine come to mind, films that don't just tow the line and are genuinely entertaining), gets me thinking, even if the film's premise is considered to be ridiculous.

Aside, when I finally saw the movie 'The Exorcism', I thought it was pretty good, but I didn't find it remotely scary. Granted I did watch it for the first time when I was 30 (I watched it on my birthday, alone, in a dark house, and it still didn't freak me out.), but I'm notoriously skittish about horror films to this day, so I don't think age has anything to do with it.

For instance, I had nightmares for two nights after seeing 'Scream'. That kind of admission alone might cause some of you to spew green pea soup in digust. And I kind of hope it does, because I have quite a malicious streak. 'Scream' is the type of film that gets under my skin the most easily, because it is based on reality. A crazy guy with a knife is a lot more threatening to me than Christian myth.

Third would be the mystery of nature itself. The feeling one gets (or I get for the purposes of this little treatise) from laying with your back on the grass and staring up at the clouds or the starry sky. Standing on the edge of the ocean on the beach at midnight, looking out at the murky blackness, the water vast and the horizon infinite. Or, it can be as simple as thinking about a person you haven't seen in years, and then suddenly running into them the next day. The feeling of powerlessness before nature, the vastness, the intimate unknown experiences, the unexplainable connection one feels. If I am convinced of anything, it is that there is more out there, and in here, much more, that we have yet to discover. Religion and the history thereof is a roadmap to many peoples' attempts to either find out more, explain, or manipulate people who are scared into doing horrors.

It is because of the last remark that I write this piece today. There was an incident this week at the West Bank, in which Arabs burned Jewish houses following an 'honor killing' (via Wretchard). I had figured from the term 'honor killing' that there was some kind of duel between Jew and Muslim in which someone had to take their own life out of shame, or something like that. The facts are much more shocking:
    A security sources said the rampage was triggered by an incident last week in which a 30-year-old woman was made to drink poison by her relatives because they suspected her of carrying on a romance with a Christian man from the village - thought by scholars to be the city of Ephraim to which Jesus and his disciples went in John chapter 11.

    The woman was quickly buried, but last Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority police exhumed the body for an autopsy angering relatives. So-called Muslim 'honor killings' are common throughout the Middle East but attract only minimal sentences due to their widespread cultural acceptance as an integral part of Islamic 'Sharia' law.
It's a sick twist on 'Romeo and Juliet', and it leaves an indescribable feeling of revulsion in my stomach. To me, a perversion of spirituality, of shocking ignorance and stupidity, and somehow just not quite surprising.


Season Finale... online
I've touted before that Battlestar Galactica is the best show on TV, and that the finale from the first season was as chock-full of cliffhangers as any I've ever seen. Well, thanks to the incredible power of the internet, you can apparently watch the entire season finale online. I'd recommend a high-speed connection, though. Yes, I'm aware that I am enabling work-slackage. I'm prepared to accept responsibility.

For those of you who have missed the outstanding first season, your wait for the DVD is nearly over. So, buy, rent, borrow after September 20, but don't deny yourself a helluva series.


C is for Creepy Guy Fawkes mask
V is for Vendetta, the famed graphic series (read: comic books) from acclaimed author Alan Moore. But what is moore (ha) important is that the movie version, starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman, is in production and a pretty cool trailer has been posted on the official site.

Via Cinescape.
Summer evil
In case anyone has been wondering where I've been for the past month, well, I'll tell you right out (unlike J.K. Rowling who likes to avoid such questions for chapters on end). First, I had to study madly (about 80 hours by my watch) and to successfully pass my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification test. The PMP credential enables you to apply for certain jobs, get instant credibility (I would compare it to becoming a Professional Engineer after you graduate.), and, oh yeah, make more money.

My job has afforded me a lot of spare time, and very little inspiration, so I decided to get something out of the time I've put in here and budget available. In order to even take the test you have to document at least 4500 hours of project work over at least 3 years and 60 hours of training. Then, you get the joy of not only memorizing the PMBOK Guide but the study guide in hopes of cramming a huge amount of data into your head for a 4-hour test filled with nothing but complex word problems. Definitely one of the hardest tests I've taken, but I'm glad it's over.

Anyway, after that debacle was past, I decided to take a week off and hit the beach. No internet access down there, and nothing to do but sleep, eat, exercise, hit the beach, eat again, nap, eat, hit the bars, have Togo's pizza, and then sleep. Rinse off in the shower in the morning and repeat for 5 days. That was my week. Very relaxing.

Finally, as most of you know, it was time (July 20) for yet another birthday, this one for 34 years on the planet. Officially in my 'mid-thirties', but feeling good and actually about 10 pounds lighter than last year. Anywho, enough excusing -- just thought I'd give everyone an update of the activities of the past month.
London falling
There certainly has been some disturbing events occuring recently over in the UK. Two bombings on a mass transit system of late, and a massive hunt for the suspects have kept things pretty much on edge. Police presence has naturally been stepped up, and people are preternaturally aware of anyone moving about suspiciously.

Well, last Friday we had our first report of someone gunned down in a police chase. I had heard that police had chased down an unknown suspect and, after he tripped and fell, they shot him while he was on the ground 5-6 times. Now, while this would certainly sound like an example from a totaliaristic state, in light of what is going on there, I can understand their caution. Suicide bombers will have the explosives on them, and could trigger them at any moment. In order to be safe you have to 'take them down' before they can detonate.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the suspect was an innocent man, but apparently one without much hint of common sense:
    Blair said Menezes had emerged from an apartment block in south London that had been under surveillance in connection with Thursday’s attacks, and refused police orders to halt. Menezes had also been wearing an unseasonably heavy coat, further raising police suspicions.
I can understand wearing suspicious clothing, but I can't understand what would possess someone to run from the police during this tension. The first line that leaped to mind was from Top Gun -- it reminds me of the line Goose quotes when envisioning the condolence letters from their deaths in the mock combat, "The Defense Department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid."


The Pitfalls of Anal Sex
Normally, I'd be writing about something that tickled my fancy in the movie business, or perhaps some kind of eruditic insight into something Jaquandor might have written, but I stumbled upon a great little anecdote that made me laugh today. I highly endorse perusing the story of TuckerMax, Asshole's unfortunate adventure in buttfuckery. An inspired and foreboding post, indeed.


Missing Childhood
Jaquandor fails to list even three things he misses about his childhood. Although I wasn't 'tagged' to repeat this theme, his notes set me to thinking about just what did I miss about my childhood in Allegany, NY? (Aside to Google: It's St. Bonaventure, not Bobaventure!)

Top of the list may seem quite odd considering the publishing format, but I miss not having the internet and cable TV. That's right, I remember fondly the days when we didn't have the information superhighway and 100 channels at our disposal. This is not to say that I would ever give up my high-speed connection or want to go back to the world of 1982 -- the benefits of the internet are amazing. For instance, I have never ever liked to shop. I went clothes-shopping maybe once a year if I really really needed something. Online shopping is a wonderous gift.

However, cable and the internet can be a time-consuming distraction. A black hole of wasted energy that sucks inspiration and entices slacking. To be honest, I miss having less instant entertainment at the ready. Which bring me to the second thing I miss, compliments of Allegany Central School (which no longer exists, natch), is study halls. I used to have at least 2 a day, sometimes four. No distractions, no talking, no video games, just your books and some paper. I hardly ever brought home work from school thanks to these concentrated time-periods, but that's not really why I miss them. I miss them because they were dedicated time, during the day, that I used to write stories and scripts. The majority of my writing growing up was done during these periods. No distractions. Nowadays, when I get home from working, it's tough to set aside time, especially when my mind is tired. Although I have enough flexibility (and power!) to set aside some time at work, this damn internet gets in the way. If someone shoots an email to me, sometimes it requires immediate responses. I'll get distracted by, heavens, work! Distraction-free time during the day is definitely up there.

I'm only going to name one more, and that's my grandfather's house. That was another great place to play. When I visited the house a few years back for my cousin's wedding, the feelings of nostagia were powerful. His place was way up in the woods, and you could literally get lost in the surrounding forest. We used to spend hours playing up there. One one giant tree we had attached a rope that we used to swing out over a hill and plant cushions from couches in the house to soften the 15 foot drop. Good times.


Favorite moments... from Clones and Sith
Completing the task I started this week, here are my final two spectacular logs of memorable moments from Star Wars. Enjoy your Father's Day weekend!

Attack of the Clones moments
  • "Well who can blame them. But he is here." I'm just picking one line of the 'interrogation' conversation (Obi-Wan's derisive comment about the Geonosian's distrust of bounty hunters) between the captive Obi-Wan and Count Dooku, but I think the whole scene is masterful from start-to-finish. Entering with feigned bluster, Dooku soon drops the bomb of the truth on Obi-Wan, and like all the Jedi, he refuses to believe it. Using the memory of Qui-Gon, Dooku then asks for Obi-Wan's help in 'destroying the Sith'. Dooku's motives will forever be the stuff of the expanded universe novels (by-the-by, Labyrinth of Evil wonderfully develops the background of both Dooku and Grievous prior to Episode III).
  • "I won't be long." Padme and Anakin's embrace outside the Lar's home is a beautiful shot, and poignant because he's about to taste his first bit of the dark side. I have a picture of the scene on my wall.
  • The look of evil. Shortly thereafter, as Anakin's mother passes away in peace, Anakin feels anything but that. Hayden got his first chance to convey what Vader looks like when he feels rage, and he nails it.
  • "Always a pleasure to meet a Jedi." Another great conversational scene (all the critics of dialogue can eat me, btw), this time not between two Jedi but two men measuring each other up and not giving an inch. Jango's threat to Obi-Wan that his clones will "do their job well. I'll guarantee that" is wonderfully subtle.
  • "I love democracy." McDiarmid delivers this line with such humility as he is being appointed supreme-executive powers by the Senate. The sheer gall of this man to deliver probably the most bold-faced lie in the entire series makes me reflexively snort every time I see it. Probably the same way Palpatine is internalizing his own amusement.
  • "You want to go home and rethink your life." A popular moment for sure, Obi-Wan's casual influence of one of Corsucant's denizens is hilarious. He does it so quickly that you get the sense this is certainly not the first time he's done this. I know he has other things on his mind at the moment, but it's amusing to think that anytime he is confronted with someone he doesn't approve of, he does a mind-trick on them, not out of malice or control, but for his own amusement and maybe to help a bit where he can. A perfect taste of his sense of humor.
  • "If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist!" Librarian Jocasta Nu's hauty declaration regarding Obi-Wan's search for Kamino is an great representation of how confident, how blind, and how prime the Jedi are ready for a fall.

    Revenge of the Sith moments
  • The Last ReflectionI think you ask your average fan his/her favorite moment, and most of them will include the word 'lightsaber'. On reflection after seeing it a second time, the choice for my favorite moment became clear. The hauntingly brilliant John Williams track ('Padme's Ruminations') compliments the most halting and beautifully restrained scene in the film. Wraught with symbolism, the two lovers, separated by a great distance, contemplate each other and the future in the backdrop of a blood-red sunset. Although I've only seen the film twice, this moment made my eyes well up both times. You know this is the precipice and Anakin is stepping off. An instant classic.
  • "I hear a new apprentice, you have." Right before Yoda conversationally mentions to Sidious that he is aware of his recruit, Yoda casuals flips his hand and the force deals with the Emperor's guards. A moment designed to briefly alleviate the seriousness of the situation, it works every time.
  • "I can overthrow him, and together you and I can rule the galaxy." The whole conversation between Anakin, Padme, and Obi-Wan on Mustafar is wonderful, but this line is the one that resonates to the original trilogy. It answers the question of whether Vader was tempting Luke on Bespin to get him to turn to the dark side, or did he really want his to help him defeat the Emperor. Anakin love and desires have become twisted by the dark side. Twisted, and in his mind, still noble.
  • "Time to abandon ship!" This is a Grievous line he says, almost giddily, after he escapes from the bridge of his own ship. We haven't seen a villain in the series who so clearly relishes his adversarial relationship with the Jedi. I think that most of his lines will work its way into my standard lexicon eventually, but the two that stick in mind right now are from the opening battle. Another, right before he punctures the bridge parasteel glass he taunts, "You lose, General Kenobi!" His unabashedly playful attitude showed through the voice-effects to heighten what could have been just another stock henchman.
  • "Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, then his apprentice killed him in his sleep."Palpatine speaking of his former master, McDiarmid delivers the veiled background as a Sith apprentice with fondness and style, most notably when he remarks with a humored wistfullness of his ruthless nature that he killed his master in his sleep. For all the stigma that Lucas can't write dialogue, this is (again) one of the instances where both brilliant script and performance melded to produce an insightful portrait of a man who is a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
  • "Good, Anakin, good. Kill him. Kill him now." How quickly and unnervingly Palpatine goes from encouraging teacher to casual murderer. So shockingly that even Dooku is speechless at the betrayal; Palpatine nearly smiles at Dooku. Anakin hesitates but the temptation is too strong.
  • "Are you threatening me, Master Jedi?"The effect is chilling when Palpatine suddenly drops all pretense of civility and humility when confronted by the Jedi in his chambers. When he reveals his deadly skills by cutting through three of them in seconds, it is positively scary. I remember watching the trailer over and over for that moment when he leaps over his desk and crouches, animal-like, taking both us and the Jedi aback. It is the very definition of a 'money shot'.
  • 6.15.2005

    Favorite moments... from Jedi and Menace
    To make amends for missing a blog yesterday, and in keeping with my prediction, I present a two-for-one extravaganza of opinions!

    Return of the Jedi moments
  • The Return of the Jedi. That moment when Luke catches his new lightsaber on the barge and watches the green blade ignite. I get tingles. One of my favorite scenes from Jedi, and supported by a thrilling Williams track (a staple of my iPod). Watching Luke finally show his Jedi licks still gives me goose bumps. Luke's confrontation with Boba Fett was the cherry on the scene (I'm certain that just about every Empire fan sat up straight in their chairs when he flew down to Luke's skipper), and we got our first shot of a Jedi blocking blaster bolts. Good stuff.
  • "My favorite kind of scum: fearless and inventive." Leia's ruse as a bounty hunter creates a great tense moment when she pulls out a thermal detonator in Jabba's court. Jabba, amused, merely continues negotiating the contract on Chewbacca.
  • "Well, how could they be jamming us if they don't know... if we're coming." Lando's split-second realization that the Empire is about to spring their trap sets up the thundering horns of both Williams' accompaniment and the hundreds of TIE fighters plowing into the fighter group. The shit is on.
  • "You want this... don't you?" After goading Luke with news of his friends' plight, the Emperor casually fingers the lightsaber on his chair's arm and asks him what he already knows. McDiarmid delivers the line with such delicacy, and then slowly turns up the intensity when goading him strike him down. Only slightly overshadowed is a favorite line later on, "Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station!" That one ups the ante on the conflict considerably.
  • "You already have, Luke. You were right about me. Tell your sister...you were right." I can't resist putting in the last words of Anakin Skywalker. Still a touching scene to this day, as we hear the faint strains of the Imperial march die with him.
  • "That name no longer has any meaning for me." Vader responds in passionate denial, the first time we have really seen any kind of human doubt or feeling in the man in black. It was as jarring to me then as it was at the end of Sith when he asks for Padme. Luke pleads with him that it is the "name of his true self" and he's only forgotten. For just a moment, when Luke turns away, Vader is speechless, contemplating his words. Perhaps the very first time, he's wondering if maybe he can break free, make amends. Good drama.

    The Phantom Menace moments
  • Obi-Wan's anxiousness before Maul. After his mentor has been cut down by the horned Sith, Obi-Wan snarls with obvious anger. But the key for me is right before the energy barrier opens up: Obi-Wan hops with adrenaline-pumped readiness, like a prize-fighter itching to get it on. That little maneuver always inflects me with similar angst. The shit is about to hit the fan, and when Obi-Wan charges in, I'm on the edge of my seat.
  • "What's that got to do with anything?" When the Jedi council notes to young Anakin's that his thoughts dwell on his mother, we get our first taste of the rebellious, headstrong nature of the Chosen One. His tone is almost condescending to the council, an attitude which we see develop in later movies. It's a moment that the Jedi correctly foreshadow leading to trouble.
  • "You overdid it." A very subtle line, easily missed, regarding Qui-Gon's force-aided attempt to calm Jar Jar when they are traveling through the planet core. Qui-Gon reaches forward, touches Jar Jar's shoulder and says 'relax'; the Gungan promptly faints and Obi-Wan comments on his master's lack of touch. I get a kick out of that line.
  • "Master--destroyers!" The entire opening scene of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan slicing through droids is a thrilling way to start a series, but the first appearance of the 'Droidekas' is what gives it edge. Unfolding, shields up, and blasting away with twin cannons, these droids give the heretofore unstoppable Jedi pause.
  • "We'll handle this." When the Theed hanger doors open to reveal a hooded figure in black, the audience reacts just as the Naboo do (Naboo do? Like Voodoo?) -- whoa! Qui-Gon says the line and no one is going to argue. Rightly shown in just about every trailer. But, really, my favorite part (before they get it on) is the artful martial-arts twist Maul does with his twin-bladed lightsaber before turning it on.
  • "Are you an angel?" The first thing that Anakin says to Padme is cute, revealing, and ironic because it will be his 'angel' that leads him to his own personal hell. Perfect choice of words.
  • "He is mired down by... baseless accusations of corruption..." In Senator Palpatine's first in-person conversation with the Queen, he uses truth, lies, and false dilemma to direct her where he wants to go. Wonderfully acted by McDiarmid, the first impression is everything we expect from the only true villain of the series: slippery, deceptive, and subtle.