New Century, Old Bond

I commented a while back on my excitement about the upcoming newest installment of Bond, Casino Royale and talking about the hiring of Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. I have no problem with Daniel Craig as Bond, and what's more, the series needs a bit of a shake up, like the way they resurrected the Batman series. Well, according to Wikipedia, that's just what we're going to get:
    The plot of the novel and the plot of the film are said to be similar. In the novel, the villain Le Chiffre goes to the casino Royale-les-Eaux in an attempt to recover SMERSH's money he lost in a bad investment. There, however, he was prevented from obtaining this goal by James Bond who beat and bankrupted him in a series of games in Chemin de Fer. Due to Le Chiffre's inability to pay back the money he had lost, he was subsequently killed by SMERSH.
    The film is believed to be similar to this; however, two major changes are known. First, the villain Le Chiffre is a banker for terrorists and similar to the novel has lost his client's money, although not in a bad investment, but because of Bond's intervention in a terrorist plot. Because of this, Le Chiffre goes to the Casino Royale in Montenegro where he attempts to win back the money he lost. The second major change is the centerpiece card game being changed from Chemin de Fer (Baccarat) to no-limit Texas hold 'em poker.
I can understand why Texas Hold 'Em has been inserted, thanks to the poker phenomenon that has occured over the last couple years. Still, it feels a little forced, but other than that, I think the updates to the original story sounds good to me. However, what's even more interesting is the following, which describes the opening sequence:
    Indeed the pre-title sequence is known to be Bond undertaking a mission in which he earns his stripes in the double-O section. According to Fleming, Bond obtained his double-O number by completing two tasks. The first, an assassination of a Japanese cipher expert on the thirty-sixth floor of the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center in New York City. The second, an assassination of a Norwegian who became a double agent and betrayed two British agents. In the film, Bond supposedly kills an MI6 Section Chief and his contact in Pakistan for selling secrets. The entire sequence is said to be filmed in black and white and is rumoured to be followed, untraditionally, by the gun barrel sequence and the title sequence.
Okay, that gave me goose bumps. Get rid of most (but not all) of the gadgets. Get back to the hardcore Bond. Get my money back in the theater.


The Triple Lindy of Divorce Court

Who says religious tradition doesn't have its own fun, wacky side? Here's another one brought to you by our favorite Islam fundamentalists:
    NEW DELHI - A Muslim couple in India has been told by local Islamic leaders to separate after the husband "divorced" his wife in his sleep, the Press Trust of India reported.

    Sohela Ansari told friends that her husband, Aftab, had uttered the word "talaq," or divorce, three times in his sleep, according to the report published in newspapers on Monday.

    When local Islamic leaders heard of the sleep talking, they said Aftab’s words constituted a divorce under an Islamic procedure known as "triple talaq." The couple, married for 11 years with three children, were told they had to split.
Ah, the old Triple Talaq, bane of happy marriages everywhere. Luckily, the Islamic leaders have a handy-dandy, sanity-testing solution to the invented problem:
    The religious leaders ruled that if the couple wanted to remarry they would have to wait at least 100 days. Sohela would also have to spend a night with another man and be divorced by him in turn.
No word on what, if anything, the man would have to do. So far, the couple have ignored this bit of marital counseling:
    The couple, who live in the eastern state of West Bengal, have refused to obey the order and the issue has been referred to a local family counseling center.

Free to be crazy, crazy to be free...

There has been an outcome of sorts for the man who was on trial for his life for converting to Christianity. It seems that the Afghans read my blog and decided not to follow their foolish notion of executing this man, and released him, saying he's just nuts, not a blasphemer:
    Deputy Attorney-General Mohammed Eshak Aloko said prosecutors had issued a letter calling for Rahman’s release because “he was mentally unfit to stand trial.” He also said he did not know where Rahman had gone after being released.
Chicken-shit, but effective. The man has apparently disappeared from Afghanistan, probably because a lot of stupid fundaterrorists-in-training are bent on murder. Is that crazy?
    On Monday, hundreds of clerics, students and others chanting "Death to Christians!" marched through the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif to protest the court decision Sunday to dismiss the case. Several Muslim clerics threatened to incite Afghans to kill Rahman if he is freed, saying that he is clearly guilty of apostasy and deserves to die.

    "Abdul Rahman must be killed. Islam demands it," said senior Cleric Faiez Mohammed, from the nearby northern city of Kunduz. "The Christian foreigners occupying Afghanistan are attacking our religion."
Sometimes I just get tired of reading these cowardly remarks. If by some chance some fool decides to heed this advice and tracks down Rahman, I should hope they string up this Cleric.


Islam: You're in for life

I shouldn't be shocked to hear that a man in Afghanistan may be executed for converting to Christianity from Islam, but it sounds SO 16th century. Then again, these are fundamentalists, and as backwards-thinking as they come:
    KABUL, Afghanistan - Senior Muslim clerics said Thursday that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity should be killed regardless of whether a court decides to free him.

    Abdul Rahman, a 41-year-old former medical aid worker, faces the death penalty for becoming a Christian under Afghanistan's Islamic laws.
Yesterday, the man himself spoke about his situation, one where his family and friends have openly denounced him.
    But yesterday, Rahman was briefly brought before the news media. According to a report by the BBC, he said: "I am not an infidel or a fugitive. I am a Christian. If they want to sentence me to death, I accept that."
Still, in the face of his resolve, quite a few clerics are afraid:
    "He is not crazy. He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian," said Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque.

    "The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed. He is not mad. The government are playing games. The people will not be fooled," said Abdul Raoulf, cleric at Herati Mosque. "This is humiliating for Islam. ... Cut off his head."
Humiliating. Interesting word to use, especially considering this man knew the penalty for his conversion, and chose to return home and speak out. This is a dangerous case for the fundamentalist Muslims, for, outside of this being a slap in the face of religious freedom (which they never cared about anyway), I see some potential problems with the aftermath of the execution:
  • The execution will make a martyr out of this man. Christian organizations will use this as a lightning-rod to demonstrate the resolve of the Christian spirit in the face of tyranny. Not only that, it'll give Bush some stronger talking points. Don't need that.
  • What is it about the Christian religion that was so compelling? His act of defiance in the face of death may cause a lot more people over there to wonder about Christianity, read books, listen to such propaganda. Is Christianity worth death? What did he know that made the Clerics frightened?
  • And, of course, the worst sentiment would be, "Why do we have to force people to stay Muslims? Does our religion suck that bad?"
A lot of potential problems with this one. On one hand, I'd love to see the fundastupid do something to hurt their cause, but I grow weary of getting fired up about the religiously incompetent. Let's hope the 21st century prevails.


Jaquandor admits that he doesn't have the "the chops" to argue against some NBA zealot who hates the tournament. Well, I've already taken apart Newsweek's feeble argument; let's see what we can do with Matthew Yglesias'. (Note, that I tend to disagree with a lot of what Matthew says, anyway, but this should be pleasurable.) So, let's just take it apart piece by piece:
    My favorite sport -- basketball -- is still in full swing but, at the same time, mercilessly pushed out of public view in favor of the NCAA Tournament. College ball is, simply put, basketball played badly, and America's obsession with that game's absurd method of determining a national champion is the true madness.
Right off the bat we can tell two things about Matthew. One -- he is an NBA fan. Two -- he is bitter about his sport not being shown on TV enough. Starting off your article by crying is hardly a good way to write an opinion piece, so we'll assume his intent is not to sway in argument, but to rant. Still, let's examine some of his key points.
    Even if you're not a basketball fan, you probably see some of the tournament games. Thanks to the ubiquitous office pools, the tournament is broadcast constantly -- everywhere -- for a few mercifully brief months.
Oops, already getting his facts wrong. The tournament lasts a little over three weeks, not months, and that's including the selection show. Of that, there are 10 total days where the tournament is shown, and only on one station, CBS. (Unless you get the sports package to watch all the games, which I doubt Yglesias has done.) So, unless Yglesias is a bar hound or a fan of some CBS evening show, I'm not sure how he is being surrounded by these constant broadcasts, unless he's receiving alien transmission. And, you know what? On every one of those days, not one of the regularly scheduled NBA matchups on NBC or TNT were pre-empted. Yep, still bitter. But, quickly, Matt gets to the crux of his 'argument':
    In all college sports, the athletes are, naturally, not up to the standard of their professional peers... Indeed, until the NBA changed its rules last off-season, it was by no means uncommon for the very best players to turn pro straight out of high school... Thus, many of America's brightest basketball stars, including at least three of the top five players in the world... never graced the floors of college competition at all. Other top talents ... graduate early. And yet another set of superstars ... don't play college ball because they're foreigners and cut their teeth in the pro leagues of Europe, Asia, or even Latin America.
Okay, so the NBA has better talent than the entire NCAA combined. One would suspect that's why they are paid. No one is going to debate that. But what does this mean?
    This has two consequences for the college game. One is simply to deprive it of talent. College football isn't up to the NFL level, but the Bowl Championship Series really does offer the best 18- to 22-year-old players in the world.
Okay, I have to stop right here to mock anyone who is comparing the BCS to March Madness, which I did at length here. Insanity points climbing. However, let'sanalyzee his point. The NBA is depriving the NCAA of talent. And? Although I watch games for the intensity, the competition, the upsets, and the school pride, has anyone ever really complained that Kevin Garnett didn't go to Duke?
    The other, more insidious problem is that in college, as in elsewhere, experience matters. Seniors have an advantage over sophomores -- they've had more time to learn the game, their teammates, and the coach's system. As a result, the savviest college hoops programs don't actually want to recruit the very best young players available. A top talent will come to your school, play for a year or two to show off his stuff, and then move on to bigger and better things.
I guess Matthew didn't see freshman Carmelo Anthony lead his Syracuse squad to a championship in 2002 and then go to the NBA. Think Jim Boehiem is less savvy for recruiting him. There have been many articles and conversations written about how the NCAA recruiting game has changed because of the premature (in many cases) entry of kids to the NBA. The days of having most of your players stay 3 and 4 years are gone, at least if they are good. Coaches adapt and survive. But this has had an inadvertently good effect on the NCAA system: Parity.

The high profile programs will always get the blue-chip players, but now they are staying less time, and are less experienced going into the tournament. The mid-majors, on the other hands, are usually flush with seniors if they get a chance to go to the dance. What happens? You get a lot of upsets, matching up the younger kids against the upper-classmen. We have three cinderella teams in the Sweet Sixteen this year, and at least one will make the Elite Eight. There is a trade off between experience and talent, and that creates parity in the league, maybe moreso than ever. What that, in turn, creates is no free rides, no gimmee games, and a helluva lot of drama in every single tournament game. So, thank you, NBA, for taking some of the young talent.
    The NCAA Tournament, allegedly a competition between the very best teams, features an insane 64 squads. The NBA, drawing on a much larger pool of talent that includes a wide range of ages and players from all around the world, has less than half as many and could probably stand to drop a franchise or two.
There are people who are in favor of expanding the NCAA tournament, but I am comfortable with the 65 (not 64). Further, with the aforementioned parity, it makes sense to include more teams that have a legitimate shot. I won't disagree that the NBA could stand to drop a franchise or two, however.
    Consequently, the college game bears only a faint resemblance to the real thing. The dominant big men who can transform a pro game are entirely absent. Strength, speed, quickness, and athleticism are radically diminished, and the quality of the defense is consequently laughable. Yet, despite the poor defense, virtually nobody in the college game has what it takes to penetrate into the lane and make a strong move to the hoop. So the rules need to be altered -- a 35-second shot clock instead of the proper 24 and a short three-point line -- to give the offense some hope.
Proper? As is good old English proper? Only if your game is all about scoring and very little about defense. You have to entertain the customers with your staff, of course, and that is what the NBA game has been marketing itself as for years: showtime. That's what Yglesias clearly puts his premium on:
    To watch the world's best basketball teams -- the Miami Heat, the Phoenix Suns, the San Antonio Spurs, the Detroit Pistons, the Dallas Mavericks -- is to distinctly put oneself in the presence of greatness. The feats on display are not quite super-human -- Shaquille O'Neal and Shawn Marion and Tim Duncan are still members of our species at the end of the day -- but they certainly appear to be...
And on and on. I get it. Better talent. Superhuman feats of acrobatery. Woo hoo. I am in awe. But, still, you know what? I'd rather watch the Wichita St. versus George Mason matchup this Friday than some podunk drive the lane with expert prowess, followed by a highlight dunk, followed by a spectacular paycheck, followed by sighs of fans wishing they cared about the outcome of the game. And what it comes down so, as far as I can fathom, is personal preference. I love the thrill of watching kids struggle and fight to win a title for their school. I love watching the upsets and the agony. I love watching teams play in game where every single game could be their last. That is tension, not silly 7-game playoff series. When do the TV ratings spike? Game 7, naturally, when it's on the line, when people care. And you get that in every single NCAA tournament game.
    It's of a piece with the same blinkered anti-elitism that led not only millions of voters but a shockingly large suite of pundits who should have known better to conclude that it didn't matter that George W. Bush wasn't up to the job of running the United States of America. It's the athletic equivalent of the blinkered anti-intellectualism no respectable person would endorse in other walks of life.
Finally, we get a little more insight into the mind of this goofball. Now he is equating liking NCAA hoops to liking Bush. Well, now it's pretty clear that Yglesias' love for the 'best' isn't so much about the NBA, but because he feels his politics should get a fair shake. Granted, the analogy is quite a leap, but this is where you calmly pat the patient on the shoulder and soothe him with, "There, there. It's okay."
    The very structure of the tournament reinforced the mediocrity inherent in the sport. A six-round single-elimination tournament is crazy. Even a truly dominant team -- one that wins 80 percent of the time it plays -- will lose such a tournament three times out of four.
Wow, sounds tough. How do these teams manage without all that NBA talent? The very spice of this tournament is that sometimes, the 'best' do not win. This is like talking to a wall, but then I knew it. Finally, the rant ends, with as much dignity as it began:
    If your alma mater is in the mix, or if you, like most everyone, has some money riding on the outcome, then by all means watch and root. But know that you're watching a kind of farce, a competition between players who can't quite hack it designed to ensure that being the best team is no guarantee of victory. Or, you can wait 'til April and May and check out the NBA playoffs if you want to see the game played properly.
There's that word 'properly' again, which appropriate signals the end of an elitist article. But not before his primary mental defect is found. Here it is, again
    But know that you're watching a kind of farce, a competition between players who can't quite hack it designed to ensure that being the best team is no guarantee of victory.
Matthew can't stand to lose, and he can't stand that the 'best' team isn't guaranteed a victory. Aw, boo hoo, poor Matty has to deal with the real world! Sounds like Matthew was on the 'best' team in high school that lost the championship to an 'inferior' team and he's projecting onto the NCAA. He better not tune in this weekend, which, as always, promises to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable weekends in sport. Something that clearly would be unnerving to him.

V for Victory

The experiences felt the first time one sees a film are often hard to interpret. When I get caught up in the emotions of the movie and feel fear or exhilaration or sadness at just the right moments, do I feel resentment for being manipulated or moved by the experience? I suppose there is sometimes a fine line between melodrama and drama, between interpreting characters being stereotypes or archetypes, between current events and a timeless fantasy. Certainly, V for Vendetta appears in many cases to blur that line, and it says as much about the viewer as it does about fascism.Though it was written over twenty years ago, the film appears as blatant indictment of the current administration to some, validation for Islamic terrorism to others. I can definitely see where those who are desperately looking for symbols and direct references could find them; they always do find them when looking hard enough. A film that makes its hero masked demolitionist, bent on murder-revenge, blowing up buildings, and changing the way that the country sees things, is revolutionary for this new era. And just as dangerous in the way it inspires.

Oddly, I found myself thinking of Fight Club hours after the movie ended. Both films make you examine the nature of revolutionaries, one in a fascist England, and the others in corporate America. Though their ultimate solutions are similar and their tales dark, the latter is clearly comical in its satire, while the former is a serious drama about fighting government oppression. And the ending of the films are very different indeed.For me, V for Vendetta is best shown as contrast between the two times we hear the last bars of the 1812 Overture. At the beginning of the story, V takes Evey to the top of a building to observe the destruction of Old Bailey while Tchaikovsky is blared through the city's loudspeakers. We react as she does, with a mixture of mirth, shock, and that this guy is off his rocker. However, later on, at the finale of the picture, when 1812 is played a second time, the reaction is as different as our view at the beginning of the picture. When it is played then, it is a rousing, tear-inducing anthem that leaves one shaken.I can't recall the 1812 Overture ever being so effectively used in a film, nor can I recall a film that is as adapt at blending message, fantasy, action, fear, and old fashioned comic-book drama. V for Vendetta succeeds brilliantly. And if that isn't enough for you, there's always Natalie.


Madness misplaced

Everybody knows this is my favorite time of year, because of the NCAA tournament, but that doesn't mean that I'm not able to tolerate those who aren't obsessed. Mark Starr writing for Newsweek expresses that he just doesn't care for the format because it invalidates the regular season. I can understand the rationale of those who just don't get it, of course, and even lament those who wish they could get excited, but don't. But as Mr. Starr goes on to laud the college football playoff system (you know, the BCS) favorably to March Madness, I think his article could stand a few counterpoints.

Ironically, Mr. Starr starts off strong with his strongest point:
    I’m not looking to burst anybody’s bubble (or bubble team) here. But March Madness isn’t a religious holiday with a pedigree to rival Christmas, Passover or Ramadan.
In fact, if it were a religious holiday, I would avoid it like I do all others! As for its pedigree, I acknowledge that it hasn't been around as long as these religions, just as I acknowledge huge numbers of people haven't been murdered in the name of the NCAA tournament. Mr. Starr starts to slip up when he harps about the NIT:
    Still, with 65 in the NCAA and another 40 in the NCAA-owned NIT tournament, the college basketball postseason now reflects that growing instinct in this country to affirm every performance and every team’s season. It seems to mimic that youth soccer coach telling his 8-year-olds: "Really great job everyone. You all did so swell that we can’t possibly choose between you for the awards. So everybody is taking a trophy home."

    That certainly seems to be the prevailing ethic. How else to explain the anger among fans that some mediocre teams like the University of Michigan and University of Cincinnati were bypassed for The Big Dance? No team that doesn’t play .500 ball in its own conference—both finished 8-8 and in seventh and eighth place, respectively—should have a grievance about the selection process. They’re lucky to have the NIT tournament as a fallback and to be dancing anywhere this spring other than at the school hop. (You’re kidding me. They don’t call it a hop any more?)
Admittedly, the NIT has run its course as a useful tournament. The Penn State managed to make the NIT, and I went to a bar to watch the opening round game against Rutgers, but I couldn't shake the feeling of impotence and pointlessness of caring about the game. Of course, the odds of anyone doing away with the NIT are nil, since it still manages to generate money. However, once you start comparing to the college football playoff system, this argument starts to sound hypocritical. We had, what, 30 bowl games last year? The Meineke Car Care Bowl? How about a classic like the MPC Computers Bowl? And who could forget the tradition of the San Diego County Credit Union Bowl? While basketball is trying to do the best they can with their outdated tournament, football continues to create new corporate bowls to rake in more cash. And yet, they still can't get more than two teams to play in their 'playoffs'. Here's more from Mr. Starr:
    In fact, the NCAA "Big Dance" approach to basketball has evolved into pretty much the antithesis of its college football Bowl Championship Series. Though the latter is certainly flawed, it at least puts a premium on the regular season and conference playoffs. Basketball makes the regular season and even the conference tournaments largely irrelevant, at least for those top teams that have a shot at making it to the Final Four in Indianapolis on April 1. Connecticut gets upset in the opening round of the Big East tournament. So what? The only apparent consequence is what bracket it lands in with its No. 1 seed.
Flawed? It sucks! Its only claim is that once every few years, like a blind squirrel, it finds a nut. This was the first year in a while that there were only two teams left undefeated. If that had not happened, or if another team had won one more (say, Penn State), we again wouldn't have had a championship game. But it's easy to bust on the BCS, so I'll stop. Let's focus on those 'top team that have a shot at making the Final Four'. You mean like George Mason? Wichita St? Bradley? All THOSE teams that nearly got left out, who all have a legitimate shot at the Final Four? And what about those elite teams, like Duke and UConn? How did they get to that position of invulerability? By winning tons of, yes, regular season games. In truth, you have to do either really well in the regular season, or win your post-season tournament to get into the Dance, but neither is irrelevant. Not like Auburn going undefeated in the football regular and post season a year ago and being locked out of a championship bid because there is no playoff system.

Mr. Starr, yes, prefers the college system. No doubt about it:
    As a result, I find college football and its championship a far more compelling entertainment than I do the modern NCAA basketball championship. In football, any misstep during the long season can knock you out of contention and, as Auburn learned, even perfect may not be good enough. By adhering to that standard, it succeeds in maintaining genuine suspense over the entire season. College basketball suspense is only beginning now and doesn’t really ratchet up until the pretenders have been cast aside in the Sweet Sixteen or even the Elite Eight.
You call it suspense, I call it frustration, especially having gone to a school that was locked out of a national championship game when it when undefeated 3 times. Two of those were back-to-back. Standard? That standard is arbitrary, and my patience has now worn thin with this equally thin opinion. As for the suspense, I won't bore you with a list of games from the first two rounds that were downright riveting, if you are a fan. And I guess that's what it comes down to after all. Mr. Starr is not a fan of college basketball. I would just respect that opinion more if he'd write that statement as his entire article than trying to compare an annually ridiculed 'playoff system' to a system that crowns a national champion every single try.


Slow Work Day

I'm tired and not into the work thing today. Call it a hangover from all the Madness this weekend. As such, in an act of ultimate defiance, I actually participated in one of those chain emails today. Here are my answers, for your reading pleasure:
    Four places I have worked in my life:
    1. Mechanical Engineering for a Medical Company that produced gynecological equipment.
    2. Caddying at Manufacturer's GC in Philadelphia
    3. Bartending at Brittingham's Irish Pub in Phildelphia
    4. Testing MCI's phone systems for the Y2K bug in Phoenix, AZ

    Four movies I could watch over and over:
    1. The Empire Strikes Back
    2. Harry Potter and Prizoner of Azkaban
    3. Last of the Mohicans
    4. A Few Good Men

    Four Places I've Lived:
    1. Washington, DC
    2. Allegany, NY
    3. State College, PA
    4. Lansdale, PA

    Four TV shows I love to watch:
    1. Battlestar Galactica
    2. Lost
    3. The Simpsons
    4. Law & Order

    Four TV shows I loved to watch, but aren't on anymore:
    1. Magnum, PI
    2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    3. Scooby-Doo (original series, not anything with Scrappy)
    4. Johnny Quest

    Four things that really irritate me:
    1. When I don't get enough sleep
    2. Being judged
    3. Getting my ears flicked
    4. Hearing someone say how the prequels suck.

    Four places I've been on vacation:
    1. Ocean City, NJ
    2. Ocean City, MD
    3. Miami, FL
    4. Virigina Beach, VA

    Four websites I visit daily:
    1. Cinescape.com
    2. Hotmail.com
    3. MSNBC.com
    4. Byzantiumshores.blogspot.com

    Four names I would never, ever name a child:
    1. Shaniqua
    2. Bradley
    3. Jen
    4. Any name that whose spelling has been changed to make it 'unique'

    Four names I would consider naming a child, though I shouldn't:
    1. Balthazar
    2. Lucifer
    3. Anakin
    4. Spike

    Four of my favorite foods:
    1. Philadelphia Pizza Company's pizza with ranch dip
    2. Salmon sushi with wasabi and soy sauce
    3. Spaghetti with Meatballs
    4. Philadelphia Cheesesteak Factory's Mushroom cheesesteak

    Four Places I would Rather be Right Now
    1. In my La-Z-Boy at home
    2. Hawaii
    3. Practicing my Jedi skills on Yavin 4
    4. Snuggling
And, just for spice, I'm going to "tag" the ultimate list maker to do his own version. Of course, his answers won't be as 'correct' as mine.


The new Christopher Moore novel

It was with glee and anticipation that I pre-ordered the next book from Christopher Moore, A Dirty Job. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Moore's work: shame on you. You are obviously a hideously boring individual, without wit or taste. Here is the summary of his upcoming novel:
    Cult-hero Moore (The Stupidest Angel) tackles death—make that Death—in his latest wonderful, whacked-out yarn. For beta male Charlie Asher, proprietor of a shop in San Francisco, life and death meet in a maternity ward recovery room where his wife, Rachel, dies shortly after giving birth. Though security cameras catch nothing, Charlie swears he saw an impossibly tall black man in a mint green suit standing beside Rachel as she died. When objects in his store begin glowing, strangers drop dead before him and man-sized ravens start attacking him, Charlie figures something's up. Along comes Minty Fresh—the man in green—to enlighten him: turns out Charlie and Minty are Death Merchants, whose job (outlined in the Great Big Book of Death) is to gather up souls before the Forces of Darkness get to them. While Charlie's employees, Lily the Goth girl and Ray the ex-cop, mind the shop, and two enormous hellhounds babysit, Charlie attends to his dangerous soul-collecting duties, building toward a showdown with Death in a Gold Rush–era ship buried beneath San Francisco's financial district. If it sounds over the top, that's because it is—but Moore's enthusiasm and skill make it convincing, and his affection for the cast of weirdos gives the book an unexpected poignancy.
I've reviewed all the ones I've read, and I'll have to update that with reviews of The Stupidest Angel and this next one shortly. This sounds like a return to form of the master; my favorite of all his works is (of course) Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, which dealt with a good death of death, mayhem, and hilarity. Something to read when there aren't basketball games on.

Great College Hoaxes

Today starts March Madness, and I'm all over it, as you would expect, surfing the scores at work. Oddly, I'm getting plenty done as well, despite the urban rumor that these are the least productive two weeks of the work year. Maybe it's because I'm at my desk and fired up that the games have begun, but I really couldn't care less.

In keeping with all-things college today, I present the two greatest football hoaxes of all time. The first, and grandaddy of them all, is the Great Rose Bowl Hoax:
    The Great Rose Bowl Hoax was a 1961 prank at the Rose Bowl, an annual American college football game. That year, the Washington Huskies were pitted against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. At halftime, the Huskies led 17 to 0, and their marching band took the field to lead a card stunt, a routine involving flip-cards depicting various images for the audience to raise. However, a number of students from the California Institute of Technology managed to alter the card stunt shown during the halftime break, culminating in the display of the word "CALTECH," a common nickname for the Institute.
Comparable in scope and in daring, if only to prank one's nemesis, the Yale "We Suck" prank of Harvard has its own making-of video
    On November 20, 2004, at The Game, Yale tricked hundreds of Harvard students and fans into a prank card stunt: holding up placards spelling out "We Suck" in Harvard colors. The plan was meticulously co-ordinated and involved the Yale pranksters disguising themselves as a Harvard pep squad and handing out the cards with the misinformation that it would spell 'Go Harvard.' A video hosted on the website Harvard Sucks shows the planning for the prank and the event itself.
That video, which is pretty damn funny, can be found here.


Star Wars III.5

My chief henchman and sometime adjunct "Linguo" pointed me in the direction of some titillating Star Wars news about the proposed TV series:
    [Executive Producer Rick McCallum] also says the Star Wars TV show is a go - "That's not going to happen probably for another year and a half while we develop scripts and everything else. But it's fantastic; we've got some incredible writers. It's going to be much darker, much more character-based, and I think it's going to be everything the fans always wanted the prequels to be. They'll be one-hour episode. It takes place between Episodes III and IV. It's going to be all-new characters, maybe a few bounty hunters in there to start the series off".
It goes without saying that you could put up this TV series against anything and blow it out of the water, even such tripe as American Idol. More importantly, it is champagne-toasting time for The Force.net, who suddenly got the equivalent of a long-term NFL contract.


Apathy and fandom

Everyone knows the story of how Bode Miller failed to win any gold medals. What made the tale more media-friendly was his lack of enthusiasm to win. It set off a reaction in many sports fans that felt a little inappropriate given the circumstances. (Several of my friends said they 'hated' Miller.)

That said, I couldn't quite put my finger on what bothered me about it (nor did I really try -- downhill skiing doesn't really rate on my watchability radar, even once every four years for the good ol' USA) until I read a great little commentary piece by Chuck Closterman:
    I am no different than anyone else: Almost all of my favorite sports personalities display an unquenchable desire to win, and I'm sure that unquenchable quality is central to my appreciation of those particular people. And the reason I feel that way is probably because they possess a personality I cannot relate to. There are those who argue that sports are important because they symbolize the middle-class laymen who spend their paychecks on season tickets, but that is not always true; sometimes they are important because they embody feelings we can't experience. Most of the time, we don't love players who are like us; most of the time, we love players who aren't like us at all.

    You are not like Cal Ripken Jr. You aren't that dedicated, you aren't that intense, and you care about your job a whole lot less. Ripken might be your favorite player of the past 25 years, but the two of you have almost nothing in common. In fact, I bet there are many days when you wish you could just take a suitcase of money to Australia, drop out of society, grow out you hair and smoke cannabis all afternoon while having sex with whoever you felt like. In fact, if you had the chance, you'd probably do it tomorrow. But you know what? I bet you also think Ricky Williams is despicable.

    I can't read Bode Miller's mind, but I bet the interior monologue bouncing around his cerebral cortex sounds something like this: "My job is OK, and I'm good at it. I suppose I could even be better if that was the only thing I cared about, but I'm not sure what the benefit of that would be, beyond appeasing a bunch of people I'll never actually meet. And if I can get paid this much money for being myself, why would I want to force myself to become somebody else's caricature? I'm already content with who I am."

    Now, it is possible that such sentiments would make you hate Bode Miller even more. It's also possible you hate him because you feel exactly the same way.


Madness... and love?

I happened upon an article written by someone who was 'born and raised in the Southern Part of Heaven, Chapel Hill, NC, home of national champions, the UNC Tar Heels', who clearly doesn't quite get the Madness. In reviewing her "March Madness: 10 ways to bond" tips for maintaining a dating life during the best part of the year, I found myself aghast or laughing at some of her suggestions, which were just short of something I'd expect out of Cosmopolitan. Here are the suggestions and my reactions in italics:
    1. Place your bets. You probably don't care about who wins or loses, but you will if you follow this advice from Debbie Mandel, author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul. Wager about which team will triumph. "If your team wins, he has to fulfill your fantasy, and if his team wins, you have to fulfill his. This way there is a post-game celebration, and you're both excited about the outcome." While this may seem great on paper, no one feels like celebrating after their team loses. Bitterness and a grieving period are standard issue, and if you can move right now, you didn't really care in the first place. Personally, the thought of some saying "it's only a game" makes me want to vomit.

    2. Make time for each other. Lauren Wilson of Washington, D.C. doesn't let college hoops interfere with together time. "If a big game is on Saturday night and I know I have no other choice but to watch it, I make sure the guy I'm dating lets me pick what we do on Friday or Sunday night, no matter how girlie or artsy it may be." This strategy doesn't work for the Madness. There are games on all day, every day, Thursday through Sunday for the first two weeks. That is the Madness. There is no time off.

    5. Show your spirit. Cheerleaders are an integral part of any basketball game, so why not dress the part? My boyfriend is a huge hockey fan, but college hoops leave him cold," says Marnie Nathan of Santa Barbara. "Last year, he ran in during a key time-out in a super-sized cheerleader outfit to do a cheer for my team. It was hilarious and kind of sweet. He was rewarded during the break between games." Are you fucking kidding me? Suicidally stupid.

    6. Wear the team colors. To connect with a partner after a game, get a jersey with your partner's favorite player's number on it and wear just that at the end of the game. You wear the colors during the game. Although this is at first glance a sexy suggestion, wearing it at the end of the game, should there be a loss, is too delicate of a time. You don't want the anyone to associate sex with losing.

    9. Host a team meeting. Ask your date about the game if you didn't watch it together (or ask about some particular plays if you did). The idea here is to use conversation about the game as a springboard to more conversation - deeper conversation - so you communicate more. Follow up with questions like, "What do you think of the coach's decision? What would you have done?" Dumb, and extremely transparent if you don't know what you are talking about. If you are capable of having this conversation, you probably have already been having them, and if not, you should not attempt it.
UPDATE: I have just entered my first suicide pool -- for the Big East tournament. Go Pitt.

V for Very (Excited)

Not too long after the Oscars closed their official ceremonies did the Champion of Everything Off-White some comments that I agreed with (reproduced without a shred of permission):
    Having seen almost none of the films nominated this year for any Academy Award (and how Revenge of the Sith could go un-nominated in the effects categories is unforgivable!), my only real opinion on the Oscars last night is on the telecast itself.

    I thought that John Stewart did an outstanding job, after a somewhat rocky beginning. However, I don't think that was Stewart's fault, and having now watched enough of these Oscar telecasts, I think I know why: the Hollywood people are severely humor-impaired. In fact, I think this explains why so many recent Oscar hosts have fallen flat, except for Billy Crystal: one, the Hollywood people don't get a lot of the zanier or more sophisticated kinds of humor (I'm thinking of Letterman in the former and Stewart in the latter), and two, and this is big, they have almost no self-deprecation at all.

    When I think about it, every time an Oscar host makes a joke about a specific actor or actress, when they show the obligatory closeup, that person invariably has this tight smile and curt nod -- they're trying to act the good sport, but it's pretty clear that they don't find the joke funny in the slightest. (Except for George Clooney, whom I admire precisely because he always seems to show, lurking somewhere in the back of his mind and visible as a gleam at the corner of his eye, that they whole thing is just a big bunch of BS.)

    So when Stewart makes a joke like "Bjork couldn't be here because when she put on her costume, Dick Cheney shot her", I wonder if the laughing audience members get it, or if they're laughing because Cheney just got made fun of. And I literally lost count of how many times, in an audience-response shot after a Stewart joke that would have had his Daily Show audience howling with laughter, some Hollywood personage is blinking and quite clearly saying, "What? Huh?" And that's why, once the camera people realized that Jamie Foxx was getting the jokes and laughing at them and having a great time, they started showing his reaction every time Stewart opened his mouth.
And some I didn't:
    The point was repeatedly made by various speakers at last night's ceremony that movies should be seen on the big screen. Lots of folks like to assume that the box office "problem" is a function of the movies (i.e., the ludicrous "Make better movies and people will see them!" canard), and Hollywood seems to want to assume that the box office "problem" is a function of the audiences (i.e., the equally ludicrous "Stop downloading all your movies!" canard). Odd that nobody seems to want to assume that maybe the box office "problem" is a function of the theaters. Renting a DVD and buying a box of microwave popcorn costs a fraction of what it does to go to the movies these days. Check out this recent Roger Ebert "Answer Man" column, which focuses entirely on how much of a pain it is to go to theaters these days. As wonderful as theaters are now, with astonishing sound and stadium seating, they've priced themselves well out of being regular entertainment venues.
Jaquandor appears to think that a primary reason for lack of attendance is that it costs too much these days, as he mentions it twice.

Although Jaquandor dismisses the notion that people don't see as much movies because of the quality, I can't as readily. This year, I've gone to see less movies than any year I can recall in the last 15 years (not by a wide margin, however), yet I've seen every film I wanted to in the theater. I'm sure that if there were more films put out that appealed to me, I would have gone to the theater. The fact of the matter is that if I want to see it in a theater, I can't think of any current issue that would dissuade me.

Now, if the theaters want to take note of some of Ebert's suggestions, like blocking cell phone reception (or maybe employing a portable cell phone jammer) and eliminating commercials, I think that would definitely enhance the experience, but it isn't going to keep me away, either. Frankly, none of that bothers me as much as parents who bring in chatty kids to Rated-R movies. One time I lost my cool so much as to whisper loudly in their direction to "have your kids shut-the-fuck-up, please." What are they going to do, complain about the cursing? They are in a Rated-R movie to begin with! If you can't teach your kids etiquette outside the theater, I'll be pissed off enough to give them a crash course in the theater. Think I have an issue? Not compared to this guy.

Anyway, when possible to avoid such situations, I usually attend a screening of a film after a few weeks, when the crowds have died down and the odds of encountering obnoxious patrons has significantly decreased. I even get a thrill about being one of only a couple a people in a huge theater.

All that aside, this has more to do with the films themselves. I hadn't seen any of the Oscar contenders for best picture because, well, I just didn't have the desire to see them. I didn't have anything against them, but neither would I say, "Hey, let's go watch 'Capote'!" I'll wait for the DVD, thanks. As for "Crash", I had heard long before that it was rascism for idiots, so I doubt I'll bother with that anyway. The last film I saw in the theater, King Kong, was quite amazing, but I wasn't necessarily chomping at the bit to see it. However, there is a movie finally on the near-horizon that has my expectations up, and my Fandango card at the ready.
V for Vendetta is that film. Produced by the Wachowski brothers of Matrix fame, the movie is an adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore. Here's the description of the film from the official site, for those of you unfamiliar:
    Set against the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain, V For Vendetta tells the story of a mild-mannered young woman named Evey (NATALIE PORTMAN) who is rescued from a life-and-death situation by a masked man (HUGO WEAVING) known only as Â?V.Â? Incomparably charismatic and ferociously skilled in the art of combat and deception, V ignites a revolution when he urges his fellow citizens to rise up against tyranny and oppression. As Evey uncovers the truth about VÂ?s mysterious background, she also discovers the truth about herself Â? and emerges as his unlikely ally in the culmination of his plan to bring freedom and justice back to a society fraught with cruelty and corruption.
Cinescape has posted notice that V for Vendetta has released several trailers and clips from the upcoming film. Looks damn titillating to me, but I entreat you to view a couple and decide whether you will be attending (without your cell phone and bratty kid, of course).

Little victories

Last night I was watching the end of House, and after the credits rolled, the production company's logo rolled. I hadn't seen this one before, which depicts two cartoon guys hanging out at the beach, and one of them says, "That's some bad hat, Harry."

My immediate reaction was one of familiarity, which quickly turned to aching familiarity. I've heard that line before... somewhere in some film or TV show. But where? It wasn't a well known line, but I knew that I had heard it many times. After a few fruitless minutes of trying to think of the answer, I just let it go, knowing that subconsciously, my brain would continue to search for the answer.

I rely on this all the time. It works for all manner of things, from things you know you know (like movie quotes you have heard) to things you haven't figured out yet (like coding problems). It still amazes me when I come back to something I haven't thought about in a while, and the answer seems so obvious.

In this particular case, I resumed thinking about the question this morning, on the way to work. The answer hit me like a ton of bricks after a few seconds. From an early beach scene in Jaws, when an old man is teasing Chief Brody about his fear of water:
    Harry: It's cold. We know all about you, Chief. You don't go in the water at all, do you?
    Brody: That's some bad hat, Harry.
Once I knew the answer, I felt a wave of triumph wash over me, not unlike my profile picture at the right of this blog. It's funny how recalling some obscure trivia can make my day, and thus bore you, the reader, to tears.

And who would name a production company after a lesser-known line from a 30-year-old movie? A director, of course:
    BadHat Harry Productions is a production company that was started by director/writer/producer Bryan Singer. The company, which also produces television shows as well as video games, has produced such well known films as The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil, and both X-men movies. Current projects include the upcoming sci-fi miniseries The Triangle, Superman Returns, and House, M.D. which is a hit television show entering its second season on Fox.


Easier to criticize than to lead

Not more than a week after I complained that democrats need to have policy instead of whining than the Washington Post runs an article saying that Democrats appear to be dropping the political ball, given the recent climate of opportunities:
    News about GOP political corruption, inept hurricane response and chaos in Iraq has lifted Democrats' hopes of winning control of Congress this fall. But seizing the opportunity has not been easy, as they found when they tried to unveil an agenda of their own.

    Democratic leaders had set a goal of issuing their legislative manifesto by November 2005 to give voters a full year to digest their proposals. But some Democrats protested that the release date was too early, so they put it off until January. The new date slipped twice again, and now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) says the document will be unveiled in "a matter of weeks."
    Some Democrats fear that the hesitant handling is symbolic of larger problems facing the party in trying to seize control of the House and Senate after more than a decade of almost unbroken minority status. Lawmakers and strategists have complained about erratic or uncertain leadership and repeated delays in resolving important issues.

    The conflict goes well beyond Capitol Hill. The failure of congressional leaders to deliver a clear message has left some Democratic governors deeply frustrated and at odds with Washington Democrats over strategy.
I'm shocked, shocked that there's gambling going on here! But wait for the best part...
    Party leaders, for example, have yet to decide whether Democrats should focus on a sharply negative campaign against President Bush and the Republicans, by jumping on debacles such as the administration's handling of the Dubai port deal -- or stress their own priorities and values.
And in the process, maybe lead? It would be exciting for this to happen, but we all know it's a lot easier to sling mud than to build a house. Here's the golden opportunity, with so many things going against the current administration, and I'm taking wagers on how the democrats will blow it by infighting. Sometimes, it's just painful to watch.

When the blood boils behind the altar

A British Vicar has stepped down from her role in the church because her hatred for her daughter's killers is too much to forgive. I have the deepest sympathy and empathy for this British Vicar. Sympathy for her loss and her rage, empathy for her feelings about it.
    LONDON - A British vicar whose daughter was killed in last yearÂ?s London suicide bombings has stepped down from her parish role, saying she cannot and does not want to forgive the killers.

    The Rev. Julie Nicholson said she had taken the difficult decision after her 24-year-old daughter Jenny died in the July 7 bombing on the underground transport network.

    She said she could not reconcile her faith with the feelings of hatred she has towards the killers. "I rage that a human being could choose to take another human beingÂ?s life," she told a regional BBC program. "I rage that someone should do this in the name of a God. I find that utterly offensive. Can I forgive them for what they did? No, I cannot. And I donÂ?t wish to. I believe that there are some things in life which are unforgivable by the human spirit."
I don't think the statements I bolded could better represent my own personal feelings about jihadic terrorism. Unfortunately, and more disturbingly, this woman of faith has been so utterly shaken by these horrible acts that she has lost the ability to forgive, a tenet central to the faith, and to the leaders of Christian faith.

Was this the intent of the Muslim suicide bombers -- to leave their survivors with unresolvable hate in their hearts for their cause? Was it to enrage one of God's supporters so greatly to turn away from God? Does this make God happy? I don't know why I would ask such questions, as clearly no jihadic terrorist is smart enough to either think for themselves or comprehend the answer.

Not ready for his close up

Think all this furor over cartoons is new? Whilst scanning the Wikipedia for manna for the brain, I stumbled upon a movie version of the story of Muslim's favorite non-depicted hero, called Muhammed: Messenger of God. Apparently, even back in the day, there were just as many problems with portraying the prophet back then as now:
    Mohammad, Messenger of God (retitled The Message for U.S. release) (1976) is a film directed by Mustafa Akkad, chronicling the life and times of the founder of Islam, Muhammad. Released in both Arabic and English, Mohammad, Messenger of God serves as an introduction to early Islamic history. Although the movie revolves around Muhammad, his image is not depicted in any way throughout the movie, out of respect for Muslim beliefs. Instead actors were left to talk to the camera.
    Akkad faced resistance from Hollywood to making a film about the origins of Islam and had to go outside the United States to raise the production money for the film. While creating Mohammad, Messenger of God, he consulted Islamic clerics and tried to be respectful toward Islam and its views on portraying Mohammed.

    Nevertheless, some cinemas still received threatening telephone calls from those who thought that the film offended Islam by portraying the Prophet in a physical way, even though Mohammed is not shown on screen. On March 9, 1977, a group of Black Muslims, led by Hamas Abdul Khaalis, seized several buildings and took 134 hostages in the District of Columbia. While their actions were related to a sectarian dispute within the Black Muslim community, one of their demands was to prevent the release of Mohammad. One of the terrorists specifically said "he wanted a guarantee from whole world it will never be shown" or they would execute some of the hostages.
As with most religious protestors or fanatics, they were woefully misinformed. They mistakenly believed that Muhammed was portrayed by Anthony Quinn in the film. While I can understand not wanting Zorba to dance all the way to Mecca, it certainly wasn't worth killing a reporter.

Aside from that, it's no wonder that you don't see any movies about Muhammed. Not only can you not see him or observe him to speak, but someone will probably try to kill you for it, even if your intentions are the best. Christianity, by comparison, has had an in-your-face sales pitch that is tough to even hide from. Jesus on film, Jesus on TV, Jesus appearing in a taco in Mexico. You can be sure that if Muhammed appeared in a taco, someone would have Supreme Indigestion. Yet, how would we know what he even looked like, since no one can be allowed to show a representation of him?

And note that the Muslim law isn't against portraying the image of Muhammed, but that of any prophet, like say Jesus or Moses. I guess they just don't feel that their proprietary and copywright trademarks are infringed in those cases.

Unfortunately for Islam, this adherence to their ancient law isn't going to win any hearts and minds in the internet or video age. Most people know the story of Jesus from happening to catch some late-afternoon showing of The Greatest Story Ever Told or King of Kings or Passion of Christ rather than actually reading a Bible or listening in church. By denying the use of Muhammed's image (oh, and threatening to kill cartoonists, of course), Muslims are making it just that much harder for people in the Western culture to even understand the religion, much less identify with it.

But I digress, and a lot. The hostage situation in DC had one lasting, somewhat ironic ramification. The hostage actions also had the unexpected result of catapulting then-DC-councilman and soon-to-be-most-notorious-mayor-alive Marion Barry to fame by shooting him in the chest during the crisis. The very next year he was elected mayor. One can only speculate if everyone's favorite crack addict would have become mayor if not for the notoriety of being shot by ignorant terrorists. Shows what a little press can do for you.


Life imitates art imitates...

Today, the South Dakota Governor signed a law banning almost all abortions today. We all knew a new round of court battles was coming, maybe just not this soon.
    The law passed last month by the legislature will ban abortions unless the mother's life is at stake, Rounds, a Republican, said in a statement on his Web site. The governor, who views the law as a way of overturning Supreme Court precedent, said it may be blocked by legal challenges from taking effect in July.

    "The reversal of a Supreme Court opinion is possible," Rounds said in the statement, citing the 1954 ruling that outlawed racial segregation and overturned a precedent upholding its legality. He said the new law "will give the U.S. Supreme Court a similar opportunity to reconsider an earlier opinion."

    South Dakota is the first U.S. state to outlaw virtually all types of abortions, and supporters anticipate that it will take years before court challenges are resolved. The law is intended to create an opportunity for the Supreme Court, which has two new members appointed by President George W. Bush, to overturn the 1973 ruling in the Roe v. Wade case that banned states from outlawing the procedure.
Coincidentally, a recent episode of the best show on TV started its own abortion situation.
    Back on the Galactica, Rya Kibby's desire to exercise her legal right to an abortion, and the revelation that Doc Cottle has been providing this service to women in the fleet for the past few months, becomes an incendiary political issue. The fleet's pro-life Gemenon faction threatens to pull its support for President Laura Roslin unless she condemns the practice of abortion and makes it illegal.
Fans of the series know that the writing rarely follows the safe and narrow path, so it wasn't much of a shock that, at the end, Roslin felt she had no choice but to outlaw abortions for the sake of humanity. Although a stanch pro-choice advocate, faced with the reality that our the species desperately needs to start repopulating, her decision was forced.

Think that I'm biased because I'm into science fiction? Maybe, but I'm not alone in my raves. Even Rolling Stone concurs:
    Civilization is under attack by religious fanatics -- and the fanatics are winning. There are suicide bombers, a clueless president and prisoners who get tortured by the good guys. No, this isn't a particularly grim night on CNN: It's Battlestar Galactica, the smartest and toughest show on TV. In its second season, this remake of the 1978 camp classic has become -- no joke -- TV's most vivid depiction of the post-9/11 world and what happens to a society at war.

    Improbably, all this is happening on the Sci Fi Channel, best known for reruns of Knight Rider. Battlestar has achieved the channel's best-ever ratings and reached a heady new level of critical acclaim: Time just named it the best TV show of 2005.

    In the past few seasons, series television has finally opted to deal head-on with terrorism, with varying degrees of success. The one mainstream hit, 24, gleefully sacrifices relevance (or coherence) for pure adrenaline. In its fictional world, torture is a panacea, providing catharsis for an audience facing a perpetual "war on terror."

    On Battlestar, these issues are more queasily ambiguous. Its futuristic tale of mass genocide of humans and persecution of survivors by the Cylons, a race of zealot androids, somehow manages to feel both realistic and oddly contemporary. "The networks are terrified of controversy," says Battlestar Galactica executive producer Ronald D. Moore. "But in sci-fi, they don't notice or care so much -- you get a free pass."

    As with the original, the new Battlestar starts with a surprise attack on humanity by the Cylons. Only 50,000 or so people survive, fleeing in a ragtag fleet protected by the Battlestar Galactica, a third-rate ship with an unpolished crew. As they escape, they try to build a new society under the strain of constant attack...

    ...There's plenty of drama to be found in paranoia, grief and politics. In the original, Cylons were large chrome robots with an oscillating red eye and not much personality. Now, the Cylons can look like any other human (or in the case of Tricia Helfer, a lot sexier). The synthetic life-forms are sleeper agents inside human society: monotheistic religious zealots, in contrast to humanity's secular polytheism. "I know God loved you more than all other living creatures, and you repaid his divine love with hate, corruption, evil," one Cylon tells his human interrogator. She responds by having him tortured.
Battlestar's culture is very close to our own. As with ours, in Battlestar, society has been predominantly pro-choice until this moment, when the pro-lifers (their representative is portrayed about as unsympathetically as you might expect -- unforgiving, unbending, judgmental) seize the opportunity to change the law. Parallel to the present, with the world at war with terrorism and a sudden shift with the Supreme Court, and it doesn't seem like far-fetched TV anymore. In fact, it can be downright scary.

In case you want to catch up on the last few episodes, here's your chance.
    March 6, 2006:
    Starting at 9AM/8C on Tuesday, March 6, tune in for a six-episode Battlestar Galactica marathon! It will consist of episodes 214 ("Black Market") through 219 ("Lay Down Your Burdens," Part 1) to get you ready for the March 10 season finale.
Don't miss your chance to get involved in some intelligent TV, and don't take your eye off the fascist, liberty-reducing governor.

We all go a little mad sometimes

Continuing to be a domestic hot-bed for Muslim hot-heads, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina tried to kill as many students as possible with his Jeep by plowing it into a campus gathering area.
    Derek Poarch, chief of the university police department, confirmed Saturday that Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, a 22-year-old Iran native, told investigators he wanted to "avenge the deaths or murders of Muslims around the world." Poarch would not provide any other details on the motive.

    Taheri-azar also is charged with nine counts of assault. No one was seriously hurt in the incident just before noon Friday at The Pit, a sunken, brick-paved area surrounded by two libraries, a dining hall and the student union near the center of campus...

    Taheri-azar graduated from the university in December after studying psychology and philosophy.
But clearly he did not study tactics, logic, rationalization, or sanity. Technically speaking, by Mohammed's own goals, he is a miserable failure, having failed to avenge even one of the 'deaths or murders' (whichever is better?). Still, he managed to inflict some minor injuries, which is more than the shoebomber could manage.

This isn't an isolated incident on the campus. A couple weeks ago I blogged about a local cartoonist controversy at UNC. Still, Mary Katharine Ham notes that the press has been relatively quiet about this story:
    I'm interested to see how the UNC campus reacts to this incident. It's getting surprisingly little national press. The Washington Post covered it Saturday, but seems not to have a follow-up. A search in the NYT comes up empty.

    Even the Raleigh paper below-the-folded the incident today. Curious. Even though Taheri-azar is believed to have acted alone, this is a very big story. Attempted murder with an SUV on a popular campus quad is a big story even if it's not a terrorist act. Why's everyone being so quiet about this one? It was not mentioned during TV coverage of the UNC/Duke game Saturday night (carried on EVERY SINGLE ESPN channel), despite the fact that it happened just the day before.
Truly it was on every station, but not a mention was made. Maybe it wasn't worth mentioning because, this kid obviously isn't a terrorist, but he is guilty of performing terrorists acts, and performing them with the skill and cunning of a drunk bobo. And that is just embarrassing.


That goofy president

Stevel Knievel posts about Antarctic melting and a Bush response worthy of being published in The Onion.
    But the latest research signals a greater loss of ice across the entire continent Â? an amount equal to more than 13% of the annual sea level rise measured in recent years, the researchers said. The shrinkage is concentrated in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which has enough fresh water to raise sea levels more than 20 feet.In response to the findings, President Bush condemned the Antarctican government saying that the loss of the polar ice cap is their fault. When told that Antarctica has no government of its own, Bush blamed America's outsourcing U.S. jobs to foreign countries such as India and China. When reminded that he, in fact, supports the outsourcing of American jobs, Bush denied ever supporting such a policy. When told that he is currently in Pakistan discussing outsourcing issues, Bush excused himself to go to the bathroom.
I may not have an recent evidentiary support record for the democrats (as noted by recent comments, but I sure can point and laugh with the best of them.

I do... allow you a freebee

In a move obviously designed to further outrage cartoonist-hating Muslims, Masha Lopatova, the wife of NBA star (never heard of him until now) Andrei Kirilenko, revealed Thursday that she allows her husband a once-a-year sex fling with another woman.
    Kirilenko, the 25-year-old Jazz forward, reveals in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine that Lopatova, mindful of the presence of women who congregate around wealthy professional athletes, has granted permission for him to indulge himself, so to speak, with another woman once per season. "If I know about it," Lopatova said Wednesday, "it's not cheating."
    That philosophy was applauded, frequently in jest, in a variety of settings. On ESPN's own "Pardon the Interruption" television show, for example, Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon asked, "Ain't Mrs. Kirilenko the coolest wife in the world or what?"

    His co-host, the Post's Tony Kornheiser, agreed: "She is a Top 5 wife, all-time. In fact, she is up there right now on the Mount Rushmore of wives."

    That was the consensus on the sports network's morning radio show, "Mike & Mike," too, where co-host Mike Greenberg, calling Kirilenko's allowance "the best story we've ever had," lamented that his wife doesn't share Lopatova's attitude. "I'd just like one day of guilt-free golf," Greenberg joked.
So, coolest wife ever, or biggest fool? For me, neither. Having just ended a two-year relationship, I'm about as single as you can get, so I can be more honest than, say, the Emperor.

However, lest I devolve into something uncomfortable, even for the 'internet', I understand Masha's point of view that, in a more 'open' relationship, it's not cheating if it is known (and, presumably, it is done safely). Of course, saying that and practicing it are completely different animals -- the film Kinsey is an excellent example of the pros and cons of sexual freedom in relationships. I'm not sure if I would, if presented with such a scenario, be ready or able to handle such a thing. On the face of it, it sounds like a dream come true, but in the end, it also sounds like a razor-thin line to walk.


For even casual college basketball fans, it goes without saying that tomorrow night's Duke-North Carolina game is a big event. Even if you didn't have a streaking #15 North Carolina team coming into #1 Duke's senior night, you have a rivalry that is always on the short list of the greatest in sports.ESPN has chosen to premier a new telecast style for the game called 'Full Circle', which at first glance, resembles overexposure. Here is the description for the In-Game Plans for ESPNU Full Circle:
  • ESPN: traditional game telecast with commentators Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Dick Vitale (analyst) and reporter Erin Andrews (reporter) plus "look-ins" to how other entities are covering the game
  • ESPN2: entire game action live from "Above the Rim" camera (traditional feed during deadballs)
  • ESPN and ESPN2 HD: both ESPN HD and ESPN2 HD will offer high definition presentations of game coverage; the widescreen view provided by HD's 16x9 aspect ratio will offer a unique glimpse into offensive and defensive strategy, particularly for ESPN2 HD's Above the Rim telecast
  • ESPNU: entire game live from cameras on and within famed "Cameron Crazies" (Duke student fans) section, split screen with traditional feed
  • ESPN360: live traditional game feed on ESPN's customized broadband service enhanced with extra stats not featured on telecast, hosted by ESPN Radio's Jeff Rickard
  • Mobile ESPN: game alerts, live updates and in-game polling for a replay of a classic UNC-Duke matchup (see ESPN Classic below)
  • ESPN International: coverage offered to approximately 120 countries worldwide, including on ESPN Taiwan, ESPN Israel, ESPN Mas (South America), ESPN Philippines, ESPN Atlantic, ESPN Pacific Rim, ESPN Dos, J-Sports (Japan) and more
  • ESPN.com: live chats, in-game polling for a replay of a classic UNC-Duke matchup (see ESPN Classic below) and highlights on ESPN Motion
Additionally, on select pay-per-view channels, you get the following bonus material:
  • ESPN Homeless: A camera crew follows an ESPN host who dangles a $100 bill in front of homeless people, which he promises to give them if they answer the following question correctly: Who is better -- Duke or Carolina? Of course, the host always tells them the answer is the opposite of what the homeless person chose, leading to tears and laughter.
  • ESPN ER: A surgical Emergency Room team attempts to provide play-by-play of the Duke-Carolina game from a monitor while saving the lives of critically injured patients.
  • ESPN Hostage: Wearing a wire, an ACC basketball fan gets himself 'captured' by terrorists, and then demands 'updates and highlights' from the game every five minutes, pushing his captors' patience to the limit.
  • ESPN Fries-With-That: A camera is positioned on a food services worker at Cameron Indoor who is so 'over' the rivalry and just wants a better career. Watch her slowly turn into a true 'Cameron crazy' over the course of the evening.
All that said, I can't wait for the game.

TWTYTW: 2003

The other day, after I noted my blogging anniversary, and beset with loads of anti-work at the office, I started perusing my old blogs. Like any author, there were some that induced cringing, some that were okay, and some that I still get a kick out of. Thusly, I decreed that my readers (cricket sounds) should not be deprived of some noteworthy passages from yesteryear.

I've included a snippet of the original blog, but click on the link if you find yourself wanting more. So, without further ado, here is That Was The Year That Was: 2003:

The Last Word on Phantom Menace
Here's a short list of some things that I don't get: The Dave Matthews Band, movie musicals, Terry Gilliam films, Care Bears, divas, country music, lederhosen, coffee, and twizzlers. I'm not a fan of any of those things, and don't care to listen/eat/watch/wear (match appropriately, please) any of them. Taking Dave Matthews for a moment, I am not saying that these guys aren't talented musicians, but that their music does nothing to move me, nor do I find it remarkable. That doesn't mean that I think they are the worst band ever, but rather that I recognize that there is something missing from my cranium that others have which would have enabled me to see their genius. I don't have it, and I don't miss it. However, I'm not spiteful about it, or blockheaded. If you are a fan, congratulations. Well done. Just let me be.

Favorite Author
For those of you unfamiliar with Moore (or, perhaps, with me), Chris possess wit and talent with the pen, writing some of the funniest and coolest stories I've read. Here, below, for the first time ever, I will rank his previous works as I see fit (by favorite).

This is Sportscenter
One of the other features was showing bloopers from their award-winning SportsCenter ad shorts. In light of that, I delved into the video archives of This Is SportsCenter. Here are my favorites from that list.

Malaysian DVDs
This is the long awaited (at least by me) final chapter in the Malaysian Espionage story. My return from Pennsylvania this Sunday was met with the vaguely labeled international package from my friend "Tran". This customs-evading parcel was the one that managed to deliver my DVD order of The Matrix: Reloaded and X2: X-Men United safely into my allegedly law-abiding clutches.

Best Christopher Walken video ever
Now back online: Spike Jonze's MTV-award-winning Fatboy Slim video, featuring a dancing Christopher Walken. For those of you familiar with my Walken-impersonation, this will be a blast form the past. Great video (and song).

Decoding the Matrix Trilogy
I’ve just watched Reloaded again, and I’m much more impressed with the film now that I’ve seen Revolutions. A lot of people have complained about the seemingly impenetrable exposition in the 2nd film, how the characters always spout lengthy philosophical claptrap that never seem to answer the questions posed. Indeed, at first glance, it appears as nonsensical evasion

Boondock Saints sucks
Although this is sure to inspire the rage and baffling indignance of some readers, I'm going to post the most negative review ever of the most deserving film ever, that being (of course), Boondock Saints.

Top Twenty Favorite Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen
There are many lists out there of great films that everyone knows. Through my own limited experience, the following list represents my favorite films that, when spoken of in casual conversation with the average joe, bring blank stares or shrugs (and in return receive my patented ‘aghast look of condescension’).


Anti-Islamist Manifesto

A group of twelve writers has issued an intellectual manifesto, smack in the face of all this ridiculously bloated and idiotic Islamic fanatacism. It's worth reading, so here it is in its entirety:
    Together facing the new totalitarianism

    After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.

    We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.

    The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

    Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

    We reject « cultural relativism », which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.

    We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.

    We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism.
This is just starting to make rounds in the mainstream media, although I doubt that it will be published in this country until the coast is clear. The only name I recognize on the list of twelve is Salmon Rushdie. Although he is clearly used to being marked for death, every single one of these writers have to know the serious consequences to their safety they have tempted by being so brave to publish such a piece.

Via Belmont, again.

The evil that you know

The Belmont Club takes note that the Danish cartoons have been published much more often in Muslim countries than in non-Muslim countries. His theory of why the media has ducked the issue speaks greatly to my reasoning behind not backing a Democratic candidate in 2004:
    I think the real reason for the reluctance among Anglospheric publications to print the Danish cartoons was less timidity than the fear of tacitly repudiating the underlying assumption of the President Bush's War on Terror, that the West is not at war with Islam but only with a small group of extremists who have corrupted "the religion of peace". The Danish cartoons threatened to convert this limited war into a more general confrontation between the value systems of the West and Islam. Why, one might ask, should the media, with no love lost for President Bush, care at all about protecting the key assumption of his limited war?

    The reason I think, is that the Left in their reflexive opposition to President Bush since the invasion of Iraq had not bothered to create a war strategy of their own. The nomination of Senator John Kerry in 2004 was an attempt to offer up the appearance of an alternative rather than a rival strategy. He was a placeholder for a policy that didn't exist. Trapped in the mental world of the 20th century, the Left had not decided how to respond to the challenge of the 21st. In marked contrast to the Cold War, in which 9 successive US administrations pursued the common policy of containment against the Soviet Union, the war after September 11 was characterized by the absence of a strategic consensus. President George Bush had a strategic vision; and the Democrats an endless supply of peanuts which they were prepared to pitch from the gallery.

    Once the Danish cartoon crisis threatened to knock the props out from under President Bush's limited war on Islamic renegades and escalate it to a "clash of civilizations" the barrenness of the Lefist intellectual cupboard became obvious even to themselves. There was no recipe to deal with this contingency. A "clash of civilizations" would pull matters from their grasp precisely because they refused to touch it in the first place. They could only continue to pretend Islamism didn't exist; and so they thrust their heads into the sand even further. The Danish cartoons? What cartoons?
The portion I bolded encapsulates my major objection to the democratic candidates that have been produced since 9/11. Until there is a clear alternative plan or a unified policy on terrorism, every candidate the democrats throw up is still going to be scarier to me than even the dreaded Bush himself. Why? Because the evil that we know is best. (no, I didn't pen that -- it was Titus Maccius Plautus).

Thursday, Bloody Thursday

As unexpected as a tsunami, the ramifications of the talks breakdown between the NFLPA and the owners are already starting to be felt. As Len Paquaurelli puts it:
    By Thursday, however, when the real-world ramifications of the failed labor talks become more apparent, fans in a lot of NFL precincts will take notice. With negotiations toward an extension having broken off Tuesday afternoon -- despite earlier optimistic reports that the sides were poised to strike an agreement -- salary cap managers from several franchises are readying themselves for what one general manager suggested late Tuesday will come to be known as "Bloody Thursday."

    Translation: Because so many teams are up against the projected cap limit of $95 million to $96 million for 2006, and the lack of a CBA extension means there are few options for relief, some big-name players will be jettisoned by Thursday, when teams must be in compliance with the spending limit.
How bad will it get? For some teams, this is the tolling of the bell...
    How drastic? There continue to be rumors the Washington Redskins, who extended numerous contracts in the past to deal with previous cap crunches, could have to play with 20 rookies on the roster in 2006. On Tuesday night in Atlanta, there were rumblings the Falcons, who aren't in nearly the dire straits some other franchises are, might be forced to release tailback Warrick Dunn, who rushed for a career-best 1,416 yards in 2005. The Kansas City Chiefs could part ways with perennial Pro Bowl guard Will Shields if he doesn't agree to adjust his contract and reduce a $6.67 million cap charge. And that is just the start of the many examples of potential attrition cited by team officials Tuesday evening.
So who will be most and least affected? ESPN has a list as of yesterday of teams in the black and the red. See if you can find yours on the 'good' list:Well, the Bills are under, just barely, so that's good. Most interesting to me is the Eagles' situation. Last year the management took a lot of ribbing for being tight-fisted with salaries and ruthless with contracts, especially in light of the T.O. fiasco (who won't be demanding any money from anyone after this day). Well, now it just looks like damn good money management and keen foresight. Granted, no one could foresee that things would go this bad, but if you are on the 'naughty' list below, you are getting blindsided.Does this really mean that teams are going to be cutting some of their best players? It's already happening as of 9 A.M. this morning:
  • The Bills, who entered Wednesday $2 million under the $92 million salary cap, made their second major cut of the offseason by releasing former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sam Adams.
  • The Panthers cleared $4.64 million of cap room Wednesday by releasing three veterans -- running back Stephen Davis, running back Rod Smart and defensive tackle Brentson Buckner.
  • The Broncos released three starters -- defensive end Trevor Pryce, running back Mike Anderson and tight end Jeb Putzier in moves that pull the team within a couple of millions of the salary cap.
  • Forced to slash contracts in order to get under the salary cap for 2006, the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday released four veterans, the most notable of which was four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Madison.
And there is certainly more to come. For the local sports fans, the sad news is that the Redskins are almost certainly going to cut LaVar Arrington. Maybe the Eagles can sign him for a pittance. So what is the bottom line? Some are saying it is doomsday, some are saying it's a good thing. I think it's exciting and interesting to see how this shakes up the rosters for next year. I think it's good to have a little revolution now and then.

UPDATE: ESPN has listed possible and probably cuts for every team.

UPDATE THE SECOND: This morning the NFL owners unanimously rejected the latest NFLPA proposal. Teams continue to feel the urge to purge. Question: with Green Bay way over the salary cap, will they cut Favre?


My kind of band

It's been a long time since I've heard a local band that caught my ear. Last night, in the midst of my Mardi Grasing (new verb?), I attended a performance at the Clarendon Grill of a band called Naked Grace. This was such a band.

At first glance, a typical cover band, playing probably one original for every 2-3 covers (the proper ratio, in my less-than-humble opinion, to keep any new audience interested). They were a very capable band, with strong originals, but what made me notice (and get excited) were their covers of 90's alternative songs. And not your typical, heavy air-play covers, but less known, tight numbers. I've been known to be blase about pop, country, hip-hop, ska, funk, you name it. Even today's 'alternative' music by and large is a mere shadow of what it once was. Of course, you are going to get that when you had 'alternative' go mainstream in the early 90's, by far the best era for alt-rock.

Naked Grace played a lot of covers from that golden era. Two that I was very impressed to hear were Galaxie from Blind Melon's Soup album and The Bends, the title track from Radiohead's The Bends LP. Neither received a lot of airplay on college radio when they were released, but they remain two of my favorite songs from that era. The latter, most notably, is my favorite Radiohead song of all time. To actually hear another human other than Thom Yorke belt out the soaring lyrics at the end of the song (and do it well) was damn cool.

In short, in the course of a few hours of drinking, they got themselves another groupie. Check out their site for a few samples of their originals.