Every Last Drop

It is a means to an end, and its entire purpose is to (1) set up the end of the series in book 5, and (2) tackle two other boroughs of New York City. And maybe to turn everything on its head to make you salivate for the end.Charlie Huston's fourth installment in the Joe Pitt series, Every Last Drop, delivers on the wit, the tough-guy approach, and more than delivers on the revelations. Just how do all those Coalition vampires get their blood? The answers aren't easily digestible, and it's the kind of information that can blow open the whole lid on the existence, and future, of vampires. The down-side is that we have to wait for the finale, but lucky for us, Huston has a history (the previous book was published in 2007) of keeping things short, sweet, and bloody.

Cool It

The global policy of cutting C02 emissions as THE worldwide priority will be both the costliest and the most ineffectual environmental improvement in the 21st century. Cool It is an eye-opening, concise (160pp), and compelling argument for alternative, more important, and much more efficient environmental improvement uses of a fraction of the trillions of proposed spending dollars that cutting emissions will cost.Bjorn Lomborg argues very passionately and logically for steps to be taken in a more appropriate direction. From his book's opening chapter, he writes:
    The argument in this book is simple:
  1. Global warming is real and man-made.
  2. Statements about strong, ominous, and immediate consequences of global warming are often wildly exaggerated, and this is unlikely to result in good policy.
  3. We need simpler, smarter, and more efficient solutions for global warming rather than excessive if well-intentioned efforts. Large and very expensive CO2 cuts made now will have only a rather samll and insignificant impact far in to the future.
  4. Many other issues are much more important than global warming. We need to get our perspective back. There are many more pressing problems int he world, such as hunger, poverty, and disease. By addressing them, we can help more people, at lower cost, with a much higher chance of success than by pursuing drastic climate policies at a cost of trillions of dollars.
What follows is a easy-to-understand deconstruction of the real costs of reducing emissions, and their predicted impacts contrasted with a list of other real world issues that can be dealt with for only a portion of that payload. I've admittedly always been skeptical of global warming and people who are alarmist, mostly because I don't accept factoids and I know how to spot false logic -- years of dealing with religious zealotry has trained me well. However, this doesn't exclude the media's complicit portrayal of the phenomenon; I know everyone is trying to make a buck and make news "entertaining", but watch the world news each night and marvel at the number of times a hugely negative word such as "disaster" or "catastrophe" are used. It's comical.

Coincidentally, in the book, Lomborg predicts (based on other historical causes of hyperbole) that this fad will ultimately grow tiresome for the people and wear itself out. Last week on NPR (yes, NPR!), they did a story about environmentalists at a conference who were despondent about getting funds from banks to do their own causes; real-world problems such as the financial crisis has been naturally putting the global "catastrophe" funding on hold.

As excellent as the book is, Lomborg cannot claim the best sound-bite. That goes to a quote from Mark Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research:
    "Framing climate change as an issue which evokes fear and personal stress becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By "sexing it up" we exacerbate, through psychological amplifiers, the very risks we are trying to ward off.

    The careless (or conspiratorial?) translation of concern about Saddam Hussein's putative military threat into the case for WMD has had major geopolitical repercussions."
On a sad note, although I have for many years been a fan of The American President, I'm finding that movie's political agenda (e.g., "we must reduce emissions by 20%!") increasingly out-of-date and thoroughly unconvincing and thinly-veiled (if at all) propaganda. At least Michael Douglas is good in it.



Normally, when I put the word "tie" in the title, you'd expect me to talk about Twin Ion Engines, but I am just as surprised as Donovan McNabb that the Philadephia Eagles tied the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, 13-13, in what I can only describe as a game that was so pathetic and evenly-sucked as to deserve to be tied.

But let's get to the statement that was even bigger than the tie; Donovan McNabb didn't know you could tie a game in the NFL:
    "I've never been a part of a tie. I never even knew that was in the rule book," McNabb said after the game. "It's part of the rules, and we have to go with it. I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to get out there and try to drive to win the game. But unfortunately, with the rules, we settled with a tie."

    The overtime rule isn't an obscure one. It was adopted fully by the NFL in 1974 and 17 games since have ended tied. The Eagles have been involved in four of those games.

    "I guess we're aware of it now," McNabb said. "In college, there are multiple overtimes, and in high school and Pop Warner. I never knew in the pro ranks it would end that way. I hate to see what would happen in the Super Bowl and in the playoffs."

    They keep playing if it's tied in the playoffs or Super Bowl. But McNabb didn't know that, either.
I don't blame Andy Reid for failing to tell your team, because the information is so painfully common knowledge that it would be embarrassing to convey. I mean, should I have to tell my franchise quarterback who has been in the league for nine years that you tie a game after 1 overtime period?? Should I have to tell my franchise quarterback, who gets paid to know this stuff, knows less about overtime than my girlfriend or anyone I know? What kind of effort would it take for me to find another adult who didn't know they have ties in the NFL? As for Andy Reid not thinking it affected the game, I disagree; from the following video clip, McNabb admits he didn't know the game was about to end until the last play was called. To me, that lack of urgency must be a factor...It is just outrageously and embarrassingly dumb of Donovan, not so much for not knowing it but not thinking it was a big deal enough to actually admit it to the press! That is even more stupid. Look, it is okay to not know the Earth is round, just don't go around telling people that unless you want to be treated like Forrest Gump.

Quantum of Solace

Now that I've seen Quantum of Solace, my new irritant-trigger is anyone who says "It's good, but no Casino Royale." And that's because that statement is wrong twice, but probably not how you may think. First, QOS is not good, it is great, a swift, brutal, honest, provoking, intelligent, and surprisingly top-notch entry into the Bond series. And second, it is most definitely no Casino Royale, for in as much as it is an appropriate true sequel to CR, had it been like CR it would have failed. Any more than Empire Strikes Back would have succeeded had it been another A New Hope.Did I just go there? Did I just use a Empire and Star Wars metaphor to describe Quantum? Yes, I did, but before your (and my) head starts exploding, I'll explain I am using the comparison in terms of mood and story flow. The story of Casino Royale is of love and betrayal and loss, and because Quantum of Solace picks up about five minutes after the former's movie ends, if you tried to do another film where Bond meets a lady and falls in love, it invalidates the gravitas of the film. If Bond mid-way through the film meets and loves another, did he really love Vesper? Would the scenes where Bond is so clearly in grievous denial suddenly become that much weaker? Would the final scene (which I won't spoil) have as much shocking and surprising closure?

A shorter film, indeed the shortest entry in the series, benefits because it is tighter and no less moving. I genuinely felt sadness at the passing of one character, which was handled with grace, tragedy and wit, all the while moving the story and Bond's character. Felix Leiter again has small a role, but no less significant and no less deftly-handled; Felix's growth and friendship with Bond is just another of the mini-origins that is being handled more memorably than the last 10 Leiters combined. The main villain, like in Casino, is more of a cog is a larger plot, but still a villain and still working well for the film and series. And that larger cog is still turning, perhaps pointing to a complete sequential trilogy for this Bond.To be honest, the choice of doing a true sequel, where Bond is grief-stricken the entire film and therefore understandably not as quick to quip as to kill, was a brave one for the studio. And for that alone they should be applauded. But, as I say that, I don't agree that the film was more violent than Casino Royale, nor does is become too-action oriented. It starts with a bang, to be sure, but quickly becomes a story and not just a set-piece. And, like in Casino, Bond's character grows and develops by the end of the film. Craig's era of Bond films may well be the one remembered as making Bond human and compelling. Now, some people may not want that -- they may want the wit and invisible cars and a character who never changes -- but I not only approve, but it has left me wanting more.


Star Trek Trailer

It's not your father's Star Trek trailer, and maybe that's a good thing. All I do know is everything J. J. Abrams touches turns to gold, and this preview made me excited to see this film. Buckle up, indeed.


Iowa 24, Penn State 23

It's hard to even think about writing about Penn State's heartbreaking loss on Saturday to Iowa. I am physically exhausted and my stomach has that permanent pit. I watched the entire game, and it's hard to get my head around how we managed to lose that game after dominating the first half and being up 9 going into the 4th quarter. I think it's best encapsulated by Joe Paterno's son, Jay:
    "There were 25 plays in the game that, if we make one of them, we win the game," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said.
The most talked about play was the late interception:
    As the ball fluttered out of his hand, Daryll Clark tried in vain to snatch it back, then prayed -- "Please, please, please!" -- that Derrick Williams somehow would get a hand on it.

    Afterward, the quarterback blamed that fourth-quarter interception, and himself, for the loss that essentially ended Penn State's chance at a national championship.

    "First of all, I want to apologize to the whole Penn State nation for my play today," Clark said. "And I take full responsibility for that loss. I apologize to our seniors, and our captains. I just keep having that turnover recurring in my head over and over again.

    "I just can't get it out of my mind."
I feel bad for Clark, who has been so good all year, but now will have to replay that one play -- a errant pass in a game where it was freezing and there were 25-mph gusts -- for the rest of his life. I really hope this team can rally and win their last two games, and not let this shocking loss ruin the rest of the season. The pass is a 'game-changing performance':

The excellent recap ticks off just some of the others. Read it and it will make you crazy:
    There was the blown protection on Penn State's third play of the game, resulting in a fumble which Clark was lucky to recover at his own 1-yard line. Iowa needed just two offensive plays to respond, with Shonn Greene (the nation's only back with 10 100-yard rushing games) scoring on a 14-yard run.

    There was the busted coverage on Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' stutter-and-go route on third-and-13 in the third quarter that turned into a 27-yard touchdown. Cornerback A.J. Wallace expected help from a deep safety, which never arrived.

    There was the debilitating holding call on Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger on the play prior to Clark's interception. The penalty, on third-and-14, negated a potential first-down completion to Butler. "I hope they're right on that one," Jay Paterno said. "I hope it's an obvious one there."

    And there was the crushing pass interference call on safety Anthony Scirrotto on Iowa's next series, which produced the game-winning field goal. Scirrotto ran into Iowa receiver Trey Stross from behind on third-and-15, giving the Hawkeyes a first down at the 39-yard line.

    "He went after the ball," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "He made a play on the ball. I'm not going to fault the guy for making a play on the ball."
I'm not going to even mention that the referees gave some seriously suspect 1st down spots to Iowa in that drive. Oh wait, there I go. SUSPECT.

Watch the recap from ESPN, if you like. Favorite quote, "Don't underestimate the impact of the wind." This game happens on a sunny day, this doesn't happen. Wouldn't coulda shoulda. Arrgh.

Did I mention that I'm sad?


Let The Right One In

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Swedish vampire book, Let Me In that was adapted as a Swedish horror film called Let The Right One In and soon to be playing in a theater near me. And last night it did and I saw it.

I have developed a guideline for myself when it comes to books and their movie adaptations; if I have read the book, I try to let a significant (say, at least six months) time pass before I see the film. If I don't, I end up being unable to watch the film without drawing direct comparisons to the book, which is distracting. Even more distracting is if you have favorite parts and the director decides to leave them out. Lastly, forgetting the film allows you to be surprised as you were in the book, but otherwise you are just waiting for things to happen.Of course, since I only finished reading the book a month ago, all three of these things happened during my viewing. I was able to enjoy the film, and my girlfriend, who had not read the book, enjoyed it, but it's tough to say that I'm entirely pleased with the adaptation.

I will say that at least they kept the ending intact, which is just one of the controversial parts of the excellent book. They, however, chose to leave out a lot of backstory, several major characters (the movie would have been at least thirty minutes longer), the pedophilia story (not surprising), the vampire zombie with a constant erection (really not surprising), and the history of a character having his penis chewed off (shocked, shocked we didn't get that special moment on film!).

I catch myself now getting too critical. What they kept in the movie were also some of the best parts of the book. The conversations between the two leads, the Rubik's cube (although I would have liked them to keep in the part where it is used as a weapon!), the beheadings, the concept of being invited in (can't really leave that out from a book called "Let Me In", can you?), the pool scene, and the morse code. The end, simultaneously touching and disturbing, makes you wonder just what a sequel would be like, and what would happen next. In the end, I've convinced myself: thumbs up for Swedish vampires.


The Day After

In case you are just waking up and this blog is where you come to for the news (and if so, we need to have a serious talk), Barack Hussein Obama became president-elect last night:
    Barack Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, shattered more than 200 years of history Tuesday night by winning election as the first African-American president of the United States.

    A crowd of 125,000 people jammed Grant Park in Chicago, where Obama addressed the nation for the first time as its president-elect at midnight ET. Hundreds of thousands more — Mayor Richard Daley said he would not be surprised if a million Chicagoans jammed the streets — watched on a large television screen outside the park.

    “If there is anyone out there who doubts that America is a place where anything is possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama declared.
Ultimately, I found the candidates' stances on issues so close for me, that it was a virtual dead heat. Despite my reservations about Obama's foreign policy experience, I decided to give change (doesn't every candidate run on 'change'?) a chance, mostly because I think that a single party running the goverment for too long isn't good. I believe that our nation stays healthy because we change our leaders so often..I'm looking forward to the next four years, just on the chance that Obama can do better, can make a difference. At the very least, it is thrilling to be living in a country where a black man was elected just forty years after the year that was 1968.

And now that the Democrats have swept the House and Senate, now I can hopefully have the haters SHUT THE F**K UP. Be careful what you wish for, because now the only fingers you can point are at yourselves. No more evil Republicans standing in your way. Get it done.

Update: Former right-wing politico Steven Den Beste, shares my sentiment, more succinctly encapsulating my thoughts in his "what are the good sides" list. Otherwise, his piece, while entertaining, is much darker and cynical than I about the next four years. I am not a doomsday believer (for either side's vilification), but I like to give equal time for another side's finger pointing!
    It's easy to let yourself go in despair and start thinking things like "We are well-and-truly fucked" or "This is the worst of all possible outcomes". But it isn't true.

    I think this election is going to be a "coming of age" moment for a lot of people. They say, "Be careful what you wish for" and a lot of people got their wish yesterday.

    And now they're bound to be disappointed. Not even Jesus could satisfy all the expectations of Obama's most vocal supporters, or fulfill all the promises Obama has made.

    I think Obama is going to turn out to be the worst president since Carter, and for the same reason: good intentions do not guarantee good results. Idealists often stub their toes on the wayward rocks of reality, and fall on their faces. And the world doesn't respond to benign behavior benignly.

    But there's another reason why: Obama has been hiding his light under a basket. A lot of people bought a pig in a poke today, and now they're going to find out what they bought. Obama isn't what most of them think he is. The intoxication of the cult will wear off, leaving a monumental hangover.

    And four years from now they'll be older and much wiser.

    A lot of bad things are going to happen during this term. But I don't think that this is an irreversible catastrophe for the union. I've lived long enough to absorb this basic truth: the US is too large and too strong to destroy in just 4 years. Or even in 8. We survived 6 years of Nixon. We survived 4 years of Carter. We even survived 8 years of Clinton, God alone knows how.

    The President of the United States is the most powerful political figure in the world, but as national executives go his powers are actually quite restricted. Obama will become President, but he won't be dictator or king, let alone deity. He still has to work with the House and the Senate, and he still has to live within Constitutional restrictions, and with a judiciary that he mostly didn't appoint.

    The main reason this will be a "coming of age" moment is that now Obama and the Democrats have to put up or shut up. Obama got elected by making himself a blank slate, with vapid promises about "hope" and "change" -- but now he actually has to do something. Now he has to reveal his true agenda. And with the Democrats also having a majority in both chambers of Congress, now the Democrats really have to lead. And they're not going to do a very good job of it. It's going to be amusing to watch.

    And the people who fell for the demagoguery will learn an invaluable lesson.

    Oh, the Democrats try to blame failure on Republican filibusters, of which there will be many. But that's always been a factor in our system, and many people believe it's an important check on government excess. The tradition in the Senate is that it is supposed to be a buffer against transient political fads, and the filibuster is a major part of that.

    If the Democrats go all in, and change the filibuster rule, then they'll have truly seized the nettle with both hands and won't have any excuses any longer. That's why they won't do it. It's their last fig-leaf. But even with the filibuster rule in place, they'll be stuck trying to deliver now on all the promises implied, or inferred, during this election. The Republicans can only filibuster on bills the Democrats have already proposed.

    And it ain't possible for the Democrats to deliver what's been promised. Gonna be a hell of a lot of disillusioned lefties out there. A lot of people who felt they were deceived. A lot of people who will eventually realize that the Obama campaign was something of a cult.

    Disillusionment will turn to a feeling of betrayal. And that will, in turn, convert to anger.

    In the mean time, Obama and Congressional Democrats will do things that cause harm, but very little of it will be irreversible.

    I would have enjoyed watching lefty heads explode if McCain had won. But we're going to see lefty heads exploding anyway; it's just going to take longer.

    In the mean time, those of us who didn't want Obama to be president have to accept that he is. And let's not give in to the kind of paranoid fever dreams that have consumed the left for the last 8 years. Let us collectively take a vow tonight: no "Obama derangement syndrome". Obama is a politician. He isn't the devil incarnate.

    So what are the good sides of what just happened?

    1. It is no longer possible for anyone to deny that the MSM is heavily biased. The MSM have been biased for decades but managed an illusion of fairness. That is no longer possible; the MSM have squandered their credibility during this campaign. They'll never get that credibility back again.

    2. Since the Democrats got nearly everything they hoped for in this campaign, they'll have no excuses and will have to produce. They'll have to reveal their true agenda -- or else make clear that they don't really have any beyond gaining power.

    3. Every few decades the American people have to be reminded that peace only comes with strength. The next four years will be this generation's lesson.

    Now, a few predictions for the next four years:

    1. Obama's "hold out your hand to everyone" foreign policy is going to be a catastrophe. They'll love it in Europe. They're probably laughing their heads off about it in the middle east already.

    2. The US hasn't suffered a terrorist attack by al Qaeda since 9/11, but we'll get at least one during Obama's term.

    3. We're going to lose in Afghanistan.

    4. Iran will get nuclear weapons. There will be nuclear war between Iran and Israel. (This is the only irreversibly terrible thing I see upcoming, and it's very bad indeed.)

    5. There will eventually be a press backlash against Obama which will make their treatment of Bush look mild. Partly that's going to be because Obama is going to disappoint them just as much as all his other supporters. Partly it will be the MSM desperately trying to regain its own credibility, by trying to show that they're not in his tank any longer. And because of that they are eventually going to do the reporting they should have done during this campaign, about Obama's less-than-savory friends, and about voter fraud, and about illegal fund-raising, and about a lot of other things.

    and 6. Obama will not be re-elected in 2012. He may even end up doing an LBJ and not even running again.

    One last thing: I'm not saying I'm happy with this outcome. I would much rather have had McCain win. But this is not the end of the world, or the end of this nation. We've survived much worse.

    And now we need to show the lefties how to lose. Our mission for the next four years is to be in opposition without becoming deranged.

    UPDATE: One other good thing: no one will be spinning grand conspiracy theories about this administration's Vice President being an evil, conniving genius who is the true power behind the throne.
Further UPDATE: Old adversary and overall-wearing cat-loving writer and pundit Jaquandor returns to the blogging airwaves. His lefty take on the result is a muddied-mirror reflection of my own, to an extent:
    Will he live up to all this? Who knows? Probably not; he's a human being and human beings screw up and are always disappointing at some point along the line. (I can understand his reasons for not doing so, but it would have been nice if Obama had taken a strong public stand against California's odious Proposition 8.) But I like his chances. Curiosity, in my book, always beats out disengagement. Respect for knowledge and expertise always beats out callous disregard for same. Thoughtfulness always beats out rock-solid convicion in one's own instincts and sensations about people. Also, Obama has been surrounding himself with people who know how Washington works and who will have the relationships and understanding to get things done, and Obama has been running as a change agent, which is different from running as an outsider. Frankly, I've never liked the whole "outsider" thing. Sure, a fresh set of eyes and perspectives is good, but too often this is couched in the assumption that everything in Washington is bad, bad, bad, and that what's needed is someone to show up who has no idea at all of what goes on there. (Of course, this is no guarantee of anything either; while Jimmy Carter was notable in his failure to understand how to work the mechanisms of Washington to get things done, George W. Bush surrounded himself with people who did understand those mechanisms, to results that may be even more dolorous than the ones Carter produced.)

RIP Michael Crichton

I'm sure I'm not alone in being saddened and surprised that Michael Crichton passed away on Election Day:
    Michael Crichton, whose contributions to pop culture ranged from the human drama of ER and Disclosure to the sci-fi adventures Jurassic Park and the Andromeda Strain, has died after what his family called "a private battle with cancer." He was 66.

    "While the world knew him as a great storyteller that challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us ... family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes," his family said in a statement. "He did this with a wry sense of humor that those who were privileged to know him personally will never forget."
It's more shocking for me because I just finished re-reading two of his finest works, and was really looking forward to another book. I am struggling to think of another writer who has done more for my love of fiction or imagination, and one who has died in my lifetime, but I'm at a loss. As my friend Melissa appropriately understated: "Bummer."

Bonus: Here's footage of Crichton talking with Matt Lauer about State Of Fear, one of those books I loved and reviewed:


Election Day

I am so happy election day is here. Not so much because I am looking forward to voting this afternoon, but to get rid of the canvassers, the spammers, and the haters. Yes, especially the haters, those who are so solidly on one side or another that they cannot fathom how someone can vote for the other party. Worse, they view their opponents as stupid.

I know a lot of these people, and every time someone yells "Bush is the worst president in history!!!" or "You don't want socialism do you??" at me, it makes me want to vote for the other party just out of spite. Luckily, idiots exist in equal numbers on both sides enough that there is just not enough spite to go around.I am still on the fence on this election. I have reviewed both candidates' stances here, and to be perfectly honest, it is a dead heat. As both parties represent my interests to a near draw (and both have things I don't like, naturally), the outcome of the election for me will be little more than a curiosity. Also of interest will be seeing the idiots go "Thank God our country chose RIGHT!" or "I'm moving to Canada!!!" And then witness the ensuing bar-room scuffles that always accompany election night in the Washington, DC, area. Fun.

My sentiments are also aptly summarized by Glenn Reynolds:
    We've had eight years of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Before that, we had eight years of Clinton Derangement Syndrome. And though people forget it now, President Reagan inspired a lot of anger and hatred, too. Can I ask that, regardless of who wins, we tone things down a bit?

    There's been a bit of leadership on this front in the blogosphere. Rightish blogger Rick Moran, in a post entitled If Elected, Obama Will Be My President, wrote: "An Obama election will mean changes – not all of them for the better. So be it. We will fight like hell against what we believe to be wrong. But we [will] not do it by trying to delegitimize the elected president." In response, leftish blogger (and famous science fiction writer) John Scalzi wrote: "This is exactly right. And this is why, you'll notice if you crawl the Whatever archives, I have made a point of noting that George Bush is my president. … One of the reasons I have always registered as an independent voter is that I believe my highest allegiance as a voter is not to a political party but to the Constitution of the United States, the foundational document of our law. Our Constitution sets up the system we use to choose a president. If a candidate--any candidate--fulfills the requirements of that system to become our president, then I believe it's my duty to acknowledge that, yes, that candidate is now my president. I can criticize that president, argue with that president, loathe that president and work to replace that president in the manner allowed for by the Constitution … but what I can't do is deny that he or she is my president. That's wrong, factually and morally, and it's dismissive of the Constitution of the United States."

    I agree. I thought it was wrong when Bush supporters in 1992 slapped "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Bush" stickers on their cars before Clinton was even sworn in. The simmering Clinton-hatred was bad for the country and, for that matter, for Republicans. Likewise, the even more over-the-top Bush-hatred of the past eight years has been bad for our polity, and for the haters. Now I hope that whoever wins, the nation will follow the lead of Moran and Scalzi.

    You don't have to love the "other guy." You don't have to hold back on fighting against policies you don't like. You don't have to pull punches. But once someone is duly and legally elected president, you do owe some respect to the office and the Constitution. And to your fellow Americans.

    I'm not an Obama fan, particularly, but a lot of people I like and respect are. To treat Obama as something evil or subhuman would not only be disrespectful toward Obama, but toward them. Instead, I hope that if Obama is elected, their assessment of his strengths will turn out to be right, and mine will turn out to be wrong. Likewise, those who don't like John McCain or Sarah Palin might reflect that by treating Palin and McCain as obviously evil and stupid, they're disrespecting tens of millions of their fellow Americans who feel otherwise. And treating a presidency held by a guy you don't like as presumptively illegitimate suggests that presidents rule not by election, but by divine right, so that whenever the "other guy" wins, he's automatically a usurper.

    We don't have to agree on issues, or on leaders. But if we can't agree that a free and fair election can produce a legitimate president even when it's not the candidate we like, then we've got a very serious problem.
In short, go vote, and save the crying for your like-minded followers and let the smart people have peace.



This weekend, at a family function, my cousin who happens to be a lawyer committed a pet-peeve of mine -- misuse of words -- which I did not correct out of the fear of appearing petty. Gathered around the kitchen table, she was telling a story about some true event, and concluded, "Well, that's my little factoid for the evening."

"Factoid" has recently been used a lot in my presence as a substitution for "fact", when its definintion is the exact opposite meaning. Via Wiki:
    A factoid is a spurious — unverified, incorrect, or fabricated — statement formed and asserted as a fact, but with no veracity. The word appears in the Oxford English Dictionary as "something which becomes accepted as fact, although it may not be true."

    Factoid was coined by Norman Mailer in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. Mailer described a factoid as "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper", and created the word by combining the word fact and the ending -oid to mean "like a fact". The Washington Times described Mailer's new word as referring to "something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact".

    Factoids may give rise to, or arise from, common misconceptions and urban legends.
When I say pet-peeve, I mean that I get annoyed when even I occasionally misuse a phrase. (The difference between Tuscan and Tucsan comes to mind!) What I find amusing about this such misuse is that by using the word as its opposite, people are creating a factoid out of factoid. So, instead when this usage is enacted again, I will laugh. Laugh and point.

Boondock Saints Sequel

Via Cinematical:
    Few recent films have as loyal a fanbase as does Troy Duffy's The Boondock Saints. I'm not sure if that's proper English, but you get the point. Boondock fans (or, as I like to call them as of this minute, Boondoggies) have been SURE that Duffy was starting in on a Part 2 several times over the past few years -- but they were wrong. Now they're right.

    According to The Hollywood Reporter, which reports on things from Hollywood, "principal photography has started in Toronto on Troy Duffy's sequel to the 2000 indie." Yes, Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery are coming back to reprise their roles. Also back on board are Billy Connolly and David Della Rocco. Other cast members will include Clifton Collins, Julie Benz, and Bob Marley. (Hey, that's what it says.)
Reaction #1: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Explanation for Reaction #2: Here's my review from 2003. Does it say something that it took 6 years to get a sequel green-lit, as well?
    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.

    I just recently added my review to Amazon.com, but where to begin with the ways in which this film was disappointing? Here it is:

    "This movie was highly recommended to me by no less than 3 friends of mine as "incredible" and one of their favorites of all time. Sadly, my respect for their opinions has plummeted; this film was a cliche from start to finish, with tired 'comedic' scenes, copycat action, and questionable themes. It felt like a film that couldn't figure out whether it wanted to be some kind of a moral statement (regarding the tacked on man-in-the-street comments in the end -- vomit) or a 'Lock Stock' ripoff. In short, this film was so notoriously bad that it has made it into my casual speak for awful (e.g., "Rate it from Boondock to 10", or "That Boondocks"). It is just shocking how this film is like fire to the pseudo-intelligencia flies. On the upside: I now ask a new person what they thought of the film as my instant gauge to their mental acuity."

    I guess it boils down to my reaction to intelligent people doing illogical things. I believe that people are genetically predisposed to do and think different things. While culture and education and upbringing are shaping factors, your foundation will generally incline you towards a certain view. That realization made it possible for me to accept people of different political affiliations without feeling the pointless need to 'convert' them. Likewise, I'm trying to accept those with religious zeal in their blood, but it's rather difficult since most (that I've encountered) religious types aren't well-read (one could say that ignorance is essential for religion) or aware of the false-hoods they've been taught, so it is hard to have a leveled discussion about faith with the faithful. But I am trying. Where am I going with this? Boondock Saints has made it into the three things you should never talk about (along with politics and religion) in a bar because I just cannot fathom how someone smart could like and admire this film, and it pains me to see people like that falling into the pit of boondock.

    I found this additional review on Amazon.com, which speaks to the content of the film. I agree with every word. Now go out and rent it and burn your copy.

    "The positive reaction to this film can only be called absurd. The only thing worse than the poor acting and childish dialogue is the serious lack of any character development. In order to make the point that the desire for justice leads logically to outrage, which leads logically to viglilantism, the director/writer would need to build an identification between viewer and the 3 main protagonists. One of these figures--Rocko--is so moronic and out of control that there can be no such identification unless you are moronic and out of control. The two Irish brothers are supposed to seem deeper, presumably because they speak several foreign languages, but really they are the same sort of hyper-testosterone bar slime they become so enraged at throughout the film. A film that tries to confront violence/crime without contextualizing it, is racist in terms of its stereotyping of Irish, Italians, and Russians, and also classist (drug addicts deserve wrath and punishment? How about the corporate crooks and politicians that make drug addicts?) If you have two hours to kill and would like to ponder the moral dilemmas causes by an inadequate justice system, consider reading Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Boondock Saints is childish psuedo-philosophy geared toward 15 year olds (the ignorant ones) who lack the ability to contextualize historically both crime and the mechanisms currently in place for dealing with it."
Courtroom speech that makes me want to vomit:
Religious wackos. Just as fun as in the Middle East, or if you in the World Trade Center. The only good sequel would be is if they all died truly horrible deaths, and no one cared.

Of course, my revulsion of the film is probably also fueled by my belief that religion is the single-largest evil that has ever existed. Nah, too easy!

To recap: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

BCS Blustering

Speaking of that upset victory, a funny thing happened on the way to the BCS rankings this week. A previously unbeaten Texas team gets beat ON THE ROAD on the NEXT-TO-LAST PLAY by last week's number 7 ranked (BCS, the only one that matters) team, and the BCS vaults the victor to number 2, over an also unbeaten Penn State team who was idle at #3. And I won't lie to you I was fuming over that leap. But then I calmed down and got to thinking about a few things.First, here's the voting differential in the top 4 (AP):
    1.Alabama 1600
    2.Texas Tech 1528
    3.Penn State 1525
    4.Florida 1398
That's such a slim margin between the top 3. Hardly anything to get steamed about in early November with 3 games left.

Second is the remaining schedule for Texas Tech. In their next two weeks they are hosting Oklahoma State (current #8, nearly beat Texas themselves) and then AT Oklahoma (current #6, been scraping opponents remains off their cleats recently) the following week. If they survive those two scraps, I would have no problem with them being considered #2, or even #1 for that matter. So, let them play the games and we'll see.

Third, is at Penn State, we need to either forget things we can't control and focus on what we can. We need to take care of business, finish undefeated, period, and then let the BCS implode should they not put us in the championship game. Screw impressions, which is all the rankings are. I'm sure that's what Joe Pa is telling them right now. And that's why I shrug my shoulders and say we've got to finish the season out strong and screw what all the experts think.

Also: I can't wait until this week's press conference with Paterno to get his reaction when a reporter asks him about it. Can't. Wait.

Rushing the field

This previous weekend saw an incredibly exciting game where number 1 (BCS rankings) Texas Longhorns were upset on the road by number 7 Texas Tech, 39-33, winning on the next-to-last play of the game.

It also saw Texas Tech fans at their embarrassing and predictable worst. The Associated Press not only got the event wrong (shocking!) but severely downplayed the possibility of a different outcome:
    Thousands of Texas Tech fans poured onto the field and had to be sent off while the play was under review to make sure Crabtree didn't step out of bounds. Once the fans were chased off the field and Tech kicked the extra point, the Red Raiders were penalized and forced to kick off from their own 7.

    When Texas couldn't pull of a miracle kickoff return, the fans ran back on the field to celebrate the biggest win in Texas Tech history.
First, they got one fifteen yard penalty for rushing the field when Texas Tech scored the touchdown. Second, not being aware enough to realize that NO TIME ELAPSES during an extra-point attempt, they rushed the field again (I predicted this) getting another fifteen-yard penalty. This forced Texas Tech to kickoff from their own 7.5 yard-line. Texas head coach tried to arrange for an automatic fair catch, but unfortunately that isn't allowed. Either way, a squib kick that starts at your own 40 is a lot more dangerous than one that starts at the opponent's 40. Despite wanting for a Texas upset I think I would have been even more satisfied if the Longhorns had somehow scored because of this.

Well, I'm sure that the Red Raiders fans will learn from this incident and not do it again. Oh, wait, this has happened before, even after the university put in a really effective "zero tolerance" policy in 2002:
    LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Texas Tech students celebrated a 42-38 victory over Texas on Saturday by storming the field, ignoring a two-day-old "zero tolerance" policy prohibiting fans from going onto the stadium turf. In announcing the new policy Thursday, university officials said anyone going onto the field before, after or during games would be subject to arrest.

    But moments after Texas Tech beat fourth-ranked Texas behind Kliff Kingsbury's six touchdown passes, thousands of students poured onto the turf of Jones SBC Stadium, where Texas Tech players were still gathered.

    As soon as the game ended, in a pre-emptive [it's "preemptive" -- stupid AP reporters] move, university officials dismantled the goal posts before students had a chance to tear them down. Capt. Gordon Hoffman of the Texas Tech campus police said no arrests were made.

    "Practically speaking, I don't see how we could have made any arrests. When you have those kind of numbers, it's not possible. I don't see how they could have been arrested and contained," Hoffman said.

    Texas Tech officials said the policy came about because they didn't want to see a repeat of what happened after Texas Tech upset Texas A&M 12-0 a year ago in Lubbock. Tech students tore down the south goal post and took it into an area in the east stands where Texas A&M fans were located. Fighting broke out.

    "This is a pre-emptive deal and probably a policy that needed to be in place before," Texas Tech sports information director Chris Cook said Thursday. "As our program continues to get better, the more enthusiasm is generated, and we have a good opportunity now to put this policy into effect."
VERY effective. The students demonstrated the wiles of any two-year old by calling the bluff of a weak-willed parent. Six years later and now the Tech fans have graduated from rushing the field after the game to before it is over. Twice. And costing your team penalties that could have had effected the outcome. Congratulations, Texas Tech, your fans are officially the dumbest.

Bonus: It's not hard to find evidence of Texas Tech fans repeated stupidity on the web. Here's a satisfying video from last year's Oklahoma-Tech game showing some Tech idiots getting arrested rushing the field.



I never developed a fear of flying, even when commuting back-and-forth from DC to Phoenix for six months in 1998 and 1999. Turbulence doesn't bother me, either; I suppose I rationalize my lack of concern by recognizing I'm in a situation where I am completely powerless to affect the outcome, so just enjoy the ride. That, and I always remember the Superman line where he says flying is statistically still the safest way to travel.So, it was with a mixture of provocative glee and defiance that I first read Michael Crichton's page-turning novel about a mid-air disaster, Airframe, on one of those commuting legs. The book centers around an investigative lead for an airframe (mostly everything but the engines on a plane) manufacturer scrambling to find answers to a mysterious mid-flight mishap before the 60-Minutes-type media outlet runs a story that would sink the company. Crichton doesn't disappoint the techno part of his 'techno-thriller' rep as usual; by the end you'll know as much about why the plane really had trouble as any executive.

We don't even meet our chief antagonist from the media until halfway through the book, but by then, the table has been set and the tension is wonderful. I'm not surprised that the book was never made into a movie; I can think of only two action scenes, and they are minor at best. No, the thrills in this tale come from the mental and verbal jousting between the airframe lead and her media counterpart; one trying to find out the truth and solve a mystery, and the latter trying to sell a sensational story regardless of what happened. And, I didn't need to be on a plane this time around to fly through this book again.


State of Fear

It goes without saying that I am an atheist, but I wasn't always that way. I struggled for years with the things I was told were true, or that were part of faith, when many of them just didn't make sense. And I really had a hard time believing that the God of my parents and so many others was flawed and even worse, a fiction. Ultimately, I took it upon myself to read books about religion and its history instead of relying on the opinions of others. Only after myself becoming more informed could I comfortably and assuredly dispel the myths of the gods.

Compared to global warming, that struggle was a piece of cake.

The casual (i.e., not a scientist) follower of global warming often share striking similarities to religious followers, akin to those who blindly believe what they are told. From my 'training' at picking apart religious arguments, the false logic is easy to spot. I have found the most common form of justification by casual believers are appeal to the people (e.g., a majority of scientists believe and therefore it is fact), and appeal to authority (e.g., Al Gore made a movie and therefore it is true). All this tells me is that they don't know what they are talking about. Adamant followers usually just skip to to beratement, or an attack on the person rather than the argument (e.g., what a nutjob!). All of these things makes the notion of global warming smell funny, to say the least.So, admittedly, I came into reading Michael Crichton's 2004 techno-thriller State of Fear with some eager anticipation. Yes, it is a book of fiction, which the author stresses, about environmental extremists trying to perpetrate ecological disasters to try and strengthen their monetary funding for their movements. However, Crichton has done extensive research (the bibliography has dozens of texts in reference), and there are pages of footnoted passages in the text to back up characters' contentions. It all makes for, first of all, a compelling and fun read, but secondly, an eye-opening experience to another point of view.

(The book is not out to dispel man-made global warming (although it does quite well in that regard), but makes a case for a media-driven 'state of fear', i.e., creating a constant state of hysteria and panic to control the masses.)

I'd put the book in the upper echelon of Crichton's books -- somewhere between Airframe and Congo -- and a wonderful read. If nothing else, the author stresses at the beginning and end that the reader should read more and find out for themselves what they think, which I couldn't agree with more.

Side project: Read the comments on Amazon to get an amazingly polarizing view and try to count the number of false logic arguments without going nuts.

In reviewing my own "Post of Note" about Why I Love to Hate Religion, I wrote the following:
    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.
As it relates to the theory of man-made global warming, I just don't believe that we understand remotely enough about this planet to be able to control it. But that is just belief. I plan to read more and know.


QOS Reviews

I've been waiting two years for Casino Royale's sequel, yes sequel, Quantum of Solace to come out, so it's never too early to start getting excited when reviews come in. Especially if they are what you were hoping to hear, and then some.I mean, after all, I did it last time and it worked out just fine. From the London Times Online:
    "James Bond is back, and this time it’s mighty personal. Daniel Craig’s craggy agent picks up exactly where he left off in another bruising thriller that leaves you feeling both drained and exhilarated... What makes Marc Forster’s film such an intriguing watch is that this is the first of the 22 Bond movies where the plot flows organically from the last instalment, and Quantum of Solace looks a far stronger picture for this rare continuity."
From BBC Online:
    "Clocking in at one and three-quarter hours, it's a good half hour shorter than 007's previous outing. And its reduced running time results in a leaner, tauter experience... And it's a brave step to push even further a lot of the themes developed in Casino Royale, especially the rediscovery of who Bond is, and why he is the way he is. It's a film that feels like the second part of a trilogy, with this being the bleaker second act."
And from Empire Online: (all reviews from British sites as they get QOS two weeks before we do):
    "It's entirely admirable that Quantum of Solace is the shortest Bond movie to date - it drops a great many of the long-running series mannerisms (callous quips, expository lectures, travelogue padding, Q and Moneypenny) as it globe-trots urgently from Italy to Haiti to Austria to Italy again to Bolivia to Russia with stopovers in London and other interzones... If it doesn't even try to be bigger than Casino Royale, that's perhaps a smart move in that there's still a sense at the end that Bond's mission has barely begun."
Finally, a short one from Screen Daily:
    "One of the most remarkable action films ever made."
Expectations: sky-high.


Let Me In

Cinematical first clued me in to Let Me In, a surprisingly moving and graphic 2004 vampire tale written by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, with their opening paragraph review of the film adaptation:
    The vampire movie has been pretty much done to "death" by this point, right? Even the good vampire flicks are sort of treading over familiar ground, yes? Longtime fans of the undead bloodsuckers have more or less accepted that the sub-genre has become a fairly anemic wasteland, true? Normally I'd have to reluctantly agree with those assertions, but fortunately I caught a really excellent Swedish film this morning called Let the Right One In. Not only does this fantastic little import add a lot of new color to the "vampire flick," but it also turns out to be one of the strangest, stickiest, and (yes) sweetest horror movies I've seen in ten years.
Just reading the back flap biopic of the author, you know you're in for something a little different:
    John Ajvide Lindqvist is a Swedish author who grew up in Blackeberg, the setting for Let Me In. Wanting to become something awful and fantastic, he first became a conjurer and then was a stand-up comedian for twelve years.
The story is simple, but new to vampire-fiction
    Oskar is a 12-year-old-boy who is being bullied at school. He befriends a mysterious girl, Eli, who moves in next door with her father HÃ¥kan.

    In the course of the story the reader finds out all is not what it seems. Eli is really a vampire and her 'father' supplies her with fresh blood by murdering young boys. As Oskar gradually begins to understand who Eli really is, the bond between them grows stronger. Eli teaches him to stand up to his bullies and Oskar grows increasingly fond of her.
Oskar isn't exactly your typical hero, in fact he's a little creepy and is fond of knives. His off-kilter personality makes his acceptance of his vampire friend that much more believable. While I thought the book started a bit slow, it soon builds speed to the point where I couldn't put it down. The themes dealt with in the book are atypical of a horror book and very thought-provoking. Ultimately, the book ends up being romantic while being sick, twisted, and very bloody.The book has already been made into a foreign-language film, retitled Let the Right One In. Here's one of the trailers:
Unfortunately, at present, the film is only going to be released in limited cities and dates. According to Cinematical, it'll be playing at the E Street Theater in Washington on November 7. (E Street's website doesn't confirm this, so I'm hoping to find it somewhere.)


I think I was as surprised as my girlfriend that I was interested in going to see W. in the theaters. I'm not tremendously political, but I certainly lean heavily (at least financially and foreign-policy wise) towards the "right". But even more surprising was that I liked the film, and that my expectations were completely wrong.A friend of mine asked me, "What kind of movie is it? Satire? Dark-comedy? Political propaganda?" She's the kind of person that likes to know just what to expect, and I can't blame her in this case. I was most intrigued by the film because of Josh Brolin's purported great performance (not to be underestimated) and the fact that I wanted to see for myself just how Oliver Stone paints our 43rd president. My answer to her question was that it has humor, but it is by no means a comedy or satire. The picture still defies to be put in a category, other than a creative biopic that is entertaining, informative, conspiracy-theoried (Stone, naturally doing what he does), and thought-provoking. It wasn't what I expected.

That reminds me of another question that was posted to me by a VERY liberal woman (I would say she drinks the kool-aid), the kind that believes in a vast right-wing conspiracy and Bush is evil, etc., etc. She was surprised that I went to see it (my right-leaning rep is well-known) and asked what I thought. And I said the most surprising thing is the most sympathetic, well-developed, and human character in the movie is George W. himself. She looked visibly deflated and said, "oh". I suspect anyone with a similar POV will be disappointed that Oliver Stone's film actually conveys a compassion and understanding for W., instead of making a cheap pot-shot mockumentary. This is by no means saying the film is pro-Bush, but that Stone is trying (and I believe succeeds) to tell a story about real people, and real people are shaped by real events, real emotions, and other real people.

Now, where Oliver Stone takes liberties with characters (one assumes) is with W.'s cabinet. In the film, W. is portrayed as a person who believes in good and evil, and as a metaphor for his own views, the good in his own cabinet is Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) and Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfus) the evil. Karl Rove (Toby Jones) comes off as both affable and slimy as the same time, but Thandie Newton's caricature impression of Condoleeza Rice is show-stoppingly distracting. That and Rice is made to be mostly a 'yes' person and doesn't appear to have much in the way of an opinion.

For me, it was most interesting to see the origins of W.'s christian faith -- assigned to a local election beating, where his opponent used those themes to beat him. Afterward, W. vows never to be "out-Christianed or out-Texaned again", even though he knows the themes are irrelevant and dishonest. Amazingly, I came out of the film with a better feeling about W. than when I walked in, and I think in this age of being besieged by cries of "worst president ever", I never say that coming.


A Dangerous Man

With Charlie Huston's final book in his Hank Thompson trilogy, A Dangerous Man, the temptation is there for me to be disappointed. After all, it comes after following an excellent (and a finalist for the Gumshoe award for Best Thriller in 2006) sequel, Six Bad Things, and the first and penultimate book of the series, Caught Stealing. (That Caught Stealing has not been adapted into a film yet is something of a crime.) Yes, the expectations were high, and A Dangerous Man delivers, but I think the sense of euphoria and escape is tempered by the somber finality of the end.It's interesting to speculate how I would perceive the book if the character of Hank wasn't so far removed from the first two physically; he has descended into what Booklist appropriately called "Fat Elvis" mode -- popping pills constantly and quite a bit slovenly and overweight. However, an encounter with a new baseball phenom-to-be, with Hank as his bodyguard, sets the final, ironic chapter in motion. No need to worry if there will be violence for Hank to mete out or for situations to take surprising turns; if you've read this far, you come to expect it and applaud the fitting end of a great series.

ABC's of Star Wars

Someone took the time to create a series of ABC cards using characters from Star Wars. I'm not sure if it was worth all that time, but it may have been just for the "S is for Sarlacc" one.


The Smiths

The Smiths in recent years have become a band that I say are a favorite preceded with a shrug, the gesture meaning "well, of course they are, but I don't listen to them all that much anymore." It is one telling shrug, which could encapsulate for me any band favorite who doesn't put out new music and whose songs you have loved dearly, but heard all dozens and dozens of times. For me declaring that I love The Smiths' first album, The Smiths, it is recognizing an era of musical development, discovery really, and embracing nostalgia.I will readily admit the album is NOT their best, not even close. It's a little slower, mellow than subsequent albums, but still contains some great riffs and classic songs. "Still Ill" remains a top-five favorite in my book.

Really, though this album is all about the opening track for me, "Reel Around the Fountain." It was May 1990, and I had just completed my first two semesters at Penn State. Having grown up in Southwestern New York State (NOT Upstate New York), I had very little exposure to any other music other than what was played on the radio, which means all I knew was classic rock and pop music. I friend of mine (Kurt was his name) had suggested that I check out this band (amongst others), so on a whim I bought the six-dollar cassette (yes, cassette) and popped it in my stereo in my room while I started to unpack my college things.I remember very clearly actually stopping what I was doing and turning around to look at the stereo when I first heard Morrissey's voice. Morrissey, if you haven't heard him (and if you are reading this and have not, I don't know where to start other than saying YOU'RE NOT COOL!! ;)) has a very unique, nasal sound, and a gift with words. It was unlike any other I had heard. Every time I hear "Reel Around The Fountain," like this morning on the way to work, I think about that moment, which still feels like the wool being lifted from my eyes or discovering your new favorite food. And it brings a smile to my face.


Turning the Corner on Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles

I have been watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles from day one, which considering the shortened first season, hasn't been that long. And it has kept me coming back consistently because the show is well-written and creates a dramatic sense of danger every week. It's not in a must-see category (the only one I can put in that place is Battlestar Galactica), but building with each episode this season, surprisingly, it has started a campaign to join the elite.And how do good shows become elite? I don't have the playbook with me, but this is how Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (henceforth, T:SCC) is doing it.

It should be no secret that you have to start with solid writing. Heroes, for example, has flashes of brilliance, but is far too inconsistent. Worse, it has a near-boundless template to work from. T:SCC has a pretty simple (yet fantastical) premise that has been the template for the series and the past couple movies: A Terminator from the future comes back to protect John Connor. In the series, you have his mother in a starring role, and throw in John's uncle Reese, and you have a solid dynamic. And it has been working, but the shtick has been done with the robot/human interaction for a long time now, and let's just say it is tough to find new ways to make jokes about robot understanding while saving John.Luckily for us, the terminators we have seen (by my count, at least four) are far more interesting, even shocking in their behavior. I mean, let's face it, the show is called "Terminator" for a reason, not just "The Sarah Connor Chronicles". The protector robot figure, "Cameron", got caught in an explosion at the end of season one, which reset her programming to kill John in the opener. After trapping her, and against his mother's judgement, he "fixes" her and restarts her. Needless to say, this new Cameron acts a little different, more contemplative, less robotic, and now has resurfacing memories from before she was captured and reprogrammed. And in the very least, she reacts badly to anyone now who suggests that she needs to be "fixed".

Shirley Manson's T1001 terminator is another story. Apparently head of large corporation, she is interested in finding a stray terminator. And she has a daughter. Not something we've seen before.Nor have I seen some of the intensity that the episodes have brought recently. The third episode, "Mousetrap", was dramatic as it was final for one of the recurring characters.

No disrespect to Linda Hamilton, who was great in her two movie roles, but Lena Headey, brings a wonderful intensity, humanity, and tenderness to the title role. She totally owns it now. To my own shock and awe, Brian Austin Green has completely shed any resemblance to his 90210 days; he's completely believable in his role as a future soldier. Thomas Dekker as John Connor ably conveys the frustration of a future hero who at once is all-to-aware of his importance and desperate for some semblance of a normal life. And Summer Glau as the protectant terminator "Cameron" is as spot on as you could hope for.

The most recent episode, from last night, "Alison from Palmdale", was everything you want in a Terminator series and yet not typical. It told the story of Alison Young, who was a captured youth from the future who was apparently the model for the infiltrator model "Cameron". Cameron herself, likely due to John's on-the-fly reprogramming of her damaged chip, suddenly can't remember who she is beyond the information she got interrogating the imprisoned Young back in the dark future. Amnesiatic Cameron ends up in a half-way home, where through a series of sessions to a counselor, begins to remember everything, finally declaring that her mission is to put John Connor's head "on a pike for all to see". By the end, she is reunited with John, who has no idea she remembers everything, and how dangerous her personal discovery is becoming. Worse, thanks to her memory and temporary friendship with a suspect girl, she now begins to lie to him. Flashbacks, flashforwards, self-reflection, revelation, and death. My interest is only rising.

Six Bad Things

Charlie Huston's hero, or anti-hero, a victim of bad circumstance combined with solid revenge instincts, I think is meant to mirror any regular person. How quickly his life goes down the toilet and the decisions he makes are all quite reasonable, under the circumstances, even though they involve killing. Only six times by the time the beginning of Six Bad Things opens up, but you know that Hank Thompson's luck isn't going to last.I haven't read a book of Huston's that doesn't deliver the gritty, no-nonsense, hectic paced first person, adventure, and this is no exception. If you aren't reading the series (begun with Caught Stealing), you are clearly using the government employee excuse of "I don't have time". Sad.

Bonus: Here is Charlie Huston talking about his unique first line of Six Bad Things:
    Charlie Huston's Backstory
    Two Bad Ears: The "Six Bad Things" Backstory

    "I’m sitting on the porch of a bungalow on the Yucatan Peninsula with lit cigarettes sticking out of both my ears." That’s the first line of "Six Bad Things."
    Unfortunately, I had to live through a similar experience before I could write that line.
    My wife (then my girlfriend) and I were on vacation in Mexico. We were hanging out for a week in a little beach town with a simple plan to eat less, drink more, sleep late, loll in the sun, and have sex. Lots of sex. I abused this mandate to the extent of a little floating and splashing in the Caribbean. It was on one of my solo aquatic excursions that my problems began. Serves me right for going off the agenda.
    All it was, was a little water in the ears. No biggie. We’ve all had water in our ears. But this particular quantity of water refused to be dislodged. Under normal circumstances this would have been distracting at worst. But I was already suffering from a mild head cold that had plugged my sinuses. Now, four of the five open holes in my head were blocked. So there I am in sultry Mexico, walking around, a slack jawed mouth breather saying, huh, what was that?, to any inquiry sent my way. It sucked. Worse, I was rapidly becoming miserable company and infringing on my girl’s drinking, sleeping, lolling, and screwing time. Something had to be done.
    I experimented with Mexican eardrops and decongestants. No dice. Also, no interesting side effects. An utter waste of time. Sick of the whining noises I was making, my girl called a doctor.
    Over the phone, the Doctor asked when he should come by. I told him he should come whenever was convenient. He insisted I name a time.
    I looked at the clock. It was three.
    -Is four OK?
    A pause as he considered.
    -Hmmmm. I’ll be there at six.
    At seven he knocked on our door. The exam was brief. I described my symptoms; he smiled, nodded, whipped out one of those ear-scopes, and stuck it deep in one of the many places on the human body where the sun does not shine.
    Narrow ear canals.
    The water was trapped deep in these narrow canals, held at bay by a Hoover Dam of earwax I had created with Q-tips carelessly wielded. He had my girl take a look through the scope. Just in case she should come across a similar case and be called upon to diagnose it herself. She gave me a look, making sure I knew this was my fault for venturing away from our carefully conceived booze-slumber-sun-booty plan. I avoided eye contact, knowing she was right. Curse me for a selfish fool. The Doctor removed the scope.
    Flush those ears.
    Until you’ve had a beer can’s worth of warm water injected into each of your ears, you have not lived a full life. Nor have you been fully exposed to the true grotesqueness of the human body, until you have seen what is washed out of your ears under these circumstances.
    My girl turned her back, now questioning our entire relationship. How could she have had physical relations with a man from whom such vileness could issue? I hung my head in shame and my own filth.
    However, this was not the end. We had yet to discuss what was to be done should the problem reoccur.
    The answer?
    Stick cigarettes in my ears.
    The Doctor, jolly to the last, reaching in his little black bag (no shit, he had one), and came out with a fresh pack of Benson & Hedges.
    And thus, as the Caribbean evening reached its full glory, I could be found on the terrace, a man desperately trying to quit smoking, with smoldering cigarettes gently twisted into either ear drawing forth the residual moisture trapped within.
    For his services the Doctor charged us 1000 pesos. For those of you keeping count, that was about 100 bucks. That’s a c-note for a house call, treatment, and a full pack of smokes. Thanks, Doc.
    Shortly thereafter, following a visit to our favorite mai tai bar, a good night’s sleep, and some sun bathing, my girl agreed I wasn’t all that gross and we got our vacation back on track.
    So, how’s that experience end up opening a novel? Come on, how can a writer not use something like that?
    At the time, I’d already written my first Hank Thompson book, "Caught Stealing", but that was a labor of love and was sitting in a desk drawer. Hank was retired after a very brief and un-witnessed career. He was somewhere in Mexico, right where I’d left him to unwind. Then one sleepless night, after a number of years had passed since I’d last seen Hank, I suddenly asked myself what he might be up to. In that same moment, I knew exactly what he was doing.
    Hank was sitting on the porch of a bungalow on the Yucatan Peninsula with lit cigarettes sticking out of both his ears.
    So I got up, careful not to wake my girl (my wife by then), went in the next room, and reintroduced myself to Hank Thompson.

Heroes: One of Us, One of Them

Let's call a spade a spade: the two best things about the latest Heroes epsiode, "One of Us, One of Them", are the teaming of Sylar and Noah Bennett and the teaming of the Mexican chick with no air time. Right out of the box, you have now the clearly unstable Mrs. Petrelli telling her "son" (who knows if it is true, but it would coincide with how he and Peter kind of have shades of the same ability) that she's going to let him go and partner him with HRG (Horned Rimmed Glasses, for the ungeeky), the guy who just put a dozen bullets in him last episode.Jack Coleman's HRG character naturally doesn't like that one bit; aside from Sylar being an admitted and uncontrollable killer, he finally got to his daughter Clair last episode. Although they quickly develop a respect for each other, that is immediately betrayed in the end by Sylar's instincts. And followed by HRG declaring that he's going to get close enough to Sylar to learn how he ticks and then kill him. I know it's hard to swallow this pairing after all they've been through, but it translates well to the screen, and will keep me coming back just to see their interaction. And to watch Claire heal her jaw after it bounces off the floor when Sylar inevitably makes a home appearance.

But to segue for just a moment, IF Sylar (nee Gabriel) is really a Petrelli spawn, that actually makes him Claire's UNCLE. So that makes (discounting papa Petrelli only because we have no data) a perfect five-for-five with powers in the Petrelli extended clan. Sure, Mohinder, you were wrong about it being genetics, it's really adrenaline. What no reply? No air time for you? Too bad!HRG runs into his old partner, The Haitian, who appearantly really has no name because even mama Petrelli refers to him as that. The Haitian is there to report that Hiro and Ando YET AGAIN have enabled theft of the "formula", which might as well henceforth be known as "the maguffin". Aside from Sylar, I can't think of ANYONE who more truly deserves to be locked away for their own good than them. At least there isn't a third part of the formula they can't deliver personally Hiro's speedster "nemesis", who is clearly much smarter than them. I'm not saying that because it's good that they already royally screwed the pooch, but that it's good they can't screw up any worse. I may regret saying that.

Aside, Brea Grant, who plays the speedy Daphne Millbrook, really needs to stay in super-speed mode, because depowered she runs like a mobile jello figure.

Matt Parkman, spirit quester, gets no pictures and no kudos, except for filling an extra 5 minutes of television time. It could be that the writers didn't have anything for him to do for a while, or it could be that his quest is somehow important. Or it could be a built-in extra bathroom break.But they do give Ali Larter some interesting things to do, finally. She may not be faking it at all as she finds Nikki Sanders body down south, has a chat with Nikki's son Micah, and find out from a delivery doctor that she was created. Okay, still not sure where this is leading, but at least it's not Parkman.

Last, but not least (compared to Parkman and Ali Larter threads), is Claire's struggle with the Sylar attack. Not helping out at home is Claire's biological mother (as Mrs. Bennett clarifies), who is something of a rebel herself.Not only does fire woman undermine Mrs. Bennett's house rule, but endorses hookey to teach Claire "how to fight". Now, I'm no genius, but to paraphrase Claire's brother, you're going to protect us... with fire? How does this translate into fighting skills that you can teach the human punching bag? Don't worry, she was only using it to teach Claire a lesson about recognizing anger, and who to be angry at (uh, Sylar). Boy it sure worked out, because Claire straightened right up and headed off to cheerleader sleepover... with a Primatech box in tow. Championship!!!

Cool things:
  • Jack Coleman and ZQ. Jack always brings his A-game to the role, which makes his teaming with Zachary Quinto outshine anything else in the episode by far. They have dynamic chemistry.
  • Future Peter as badass. He might come in a close second to Hiro for the ability to screw things up, but at least he is direct and uncaring. His brief appearance where he stopped the bank melee just to grab present Peter from Jesse's body and then vanished was great. It was too early for a Sylar-Peter reunion.
  • The Haitian. He may be a little incompentent, but he looks cool.
  • Jesse's sonic screams. Too short lived, for the ability and for the character. Maybe Sylar will use them. Or maybe not... he still has super-hearing, doesn't he? Wouldn't that just hurt too much?

  • Sylar's "cop imitation". Not sure where that came from, but I inadvertently cringed.
  • Give Claire something to do. I realize it is tough with her ability to, well, recover from a good thrashing, but unless the character starts moving forward, she's going to get a lot more boring. If it wasn't Hayden Panettiere, I'd suspect we'd have moved on by now.


The Force Unleashed: Graphic Novel

You know I'm an unabashed fan of Star Wars, so you can either take this review of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed graphic novel as being from an expert or hopelessly biased. Either way I won't bury the lead: this story rocked and I would love to see it as a movie.Let's clarify what that means for me. I qualify this to be an actual viable Star Wars film because:
  • The story is solid.
  • It creates its own mythos while adding to the existing canon.
  • It does not contain any reference characters that can't be compensated for in a film (e.g., Han Solo in a prominent role).
  • I was moved by the story.
Dwelling on the 'reference characters' point, you would need to borrow Ewan McGregor for a key cameo and Jimmy Smits for a week's work or more. Maybe Ian McDiarmid and James Earl for voice work. That's not hard to pull off. (I am dismissing the young Princess Leia cameo -- get some look-alike for that.) So the film is workable AND falls within and contributes to the story of Anakin and the formation of the Rebel Alliance (indeed, it describes how it was born!) in one nice package. Thus, I am impressed with the tightness (by necessity, of course) the story.

That is not to say that you cannot nit-pick the graphic novel to death. For one, as a more fully fleshed out story from a video game, you can see the queues where the player would take over. Plot, action, plot, action. Levels getting harder, predictably, but is that much different than any typical adventure story? The dialogue is pretty good and, surprisingly, at its best even great -- using series standbys like "I've got a bad feeling about this" and making it its own. I even got a chill during some of the final scenes.But let's not mince; though Lucas' team has created new characters that work well with each other, a compelling story, one of its biggest strengths is it also features Darth Vader in ACTION, something fans have been dying to see. And Vader pays off, both in presence, menace, and evil.With a little tighting up here and there, I think we can call it Episode 3.5. It's got my vote. At the very least, it's worth your sixteen bucks.