Not everyone loves Halloween...

...but I do. My mom often complains about the “pagan holiday” and asks me if I think it's nice to “glorify death”. I'll point out that she reads horoscopes which are technically against our religion, but she'll defend that as “just something fun.” That's my defense of Halloween precisely. It can be many things, and dressing up, not necessarily as something ghoulish, is just fun. One need only look back on my past costumes to see the variety of characters I've become, often from movies or comic books. Last year's Scarecrow mask was one of the more horrific personas in my repertoire, but even that was based on a comic book movie. My dream in elementary school was to create a working Transformer costume, but it's the one thing I've never done.

This year, my parents are especially concerned. Our neighbors handed out flyers the other day letting everyone know they were having a Halloween party, and that all were welcome. The invitation also included a casual “by the way” message warning people to be prepared for 70 to 80 kids. There have been years my mom wasn't ready for 20 kids, and had to start handing out change or my dad's old man hard candy, the kind that's almost but not quite a color, almost but not quite sweet, and is good, as he puts it, for “making saliva”. I remember that house from when I was a kid. I hated that house. When did our house become that house? Kids today don't want Werther's, Tootsie Rolls, or Candy Corn any more than I did. At least my mom buys Smarties, my personal favorite, and gets one right.

My dad also doesn't know that my mom told me he called the cops about the wild kids migrating into the streets, our sidewalk, and driveway. I heard him on the phone with my godfather on Monday, exasperatedly recounting the tale. My dad's volume has been increasing gradually as his hearing has declined, so I heard every word of his version of events. He was upset that the desk sergeant dismissed him initially, as well as the visiting officer “taking the kids' side”. He felt that if skateboarding in the street were illegal, a warning was not sufficient; the officer should have confiscated their boards and told the kids to send their parents to the station to retrieve them. The end result of their conversation seems to be that in a few weeks, when things are quieter around here, my dad is going to send the mayor an angry letter. I fear there will be a postscript which declares, ”I am not a crackpot.” Having heard the tale from both parents now, it sounds like the officer was trying to keep the peace rather than take any side. I also heard some other details, such as one girl lying on her stomach and rolling down our driveway into the street. Kids will be kids, but kids doing stupid things are eventually going to get hit by a car or worse. I don't think my dad is wrong, though I'm not sure his approach is allowing his concerns to be taken seriously.

I did receive a lot of great suggestions from my readers about how to handle any potential backlash from the incident, from Rey's idea for a preemptive strike to Otis reminding me that I know how to use a paintball gun. I doubt either will come in to play, though both brought smiles to my face, and I'm hoping the neighborhood party will provide enough diversion to keep the kids entertained and away from retaliation. I've been spending more of my energy on the fun aspect of the holiday, coming up with my costume. To my parents, Halloween is about death and extortion, worrying about having enough candy and about mischievous kids. They don't dress up, and haven't walked around the neighborhood since I was little. I haven't gotten to where they are yet, and for now I like it that way. I think I'm ready this year, and might even enter my company's costume contest for once, though I'd have to have my picture taken to enter at the exact same time as an important meeting. Hopefully I can get the photo done earlier but, if not, I'm oddly not competitive about it. I may be competitive, but this is one day of the year when I'm not myself. I'm just happy being someone else for a day.

That's a piece of my costume this year. Feel free to post guesses as to who I am, though people who see me during the day will of course be disqualified. Perhaps I'll share some pictures tomorrow. Happy Halloween!


Phantasmic Links 10.30.06

Another week begins! There's a lot to look forward to, from Halloween to my birthday, but I think the best way to kick things off is with this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

She gets my vote for the next Catwoman.

The Maze starts out simply enough, but as each subsequent labyrinth grows larger, can you beat the clock and escape in time?

Mosquito is like nothing I've ever seen before. When you mix Westerns with Science Fiction, how can any network possibly screw things up?

I discovered the motherload of online television episodes. I have no idea how long the collected links will be valid, so catch up while you can.

In the spirit of Halloween, Soul Master gives you the opportunity to free souls from ten levels of Hell.

Now let's travel back in time, to a classic 1990 report on video games. It doesn't seem all that long ago that I played some of those for the first time. It's interesting to see where gaming has gone since then, given some of the things being developed at the time.

Halloween Hangman is another great game for the season, offering a phantasmic twist on an old favorite.

I am in awe of Scott Adams' brain, as was Curt, who sent me this link.

Charlie Brown takes on the Great Pumpkin, in a Halloween horror classic.

Time keeps on slipping, into the future. Thanks to J-No for the reminder.

When I posted modern bands that I enjoy, B13 pointed out that my loose ends had some loose ends. Here now is a video from one of those loose ends, Trivium:

And, because I wanted to include but forgot Nine Inch Nails, here's one more video to wrap things up:



Words About Bond: Part V

Another week's gone by, and it's time for more of my reviews(with spoilers) of the various James Bond films:

* * *

Words About Bond, 1-3
Words About Bond, 4-6
Words About Bond, 7-9
Words About Bond, 10-12

Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Hugo Drax
Bond Girl: Dr. Holly Goodhead
Henchman: Jaws(again)

The first time I saw Moonraker as a kid, I thought it was a spoof of the Bond films, though it would be years before I saw an actual parody. In capitalizing on the popularity of Star Wars®, producer Albert R. Broccoli and his team strayed from the spirit of their series. Bond teams up with the beautiful Dr. Goodhead, in fact an undercover CIA agent, to stop the wealthy Hugo Drax and his mad scheme. Drax plans to eliminate the world's population using nerve gas, while relocating to an orbiting space station with perfect pairs of human specimens to create a people under his rule.

Adding to the ridiculousness of the film, Jaws returns, having survived the events of The Spy Who Loved Me. He's treated as comic relief in this film, and after a struggle with Bond and Goodhead on a cable car, he plummets to the ground, surviving a fall from a ridiculous height not for the first time, and meeting a love interest in the process. Later, Jaws turns on Drax when Bond points out that the giant and his petite girlfriend don't meet the standards of Drax' other perfect humans, and would be eliminated once Drax founded his new society.

The film includes troops in space battling with lasers, impressive technology for both sides in the late ‘70s. It would be impressive today. Bond kicks Drax out an airlock, commandeers a shuttle, and destroys the pods of nerve gas before they breach the atmosphere. Jaws and his girlfriend remain on the space station as it plummets, and he toasts her with a bottle of champagne opened with his teeth. Later, a radio broadcast mentions the pair surviving after hitting a small island. Repeating the gag from the end of the previous movie, Bond's superiors once more discover him in a compromising position with the film's leading lady. Q establishes a connection with the shuttle, where the weightless couple are entangled, and notes without looking up at the video feed that Bond is “attempting reentry”. It's fitting that in elementary school I maintained conversations with my friends based on a Cracked comics lampoon; the actual film wasn't all that different.

14For Your Eyes Only
Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Aristotle Kristatos
Bond Girls: Melina Havelock, Bibi Dahl
Henchman: Emile Locque

After Moonraker, the series returned to basics, even if it recycled concepts from many of the previous films. In For Your Eyes Only, Bond must recover a device from a sunken ship which would allow villains to control and launch nuclear missiles from submarines. He teams with the beautiful crossbow-wielding Melina Havelock after her parents are murdered, and she joins him on a failed diving expedition to retrieve the device.

Bond gets a tip from Kristatos that Milos Columbo is the smuggler responsible for the sinking of the ship and theft of the device, while fending off the advances of Kristatos' too-young skating protégé Bibi Dahl. As it turns out, Columbo is innocent and Kristatos is the real villain. Bond and Columbo team up, and pursue Kristatos' men, including the assassin Locque, responsible for the murder of the Havelocks among others. Fleeing, Locque loses control of his car and winds up teetering on the edge of a cliff. Bond catches up, tosses Locque a dove pin, the assassin's calling card, then kicks the car over the cliff in one of the hero's darker moments.

The climax of the film takes place at Kristatos' mountain hideaway. Bond scales a cliff to reach it, tossing another would-be killer to his death along the way and momentarily scaring Havelock, Columbo, and the rest of his Greek allies who fear it is James who has fallen. Bond and the Greeks make it to the top and retrieve the stolen device, and Columbo kills Kristatos. When British and Russian forces arrive, Bond tosses the device over the cliff so neither side has it.

Perhaps the most historically significant portion of this film occurs before the credits, however. Bond visits the grave of his wife, murdered in On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond is called away but in transit, his helicopter pilot is electrocuted and a bald man in a wheelchair takes over by remote control. We never see his face, but his signature white cat and general appearance and mannerisms indicate that Blofeld, after escaping justice yet again in Diamonds are Forever, has returned to take out Bond once and for all. Bond climbs outside and into the cockpit, and manages to fiddle with some wires and gain control. The cat flees as Bond hooks the wheelchair under the skids, and he drops his wife's killer down a smokestack, settling the score once and for all.

Bond: Roger Moore
Villains: Kamal Khan, General Orlov
Bond Girl: Octopussy
Henchmen: Mischka and Grischka, Gobinda

Giggle-inducing title aside, Octopussy is actually one of the better Moore films. After agent 009, undercover as a clown, is murdered by a pair of knife-throwers, the faberge egg in his possession is the only clue to a larger smuggling operation. Bond travels to India and quickly agitates Khan and his muscular henchman Gobinda after besting him at a local game in which he is cheating. Khan seems to be working with Octopussy to smuggle jewels, but is in fact helping the soviet General Orlov smuggle a nuclear bomb in order to start a war. Bond allies with Octopussy, and is seemingly devoured by a crocodile, in fact a disguised personal submarine created by Q. 007 makes his way to a train carrying the bomb and beats the knife throwers Mischka and Grischka. Orlov is gunned down by a border patrol in his pursuit of the train to stop Bond.

At a circus in West Germany, disguised as a clown, Bond catches up to and diffuses the bomb with seconds to spare. Octopussy is relieved that James is alive, and her forces storm Khan's home in the film's final battle while Bond and Q arrive in a hot air balloon. Bond winds up battling Gobinda on the wings of a small plane after Khan takes Octopussy hostage, and he succeeds in besting the henchman and saving the girl as the villain is left to crash into a mountain. All in all, not a bad film, and the exotic locales of India gave it a different look from the previous installments. Also of note, if Maud Adams, the title character, seemed familiar, it was because she'd been seen previously playing a different role in The Man with the Golden Gun, as the mistress of the villain Scaramanga.

* * *

Words About Bond will return!



Musical Loose Ends

This week, Janet asked her readers, ”What are your favorite bands or artists of today?”, which is a bit of a challenge. I don't buy music as often as I once did, and my radio station changed to an all-talk format. I'm not completely in the dark, and haven't reached the point of my parents who label everything after the 1940s “that rock and roll garbage”, but the peak of my knowledge was definitely during the 1990s. So I'll do my best to think of some current groups I like, but I'm definitely going to cheat and throw in some oversights from my previous musical posts.

When I wrote about '90s rock, Green Day was certainly one of the bigger oversights. In college, I listened to Dookie as much as Pearl Jam's Ten, The Offspring's Smash, or Metallica's black album. Green Day is still going strong, so I've included here the video from the more recent hit, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It was put to good use in a Smallville season 4 episode, a high point in an otherwise low season.

As I mentioned, The Offspring are another band I listened to excessively in my college days. The Kids Aren't Alright is a song from 1998, and will always remind me of the film The Faculty, in which it was featured. They're still around, but this is one of the last songs I could listen to repeatedly, and the newer stuff hasn't grabbed me the way the older stuff did.

Finally, I'm listing something more current. Evanescence blended alternative rock with orchestral sounds and beautiful female vocals. I've included a double feature of videos here. While Bring me to Life may be the most popular song from their rise to fame, and was featured along with My Immortal in Daredevil, I went with the marginally less heard latter. There's a lot wrong with that film, but the use of Evanescence is one of the things they got right, and My Immortal will always conjure for me that scene in the cemetery where Jennifer Garner's character moves out of the rain and under her umbrella, thus stepping out of “view” of Ben Affleck's Daredevil's radar vision. She's always in these roles where I wish I could be there to comfort her. There, there, Jennifer Garner. The second video is the most recent tune I've been hearing, Call Me When You're Sober, and proves that lead singer Amy Lee and the band still have it, even after the departure of cofounder Ben Moody.

Audioslave was born from the ashes of two other great bands, when the disbanded Soundgarden's lead singer found a new group in the former members of Rage Against the Machine after the departure of their lead singer, Zack de la Rocha. Greater than the sum of their parts, they've found a new sound with hints of the old. Doesn't Remind Me is one of my favorites. As a bonus treat, check out their cover of Seven Nation Army which matches if not surpasses The White Stripes version. Listen to Cornell wail! Listen to the guitars wail! I'll continue in a minute...

I'm about to get lost in another song. Drowning Pool's original lead singer Dave Williams may have suffered a fatal heart attack in 2002, but Bodies earned him a measure of immortality with its sick transitions from whispering to shouting. I defy anyone to sit still when that comes on.

For the longest time, whenever I heard the pulse pounding Down With the Sickness by Disturbed I thought he was singing “get up, the monkey's down with the sickness” because, you know, monkeys carry diseases, and I'm, you know, a moron. It didn't help that I thought he was making monkey noises in the song too. Misheard lyrics aside, the band in general and this song in particular seriously rocks.

Speaking of “disturbed”, check out this video for Wait and Bleed from Slipknot.

Okay, things were only going to get heavier and angrier, so I've pulled back a bit with this next choice. I meant to correct Jerry the other day when he sent me an e-mail in which he described Nirvana as a dead band, a slightly inaccurate statement. After lead singer Kurt Cobain's untimely demise, Nirvana's drummer Dave Grohl became the lead in his own band, the Foo Fighters. It's hard to believe that a little over a decade later, the group is still going, and has outlived his original affiliation. No Way Back is one of their most recent singles, and they continue to move forward.

* * *

I think I may have underestimated how much I've listened to since college. There's no good point to cut this off, and there are so many other groups I'd like to mention like Tool, Korn, Godsmack, Primus, Velvet Revolver, Outkast, U2 and more. I'll end on a double feature, OutKast's Bombs Over Baghdad followed by a current collaboration between U2 and Green Day, a cover of The Saints Are Coming.



Six Words Sci Fi and Fantasy

The other day, Curt sent me an interesting WIRED article in which many great authors of science fiction, comics, and other genres were called upon to submit stories, limited to only six words apiece. There are some really clever ones on there, from Joss Whedon's “Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.” to Orson Scott Card's “The baby's blood type? Human, mostly.” It seemed like fun, so I thought I'd try a few of my own:

• Sentient internet writes critique of bloggers.

• Castle stormed, not so much fun.

• Which one of these buttons opens

• Action figures live, redecorating my cubicle.

• Déjà vu Déjà vu is weird.

• Did my cat always have tentacles?

• The sky fell. My umbrella broke.

• She didn't need another organ transplant.

• Where did I park the ship?

• Two of everything doesn't mean auxiliary.

• This flashback is changing my future.

• Planet explodes. What are the odds?!

• Zarjor kept time in a bottle.

• I think my laundry is moving...

• Walls don't usually bleed like that.

• Scientists clone shepherds erroneously; sheep afraid.

• Land. Multiply. Conquer. Retreat. Land. Repeat.

• The knight had a bad day.

• Which way does this gun usually

• Funny, I never noticed those pods.

• Wizards share spells over the internet.

• Eventually, I should reach the bottom.

• It's all a dream. Isn't it?

• My cape snags propellor. How embarrassing.

• That’s not my brain over there...?

• Laser razors made him faceless shaving.

• Heads I lose. Tales you win.

• Incorrect password. Access to life denied.

• Déjà vu Déjà vu is weird.

• Robot replaces MCF, and nobody notices.

After killing Rey's story with excess, it's good to know brevity doesn't always escape me. Why not try a few super short short stories of your own?


What I Can't Do.

”Don't TELL me what I can't do!!”-John Locke

Children are tricky. Actually, most people are tricky. When someone tells us what to do or what not to do, even or especially a parent or other authority figure, we tend to do the opposite. Over the years my parents and others have asked me to do things, and criticized me for not getting to them swiftly enough.

“Don't sit so close to the television; you'll need glasses!”

“Stop reading and do something constructive like clean your room.”

“Do you really want to wear that hair on your face? You look like a bum!”

“It's late; go to bed.”

“Did you brush your teeth?”

“Don't play in the street!”

“Go to the bathroom before we leave.”

“It's a nice day; you should go outside.”

“Did you go to the bathroom?”

The list could go on. There are a few ways to react to such requests. At first, kids listen. Gradually, they test their boundaries. If they aren't allowed to go into a cabinet, they'll cautiously try then back off when yelled at, only to try again and go a little further. At some point, simple requests might be met by outbursts. And over time, as we learn to obey, sometimes a gentle reminder may be annoying, especially when it's something we know we should be doing, or something we've done already.

I imagine textbooks could be written about my brain functions, were I ever to seek professional help. Many of my quirks could be hereditary, and I'll get to that momentarily. One of my bad habits is being a couch potato. Though I limit my shows and try not to take on many new ones as old ones go off the air, word of mouth and advertising invariably draws me in. This season I've finally added The Office to my rotation. I think the new 30 Rock is also winning me over after three damn funny shows. Tina Fey is awesome on many levels. The one solid addition, and only new drama I've committed to, is Heroes. The cliffhangers pull me back, and as the story of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities unfold each week, it just gets better and better. Comic book professionals are even providing accompanying online graphic novels to fill in the blanks, and one of my favorite characters has a hilarious blog. Perhaps you've read my geek-outs with Rey over the show.

On the darker side of my personality, I also responded defensively to a post from Darrell. While refusing to watch Heroes, he'd once more reinforced his stance against television in general, a respectable position. Even in an age of VCRs and the internet, I can be a slave to television. In referring to it as the “glass teat”, he inadvertently triggered an unexpected response from me. It felt like a parent or authority figure putting down something I enjoy, something that deep down I realize I enjoy too much. No one likes to hear the truth. I wasn't all that upset about it, but still fired off a response that read worse than it was, without pausing to think it through. The real tragedy was that for a few days it seemed my reaction was among several factors prompting him to give up blogging, but thankfully he's back and I think everything is okay now. Sorry again about that, D, and I hope we can put this behind us.

I see kids today snapping at their parents and other authority figures at younger and younger ages. Perhaps hypocritically, I wonder why they have no respect. In our neighborhood, the situation with the kids playing in the street has only gotten worse. At least with our immediate neighbors, my parents are friends with their parents and can talk to them if someone rides a bike down our driveway or hits my dad's car with a baseball. But these kids have brought in friends from around and outside the neighborhood, and these other kids have surprising attitudes for ones so young. Though the oldest of the mob can't be more than 13 or 14, and the youngest around 9, a lot of times they're out after dark, with no parents in sight. I've written before about their reaction to cars. When 20 years ago I was running around the same streets, we'd shout “CAR!” and get the hell out of the way. They stare and sneer, and when I finally beep, they slowly part, leaving just enough room for me to pull into the driveway.

I work all day, and most weekends if I don't have a musical gig I'll head out on a photo expedition. The kids are little more than a passing annoyance. My dad doesn't have the same luxury. He's a retired old man without many hobbies beyond jigsaw puzzles and looking out the window. I bought my parents a puzzle for their anniversary, and he rushed through it alone within a week to “get it out of the way” because if he “waited for [my] mother, nothing would ever get done!” Once more, the windows beckoned.

Last Saturday, coming home from church, four or five kids were in the street roughhousing on skateboards. It was dark, and it wasn't until one shoved the other under a street lamp that I saw them. When we pulled in the driveway, my dad was storming out of the house, his feet barely in his shoes. “Are those kids still out there??” he grumped, heading for the front lawn. “No,” I lied, sensing the tension of a 76-year-old man with a heart condition. “What kids?”

“Those damned kids with the skateboards! They were jumping on our sidewalk and front steps! If they get hurt, we're gonna get sued! I yelled at them from the window before but they just stared.”

I advised him to relax and to ignore them. They weren't the nicest bunch, but they were still little kids, doing the things that kids do. I was sure they were still out there, and my mom voiced concerns over the one long-haired boy that was “sniffing around” her friend's prepubescent daughter across the street, but in the dark they couldn't be seen. Out of sight, out of mind? I was a fool to think so.

I came home from work Tuesday, and my mom waved me in to the living room, speaking in hushed whispers and quieting me. My dad was watching the baseball game in the other room, and his hearing is really bad. With the television on, she could have shouted if she wanted to.

“We might have to move.”

“What? What do you mean?”

She went on to tell me how the kids were back during the day, and how my dad had enough. He went out to yell at them but they were unfazed. “Oh, we're not allowed to play in front of your house?” snarked one bold brat. At this point, my dad threatened to call the cops on them, but that's not the extreme part of this tale.

The extreme part is when he actually did call the police.

In horror from the other room, my mom heard the clicking of the telephone as he dialed. The desk sergeant treated him like a crackpot, and tried to brush him off with “They're just kids.” Nevertheless, my dad was stubborn, and going on about how he didn't want to be responsible if they got hurt skateboarding on our sidewalk. And so, my mom's horror and embarrassment escalated when she looked out the window to see a squad car parked in our driveway.

The children, seeing that my dad wasn't bluffing, were now sitting along the curb across the street, sitting in wide-eyed angel mode. The officer spoke with them first, even as my dad stormed out of the house and my mom tried to hold him back. The cop talked to the kids about safety, and pointed out the one illegal thing they were doing, which was skateboarding in the street. After dealing with that half of the problem, he turned to face the other half.

My mom said he did his best to calm my dad down. “Don't you love kids? I love kids. My daughter's all grown up now; I wish I had kids playing in my neighborhood. And isn't this better than them going off and doing drugs? Would you rather they were off smoking pot somewhere?”

YES! I would!”

The cop was stunned as my mom said, “he doesn't mean that” while my dad in his anger barked, “yes, I do!” The officer regained his composure, and began talking about how my folks were getting on in years and things like rowdy children can be intimidating. He reassured my dad that he wasn't going to get sued if the kids fell down, and finally left.

My mom was mortified. My dad doesn't know she told me, and he hasn't mentioned it to me at all. He probably realized after calming down that he overreacted, and that I would disagree with the way he handled things. I would tell him the truth, that it would have been better to ignore them, but no one likes to hear the truth. As I've said, many of my quirks could be hereditary.

At least these weren't the children of the neighbors we know. My concern is how these kids will now respond. They're at the age where they test their boundaries, and do the opposite. The more my dad chased them away, the more they kept coming back in defiance, daring his authority. Actually speaking to a police officer might be the needed scare to set them on the straight and narrow, or it could have the opposite effect of escalation. It's been quiet for two days now, but why oh why did my dad make his stand so close to Halloween?

In over three decades, this house has never been egged or toilet papered. I'm not looking forward to what I'm going to find when I get home from work next Tuesday. When you tell people of any age what they can't do, they just might push back, and there’s not much I can do about that.


PBW: The Catbird Seat

I had an extremely active weekend, but taking pictures was not among my activities. Fortunately, I'm always taking pictures, storing them for future usage, so there will be a Photo Blog Wednesday this week, albeit from feline archives.

Cats have the best life, as do most pets. Who among us wouldn't want to eat, sleep and play, while someone else fed and cleaned up after us? I suppose that describes kids as well as animals, and anyone can be sitting in the catbird seat.

Cubby gets comfortable:

Chirp curls into a carefree ball:

One morning, Cubby was doing some bird watching from the window:

A few weeks ago, I came home to find my parking space occupied by Chunky, our neighbors' cat. I had to leave my car in the driveway, and of course get my camera:

Indoors or out, a cat's life is usually a good one.



Flawed Theologic

Religion is a topic that can make anyone cringe, no matter their faith, or if they even believe in anything at all. I've already commented on Richard Dawkins' views on Catholicism, but much of what he said is troubling. That he considers being raised Catholic to be mental abuse worse than sexual abuse is appalling enough, but then he goes on to defend and define atheism:

”The word atheism sounds negative; let me call it rationalism. It is a rational view of the world where you stand up proudly, in your humanity, you look life straight in the face, you look the universe straight in the face, you do your level best to understand it, to understand why you exist, what the universe is about, you recognize that when you die that's it, and therefore life is very, very precious and you devote your life to making the world a better place, to leading a good life so when you die you can say to yourself I have led a good life.”

What? This life is all we have, so our ultimate goal is to feel good about it right before we cease to exist? There are many arguments an atheist or agnostic can give against any given religion, many questions they can raise, but this is one of the thinnest, and bleakest, defenses I've ever read. Many people, within and without Christianity, can misperceive it as an oversimplified reward system. If we do good, we go to heaven. If we do bad, we go to hell. Over time the idea of limbo or purgatory arose, a sort of “waiting room” for people not quite good or bad to go to either place. Yet if an atheist truly believes that this life is all we have, then what does anything matter? If our consciousness ceases completely when we die, if we no longer exist, as terrifying as that notion is, nothing will matter when we're gone. We won't experience punishment or reward. We won't experience anything.

Why lead a good life at all then? Why not do whatever we want? Some would argue there are laws. You can't just kill someone; you'll go to jail. If you get caught cheating on your spouse, the lawyers will bleed you dry in the divorce. If you speed, you'll get a ticket. So many of our Earthly morals are governed by a system of reward and punishment, it's no wonder we might equate the same system to an afterlife. Is that the only reason to have faith, so we don't get in trouble? An atheist might argue that a society has laws which define morals, and not vice versa, and anything that isn't illegal is fair game, no matter what a religion might say. After all, life is short. We should do what we want and enjoy ourselves, because that's the only reason we're here.

Preaching can create deaf ears. I'd never issue a lecture, or try to convert people to becoming Catholic. That probably makes me a bad one. I think it is important though to question one's belief system, or lack thereof, from time to time and consider all possibilities fully. Do we follow a faith because we believe it, or simply to please our parents? Do we reject faith because we sincerely believe it to be superstition, and can definitively disprove the existence of any supreme being or life after death? Sometimes a bad personal experience can mar our views of a group. It's a very difficult time right now, and the world is hostile toward religious groups. “How can you be Catholic? All those priests molest children! Remember the Crusades!” “All those Muslims are terrorists!” I won't make the same mistake as a drunken actor and make even a hypothetical quote about another religious group, but the basic idea here is that the actions of individual, flawed humans in the name of any given religion taints that religion for the rest of the world. Stereotypes such as these are dangerous on a cosmic scale.

And so people abandon or attack faith. They turn to science fiction like Scientology, or made-up religions like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which I predict in a few generations idiots will take as seriously as Scientology. I've been raised as a Catholic, gone through periods where I questioned things, and experienced and survived things that reaffirmed and strengthened my beliefs. What if Mr. Dawkins is right? What if there is no heaven or hell, nothing but the void of nonexistence awaiting us? Those of us who followed a certain way of life will have wasted our lives, but will never know it. Abortions won't be a problem because the babies wouldn't have been conscious long enough to know how much they missed out on in an infinitesimal existence. Anyone with a fatal illness might as well commit suicide. They won't feel pain anymore, they just won't exist. Of course then they won't know how their favorite television shows end but again, what would that matter to someone who simply isn't. In Dawkins' world, maybe we'll appreciate friends and family more, because when they're gone, all we'll have are memories. We'll never connect with them again and while they live on in our memories, it will be only as long as we ourselves live. Apart from fame, there is no immortality.

What if Mr. Dawkins is right? It's terrifying. Now, what if he's wrong? What if after those last moments feeling satisfied with his perception of a good life, his consciousness awakens to the great mystery on the other side? What then? Personally, I'd rather take my chances, and err on the side of faith.


Phantasmic Links 10.23.06

On Friday, I came home exhausted with a bit of agita, both of which I attributed to work related stress. When I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, I couldn't turn my head to the right. None of that mattered though, because I had an awesome day of paintball ahead of me at a great facility I'd never played at before, and I wasn't about to let cold symptoms stop me. I had one of my best experiences yet playing the game, but was pretty wiped out afterwards, and slightly feverish. Still, I hung on long enough to take my mom to church, eat dinner, and watch Click before passing out for about twelve hours, hence the obscene lateness of Sunday's post, for which I apologize. As for Click, I've never shed a tear at an Adam Sandler comedy before, with the possible exception of 50 First Dates, but a few key parts of this movie definitely hit close to home. As Sandler and his films mature, I think so too does his audience, so he probably could have dispensed with the one or two bits of gross-out humor tucked in there to satisfy lingering sophomoric fans. It really was a quality film about the value of family and the traps our careers might present, told through an entertaining fantasy scenario. I recommend it, but first I recommend this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Tyra Banks really likes the product she's giving away. Scary. Hat tip to Rey.

Speaking of insanity, is being brought up with religious beliefs worse than being sexually abused? One atheist says that it is.

May the Farce be with you! A photo manipulating contest of cosmic proportions, found by Sean.

B13 goes on an amazing vacation with photos to prove it, possibly setting a record for the most photos in a single post. Note to self: take more pictures.

Otis discovers a regular guy who may have unraveled the Stonehenge mystery.

Sad as it is, I do remember this Star Trekkin' song, even if that acid trip of a video is something I've never seen before. There's Sarcasmo on the hat tip bow.

It's an entire blog dedicated to ugly animals. I already checked, and I'm not on there.

By a show of comments, how many of you are going to create Cylon Jack-O-Lanterns this year? Maybe the guy who's carved over 2,000 this year alone has some in his backyard. Thanks to Lorna for the article.

Will you vote for the New 7 Wonders of the World? Kev Bayer did.

Can you shoot this target for thirty seconds and beat my score of 60? With a B- I rank as a Commodore. If only the thing would stay still, but then there's the challenge...

These people aren't related, but they certainly look alike.

I haven't been feeling quite right the last few days, but I tend to avoid pills stronger than vitamins. Sometimes the side effects just aren't worth it.



Words About Bond: Part IV

It's been a while, but I haven't forgotten to continue my reviews(with spoilers) of the various James Bond films:

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Words About Bond, 1-3
Words About Bond, 4-6
Words About Bond, 7-9

10Live and Let Die
Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big(Yaphet Kotto)
Bond Girl: Solitaire(Jane Seymour)
Henchman: Baron Samedi

Roger Moore's first outing as the British secret agent remains one of my favorites in the series, and one of my most watched thanks to receiving it as a gift from an aunt and uncle one Christmas. It also made me appreciate the beauty of a young Jane Seymour in her role as the tarot reading psychic Solitaire, and a recent rental of Somewhere in Time reminded me how beautiful she was(which isn't to say that she hasn't aged well, either). Live and Let Die is also memorable for the McCartney theme song, even if I had heard the Guns N' Roses version first.

Bond takes on a drug lord and dictator, facing dangers ranging from crocodiles to voodoo assassins. The film includes a climactic showdown with a henchman on a train, like From Russia With Love, though more formidable given his mechanical arm. Later Moore films would be campier, almost parodies of the early movies, but this was more serious for the most part. Deviations include a stereotypical Southern sheriff played by Clifton James, who plays a prominent role in an impressive speedboat chase scene. The only film to lack a Q, it doesn't lack Bond's trademark gadgets, including a magnetic watch. Despite dangers both natural and supernatural, there's little to fear when Bond is around, although the final image of the voodoo Baron Samedi laughing maniacally is a bit scary.

11 The Man with the Golden Gun
Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee)
Bond Girls: Mary Goodnight(Britt Ekland), Andrea Anders(Maud Adams)
Henchman: Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize)

Long before he was a Sith lord, Christopher Lee was the title villain in Moore's second Bond film. Prior announcing the planes on Fantasy Island, Hervé Villechaize was his henchman. Lee, step-cousin to Bond author Ian Fleming, played a different adversary than previously seen in the series. While most Bond villains were bent on world domination, with large forces at their command, Lee's three-nippled Scaramanga was an assassin, albeit a high paid one at one million dollars per hit. One thing he had in common with other Bond foes was an impressive lair, and on the collection of islands he called home he had an impressive training facility, one that included a wax replica of Bond, his next target.

Both beauty and comic relief are provided by Mary Goodnight, a fellow agent whom Bond flirts with even as he also seduces Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's mistress. Anders had sent a golden bullet with “007” etched in it to Bond to enlist his help. After Scaramanga kills her at a boxing match and confronts Bond in the audience, stealing an important piece of technology, he escapes while Goodnight secretly hides in his trunk. Bond gives chase, teaming up with a vacationing Sheriff J.W. Pepper, Clifton James reprising his role from Live and Let Die in an unlikely and campy turn of events. Even after performing an amazing jump, Bond fails to catch Scaramanga when he converts his car to a plane and flies off. Bond must track him to his island lair for a final showdown, mano a mano, and prevent him from using the stolen part to activate a giant solar cannon, and even larger golden gun. Scaramanga's golden gun, often disguised as a cigarette lighter, case, cufflink, and pen, proves no match for Bond, who uses Scaramanga's own training facility to outwit him.

12The Spy Who Loved Me
Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Karl Stromberg
Bond Girl: Anya Amasova/Agent XXX
Henchman: Jaws

Stromberg is a Bond villain with an impressive nautical base. Stealing both Russian and British submarines attracts the attention of both governments, and their best respective agents, XXX and Bond, are dispatched. The film opens with Bond skiing down a mountain as he did in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this time evading Russian agents and killing one in the process. He eventually teams with the lovely XXX in their mutual investigation, facing off against the steel-toothed inhumanly strong Jaws. XXX is also searching for her lover's killer, and it turns out he was the Russian agent Bond killed.

After a showdown at Stromberg's base, Bond manages to dump Jaws in a shark tank which Stromberg previously used to kill a woman who betrayed him. Jaws defeats the shark, and swims off to return in Moonraker, the only henchman to survive and return in a sequel. Bond and XXX escape the base's destruction in a small pod, and with their mission complete she can now exact her revenge. She draws her gun but Bond's charm saves the day; over the course of the film she's fallen in love with him, and thus cannot kill him. The pod is retrieved by the allied Russian and British forces, and upon its opening their superiors are stunned to find the agents in a compromising position together. When Bond explains to his superiors that he's only “keeping the British end up”, Nobody Does it Better, the Carly Simon theme song for the film, heralds the end of the film and the start of the Moore trend of campier situations and endings...

* * *

Words About Bond will return!



Digging to China

We've all tried it at least once in our lives. Among the many futile pursuits of American youth, the belief that we could dig deep enough to come out on the other side of the Earth, in China, may be the most common. When my parents dug a tree out of our yard next to my room, I still remember the giant mud pit, and thinking my dad was trying to do the very thing I had been doing in my sandbox with a small plastic shovel. When I tried to help, and the hole claimed one of my sandals like a ravenous Sarlacc, I thought better of it. I wonder if that sandal is still down there somewhere.

I had more success at the beach, and after digging a few feet I always ended up with a small pool. My friends and I forgot our initial goal in light of such a discovery, though in the back of my mind I continued to process a solution as to how to continue digging without being underwater and drowning. As I got older and learned more of the world, my concerns extended to extinguishing the Earth's fiery core. Such concerns might be addressed in science fiction, but were never settled personally.

The other day in the gym, I caught an interesting news piece on ABC on the practice American children shared of such digging. Hypothetically, were it possible for a child, or anyone, to dig directly through to the other side of the Earth, they would actually emerge somewhere underwater in the Indian Ocean. It was both eye-opening and shameful. For someone who was supposed to be a smart kid, or at least got beat up for being a smartass, it should have occurred to me to check my globe at some point. Apparently, such a gift from an aunt and uncle had gone to waste.

The news report went on to point out that to reach China, one must start digging from a small island off the West coast of South America. No matter what state I lived in, none of them would have led to China. Childhood is full of futile pursuits. I remember collecting driftwood at the beach, planning to combine it with my bicycle to make a small personal helicopter. I tried to turn a no parking sign into a time machine. Mixing leaves and water in a bucket, I promised the other kids in the neighborhood that the “protoplasm” would soon be ambulatory and able to do our bidding. I wasn't making a lifeform; I was making a mess.

Such pursuits are natural in exploring our world and learning. Am I too quick to label them as folly? Columbus set out to sail around the world, and in trying something nearly impossible at the time, discovered an entirely new continent. It didn't stop others from trying, from seeking a passage through or around the Americas, and eventually Magellan, or rather his surviving crew, would successfully circumnavigate the globe. Men have walked on the moon, and machines rolled upon Mars. It's important to try new ideas, no matter how ridiculous they might seem, because we learn from failure as well as success, and sometimes succeed at something we weren't even trying to do.

Sometimes I look back on the stupid things I did as a kid, such as taking my hands off the handlebars or popping wheelies on my bike, and I'm glad I've outgrown them. Other times it makes me sad. Are there no more frontiers? No more outlets to be stupid for stupidity's sake? I'd explore this topic further, but I need to get up early to run through the woods dodging high velocity spheres of paint...


Continuing Rey's Story...

Next piece. Lock. Turn. Lock.

Alex didn't want to make It.

Next piece. Lock. Turn. Lock.

Alex had been putting It together for too long and It was now starting to become a burden.

Twist. Flip. Lock.

It constantly weighed on the mind, pulling, begging, asking to fulfill Its purpose. It wanted to start.

Next piece. Lock. Turn. Lock.

“You've been at this for hours. Is that all you're going to do?"

He didn't answer her. Every day it had been the same question. Day after day. Hour after hour. For all he knew, year after year.

“That's supposed to be a fun thing. Do you understand what fun is?"

Alex continued to ignore her as he forced a piece. It didn't quite fit, but it almost did. He leaned in and squinted, silently cursing his failing eyes. A lifetime ago he'd been a ball player, a damned good one, but when he found himself cringing in the outfield, it was the first hint that he needed glasses. How old was he then? 40? Younger? That didn't matter now. He had to finish It.

“You know, there are other things to be doing around the house."

Her voice continued to haunt him, though his hearing was less reliable than his vision. She didn't understand. It had to be finished, completed and packed away with all the others, before their company arrived. If he waited for her, nothing would get done. The terrible thing taking shape before him had been a gift to them both, but he had no patience. With or without her help, he was going to get this thing done.

The lights dimmed and flickered. A younger man might not have been fazed, but one of the pieces wriggled and slipped from his grasp in a moment of distraction.

“You lost another one, didn't you? You're on your own; some of us have more important things to do."

He scrambled around on the polished floor, desperate. Completing It, the overall obsession, now paled before the focus of that One Crucial Piece. It nipped at his fingertips in the shadows, but he still had some grip left in his digits. In triumph, he seized it, pulling himself to his feet and finding a home for the wayward part.

Lock. Turn. Lock.

“You see!" Alex cried to the woman's voice, to the words of his past. She had only so much patience herself. At some point, she had simply left. Minutes ago. Hours. Days. Years? He ignored her when she had been there, and continued hearing her long after she was gone. Alex didn't want to make It, but Alex had to make It, no matter the cost.

“He's still at it?" asked one of the three men on the other side of the glass. “How many times now? How many times has he made the exact same choices?"

“Every time." It said from the shadows, in that horrible voice like gears grinding on a harpsichord, “Our numbers now outnumber yours. This stops when he stops, and when he stops, you know what that means."

* * * * *

What does it mean? Maybe you can answer that on your blog, continue the collaborative tale, and post a comment over at Rey's to let him know you’ve added a piece to this puzzle. I can't wait to find out where this is going...


If My Life Were An Action Movie...

• Running into road work would never, ever be a problem. I'd just abandon my vehicle in favor of a construction vehicle, or possibly a convenient tank. Either way, I'd master the controls instantly, leaving its rightful owners waving their fists while I continued on my way.

• At some point, I'd meet a random beautiful girl; a waitress, stewardess, or some other stranger passing by. Though she wouldn't trust me at first, and we'd just met, I'd still enlist her services, and she'd prove useful up until the point she made a critical mistake requiring me to rescue her, extending my task from an hour and a half to two hours easily.

• In the event that a random beautiful girl was unavailable, a wisecracking youth, either a relative or another random individual, would instead accompany me.

• It would be impossible for me to achieve even the smallest victory without delivering a really bad pun:
”I meet deadlines...dead.”

“Time to make a collate call.”

“Looks like I'm gonna have to clean out my inbox.”

“All's well, that stairwell.”

“I eat sandwiches like you for lunch.”

“I guess I felt like a little wonton destruction.”

“That magenta cartridge took care of that toner of a lonely heart!”

“I'll be back...for dessert.”

“My mail is...in the mail.”

“Looks like you've been dragged and dropped!”

“I’m just a staple of this community”

“What's wrong, traffic light? You yellow?”


• The company cafeteria would also be a strip club, as would any of our conference rooms. No important conversations could take place without some gratuitous nudity.

• Changing to go to the gym would take fifteen minutes, allowing for close shots of me flexing and unbuttoning my shirt to show how freaking ripped I am. This of course parallels real life exactly.

• My boss would never just fire me. Instead, he'd create an elaborate trap, and leave me unsupervised while I devised an escape plan. This may or may not parallel real life.

• My swearing would increase 333%, without anyone batting an eye.

• I would never, ever run out of staples, unless I was facing off against a master page. I'd have to attach that one with a larger stapler or my bare hands, and it would be bloody.

• Stairs and elevators are for wussies. Grappling hook all the way, baby!

• I'd drive to work in my Ford F150, make all important phone calls on my MotoRazr V3, always have a can of Pepsi with the logo visible in my hand or on my desk, and I'd walk past a Starbucks every five minutes, wearing my Nike sneakers, naturally.

• Before an important meeting, I'd smear toner on my face to look intimidating. If anyone in the meeting questioned it I'd either scream “FREEDOM!” or staple them with extreme prejudice.

• Before a parade or feast, there would be a five minute montage of me assembling the pieces of my instrument. The final product would look smaller than the sum of the parts seen, but no one would care because mad s*** would explode in my wake.

• Messengers would be shot, seconds after I received an important package. Their last words would provide me with a clear game plan for at least a half hour.

• There's only one way to deal with papercuts: pour gunpowder on them and set it on fire to cauterize the wound. No painkillers are required; I'd just bite down on my carpal tunnel guard.

• My lips wouldn't be moving, but we'd hear my voice reading every word I typed. Like these. And these. These too. Not to mention these...

• At the end of the day I'd walk off into the sunset. If the day was particularly long, I'd walk off into the sunrise. Either way, the random beautiful girl and/or spunky teen sidekick would be by my side even as an appropriate generic but patriotic rock ballad played.

• I wouldn't be sitting in front of a computer writing about it.


PBW: L.I. Gantry

I've been to a section of Long Island City with an amazing view of Manhattan two years in a row to play music now. Each time, I wished I'd brought a camera to the gig, so this past Sunday I decided to go for a drive and make a special trip. Gantry Plaza State Park didn't dissappoint, as I captured urban imagery on either side of the water, along with hints of nature, some classic cars, a building on the verge of demolition, and more. I hope you all enjoy this week's Photo Blog Wednesday: