Archive for August, 2008

Countdown to Dragon*Con:

Posted: August 26, 2008 in Entertainment, Holidays, Life

3 Days and Counting:

   Dragon*Con is closing in on us. The fun and palaver starts this Friday but the run around and the packing started yesterday. Our cloths are packed and the important needs have been taken care of. Tonight has been about getting the “want to” items packed.

   The “want to”items are the things we want to get signed this year. The list is huge and unwieldy so it must, of course, get reduced to the slight and easy to deal with. Right now the items on the must go list is small but growing. Robert Llewellyn is a guest this year, so one of my Red Dwarf DVD covers is going to get signed by the man who played the greatest robot ever in sc-fi comedy. The crews from both The Mythbusters and The Ghost Hunters TV shows are there as well will be getting bugged to sign books and DVD cases as well. Oh, and a god amongst cult vampire horror, Lance Henriksen of Near Dark fame, will be attending this year.

   I know for a fact that I have to get Peter David to sign my hardcover, limited edition Fallen Angel collection. I started a small flame war on his site one tie when he announced the thing coming out so it would only be rigt to prove that I actually bough the thing. Laurell K. Hamilton will also be there and I have to get the first Anita Blake novel signed. I may even try to get a few copies signed for some friends at work.

   A huge attraction for me will be being able to see The Atlanta Radio Theater Company perform live again. These guys are great and their CDs are awesome. They have a great series of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations and a fantastic line of original works. I’ll be picking up a few new works for sure as well as getting them signed.

   Happy me. 🙂 Check out their website here: http://www.artc.org/

   Unfortunately, one of the major attractions for me had to bow out this year. Sylvester McCoy, one of the best Doctors in Doctor Who history, was announced as unable to attend in just the last few days. Very disappointing for me since I’m a huge fan of his work on that show and in various audio dramas.

   Beyond all of that will be the stuff to buy, see, trade and enjoy. I’m just hitting the highlights here. For those of you that don’t know what Dragon*Con is all about; you can just follow the link provided below.

http://www.dragoncon.org/

   But I need to go. I have to have as much ready as possible tonight because tomorrow will be… interesting to say the least. I’ll explain why in the next addition to this post.

2 Days and Counting:

   Not starting as well as it could. Getting lots done, but the problem is that I have the time.

   I just lost you, didn’t I? See, our plan was to set out sometime after 7:30 PM and drive all night to Atlanta. The idea behind that was that it was a really good idea to plant Ian’s butt in the baby car seat about an hour before his bedtime and let him zonk for the entire trip. In order to do that in the safest way possible, I’ve been pushing my sleep cycle a little farther back each night for the last few days. Last night I went to bed sometime around 5 AM wit the intention to sleep until about 1 PM. That didn’t happen.

   I woke up at around 10 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. As a result, we may be leaving a little earlier and dealing with a grumpy butt who doesn’t really like to be strapped into his child seat for long trips.

   Other than that we’ve got everything in order and the five of us (Jenn’s mom and dad are coming along as well to hook up with Jenn’s oldest sister, her husband and their two daughters at Dragon*Con) are heading South in just a little bit.

   Later.

1 Day and Counting:

   Got into Atlanta, got four hours of sleep and got our Dragon*Con badges. Had a nice lunch, had a nice dinner and crashed. That’s about it.

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Just Babeling.

Posted: August 15, 2008 in Life

   I was toying with the idea of this post before and was thinking about doing it when the OSS story broke and caught my attention. I’d pretty much put it out of my head until Bill Myers emailed me about the dangers of Babelfish after I’d sent him an email about the free program on Yahoo. I actually knew of these dangers from playing around with the site and found many of them rather funny. I also saw a parallel in an old nit that I like to pick. When the war breaks out over this thread, blame Myers.

   For those who have never seen the program, Babelfish is a language translation program. The name comes from a gag in The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. The Babel Fish is a small, harmless fish that, if stuck in your ear, translates any language you hear for you instantaneously. The program works much like that except that you don’t have to stick it in your ear, it only works with the printed word and it doesn’t quite work as well as the fish.

   You see, it literally translates the words into their direct parallels in another language. The problem is that some languages don’t have direct parallels for some words. There is also the little matter of how some languages have a different basic grammatical structure than English.  But words alone can be a silly thing. An example below:

English: “I am not fluent in German.”

German: “Ich bin nicht auf Deutsch fließend”

Back to English from German: “I am not flowing on German”

   My wife, who does speak a little German, explained to me that there is no real word for “fluent” in German. In overly simplistic terms, the German language is a bit black and white in some matters. You either can or cannot do something. You don’t have many words for kind of being able to do something. You can speak German or you cannot speak it.

   This is the site address by the way: http://babelfish.yahoo.com/

   You can actually use the site to translate simple text to English, but you will have to do some serious translating of some of the translations to fully understand them. They can be quite humorous. Some of them are basically the same as the labels you get in foreign made products that are translated into English by someone who doesn’t speak English or understand the structure of the language. Funny, funny stuff.

   One thing though isn’t as funny as it is interesting. The program simply translates without any understanding of what it’s translating or how and why certain phrases are structured and what they truly mean. Anything with any complicated meaning, subtle nuance or region specific references or slang is going to get completely jumbled. And the more languages you translate the text through, the more you twist and distort the original text’s meaning. An example below:

   “When entering into a darkened area in an unknown part of town while chasing a subject on foot, it is critical that you be as aware as you possibly can of your surroundings. You never know who or what may be lurking around the next corner, in the side alleys or in the darkest of shadows. If you are pursuing someone and you will be moving in and out of lighted and unlighted areas that are close together; a simple trick is closing one eye whenever you enter a heavily lighted area. When you leave the more heavily lighted area, you simply open your eye again. This will allow you to retain some of your night vision and not enter into the shadows with absolutely no ability to see what lies within the darkness.”

   Now, we are going to translate that through a series of languages. The series is English to German, German to French, French to Greek and finally Greek to English. The results are… Interesting… And that’s with everything in the original English spelled correctly.

   “Participating in sector that in a unknown part of city, chases with the legs a subject, he is critical that you are also aware, it perhaps can that you you assiéger. They don’t know never, that or qu’? round the following [strimogma], in the [pleyrikes] byways or means darkest l’? the shade can persecute. If you practise quelqu’? one and you become in also and unlighted that they turn on sectors it moves that is together narrow? a simple tour closes a eye, whenever you infiltrate that turns on sector difficilement. If you leave what turns on sector difficilement, you open simply your eye again. This allows you in order to keeps something of aspect of your night and in order to it participates in the shades with absolutely the faculty to see, which lies in noircissement.”

   You see, this is a perfect, if somewhat extreme, example of a problem I’ve always had with the Holy Rollers who want to claim that their (written in English) Bible is The Word and meant to the The Exact Word of God. It simply can’t be because it’s not the word as it was first spoken nor as it was first written. It’s not even the close second or third to that word as far as translations go. And I’m not even going to touch things the politically altered texts in thing like The King James version of the Bible or early texts coming out of the establishment of a church in Rome.  No, I’m just going to address the honest attempts to interpret the Bible and to reprint it in the olden days.

   The one image that so many have of ancient monks sitting at a table and copying pages of text while another monk looks on and approves the work is a bit romantic to say the least. Not every ancient text was copied by monks. Many were copied by whomever the local church thought could do the job. The problem there was that many of the people who did the job were borderline, if not completely, illiterate. That’s simply because most people were mostly illiterate back then. They could read enough to get by at the market or deal with a few minor day to day needs, but they weren’t able to read or write a book like the bible.

   So how did they make copies? They did it the same way that a child might draw his favorite comic book character. They traced it by eye. They didn’t read the words and then rewrite them as much as they drew the shapes they saw on the page they were copying. And as you artists, even you very good ones out there, know quite well, you can’t reproduce a picture perfectly by doing that. You will change lines’ shapes or positions. You may even change words by accidentally altering a letter here and there.

   And the monks weren’t much better. Many monks weren’t much more truly literate than the common folks of the time and the ones who were could actually be more problematic than the ones who weren’t. More than handful of educated monks believed in their own education a little too much. There have been documented cases of older texts being found where all of the next generation of copies coming from a specific monastery were “corrected” by the monks in charge. So widespread was this practice at one time that there are actually ancient texts and letters that have been found and preserved where elder monks or the original authors threatened great pain and vengeance upon any who took it upon themselves to fix, correct or clarify their works.

   And all of these problems and more were faced while dealing with copies kept in the same language as the text being copied. The pain in the nads came when you took people who weren’t truly scholars in foreign languages and translated the works. They had to do the best they could and then abide by the decisions of a committee. But again, the various languages didn’t always have words that had direct parallels in other languages. And when sometimes you did have a direct parallel, you had words that didn’t quite have the same meaning regionally that they had in the other country and the other country’s language.  In the end, they were taking “educated” guesses.

   And this happened over and over again as The Word was moved from one land to another and one tongue to another over and over again. The Word moved farther and farther away from the language, meaning and structures that the words were original spoken and written in. It wasn’t as badly done as the mindless Babelfish program, but there were still flaws. And this isn’t supposition on my part. Almost every time that ancient texts have been discovered in the last 20 years they’ve shed light on errors, omissions and mistranslations in the modern versions of that particular text. And then you can toss in all the issues that I said I wouldn’t deal with where politics played a roll in the rewriting and reshaping of the texts and you really get a mess in some areas.

   And that leads me to my issues with Bible thumpers and Holy Rollers. Anyone who holds up a Bible that’s not in the original language and comprised of the original drafts of each passage and still claims that they are presenting The Word as God supposedly spoke it is either ignorant or arrogant. What we have today is a text full of some good ideas, some nice guidelines and some pretty ok suggestions for how to live our lives. But that’s all that it is. It’s not the one true truth and it’s not the word of God. It’s just a book of good ideas and stories about past events that may or may not be historically factual.

   And the one thing it isn’t above all other things is it is not an excuse for you to try and force me or anyone else to live our lives or make decisions that impact our lives based your beliefs of what those words mean.

   Last night I went to bed and the world was what it was. This morning I wake up and find out that Julia Child, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg, John Hemingway, son of author Ernest Hemingway, Quentin and Kermit Roosevelt, sons of President Theodore Roosevelt, Miles Copeland, father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the band The Police and and Thomas Braden, an author whose “Eight Is Enough” book inspired the 1970s television series amongst many others were all operatives for the OSS. The OSS for those who don’t know was the forerunner for the CIA.

   And these guys weren’t just doing office work. Oh noooooooo. Some of the files coming out have these people working on top level projects and working behind enemy lines. Anyone remember a character actor by the name of Sterling Hayden? He was the crooked cop (Capt. McCluskey) in The Godfather. His files have him running missions behind the German lines, single handedly stopping some German plots and having at least one “run for your life” moment that rivals anything in a Hollywood film. His record is filled with notes of his heroism and almost reckless disregard for his own safety when it came to completing a mission and saving other people’s lives.

   The complete list should be available by this weekend, but what has come out today is absolutely amazing. There were some real Jason Bourne type of spy boys and spy girls working against the Nazi war machine who later went on to lead very public lives with very public personas that are almost impossible to reconcile with the information of the lives they once led that is coming out today.

   I know better than to believe that spies, agents and special operatives look like Matt Damon and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ve met guys that used to be in the cloak and dagger business. I’ve met guys that used to do counter terrorism. Hell, I’ve met the former Navy SEAL who founded SEAL Team Six. I knowthat the cover of the book ain’t as easy to judge as it should be. But some of the people involved in the declassified documents coming out today? Blew my f’n little mind.

Let’s Talk About Sex!!!

Posted: August 8, 2008 in News, Politics

   Actually, let’s not talk about sex.

   No, this isn’t one of those cheap tricks like they used to pull back in High School. This is a conversation, and more than a little complaining, about the news.

   Most of the news coverage I’ve seen today that isn’t about the Olympics in China has been the about the trivial non-story of John Edwards having had an affair. Big deal. Who really f’n cares? Yeah, cover it a bit, but there are other stories out there of far greater importance.

   How about this one for a story:

   Georgia (not the U.S. state) and Russia are shooting at each other. Tanks, planes and missiles are bouncing about and blowing up. And this isn’t something that’s just come out of the blue. This has been building and brewing for a while now. But you wouldn’t know that by the stellar coverage that our news has done. 90% of what I’ve followed of this story prior to this largest outbreak of hostilities has been on the BBC News services and the Australian Broadcasting Company (or, as I like to call them, the other ABC) and other net news sources.

   This is what I hate the most about the news. The more corporate it becomes, the more that ratings and revenue become the driving force of their programming. Sex sells so it gets big play. Rumors and innuendo get raised eyebrows and perked ears so it gets big play. Georgia and Russia shooting at each other isn’t sexy and doesn’t sell headlines so, despite what it means to the world and what it’s slowly telling us about both Georgia and Russia right now, it’s a quick update story at best today.

   Right now as I bounce through the XM stations: Fox News is talking about Edwards, CNN is talking about Edwards, CNN Headline News is talking about Edwards and BBC World Service is talking about the international AIDS conference that just ended. XM doesn’t have MSNBC in its line up, but Air America is simulcasting MSNBC’s Race for the White House. The hot topic? John Edwards. As I reverse that channel line up now after having spent the time to type the above; half are talking about the Olympics and the other half are talking with new peopleabout John Edwards.

   This isn’t new. I know that. William Randolph Hearst used his influence and power to kill stories in his papers that he didn’t want printed for either personal or political reasons. He had stories covered and front paged that would sell papers and line his pockets. He also shaped opinion by having reviewers create false reviews of books or films that he didn’t want to succeed. The most famous example of that was his ordered attacks on Citizen Kane.

   But it’s still frustrating. If what little I’ve heard of this silly story is true, this is already a dead story. The affair was apparently over and done with in 2006. The only thing that may make it an ongoing story is if the kid is his and even then it’s not an f’n wall to wall coverage type of story. Most of the wall to wall coverage news stories these days aren’t wall to wall coverage types of stories really. Many of them aren’t even news. More and more of the news is editorials, spins and rumor mongering for partisan purposes. It really sucks and it really doesn’t help the average News IQ of the country when the news business is working under the ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ model.

   I’m more and more grateful that the net allows us to find news from sources all over the world even if we have to check the sources of the sources, but it’s still frustrating that we have to do that if we want to follow detailed news that goes beyond Obama, McCain, Iraq, the Olympics and sex stories. I’ve spent my whole life as a news junkie and it sure feels like the news business itself is making it harder and harder to follow actual news these days.

   So, I’m having problems sleeping these days and I decided to chill on the recliner rather than bother the wife. I decided that I needed to relax so I pulled up a movie on the DVR from the Sci-Fi channel’s Sunday Night movie.

   I start watching the ever so more than slightly bad ‘Legion of the Dead” and get less than ten minutes into it before wanting to throw an f’n brick at the TV. Was it because of the bad acting? No. Was it because of the bad plot? No. Was it because of the bad CGI? No.

   It was the cigarette scene.

   They blurred the scene. Three times. The guy lifts his cigarette to his mouth three times and each time they blurred his hand and mouth so that you couldn’t actually see the cigarette in his mouth.  60 seconds later he gets a metal spike through the chin and up into his cranium. Oh, and a guy is killed by having the skin burn/melt off of his skull later. And they show it in all its glory. All the violence is there as well.  And just prior in the day, during the afternoon hours and not the prime time hours, they have film where violence, blood and guts were on full display for all to see. Oh, and an attempted rape scene as well.

   But we have to blur out that evil cigarette!

   Look, I don’t smoke and I never have. Jenn doesn’t smoke either and we’re both going to be trying to raise our son to not smoke. But WTF? It’s legal, people do it, people do it in public and the government taxes the crap out of the people who do it. It’s a part of life. But we’re going to get so anal about about it that we’re going to censor scenes of smoking on television in prime time now? The same time and channels where you can see drug use by the way. Sci-Fi has had movies on in the last few weeks where people were stoned and got that way on screen.

   But we have to blur out that evil cigarette!!!

   Look cigarette Nazis; go away, get a life and stop screwing with all of our lives. If you can’t do that then just fuck off.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies at 89‏.

Posted: August 3, 2008 in Life, News

   I read The Gulag Archipelago books when I was in my late teens. Maybe 16 or 17 years old. My mother found them for me at a used bookstore when I was around 14. I’d never heard of them before then and they’d never been mentioned in my school’s history classes. The fact that they weren’t and in many schools still aren’t required reading is almost a crime.

  They were hard reads and they actually gave me nightmares while I was reading them, but I never regretted reading them. I still have the first two buried in a box somewhere in my attic. The third got eaten by a lab puppy who had issues. I’ve traded a lot of books in for others, but these I wanted to keep.

   If anyone ever wants to see what a nightmare looks like when described on a printed page; find those books. If anyone ever tells you that we don’t need to really explain in our schools exactly what some of these dictatorships were like for their victims; give them these books.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who has died at the age of 89, played a significant role in ending communism. His novels were beautifully crafted, damning indictments of the repressive Soviet regime.

Born into a family of Cossack intellectuals, Alexander Solzhenitsyn graduated in mathematics and physics, but within weeks the Soviet Union was fighting Hitler for its survival.

Solzhenitsyn served as an artillery officer and was decorated for his courage, but in 1945 was denounced for criticising Stalin in a letter.

He spent the next eight years as one of the countless men enduring the gulags. He was one of the lucky ones to survive.

There followed a period of internal exile in Kazakhstan during which Solzhenitsyn was successfully treated for stomach cancer. 

More… 

   The complete obituary can be found at the following address: 

 

   I’ve been having a few… discussions… of late on the IMDB boards. One of the big topics right now on the Horror Board is remakes. Several others are debating the merits of sequels VS new product as well. Some of it nice, some of it not so nice. Some ending well and some ending… Not so well.

   The ‘Quarantine’ board is a bad place to be right now if you say that you don’t mind well done remakes. That film is a remake of the Spanish film [REC] and due out this October. Most of the posters on that board are basically your early 20 something film school dweebs who are trying to look cool and slagging remakes of foreign films and the people who watch them. It seems that no remake of a foreign film can ever be anywhere near good and that the only reason we have these remakes is because “Americans are too stupid, lazy and illiterate to read subtitles.”

   You can kinda guess that several of those posters and I, an American who loves foreign films, reads subtitles and still somehow manages to enjoy remakes of foreign films, don’t get along like Peaches and Cream. But, dense as they are, they don’t have the majority opinion on remakes, sequels and adaptations.

   no, the majority of posters who start threads on this subject have a different view of it. And it can be summed up with one simple saying.

   It’s worse now than it ever was before. Hollywood has never before put out as many remakes and sequels as it does now and has never been so creatively bankrupt. One guy said this while calling the late 50’s through the early 80’s the “Golden Age” of Hollywood film making.

   Now I tend to brush that aside as nonsense. Between my serious like of old films and my wife’s obsession with them; I’ve seen and read about a lot of old films and a lot of stuff about old Hollywood. To me the times aren’t-a-changing. Hollywood is simply the same old production factory that it’s always been with the occasional crop of gems that we all end up remembering and the many duds that we don’t. I honestly don’t think that Hollywood is worse about remakes and sequels these days or is any more creatively bankrupt than it has always been.

   I also don’t have as many problems with the idea of sequels as some seem to have. I’d love to see more new stuff and I’d love to see past their prime franchise make room for new and better things, but I don’t have a problem with a well done remake like The Departed or a well made revival of a past its prime franchise like Batman Begins or Casino Royal.

   But what do you think? Is Hollywood really worse today than ever before or is it just the standard “It was all better in my younger days” syndrome? Can Hollywood really have gotten worse in the last 30 years about remakes when you can point to 5 versions of Brewster’s Millions being made in between 1914 and 1945 (and one later in 1985) and 6 versions of The Awful Truth have been made (one unfinished due to Marilyn Monroe’s death) in between 1925 and 1962? Is it really worse about sequels when you can have over a dozen films each of Boston Blackie, Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, Fu Manchu and others all made in less than a 20 year period?

   And, more importantly, do you care if a good film is a sequel or a remake? Would you suddenly feel that The Maltese Falcon (1941) was a lesser film because it was a remake of The Maltese Falcon (1931) or that 2006’s The Departed was based on a great Hong Kong film called Infernal Affairs? Does it really matter if the film is well done, entertains and doesn’t insult the intelligence?