Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On SSM in New Jersey

I know I'm not all that important, but if you happen to live in New Jersey and randomly come upon this blog, please please please please call your State Senator and insist they pass the bill that will be coming before them soon, enshrining civil equality in at least one more state. After the reverses in California, Maine, and New York, New Jersey has a chance to not be a giant scumhole for once.

If you know anyone in New Jersey, ask them to talk to their State Senator. Time is of the essence - outgoing Governor Jon Corzine will sign the bill if it hits his desk before he's out of office; the new Republican Governor will veto it. Please, New Jersey...get it done.

(as an aside, we're in trouble when we look to New Jersey to restore faith in the human species.)

On Sarah Palin.

Today, Taegan Goddard's Political Wire reported that Sarah Palin is considering a run for President on a third party ticket. This is huge news, as there hasn't been a serious run for President on a third party ticket since 1992 with Ross Perot, and no third party candidate has won votes from the Electoral College since 1968, when George Wallace ran as the Southern Rights' candidate as a reaction to the newly pro-black Democratic party. Palin, as a result, stands astride the possibility of causing a split similar to that which occurred in 1968 - or 1912.

Let me explain. Former Governor Sarah Palin is generally considered to be the apex of the neo-conservative movement in the United States. She espouses a low level of education combined with a high level of religious pandering, combining the two into an experience that few consider eligible for higher office (unless, of course, you're a Republican sycophant). I wish it known that I'm not attacking Palin because she's a conservative - the simple fact is that she has much less time in politics than, say, President Obama, who's 4 years as Senator are a full 1.5 years longer than her term as Governor, and who's time in the Illinois State Senate involved responsibility for more constituents than Palin's governorship. There are many candidates with much more experience - Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-Minnesota), former Governor Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts), and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-Arkansas). All of whom I dislike for different reasons than experience.

Indeed, my distaste for Palin runs even deeper. But that's neither here nor there. If you remember the special election in NY-23 this year, we saw a three party race between the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Conservative Party of New York. What occurred was an ambush of the Republican candidate from the Conservative candidate, a man named Hoffman who was endorsed by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and, indeed, Sarah Palin. The embattled Republican, Dede Scozzafava, withdrew and endorsed the Democrat, who eventually won a squeaker. Palin is now discussing bringing this split to the national level.

There are many possibilities that could occur if Palin decided to run as a third party candidate, depending on when she makes the decision to run. If she did so before the Republican primary, many candidates would follow her, leading to a serious possible split. If she entered the primary and lost, then quickly announced her split, some could. If she fights a drawn-out primary and loses, then she would just be a Presidential candidate, to start with. A bevy of success could encourage her to continue in the next Congressional cycle with the third party.

If one of the continuing options happens, you'd immediately see several Congressfolk, and even a few Senators, consider switching parties - especially if some successes were rapidly had with similar electorates. A valid third party could emerge. This would be wonderful - the ideologically pure fools would join the Palin Party, whilst many Blue Dog Democrats would move to the now-centre right Republicans. It just might allow real business to get done.

Or, it could simply lead to the Republicans slamming hard-right as a response, countering the Palin move in a self-destructive manner pleasing to Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh but absolutely foolhardy and election-losing in general. This is okay, but I would prefer a real Republican party with real fiscal conservatives.

All of this assumes Palin would have the narcissism needed to run as a third party candidate. When she loses (and she will lose), she'll likely blame everyone but herself, and continue the cult of personality she's slowly building around herself. She's a sad force in politics. I hope she splits the parties; but I also hope she self-destructs as soon as possible.

Gah. What a load of fuck.

On historical movies.

On the way back from Weymouth, I stopped to see an old friend, Krista, shortly. We discussed many things, including movies, and I had to explain how I simply cannot watch any movie that pretends at historical accuracy and fails. We, for instance, talked about the 2004 flick King Arthur. Yes, Clive Owen is a dreamboat, ladies, but the movie infuriated me to the point where I angrily ruined the film for others.

Another movie you might be familiar with that angered me similarly (though not to the same degree) was Gladiator. Yes, I dislike Gladiator. I've seen it once, and that's more than enough, thank you very much.

Here's how it goes - you can set a movie in history as long as you don't mess with history. Some of my favourite films are set in history, films like Paths of Glory. I don't mean a historical biography, like Patton and such, but I mean to say that you can make a good movie about history without pissing on it - if you try.

Take Gladiator, for example. They took a fictional character (Maximus) and threw him into a possible situation against a historical figure (Commodus). The problem is that Commodus was not a bad emperor. He wasn't anything like his portrayal in the film. He did not die quickly after taking the throne, nor did he die in the gladiatorial arena. The movie *could* have worked with another villain. But now everyone thinks that Commodus was some guy who loved to get into the ring and eventually died there, and good, he deserved it, when in reality, Commodus was assassinated because he ignored the Mob.

And don't even get me started on King Arthur.

History is a great tool for making movies, because history does the job for the filmmaker. You don't need to invent a character where one already exists, a realistic human with realistic personality traits, strengths and flaws. I wish more filmmakers would use history accurately. The next time someone tells me The Last Samurai is a great historical film, I'm gonna fucking scream.

As an aside, I am going to go see the Kingdom of Heaven Director's Cut soon, and I'm really looking forward to it. Apparently it's significantly better than the theatrical release, which I firmly panned as utter trash.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On naming a ship.

Here's a thing I've been noticing with our southerly neighbours. Everyone knows I'm a pretty pro-America Canadian with an interest in their politics and history. What I want to talk about here is when one of those two things infringes upon the other - that is to say, when politics infringes on history. I'm a member of a naval family, and I've managed to get a decent idea of what naval history means to the members of the service.

So let's point this towards our friends in the United States Navy, and how politicians are seriously fucking with their mojo. They've been playing politics with naming ships, specifically their capital ships, and that is bad. Sailors tend to take these things seriously, and a lot of them, even now, are superstitious.

Nobody wants to serve on a cursed ship. Nobody wants to serve on a ship that might have a name that is anything less than illustrious, and I think that naming something the Gerald R. Ford is a really, really bad start. Down to brass tacks - the last three administrations chose carrier names based on political affiliation.

The USN has added, since 1960, 15 carriers with a sixteenth named and under construction. Since 1972, all carriers have been named after people; previous to that, they bore names like Kitty Hawk, Constellation, America, and Enterprise. The John F. Kennedy was also commissioned in 1968, named after the recently late president. In 1972, the first of a new class was christened - Nimitz, after Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet in World War II and a man who did just as much to win the war in the Pacific as Eisenhower did in Europe. Since then, the names have been rather more dubious.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower, after the Republican president, was named in 1970 (shortly after the Nimitz's name was announced), by Richard Nixon, who had served as Ike's Vice President. Nixon also ordered the Carl Vinson, named after a Democratic member of Congress. So he was fairly balanced - one Republican, one Democrat, and one Admiral, all of which with impeccable credentials to be considered worthy to have a US carrier named after them.

Reagan & G.H.W. Bush ordered the Theodore Roosevelt, the Abraham Lincoln, the George Washington, and the John C. Stennis. Two Republican presidents, one non-aligned president, and one Democratic Senator. Again, all men were considered great or important and all have grand credentials. You'd be hard pressed to pick more deserving presidents than TR, Abe, Geo. Washington, and Ike to have ships named after them.

President Bill Clinton named one: the Harry S Truman - a Democratic president. And George W. Bush named three - Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Gerald R. Ford. Now here's where we get to the "what the fuck".

Bill picked a president who had been around for awhile, and is currently considered quite good. And that's fine and all, but what about FDR? What about Woodrow Wilson? There are options here, of course. But that's not really as bad as GWB's selections. Ronald Reagan was not a good president (despite conservative love in the US), and the man served in the Army Reserve. I think this was just the standard Reagan sycophantism in the Republican Party.

If anyone else had named the George H. W. Bush, then I'd be perfectly fine with it. As it is, I'm pretty much OK - GHWB was a legitimate war hero. He was the youngest naval aviator in the USN in World War II, and flew combat missions at age 19 off of the USS San Jacinto, winning a plethora of medals. But Jerry Ford? Come ON. The man's considered a failure as a President. But at least he was in the navy, unlike Reagan.

In the end, these names are pretty much based on their fucking party. That's why I think the current president, who will get to name at least one and maybe two hulls, should very seriously consider these names. There's lots of great and historical names out there, names that mean a lot in the history of the United States Navy - names like Yorktown, Ranger, and Constellation. America, United States, President. And in 2012, a new name will become available, one I think should be chosen - Enterprise.

Some bills have been pushed into Congress suggesting names like Arizona and the Barry Goldwater. I think the former is inappropriate and the latter is stupid. Obama may choose a Democratic president - or he may choose a more abstract name. I think that a return to the abstract is called for, and may the history of the United States Navy be allowed to continue without consideration for politics and politicians - men and women that can never live up to the glory already earned by names like Lexington, Yorktown, and Enterprise.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On Mr. Obama

Over a year ago, now, the entire world was electrified when Barack Obama won election for the post of President, the first black candidate to do so; they were just as relieved that George W. Bush was on the way out and that John McCain, who had moved sharply to the right, was not going to be entering into power. Many Americans were just as electrified, even people who did not vote for Mr. Obama. His siren calls of "Hope" and "Change" seemed to signal a new era of US politics.

Now, many people are considering Mr. Obama's term as president to be a failure, saying that he has not lived up to his promises - others believe he has betrayed the Democrat base that voted him into power. I've heard many people, people I admire, consider him "Republican lite", for instance. There have been many people who are very disappointed with Mr. Obama's lack of movement on Afghanistan and LGBT rights.

I cannot find myself disappointed with Mr. Obama's progress as President. We'll start with Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has recently announced that the United States will be sending more troops to Afghanistan. However, many people are trying to tell me that he has broken a promise. I find myself quietly reminding them that the President promised to "win" the war in Afghanistan - of course, winning in Afghanistan isn't a cut-and-dry procedure, like conquering Germany or the South was. Winning in Afghanistan is subjective.

Yet it was a promise. He's already began the process of withdrawing from Iraq (something he promised to do and that people are upset about). He's made pragmatic military decisions that people on the far left seem incapable of understanding. You can't just pick up and leave a country you've occupied. I find it paradoxical - the Republicans should be the ones demanding these sudden withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, given their supposed ideology, whereas Democrats should insist on cautious and measured withdrawals. After all, Republicans put "America first", or "troops first" and should want to safeguard their lives by removing them from hostile situations, whereas the simple fact that withdrawing from the occupied nations suddenly would lead to thousands and possibly millions of deaths in instant civil war should make Democrats, who proclaim to love human rights.

It is a stark reminder that Republicans and Democrats are labels that should be beyond left and right, and liberal and conservative, because both parties are a mixture of the two. Anyway, that is a subject for another post.

Andrew Sullivan has pointed out that Obama is pursuing a pass that lets the United States withdraw from Afghanistan concurrent with the end of international cooperation in ISAF (the NATO force currently working in Afghanistan). It should be remembered that whilst Mr. Bush took the US Army off to Iraq for no good reason, the emphasis of combat in Afghanistan shifted to the US's NATO allies, allies that supported the United States in the wake of 9/11, allies who pledged money, material, and lives to assist the Americans in avenging the lethal strikes on New York City and Arlington, VA. To leave now would be to leave them high and dry, to abandon 44,000 soldiers from NATO countries helping to prosecute the war against the Taliban.

Thank you, Mr. Obama, for giving the ISAF soldiers the backup they need to make some progress. Thank you for setting a firm date of withdrawal for US soldiers, and having it mirror international withdrawal targets. Now, NATO acts as one, as an alliance should. I can only imagine what we could have done in Afghanistan if there had been cooperation from the beginning.

When it comes to LGBT rights, I am saddened that there has been such backlash over the last year - Proposition 8 in California, Proposition 1 in Maine, and the recent NY Senate vote that was rather firmly in favour of retaining civil inequality (great term from Andy Sullivan). But there has also been gains - legislated civil equality in New Hampshire and the adoption of gay marriage rights in Iowa due to a court order. Things are coming to a head, I believe - it will be a long struggle, but it can be handled.

But nobody can accuse Barack Obama of being a friend of the LGBT community at this point, despite campaign promises. At the same time, I think you would be hard-pressed to call him an enemy. Yes, he has failed, so far, within a year, to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell and embrace equal rights in the US forces. But must we remember that it took Harry Truman 3 years to work up the balls to sign Executive Order 9981, and that Obama is in a difficult political climate.

He has not campaign for gay rights, but he has not campaigned against them, and given some of the recent history of LGBT equality in the United States, that is certainly something. He is not particularly known for his pro-gay platform, but that he is tolerant (which Mr. Bush was probably not) of the LGBT community. If he is going to take a political gamble on civil equality, it will not be now - it will be during an election year, much as Mr. Truman did with his order to desegregate the US military.

I think that many people lifted Obama, mentally, up in their minds as something above what he is. But he is still a dynamic figure, who I believe will make more changes as his term continues. Will he be a two-term president? Possibly, because I believe that freed of the concern for re-election he has a chance to be more liberal than he is now. But those who ever assumed he was something other than a politician? Welcome back to earth. Those of you who think that he is failing the American people by continuing the war in Afghanistan? Yes, some more American soldiers will die - but he promised to try, and that's what he's doing. And those of us who have seen our friends and family fight and die in Afghanistan whilst there wasn't the force available to resist the Taliban appreciate that he is going to try.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Technology from Star Trek: The VISOR

Everyone knows that Star Trek has contributed to popular technology in many ways. For instance, cell phones were based on the concept of the communicator. OV-101 was named Enterprise, not after the famous carrier then in service, but after the fictional starship commanded by Jim Kirk on the television show. Personal computing was a fantasy in 1967, but a reality by 1984 with the launch of the Macintosh - and a necessity by 2000.

Now we have a new example of Star Trek's fiction becoming reality: Geordi LaForge's VISOR. In Star Trek, the VISOR takes visual input on several levels and sends it right to the brain, bypassing Geordi's non-functioning optic nerve. This lets the character see, though not quite as people do. Visually, the VISOR is a clip-like thing that sits over the eyes.

Well, science has done it again. The Daily Mail reports that a 51 year old man named Peter Lane is now seeing for the first time in 30 years once he was fitted with a device that takes camera input, digitizes it with a small belt-mounted computer, and sends it to his eyes in a series of lines and dots. While it isn't as functional as Geordi's VISOR, it is a start, and for Peter Lane, it is surely all the difference in the world.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ronald Reagan, Scored by the RNC's Reagan Unity Principle

The Republican National Committee has come up with the idea of charting future Republican candidates against a so-called "Reagan Unity Principle", holding all these Republicans running for office to a field of idealistic Reagan-like ideals. Candidates who fail to meet 8 or more of these ideals would be refused funding by the RNC as being ideologically unpure. The RNC will score candidates based on their voting record and public statements. I wonder how President Reagan would score?

The entire text can be found here (via Taegan Goddard's Political Wire).

So, let's take a look at them, shall we?

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

Oh, bravo. Ronald Reagan certainly supported smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits, and lower taxes, right?

Except, that when he was Governor of California, Reagan raised taxes. But that was in order to pay off the Californian deficit. Yet, he didn't seem to care so much about that when he was president: Reagan originally slashed taxes, but two years later increased those taxes somewhat. The US debt rose from 909 billion to 3.2 trillion from 1980 to 1990 - eight of those years were under Reagan. In addition, government expenditure still increased, albeit at a slower level than previously. So, Ronald Reagan clearly fails this section.

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

This is certainly true. While health care was not a major issue in the 1980s, Reagan was very slow to act on the AIDS crisis. He was certainly not interested in interfering with health care, even in this limited area. Reagan gets the RNC Seal of Approval on this one.

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

Such things did not exist when Ronald Reagan was president. However, Reagan did think that acid rain was nonsense, he deregulated the oil industry, and used federal environmental funds for political purposes. Seal of Approval!

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

Yeah, Ronald "Strikebuster" Reagan supports workers' rights.

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

Again, illegal immigration wasn't particularly an issue during Reagan's years as presidency. So I have no idea what Reagan was perceived to have done to defend the United States against the evil brown people who want to work for a living. So this is going to be an "invalid point".

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

Ronald Reagan wasn't a very big fan of sending soldiers to actually fight. In fact, most of his presidency involved America paying others to fight for them. But he does like invading weak countries like Grenada. Presumably, he'd be okay with fighting a war the US was already in. Again, Reagan wasn't really on the record about Afghanistan and Iraq, having withdrawn from public life in early 2001 to battle Alzheimer's. This point is again invalid.

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

Ronald Reagan secretly sold weapons to Iran. He was not interested in containing them, rather arming them so he could fund his pet projects in Latin America covertly. Reagan fails at this point.

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

Reagan is said to be personally tolerant to gay people, but firmly was against GTLB rights. He gets the RNC Seal of Bigoted Approval!

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

Reagan was very firmly anti-abortion for most of his political career. However, very early on, as Governor of California, he signed into law the "Theraputic Abortions Act" which was designed to reduce back-alley abortion. While this turned Reagan, personally, against abortion (so he claimed), the RNC is unlikely to forgive a moment of ideological impurity. So he is denied on this point, because Ronald Reagan once supported abortion rights, in even a small and limited way.

In addition, he appointed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is pro-abortion, to the Supreme Court, something that could never be supported by conservatives today.

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;

By the same note, Justice O'Connor voted for gun control. As a Justice appointed by President Reagan, he must be held accountable for choosing a judge that could not be relied upon by the conservative movement to uphold one of their Reagan Unity Principles. Thus, Reagan fails.

So, in conclusion, the Republican National Committee would not support Ronald Reagan if he were to rise from the dead and run for President once more, finding that he is not ideologically pure enough to deserve support, based on a rose-tinted look back at the terrible President of Ronald Reagan.

Thought From Canada, November 23rd, 2009

Dear United States;

Hi there, been following your goings-on for awhile, and I'd like to toss in my few cents about a couple things. First of all, I gotta confess - I'm generally a big fan of what you've done. World War II, Eisenhower, the Moon Landing, and Obama, that's pretty cool stuff. But obviously, there's some things that a Canadian like me just doesn't get right away. It takes some time to ponder the character of America and really understand it.

So, let's talk about the big political to-do of the month: Former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. Everyone knows about this lady - she's a dynamic, charismatic, and polarizing figure in American politics. I'd love to do a review of her, but why bother? Everyone already has an opinion on the lady. Let me just say that my opinion of Governor Palin is not very flattering, nor am I fond of her.

But I do not think she is an idiot, as many have said.

There's a lot of people who dismiss Palin out of hand, calling her a half-term governor of a backwards state. Some use the term "Caribou Barbie" (admittedly, so have I, as offensive as the term truly is). And others just laugh about how she "can see Russia from [her] house".

This needs to stop. Governor Palin is one of the scariest people in politics today. I spent some time yesterday considering other American political figures to whom she is analogous, and discarded many possibilities. She's certainly not George W. Bush - Bush only paid lip service to the base which Palin clearly adores and revels in. By the same manner, she's not George H. W. Bush, nor is she Ronald Reagan, both of whom were closer to centre than the second Bush. I don't think she resembles Barry Goldwater, nor do I think she is similar to Nixon.

She reminds me most of George Wallace. Like George Wallace, Palin is the embodiment of a section of American society that has been largely and loudly informed are now out of date, unwanted by the public in general. There's a lot of anger about that sort of thing, and it shows. George Wallace was a pro-segregation candidate during the 1960s; Sarah Palin is a pro-religious right, pro-life, small government, no tax, less educated white candidate, and as a result, reflects the demographics of around 30% of Americans, much as Governor Wallace did. This is a vocal, loud, and frankly vicious group of people who are demanding to be heard and considered as the majority, when they are, in fact, not.

The existence of Sarah Palin as a political force is indicative of an upcoming difficult decade of American politics. The upcoming presidential election is likely to be a divisive force on the Republican Party, much as the 1968 was divisive to the Democratic Party. This is because internal infighting over the future soul of the Republican Party will rend the GOP heavily, and Palin is going to be front and centre.

Face facts: nobody has mobilized the Republican base like Sarah Palin since Ronald Reagan. Nobody. But when she is rejected by Republican voters in the primaries (as she surely will be), how will she react? It is unlikely that the winner of the primary will offer her a place on the ticket. It is even less likely that she would accept if offered. Would she consider a run as a third party candidate, dooming the GOP to another four years of Barack Obama?

These are questions we won't know the answer to until 2012. But they are worth pondering. We can, however, guess some things by looking at the former Governor's record. We know the woman quits when the going gets tough. Don't give me that bullshit about how she quit to protect Alaska; she quit because people were watching her like a hawk after the election, and it turns out she's not a particularly good governor who was overloaded with ethics complaints. As a private citizen, she's able to make hundreds of thousands of dollars per appearance, "write" a best-selling book, and avoid the close scrutiny of her activities that must go along with public office.

I don't think the scrutiny bothers here when she's working towards a goal. Certainly it didn't dissuade her during the campaign, when she made wild and factually incorrect accusations against her opponents. I think what bothered here is that she might get bogged down and her image tarnished by her term as governor. Quitting only harms her brand in the eyes of those who already dislike her - those who appreciate her agree that what she did was for the good of Alaska.

However, one has to wonder whether, if her race towards the Republican nomination falters, she will deem the ongoing scrutiny of her brand to be worth it as the surely vicious campaign drags on. As a result, I think that unless she is an early frontrunner, she will bow out quickly - even if she is in second place, unless it is an extremely close second. Whether or not she quits the Republican Party (much as Wallace quit the Democratic Party) will be determined by how bad the damage to her is; if she was severely lambasted, I wouldn't expect to see her at the convention, especially if the person whom handled her worst wins. Sarah Palin holds grudges; one only needs to hear the excerpts from her books to realize that. She holds grudges publicly, and I am quite sure she would refuse her support to a particularly distasteful candidate.

Would she split the party?

This one I can't even guess at. She likes to portray herself as a rogue. But how far is she willing to go? I don't know. A split might destroy the GOP permanently; it would certainly guarantee a Barack Obama victory in 2012, and it would harm the GOP brand for a long time. But I don't know if she's audacious enough to do it, nor if she believes in herself enough to try. That question will stay up in the air.

Twitter Movie Night?

So I was on teh Twitter and I had an idea: watching a movie as a group on Twitter and tweeting each other about it. No idea what that movie will be or anything, but I thought a blog post is a good place to start.

The basic idea is that we will share, in short text bursts, sarcastic comments and deep inner thought about a movie of mutual interest. I believe that finding a movie that will be acceptable to all shall be the first challenge, given that we are several different people with many different tastes. I like just about anything, as long as it doesn't star Hugh Grant or is produced by MTV. Beyond that, we can talk.

Secondly, we need a hashtag to put it on teh Twitter. I was thinking #twitternmovie but I have no idea if that's gonna work or something. Thoughts.

Comments are down there!

Friday, November 20, 2009

TNG Episode Review: "Who Watches the Watchers"

"Who Watches the Watchers" is the fourth episode of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I haven't seen it in quite some time, certainly not since I began identifying as an atheist. Upon watching it last night I was rather taken by how strongly pro-reason and anti-religion the episode is, and I think that it deserves a second look.

It should be noted that Star Trek has always handled the subject of religion carefully. The few times the concept has been raised, the answer (once in the form of Picard speaking to Data) was that knowledge isn't complete, and who knows - not a pro-religion answer, and it reminds me of the famous quote by Dumbledore, "After all, to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." Other cultures have been very strongly religious (the Bajorans, specifically, as well as Chakotay in Voyager) but there's never been a truly "divine" intervention.

(It should be noted that the original series sometimes had some wonky pro-god stuff, like the episode with the Roman Empire where people discovered the Son of God. I'm talking about modern Star Trek here, not hippie Trek.)

In this episode, the Enterprise is on their way to relieve a survey station wherein Federation archaeologists are studying a culture called the Mintakans, a proto-Vulcan race that is governed by reason, unusual for many humanoid species at this stage of development, but not unusual for the proto-Vulcan style beings they are. However, before the Enterprise can arrive to relieve the surveyors and repair their "duck blind", the station's core explodes, dropping the holographic screen, allowing the Mintakans to see the station.

An away team beams down to the station to begin recovery and rescue operations, however, a Mintakan named Liko climbs up to the station, looking inside and gettin1g shocked by touching the downed holo screen. With Liko critically injured, Dr. Crusher decides to bring him up to the Enterprise for emergency surgery. Picard lambasts Crusher about violating the Prime Directive; she promises to try and wipe Liko's memory, but says that his proto-Vulcan brain is resistant to the methods used for removing his short term memory.

Liko is returned to the surface; meanwhile, the survey team realizes that one of their members, Palmer, is missing - having fallen out of the duck blind after the core explosion. Troi and Riker are surgically altered to look like Mintakans and beam down to the planet. Here they find Liko telling the Mintakans about his encounter with "The Picard", who he claims is the deific Overseer that the Mintakans had stopped worshipping generations ago, who brought him back to life from the dead.

Riker and Troi relay that the Mintakan civilization has been contaminated by Crusher's interference; they find out how contaminated when the Mintakans find a badly injured Palmer. A discussion of what to do with Palmer arises, Liko insisting that he must have been punished by "The Picard", and the group considers that they should finish the punishment. Riker and Troi argue against this view and for using reason; but Liko insists. Troi distracts the group while Riker escapes with Palmer, but he is seen, and Troi is captured after Riker and Palmer beam out.

The length of contamination is evident; the survey leader believes that belief in the Overseer will spread throughout the Mintakan homeworld from this point, and urges Picard to appear to the Mintakans to set rules for the newly rediscovered religion. Picard, for his credit, is horrified by the concept of a religion arising on a world that had known none:

Horrifying... Dr. Barron, your report describes how rational these people are. Millennia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement, to send them back into the dark ages of superstition and ignorance and fear? No!

A traditional, but brilliant, Picard speech. Instead, Picard decides to beam up the Mintakans' leader, Nuria. He shows her the Enterprise, explaining that that he is simply from a culture that has greater technology than the Mintakans, much as the Mintakans have learned to build homes, weave cloth, and create powerful bows, his people have learned to sail the stars. Even still, she refuses to believe that Picard is not a god until she watches the death of one of the members of the survey team.

On the planet, things are getting worse. Liko insists that, due to the arrival of a storm, "The Picard" is angry at Troi. He wants to punish her for Riker stealing away with Palmer, hoping to please the god he now worships. As Liko is about to shoot Troi with his bow, both Nuria and Picard arrive. Nuria tells Liko that she has watched members of Picard's people die, but Niko insists Picard is a god, begging for the man to bring his wife back to life.

When Picard responds that he cannot, because he is just a man, Liko (in desperation) points his bow at Picard. Nuria tries to get in the way, but Picard pushes her aside, telling Niko to shoot, if it's the only way that Picard can prove that he is a mortal man. Niko shoots, but his daughter tries to push him aside at the last moment; Picard is shot through the collarbone, and his blood is the final proof that he isn't god.

The episode ends with Picard revealing the duck blind to the Mintakans, and they express a willingness to eventually learn to sail the stars, much as the crew of the Enterprise does, having again relinquished their belief in the Overseer.

So, here's the deal. Picard sees a species that has abandoned religious beliefs, and when they want to pick those back up, he wigs the fuck out and declares that he will not have it, even violating the Prime Directive more so that he can save the Mintakans from the fate of having a religious destiny.

Is religion that bad? The answer would seem to be yes. Picard says it himself - the history of religion is a history of war, torture, violence, and hatred. The Mintakans have an unusual advantage in that they realized at an early stage of civilization that such things are bullshit; as a result, they appear capable of advancing rapidly, and considering their situation in manner we wouldn't ascribe to, say, 800s Europe.

In the end, Picard sees the danger to the Mintakan people that religion poses, specifically a vindictive, violent religion that appeared to be welling up around his visage. He takes some serious steps to get the Mintakans back on the course of reason. In the end, when he faced down Liko and demanded that the Mintakan shoot him to prove his point, Picard proved that he would rather be killed by a primitive arrow than corrupt a reason-based society with the evils of religion.

Extrapolating a bit, what are the writers and producers trying to say? Memory Alpha doesn't really have any behind-the-scenes discussion of this episode, but it is a known fact that religion is responsible for probably more deaths than any other social phenomena, including Nazism and Communism (consider, the Reformation, the Crusades, the conquests of Africa, Asia and the Americas, the taming of the noble savage, manifest destiny, 9/11, the Iranian Revolution, and the destruction of Jerusalem, for starters). To me, they're warning us that religion when taken seriously and considered ahead of reason has only one course: death and disaster.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How not to design a website

So, I chat on the internets. And I understand this is a geeky and nerdy thing to do, especially when you balance it out by me saying that it's primarily roleplaying online. Whatever, fuck you. I do what I want.

The site I most commonly use has just merged with another and created a new site. Okay, that's nice, a larger member base and such means a more successful site, right? Wrong. They basically created a new site from nothing and replaced the previous sites with a pre-alpha build, the sort of thing a muppet wouldn't ponder doing.

Portal of Dreams is supposed to be a collaborative effort in creating the sort of site that everyone would want to visit for their chatting needs. OK, not that there's a huge market out there, but there is one, so sure, create the dominant site. You first of all hit a welcome page, and then the whochat. Portal of Dreams has tried a different whochat where each "section" has its own screen, and it shows a display of the current users.

But it doesn't fucking work. Everything says 0 visitors, so you have to open the individual whochats anyway (clicky for bigger):

I tried this on all five browsers I have (IE, Chrome, FF, Safari, and Opera), and it didn't work with any of them. So, there's one feature one might expect to work (where people are actually chatting), and it's just not going. I mean, let's be honest - this may not be a feature that yet works. But, if that's the case, why set it up so it looks like it should. That's what you do in an alpha build.

Visually, this first page looks okay. I don't think it looks great, but they kept it simple, stupid. The text along the top is a little...too phony looking, and the various links are pretty simple, but that's fine. Where it fails is where it displays the six constituent whochats - they don't look like "portals" or "doors", there's not even a cheap flash or javascript to make them look fancy. They're screenshots on a page without borders or anything. Add in the fact that the damn screenshots themselves are buttugly...well. I'll get to that later.

Alright, let's click on one (my fav. section, Medieval and History), and see what happens:

Okay, so let's take a look. The background is a nice gradient, which is OK. The banner up at the top looks a little comicy, but at least it seems to fit the theme. The buttons are there, and they have a decent look to them. The border at the bottom, however, appears to hit a shade too early, and the copyright text is over it, and blends. In addition, the orange colour chosen for the subrooms blends with the red gradient, and makes them progressively more difficult to read.

The biggest thing I am noticing here is that there's no way to return to the front page. So, if I want to go to another section, I have to click the go back button in my browser. This is poor website design, especially if you're like me - I tend to open these things in tabs, so the go back button doesn't work. They don't even link back to the original page at the bottom, where it says the page is Copyright Portal of Dreams. So that's a huge fail when it comes to convenience, and one that will be repeated in every section whochat on the site.

Overall, though, while I wouldn't call it appealing, it's mostly functional. I give it a solid B. And it gets worse from here. Check out this clusterfuck:

What the fuck is that skull thing? It's a shitty cg-style devil's head that wouldn't look out of place in a 1992 adventure film. The colour scheme here is drab and pretty much ugly. The navigation buttons on the left have a completely different and totally not-fitting font, and the letters look to disconnect from the buttons, which just look slapped in over the background graphics without thought to how they should integrate with the page (unlike on the medieval/historical page). You can hardly read the heading, the letters are so tiny and muted.

While I'm complaining about the buttons, it should be noted that the contact link on this page is broken. I tried it, again, in all 5 browsers, and none of them worked. So yeah, broken links are a huge no-no, and given that there's only like 36 links on the fucking site, it's inexcusable that one of them shouldn't work.

We also come to the first major inconsistency on the website. On the entry page, the overall whochat, and the medieval page, all the "All rights reserved" text have been links to the copyright statement for the website, which is good copyright practise. On this page, the link is not there. Not a major thing, something that could easily be missed in an alpha release, but really it goes to show that whoever designed the various pages was inconsistent, a theme I am going to hit on later.

The centre text is very difficult to read. The primary function of the whochat is to show you what users are in what rooms, letting you know if a friend is present, or if there's someone you want to avoid. They're the first place new chatters look to, and they are oft drawn to sites that have a large amount of users. But wherever that stupid devil's head is, I can't read the name of the room without squinting. In addition, the spacing between logged-in users is very small, giving it a crowded and poorly arranged appearance.

Finally, check out the background. You'll notice that the background is set in an appx. 800x600 section, and that the colour gradient of the extended background is different to the centre section. They don't match, making the background and the centre arrangement look out of step. The end result is the whole page is ugly. Final grade: D.

Here's why I'm testing in multiple browsers:

That's the front page for the Lifestyles section, in Opera, Safari, and Firefox. It's hard to see here, but look at the buttons. Each one displays a little differently. Opera looks the best, I think - it looks like the transparency works alright. Firefox takes on a more muted appearance around the buttons, and if that's the design, then it works (but I think the Opera experience is closer to what's intended). Safari looks bad. You can see the cuts along the corners in it, and where hasty erasing was done. It's not quite as clear in that screenshot, but go download Safari. You'll see what I mean.

For reference, Chrome looks the same as Opera and IE looks like Firefox.

In addition, each button is its own image, and the transparency effect is an illusion made on each button. That's fine, but the problem is that while the first 2 buttons line up, they don't line up after that, till there's a 2-3 mm. difference in the last button. I don't get why you'd even try if that's the result.

Okay, on to the whochat:

Actually, this isn't bad. The text is easily read, the spacing is good, the little links down at the bottom all work. My biggest critique is twofold: when you open the section from the overall front page, unlike the other two I have reviewed, this brings you to the selection screen I saw earlier. I mean, I don't think it's that necessary to add a second click when one will do. People have already had a chance to access the forums and their memberpages from the original whochat, and if you're room editing, it's the same amount of clicks as previous (whochat then room editor, instead of welcome page, then room editor). Other sections do this too, giving you the idea that nobody really thought it out. Anyway, it's an overall of an A-, and it would have been an A+ if it wasn't for the inconsistency and the fact that swirling plasma streams have nothing to do with "lifestyles".

One more of these whochats:

Egads! This is the Themes section, and it is a giant turd. Look at the banner - those are several images melded together, including at least three copyrighted images (Agent 47, the Joker, and Spiderman). The quality of the various pictures is dubious, the transition amateurish, and what the hell did they do to 47's aspect ratio? And I get the yellow title, but really...you don't write "Circa-2009". There's no hyphen needed. Christ, learn some fucking punctuation.

Then you get a black bar with the various links in it. Okay, that works, but then the background directly below it has a blueish tint, and the thing above doesn't have a black tint either. It just looks like it was stuck right in the middle for no fucking reason other than they couldn't find a better place to put it.

And what the dick is that background! It looks like it was directed by JJ Abrams! You know, you might be trying to say "Sci-fi", but really, it's not necessary, especially since it breaks with the banner at the top, which is colourful, at least, and then you have this essentially monochrome background. Now, originally they had a room over the giant lens-flare in the centre, and people had to complain for them to move it. Not that it's much better now. Try to read "Enchantica". You can't really.

Again, the rooms extend beyond the background image, into this shitty grey fill colour that doesn't match with any of the content of the page. It's not as ugly overall as the Vamp page was, but it's more of an unmeasured clusterfuck than any of the other pages. Overall grade: D-.

I'm not going to show you much more. The chatrooms themselves aren't bad, and are some of the more advanced ones I've seen, so that's good. The memberpages don't have log out options, which is stupid. A lot of the previous code is just being changed now (when I started this review, all the room editors had reference to Alter Realm, the previous page, but has since been updated to say Portal of Dreams). It's a copy and paste hackjob, and it's utterly infuriating.

I am going to bitch about the board, though. It's one of the most infuriating things I've ever read. And it's fucking ugly - lots of reds in it. Like the rest of the site, the individual pages just straight-up don't have unified colour schemes when comparing the other sections, making everything a mess to pull up. You'd never know they're part of the same site to look at them. The board is terrible, too. A lot of functions I take for granted (like skip to newest unread post) either don't exist or are difficult to find. I don't know what the indicator icons mean, and when I mouseover them, nothing happens. It's infuriating and a crap piece of software. Isn't SMF free?

Really, is this the product you expect me to pay for? I put hard-earned money into the previous site, which was not particularly great, but at least it didn't have graphic mishmashes, broken links, and terrible page coding, and it was simple enough to work on the five major browsers. And they came back with this piece of crap. Sure, they're fixing a lot of the issues, but if I was testing this site, I wouldn't have let it past anything. It feels like an alpha build at best, it's inconsistent and frequently ugly as a ten car pileup.

Way to fuck it up, guys. Final grade: D+.

Book Review: Memories of the Future

Memories of the Future, by Wil Wheaton, is a review of the first thirteen episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation by one of the actors in the series, and one who has a unique bend on the series. Wil is best known to Trekkies for playing the oft-despised character of Wesley Crusher, and was 14 when he worked on the first season of TNG. Since then he's gone on to be an occasional actor and a successful author, but I have not read any of his previous books, nor have I really paid much attention to his career since TNG until I hooked up to Fark.com, which has a love affair with the man.

I started following Wil on Twitter, and eventually he posted a link to something called Memories of the Futurecast, a podcast wherein he reads an excerpt of a chapter of Memories of the Future, one each week for thirteen weeks. He promised they'd be 5-6 minutes, and of course most of them are at least 20, and utterly hilarious. So I decided, why not buy the book? I was at work, and Lulu offers a download for $10 USD of the PDF, DRM-free (Wil is a big supporter of Creative Commons and the like).

My reaction to the book was, overall, I thought it was hilarious. Wil's well-applied snark doesn't remind me of a super-polished comedy routine, but more of the same sort of sarcasm I would apply with my group of nerdy friends whilst watching the same episodes, and it works better for that. The Futurecast reminds us of how heavily Wil works on each review, and I think that he did a great job maintaining the "off the cuff" feeling of the synopsis.

He then would offer some behind-the-scenes memories, which I think most Trekkies would love the most. To be honest, I enjoyed the snark just as much as I did the memories, but some are just fun. Futurecast tends to share a few more of those memories as well - it's recommended to listen to the episodes just for that. There's some really great memories and thoughts which I shan't spoil here. If you're a devoted Trekkie, Memories of the Future is worth it just for these thirteen sections.

Finally, Wil grades each episode based on its content and its audience expectations. One of the things that is incredibly evident is that Wil *understands* Star Trek in a unique way. He grew up as a nerd, and immersed himself in that in a way impossible for anyone else, living his teen years on the show. He gets the way the relationship between the individual episodes and us fans get, and he vocalized a lot of my thoughts in an efficient and really well-thought manner. He offers insights on each episode as to what might make it a better episode, even if they did something as simple as rearranging the aired order, and it made sense to me.

Understandably, Wil aims a lot of his snark at Wesley Crusher. Poor Wesley is always maligned without reason (I don't think he was written and better or worse than any of the characters in the first and second seasons. OK. A little bit worse...adults), even though he provided some *great* moments later (The First Duty, The Game, and Final Mission are all among my favourite episodes). To be honest, sometimes I feel like he's harping on Wesley to impress me, but some of the critiques are true too. He had me laughing, but sometimes I questioned if I was laughing because I'm supposed to laugh at Wesley.

The author is in line with a lot of my opinions on the early TNG episodes. I was...what? Three when TNG debuted? One of my earliest memories is my parents making me stay up to watch Encounter at Farpoint. But TNG doesn't enter conscious, constant memory until I was around 5-6, so third or fourth season. When I watch the first season, I get a feeling of familiarity but not the instant click of recollection I get with everything from Best of Both Worlds forward. As a result, I've always tossed Season 1 aside mentally, assuming every episode was like Justice or The Naked Now. Wil's made me go back and watch The Big Goodbye, and it's really helping me to understand some of that early genius - how there's that spark in TNG that convinced the network to renew it.

Overall, this book had me laughing, and was well worth $10. But make sure you read it with Memory of the Futurecast - it completes the experience. I can't wait for Part 2...I need to hear what Wil is gonna say about Angel One!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nano 2009: Chapter 1

Moving quietly, the five men of the assault squad crept up to the wall made of sand-bricks, crouching down for cover behind it. A sixth man was already there, and he was peering through a long, slim tube that protruded above the wall, which was just over waist height. Pitching his voice low, the leader of the squad leaned in and whispered, “Report.”

“Activity is as previously described, sir,” the scout said. The captain nodded, and he made a hand motion. Immediately the group split into two; the scout and another soldier moving with the captain to the left, the other three heading around the wall to the right.

Another hand motion, and all of the soldiers lowered down their night vision goggles, engaging them, flooding their vision with green lights that grew brighter as they detected a form of heat. The three-story building before the soldiers was made of the same bricks as the wall, and as a result, was quite good at insulating heat, revealing little of the Taliban mujahideen inside. However, the two on the roof were quite thoroughly revealed to the captain’s eye.

The scout was already lowering his rifle and taking careful aim, concealed by the shadows of the building and his carefully patterned desert camouflage. The captain knew that one of the other soldiers would be doing the same. After a few seconds, both the bodies on the roof crumpled noiselessly.

Afterwards, the captain moved quickly up to the building itself, his soldiers following. The other group of men slipped around to the rear entrance, both snipers leaving the rifles behind and picking up suppressed sub machine guns. The captain reached out and carefully tried the doorknob, but found it locked. He attached a tiny, shaped charge to the latch and then waited for a moment.

“Captain, we’re prepared to breach,” a voice whispered into his ear, through the small microphone there. He nodded and whispered back, softly.

“Ten seconds,” he responded.

He counted to ten, slowly, and then pressed the small button for the shape charge. There was a soft, dull thud, and the door creaked open. The captain’s size ten boot kicked it hard, and it flew open. He and the other two men rushed into the door. There was no power to the building, casting most of it in shadow. The suppressors emitted dull whomps as the soldiers shot the several men in the room, rapidly, before any of them could grasp for their AK-47s or other weapons.

After a few seconds the other assaulters joined up with the soldiers in the front room. “All clear, captain,” the Welshman leading that group reported.

“Take your group upstairs. We’ll take the basement.” The Welsh sergeant nodded and moved to the stairs up, whilst the captain headed to the stairs down. He led his two followers down, slowly, making sure the snout of his MP5 was pointed forward.

The loud noise of an AK-47 reverbrated from above, and the captain paused, hoping his soldiers were alright. Then he kicked open the door before him and charged through, sending small spurts of 9mm rounds at the guards in the room, men easily identified by the larger robes they wore. Lifting up his night vision, the captain moved to the small cells set in the walls.

Seven women and one man were locked in the tiny cells. The women had instinctively curled away from the cage with the sudden noise of the door opening and the onset of violence; the one man looked unconscious. Moving in close to the cages, the captain whispered softly to the prisoners. “Stand back…move him away from the door.” The captain and one of the other soldiers attached more of the tiny explosive charges to the locks on the cages and moved back. After a nod, both men detonated their small charges, causing the cage doors to swing open with a loud squeak.

“There you are, lass, it’ll be alright now,” the captain said. The nearby woman recoiled a hint, for a moment, but the quiet Scottish brogue of the leader seemed to calm her a bit. He reached out for her hand, and she got up, slowly, shuddering as she rose. He smiled to her. “Come with us, lass, and we'll have you kindly on your way.”

One of the soldiers moved to help pick up the unconscious man. His face was thrown into relief for the first time as the captain removed his nightvision, revealing how badly beaten and broken the fellow's face was. He didn't wince, but he moved to usher the others towards the stairs.

The radio crackled for a moment. “Sir, the rooftop is clear. Evac choppers are on the way.”

“Understood. We're on our way.” The women shuffled up the stairs after one of the captain's men, followed by the two people supporting the unconscious, well-abused male prisoner. The captain went last, following them up the three steps of stairs to the top floor, where the other soldiers met up with the prisoners, assisting them up the ladder to the roof.

A helicopter was moving in slowly towards the roof, which was fairly wide and open. The soldiers had the prisoners hide on the edge as the chopper was waved in by one of the men, whilst the others moved to the various edges, watching carefully.

It was difficult to hear over the whir of the chopper, but after a moment, one of the soldiers turned his head, and called out, loudly, “Trucks, sir! Two trucks coming in!” The captain scurried to the edge indicated by the lookout, hefting up his MP5 as he peeked over the small lip on the side of the building.

“Sergeant, get those people on that chopper!” he ordered the Welshman. “Everyone else, suppressing fire on those vehicles!” Both of the trucks were Toyotas, stripped down and with a heavy machine gun mounted, and both guns started to fire their thick rounds after they realized they'd been spotted.

Sand bricks exploded as .50 calibur shells smashed through them, while the soldiers returned fire, their much lighter weapons spurting down from atop the building. Their fire was far more accurate, and one of the first rounds took out one of the gunners. Taliban warriors spread out from the trucks, holding up Kalashnikovs, firing them randomly at the soldiers on the rooftop.

“Sir!” came the voice of the Welsh sergeant. “Time to go!” The captain waved away the other soldiers, standing up and emptying his clip at the enemy, turning to dash for the helicopter, as the side of the building exploded. The next thing he knew, one of his soldiers was pulling the captain into the side of the helicopter, holding his body in as the aircraft pulled away from the crumbling brick building before another RPG round lashed out through the air.

“Hold on, sir! You're gonna be fine!” someone said. The captain noticed pressure around his stomach, and looked down. His nightvision goggles were gone, and he could see thick liquid seeping out around someone's palm. Moving hurt, and he tried to move his arm, only to feel a stabbing pain just below his elbow. Something was broken.

A needle punctured his thigh as one of the soldiers hit him with a suchet, and immediately the captain felt the pain subside. The sensation of leaving his body slowly took hold, and after a few more moments of morphine-induced delight, he lost consciousness. The helicopter flew on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Favourite RPGs.

I love RPGs, completely honestly and truly. There's something to be said for essentially playing through a story, and most modern RPGs (SNES and later) are as complex as a good novel, with characters you can feel empathy for. To me, it's an interactive reading experience with sometimes neat effects and graphics, a truly rewarding feeling. So, perhaps it's time I list some of my favourite RPGs of them all.

**Warning. Spoilers may follow.**

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Genius of Harry Reid

Yeah, I bet there's a title you thought you'd never read. People, you see, people forget that there's a very good reason why Harry Reid (whilst a mediocre Senator) is the Senate Majority Leader: he's a very good politician. Today, Reid announced that he'll be putting the public option to a vote, but it's not quite what anyone expected.

The public option isn't a guaranteed option across the United States, as many progressives favoured. Nor is it the "trigger" option endorsed by Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). It is a new option - a national public plan that individual state governments can opt out of by 2014. Many progressives are simply pleased that any public option is going to a vote, and those who think states should choose are at least a little mollified. But let me explain why Harry Reid is a freaking genius for this plan.

Progressives in the US were upset by the "trigger" plan. The concept of the trigger plan was that a public option would automatically become offered if the reforms passing Congress failed to achieve their goals. Many progressives wanted a public option, now, believing that only competition from a non-profit entity can cause insurance companies to lower their rates and increase coverage.

But now we get to the real genius - Reid is publicly admitting that he doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate for this plan, which opens up the possibility of a filibuster. In fact, he's practically daring the Republicans to filibuster the plan. Why? Because if the Republicans filibuster, the Democrats have a beautiful, powerful example of "the Party of No". All summer, the Republicans attacked the Democrats plans for health care, without providing an alternative. A filibuster would be a living, breathing example of this: it'd be a perfect manner to hammer the GOP on health care.

But what, you ask, if the Republicans allow the bill to pass without a filibuster, or Reid can gather 60 votes for the plan? Well, that's where the state opt-out comes into play. You see, I can pretty much guarantee you the states that will opt-out of the public plan: those states with Republican government, like Texas, Alabama, Alaska, and South Carolina. One of two things will happen: either the public option fails, wherein the Dems blame the state governments for staying in, or it works (far more likely), and the Republican state governments have handed the Democrats a major hammer.

The Republicans can't stop reform now, and they know it. It's merely a question of who comes out looking worse. This move by Harry Reid almost assures it will be the Republicans who get the black eye.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Character musing: Kaeso Caemilius Tetricus

Nobody will remember this post from a very long time ago. But I am thinking that if I go for NaNo this year, that this might be the route to take. I've only pondered a little bit more beyond this in specifics (including designing the heroic main character, Captain Brigand MacIntyre), so I think it might be a good idea to start fleshing out characters and ideas.

The concept for this vampire novel I want to write is to break away from the ridiculous notion of vampires I see taking over the world of fiction. I should make it known that I absolutely hate, completely despise the entire concept of vampires. Drinking the blood of a human being for sustenance is revolting, especially when most people make vampire-creation into a choice made by humans. It's the same choice made by cannibals. You wouldn't approve of Jeffery Dahlmer, would you?

That's how I came along my line of thought: vampires are monsters, pure and simple. They shouldn't be sexy. They shouldn't sparkle and be played by Robert Pattinson. They should be filthy, rotting, attempting against all hope to cling to the shreds of humanity left as they age and pass beyond their intended time, stealing life from humans for the purpose of greedily extending their faint clasp on what was once important to them. They should be despised.

So I came up with the concept of vampirism as some form of disease. Indeed, it lengthens the lifespan of a human, and makes them stronger, quicker, higher visual acuity and strengthened scent capacity. A lethal creature that needs to feed and eat human blood to survive and maintain the unnaturally lengthened lifespan. But then I asked myself the vital question: how would humans behave in this situation?

Vampire novels love to portray vampires as these gentlemen types who's unnaturally long lives has little to no effect on their psyche, other than making them exceptionally suave and attractive. My thought to this is...have you met someone who's 80 years old? Most of them are cranky and infirm. If you took an old person and shot them into a functioning body their personality traits would remain the same. Our psyche ages alongside our body, not as a function of it.

I admit that expanding the life of an individual dramatically would surely expand the limits of a person's mental capacity for existence, but the simple fact is that human society's dynamic nature would exceed the ability of the extended individual to encompass change. And I don't mean just in today's world. Imagine if you lived in Hamburg in 1100 AD and lived for 500 years. You'd live through the evolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the foundation of the Hanseatic League, a switch in religion, fires, executions, rebellions, and the like. That would be more exacerbated in recent years - a vampire born in 1850 but alive today would see a stunning period of change.

Language evolves and alters. Some areas of the world have seen several popular languages wash through over the years. Consider Malta, which since 300 AD has belonged to the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Aragonese, Knights of Malta, French, British, and themselves, each with their own culture and languages. How could an old mind keep up with those changes? No, I think that this would cause vampire-types to slowly creep into insanity.

Thus, vampires would become predatory creatures, marking out areas progressively further away from human civilization and preying on what poor souls tend to wander into their area of dominance. The unfortunate side-effect of occasionally creating another vampire would be often avoided by ensuring all victims were fully slain; only a vampire forced to flee from half-a-meal would create another vampire, simply because no creature wants to create a being that would compete for its feeding grounds.

As a result, the amount of vampires spawning would be relative - a single, youthful vampire would create companion creatures for a period of time up to a hundred, hundred and fifty years; beyond that period the sense of detachment would arrive, and the being would leave major city centres, heading away from the dangerous and changing population to the relative obscurity of the countryside. A removal from all human contact would accelerate the depths of insanity the vampire feels, and even if it has surviving companion vampires, after some decades or centuries it would turn on them, out of frustration and a desire to not share scarce food.

There would be exceptions to this rule, and they would be the most (or least) dangerous of vampires, and exceedingly rare. And that is where I came up with the idea for the bad guy in this vampire novel - one of the rare vampires capable of forcing his mind to work along with the varying changes in human society, capable of remaining blended with it.

Naturally, I decided to make him quite old, and those who know me will not be surprised when I chose to make him a Roman, originally. I prefer "C" names, so his common use name will start with that. Then we started to research Roman names. Wikipedia is a wonderful thing.

Starting with the praenomen, which would be the bad guy's personal name, whom only his closest associates would use. There are only a small handful of praenomina to choose from. I immediately ruled out Caius/Gaius, as they are basically the same and also I don't want this man to be related to other famous characters in history (one Gaius Julius Caesar, for instance). I like Kaeso, Tiberius, and Tullus, but I think I shall go with the first.

The nomen is the name of the gens, the political grouping and family alliance into which Kaeso was born. Usually people address someone by their nomen, or their nomen and cognomen if two of the same gens are in the same discussion or somehow relevant. This is an important decision for this character. I don't want him to be part of an overly famous family: IE, no Julii, Aemilii, Claudii, Cornelii, et al. A lesser-known gens is more appropriate. Since he will primarily be known by this name, I think this is the "C" name I'll choose. Caemilius has been rattling around in my head for months.

Next comes the cognomen, which is the sub-family within the gens. IE, Gaius Julius Caesar was of the Julii, of the Caesar sub-family within the Julii. I want a T for this, so we'll choose (without actually researching the Camelius gens) Tetricus.

I am of mixed thoughts on an agnomen. Agnomina are given to people well after their birth to describe some part of their life. For instance, Publius Cornelius Scipio was given the agnomen Africanus after conquering Carthage. I almost want *him* to choose his agnomen, or perhaps have an agnomen in mind to use eventually. Like morticus maximus. But I'll leave it open for now.

K. Caemilius Tetricus was born in 89 AD, and grew up during the first part of the Pax Romana - Roman Peace in Europe. Like most young men, he joined the Legions at the age of 16, as a regular soldier. By the age of 24, he was a tribune, having distinguished himself both as a combat soldier and a leader. At age 29, he became a legate, commanding a legion. At age 33, he was slain fighting the Picts north of Hadrian's Wall, or more accurately, where it was being built at the time.

Except that Caemilius was only wounded, and his body stolen from the battlefield by a group of three vampires, who drank from his broken body and left him to die. But he didn't die - he became one of them, he gained immortality and strength and all those amazing features of the vampire. Caemilius was struck by the ferocity of the beasts that had turned him, and how unhuman they had become. Upon realizing what had happened to him (not that the term vampire existed at the time), he realized that he was given a unique gift.

One of the particularly unique things about Caemilius that lent him to eternal life was the fact that he was mostly a sociopath, that years of a hard legionnaire's existence had pretty much stripped away his ability for empathy. At the time where he was turned, he had been quietly planning his next stage of ascent in the Roman hierarchy, with his ultimate goal to become Emperor. Now, that could never happen - he knew that if discovered, he would be hunted to the ends of the earth and destroyed. And when he was eventually assassinated by his soldiers, it would be discovered that he was actually immortal.

So he settled for learning. Caemilius infiltrated the banking families, posing as a cousin or a brother-in-law, and eventually held the pursestrings of the Empire in his hand. And when he tired of that, he slowly plucked the strings free, watching as the Western Empire was toppled by any number of external factors. He learned the ways of the Goths and Visigoths and lived among them; when he became bored, he moved to Constantinople and resumed a debauched, Roman way of life. But he always ensured that he was interested in what came next - he always pushed his mind to remain sharp.

His ability to sense others with the same affliction meant that he met many vampires in their various stages during his first half millennium of existence, and was able to plot out how they developed, and how sudden changes stymied them. He realized how vicious and dangerous they had become, and founded the secret Tetrican Society for the eradication of the "uncivilized beast" sometime around 350 AD, believing that only he had mastered this unique form and that all others were vicious, violent, and disturbed creatures that should be destroyed. Caemilius did most of the work for the Society, setting out the groundwork as to how a vampire's stages develops, and how its violence ebbs and wanes throughout its lifespan, as well as how its humanity falls away.

After watching hundreds of examples go from social beings blessed with eternity to insane monsters feeding on lost travellers, Caemilius's conviction that he was the only being capable of truly existing as an eternal human was shaken when he met another, very sane and even older vampire who had travelled to Europe from Asia with the caravan of Marco Polo. Both men seemed surprised that it could happen, and immediately became friends...for some years. The companionship turned to rivalry as both launched schemes to control the politics and finances of the day, and eventually Caemilius dealt with it in true Roman fashion - he staked his rival in his sleep, sometime in the 16th century. Discovery of the body, staked through the heart, led to the formation of many modern vampire myths.

The Tetrican Society and Caemilius broke paths around 1650, when Caemilius realized that without his partner, he was starting to detach from society. For the first time in hundreds of years he had found someone to relate to, and was suddenly unable to cope. If the Tetrican Society's official goal (destroying every vampire) was reached, he could never have another companion. Though the members of the Society had never known they were founded by the very thing they swore to destroy, Caemilius had always "rejoined" the Society every hundred years to help guide them. No more.

It was around this point that he began to develop his plan to find a new companion. Even working towards this goal seemed enough to keep him sane, to keep his mind attached to the increasingly delicate threads maintaining his cohesion on a daily basis. By the year 2010, he was ready to finally act on this plan.

You didn't think I'd put the plan here, did you?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

B&T: 2009-10 predictions.

Me and Tyler have decided to do our predictions.

Calder Trophy
T: Viktor Hedman (Tampa Bay)
B: John Tavares (NY Islanders)

Vezina Trophy
T: Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose)
B: Roberto Luongo (Vancouver)

Norris Trophy
T: Zdeno Chara (Boston)
B: Zdeno Chara (Boston)

Plus/Minus Leader
T: Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit)
B: Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit)

Rocket Richard Trophy
T: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington)
B: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington)

Art Ross Trophy
T: Joe Thornton (San Jose)
B: Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh)

Hart Trophy
T: Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit)
B: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington)

President's Cup:
T: San Jose Sharks
B: San Jose Sharks

Stanley Cup:
T: Detroit Red Wings
B: Chicago Blackhawks

Who makes it in the East?
T: Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, NY Rangers, Carolina, Washington, New Jersey
B: Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, NY Rangers, Carolina, Washington, New Jersey

Who makes it in the West?
T: Detroit, San Jose, Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton/St.Louis
B: Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim, Detroit, Columbus, Chicago, St. Louis

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Robin Hood: Time Commando

"I need the Ultra-Septvember-G!" the man in the green timesuit called, spraying laser pulses from the high density flashrifle from his waist. "We need to hold back the Omega-Bots for forty seven hundred more microns!"

Explosive delta projectiles splattered on the invisible plasma shield the commando was projecting from his utility combat belt, and he returned fire as someone tossed him a large steel and very phallic-looking object. Immediately, he attached it to the quantum power port on the timesuit, and green ultrabolts lashed the enemy Omega-Bots with heady explosive power.

"Robin! The portal's closing! Let's get out of here!" Robin Hood leapt down from the outcropping he occupied, and the Ultra-Septvember-G spurted more death, doom, and dismemberment over the inanimate objects. Backing into the portal, the time commando grunted heavily as the last shot blew apart an Omega-Bot into a thousand sparks of delta-space sparks. The portal closed.

"Good to see you back!" Colonel-General Sir William of Normandy said, as he approached the team that had barely made it back from their near-suicidal mission. "Is the Omicron Particle Reactor destroyed?"

The team's explosives expert, Staff Sgt. Guy Fawkes, nodded. "Aye, sir, we neutralized it to the sub-atomic state in all seven split dimensions. I even focussed the Omicron Ultraradiation into the Trimirror Universe. We won't have to worry about any oversized SpudMechs for some time!" Everyone shared a laugh.

"Glad to hear it, son," General of Normandy said, smacking Fawkes heartily on the back. "Queen Arthur will be pleased as well." It had been King Arthur until about 2 years ago. Gender reassignment was much easier to obtain nowadays. The various members of the team dispersed after a few more pleasantries, toddling back to their individual rest and recovery designate zones for the next twelve thousand sixty microns.

Robin Hood - Major Robert Huntingdon of Loxley - was the leader of an elite squad of Time Commandos, who's job it was to travel the depths and waves of the historical time stream and revert alpha-strands to the prime timeline. His team consisted of the finest warriors throughout English history, who existed somewhere between fact and fiction, using their ambiguous nature to ensure their legend never dies - and so they stay alive. He rested until awoken by a sigma-four alarm code at 0711.

Bursting from his recovery zone, Robin Hood immediately turned to the maintenance quaddroid. "What's the meaning of distrubing my recharge megacycle!" he demanded. The bot couldn't answer, but a man approached quickly. Vice-Time Admiral Frances Drake approached.

"Hood!" he said. "there's been two alpha-strands converge into a betawave on the prime timeline in 1066!"

"Damn!" Robin said. He grabbed his combat utility ultrabelt and buckled it in, following Drake along the corridors of the Timebase. "How long until it resolves into the prime timestream?"

"Mr. Turing and Mr. Newton expect that the time re-alignment will be complete in forty-four hundred microns. Assemble your team, Major Hood. We're go in two hundred seven microns. This is an official sigma-four alarm code - you go in hot, find out who's caused the betawave, dispatch them, and timeport out."

"Yes sir." Hood turned from the Admiral, who strode off to the Command Deck, and grasped his interbase voxcom from his utility strap. "Commando Team Prime-Seven, assemble at the Embarkment Vandeck!"

Each Commando Team had five members. We've already been introduced to two. The third member of Hood's team was the Cultural Interoperative, who's job it was to reinterpret history for the Commando Team. Sub-Lieutenant Boudicca was also a fierce warrior queen in her own right, and made no bones about her desire to lead the Commando Team someday.

Occupying the post of heavy weapons expert was a tall and broadshouldered man named James Douglas, though everyone on the team called him "Corporal Black" after his historical nickname. An unabashed Scot, he had taken a long time to ease into knowing and trusting his English teammates. But there was no man better with a Mark Seven Blaster Destrocannon.

Rounding out the five man team was the team's mobile science expert. Another Scot, but a more trusting one, this fellow was able to adapt to any situation. He could use his enhanced neural delta-interface to make any computer respond in almost any situation. This guy was another James, but his name was James Watt - Lieutenant James Watt.

Fawkes entered as well, and Robin stood on the embarkment preplatform. "Folks, we have an official sigma-four alert. Someone has mixed two alpha-streams and caused a betawave in 1066. As you all know, that's where William the Conqueror..." a cough cut him off. "General The Conqueror became famous. If he dies in the battle, the betawave could alter all history, including our own. We have to succeed.

"We're going in hot and with full commando op-equip. That means we'll all carry standard gear - Mark Five-A unibolters and Type IV lanceguns, plus your special gear. Set your physio-containment shields to full, neutranize your anti-plasma and energy dispersal fields. We'll trust to speed and shock to keep our appearance and weapons from polluting the timeline further. We have...forty one fourteen microns, folks. Get in, locate the betawave origin point, call in the cavalry and we'll put things right. Any questions?"

The team shook their head. "Good. Sychronize your temporal chronometers on my mark....mark! Fire up the time portation exounit!" The portal unit burst into shimmering green and aquamarine, and the five Time Commandos leapt through.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dystopian Future Story, Random Chapter

Thought I'd post this. It's set in a dystopian future in which the US Constitution is overridden during a period of populace apathy by the Religious Right. And I think this bit is one of my favourite pieces of writing I've ever done.

The day of the vote was the quietest yet. Every now and then a truck passed the bar, but not one soul entered. I stood behind the wooden, polished bar for the entire day, watching the door anxiously, with an ear turned to the news. The danger of internal terrorism, it had been claimed, was why the roads to Washington DC were cordoned off. However, the government had promised the result of this vote would be revealed as soon as possible.

Some people surely had turned to CSPAN only to find the political channel had been deactivated. There was to be no live coverage of this debate, of this vote. It was a day of waiting for most. Some likely mourned, mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of those whom the violence had already claimed.

But it was not television that broke the news to me. Rather, it was the noise of something in the back room breaking. I had already sent home my staff for the day – it was apparent that nobody was going to come in and need the kitchen working beyond what I could do myself – and so I was alone. I paused and turned, gazing towards the kitchen door. The things my brother had said to me resonated in my mind. Could he have voted no, and just maybe was a threat against me about to be carried out?

But then the door opened, and the man stepping into my bar wasn’t a soldier. He was disheveled, a finely cut suit torn to shreds, and blood soaking the shirt through in several places. His hair was askew and a little flap of skin was drooping sadly over his left eye. Blood from that cut, and possibly others, obscured his face, but even so, I knew Jonathan when I saw him.

“What?” I said. He looked at me and then laughed, just a little.

“Oh, I voted no,” he said. I moved over to him and slid an arm around his body, taking him quickly to sit.

“Jesus Christ, Jonathan,” I started, but he cut me off.

“That’s pretty much the half of it,” he replied. He was reaching into his coat for something as I pressed a wadded bar towel to his head. “Here,” he said, groaned, really. He pressed a blood-covered flash drive into my hand.

I raised an eyebrow and gazed down to it. “What’s this?”

“I recorded the proceedings today. Remember how we talked about proof? This is it.”

“Is this why they beat you?”

“Nobody beat me, Jake. I got this getting through the wire they put around the Capitol. We slipped out the back after the vote, and gave the Marines the slip for a minute. We cut the wire with some tin snips, but didn’t do a good enough job. I caught a strand of it in the face,” he said, indicating the tear along his forehead. “We were running down the street when they saw us. Sandy got shot. I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.” Sandy was a Congresswoman from California Jonathan had been seeing in the backrooms of the Capitol for a few months then. He hadn’t been sure if he loved her or not, but he was certainly fond of her.

I sighed softly, pressing the bit of skin into its proper place on my brother’s forehead. “Hold this. I’ll get the first aid kit.”

“First thing you do is hide that drive.”


“Do it!” he said. His voice was firm in a way I’d rarely ever heard. I raised an eyebrow, but I moved over to the bar with the flash drive. One of the taps was loose, and I tugged it free and slid the drive into a hollow there. Then I closed the tap back down, and found the first aid kid.

He was my little brother, a year and a half younger than me. Mom and dad never had much money, but Jonathan always managed. He had made his first dimes selling lemonade on the street corner, or something else equally clichéd, I’m sure. Regardless, he worked hard to get enough money to go to school. Only the best – Jonathan put himself through Harvard. I joined the Army.

I went to Iraq two days after he graduated from Harvard. I was 25, he was 23, and our lives were about to take two very separate turns. He moved to New York and made a killing on Wall Street. I went to Baghdad and killed people. His investments were getting bigger and bigger, and after my first tour I started giving half my pay to Jonathan to invest for me. Not much money, but he did more than enough with it to make it blossom.

It was my last tour that I won the Silver Star. As always, our convoy was minding its own business, when we hit an IED. I was ejected from the .50 caliber turret and hit the ground away from the Humvee. Didn’t break anything, but I was black and blue for two solid weeks. Managed to get my M-16 up and around.

It wasn’t a normal attack. This time the terrorists, or Sunni militia, or Shia militia, or Al Qaeda, or whoever they were, had stuck around. We heard the distinctive sound of AK 47s being fired at the column. My Humvee, the lead, was down and out. There were four more in the column. As I was getting my bearings someone smoked the last one with an RPG and blasted it up onto its side. I started shooting at random.

I knew that if I didn’t get back to the convoy, I was dead. Nothing seemed broken, so I got up and started running. I was shot in the back, right in the armour plate, and was back down on my face with a mouth of dust. We were stuck in some small fucking Iraqi town, buildings on either side alive with someone trying to kill us, and burning vehicles blocking our evac.

Next thing I heard was bullets zipping over my head. I looked to the side and there was some Iraqi shooting at me, or shooting in general. But he was sitting in the driver’s side of a big fucking truck, probably belonged to the coalition originally, with the top cut right off. That’s a weird sight, this big ol’ two ton truck with the cab cut right off. Anyway, I shot him. Two rounds, right in the chest. And I got up and ran to the truck.

The truck was running as I jumped in and tossed the dead Iraqi (he looked about sixty) out to the dirt road. I hit the gas. A couple of our boys thought I was going to ram them, but luckily their shots went wide, or snapped off the hood. I used the beat up old truck to smash my burning, shattered Humvee out of the road and off to the side. It got wedged right up against the building.

“Come on, dammit!” I yelled. “Move the fucking Hummers!” Next thing I knew, there were three or four men jumping onto the back of the truck, using it for cover, spraying fire at one of the buildings hemming us in where I guess a few Iraqi fighters must have been. A few bodies were tossed in the back by more soldiers, who were firing in the other direction. Then the living Humvees drove by, .50 cals thundering heavily. Through all the low noise of gun recoil, the revving of engines, screams of the dying and the wounded, I could hear those heavy shells tinkling down to the ground. A strange thing to remember, but it’s there.

Then I threw the truck into reverse and peeled out of the ambush after the Hummers. The guys in the back did a hell of a job putting out covering fire. They must have emptied five or six clips each as we peeled out. No careful shooting, we just wanted to get the fuck out of there.

Then I noticed there was a guy in the truck next to me. I don’t remember him getting in, but he was there. His helmet had been blown in half, probably by one of the first impacts, but later in the fight he had taken a bullet. It had skipped off his skull and left him bleeding and dazed. He died of brain damage later, I heard. But he was shooting too. It was that look in his eyes, that look that said he knew he was done for, that look of utter defiance and the damnable creed to die with his boots on getting his buddies out of a jam, that if he’s gotta go he’s going to make sure others get out, that I saw in Jonathan’s eyes as I patched up his wounds as best I could. It was chilling.

They gave me the Silver Star and they gave that man’s wife a folded flag, and we both did the same thing – the best we could. Fucking Army.