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This post covers both sides of the issue after a day of critical thought about this issue.  If you disagree with me, leave me a note in the comments and I'll be glad to discuss it with you.


Oh, Amazon, you are quite the hotbed of controversy, aren’t you? You had my brain wrestling over some fairly important issues yesterday with your little fracas, and it took a little while to figure out where I stood on this. I’ll get back to you at the end of this musing.
 


If you haven’t seen the news yet, take some time to read about it. I know several smaller outlets have picked it up, along with CNN and MSNBC. Amazon recently started selling a Kindle-based e-book entitled The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct, which has been taken down as of late Wednesday. The outrage was furious, up to and including folks boycotting Amazon until the offending book was removed.

This is where I jumped off the train. I think we can reach a near unanimous agreement that pedophilia is not acceptable by any means. A how-to guide on the subject is equally unacceptable to me. However, at my core, I do not support censorship on any level. I do not believe that the information or entertainment I choose to enjoy should be filtered by any government organization or corporation. Such activity creates public animosity and backdoor trading sessions, and only serves to increase interest in the subject matter. Governments have tried in the past with religion, homosexuality, philosophy, pornography, alcohol, and even political ideologies themselves. We’re even doing it now every time someone refers to someone else as a “commie”.

Reading this guide would not directly make one a pedophile or even force them to conduct the illegal acts. Last I checked, human beings still have free agency to choose their own paths and actions. Do you seriously believe that reading the Bible instantly makes you Christian? Does watching Saw make you a torture aficionado and force you to kill? Does reading Harry Potter make you a witch or a fan of the occult? Does reading Mein Kampf make you a Nazi or a fan of genocide?  No, they do not.

Similarly, owning a gun does not make you a murderer or bank robber, nor does it enable you to be one.  Amazon is not responsible for acts conducted after purchasing this book any more than a car dealer is responsible for paying your speeding fines.

While the mob mentality can accomplish a great many things, some of those things are bad. I consider banning books and censorship to be one of those things. Remember that this same mob mentality has lead to very horrific acts in our past, including lynching of minorities, burning of witches, destruction of property, and outright warfare.

Information should be free within the confines of the creative rights of the artists. Only through careful interpretation and discussion do we find the true power of that information, the message it tries to convey, and how it will affect our lives.

Don’t censor. Don’t ban. Analyze, interpret, and discuss with an open mind, and then decide if the material is useful or utter dreck.

 

Hang on, Amazon!  I’m not done yet.

To you, I urge caution and mindful consideration of your future projects. After the homosexual censorship debacle last April, you’re under watch and on notice with me.  While you and I share the philosophy against censorship, you also need to consider good taste in your publishing and sales choices.  You can only make so many bad choices before your faithful walk out the door.  Good luck getting them back.

Your choice with marketing that book is disgusting and disappointing. You had to know that this uproar would occur, and you know what the mob is capable of when fueled by anger, rage, and pain.  If you didn't know that your choice would go this far, you need to change out your marketing department.

I refuse to boycott you because your customer service has been nothing but exemplary in my book.  I want you remember that just because someone submits something to you for publishing doesn’t mean it deserves to be published in your store.  That's a marketing decision more than it is a call to censorship, and it should be common sense.


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From Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, published on November 8, 2010:
 

On Nov. 11 each year, the United States formally honors the service and sacrifice of more than 20 million living American veterans through their service, as well as all the men and women who have guaranteed our freedom and kept America secure against those who would harm us throughout the years.

Our veterans represent the best of America. Coming from every background and every walk of life, they represent the rich tapestry of our nation and the multitude of cultures that make the United States unique upon the earth.

On Veterans Day, we have an opportunity to thank them, to thank every Marine, Sailor, Soldier, Airman and Coast Guardsmen who has ever worn the uniform for what they have done, and to thank those of you still in uniform for what you continue to do for the United States every day.

Thank you for your service, Godspeed. 
 

 

Major hostilities of World War I -- "The War To End All Wars" -- ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November in 1918.  One year later, President Woodrow Wilson declared the day a holiday named Armistice Day.

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."


By 1954, the holiday became known as Veterans Day.

Thank a Veteran today, will you?

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Happy 235th, Marines!

 

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Recently, ForceCast.net started a program for publishing listener editorials about Star Wars. Forcecast.net is the center of activity for the 2010 Parsec Award nominated Star Wars-themed podcast called The ForceCast.

You can find “The Lessons of Lucasian Vision” here.  Please leave your comments either here or at ForceCast.net.


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This is not an endorsement of any political party.

First, I will present the e-mail which sparked this brainstorm. Second, I will respond. I ask that you read through to the end with an open mind.

 

The Fence

You can’t get any more accurate than this!

 

Which side of the fence?

If you ever wondered which side of the fence you sit on, this is a great test!

 

If a Republican doesn't like guns, he doesn’t buy one.

If a Democrat doesn't like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.  

 

If a Republican is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.

If a Democrat is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.  

 

If a Republican is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.

If a Democrat is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.  

 

If a Republican is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.

A Democrat wonders who is going to take care of him.  

 

If a Republican doesn't like a talk show host, he switches channels.

Democrats demand that those they don't like be shut down.  

 

If a Republican is a non-believer, he doesn't go to church.

A Democrat non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced.

 

If a Republican decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or may choose a job that provides it.

A Democrat demands that the rest of us pay for his.  

 

If a Republican reads this, he'll forward it so his friends can have a good laugh.

A Democrat will delete it because he's "offended".  

 

Well, I forwarded it.

 

I reply to this with the assumption that you have an open mind. I stand before you as a person affiliated with no political party whatsoever. I am a person concerned for the course of our great nation and its people.

This chain e-mail assumes that all Americans fit into two neat and easy groups: Democrat and Republican. The truth of this matter lies in the symbol it uses to describe the nation. Fences are used to divide and separate, and in the case of American politics, divisiveness is the last thing we need, particularly in our current time of strife.

Walls and fences, both literal and not, have been used throughout history as a means to divide nations and philosophies. The Berlin Wall divided East and West. The race barrier was used during the era of segregation to divide whites and blacks. The gender gap currently divides men and women in many matters. There’s even a great wall that served to divide people in China.

The problem is that fences have more than one side. There are two easy sides to stand on and fire shots at one another, however there are those who sit on the fence and watch the antics. Those people make their decisions based on the best and worst they see, choosing who they believe to be the right candidate for the right job, regardless of party affiliation. There are also those who live under the fence, off the proverbial grid, and only act to subvert and destroy the foundation beneath the law-abiding citizens above.

There are plenty of people on all sides who want different things, including rights for all people regardless of the differences, natural or assigned. Many rights are guaranteed by the Constitution that guides our mighty nation, but many are not. Mahatma Ghandi once said that "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." John Dalberg-Acton said that “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” Even the Christian religion believes that Jesus Christ said “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets,” as quoted in Matthew 7:12.

Our finest hour will not be judged on what side we were on but rather by how we treat one another. Is it constructive to “get a good laugh” at the expense of stereotypes and philosophical differences? Is it morally right?

In this time of national strife and hardship, we cannot afford to be divided by artificial labels and fences. We are Americans first, regardless of our beliefs. It’s time we started working as one nation and one people, not as a grouping of squabbling schoolchildren.

Only together can we survive. Only together will we prosper. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


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Story-teller and general wordherder-for-hire J. C. Hutchins tweeted about a blog entry by Charles Stross that got me thinking. In the blog, Mr. Stross talks about how he’s annoyed with “glut of Steampunk that is being foisted on the SF-reading public via the likes of Tor.com and io9.” Particularly, he’s upset because he believes there’s far too much of the genre on the market, and that the genre is running the risk of obsolescence due to the “second artist effect.” Apparently, that’s basically copycat storytelling.

Now, here’s my disclaimer: I don’t read steampunk, mostly because I’ve never had the opportunity to pick up anything in the genre. I’m not disinterested – in fact, I’m rather interested based on the costumers I see at Dragon*Con – but rather swamped in higher priorities. But, in fairness, it wasn’t the genre aspect that captured my attention with this blog post.

My first contention is the idea that anyone is “foisting” anything on anyone. Last time I checked – which was one paragraph ago for those keeping score at home – no one was holding a 9mm Beretta to my temple and forcing me to read anything, let alone io9 or Tor. While this isn't his chief complaint, I’ll still coming back to it later.

My second contention was that this complaint, however well-researched and thought out it may be, is a reminder of the short-term memory issues of the internet and the cyclic nature of markets in general. I quite clearly remember complaints of a similar nature about vampire fiction, military science fiction, urban fantasy (particularly those with “headless” women on the cover), sword/sorcery/epic fantasy, and even bodice-ripping romance novels. Let’s face it, folks: Any market, whether it is stocks or novels, will balance itself out by the principles of supply and demand. If you put a lot of widgets on the markets, the cheap low-quality versions usually get snapped up first in the initial rush.  After R&D takes over, higher quality widgets hit the shelves, people buy those, the reviews show how much better they are, and the cheapos are dumped. Replace “widget” with “book” and see how it works.

Since io9 and Tor aren’t holding me hostage, I’m not obligated to buy and/or read every steampunk/vampire/zombie/whatever novel on the market. I am free to choose the ones I want to based on reviews and advice, resulting in the best bang for my buck when it comes to entertainment in a different world. As I mentioned to J.C., the crap will settle to the bottom and eventually get buried while the stars rise and shine. This goes for every market, not just books, which is why houses nobody wants are eventually torn down, lemon cars don’t go very far, and craptastic movies usually don’t make back their budgets.  There are always bottomfeeders who love the refuse and keep our ocean clean, but they're not the prime market.  They just keep Tor's lights on.

I don’t disagree with Mr. Stross that there is a lot of junk out there, but the truth is that there always will be, just as there will always be posts like his and mine that highlight the pros and cons of that constant. What I do disagree with is that it is the end of the world. Cyberpunk and vampires will return, just like James Bond and bellbottoms. If there is a demand, supply will eventually catch up to match it, and no amount of garbage will prevent the diamonds in the rough from eventually surfacing and shining.


The junk is a necessary evil.  Wade through it, pick out the good bits, and keep moving.  If the shelves are full of junk and you want something better, then do something about it.  After all, necessity is still the mother of invention, isn't it?
 


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As many of you know, I was in the Navy for seven years. This continues my family’s tradition of military service; my dad retired from the Air Force after 20 years, and both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family have members who served honorably throughout the years. The same goes for my wife’s family.

I received the following from my parents the other day. Naturally, I checked its veracity and it looks legit. They also included a note:

I thought of you as I read this and how many times I have thanked God that you and your father both came home safe. God bless you son and thank you for all you did to help make this country as safer place for all of us. Words can never express how proud of you we are and how much we love you.

The note included my wife as well:

Thank you for being the person you are and for standing by our son while he served his country. You have a special place in our hearts and you always will. You are more than a daughter-in-law, you are a daughter and a very special part of this family. We love you more than words can express.

After reading the following letter, which strikes me more as a poem than anything else, I felt a bit reinforced on a position that I’ve had for a long time. There are people in today’s American landscape that stand on either side of the actions in the Middle East, driven by the politics, logistics, and realities of war. While most people I’ve encountered, regardless of their stance on the war, have shown support for the people engaged there, I’ve debated with a few who can’t distance the two. For them, military action and the military itself are one and the same, and to support the troops is to support the actions they take.

It would be easy to dismiss their claims with a wave of the hand and a quick “if you’ve never served, you’ll never understand.” While certain parts of that are true, I feel it is my duty to help non-veterans understand as much as possible about how the military dynamic works and runs. Monday morning armchair quarterbacking is easy, as are most things with 20/20 hindsight, but the community dynamic is very different from the social dynamic the rest of the world shares.

In reality, the volunteers who serve in uniform are bound by an oath to obey lawful orders. There are methods to review orders if they are questioned, but if a military member disobeys orders deemed lawful upon review, they are punished, and that has repercussions beyond their the absolution of their consciences. After all, most of these brave Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and a punishment that garnishes half a month’s pay for several months could be the difference between their children eating the next week or paying the bills.

I firmly believe that you can support the troops without supporting the war. These brave men and women volunteer to sacrifice upwards of eighteen months at a time away from their families in support of a cause they believe in. Whether or not that cause is just, that level of sacrifice demands recognition.

Furthermore, the poem below reinforces that by detailing an honor guard’s trip to bring a fallen soldier home. Along the way, he encounters people who show their respect for the sacrifice one young man has made, regardless of politics, religion, age, gender, or any other label.

They are Americans first.

One other example of this is the film Taking Chance. If you have the opportunity to watch this powerful film, please do.

 

"I Saw America Today"

Eric Newman, 30, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded Oct. 14 in Akatzai Kalay, Afghanistan. He married Charidy Newman last year, and was planning to become a state trooper after his career in the military was over. The funeral was held on Saturday, October 24, 2010 with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and several other medals for his exemplary service.

 

I saw America today.

I was among more than 200 people gathered on the tarmac at the Meridian Air Naval Station to welcome Sgt. Eric C. Newman, 30, of Waynesboro, Miss. home from Afghanistan.

He did not exit to cheers and hugs but was greeted by respectful and women, bikers, policemen, firemen, all in formation riveted their attention as Sgt. Newman disembarked from the plane carrying him.

 He exited in a flag draped coffin, killed in action in Afghanistan.

 The family stood near the hearse and as Sgt. Newman's casket approached he was greeted by his new wife and his mother as they draped their arms around the casket where their beloved husband and son lay. There would be no married life for the newly married couple and another mother had given her son in the name of freedom.

I saw America today.

The procession formed with a police escort in front leading the hearse carrying Sgt. Newman which was followed by his family, more than 100 bikers, including the Patriot Guard Riders, scores of police officers, firemen, and friends. I rode near the front and I never could see the end of the procession as we rolled over the hills from Meridian to Waynesboro.

I saw America today.

On the 60 mile journey truckers, the big rigs, pulled to the side of the road, exited their trucks and put hand over heart in honor of Sgt. Newman and the American flag. Down the road from one big shiny rig was a humble logging truck, driver standing on the ground, hand over heart.

For sixty miles a mixture of people stood by the side of the road, flag in hand as we rolled past. At every junction where a side road entered there were people. At the overpasses there was always a fire truck displaying a large American flag. Every fire department along the way had their fire truck standing by to honor this young American who gave his life for us.

There was a young Boy Scout, in uniform, proudly saluting Sgt. Newman and the American flags that passed him.

A man in bib overalls stood by a ragged old pickup truck giving honor. Just down the road was a man dressed in suit and tie by his expensive SUV.

Something in the bright blue sky above caught my eye. It was two jet fighter planes flying over the procession, the thoughtful action of fellow soldiers.

I could see a woman kneeling, holding something out in her hands. At first I thought it must be a camera but as I passed I could clearly see it was a folded American flag. Just like the one that was given to my mother when my father died. Yes, it was her way of saying, "I lost a loved one as well."

I saw America today.

As we left the main road and entered Waynesboro two fire trucks were parked in such a way as to form an arch with a giant American flag suspended between the two.

The streets were lined solid with people. No cars were moving. I observed someone in a wheel chair on the side of the road. When we drew closer I saw several in wheel chairs, some on crutches. They were old, and fragile. They were residents of a nursing home. On down the road there was another group from yet another nursing home, all waving tiny American flags.

As we wound our way through town hundreds of people lined the sides of the streets. We passed an elementary school. The children lined the fence three deep, most with flags, some with red, white, and blue balloons which were later released.

Next we passed the high school. Again the students respectfully lined the streets adjacent to the school. All were standing respectfully in honor of Sgt. Newman.

And did I mention the yellow ribbons? They were on trees, mailboxes, fences, and anywhere people could place them.

I saw America today.

When we had finished the escort all the bikers were asked to meet at the First Baptist Church of Waynesboro. There they gathered us up and escorted us to the Western Sizzlin' where the people of the town treated us to lunch for doing something of which we were proud to be a part.

Today, I saw America and I'm proud to be an American. God bless America.

 

Rod Smith, Patriot Guard Rider

October 21, 2010

Laurel, Mississippi


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October 26th is the 299th day of the year, or the 300th during leap years by the Gregorian calendar. There are 66 days remaining until the end of the year.  I’m also somewhat partial to it.

 

The following events are sourced from Wikipedia:

1609 – William Sprague, English co-founder of Charlestown, Massachusetts was born. Coincidentally, he died on the same day in 1675.

1774 – The first Continental Congress adjourns in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1775 – King George III goes before Parliament to declare the American colonies in rebellion, and authorized a military response to quell the American Revolution.

1776 – Benjamin Franklin departs from America for France on a mission to seek French support for the American Revolution.

1825 – The Erie Canal opens, establishing passage from Albany, New York to Lake Erie.

1854 – C. W. Post, American entrepreneur is born. You know, the cereal guy?

1861 – The Pony Express officially ceases operations two days after the transcontinental telegraph reached Salt Lake City and connected Omaha, Nebraska and Sacramento, California.

1865 – Benjamin Guggenheim, American businessman and one of the most prominent American victims of the Titanic disaster, is born.

1874 – Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, prominent socialite, philanthropist, and the second-generation matriarch of the renowned Rockefeller family was born. She was especially noteworthy for driving the establishment of the Museum of Modern Art, on 53rd Street in New York.

1881 – The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral takes place at Tombstone, Arizona.

1914 – Jackie Coogan, Uncle Fester on 1960s sitcom The Addams Family, is born.

1916 – Boyd Wagner, First United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighter ace of WWII is born.

1936 – The first electric generator at Hoover Dam goes into full operation.

1940 – The P-51 Mustang makes its maiden flight.

1942 – Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Hook) is born.

1942 – During World War II: In the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands during the Guadalcanal Campaign, one U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Hornet, is sunk and another aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, is heavily damaged.

1944 – During World War II: The Battle of Leyte Gulf ends with an overwhelming American victory.

1946 – Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune is born.

1947 – Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67th United States Secretary of State, is born.

1947 – Jaclyn Smith, American actress and Charlie’s Angel, is born.

1953 – Keith Strickland, American musician from The B-52's is born.

1955 – After the last Allied troops have left the country and following the provisions of the Austrian Independence Treaty, Austria declares permanent neutrality.

1956 – Rita Wilson, wife to Tom Hanks and American actress, is born.

1958 – Pan American Airways makes the first commercial flight of the Boeing 707 from New York City to Paris, France.

1959 – The world sees the far side of the Moon for the first time.

1961 – American actor Dylan McDermott is born.

1962 – Cary Elwes (Westley, from The Princess Bride) is born. 

1963 – Singer Natalie Merchant is born.

1967 – Singer Keith Urban is born.

1972 – Igor Sikorsky, Russian-American pioneer of aviation in both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, dies.

1973 – Animator Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) is born.

1977 – Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) is born.

1977 – The last natural case of smallpox is discovered in Merca district, Somalia. The WHO and the CDC consider this date the anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, the most spectacular success of vaccination.

1984 – "Baby Fae" receives a heart transplant from a baboon.

1984 – Figure skater and Olympic Silver medalist Sasha Cohen is born.

1985 – Fictional history:  At approximately 1:15 am, Doctor Emmett Brown successfully tests the world's first time machine, built from the frame of a fully operational DeLorean.

2001 – The United States passes the USA PATRIOT Act into law.

 

Cheers!


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Hide your kids and hide your wife! Here comes this year’s series of Lucasfilm rumors.

 

Star Wars: Episodes VII-IX (and beyond?)

Last Saturday brought us news from usually reliable IESB.net – though that link might still be broken – that Lucasfilm was working on a new Star Wars trilogy.

From IESB.net via Bryan at Big Shiny Robot:

What do we know? First of all, these new film will have nothing to do with the live action television series currently in development. That show already has over 50 scripts ready to go and plenty of pre-production time and money has been spent on artwork and storyboards. Once that show goes into production, Lucasfilm hopes to be able to produce at least 100 episodes since that is the threshold for syndication in the United States.

Too early for story details but one thing that our source is certain about, they will not be prequels but instead sequels. It’s not for certain if they will be the long awaited Episodes 7, 8 and 9 but could instead be Episodes 10, 11 and 12 or possibly even further out in the Star Wars timeline. And by giving space in the timeline, possibly even as far as 100 years or 1,000 years in the Star Wars universe future, Lucas avoids having to make these stories “fit in” with what the previous stories have told.

Okay, look, IESB usually has a certain degree of reliability in these circles, but I doubt it. This pops up every year and each time is immediately debunked by Lucasfilm. In fact, Bryan contacted LFL, and predictably they said:

“This is, of course, completely false. George Lucas has lots of projects keeping him busy right now – including plenty of Star Wars projects – but there are no new Star Wars feature films planned.”

George Lucas has gone on record himself that there would be no more feature films. That would be the end of it, except IESB is playing the conspiracy card by claiming that LFL will debunk it, but they “will stand 100% behind our source.” You do that, guys.

 

Indiana Jones in 3-D

Here comes the next series, this time with the Indiana Jones quadrilogy going 3-D just like Star Wars. Once again, from Lucasfilm via Bryan at Big Shiny Robot:

This is completely false. Right now, we are totally focused on bringing Star Wars to 3D, and we have no plans to do an Indiana Jones conversion.

Just as I thought. I would have put more faith in this story since LFL is already in the 3-D process with Star Wars, but Bryan has a good point on that.

[...] I don’t think Indiana Jones lends itself as well to 3D. Star Wars is an effects extravaganza, Indiana Jones, for all its adventure, is pretty straight drama. It would be a lot easier to convert, I suppose, because there isn’t as much to convert.

But with as many hands in the Indy pie (Paramount, Spielberg, Ford, Lucas, etc.) I wouldn’t expect that LFL would be able to unilaterally decide to do this. In addition to the official Lucasfilm comment, it’s common sense that this wouldn’t be happening.

That should be the end of that. Until next year, anyway...


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For those of you watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a point of contention has been the character models and, in particular, how one of them is dressed.  Enter Exhibit A:  Ahsoka Tano.

Ahsoka Tano, Padawan to Anakin Skywalker, has spent the last two seasons adventuring around the galaxy in a tube top, tights, and knee-high boots. According to various sources, including the official site and Star Wars Insider magazine, Ahsoka is among the characters getting a revamp. 

 

I feel this is a great direction for the series. It makes Ahsoka look older and more believable as a Jedi fighting in a war. I mean, granted, there have been a few costuming gaffes in Star Wars history, most notably the infamous Snow Bunny Padmé from the Tartakovsky Clone Wars short cartoons.

Skintight clothing in a blizzard?  Somehow, I can't quite believe that.  But the current Ahsoka model stretches my suspension of disbelief to its limits as that poor little teenager tries to save the galaxy in tights and a tube top, which is apparently the only thing in her wardrobe.  Either that, or The Gap had a sale and she stocked up.

Okay, okay, I'll stop picking.  I can only hope that this change in The Clone Wars is permanent.


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Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (noun): The fear of long words.

 I kid you not.


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Tiffany Vogt at Airlock Alpha recently asked, “Is Religion Killing Good Sci-Fi Shows?”  In her article, she uses three recent series – Lost, Caprica, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot – to prove her point. Now, before I go too much further, I have to admit that I haven’t watched Lost beyond the first season, although I do have the complete series set waiting on me to dive in. I also haven’t had the chance to watch Caprica beyond the pilot, although I do hear mixed reviews from friends.

But, from my experiences with Battlestar Galactica, from the 1979 and recent versions, along with entertainment like Quantum Leap, the Stargate franchise, Star Wars, and Star Trek, I have to argue no. The first thing we have to do is eliminate the “us vs. them” concept of religion and science-fiction. The important part isn’t the gadgets or technology, it’s the story. That’s what religion is based on, isn’t it? Read any holy text and you’ll find it chock full of parables with a lesson attached, much like Aesop’s Fables. Even the trope of preachers delivering the typical fire and brimstone sermon focuses on telling a tale and learning a lesson from it.

So what is science-fiction? It’s the same thing: A story with an embedded lesson or speculation on a topic with a setting different than ours. Star Wars has a mythic story arc based around the Hero’s Journey with a focus on the mystical Force, which may or may not be religious in nature. Did the element of the Force ruin Star Wars? No, it didn’t, and most detractors argue that the series wasn’t harmed until 1999 when George Lucas tried to put a scientific spin on it.

Here comes the counter-argument: Star Wars didn’t tell a story without the Force and then tack it on at the end as a convenient way out of the plot. Fine. What about Quantum Leap?

Quantum Leap tackled this overall concept by changing the setting every episode for five years, while skirting the core issue of whether it was God, Fate, Time, or a botched science experiment that was responsible for bouncing Sam back and forth within his lifetime. The only real matter was that Sam was putting right what once went wrong, and the concept of potential religious ties came second. It only really came to a head in the finale when Sam came face-to-face with what may or may not have been God, who told him the truth about his Leaping. What that a cop-out? I don’t think so at all. First, it was supposed to be a turning point for the series, leading to a sixth season with harder trials for Sam without a guide. Second, as a finale, it works because Sam finally confronts what’s been happening over the last five years and grows from the experience. He gained the confidence to take on the extra challenge that lay ahead of him, whether we saw it on screen or not.

Battlestar Galactica in its original form made no claims to be anything but a show based on religion. Every episode made reference to gods and faith; entire episodes were based around the Colonials battling an incarnation of the Devil and interacting with Beings of Light with god-like powers. The quest for Earth was based on divine prophecies and guided by the Lords of Kobol. The reboot may have been rooted deeper in scientific storytelling, but it did not refute the genesis of the story. Characters on both sides of the conflict prayed to deities and talked about faith. Roslin had drug-induced hallucinations that showed the Colonials and Cylons the path to Earth, and even if the quest was undertaken as a hollow pursuit, it became a voyage of exploration for the psyches of each character. Some characters gave up along the way, some tried to use failures and setbacks as tools for personal gain, and some, like Admiral Adama, discovered potentials that they did not know existed. Even the concept of “what has happened before will happen again” is based in mythological roots of destiny and fate that reach back beyond the religions of Ancient Greece.

Star Trek, which has always shunned religion, even took a stab at religion in a seven-year arc with Deep Space Nine, which I argue is the best of the franchise. I can’t forget the religious threads of Babylon 5, either, but having only seen the series once, I can’t comfortably explore that territory.

I think that most modern views on science fiction are built around the staples of Trek and Stargate, which have inflicted considerable and irrefutable damage with numerous stories of persons with godlike powers who are evil or corrupted, and I believe that to be one of the longest tentpoles in the “us vs them” philosophy.

Religion is, at its base, a mythology. Faith is man-made creation, built around believing in that mythology and adapting it to everyday life. Science-fiction, part of the larger genre of speculative fiction, is a mythology, whether it tells of trips through a portal that takes you to a different planet or a quest based on faith. I can’t speak for Lost, but Galactica has always been an exploration of the human condition through the strength of faith, and I don’t believe that following that exploration to Ronald Moore’s conclusion ruined the journey.

We’re not talking about proving the existence of God here, but rather the basis of sci-fi which was exploring new fantastic frontiers with the power of human ingenuity. I, for one, want to see more science-fiction that goes back to the human condition, which includes faith and religion. Removing faith and religion only serves to strip an aspect from humanity that feeds into everyday decisions, and an exploration of that result ignores crucial motivations. Faith and religion need to be a core element in explorations of human nature because they are a core element in each man, woman, and child, even if they don’t believe in a higher power.

We can’t ignore the science in science-fiction, that’s true, but not every human being is motivated purely by science, and I refuse to believe that the answers to the speculation will all immediately come from science. The religious belief that Earth was the center of the universe motivated scientists to prove it otherwise. The same stands true in part for scientists seeking life on other planets or exploring the mysteries of evolution. Religion and faith are powerful motivators and cannot be ignored or cast aside. 

Books like Contact, a well-regarded science-fiction story written by a scientist, have made me realize that neither brute force method of science or religion have all the answers to the questions about humanity. I believe that an exploration based in logical reasoning with an open mind and a faith that not all the mysteries have readily observable answers will reveal more than either approach would by itself. After all, theological exploration by the main character in Carl Sagan’s only fictional work didn’t destroy the story. It made the story complete.


womprat99: (Default)

Phil Plait posted on his Bad Astronomy blog about an infographic, which led me to look a little deeper.  The site has to scale infographics detailing the atmosphere and the oceans.  Teachers, please find a way to print and display these.  You would have had to pry me off these with a spatula when I was a kid.

Earth's Atmosphere Top to Bottom
Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench
 
Such great work.
womprat99: (Default)

Ah, the internet. As [livejournal.com profile] duncatra  points out on her Star Wars news site Club Jade, the vast ethereal series of pipes and tubes is “a wild and crazy place, populated by people who are perhaps a little unknowledgeable about the basics of a civil society.” Of course, one of those basics in civil society is that you shouldn’t exactingly copy someone else’s work without crediting them. From a copyright perspective, it is illegal. From any other perspective, it’s definitely vaults over the party foul line, straight over the “not cool” zone, and lands right smack in the middle of the actions I think should reserve you a place in Shepherd Book’s “special hell.”

I didn’t know about it, but apparently there are folks out there who can’t think originally and leech off other people’s RSS feeds, throw a fancy HTML/CSS skin on them, and call the content their own. But there are others who run sites that physically snag various people’s postings word for word and pass them off as their own. To his/her misfortune, one of these types ran afoul of Dunc. You see, the owner/operator of SWTORstrategies.com copied at least 17 posts written by Dunc – and numerous posts from other Star Wars blogs – without attributing the work. The posts linked back to Club Jade, but made no mention of the author.

Dunc makes a great point in her post about the function of a “via” or “source” credit, which you see a lot in blog posts. “Via” or “source” is equivalent to a thank you these days, and is not a “written by” credit. It’s where you found the information and wrote your own copy based on that raw data. It’s a very clear distinction.

The “author” at the site, “sQren”, has been somewhat hospitable about removing posts after the source author complains, but this really shouldn’t have been an issue to begin with. Somewhere along the line, people made the leap that everything not directly associated with a big name corporation is fair game for use. Plagiarism is not just limited to copying information from encyclopedias for a term paper. Any time you copy without attribution, it’s wrong.

Some folks in the comment thread on Dunc’s post commented that this violation of intellectual property was akin to the rash of file sharing that has the MPAA and RIAA up in arms. I say yes and no. With file sharing, the participants are gaining content without paying for it. In this case, they are gaining content without paying for it, and passing it off as their own. When you illegally download a Metallica song, you’re typically not claiming that you wrote or performed the song. Here, sQren was indirectly claiming that he/she wrote the original content in each article.

Similarly, another reader pointed out that this strategy does provide more visibility for the people who work on the content.  I contend that such visibility is meaningless if the content is not properly attributed. After all, if I visit SWTORstrategies and read a well-constructed post without attributions, how do I know that Bryan Young or Dunc wrote it originally?  Without attributions, I have no choice but to believe that sQren wrote it.  I would have no reason to visit Big Shiny Robot or Club Jade because everything points to sQren being the final source for everything I need on that topic, which robs those violated by this thief of my patronage. These talents in the blogosphere do this for free and for the passion of their fandom. The only reward they get is the good feeling for helping fellow fans. Because of this, some people claim that this doesn’t really matter. If that’s true, then feel free to write my doctoral thesis for me when I eventually go back to school. It’s the same difference.

It’s not the motivations that I’m concerned about when it comes to plagiarism in the blogosphere. I’m concerned about the hard work writers put forth that is disregarded for someone else’s convenience. Our end goal is to have worked on something for someone else’s enjoyment, whether it’s a blog post, an article for a podcast, or a 50,000+ word novel. Plagiarizers disregard that hard work – let’s not kid ourselves, it’s hard work to write anything coherent; the longer the word count, the harder it gets – and take it as their good fortune that someone else pushed the boulder up the mountain for them. 

Now, it looks like SWTORstrategies has started doing their own work instead of copying off their neighbors. Nevertheless, I firmly support Dunc’s efforts to bring these thieves into the light of day via social media. Consider it a little guerrilla-style effort to let the SWTORstragtegies folks know that what they do is not welcome. By Dunc’s suggestion, if you have a Twitter account, you can participate by tweeting the following: “Hey @swtorstrategies, how about you write your own posts? http://bit.ly/bSZSaC / http://bit.ly/brVG40 #plagiarism”.   Just like this.  Is it overkill?  Maybe, but plagiarism is something I'm incredibly sensitive to, so I'm not likely to show them much mercy.  The point is to get it all over their replies feed so that they can see how unwelcome their strategy is.  Hopefully the point will get driven so far into their brains that they never, ever consider it again.

Is it really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things? Probably not, but as Dunc so eloquently puts it, “[I]t’s not just about copying and pasting – it’s about having the decency to not take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. And I’m not going to let that fly just ‘because it’s the internet.’ It doesn’t matter what the subject is: There’s no suitable excuse for plagiarism, particularly when it’s this pathetic.”


womprat99: (Submarine)
Happy 235th birthday to the United States Navy!



For more information on naval history, visit this link.  More information on the Navy can be found at their official site.

Between you and me, she doesn't look a day over 230.
womprat99: (Default)

Ten years ago today, two al-Qaeda terrorists committed a suicide attack against the USS COLE (DDG 67) while the destroyer was conducting refueling operations in the Yemeni port of Aden. It has been labeled as the deadliest attack on a United States naval vessel since the USS STARK incident in 1987.

My thoughts today are with those Sailors who save the USS COLE, and with those seventeen who sacrificed their lives in service to our country.
 



Hull Maintenance Technician Second Class (HT2) Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter
Chief Electronics Technician (ETC) Richard Costelow
Mess Management Specialist Seaman (MSSN) Lakeina Francis
Information Systems Technician Seaman (ITSN) Timothy Gauna
Signalman Seaman (SMSN) Cherone Gunn
Information Systems Technician Seaman (ITSN) James McDaniels
Engineman Second Class (EN2) Marc Nieto
Electronics Warfare Technician Second Class (EW2) Ronald Owens
Seaman (SN) Lakiba Palmer
Engine Fireman (ENFN) Joshua Parlett
Fireman (FN) Patrick Roy
Electronics Warfare Technician First Class (EW1) Kevin Rux
Mess Management Specialist Third Class (MS3) Ronchester Santiago
Operations Specialist Second Class (OS2) Timothy Saunders
Fireman (FN) Gary Swenchonis, Jr.
Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Andrew Triplett
Seaman (SN) Craig Wibberley

 


womprat99: (Default)

Whenever you hear people start talking about Star Wars, there are varying general degrees to which people enjoy the saga. Some people only recognize the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), while some add in the prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith). Some fans add in the new animated series The Clone Wars, which takes place in the years between episodes two and three. Finally, there are those that include what is known as the Expanded Universe (also known as the EU).

Not to get too deep into the nitty-gritty details, there has been so much material published regarding Star Wars, from the films to novels, comics, and games, that there are varying levels of what is considered canon or official story. There are five levels of canon that establish the continuity. In order of precedence, continuity is established by films and their novels, then television series, then the combination of novels, comics, and games. The second to last in precedence is material that “may not fit quite right” and can used or discarded as seen fit. Finally, there is a category called “Infinities,” which is essentially made of “what if” stories, such as Luke freezing to death on Hoth.

Why does the Expanded Universe matters to me? Well, I never saw the original versions of the classic trilogy in theaters. In fact, my first experience with Star Wars was sometime around 1986 when my parents went out and the babysitter who was watching my sister and I asked if I had ever seen it. When I told her no, she put the pan and scan VHS tape on, which I fell asleep to after watching R2-D2 and C-3PO bicker in the desert. In fact, I never seriously watched the entire trilogy until after Easter 1993, when my parents gave me a copy of the trilogy novelizations and the paperback of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, which was the novel that revived the Star Wars franchise after nearly a decade of silence.

Before that point, Star Wars was just an action movie trilogy with cheesy dialogue – let’s face it, the fans are responsible for elevating those classic stilted lines to pop culture status over the years – and great special effects. After reading Heir to the Empire and the novelizations of the films, I found a hunger I didn’t know existed, and I became a frequent patron of bookstores and public libraries in a search over the next decade for all of the Star Wars novels I could read. I also sought out the games and comics and even the extra cheesy Ewok TV-movies because the depth and detail that those sources could provide in addition to the films was, quite frankly, inspirational to me. I saw how the myth arc grew beyond what I experienced on a seventeen-inch television screen to the unlimited expanse of my imagination. More than that, reading Tim Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Aaron Allston, Kevin J. Anderson, and other various authors as they took on the heroes and villains of the galaxy far, far away was what gave me the writing bug. I cut my teeth by writing Star Wars fanfiction, which of course no one will ever see due to how truly, truly horrendous it is.

In 1997, I finally got to see the classic trilogy on the big screen with the release of the Special Editions. Yeah, Greedo shooting first is a terrible thing, but to me, those movies were magical. I relished the changes George Lucas made and just had fun. After all, that’s what those movies were to me in the first place. I even saw each of the prequels on opening night, with their computer-enhanced effects and corny dialogue. For me, it was the same magic, although I grant you at a lower quality.

So why do I care about this now? Recent events in the new cartoon series, The Clone Wars, have been in conflict with the novels, comics, and games that have come before. Of course, the animated series takes precedence on the continuity scale, since George Lucas is directly involved. He’s even mentioned that doesn’t pay attention to the Expanded Universe, which has led some people to the conclusion that the EU doesn’t really matter anymore. Some people have taken to publicly celebrating every time The Clone Wars supersedes previous works. In fact, certain podcasters in the Star Wars fan community have gone as far as to describe the authors of EU works as “hacks”.

That’s the most painful part. I mean, if New York Times #1 bestselling authors are now considered hacks – someone who writes low quality work for pay – then what must my fellow fans think of struggling wannabe fiction writers like me or other fans? It’s insulting and only serves to drive unnecessary wedges into the fandom. Fighting amongst ourselves within the community serves nothing more than to divide us. We would be better served to acknowledge that some people accept the entirety of Star Wars as it stands, where others build their own canon based on what they enjoy within the franchise.

The EU is important to me because it represents a source of inspiration and motivation, but more than that, it represents a time of drought from 1983 to 1999 when we didn’t have anything but the original trilogy to enjoy. Just because we live a time of great prosperity in the franchise doesn’t mean that the classics don’t have a place. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that those who enjoy it are any less of fans than those who watch the films.

We are all fans, and Star Wars is forever, no matter how we enjoy it. Our responsibility is to respect our fellow fans and pass the magic on to future generations. Only then will it live on in our hearts and minds.


womprat99: (Default)
In case you missed it, the official site announced that the six live-action Star Wars films will be returning to your local theater, this time in 3-D starting in 2012.

My immediate response was one of apathy.  However, after a few hours of thought and sleep, I’ve slightly adjusted my position.

First, in the world of 3-D films, I’ve only been able to see the effect once or twice.  The first one that came to mind was during the stellar Space Station 3D IMAX film, which I caught last year.  In that documentary, there is a long shot along the axis of the International Space Station that looks out into the depths of space, and that shot stood out very well behind the 3-D glasses.  I remember taking off the glasses to look at the screen and get the full effect of what technology was doing.  Unfortunately, the only other time the effect returned was when the astronauts were demonstrating weightlessness with a ball, and that was intermittent for me.

The second time I saw a 3-D effect work was at the fun but intellectually vacuous 4-D “ride” based on A Bug’s Life at Disneyworld, and that was during the typical “coming right at you” moments.  I tried watching Up in 3-D, mostly because that was the only way our local theater presented it, but nothing ever looked three dimensional.  I know there were moments, because the audience was “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing at those points.

My second big concern is in the technology side.  If a movie is made in 3-D from the ground up, the effects tend to work better than if the movie is 2-D initially and rendered to 3-D later.  Unfortunately, the Star Wars saga was born in 2-D, which makes me apprehensive at the quality of the end 3-D result.

I think my problem with 3-D is because I know that it’s a visual trick.  In the sparse moments when I’ve forgotten where I am with a 3-D movie, the effects work, but if I’m thinking about the movie and the experience, all I see is a flat screen.  So, the next response is, “don’t think about it.”  Space Station 3D was a documentary about something I know quite a bit about, and honestly, was a significant chunk of eye candy.  Like I’ve already said, A Bug’s Life 4-D was low on substance, lasted about five minutes, and was broken up with the “fourth dimensional” effects of rumbling chairs and blowing air to represent things that happen to the viewer in the show.  Both instances involved distraction from thinking too much about the material presented on screen.  The problem is that I can’t switch off the analysis during Star Wars movies.  They’ve been a big part of my life since I was kid, and it’s hard to separate that.

Now, I don’t want to seem like I complete “Debby Downer” on this.  I am excited for the saga to get another big screen release for another generation of children, but if Lucasfilm uses the current 3-D technology, I won’t play.  I would love to see the films again with the theater experience, but I don’t want to sully that experience by filtering the imagery with 3-D glasses that don’t work for me.  Like any other visual filter, the glasses tend to remove a portion of the vibrancy that I expect on the silver screen.  Watching the 3-D films without the glasses is completely out of the question for obvious, headache inducing, reasons.

My opinion is tempered with the fact that George Lucas is an innovator.  If anyone can create a method for three-dimensional filmmaking that is revolutionary, it is Lucas, and to paraphrase Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, I’ll be watching the developments on this project with great interest.  If it looks like something I can enjoy, my butt will be in the seat for all six films.  Until then, I have no choice but to remain cautiously optimistic.

Either way, we all know what the end result will be:  A metric Bantha load of money deposited in the Lucasfilm coffers as fans either re-live or discover Star Wars again.
womprat99: (Default)
In the sinusoidal motion of existence, life turns into a cycle of feast or famine.  Recently, I've seen famine.  Not in the food sense, though I could probably survive for a while... that is until these trips to gym start paying off again.

No, life's been relatively calm of late.  Hence, no updates.

I am working on my Dragon*Con report which will be posted here.  I've also been playing around with the idea of getting back into short story fiction, including submissions to an anthology and an e-zine.

So, yeah... calm with chance of continued work.
womprat99: (Default)
I spent a little time back in the universe tonight.  I missed it and needed it after a long couple of days on travel for work.  It's small progress, but it's also a rather tricky spot for me.  I've also been brainstorming on my NaNoWriMo project.


Creative Progress Ticker

Perdition's Progeny:  Outlining
Pro Patria:  First draft -- 45,672 words -- (+595)
Bhriar's Blade:  Outlining

Elemental:  Researching

Project "Ark":  Concept

Project "John":  Concept

Project "Recursive":  Concept

Project "D Christmas":  Concept

Project "Democ" [NaNoWriMo]: Concept

"Meruva": Submitted -- 12,433 words


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