Sunday, July 23, 2006

San Diego's 29-Foot Crucifix

In America's Finest City, there's a 29-foot cross that stands atop Mount Soledad. It's been standing there since 1954, and is almost as recognizable a San Diego landmark as the Hollywood sign is a Los Angeles one.

Unfortunately, beginning in 1989, the cross came under fire, thanks to a self-righteous atheist who thinks that because the cross is on public property, it is unconstitutional. In order to alleviate the controversy, the city of San Diego decided to transfer ownership of a portion of Mount Soledad to a private organization, one that wouldn't fall under the jurisdiction of separation of church and state. This, however, wasn't to the liking of said atheist and his lawyers, so they got the state of California involved to deem the land transfer unconstitutional (per state constitution) and started a whole new set of lawsuits and other problems.
In 1998, Mount Soledad was dedicated as a Korean War Memorial, and an attempt to transfer the site to the National Park Service was made. Atheist and lawyers still unhappy... more problems for city and cross supporters. Appropriately, now that it is a war memorial, it is in all likelihood that the Korean War veterans that it represents were Christian, making the cross on Mount Soledad a very suitable monument to the war dead.

The cases are still pending.

The irony of the situation is that this is all happening in the city of San Diego. SAN DIEGO. Named for Saint Didacus of the Franciscan Order. Hmm...

So let's get this straight: an atheist who lives in a city named after a famous Christian files a lawsuit against said city because it has a big cross on top of a hill. Dude... if you're really all about your belief in separation of church and state, then you should either A) sue the state of California for allowing cities named after religious figures or B) move somewhere else (Corpus Christi, Texas, maybe?).

I'm no devout Christian or anything (read my Noah's Ark rant), but I know an asshole when I see one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sympathy for a Field Mouse

I love cats. There was a time when I didn't really care for them, but now I love the damn things. I love them so much, I have six. Sure, two of them haven't come home in a few weeks, but that still leaves me with four, and that's still a lot of cats. They're great, have distinct individual personalities, and they're all named after King Arthur characters. Hey, I'm a writer, what can I say?

On the night of July 16, however, my cats seriously pissed me off. For the last few weeks, when the sun goes down, they've been capturing, torturing, and executing field mice. All four of them have been doing it, Arthur and Tristan in particular. They are the reason that I now know that field mice, when tortured, sound like baby birds. I'd rather have never learned that, but I sleep with my window open and the cats prefer to conduct their torture sessions right outside of it.

Arthur, it seems, has exhausted the local supply of adult field mice and is now (along with Tristan) in the habit of "kidnapping" infant field mice from their mothers, all of whom I'm presuming are now dead as well. But last night, I went ape-shit. I heard the chirping of a tortured (and I do mean tortured) field mouse and I rushed outside. Sure enough, three of my cats were out there taking turns swatting, biting, and otherwise scaring the little creature to death. I brushed them aside, picked up the mouse, and headed down the street to hide it somewhere so it could get away... which is when I noticed that its eyes weren't open. The damn thing was still a baby.

Ah, the predicament of animal lovers. I have little sympathy for dying people, but show me a dying animal and I'm there to help in a heartbeat.

What to do? What to do? I couldn't let it go now, for it would die anyway without its mother. And I couldn't take it back to the field, because Arthur and Tristan would most certainly recapture it before any chance of a surrogate mother coming along. Shit out of luck on all counts, Mickey. Well, what could I do but put it in the field and hope for the best? Then I put it in the field again... and again... I swear, if the government would hire my cats to find Osama Bin Laden, he'd be incarcerated by now.

I spent about a half-hour with the little mouse. He had a tiny mole underneath one leg, there was a small remnant of his umbilical cord, and he wasn't yet coordinated enough to walk. Of course, he was so little, he could've been a she, but I'll never know. I admit, I was upset... still am, really. But nature's cruel and my cats are more than willing to prove that to me.

It seems my only option is to close my window. And that kinda sucks.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Grammar War II: Regarding Words

Let's just cut to the chase you illiterate donkeys...

1) The difference between "there," "their," and "they're" - THERE is a multifunction word indicating a place or a point. Examples: THERE is the school where we learn grammar or stand right THERE and look stupid. THEIR is an adjective indicating THEY as a possessor. Examples: THEIR brains have higher capacities than yours and THEIR minds aren't dumb like yours. THEY'RE is a contraction representing the words THEY and ARE. Examples: THEY'RE intelligent; you're stupid and THEY'RE capable of functioning on their own. Of course, to understand those last examples, one would need to understand the difference between "your" and "you're."

2) The difference between "lose" and "loose" - LOSE is a verb indicating the absence of possession and sometimes the destruction of something. Examples: You LOSE your keys or the idiot acted as though he'd LOSE his mind. LOOSE is a multifunction word usually indicating something not confined, restrained, or otherwise tied down and secured. Examples: Her shoelaces were LOOSE or she's got a few LOOSE screws.

3) "Irregardless" IS NOT A WORD, so please quit using it. The word is simply REGARDLESS. REGARD plus LESS effectively means without regard. The prefix "ir" also means without. Which means that "irregardless" would probably mean without without regard, which would ultimately mean just REGARD (two "withouts" equal "with," no?)... are you understanding this?

New words for your simple minds:
rococo - excessively ornate or intricate

ombudsman - one that investigates reported complaints (as from students or consumers), reports findings, and helps to achieve equitable settlements

commingled - to blend thoroughly into a harmonious whole

Thursday, July 13, 2006

One Billion Tobacco Deaths? Big Whoop

I read an article a couple of days ago that claimed the 21st century will see one billion people die from tobacco-related causes. One billion. The American Cancer Society and World Health Organization see this as a huge problem; one worthy of being declared an "emergency."

I say screw 'em.

I don't mean that in a bad way, but seriously, one billion people? Over the course of a century? That's not too bad, if you ask me. In fact, it helps out another "problem" that the World Health Organization is worried about: overpopulation. Not only that, these smokers are dying from something that, in all likelihood, THEY WANT TO DO. It's not like one billion people are getting run over by drunk drivers or getting thrown off of cliffs. It's smoking, which is an acquired habit, and which they can quit if they really wanted to (as a former smoker, I feel entitled to say that). But you know what, most of them LIKE IT.

I say let 'em smoke.

One billion people over 100 years really isn't that bad of a number. That's about 10 million deaths per year on average, which is less than 5% of the American population. Given that the birth rate is still high enough to blow the death rate out of the water, what is everyone so concerned about? Besides, wouldn't we all like a little more elbow room? I know those living in Los Angeles, New York, Seoul, Mexico City, Tokyo, and all of those other crazy places sure as hell would.

Now, I'm not claiming that the world is overcrowded, or is anywhere near it's "sustenance limit," but the fact remains that in 1950, the world's population was only about 2.5 billion. It is currently estimated to be about 6.5 billion. Think about that. Thanks to medicine, technology, and the like, we went from taking THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of years to reach 2.5 billion to taking only 55 years to add another 4 billion more. And, at the current growth rate, the world is expecting to hit 9.2 billion by 2050.

Shit... let 'em smoke, let 'em die. Like I said, at least it'll be from something chosen, and not some fucked up accident.

Monday, July 10, 2006

DC Comics Returns... or Relapses - The End

Okay, here it is, as promised...

Superman
created in 1938, and he's been Kal-El (a.k.a. Clark Kent) ever since. DC killed him off once; brought him back. They also changed him from "The Man of Steel" to "The Man of Energy" once; changed him back.

Batman
created in 1939. Little known outside of comic-dom, DC attempted to change his character in the early 90s. He went from Bruce Wayne to Jean-Paul Valley. Now, a lot of indications exist that this was a temporary ploy from the get-go, but I'm sure the fans complaining they wanted Bruce back didn't hurt one bit.

Wonder Woman
created in 1940. She's actually been four different characters. The version we all know and love (thank God for Lynda Carter... mmm... Lynda Carter...) is Diana Prince. But, twice in the 90s they switched her character, and both times they switched her back. Heck, right now she's a different character (Donna Troy, the former Wonder Girl), but all bets are on that she'll be Diana Prince again before too long.

Flash
created in 1940 as Jay Garrick. Switched to the uber-popular Barry Allen during the Silver Age launch in 1956 (and is generally credited with starting the Silver Age). Barry is killed during the (gasp) Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986 and is replaced by Wally West, who, up until very recently, has kept the Flash mantle as his own. Keep in mind, the Flash has been one of only two examples of character-switches actually working. However, given the fact that a new Flash is on the horizon (two are rumored, actually), it won't be any surprise if Wally West or Barry Allen find themselves back in business.

Hawkman
created in 1940 as Carter Hall. In what is probably the worst Silver Age revamp anyone can think of, he's changed to an alien, Katar Hol (I know, what a stretch, right?). Ever since then, he's pretty much been confused. I don't even want to touch this guy, especially since he's actually, along with Atom, my favorite character (Grant Morrison had the right idea... and if you know what that means, you have as much of a need for a life as I). At any rate, Carter Hall came back, disappeared again, but is more than likely coming back once more.

Green Lantern
created in 1940 as Alan Scott. Switched to the uber-popular Hal Jordan during the Silver Age in 1959. Remained Hal until the 80s, at which point John Stewart became the predominant Green Lantern for quite a few years. Eventually, Hal was put back, but went crazy, killed all of the other Green Lanterns (long story) and was replaced by Kyle Rayner (the BEST incarnation of Green Lantern EVER, by the way). Needless to say, fan-boy clamoring and nostalgic editors brought back Hal (in a convoluted manner worthy of a DC crisis).

Atom
created in 1940 as Al Pratt. Changed to the physicist Ray Palmer in 1961 thanks to the Silver Age. Was temporarily replaced by Adam Cray in the early 90s, and temporarily made a teenager in the late 90s. Both times he reverted back to being regular ol' Ray Palmer. Is currently a Chinese-American, Ryan Choi. Despite a statement by current DC chief Dan Didio, Ray Palmer is probably going to be back in the not-so-distant future.

Aquaman
created in 1941. Has pretty much been the same character (albeit with some drastic costume changes here and there) up until this year. Strangely, the old Arthur "Orin" Curry has been replaced by Arthur Joseph Curry. Not sure where they're going with this, but the second it becomes stupid or silly, Orin is on his way back.

Green Arrow
created in 1941 as Oliver Queen. Killed in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! and replaced by his illegitimate son, Connor Hawke (like Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern, a fantastic character). Kevin Smith of Clerks and Dogma fame, however, preferred Oliver Queen, finagled his way into writing Green Arrow for DC, and brought back Oliver in the most ridiculous of ways.

Starman
created in 1941 as Ted Knight. Probably having the record as the most incarnations (seven, including character switches in 1976, 1980, 1988, 1990, and 1994) and probably the most obscure of the DC Icons, Starman is also the most successful example of a legacy living up to its expectations. The current Starman, Jack Knight (Ted Knight's son), is also the best Starman and, thanks to some excellent writing by James Robinson, the Starman continuity is (finally) well-defined.

Has anybody noticed a pattern? If not, let me spell it out for your limited mental capacities... character switches and dramatic changes almost always seem to happen at around the same time and almost always subsequently never work. You see, DC gets these itches to "update" and "modernize" their characters quite frequently. The problem is that their Silver Age characters are so loved and cherished, that the readers DON'T WANT their characters changed. The only way to successfully change a character is if the legacy of that character remains intact. To date, only Flash and Starman (again, expertly written by James Robinson) have enjoyed that success. Ron Marz' take on Green Lantern also offered a great take on a character's legacy, but the controversial manner in which Hal Jordan lost the mantle proved to be too much for the Kyle Rayner character to overcome, despite some seriously excellent writing.

Side Note:
Personally, other than the holy trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, I was looking forward to a "Bronze Age" of characters. Kyle Rayner, Connor Hawke, and Wally West were perfect archetypes for the transition. Unfortunately, narrow-minded fan-boys and nostalgic writers ultimately decided against it.

In any case, it's only a matter of time before all of the new versions of these characters revert once again to the old versions (save for Starman), thereby creating multiple incarnations of characters that are eventually going to have to be "cleaned up." Which, as can surely be guessed by now, is going to lead up to the inevitable fourth DC Crisis, which will probably be called Crisis of Infinite Characters. DC, it seems, needs a complete reboot if it's ever going to truly going clean up the mess the Silver Age made. And that, people, is the end of that.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Noah's Ark? Not Exactly...

In June of 2006, a team of researchers found in Iran what they believe to be the remnants of Noah's Ark. Yes, that's right... the big boat that carried two of every animal in order to save the Earth's living species from God's vengeful flood.

Of course, the team of researchers was from the fundamentalist Christian BASE (Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration) Institute and, of course, none of those researches were accredited archaeologists or geologists.

However, the latter fact is not the point of this writing. The point of this writing is that, should evidence of an "ark" ever be produced, it would in all likelihood be proof not of Noah's Ark, but of Deucalion's Ark or Utnapishtim's Ark.

Huh? What's that? Well, it's widely known that the Bible (and religious texts in general) often "borrow" stories from older religions and other sources in order to both emphasize and familiarize certain aspects of religious teachings. There's the fact that Saint Michael was a deity worshipped by a small community prior to being assimilated into the Christian church, the eerie similarities between the Madonna and baby Jesus and the Egyptian Isis and Horus, and the almost identical versions of the creation of the world presented in Book of Genesis and the first few paragraphs of the much older Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (which, in fact, actually contains the story of Utnapishtim's Ark).

You see, the idea of a world-ending flood and a savior who built a large boat (on the word of God) to save humanity is nothing new. The Ancient Greeks had a myth involving a pissed off Zeus starting a flood, but in their version, Deucalion (read: Noah) was warned by his father, Prometheus, and built a boat to save himself (and not any animals).

Even before that, the Sumerians, with the first draft of the Bible known as The Epic of Gilgamesh, told a story of Utnapishtim, who lived through the flood by building an ark and loading it with riches, animals, and craftsmen in order to ensure the survival of mankind.

Now, I'm not criticizing Christianity, nor am I criticizing religion in general. I am criticizing the fact that so-called fundamental Christians tend to ignore our own histories. Finding an ark would not provide evidence that the Bible is a true story... rather, it would provide evidence that it's (at least partially) a plagiarized one. And why would anyone want to pop their own balloon?

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Superman Returns: A Review

I can't help it, I simply must write about Superman Returns. And you know what? Given that today is Independence Day and almost no other icon is more associated with "the American Way" than Superman, why the hell shouldn't I?

Superman Returns marks the triumphant, well, return of Superman to the silver screen. In a film that at once homages the great Superman and Superman II films and erases the horrible Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the franchise has, like Batman, successfully reinvented itself.

Relative newcomer Brandon Routh, a cause for concern to many Superman fans, pulls off Superman and Clark Kent with surprising ease. True, his dialogue was kept to a minimum and the appropriate "depressed" emotional state the character was in probably helped his acting seem better than it was, but Routh pulled it off nonetheless. Kate Bosworth was solid as Lois Lane, though it's no secret that she's not anybody's first choice for the role, and Kevin Spacey was fantastic as a new, quasi-Gene Hackman Lex Luthor. The rest of the supporting cast was more than adequate, and it was a nice, poignant gesture by Bryan Singer to reunite Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando on-screen one last time.

The plot was fairly simplistic and involved Superman returning to Earth after a five-year absence. Astronomers had found the remnants of his old homeworld, Krypton, and being the prodigal son, he left to see if he could find any other survivors. To give away anything else would be an injustice to filmgoers who haven't yet seen it, so that's all I'm going to say.

Take heart, however, in that the film's execution was superb. Bryan Singer once again balances action with character and layers every aspect of the film with depth that it may or may not have needed. In either case, the film is better for it. It may seem like directorial oversight that some of the plot points of the film are left unresolved, but you needn't worry; it's clear that this was the intent. After all, you don't make a movie like Superman Returns and not plan a sequel or two.

I, for one, am already eagerly waiting.

Postscript: My one complaint about the film: the rather blatant omission of the final part of the oft-spoken phrase, "truth, justice, and the American way." Has Hollywood seriously become so disenchanted with this country's political atmosphere that it's now embarrased to admit that both it and Superman are American institutions?

Monday, July 3, 2006

Fear of Online Banking

Disclaimer: I was going to post the third part of my little DC Comics expose, but I was irked into writing something else first... for all of you comic geeks out there, I humbly apologize. On second thought... fuck off.

I encountered a specimen from a dying breed of people the other day... a person who is scared of online banking, or any type of online transaction, for that matter. Their excuses? Well, it's not safe, online transactions are easier to intercept, the Internet is full of identity thieves, blah, blah, blah. I mean, shit, if the Veterans Administration can leak everyone's social security numbers out there, why can't Bank of America.com or eBay do it, too?

Just for the record, the VA leak had absolutely nothing to do with the "insecure Internet" and everything to do with an "ignorant Idiot."

Back to the point... I got news for you technophile schmucks who think that paper and pen or hard cash is the safest way to do things... You people have bank accounts, don't you? You people have credit cards? Loans? CDs? Stocks? Porn magazine subscriptions? Well, guess the fuck what... YOUR MONEY IS BEING TRANSACTED ON THE INTERNET.

You see, banks and other financial institutions popularized these super-duper fast phone lines called T1 or T3 lines, the same lines, by the way, that Internet servers tend to use (the good ones, anyway). Yeah, it's a crazy concept. In fact, have you ever used an ATM machine and heard that weird squealing and beeping? That's a modem going online. Oh, shit... I said it... ON-FUCKING-LINE.

But okay, you don't use an ATM, you don't use a credit card, you don't use a bank card (check card, money card, speedpay, whatever the fuck you call it)... but you still have money in a bank, and that bank still proverbially uses your money to make money. And guess what? There's not some piss-ant minimum-wage monkey running all of those transactions back and forth between financial institutions in a paper bag with your name on it stored safely in the back of an armored truck (I'm being serious, there really isn't). And do you know why? Well, there's this fucking thing called the Internet, and it sure makes doing business as shitload easier.

Join the 21st Century. And if our computer systems are ever knocked out by some fucked up Armageddon, well, then you can say you told me so. Fortunately (for you), I won't know you said it, because you won't have any way to email me. Fucker.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

DC Comics Returns... or Relapses - Part II

So I still haven't seen Superman Returns (as of this writing), and I still haven't jumped back into reading comics they way I used to, but I'm going to finish analyzing this new DC reboot anyway...

The question you should've been left with (if you had any brains) after Part I of this particular subject is "Why is DC going to need a fourth reboot in about 10 years?" Well, my friends, the answer is simple... DC is doing to many of our favorite characters what they've attempted to do many times before and, with few exceptions, failed at many times before: changing the characters.

See, in an attempt to diversify the DC Universe, the editors at DC decided that more minority superheroes were needed. Now, I'm not just talking about race, I'm talking about gender and sexual preference, too. While it's hard to disagree with the fact that true-to-life demographics aren't accurately represented in most comic books, it's easy to disagree with forcing these true-to-life demographics on our favorite characters, especially when it isn't going to work. In fact, the only time something that like has worked with resounding success was during Julius Schwartz' launch of the Silver Age DC. Ironically, that same launch is also the reason for the enormously confusing DC continuity problems. But I digress...

Some examples of diversification include: the Atom is no longer the WASP Ray Palmer (and one of my favorite characters), he's now the Chinese-American Ryan Choi. The Blue Beetle is no longer the WASP Ted Kord (also a great character), he's now the Hispanic teenager Jamie Reyes. Batwoman Kathy Kane is now a lipstick lesbian. Other "diversifications" indirectly related to the DC Reboot include changing Firestorm from the WASP Ronnie Raymond/Martin Stein combination to the black teenager Jason Rusch solo act, as well as the animated push to depict the black John Stewart over the WASP Hal Jordan as the main Green Lantern (to be fair, John Stewart has been around for decades and is one of the better written minority characters in the DC Universe). And the list goes on...

The problem with diversifying existing characters rather than creating new ones is two-fold. First, it pisses off a lot of readers. Some, like myself, are reserving judgment, but are likely to be eventually pissed off anyway. Others are already incensed. Second, changing existing characters almost never works. In fact, other than the aforementioned Silver Age launch (which brought us the most popular versions of Green Lantern, Flash, Atom, and a popular version of Hawkman) and the excellent handling of the Starman franchise, CHARACTER CHANGES DON'T WORK.

To show this, one only needs to take a closer look at the 10 characters DC generally considers at its iconography. I suppose I'll break down and do just that in a Part III to this subtle admission that I'm I nerd, but for now, vote for Zauriel as Hawkman!

Irreview, Book Review: The Nutshell Technique

I have, to date, read well over two dozen books on screenwriting and its related mediums (theatre, specifically).  While most - if not all -...