Monday, August 31, 2009

Spider-Mouse!


Disney buys Marvel Comics for 4 BILLION dollars. Here’re the gory details: http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2009/08/31/2009-08-31_spiderman_meet_mickey_mouse_disney_to_buy_comic_book_powerhouse_marvel_for_4b.html.

Disney has kept their fingers out of the PIXAR pie (creatively speaking) I have high hopes that they will keep in step with the acquisition of MARVEL. This could be a great day in comic book history, that and the fact that I have always thought Stan Lee would have made a great Walt Disney. Until I hear otherwise, Make Mine Marvel!

EXCELSIOR!

Friday, August 28, 2009

In the Mouth of Madness


This is Phillip and Nancy Garrido. 18 years ago they kidnapped an 11-year-old girl, named Jaycee Lee Dugard. Ms. Dugard made her way to a police station in California to tell the tale just this week. Phillip was a registered sex offender who was “previously convicted of kidnapping and rape.” He married his wife, Nancy, while he was in prison. The child that they abducted 18 years ago was repeatedly raped and held in a backyard camp / compound. She is now the mother of two of Phillips children.

Details of this case can be found here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=8438914. (BTW, Phillip is now being looked at in the murders of some prostitutes too.)

Meanwhile, the stepfather who witnessed the abduction of Jaycee 18 years ago and his wife, Ms. Dugard’s mother, have split over all of the hell that their lives had become. Phillip and Nancy destroyed their family. In the process they shattered a child’s life to the point that Ms. Dugard is feeling sorry for turning Phillip and Nancy into the police. Yes, this is the man who raped her and became the father of her two children – the same man that made them sleep in tents in the tin roof and tent compound of a backyard that he constructed.

I heard an “expert” on such topics say on morning TV concerning their defense say, “She’s going to say that her husband made her do it and he’s going to say that the Devil made him do it.” And both of those might be the case concerning Phillip and Nancy; the fact remains that the damage is already done. A family was ruined 18 years ago and these unhumans made it happen. They did not stop there. He impregnated this abducted child twice and now the kidnap victim, Ms. Dugard, is uncertain if she had done the right thing.

Wow.

I believe that our justice system is a little askew. Why on God’s Green Earth would a man who has been charged with “kidnapping and rape” be allowed to EVER see the light of day? Phillip had done this BEFORE. This was not something new to Phillip and apparently not something new to Nancy either. Why would he be allowed to go free and do it again? I have no sane answer, Gentle Reader; none, whatsoever. Hey, did Phillip’s parole officer EVER visit his compound? Would he or she have even noticed that there was a family living outside just in the backyard?

I subscribe to the idea that there is a greater good and that horror and suffering are just symptoms of this thing called life. I put my trust in a higher power even when I do not see why things progress the way they so often do and even if I cannot see why some atrocity is happening I understand that there is a reason – a greater purpose that is being served somewhere or some when. With stories such as this it is the only way I can stay sane. Anything else is madness. It is all in bigger hands than mine and I am pleased that such is the case and that judgment is not in my hands since I can be creative in device, description and execution… but in doing so I would be no better than Phillip or Nancy.

My prayers are with Ms. Dugard, her mother and her stepfather at this time. It is my sincere hope that some degree of normality can be extended to Ms. Dugard and her two children.

…Wow. And I thought I had a bad week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

On District 9


Back when the term “Science Fiction” meant little more to most people than little green men in flying saucers, robots and ray guns messages could have easily been misconstrued or, more likely, completely missed. Stuff like “Godzilla” representing the man made evils of atomic power, like “THEM” and “The Blob” representing the invading forces of the “Red Menace” or like “The Terminator” and the Hal 9000 representing our technology outpacing our own ability to remain the master of said technology. Those were the days when “Science Fiction” was definable; the days when you knew what you were getting into when you bought your ticket at the movies. I am a believer that the term “Science Fiction” is no longer applicable. It has reached its expiration date. It should be something like Soon to be Realized Fiction. There is no such thing as Science Fiction anymore. If you don’t believe me pick up a newspaper (do they still print those?), flip on the news, or listen to what corporate America is selling you in any venue they can. The future is here. Any speculative fiction these days is exactly that, speculative fiction; or rather, just fiction.

Before my wife and I snuck away to see “District 9” this afternoon I was horsing around on Twitter. I clicked over to see what John Favreau (director of "Iron Man") had to say on the topic. He had Tweeted that the movie was “Kafka meets Cloverfield”. After seeing the film this afternoon I am hard pressed to find a more succinct description. Please note, Gentle Reader, there will be some major spoilers ahead so if you wish to remain pure then stop right here and go to the theater to support this film. Be warned it is not a “feel good” summer movie. Still, go; the allegory and story are worth the trip. BTW I hear that theaters are air conditioned these days! See you next time.

Still here? Good. About a year and a half ago I heard rumors about a possible “HALO” movie with Peter Jackson producing and, at the time, he was marketing around Mr. Neill Blomcamp as director. Not much was known about Mr. Blomcamp but Peter Jackson? After making some pretty amazing genre related films he brought “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy to the big screen in jaw dropping Oscar sweeping fashion – suffice to say, Mr. Jackson’s got Geek Credibility. The major studios, SONY especially, were almost interested. Jackson invested time, energy and money into developing this “HALO” movie and, at the end of the day, SONY said “no thank you”. Now I am just guessing here since no matter how hard I try to meet Mr. Jackson for an interview or autograph, those restraining orders are still quite legal. Anyway, I believe that Blomcamp and Jackson had some great WETA Workshop stuff already completed for the Arbiter character from the HALO series because the aliens from “District 9” are his splitting image. Whatever the case the alien’s work; speaking of working the film works on several levels since this is one of those stories that holds a mirror up to just who we truly are as a people and a global society. And that reflection is scary.

In the world of this film aliens have been zoned to live in a barbed wire and walled shanty town know as “District 9”. There is not a human character in this movie save for the lead (adeptly portrayed by Sharlto Copley) who by no means other than accidentally, falls into a set of circumstances where he is quickly becoming the thing that he hates and the human you begin to hope for. It is a fascist world where humans keep the aliens “contained” thought brute force and cruelty. The most noble character is an alien who wants to save his people by returning to the mother ship (and ultimately his home world) that has been hovering above Johannesburg South Africa for the last twenty years. The unlikely pairing of the MNU bureaucrat and an alien is the only glimpse of the noblest qualities that we aspire to has a species. There are no degrees of evil here. There are no clich├ęd evil verses less evil factions in this film. The African warlords in “District 9” are no worse than the MNU (Multi National United) army – the multi national force that is “legally” in control of the aliens. The real monsters here are all too human. Whether it is destroying alien eggs to control population, medical & genetic experimentation on the aliens or just target practice the startling lack of “humanity” is all too… real. If this particular set of circumstances were actually play out, sadly, this is how it would happen. “District 9” is not your typical summer excursion at the movies. It holds a mirror up to just who we truly are. I would hope that when the aliens do return for their brethren that they are as forgiving as we aspire to be.

As I have said, this is not a “feel good movie”. Favreau was right, “Kafka meets Cloverfield” pretty much sums it up. May God and the returning aliens have mercy on our souls.

“District 9” is worth your time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Teaching Star Trek


I had the pleasure of teaching a course on Star Trek to give or take 13 kids this past week at the Cumberland County College’s Summer Kids Camp. For how all that came about see this: http://evilchickenscratch.blogspot.com/2009/05/college-camp-class-final-frontier.html, it’s got all the gory details.

There were adventures and misadventures, crafts and conversational Klingon, some young fans and some kids who were just signed into the class because it was open. At the class’s heart; however, was Star Trek and, therefore, hope – and YES I am aware how cheesy that sounds. As I said on the first day of class, standing in the glow of a PowerPoint presentation, “Star Trek is a lot of things, science, history, technology, sociology, exploration; but at it’s core is hope; hope that we don’t destroy ourselves, hope that we learn to live together as a people, hope that we can live in an age of exploration where people Boldly Go into that great and final frontier. I was hired to teach Star Trek and that’s exactly what I did. Of course, when one is hired to teach such a class it really is a history of the future and the history’s future is being written right now and in the last 43 years of history. This is how I approached this class. Case in point; the words, “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” were lifted from a brochure that President Kennedy’s office prepared for congress to make the case for going to the moon. How did we get to the moon? It was through hard work and determination – the Saturn 5 rocket and the Eagle Lander. How was it possible to understand how the rocket would take the men to the moon? The scientists involved with launching such a (dare I say) enterprise had to have a firm knowledge of mathematics, physics, and science; they must have understood Newton’s three laws of motion, Copernicus and Galileo’s controversial heliocentric theories. No doubt the men, not only on the moon 40 years ago, but the scientists who helped put them there had some inkling of an idea who those men were.

After the Star Trek class so did my kids.

But what about now - the Space Shuttle program is ending in 2010, what’s going to replace it? Well if Sir Richard Branson has his way anyone will be able to go into space as long as they can afford a ticket ($200,000). As I am typing this he is building the worlds first consumer oriented spaceport. The V.S.S. Enterprise (Virgin Space Ship) from Virgin Galactic is reportedly 60% completed. Branson based his design off of the X-Prize winning Space Ship One which now hangs in between the X-1 (the plane that first broke the sound barrier) and The Spirit of St. Louis (the first plane to cross the Atlantic ocean) at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. Of course NASA has plans too. The Ares program will replace the Space Shuttle in 2020. The Ares rocket will be able to put payloads into orbit such as the new Orion Spacecraft, which has been designed to be a big part in our return to the moon and for our first trip to Mars.

Any parent who asks their child what they did in the class can point to these two very real programs that will take place in the very near future – in their lifetimes and say that they heard it first in Star Trek class.

“Yeah, but did you cover anything Star Trek related?” you may ask.

Have you not been listening? We are outlining the history of the future here! Of course we covered Star Trek but you must understand that Star Trek is based on the world we know – the world in which we live. We are just pre-warp drive society... for now. Other things covered in the class were our solar system & galaxy; how long a year is on Mercury as opposed to right here on Earth, robotics & androids (such as Mr. Data), conversational Klingon (such as Hab SoSlI' Quch! “Your mother has a smooth forehead!”), and just where each of the student’s would sit on the bridge of the Enterprise. We were going to cover dangerous alien species such as targhs, tribbles, & Ceti-eels and have a guest speaker but the guest speaker from an organization that will remain nameless (who is not the SPCA or any of the local zoos) never showed. I choose to believe the no call no show was due to a miscommunication just one or two levels above the woman who told me she would come if it was cleared with her supervisor (whom I also spoke with). Another possibility is that this organization heard that they would be presenting to a Star Trek class and failed to see any connection with what they do. I had an alternate lesson just in case; just in case happened so Plan B went into effect. The kids now know more about robots in today’s world than they do about dangerous animals.

Such is life.

The class was a blast. Still I was surprised at how many non Star Trek fans I had in the class. In my naivety I assumed that I would have a class full of Trekkies; this was not the case and the majority of my kids were just signed in because there was something open. Even though this was the case I think that they enjoyed it too. In my adventures this past week I have discovered a new respect for the profession of teaching. Seriously. It takes a LOT of work to feel comfortable teaching on any topic with any degree of legitimacy. Star Trek I knew I could handle; the science behind it was another story. I stayed up a lot of nights perfecting my PowerPoint presentations and the You Tube animations to back them up.

I hope that the kids had a good time. I think that they did. The last day we checked out an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, “Hide and Q”, talked about the Ares program and had the Massive Multiplayer Trivia Challenge and it was fantastic. I laughed so hard that I still grin just thinking about it.

It they will have me back at the Cumberland County College’s Summer Kid’s Camp, I would gladly, NAY – Boldly Go! What can I say? It was a hoot.

Live long and prosper, Gentle Reader.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Facebook Intervention


I love the internet. Seriously. I love it. I blog, I Facebook, I Twitter; I love it. I find it a wonderful little outlet of thought and idea. Since I’d be writing anyway why should I not do so electronically?

I also play poker; badly, mind you, but I play. I sit in on one of the longest standing poker games in Southern New Jersey. It is a group of interesting souls who make up the seven who sit around that table, including yours truly. We meet and play on the first Friday of each month. So, it was no surprise that on 8/7/09, that is where I was. We grilled and it was great. We played cards and that was a lot of fun too. And then came the intervention. After one hand of Texas Hold ‘Em one of my comrades told a story of his wife giggling about some piece of silliness that I wrote on Facebook. Apparently I had used the words, “good night”.

“Why… WHY, on God’s green earth would you say “good night” to anyone on Facebook? I just don’t get it.” Said the man to my left. The man to my left happens to be quite computer savvy and in some circles he is near the top of his game.

“Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense.” Said the man to my right. He is a brilliant man as well.

“I don’t have the time for any of that stuff.” Said the man opposite of me.

“Hey, I just got on to share photos with my family.” Said the man next to him trying to distance himself from yours truly in any way possible for the moment. He could see the tide turn.

“Yeah, you Twitter to, don’t you?” another asked who happens to be on Facebook as well.

“Yes, I do.” I said with a smile.

“You know what I think it is?” the man to my left asked. “It is just a group of people starved for attention. Look at me! Look at me!”

“Like a narcissist.” I said.

“Yes.” He said. So why do you do it? Why do you think that I CARE what you have to say?”

“Well, I think you can make a case for narcissism in some cases when it comes to Facebook.” I said. “But you would be painting with broad brushstrokes.” I understand that whether you care about what is written on Facebook or do not is subjective and up to the reader to decide. “If you don’t like what you read stop reading it. That’s why they make so many flavors of ice cream.”

“Then why?” Asked the man to my right.

“Social networking. It’s a tool.” I said. “Facebook is a wonderful way to be personably impersonal.

“That does not answer the question.”

“Look, I don’t have to tell any of you sitting here at this table how much I despise the phone.” There was a general nodding of heads around the table. They know (and now you do too, Gentle Reader) that I hate talking on the telephone. The contraption just demands entirely too much of my attention at any one time. I like information in digestible, well reasoned, bits – say in an email, on Facebook or on Twitter. It is simple; to the point, and just how I like it. “Facebook is a social tool. How the reader reads it or does NOT read it is purely up to them.” The simple fact of the matter is that’s the way it is with anything. I could tell you that there is a wonderful world to be found in the pages of a book but unless you pick it up and read one for yourself it is pretty much moot. People either will accept a message or reject it. The gentlemen on either side of me remain in a reject it frame of mind.

Oh well. These friends of mine and I just don’t socialize on Facebook. And the world keeps on moving. We socialize while playing cards and that is a good thing.

As for narcissism, “I” am one of my favorite subjects but I am more than well aware that the world does not revolve around me, my blog, my Facebook account or my Twitter feed. These gentlemen were casting aspersions that it did. Ah the power of the written word – even if it is electronic in nature. And, dare I say, even if those casting stones did not have their own Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Que sara sara.

As much as I hate the telephone I wonder how many people said to Alexander Graham Bell, “Why would you ever want to use THAT thing?” Only Bell knows and he’s not saying. I guarantee he heard it though. Fast forward to a hot summer night in 2009 with a group of friends sitting around a poker table some willing to use a different form of communication and some not. No matter what technological advance may come to us now or in the future there are going to be those who resist. Some will get it some will not.

Oh well. Que sara sara.

As for yours truly, Gentle Reader, I know enough about addiction to see that I have not yet hit rock bottom. It is only from the bottom that I can truly make progress and admit that I have a problem. Until then, I’ll see you on Facebook, on Twitter, and right here on the electronic pages of Chicken ScratchLONG MAY SHE WAVE!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

“Bueller…? ...Bueller…?”


John Hughes past away this morning. Here is the story as I found it a few moments ago: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/41966.

His movies really hit home for this movie fan growing up in the eighties. Quint from Ain’t it Cool News does a wonderful job of expressing one fan’s remembrances. For yours truly, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “The Breakfast Club”, and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” were top of the list of films that defined the eighties.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time. Thank you, Mr. Hughes. You had a hand in shaping a generation of movie goers – including me.