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18th May 2013

9:29pm: Saga's review of Star Trek: Into Darkness
Saga's review of Star Trek: Into Darkness

It is a sign of my age that I saw this film on “standard” opening night, as opposed to late-nite sneak preview opening night two days earlier...and saw it in the company of ten teenagers students who are barely more than a third my age, and from whom my casual statement that I saw the original Wrath of Khan when it came out in theaters elicited gasps of awe...although whether pitying or reverent, I chose not to examine too closely.

(Keptin, the senors are warning of SPOILERS AHEAD)



(Keptin, the senors are warning of SPOILERS AHEAD)Collapse )

- SW

23rd January 2011

12:39pm: Wow, haven't posted in over a year. So, um, here's a post.

- SW

2nd January 2010

10:46pm: Saga reviews THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
I now believe in demonic possession. And it's all possibly thanks to Kirk Douglass and Martin Sheen.



You are hearby ordered to read on.Collapse )

2nd December 2009

9:15pm:

I gave the guy a year. I really did. I held off, hoping he'd have something new up his sleeve. But no, when it comes to war policy. the man is Bush with darker skin and a far better stage presence. Dismayed, but sadly not surprised, at Peace-Prize-Recipient (ha) Obama's Afghan "troop surge." I mean, to be fair, even during the election campaign, despite his antiwar trappings, he was always gung-ho about Afghanistan. But some people were hoping it was just an act to placate conservatives. Sadly, it wasn't.

So here we go again.

1. Our "war on terror" strategy, from the outset, has operated under this assumption that there are a finite number of "bad guys", and if you just kill enough of them (or kill the "bosses"), the US will be safe...when all of the evidence seems to point to how we're creating more anger and danger for ourselves the more we escalate our military operations.

2. Once again, we're propping up a corrupt strongman illegitimate dictator ("he may be an SOB, but he's our SOB"), the same policy that backfired on us in Iran with the Shah...and Iraq with Saddam...in in Vietnam with the Viet-Minh...and in Libya with Qaddafi...but hey, I'm *sure* it will work this time with Karzai, right?

3. Let's even assume that Afghanistan is some vital lynchpin of Al Qaeda activity (even though military estimates are that there are only a handful of such folk there), and somehow we succeed where the Soviet Union and the British Empire both failed and manage to completely eliminate any insurgent threat. The wet dream success scenario. Um, aren't there about a dozen other semi-lawless places like Western Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia and Sudan which could be equally dangerous as "terrorist safe havens?" Are we really going to invade each and every one of them and "secure" them? If so, we'd be the first empire in human history to ever pull off such a task.

4. The 18 month pullout date seems extremely subject-to-revision, so I'm not take much "comfort" in that.

5. And, um, isn't our economy in shambles? Aren't people out of work and unable to get jobs or loans? Why why WHY is this President only giving money to the military and to corporate CEOs? *What* party is he with again?

It's just a damned waste, that the President and all his brain trust folk can't come up with any more creative a solution to our national security issues than pouring billions of money and thousands of lives into a strategy that hasn't shown any signs of working for us in the past. Why not take all that money and pour it into creating cleaner, cheaper energy, stop buying oil (that takes care of Iran's money and influence right there), and strengthen global community such that people have incentive to buy-in and share the wealth, rather than feel so angry that they don't share it (or so threatened by it) that they lash out? Or why not try any of a million other strategies instead of the one that hasn't worked for us for decades?

Well, I was out marching in the streets, writing letters, lobbying, and creating media against the war(s) for 8 years of Bush's reign...not going to stop during Obama's, either. I'm used to it. I (and half the country) had just foolishly hoped that a new administration might be, I dunno, different? But elections alone don't change anything unless the American people really care enough (through methods like boycotts, strikes, etc) to bring the country to a halt unless policy changes. It remains to be seen how many Americans will care enough to do so. When the Draft comes around again, perhaps, we'll see...in the meantime, we do what we can.

- SW

2nd October 2009

6:51am: Happy birthday Gandhi!


On this day in 1869 in India, Mohandas Gandhi is born. He goes on to lead some of the most successful and wide-reaching nonviolence campaigns in history, first to achieve rights for Indians in South Africa, and later freeing India from the most powerful military empire in the world, Great Britain.

Gandhi was no wizard -- he used rational, practical "realpolitik" strategies that relied on the power of people working together without the use of violence.

Since then, nonviolent revolutions have been successful around the world - in Serbia, Chile, Poland, Nepal, Georgia and elsewhere.

Could Gandhi's principals be applied to the USA's present-day "War on Terror?"

Here are some interesting articles that discuss that issue:

From Daedalus magazine

Here is a US State Dept analysis of possible nonviolent approaches to
fighting terrorism
.

Here is a religious response.

- SW

21st September 2009

7:58am: Happy Peace Day!
Today, Sept 21, is the United Nations International Day of Peace.

To inaugurate the day, the "Peace Bell" is rung at UN Headquarters. The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents. It was given as a gift by the Diet of Japan, and is referred to as "a reminder of the human cost of war."

Here are some links and resources for more info:

http://www.internationaldayofpeace.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Day_of_Peace

Take a moment today, and every day, to try and do something to make your community more peaceful and cooperative.

- SW

11th September 2009

6:48am: A moment of silence.
Today is the anniversary of the day that 19 hijackers, all Egyptians or Saudis, flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.

A moment of silence for the 2,993 Americans who died that day, all but 55 of them civilians.

Our government, Republicans and Democrats alike, responded by launching a series of wars abroad and at home.

A moment of silence also for the 822 American soldiers who have died in Afghanistan, the 4600 American troops who have died in Iraq, and the tens of thousands who have been wounded.

A moment of silence also for the 8,000-11,000 Afghan civilians who have died in this war so far, and the 90,000-100,000 Iraqi civilians who have died. For the hundreds of thousands in both countries who have been injured.

No Afghans and no Iraqis were among the hijackers. All were Saudi and Egyptian. The US remains close allies with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two nations with undemocratically elected leaders with a long record of abusing their people. Almost up until the day of 9/11, US foreign aid was still flowing to support the Taliban. Some US money is still going to them, in the form of tax-funded military contractors who have been paying Taliban forces for protection.

A moment of silence for the over $900 billion that has been spent on these wars so far, money that could have gone to help Americans directly at home, or to help needy people around the world.

A moment of silence for the loss of our right to a judicial trial, the loss of our right to privacy from government snooping, the loss of our basic human right to not be tortured by our government, at home or shipped abroad.

A moment of silence for this terrible legacy that our former President began, that our current President is continuing. Surely we can find a better way to memorialize 9/11 than what we are doing now.

Enough silence. Speak up and make some change.

Pass it on.

- SW

Sources for the figures I used:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks
http://www.icasualties.org/I
http://costofwar.com/
http://www.house.gov/paul/tst/tst2001/tst110501.htm
http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/09/03/world/worldwatch/entry5285160.shtml
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualties_of_the_War_in_Afghanistan_(2001%E2%80%93present)#Aggregation_of_estimates

9th September 2009

9:14pm: Obama Speech
I was very, very impressed with the President's speech. As always, I await the actual followthrough, but 10 points for stirring rhetoric. The man says what I want to hear. One more time, I suppose, I will *try* and invest hope in him actually pulling it off. To do otherwise would be too depressing.

- SW

6th September 2009

4:06pm: Nerd Girls vs. Geek Girls
Well, this is bound to piss off pretty much EVERYONE, but hey, when has that stopped me before? :)

This came out of a discussion my gaming group had today...feel free to add your own...


Nerd Girls vs. Geek Girls

Plays chess: Nerd Girl
Plays World of Warcraft: Geek Girl
Has memorized operas: Nerd Girl
Has memorized dialogue from Farscape: Geek Girl
Speaks a dead language like Akkadian or Ugaritic: Nerd girl
Speaks a fictional language like Klingon or Elvish: Geek girl
Reads Goerthe: Nerd Girl
Reads Gaiman: Geek Girl
Glasses: Nerd Girl
Two different color contact lenses: Geek Girl
Shirt bearing Japanese text: Either
Collared, button down shirt: Nerd Girl
Corset: Geek Girl
Corset on a 300lb+ body: Geek Girl!!
Funky flapper-era dress or tie-dye: Nerd Girl
Cape or cloak: Geek Girl
Animal costume: A furry. A dirty, fucking furry. Burn her!
Explosive passion freed from two decades of frustrated repression: Nerd Girl
Bi/Trans/Poly, wears a T-shirt about it, and still won't sleep with you: Geek Girl
Flirty: Geek Girl
Shy, nursing a 10 year unrequited crush: Nerd Girl
On a million different mood meds: Geek girl
On the pharmaceutical team that designed the mood meds: Nerd Girl
Knits: Nerd girl
Knits chainmail: Geek girl
Plays cello: Nerd Girl
Weilds boffer sword: Geek Girl
Will dress up like Dark Phoenix but only in the privacy of the bedroom and will kill you if you tell anyone: Nerd Girl
Will dress up like Dark Phoenix and post pictures to her blog, then believe she IS Dark Phoenix and try and flash-fry your hamster: Geek Girl
Childhood hero: Simone de Bouvier – Nerd Girl
Childhood hero: Xena – Geek Girl
Will tabletop but will not LARP: Nerd Girl
Will LARP but not tabletop: Geek Girl

Classic Nerd Girl: Willow from Buffy
Classic Geek Girl: Tank Girl

- SW

4th July 2009

8:47am: From Frances Wright's "Fourth of July Oration" (1828), my favorite 4th of July speech ever:

Patriotism, in the exclusive meaning, is surely not made for America...it is for [Americans] especially to know WHY they love their country; and to feel that they love it, not because it is their country, but because it is the palladium of human liberty—the favored scene of human improvement. It is for them, more especially, to examine their institutions; and to feel that they honor them because they are based on just principles...to examine their institutions, because they have the means of improving them; to examine their laws, because at will they can alter them. It is for them to lay aside luxury whose wealth is in industry; idle parade whose strength is in knowledge; ambitious distinctions whose principle is equality. It is for them not to rest, satisfied with words, who can seize upon things; and to remember that equality means, not the mere equality of political rights, however valuable, but equality of instruction and equality in virtue; and that liberty means, not the mere voting at elections, but the free and fearless exercise of the mental faculties and that self-possession which springs out of well-reasoned opinions and consistent practice. It is for them to honor principles rather than men—to commemorate events rather than days; when they rejoice, to know for what they rejoice, and to rejoice only for what has brought and what brings peace and happiness to men. "

Full text here.

22nd May 2009

10:47pm: I met JMS!!!!
Squee time. And yes, boys can squee, too.

JMS himself, creator of Babylon 5, told me "f*ck you!" tonight. Something I shall carry with me till the day I die. :)

Background: MIT somehow got JMS to come speak, and I found out via those damnedly Orwellian (yet damnedly useful) Facebook snoop-ads. So roboknee and I paid $10 to go see him. Packed auditorium, and all of the hallways leading there in MIT Building#10 had been peppered with very authentic, at-home looking Psi-Corps signs that said "Obey" and "The Corps is Father, The Corps is Mother." When we asked where the room was, we were told, "go down that hall and turn left at the `Remember Byron' graffiti." Priceless.

JMS was hysterical. Angry nerdy working class Jewish geek who tore down everyone but didn't spare himself, witty and surprisingly kind at key moments. He was somehow simultaneously a gentleman and an ass, but the good kind of ass (or the bad kind of gentleman!) The man stayed an extra HOUR to accommodate all questioners and dealt with the few trolls admirably (including this one freakazoid who, after 6 straight minutes of preamble, flying in the face of everyone telling him to get to the point, asked, "What's your favorite food?" When JMS, after his incredulity at that being the question, said, "burgers", the followup question was, "if I were a hamburger, would you eat me?" Uuuuggh. As he was booed off the mike, I realized that this is how most Muslims must feel when they see Al Qaida. As in, "this man does not represent geekdom! Or at least, not mainstream geekdom!"

JMS proudly identified as a geek, dropped references with the best of us, told wonderful stories about him and Harlan Ellison, gave us the behind-the-scenes-on-B5 dirt we were craving,and managed to be both admirable and pathetic at the same time - the former because of all he'd achieved in spite of everyone who tried to block him or screw him over, how he managed to do it "his way" and keep to his values at all times - and the latter because although he's a legend now he's divorced and alone and considers himself a writer because he's good for nothing else. It's that combination of pride and insecurity that all geeks know so well.

Some people, myself included, really credited his work with shaping parts of their lives. He was kind to the people who really opened up their hearts with moving stories, and ribbed the hell out of people (including me!) whom he sensed could "take it." I didn't even realize until tonight that he wrote for He Man, The Real Ghostbusters, Wheeled Warriors, Captain Power...these were the shows that taught me all about "heroism" and "morality"...of course, when I told him that I grew up on those shows, that's when he said "f*ck you" for making him feel old. :) He also teased me about my "GM's don't kill characters" tee-shirt: "You're a liar," he said. "I used to play in a Cthulu game and my GM killed me all the time!" After I asked him my writing question (and got a decent and respectful answer), I promised him if he ever played with my group, I wouldn't kill his character. :)

In short, the best $10 I've spent in years. Even if the guy sitting next to me (not roboknee was busy noisily biting his nails, farting, coughing on me and invading my personal space the whole time. With geekdom, one takes the good with the bad.

- SW

7th May 2009

11:34pm: I came, I saw, I trekked!


You have to understand, Star Trek shaped me. It shaped so much of who I am as a person, my values, my outlook on life and what is and isn't possible...Trek's utopianism, its sense of adventure, the relationships between the characters, the cliches and the trivia...Treknobabble and obsessively specific show-references were the currency of my high school and even college mental/cultural mindset. Now, perhaps, you might understand what was at stake for me in seeing the new JJ Abrams Star Trek film. I mean, heck, VOYAGER and ENTERPRISE bothered (yes, bothered, as in, not just annoyed, but *bothered* on a deep level) me with their departures from what I understood Star Trek to be, with the lack of care I felt the producers and writers showed for what Trek should be. So JJ Abrams? With the explosion-laden, testosterone-soaked previews? I was terrified.

But of course I couldn't NOT see it, either.

At least I brought along some support - no less than 19 students, members of the scifi club, some hardcore Trekkers (including a pair of sisters who recited Data's "Ode to Spot" from memory on the bus ride, in eerie synchronicity) and some utter newcomers who had never seen an episode. None of these kids, of course, were even ALIVE when NextGen was airing. But all were inheritors of Trek's legacy, whether they knew it or not. Even the shittiest random youtube scifi short is not guaranteed to be free of Trek reference.

So we all clustered into the sold-out sneak preview tonight, and as the lights went down my stomach was wobbling madly...
...
...and...

It...kicked...ass.

Hugely spoiler-laden review to follow, which you really shouldn't read until you see the film, because so much of the film's strength relies on the surprises and "easter eggs" for diehard fans. In fact, the film was a hell of a lot more loyal than I ever expected. With one or two glaring exceptions, it really COULD fit right into continuity flawlessly.

Dammit, Jim, the sensors are reading spoilers if you click on this link! But you know you want to!Collapse )

...

In the end, I was cheering and clapping throughout, and felt like Abrams, despite all I'd been led to believe in his interviews, really took efforts to respect the franchise and its mythology, and in doing that, respect the fans. I feel, well, respected. Not to mention entertained.

At the same time, the film was very accessible to newcomers as well. The students universally loved it. And I went home happy, despite staying up way later than my bedtime on a school night. It has my vote for a new series, although alas, no TV show could afford this cast. Still, my extremely cautious optimism was rewarded...and that, above all else, marked this movie as an Obama-era film. :)

See it!

- SW

1st May 2009

11:25pm: Wow. Have been away from LJ for a long time. Does that mean I have a life?


...
...


Naw.


- SW

31st March 2009

10:47am: I remember back in 2000, when I started teaching, we were being encouraged to phase out actual "letters" home to students because the kids were all using email, and letters were becoming increasingly unreliable as a means to reach students. Now almost ten years have passed, and we're being told that EMAIL is becoming increasingly unrealiable as a means to reach students, because the kids don't check it regularly anymore - they communicate primarily through texting with their friends. So what does this mean - that we have to get every kid's phone #, and then text them on our own bill?

Maybe we should just use carrier pigeons...cheaper in the long run....?

-SW

19th March 2009

2:12pm: Reflections on today, the 6th anniversary of the Iraq War's onset
March 19th. The sixth anniversary of the Iraq War.

As of today, 4259 US soldiers have lost their lives, and 45,583 injuries have been reported (to be accurate, this is injury count, not people count - some are multiple injuries to same soldier).

Between 91,000 and 99,000 Iraqis have been killed.

656.1 billion dollars of our tax money have been spent already, and President Obama has just requested $75.5 billion more.

And for what? A shaky, barely-stable Iraqi "democracy" that most experts say will fall apart the second we leave. A country that was never meant to be one country and which already is in essence two countries (Kurdistan and the rest), and which may well become three countries after the US withdraws. Worldwide condemnation and loss of moral authority. Thousands of new recruits to Al Qaeda.

Yes, we got rid of Saddam Hussein, which no one argues is a bad thing in and of itself, except this isn't a movie, and the credits don't just roll once the "bad guy" dies - if you kill the bad guy and in doing so set the conditions which lead to over 100,000 more deaths and no end in sight - maybe it just wasn't freaking worth it? And come on, isn't Saddam II just going to replace him once we leave?

In the wake of the financial crisis, you would never know there are in fact TWO wars going on right now, or even that one, in Iraq, is continuing. As usual, the media cycle obscures as much as it reveals.

But I remember.

More followsCollapse )

- SW
1:39pm: Thanks a lot, alma mater. Brandeis sends out an e-survey seeking alums to host a "shadow" student who is interested in your career. They make a big deal of mentioning in their letter, however, that

"All alumni are welcome to volunteer, but we are particularly looking for those working in finance and banking, scientific research (especially if related to health care), and clinical psychology, as student demand for these fields remain high."

Well, yet another voice out there that says teaching as a field doesn't matter. I've got to say, Brandeis, that "finance and banking" isn't exactly the growth field it used to be. And, um, didn't you lose like a gajillion dollars of your endowment to Bernard Madoff? Maybe you should re-assess your priorities, and remember that traditional Jewish value of education, instead of that stereotyped Jewish value of money...

Grr.

- SW

18th March 2009

7:21pm: OMG - this is the funniest thing I've seen all week. One of my students shared it with me: "Watchmen" as envisioned as a "Superfriends"-style cartoon!

-SW

17th March 2009

7:50pm: Scifi channel! Post the last Battlestar Galactica episode already! I need to see "DayBreak Part I" before you air the series finale on Friday!

-SW

6th March 2009

4:33pm: Good Press! Yipee!
Sweet! The section of the Scion Companion that I wrote, "Secrets of the World," got a great review on flamesrising.com!

jesshartley, if you know any developers looking for writers, you can now say, "this guy produces AND he gets good reviews." ;)

- SW

4th March 2009

6:53pm: I have to admit, although my initial review of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse was not so favorable, two episodes later I have become rather intrigued and impressed by this show.

Some spoilers involvedCollapse )
- SW

15th February 2009

9:36am: Saw the premiere of Our Lord and Master Joss Whedon's new series, Dollhouse. I don't think I have any real spoilers here, but if you're afraid, read no further.

My general impression: Eeeehhh.

It's got an interesting premise. I like how the episode provided a meta-commentary on the art of writing and creating characters; the whole "running to/running from" thing, how every strength you give a character probably stems from overcompensation for a flaw (as a GM, I'm going to use this advice again and again whenever I get munchkin players who want to create munchkin characters, thank you Joss m'man!)...and I see potential in the "character" that is the whole Dollhouse organization, how you've got Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" playing out where there are a bunch of very potentially sympathetic people just doing their jobs, some going to some lengths to rationalize it one way or another, some just doing their small cog-work...but the sum total is something disturbing and ethically awful. I am curious, but only mildly, as to what "Echo" did in her pre-wipe life to end up here. But I expect I will be dragged through hill and dale for several seasons before I get that info, and I'm not sure I care enough to go on that ride.

I surprised and disappointed to not see a Whedon show's characteristic humor. Yeah, "tech guy" cracked a few borderline self-referential jokes, but this show seems played entirely straight, which is not what I've come to expect from JW.

If this show is going to succeed, it needs to not get trapped in "formula." We have evolved beyond the "self contained episode, everything gets set back to square one except a few dangling plot threads" model. This is the age of Battlestar Galactica and Lost, where we expect there to be a million subplots and almost too much to keep track of...yet Dollhouse seems disappointingly contained. The characters don't thrill me, not even Echo. As for the others? "Moral voice black guy" seems too one-dimensional, "nerdy tech guy" is just a stock character, as is "bitch ceo with a heart of gold" and "thuggish military buzz cut major domo." And don't even start me on "Helo the FBI agent." He's basically just Helo here, too, and I can't stand Helo on BSG because he's such a vanilla non-character.

Finally, I'm not a big fan of Eliza Dushku (and no I'm not even going to TRY and look up how to accurately spell her name). Her character of Faith on Buffy was amusing, but I don't particularly like the actress. That said, she does do the "vacant" thing very well.

My hope for this show is after a few episodes of establishing the "formula", it breaks and all kinds of wild crazy shit happens. Otherwise, we'll have to suffer through week after week of "does Helo expose the Dollhouse? Oh, he got so close, but no!" and "Do we find out anything significant about Echo? Oh, a tidbit, but not much!" And no one has the patience for shows like that anymore, or at least, I don't.

We shall see.

- SW

9th February 2009

7:25pm: Saw Coraline. In 3D no less. For all my apprehension, they did manage to capture the spirit of Gaiman's book (UNLIKE that ridiculous mutilation of Stardust that even Claire Danes' cuteness couldn't save).

Ok, so I was irked that they added a male sidekick character, and that they glossed over some of the Beldam's nuances (what made her so scary and disturbing in the book was that she really, really wanted to love and be loved, but due to her nature didn't quite "get" what love was about...it was that pitiable, incompetent perversion of motherhood that was so freaky, far moreso than the movie's somewhat more two-dimensional "monster" version of her). But they got Coraline herself to a T, ditto the cat, and Tim Burton was the perfect man for the job of the visuals. Worth seeing, although I think a lot of parents are going to be severely surprised when they bring their kids to what the previews make out to be a fun fluffy family movie...

- SW
7:10pm: Some countries are not safe for tofu
File this one in the WTF folder:

Sagasorceress and I are returning, yet again, to Bogota, Colombia, to visit her sister. SagaSorceress reminds me to call American Airlines and remind them to make sure we're outfitted with vegetarian meals.

The AA rep puts me on hold for a good six minutes, then returns and tells me this won't be possible.

What?

First she thinks it's because we're in coach, but no, we've gotten veggie meals in coach on plenty of AA flights, thank you very much. So she goes back and checks again. Ten minutes this time.

"It's because you're flying to Colombia. We don't do special meals on flights that go there."

I remind her that we've flown American to Brazil and to Argentina, and had veggie meals, so South America shouldn't be the magic factor. "Maybe it's the economy?" she says. "Maybe we're cutting back?"

I ask to speak to her supervisor. She puts me on another lengthy hold. Then she returns.

"Ok, my supervisor says it's because Colombia is designated as a trouble zone," the woman says, and to her credit she sounds as puzzled as I am. "She showed me a chart. We offer special meals on flights going everywhere in South America except for Venezuela and Colombia."

"Because...it's a trouble zone?" At this point, I can't help bursting out laughing. "So American Airlines feels it's safe enough to fly PEOPLE there, but not to fly VEGETABLES????"

Apparently so.

When did my life become a Zippy comic?

- SW

3rd February 2009

2:14pm: Slouching. Towards. Bethlehem.

At least BSG is kicking ass right now.

Even if I feel a little bit like everyone's favorite beaten-within-an-inch-of-it's-life Battlestar myself...

Ever forward, I s'pose....

- SW
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