Thursday, September 28, 2006

I'm one step further to being a permanent, permanent resident alien!

My green card expired yesterday. Today I received notice that the USCIS (United States Customs and Immigration Service; the renamed INS) received my I-751 form.

When you get a green card by marrying a U.S. citizen it's only good for two years and you are classed as a Conditional Permanent Resident Alien. Apparently at some point in the last 10 years someone thought one of the big immigration problems in the U.S. was illegal aliens marrying American citizens to get into the country. So, to stop this sort of thing — since it's not like you can build a fence around single U.S. citizens in contact with foreigners — once a green card is granted due to marriage it is good for only two years. Before those two years are up, but no earlier than 90 days before they are up, you have to apply to get the conditions taken off.

This process requires an I-751 form, proof that you are still married (there are ways of removing the conditions if you are divorced or separated, which makes me wonder why they go to the bother of putting conditions on the green card in the first place), and, oh yeah, a cheque for $205. Hmm... I think I figured out the whole point of this "conditional permanent resident alien thing".

The last time we checked, we guessed that we've spent around $1500 getting me the green card. One of these days I'll go through the whole process, if anyone is interested...

The tough part (other than coming up with the money!) was proving we were still married. The guidelines that come with the form are pretty vague as to what they want to see as proof. They give some ideas but don't tell you what they need as a minimum. When I called the USCIS hotline I was told that "more was better".

(It's a good thing I called earlier this month. About six months I called to ask them where to send the application as the USCIS office in New Orleans was closed. They told me to send it to Memphis. This time they told me to send it to Mesquite, Texas. Apparently Mesquite was the correct answer...)

One of the suggested pieces of evidence is an affadavit from two people swearing that you are still living together. This was somewhat problematic as we don't have a lot of local friends, but Kristi and Beth, who work with Alana, vouched for us. (Kristi was at our wedding.) We sent photocopies of our vehicle registrations, photocopies of our bank statement, and photocopies of utility bills. Alana copied our medical insurance card, and printed off something from work showing that I was the beneficiary of her work-related life insurance. We also sent a smattering of photographs. This, too, was problematic since Alana and I hate having our pictures taken. I think we had one photo with both of us in it, and three pairs of photos where one of the pair was me with Logan and the other was Alana with Logan obviously in the same place.

It's not just the weirdness of having to prove you are still married, but the fact that you don't know just how much evidence will be enough!

At any rate, they accepted the package I sent and cashed the cheque. The official form they sent back told me that my green card has been extended for one year. My petition to have the conditions removed will take a minimum of 120 days to process, though they kindly tell me to feel free to contact them if they haven't processed the petition within six months.

I'm not sure what the next step is. I had to go to an interview for the green card in the first place. I may have to go for another interview. Assuming that the conditions are removed, the green card is good for 10 years or the point I become a U.S. citizen... if I become a citizen (and that's a whole other story).

The Wilhelm

You probably don't know it, but you've heard the Wilhelm.

It's pretty likely that you saw Star Wars. If so, you probably remember the scene where Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia are attacked by stormtroopers on a ledge in a big circular shaft on the Death Star. Luke fires at some stormtroopers above him. A stormtrooper is hit and falls. He screams as he falls.

That scream was the Wilhelm.

The Wilhelm scream was first recorded for the 1951 film Distant Drums starring Gary Cooper. In one scene a character is bitten by an alligator and dragged underwater. As he's attacked, he screams. Six screams were recorded. The 5th was used for the alligator attack, but the 4th, 5th and 6th were used elsewhere in the film. Afterward, the recordings were placed in the Warner Brothers sound library.

In 1953, the scream was used in the film The Charge at Feather River, when a character named Private Wilhelm is shot in the leg with an arrow.

The scream showed up in a number of other movies. Film students Ben Burtt, Rick Mitchell and Richard Anderson discovered the sound and tracked it down. In 1977, when Burtt was hired to do sound effects for Star Wars he deliberately chose the Wilhelm scream.

The three students used the scream in such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Batman Returns, Agent Cody Banks, Madagascar, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Fifth Element and a raft of other movies. Quentin Tarantino used the scream in Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill, Vol. 1.

To read a more detailed account of the scream, and to hear the recordings, check out this site:

I heard about the scream on that motivational poster thread I've been talking about. In decades past this sort of thing would be esoteric knowledge buried in some sci-fi fanzine. Now, thanks to the Internet and its cataloguing, this esoteric knowledge... well, it's still esoteric, but it has the possibility of being disseminated further and faster than ever before. Ain't the Interweb swell?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Books that influenced me

An online friend, Chris De Boe, sent an e-mail to a couple of us yesterday. He asked for a list of books that "most influenced you". It's not a list of influential books that you've read, but books that had the most personal influence on you.

This was a good question! On thinking about it, I found that most of my personal beliefs and philosophy came from people, not books. I guess that's a positive thing, though it means that most of the books on my list look like they had only a "shallow" effect on me.

Regardless, I thought I'd share my list, in no particular order:
  • A book on early humans. I remember this book, it was hardbound with a glossy cover, the type of book you give "tweens". It had the picture of an early hominid on the cover. I received two books at the same time, though I can't remember what the other one was about (genetics, maybe). I can't remember who gave it to me (probably my parents) and I can't remember the title, but the images in that book have stuck with me for more than three decades. It was the first time I read about early hominids (proto-humans), and it helped cement in my head the time line for human evolution. I remember it really hit me that, yep, humans came way later than dinosaurs!

  • Modern Physics. This was my 3rd year university text book. It's chock full of stuff that absolutely fascinated me, even if I didn't understand all of it, particularly the math. It's where I first saw an explanation for relativity. It set me up for...

  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. This bestseller is infamous for having sold a lot of copies that weren't read. I did read the whole book, which gave me an incredible understanding of cosmology, though I admit I followed along until he started talking about evaporating black holes. I bought A Briefer History of Time earlier this year; that's on my "must read soon" list.

  • The Face of Battle by John Keegan. This is an important book in the modern study of military history. Keegan looked at three battles — Agincourt, Waterloo, and The Somme — with a focus on what it was like for men to fight in the battle. His preface is incredibly dry and almost lost me, but when he got into the battle details his prose came alive. This book influenced the way I looked at military history, and pushed me toward a deeper understanding of the subject.

  • They Met At Gettysburg by Edward Stackpole. This book came out in the 1950s. I came across a copy in the early 1990s. Until then I knew a tiny bit about the Battle of Gettysburg, but not much else about the Civil War. This book set me on a path that has turned out to be my most enduring interest. It's not the best book on the battle, by far. It has a number of biases and some small inaccuracies, but it's clear prose, interesting drawings, and numerous maps make it an excellent "primer" on the battle.

  • Samurai Warriors by Stephen Turnbull. I don't talk about it much, but
    my interest in samurai is second only to my interest in the American
    Civil War. This is the book that started me down that particular road.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I studied this famous novel in grade 12. My teacher did his masters (or was it PhD) thesis on it, and he taught it very well. It was the first time I realized a book could have hidden subtexts and imagery, that novels weren't just about plot and/or flowery language.

  • The War Game by Charles Grant. Miniature wargaming will always be my favourite hobby — even if I do precious little of it these days — because of this book. This book, plus several other by Grant and by Donald Featherstone, were available in the Oshawa Public Library. I would pour over them for hours while in junior high school and high school.

  • A paperback collection of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction from the late 1970s. I can't
    remember the publisher or the actual title mdash; the book is in our storage locker — but it got me interested in Lovecraft's fiction. This, in turn, started me playing Call of Cthulhu, a roleplaying game I have played on-and-off (mostly on) for more than 2 decades. Although my first love was, and always will be, miniature wargames, I've played Call of Cthulhu, and its offshoot games, more than anything else in my life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Furniture Porn

I'm sure this post title will get my blog more hits and/or banned!

I came across this site via It's the Furniture Porn site: pornography featuring... uh, well, furniture!

The site is designed to look like your typical cheapo online porn site, complete with garish buttons and banner ads. However, all the models are furniture!

It is mostly work safe, sort of. I mean, it's... furniture! Still, if your co-workers/bosses don't have a sense of humour, or are easily put off by hot lawn chair-on-lawn chair action (or anything that vaguely , then you may want to wait until you get home.

I'm sure it says something about humans that the site makes you feel dirty, probably due to the human mind's pattern recognition ability but... geez, it's furniture!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Scottish police not exactly trigger happy

A recent article in The Scotsman states that across Scotland, police have fired handguns 34 times in the last seven years. According to WikiTravel, Scotland has a population of just over 5 million.

I would be surprised to learn that the number of times Monroe, LA police have fired their guns in the last seven years is way over that, and Monroe has 1% of Scotland's population.

Here's the article:

Interestingly, a Member of Scottish Parliament wants an inquiry into why the numbers are so patchy (i.e. so high in Central Scotland, where Glasgow and Edinburgh are located). Gee, could it be because of... population density? And 34 incidents is a pretty low number to get any meaningful statistics out of.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the number of police in Scotland with guns. Of course, my understanding is that the vast majority of British police are still unarmed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

While out walking yesterday...

We took Logan to the fair here in Monroe, yesterday. It was the first fair, with rides and such, that we'd ever attended as a family. Considering the cost, this was probably a good thing!

Anyway, on the way to and from the fair we came across this car. It's an old Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z — from the early to mid 80s if I recognize it correctly. The owner (presumably) chose to spray religious slogans on it with blue spray paint. I guess nobody wanted to "pimp" his ride.

From here you can see that the guy is a Steeler's fan.

I'm not sure what's more disturbing, that he decided to paint the car in religious slogans in spray paint, or that he felt the need to add "Go Pittsburg"...

As always, click on the image to see a bigger version.

The picture quality isn't great, but they were taken with the camera on my Sony Ericsson Z520a cell phone. I didn't think they came out too bad for a cell phone camera.

Battlestar Galactica webisodes

Alana and I are fans of the new Battlestar Galactica TV series (as opposed to the cheesy original series from the 70s and the 80s). The new season starts October 6. While looking for information about the new season of Lost, I blundered across the Battlestar Galactica "webisodes".

There are six webisodes — short episodes available only on the internet — with a couple more coming. They take place after the last episode of season 2 and before the first episode of season 3.

Here are some links:

The Battlestar Galactica home page –'s "Pulse" broadband network –

The direct link to the BSG webisodes –

The webisodes are only about 3 to 3.5 minutes long, and that includes a 30 second preview of next season. There isn't a lot of content in the webisodes, but they are done with the same quality as the regular episodes. They introduce a couple of new characters, too. It's an interesting concept. I hope more shows do this.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lego Star Wars II redux

Logan and I got through Chapter 6 of Episode VI on Lego Star Wars II today! Now all the chapters have been unlocked in "free play" mode, meaning he can walk into any chapter and play as any character.

This does not mean that the game is over, not by far! We have 23/99 "gold bricks", which allow you to build things. You get one brick for completing a level, another for getting True Jedi status in that level in story mode, and a third for getting True Jedi status in free play mode, and a fourth for getting all 10 minikit canisters in a chapter. You can also go through a bounty hunter mode where you try to find specific characters within a certain time limit, and "Superstory mode" where you try to finish an entire episode's worth of levels within a time limit (Episode IV has a one hour time limit).

It is almost impossible to get True Jedi status when playing with Logan. He charges through chapters and drags you along, often to your death. He doesn't have the patience for finding enough studs to get True Jedi status. So, at lunch time and at night I've been playing chapters in story and free play modes to get True Jedi status.

The minikit canisters are another issue. They quite often involve puzzle solving. I hate puzzles. Or, rather, I love logic puzzles but I hate pretty much every other kind of puzzle. I don't mind the regular puzzles in the Lego Star Wars games, like "How do I open the portal to get out of this section?" The puzzles aren't too frustrating and you can be sure that they will be contained to your particular room or section. The minikit canisters are more diabolically hidden, and sometimes require a fair bit of manual dexterity. I hate wasting 10 minutes trying to hop onto a platform only to find there's an easier way to get there. Fortunately, that's where the Internet and "walkthroughs" come in!

I preferred this game to the last one. There is more to the game. The game lacks the really frustrating levels I hated in the first game (in particular, Chapter 5 of Episode III that required a frustrating amount of coordination to master). The spaceship sections are longer and more involved. It's fun hopping into AT-ATs and firing at stormtroopers. There are also a lot of neat flourishes, like the stormtrooper running around in his underwear, and the levers that lower helmets onto your character's head so you can sneak into certain areas.

So, while we've "finished" the game, I still have an awful lot of playing ahead of me!

Frank Miller's 300

Frank Miller is a comic book writer and artist, perhaps best know for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, an adult-oriented story that was at the forefront of a new era of graphic novels in the 1980s. Instead of me describing that book, you can read about it on Wikipedia.

Director Robert Rodriguez adapted Miller's early 1990s work Sin City into a film that was released last year. I don't have Sin City, in spite of regularly visiting an excellent comic shop throughout the 90s. However, I do have Miller's 1998 series 300.

(While in college I worked weekends at Unicorn Comics in Oshawa, ON. I was the "game guy". When I started working full time I wrote the computer program that the store used to maintain customer request lists and inventory. I was paid with a 40% discount that lasted until I moved to Louisiana. The store is now Worlds Collide. Its web site is

300 is the fictional retelling of the three hundred Spartans that held off the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae, from the perspective of King Leonidas of Sparta. I enjoyed both the story and the art work. It is due to be released next year as a motion picture directed by Zack Snyder. Snyder directed the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, and is currently working on another comic adaptation, The Watchmen.

Here is a link to a trailer for 300. The visuals capture the comic book perfectly. I have high hopes for it. The trailer is found at

I found the trailer through the web comic Ctrl-Alt-Del. Apparently links to the trailer are popping up all over the internet, and are being yanked just as quickly. I have no idea how long that link will last.

Friday, September 22, 2006


After a long week, I took off work early (still got my 40 hours in, though) and took Logan to see Flyboys. If you haven't been reading the comments to my Duke Cunningham entry, this is a story "inspired by" the exploits of the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of American pilots fighting for France in World War I prior to the U.S.'s entry into the war. Michael and I had been reading the background on the film, and we were somewhat worried at the film's inaccuracies.

First, the story is "inspired by" true events. This is actually a smart move, because it's obvious that the film is historical fiction. For instance, there's a black pilot flying in the squadron. There was a black man flying for France in the Great War by then name of Eugene Bullard. In the film the character's name is Skinner. It's fiction, but with a historical flavour. As such I was willing to give it some leeway. I don't mind films that aren't 100% accurate if they say up front that their fiction.

Michael and I suspected that the film would be full of rare aerial exploits, things that might have happened to the odd squadron once in the war. In the trailers you see an aircraft ram a zeppelin. Such a thing probably happened, but you had the feeling that the film was going to be full of such rarities all happening to the one squadron in a short period of time, and an American squadron at that. Surprisingly, this was actually kept to a minimum. Yes, an airman lands in "no man's land" to save a friend. Yes there's a zeppelin ramming scene. Yes an aircraft tears the top wing off another aircraft. Even so, it's not as over the top as I thought it would be. The zeppelin ramming scene actually makes sense within the context of the plot.

The film isn't as over the top as I thought it would be partially due to its main fault: there's just not enough flying! Over a third of the film is dedicated to a love story, with the main character, played by James Franco, falling in love with a French girl. The way they handle the language barrier is not badly done. The romance is coy and sweet, and could have been used as a good juxtaposition to the horror of war. You never see enough of the horror of war for there to be any juxtaposition, even assuming the director — Tony Bill — was capable of juxtaposition. The romance is marred (in my opinion) by the film's ending. It also eats up far too much screen time and sets up a completely unneccessary rescue scene.

About a third of the movie is dedicated to the characters coping with life in the squadron. Pretty much every cliche you can think of is present. Since there's a black character you know there will be a mention of race, but of course only one character shows any sort of racism. Instead of depicting racism as endemic to society, it is shown as a flaw in a particular character. Most of the other characters are straight out of central casting: the hardened veteran, the gung ho youngster newbie who loses his nerve, the deeply religious warrior. You can pretty much know who is going to live and who is going to die. One character can't shoot straight. Care to guess whether or not he'll shoot someone down by the end of the movie? There's only one black character, too. Will he die? You know the answers as soon as the movie starts. The strain of aerial combat is not accurately portrayed.

The Germans are all flying Fokker Dr.1 triplanes. All of them are red except for the main bad guy's. In real life, only Baron Manfred von Richtoffen's Dr.1 was painted red (hence the reason he was called the Red Baron), and the Dr.1 was nowhere near the most common German aircraft. That having been said, the film concentrates on a rivalry between the Americans and the German Dr.1s. As silly as this is, the fact that the main antagonists are all flying the distinctive three wing plane isn't as awful as I thought it would be. It's not like all Germans fly the one plane. It's just that the Americans keep running into the same Germans. And, of course one of the Germans is chivalrous, and another is evil. Gosh, do you think the climax of the film will involve the evil German in his black plane?

The film isn't without some merit. They do a good job of transporting you back to 1916/1917. French uniforms are evident throughout, including some colonial uniforms. Some of the camera angles really give you a feel for how small and exposed the pilots were in the aircraft. The pilots are shown returning from combat covered in oil. There's a scene with a German bomber in lozenge camouflage that made me sigh at what is possible in films, even if the potential was not reached in Flyboys.

I wasn't crazy about the CGI, or, rather, how the CGI integrated with the rest of the film. Apparently the reason the Germans are all flying red Fokker Dr.1s is because one of the few real, flying aircraft they could get was a Dr.1 and doing CGI on a bunch of other aircraft would have been expensive. There are several shots of the real aircraft in flight. Unfortunately, these shots are all crisp and brightly lit. Most of the rest of the live action shots were done with moody lighting (most of the sunlight shots seem to be at dusk or dawn), but still crisp. The computer generated stuff, though, is all saturated, sort of washed out, kind of grainy and with a slightly soft focus. This is how the entire film should have been shot, giving it an antique quality. I suspect that there was no money in the budget to make the entire film look like this. Pity, as the CGI scenes stand out like a sore thumb otherwise.

Over on Rotten Tomatoes the film gets its few fresh ratings for the dogfight scenes. They could have been much better, in my opinion, though they certainly could have been worse. Very little was shown of actual dogfighting maneuvers. The dogfights mostly revolve around an aircraft jumping on another's tail until the target is shot down or someone else flies in to save the day. There's no feel for real World War I aerial maneuvers and tactics. We're told that the Dr.1 can turn better than the Nieuport 17 (the plane flown by the Americans), yet the Germans never get into a turning fight with the Americans. Mostly a plane with an enemy on its tail simply jinks back and forth, a recipe for disaster. There are several shots where planes go vertical, both climbing and diving. The dive looked pretty cheesy; this was an era when a steep dive was often impossible to get out of, either because the aircraft could not be pulled out in time, or because it shed its wings. The climbs were usually done at an angle that they get away with it, sort of. These aircraft did not have the power of even World War II aircraft. You couldn't climb rapidly without first diving to gain energy. You never see the aircraft dive before a climb in this movie. There was a scene with a "wingover", which was okay. There was another scene when the planes went into a loop, but they didn't dive first (which was a requirement with this era of aircraft) and they flew upside down at the peak of the loop, when any period pilot would have rolled it right-side-up before getting to the top of the loop.

The movie takes place in some nebulous time period. At the beginning we're told it is some time in 1916. New Nieuport 17s are given to the squadron, which suggests early 1916. However, in a whopper for those who know World War I aircraft, before they get their new aircraft, the squadron commander (played by French actor Jean Reno) points out some British planes: a "Sopwith", which is probably the Camel, and an "S.E.5a". Much as I loved seeing these two aircraft, they weren't introduced until June 1917, more than a year after the movie is set! Oops! Near the end of the film they mention the impending entry of the United States into the war. That was April 1917, still a couple of months before the aircraft saw service.

For what it's worth, Logan liked the movie. He had never heard of a zeppelin before today, and now he saw one in a movie. He did cover his eyes a couple of times... when there was kissing! Otherwise, he was cool with the movie. Given the subject, it is uncharacteristically lacking in gore. It looked like it was edited down for a PG-13 rating. Young teenagers will probably like it, though perhaps the love story will bore them.

I'm interested in Michael's take on the film, particularly with regard to the training sequences. I don't know how authentic they were, but they seemed like the kind of rudimentary lessons pilots recieved at the time. However, the one month training time frame seemed a little long; they were pretty quick to throw men into those crates in the Great War with pilots receiving very little in the way of training or experience.

There are other things I can go into, but I think that gives a fair idea of what the movie was like. It was too long. It spent too much time on the ground. The flying sequences are exciting, if unrealistic. Still, Logan enjoyed it and I was happy at the few sequences that felt "authentic". I had an idea of what I was getting into when I went to see it, and my expectations were pretty accurate.

If you want to see World War I aircraft in dogfights (and I did!), I recommend waiting for DVD.

More RPG motivational posters

Back in July I posted a bunch of roleplaying game motivational posters I created and posted in an forum thread. I've done some more, so here are the rest.

As in the last time, click on the picture to see a bigger view of it (just in case the text is hard to read).

Being a fan of Invader Zim, I decided to do a couple of "alignment" posters. Some games require a character to be good, neutral, or evil, and either lawful, neutral, or chaotic. So...

Of course, when you create characters with a set alignment you run the risk of playing them differently from the way you created them:

This next poster was part of a series. Some guy posted a bunch of posters proclaiming the coolness and superheroic powers of Chuck Norris. I just had to respond. (In roleplaying — and Hong Kong action movie — parlance, a "mook" is an unnamed enemy of low ability.)

This is another one of those "in joke" posters that non-roleplayers might not get. In particular, this is for all those Call of Cthulhu players. Someone posted a couple of posters about magic and pentacles/pentagrams. So, I followed up with:

Of course, H. P. Lovecraft did not design his Elder Sign that way. That one is the creation of Ramsay Campbell, I think. Lovecraft's Elder Sign looked like this:

Then I got to thinking about what an Elder Sign does. In the fiction and in the game it prevents nasty Mythos creatures from entering a portal. So why do characters insist on wearing the darned things as necklaces?

This, in turn, led to memories of a roleplaying session about 10 years ago. Two characters, run by Martin Sloan and Chris Smith, were guarding a Non Player Character. Something broke into the upstairs room where the NPC was sleeping. They rushed upstairs and heard a commotion inside. Instead of trying to help the NPC, they waited until it was nice and quiet. When they went in, they discovered the NPC had been decapitated. They rolled for Sanity to see if they lost their lunch at the horrible site. They made their rolls. In response, Martin said the immortal words...

Someone posted a couple of Star Wars posters. This led me to thinking about Darth Vader and how totally incompetent he was. I may have mentioned this on the blog before, but Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader messes up pretty much everything he did. Except for killing all the young Jedi in Episode III, pretty much everything he did was a failure. He did kill the Emperor in Episode VI, but did it in such a way that he was killed himself.

In honour of Darth Vader, I present:

A bunch of folk did posters involving Steve Irwin, most of them involving Hit Points or stingrays. Here's mine:

Finally, another in-joke, which I doubt will be appreciated by anyone except RuneQuest players. Someone created a poster based on an anime roleplaying game with a female character on it. Someone pointed out that the effeminate character was actually a male, according to "official sources". This started a bunch of people saying that when designing roleplaying games, "If it looked like a duck and sounded like a duck, then by god it should be a duck!" I took this one step further:

So there you have them. Not as funny or ironic as the last batch, I'm afraid, but my contributions to a thread that is now over 7300 posts and well over 2.6 million page views.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Guy Louis Gabaldon

You've probably not heard of Guy Gabaldon. That's a shame, because his story is quite amazing. Private Guy Gabaldon was a U.S. Marine in the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II. While fighting on the island of Saipan, on July 8, 1944, he single-handedly captured 800 Japanese.

Capturing 800 of the enemy single-handed is a feat in itself, but even more surprising is that it was Japanese that he caught.

Gabaldon was a Mexican-American, who grew up in California. He was adopted by Japanese-American parents at the age of 12, allowing him to pick up colloquial Japanese. When they were thrown into an internment camp he first went to Alaska and then enlisted in the Marines on his 17th birthday.

While on Saipan, he captured seven Japanese in one outing, 50 in another. He would go to a cave or other Japanese hiding place, take out the guards, and then yell to the others to surrender, assuring them that they would be treated well. All told, by the time he was wounded by machine gun fire he had captured about 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians.

If you read about the Pacific Island War you will hear about the "fanatical" Japanese. Japan was in the grip of a military dictatorship (with the trappings of democracy) that reached back to the samurai era for inspiration. The Japanese of the mid-20th century were very religious, most believing in some form of after life. Bushido, the way of the warrior followed by the samurai, held that surrendering to an enemy was disgraceful. It was better to die with honour fighting for your lord rather than to surrender to the enemy. This is actually a gross simplification, but it was a spirit embraced by the Japanese military. They taught their men that to surrender was shameful, and you would be brutally murdered by the Americans and British. It was better to fight and die than to give up. This teaching had a corollary. If you were scum and shamed by surrendering, anyone who surrendered — particularly en masse as happened after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Dutch East Indies, and the British Far East colonies — was equally scum and shameful. This feedback loop resulted in some of the worst atrocities ever perpetuated on captured soldiers, things that make Abu Graib look like a holiday camp.

With all that in mind, the surrender of so many Japanese is astounding. On Tarawa, 146 Japanese surrendered out of a garrison of 5,000. On Peleliu, the Pacific battle I know the most about, 202 Japanese were captured out of a garrison of 10,695. Saipan was infamous for the civilians who threw themselves to their deaths after the battle. Yet, here was one man who convinced so many of them to surrender.

The reason he was able to do this appears to be something pretty simple: communication. He was able to talk to the Japanese in colloquial language, although he wasn't 100% fluent. His command of the language allowed him to convince them that he was on the up-and-up. This suggests that the Japanes weren't quite as fanatical as they've been portrayed. Faced with death with honour, or death with dishonour — the only options when they truly believed that the Americans would simply murder their captives — there was really no option. Gabaldon seems to have convinced them that there was an option. As a result, his exploits give a more detailed, and realistic, picture of the Japanese. They come across as more human than any other accounts I've read.

I won't go into the details. There are several sites that do a much better job of it than I could. The article in the War Times Journal is here:

Another link to the same story can be found here:

Sadly, Guy Louis Gabaldon died on August 31 of this year. I heard about his exploits through a link from RPG.Net. I suspect they heard about him from an obituary. At the time his commanders tried to get him the Medal of Honor, but they only succeeded in gaining him the Navy Cross. For several years now there is an attempt to have him awarded the Medal of Honor.

Trivia: Gabaldon's story was told in Hell to Eternity. He was played by actor Jeffrey Hunter. Hunter starred in a number of movies, including The Longest Day, but is probably best known as Captain Christopher Pike in the first Star Trek pilot. Hunter was born in New Orleans (as Henry Herman McKinnies, Jr.), something I didn't know until today.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Designated Import's first birthday!

It was one year ago today that I posted my first blog entry. At the time I wasn't sure I'd find enough to keep the blog going for a month, let alone a year. The main impetus for writing the blog was to give my family a place where they could find out what was happening with us. In fact, it was a year ago this week that Hurricane Rita was bearing down on this part of the world.

There were some things I planned to do that I never got around to. I intended to do a semi-regular "whats living in the CD player" feature, but i didn't get past about three or four of those. I guess it's because I figured few people would want to read about the music I was listening to, particularly if it wasn't fairly new stuff. There are topics that hit me as important at the time but slipped away as the moment was lost. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not...

What surprised me is how political the blog got. I guess that unless you try hard some amount of politics will slip in to pretty much any blog.

The biggest shift in the blog is that I actually do have people reading it! That's... just odd! I don't think of myself as particularly enlightening or amusing, yet people keep coming back to the blog. Well, several of you do! And it affects the way I write it. For one thing, instead of skippiing tonight's entry — because I'm tired and I've spent the evening working on a rewrite of the Ouachita Parish Food Bank database and then helped Logan get through another chapter in Lego Star Wars II — I'm writing a lame "birthday" entry because my "readers" demand content!

Probably the most rewarding part of the blog is when I receive e-mail from strangers thanking me for a particular entry. This happened with my Medicare Part D prescription entry and the post about the Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The most surreal point was getting "hate mail" because I was peeved at CVS pharmacy. That was just... odd. (For the record, I still haven't set foot in that store since the March incident.)

So, thanks for reading, and thanks for your comments, even those of you who are twisted and warped... I am, of course, talking about my "regular readers". I'll try not to be too boring... at least not until next year's "birthday" post.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Taxation without representation

The president of our company sent around today, from the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, an e-mail questioning a Ouachita Parish tax that's coming up for a vote. They are "concerned" because the total of the tax is greater than a tax proposed, and voted down, last year.

Forget the fact that the president of the company is promoting his own politics within his company. Sure, he owns it, but it isn't exactly fair since there are those with opposing viewpoints who feel they can't speak out. Besides, this sort of thing happens all the time. Even the governor of Louisiana got into the act. She sent around to state employees reasons they should vote for changes to Louisiana's constitution, which she is proposing. (Note: state employees themselves are prohibited by law from expressing their views of politics in public.)

Also, forget the fact that the Chamber of Commerce isn't exactly "unbiased", and is generally against any tax increase.

Instead, I want to concentrate on this: what is it with the United States and all this damned voting nonsense?

No, I'm serious! I understand that the nation is a democracy, founed on the fact that people were paying taxes without having representation in British parliament. This is a nation of the people, for the people, and by the peopple. Okay, I can buy that, even if for most of its history "people" was defined as middle-aged white men. I can see where they are coming from. I just think this whole "voting" thing has gone too far.

I'm not all that crazy about an election for judges. Judges should be impartial, and voting for judges strikes me as a bad idea. Oh, sure, you can vote out the bad ones, but a good system will have ways for bad judges to come up for review, anyway. And it still doesn't stop bad judges from being turfed if the constituents like him (such as for, oh, ignoring higher courts with regard to displays of religious tenets, as an example). And, no, this isn't just because I'm sick of seeing Judge Leehy posters all over town, particularly right in front of my favourite parking spot at work.

What I don't like are all these votes for tax hikes. Since I've been down here, there have been about four different times Louisianians in this area (Ouachitawanians...?) have voted for or against a tax. Asking people whether or not they should spend more money on taxes is sort of like asking a kid if he wants more of that yucky tasting medicine. The kid is only going to say "yes" if he's feeling really ill. The same is the case with tax payers. Even if the tax is necessary you might end up with people voting it down by a generally uninformed electorate (or underinformed electorate; being uniformed is not always the fault of the voter). This is exactly what happened last year in the Parish. It was only after people learned that, yeah, they fire department would have to close whole stations — just as they threatened to do — and certain areas would see property insurance increases that a second vote was passed.

What's the point in electing a representative government if all they're going to do is pass the buck on to the people? The whole reason for having a representative government is so that the people don't have to vote on every little measure. That, and the ability to curb "the tyranny of the majority". By having people vote on taxes, politicians don't have to take any responsibility. If the tax is passed, then they can always say, "Hey, the people agreed with me!" If the tax is not passed, they aren't responsible for any fiscal failure that results. If the tax was unnecessary... well, it didn't get passed, did it?

Politicians should be held responsible for increased taxes, and the spending that required them.

Of course part of this is me just moaning about the fact that I am taxed, but I can't vote. I also can't draw on various government help, either. As an immigrant, I can't access various government programs — I think Medicaid is one of them — until I've been here for 10 years, or I become an American citizen, whichever comes first. This in spite of me paying full taxes.

Yeah, yeah, I understand the reasoning. They don't want people immigrating just to get cheap health care, for instance (like a Canadian would move to the U.S. for cheap health care). While I'm paying at least as much into the system as any one else that's been in the work force for less than 3 years, I don't have the same benefits. On the flip side, my parents weren't paying into the system while I was growing up, either. (I wasn't drawing from the education system, though, so wouldn't that be a wash?)

So, yeah, I'm being taxed, but I don't have access to benefits and I can't vote, all of which has made me a little snarly at "tax voting time". Hmmm... now I think I know how the people of the 13 colonies felt. Maybe I'll celebrate by buying an ice tea and pouring it into the Ouachita River...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Muslims clash with the Pope

At the risk of bringing a fatwah down on my head, is it impolite to point out that you shouldn't demonstrate against someone saying your religion was founded on violence by, oh, killing someone?

A Catholic nun was killed in Somalia in response to Pope Benedict's speech last week stating that early Muslims spread Islam through violence. There have been a number of protests throughout the world against the Pope's statements. That's fine, it's part of freedom of speech. However someone shot a nun in large part because of what the Pope said, and churches in the West Bank have been torched as part of the protest. The secretary-general of the Turkish HUKUK-DER law association asked the Justice Ministry to arrest the Pope when he arrives in Turkey for a visit in November, the first time a pope visited a Muslim nation. A couple of the charges are obstruction of freedom of belief, encouraging discrimination based on religion, and inciting religious hatred.

Irony is apparently dead.

On the other side, the Pope said that his statements were not personal beliefs but from a medieval text. If that's the case, why did he choose those remarks? According to an article in The Scotsman, part of the problem lies with the demotion of a British archbishop.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald was the head of "inter-religious dialogue" and the Pope's top expert on Islamic affairs. He was demoted to position of papal nuncio in Cairo. No one replaced the archbishop in is "inter-religious dialogue" post. It's been suggested that if Fitzgerald had been left there, the text of the speech would never had included the inflammatory statement.

Al Quaida has apparently said that the violence will continue until the West converts to Islam. Bill Maher accidentally converted to Islam on his show on September 1, 2006. This is pretty funny stuff. Here is the clip on YouTube (watch it all, but the conversion jokes start at about the 1 minute 50 second point:

One of my favourite lines, "And the best part, nothing that really matters to you will be different. It's not like we're asking you to change your e-mail address. We'd be Muslims in name only, instead of what Americans are now: Christians in name only."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"Duke" Cunningham

I was watching The History Channel last night. They had a show on aerial dogfights. They chose one from each of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and went into some detail as to how the aircraft fought.

For those of us who have played flight simulators, it was pretty interesting. They used "computer graphics", which looked like something from Microsoft Flight Combat Simulator, to recreate the combat.

(Aside: it's programs like this that really make the rest of the world growl at American television programs. The show covered four conflicts, but every dogfight involved Americans.

The World War I dogfight involved Eddie Rickenbacker. The U.S. came into that war way late, so Rickenbacker — the top American — only had 26 kills in his career. The dogfight they chose to show was pretty exciting, with Rickenbacker shooting down two aircraft out of a flight of four Fokker DVIIs and two two-seater reconaissance aircraft. Still, Rickenbacker had less than half the kills of Britains greatest ace and a little over a third of Canada's best ace.

The World War II dogfight involved Bud Anderson, a friend of the more famous Chuck Yeager. Anderson's group of four P-51 Mustangs encountered a group of four German Me-109s. Anderson shot down two German aircraft. The show made a big deal in each of its four segements to tick off the advantages for each side. Remarkably, Anderson's group were given two check marks and so were the Germans, with "combat experience" being a big one for the Germsns. However, virtually no one would equate the ME-109 with the Mustang. In fact, the program after this one made a point of explaining how the ME-109 was considered obsolete by the time the Mustang was released. They ignored that part to boost the "importance" of Anderson's dogfight, making it seem that he didn't have a big advantage over the Germans even before the battle started.)

The Vietnam War episode involved Randall "Duke" Cunningham, who was the first carrier borne Navy pilot to become an ace during that war. He flew in a two-seater F4 Phantom. The segment was quite good, showing how Cunningham's jet and the MiG-17 fought each other. Cunningham, who was one of the first pilots to graduate from the Navy's TOPGUN school, struck me as an intelligent pilot.

It was during this segment that a light bulb went off. I checked Wikipedia. Yep, this is the same Duke Cunningham who was a Republican congressman until earlier this year, when he was disgraced due to taking bribes from defence contractors. He's now serving a sentence of over eight years in a federal prison.

The Wikipedia entry is quite fascinating. It describes a man who was accomplished at one skill that took intelligence and raw talent (flying) and yet was a complete waste of oxygen as a politician. Read the article and you'll see what I mean. My favourite line in the article is, "In the Washingtonian feature 'Best & Worst of Congress' of 2004, Cunningham was rated (along with four other House members) as 'No Rocket Scientist' by a bipartisan survey of Congressional staff."

The most telling Cunningham anecdote involved his stance on drug dealers. Cunningham berated Clinton for appointing judges "soft on crime" and he called for tougher sentences on drug dealers. He even voted for the death penalty against major drug dealers. This "tough on drugs" stand ended at his family. His son Todd was arrested for helping to transport 400 lbs of marijuana from Massachusetts to California. At his son's sentencing hearing, Cunningham tearfully asked for leniency, with presumably no hint of irony.

Knowing that Cunningham was this successful fighter pilot makes his fall from grace as a congressman more interesting, yet also more pitiful. It just shows how most people in real life are more complicated than fictional characters. It's why I love history, and why history can be so engrossing (and why it's so sad when high schools murder the subject).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Glenn Beck is an idiot

I'm only ever inflicted with Glenn Beck — a right wing talk radio dweeb who is now on CNN Headline News — when Logan drags me to McDonald's. He's on at 6 p.m. Central time, so he's always there at supper time.

Tonight Beck was particularly stupid.

He was talking to retired brigadier general David Grange about the "rules of engagement". This is a big conservative bugaboo. Due to "liberals" or, just as bad, "the media", the army is forced to be careful about what it does in Iraq and Afghanistan. Forget the fact that the "rules of engagement" are created by the military with heavy input from the administration. Forget the fact that for 6 years the Republicans have controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency (not to mention recently stacked the deck in the judiciary). The problem are those damned liberals.

So, no indiscriminate civilian deaths. No firebombings. No nukes.

Oh, you think I'm exaggerating by that last statement? Nope.

Beck mentioned World War II. He said that in World War II, "We firebombed Dresden. We nuked Hiroshima. We bombed monasteries." He said that the U.S. destroyed 90% of the buildings on Okinawa, and had flamethrowers. He asked when the U.S. military could start getting serious with terrorists and railed against the U.S. having "higher moral standards". Oh, for the good old days of World War II, when you could kill your enemies without having to worry if they were soldiers, terrorists, women or children.

So, he's setting up the idea that if we lose the war in Iraq (or, as was mentioned by the NATO commander yesterday, Afghanistan) it's because of those damned liberals and their stupid restraints on the military.

He believes that you have to be as ruthless as your enemy when you are fighting someone as ruthless as the terrorists. Interesting theory, particularly since the people who would be hurt the most would be civilians in the occupied countries, and that a number of security analysts believe that just such "collateral damage" is what the terrorists truly want.

Now, I know there have been stupid restraints on the military in the past. The Vietnam war was known for restraints that did little diplomatically while hampering the war effort. However, in an unconventional war against terrorists you can't simply firebomb the hell out of Baghdad!!! Can Beck not see why this would be bad? Could he not see why removing all restraint would get a lot of civilians killed and cement a hatred of Americans?

Oh, wait, right, it's the liberals that are the problem...

He has this theory that precision munitions are a problem for America. His reasoning goes: precision bombs are accurate and allow you to take out a terrorist house while leaving a mosque or school nearby untouched; so terrorists hide in mosques and schools; therefore if a mosque or school is destroyed, it's because America wanted to destroy it. He seemed to think that, therefore, mosques and schools were off limits as far as rules of engagement were concerned. He glossed over Gen. Grange's statement that American troops do attack schools and mosques if they were fired at from such buildings first.

His next guest talked about a couple of different things, including the U.S. military developing non-lethal weapons. Non-lethal weapons are weapons that, well, don't kill people. Or neutralize the enemy without killing so many of them. Some non-lethal weapons are nasty, like lasers that blind, but would you rather be blind or dead? The ultimate non-lethal weapon would stun the target or render them unconscious without major complications.

Beck asked the guest why they were making non-lethal weapons. The guy said, "Two words, 'Public Relations'." In other words, the only reason for non-lethal weapons would be to placate the media. The liberal media, of course. Beck poo-pooed this. In his words he doesn't want non-lethal weapons. He wants to be more efficient at killing the enemy. Yes, he said that, more-or-less in those exact words. He likened the use of non-lethal weapons to the weapons used by adversaries of comic book's Batman. They knock out Batman and leave him behind, and look what happens!

Note that this dimwit hasn't made the obvious connection. He believes (erroneously) that the military can't attack mosques and schools because it would destroy those buildings, and/or kill civilians. He assumes that non-lethal weapons would be used on the battlefield due to touchy-feely liberalism that doesn't like enemy soldiers getting hurt. He doesn't think that maybe they would be reserved for use against, oh, terrorists hiding amongst civilians!

Non-lethal weapons have issues. It's hard to create a weapon that can neutralize a human without killing them, so the best we might be able to achieve is "less lethal" weapons. Still, it beats the military spending money on psychic research (which they have!), something without a basis in scientific fact. At least the end result could be very liberating for U.S. troops. Imagine having a selection of weapons that made the location of a target, from a political stand point, moot.

Perhaps he should pay more attention to Batman. Comic book heroes rarely (in the kids comics, anyway, if not the adult comics based on the same characters) permanently harmed their enemies. They took the moral high ground, using non-lethal techniques. That's why people identify with the heroes. (Yes, this is a fairly insipid argument; I'm just lowering myself to Beck's level.)

Beck gets on this high horse because of information that came out this week where a large group of Taliban members were not attacked in a cemetery by a Predator drone. No one outside the military is exactly sure why; they suspect that it has to do with the rules of engagement. Apparently the U.S. military do not attack cemeteries. Beck can't understand that. He raved that everyone in a cemetery is already dead. The idea that women and children show up to grieve for the lost, or that an attack on a cemetery could easily be twisted by the terrorists does not occur to him, or if it occurs to him he simply discounts it.

This is what CNN Headline News puts on instead of, oh, news. Unfortunately, I'm sure Glenn Beck gets reasonably good ratings, or better ratings than you'd get with just the news.

Hârn write-ups posted!

At long last, the write-ups for our our last two Hârn roleplaying game sessions have been posted. You can find them by going to this page:

I thought the write-ups were pretty cool. They definitely sound like the sessions were more fun than they were. Actually, the last two sessions weren't bad, but they could have been better.

This is the fourth or fifth time I've tried to run a campaign set in Hârn, and the second most successful. Most fall flat on their face. The one that was truly successful was over 20 years ago, when the Hârn material first came out. I ran it using the RuneQuest III rules. Each time I've tried to run the game with a variant of the HarnMaster rules, it has collapsed.

Hârn is a pretty accurate simulation of 12th century Europe... with magic and monsters. The game system is pretty realistic. Combat is accurate and detailed. The magic system befits a magically poor universe: it's quirky, it often doesn't succeed, and when it does the effects are limited in scope.

So, when combat occurs the game slows to a crawl for everyone not involved in the battle. The only way I could make a large battle work was to use the BattleLust miniatures rules (same game universe, similar but stripped down rule mechanics) and have Alana and Jason fight most of the non-player characters. That left me alone to do the more detailed combat with Jimmy's character. The results in the write-ups are great, and if every character was a fighter and/or everyone wanted detailed combat it would have worked well. The plot slowed whenever magic was cast. The magician spent a lot of time resting. Every spell cast attempt, unless a critical success, tired the mage. So you have these inordinately long spell casting sessions that suggest Hârnic sorcerers are lazy sots.

Both Michael (who played in my second attempt at a Hârn campaign) and Jason (the player of the above-mentioned mage) said virtually the same thing: it's a good system if you want to simulate 12th century Europe. For fantasy... not so much. I know my friend Dave Nickle ran a Viking game using HarnMaster. I think if I was going to do a Viking game I'd go whole hog, make the players Viking champions, and use Robin Laws' Rune rules (which I bought earlier this summer).

So is that for Hârn then? Well, I'm not sure... I really enjoyed the characters when I was doing these latest write-ups. I have toyed with the idea of doing a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition game in Hârn, but I think that would be a lot of work. If I am going to run WFRP2 again, it will probably be set in the Warhammer universe. Although we talked about playing WFRP2 when we last met, I have a really good idea for a Hârn scenario. I think I might also have the game system for it: Savage Worlds. I'll do some investigating, and then next time we meet we might play an adventure instead of generating WFRP2 characters.

Anyway, it's late and I wanted to get this entry posted before I went to bed. Enjoy, everyone!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lego Star Wars II

I know what I'm going to be doing most evenings for the next couple of weeks... We bought Lego Star Wars II last night for our Playstation 2.

We don't usually buy brand new games for the PS2. If you wait a couple of months, you can buy it used for half the price (unless it's a very popular game, in which case you may have to wait a year). After a game has been out about a year, sometimes less, it becomes a "Playstation 2 Classic Hit" and is available new for $20. This is the case with Star Wars Battlefront 2, which we rented for Logan last weekend (through a free Blockbuster rental; thank you Coca Cola Corp!), and which he's really enjoying. It's easier for him than the original Star Wars Battlefront. We'll have to get that for him soon.

But we did buy Lego Star Wars II new. Half way through the summer of 2005 we bought Lego Star Wars new. We hesitated to spend so much money on a game, but we got more than our money's worth out of it. Logan still plays it, long after we got through all the levels. It's his "go to" game when his friend, Dylan, comes over. Since it was such a raging success, we decided to get the new version when it first came out.

The premise for Lego Star Wars II is the same as the first Lego Star Wars: it's a Star Wars game using Lego characters and building blocks. While some of the sets are textured rock, or shaped space ship corridors, all of the usable vehicles, all the characters, and all of the props are made from Lego bits. To give you an idea, in story mode Lego Star Wars II starts with the classic scene from the beginning of the first Star Wars movie (later renamed Episode IV). The blockade runner and the star destroyer are all made of Lego! This carries through to when characters lose all their life points. When a character "dies" it just breaks apart into little Lego bits.

The graphics aren't revolutionary. That's okay, because it's the game play that makes it work. You take on the characters from the movies in a third person perspective adventure game. Lego Star Wars covered the events in episodes I through III. Lego Star Wars II handles episodes IV through VI. The idea is to go through each level, some of which require you to solve puzzles. As a reward system, whenever you break something it showers the ground with small round Lego pieces. You have to pick up as many of these as you can, filling a bar at the top of the screen. In the original game if you filled the bar in all the episodes it unlocked a special "Episode IV" level (which does not exist in the new game). I don't yet know what the reward is in this game.

For the most part the game can be played by kids of almost any age. Logan was 6 when we went through LSW I. When a character dies, they break apart and they lose some of the small bits they were collecting. However, they reform a couple of seconds later, without losing the progress they made. There are some portions that are difficult for kids that age, but that's okay. The game has an ingenious co-operative mode. Up to two players can play at once, both on the same screen. Apparently one of the most popular ways of playing LSW I was as a parent and child team. When the going gets too tough for the child, he or she can drop out. The character remains on the screen, controlled by the game's AI. The parent then gets through the hard part and the child jumps back into the game.

Each movie (episode) is split into six chapters, just like in the last game. The chapters are framed with cut scenes. Between chapters, and when the game starts, your characters wander around the cantina at Mos Eisley. As in the last game, you can break the furniture for more Lego bits. Logan and I have been doing this profusely, because for 250,000 pieces you can buy an "Extra" that allows you to pull in the characters from the first game! Outside the cantina is where you'll find the vehicles you build with the discovered "minikit" pieces. You can also blast certain things for extra pieces. There are a couple of unique aspects to this version. First, you can punch as well as shoot with your blaster. If you accidentally shoot or punch one of the characters wandering around the cantina, it starts a "bar fight", where characters start shooting at each other. Like the fight in the original Star Wars movie, after a few seconds it's over and people go back to normal. Second, you can build unique characters in the cantina. For instance, you can put Darth Vader's head on Princess Leia's body. So far we were able to build a couple of characters, but we have no idea yet how to get them into actual play. They might only be available in free play.

That's another thing we loved about the original game. You play through the chapters to go from episode to episode. Once you cleared through a level you can go back and play it in free play mode. After you finish a level you are given a number of characters available to you in free play. Typically you have a choice of about half a dozen characters in free play, which you can hop into at any time. Like the original, there are some hidden things that can only be opened in free play. For instance, in Episode IV, Chapter 1 there is one door that can only be opened by stormtroopers. It's impossible to get in there in story mode. You have to go through it in free play mode. In fact, it looks like the game has been set up to give a richer free play experience. I couldn't figure out how to get to any of the minikit pieces in story mode (not that we tried too hard; Logan was having way too much fun blasting stormtroopers). (Minikits are hidden pieces, ten per chapter, that build a Star Wars vehicle when all the pieces are in place.)

Games are different from most entertainment media in that sequels are usually better than the originals. This game is no exception. The Rebel blockade runner level is well designed. The ability to punch is kind of neat. I understand that you can do more with vehicles. You get a hint of this in a hangar on the blockade runner, where you have to use a crane to advance through the level.

I do have a couple of quibbles:

  • The camera angle issue from the first game is still present. There are a couple of times when I would have liked the ability to swing the view around to see something, but you can't control it.

  • Perhaps Logan ran through it too fast for me to check, but it didn't look like the game checked for available space on the PS2's memory card. We didn't have enough room on the cards to save our progress through the first chapter. I had to shut down the game, delete and arrange some stuff on our cards, and replay the level.

  • You can't save in the cantina, at least not in any obvious way (like going to the Select menu). After replaying chapter 1, the game saved automatically. That was good. Logan went to bed and I picked up some 30,000 extra pieces to get us more than half way to our goal of recovering the saved characters from the first game. When I went to save, I could not.

Those issues aside, the game is an improvement on the first one. The cut scenes are a little longer, and very much in keeping with the movies. I've seen the cut scene at the end of Episode V (it's on a TV commercial) and it's hilarious. In chapter 1 there is a machine that gives Princess Leia a hat, a view port with a window box of flowers, and another view port that lets you see Vader use the force on the blockade runner crew.

Looks like we've got many hours of fun ahead of us. Fortunately Logan is a year older and more co-ordinated. We're getting through the levels more as a team than we did last year. And I now have a really good incentive for getting him to finish his homework quickly!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cool cat picture

As most of my friends know, I'm not a cat person. It comes from being horribly allergic to them. (Not "anaphylactic shock" allergic, just "runny nose, watery eyes, and asthmatic reaction" allergic.) I suspect it comes from being scratched by my mother's cat when I was a baby, which became infected, for which they put pennicilin cream on, which resulted in them discovering I was allergic to pennicilin.

So, of course it's my fate to be surrounded by cat people. Almost all of my friends are cat people or live with cats.

Anyway, for you cat folk — and for those dog lovers who just like laughing at cats — I present this picture from The Cellar's Image of the Day. It's probably the coolest cat picture I've ever seen.

I'm not entirely sure the eyes weren't photoshopped, but it's still a neat picture.

I love the comment that described the cat as a "demonically possessed mop."

9/11 coverage on CNN Pipeline

Yesterday when I got to work I went to the CNN site. They have a streaming video section called Pipeline that they've been advertising for a few months. Yesterday they ran their coverage of 9/11 on Pipeline at the exact moment it happened.

It was interesting... and a little eerie. I was too late getting to work to see the second aircraft plunge into the World Trade Center. That's an iconic moment in television news, much like the Challenger disaster, where something horrific happened right on camera. Of course there was no immediate footage of the first aircraft hitting the first tower, but CNN had cameras showing the first tower when the second aircraft hit.

I was in time to see their coverage leading up to the Pentagon hit and the collapse of the towers. I knew, from Wikipedia, the exact moments of these events. You can tell the moment the newsroom received information about the Pentagon. It was about a minute after the event, when all of a sudden the chatter in the background increased considerably. A minute after that they were discussing Washington, and they had footage of smoke in Washington. There was an erroneous report of a fire on the Washington Mall. Aaron Brown, who was fired from CNN last year, was talking to someone in Washington when the first tower collapsed. He pulled back to footage of the tower when he could. It was all fascinating and strange until the second tower fell. At that point I started to get a big lump in my throat. The collapse happened live, after showing some footage of the first tower falling. Even though I knew the exact minute of the collapse, it was still shocking and wrenching.

A couple of days ago Alana posted a comment to my entry about television news. She mentioned 9/11. Seeing the repeat of the coverage displayed that there is room for television news. Everything Alana said about the full impact of the event is true. When you tie that to the Hurricane Katrina coverage, where the administration was saying one thing and you could see on television something completely different, I am firmly convinced that television is the media for large, immediate stories like disasters. It's the vast majority of stories that require analysis and depth that isn't handled well with television.

Pipeline gave me a glimpse of what Internet news could be, too. On 9/11 I was working for a newspaper in Toronto (the Toronto Star, the largest in Canada and one of the largest in North America). The only access I had to the disaster was on the Internet. While our paper was proud of the fact that our servers did not crash under the load that day, the load times were incredibly long. It was just not feasible to see the event unfold in real time on the Internet. CNN's Pipeline showed that today the technology is there, provided of course that the servers can still handle a huge load in the event of a disaster.

Internet coverage has the capability of combining images with the analysis found in print. It remains to be seen if it lives up to that capability.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

What we've been up to this weekend

I'm surprised I actually had time to post a blog entry today, let alone two! Most of yesterday was spent taking Logan to a birthday party and then out for some shopping. We bought him a new desk (to go along with the chair Alana bought for him earlier in the week). For less than $60 he now has his own little office!

We hit the Spirit Halloween store in West Monroe. I believe this is the store's third year. It's only open seasonally (though I think in the middle of the summer it opens as a fireworks place). I went in hoping to find accessories for the costume I'll be wearing to Jimmy's Halloween party. I came out empty handed, and now thinking I'll have to come up with another costume. Alana and I had considered a dual costume: she as a vampiress and me as a vampire hunter. The "twist" would be that I would wear fang marks on my neck, suggesting I'd been seduced to the "dark side". Problem: I can't find the right accessories for my costume. I want a crossbow, which will set it off nicely. I haven't found any but the real expensive ones locally, and on eBay they are running $30 to $50 for a cheap one and $15 to $20 for crossbow pistols. There was nothing at the Halloween store I could use.

So, now I'm back to square one. I did have the cool idea as going as a Redneck Ninja, but Alana seems "lukewarm" to the idea, at best. *L* I may have to resurrect an older costume unless I can come up with a better idea in the next 6 weeks. I guess I could always go as a zombie. A little make up and my pale skin would be all that I'd need...

Today was mostly spent rearranging Logan's room and putting together the metal and MDF desk. The desk was well packaged, and all the parts were neatly arranged in a "blister pack" kind of arrangement. We did stumble on one thing. The desk drawer has two parts, the sides, that are identical. Except they were not exactly identical. There was a slight difference, and because of the difference four pilot holes did not line up when we went to assemble the drawer. I got it in place, more or less as intended, but it was a stupid mistake by the manufacturer. The instructions weren't altogether well written, either.

Logan's been playing a lot of Star Wars Battlefront II today. We have a Coke Rewards account, and our points were enough to buy us a backpack and 4 free game rentals at Blockbuster. We rented him the Star Wars game, and he's been going nuts with it ever since. I suspect he'll end up buying it before the month is out. On Tuesday our preorder for Lego Star Wars II comes out. We purchased the first Lego Star Wars last summer and had a blast with it. This one focuses on the original three episodes. I can see there will be a lot of Lego Star Warsing in my future. I see that on the same day, Lucasfilm is releasing the first three episodes as they originally appeared. This means that Han Solo gets to fire first in episode four, again! Actually, I wonder if they will release Episode IV: A New Hope, or if it will be the true original release, where there was no episode attached to it? Anyway, it's the only set of Star Wars movies I'm tempted to get, though Logan wants episode three. He doesn't really care much about episodes one and two (and episode two still confused the snot out of me).

That's my blogging done for one day. I have to phone my ISP about a problem we're having, and I need to get back to work on Harn write-ups.

ABC miniseries has more inaccuracies

ABC's The Path to 9/11 is set to air beginning tonight, in spite of further criticism. The Americablog blog reported that the show defames American Airlines. Media Matters reports that John O'Neill, played by Harvey Keitel in the miniseries, is improperly depicted.

On 9/11, Mohammad Atta — the man who crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center; it was the first aircraft to hit the twin towers — flew from Portland, Maine to Boston's Logan airport on a U.S. Airways flight earlier that morning. While checking in prior to boarding the flight from Portland to Boston, Atta's ID showed up on a computer screen. At the time, all the airline could do is hold his bags (which were irrelevant to the terrorists' operation). He then flew U.S. Airways Express.

This information is on page 1 of the 9/11 Commission's report.

The Path to 9/11 gets it wrong. It starts with Atta's ID being flagged at American Airlines in Boston. That's not what happened. It also has a person at the ticket counter ask if they should search him, but the supervisor shrugs it off, telling them to keep the terrorist's luggage.

They get the airline wrong, they get the airport wrong, and they imply that the airline could have legally done more than they did at the time...

Harvey Kietel was worried enough about his depiction of John O'Neill that he hired his own researcher and rewrote many of his lines. O'Neill was an FBI terrorism expert who was responsible for investigating the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing. He quit the FBI in 2001 and took the position of head of the World Trade Center's security team in August, 2001. He died on September 11, 2001. A couple of different people have mentioned problems with O'Neill's depiction in the "docudrama", though I haven't seen anyone specify exactly what the problems were. Kietel is now calling for ABC to fix the inaccuracies.

I found some more stuff about the miniseries on Americablog. For instance, FBI agents warned ABC about accuracy problems a year ago. The first part of the series has already been aired in New Zealand and the Sandy Berger scene that started the ball rolling is intact. In fact, the scene is the key to the whole first part of the series. Apparently if the scene had been cut or edited it would have significantly impacted the ability to understand the story.

And, finally, in what will probably be my last substantional post on the miniseries, I just want to point out that there is now a Wikipedia entry about it! You can find the entry here: 'm sure it will go through numerous updates in the days to come.

Friday, September 08, 2006


The media broke the news about The Path to 9/11 controversy in a big way last night. CNN devoted about 15 minutes to it in their Situation Room piece with Wolf Blitzer. I noticed, though, that while they mentioned top Democrats were criticizing the show without seeing it, they failed to mention that ABC did release advance copies to right-wing commentators.

ABC is shocked, shocked!, that people would criticize their show before the editing had been completed! Of course we can never know if they would have edited the errors out of it had people not complained about it...

The reason why I've been harping on about this is because anachronisms really bug me in stories that purport to be "based on truth". Alana will tell you that I can be a pain this way, though ironically I don't remember seeing many movies or TV shows with her that I've actually disagreed with the film!

Now, I'm not a huge stickler for realism, if I believe the film maker or novelist had a point to make. I hadn't seen A Knight's Tale with Heath Ledger because of poor reviews. Alana and I saw it a few weeks ago on TV and I quite enjoyed it. Okay, so the film took place during in the 14th century with 15th century armour. It also featured crowds banging their hands to Queen's "We Will Rock You". It was quite obvious that the director knew he was being anachronistic. I very much enjoyed Enemy At The Gates, about the battle of Stalingrad, even though there are points that were highly unrealistic. I have my own theory on this, that the director was trying to achieve a specific style and that his "unreal" moments represented the main character's legend as dictated by Soviet propoganda. In short, he knew what he was doing and he was "anachronistic" (or "unrealistic") for the sake of art. That doesn't bother me.

Saving Private Ryan is probably my favourite film. (Hmmm... should do a "favourite film" post one day.) It was criticized for some inaccuracies, such as the fact that at no time in the war were a group of men ordered to save a single man so he could be sent home to his mother. This didn't bother me, either. I could suspend my disbelief on that one, because I could imagine someone in high command ordering it. They gave far more foolish orders. I also quite happily accepted that the Tiger tanks in the film were modified Soviet tanks. They looked a lot like Tiger tanks, and where else could you get something tank-ish that moved? The TV program Mythbusters showed that a bullet can't easily harm someone under water. That fact does not spoil the first few minutes of the film for me, in spite of the fact that machine gun bullets could not kill men under the water's surface at Normandy.

On the other hand, there are a number of films that I do not like because of anachronisms or mistakes made by lazy or stupid directors. I refused to see U-571 because of its inaccuracies. The worst is the implication that it was Americans who first captured a German Enigma machine (German code machine used during World War II), when in fact the British were the first and captured 13 of the 15 machines during the war. That, alone, wouldn't have hurt it for me if it wasn't for all the other problems (including, but not limited to, two World War II submarines attacking each other under water; never happened, as they didn't have the capability to attack each other).

I haven't seen The Patriot either. I was turned off by the way they portrayed the British army carrying out atrocities that were actually based on those committed by the Nazis. I've since heard that their portrayal of slavery is way off base. As a Civil War history buff, that would annoy me no end.

Speaking of which, I did see Gods and Generals, and was unimpressed. Michael, my friend Chris, and I went to see Gettysburg when that came out. I had some issues with the history of that battle, but the movie was actually a recreation of Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels. For that I was willing to cut it some slack, and the inaccuracies were not huge. On the other hand, Gods and Generals, the prequel to The Killer Angels written by Shaara's son, Jeff, was a big disappointment. While the film got a lot of the small details correct, it had some major mistakes that spoiled it for me. It didn't help that it was overly long, overly preachy, and generally not well written. I wish I could find the review of the DVD I wrote on, because it puts my feelings of the film into perspective.

It's all about suspension of disbelief. I enjoyed Where Eagles Dare (even if it did show the Germans using a helicopter to get to its mountain retreat) and The Guns of Navarone. I was the one who ran a World War II-based roleplaying session featuring zombies and German cultists! I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I still watch Memphis Belle every now and again, even though I know all the events in the film did not apply to a single aircraft on one sortie.

What bothers me about Path to 9/11 is that it's made a big deal about being accurate, about being based on the 9/11 Commission's report while including some major mistakes. It angers me that the inaccuracies may have been deliberately added by someone with an agenda.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

General Tso chicken

Alana and I took Beth and Kristi from Alana's work and Judy from my work out to lunch today. Beth and Kristi signed affidavits swearing that Alana and I are still married. Judy notarized the affidavits. We need these in order for me to apply to remove the "conditional" qualifier on my status as a "conditional permanent resident alien". So, we're sending yet more documents to the federal government, and yet another series of photographs! I'd be surprised if every border guard in the country couldn't recognize me on sight!

We took the women to Jade Garden, a Chineses place here in Monroe. Judy had, as one of her items, General Tso's chicken. I'm not crazy about General Tso chicken; I prefer honey chicken or pineapple chicken, but it's a popular dish. Most American chinese restaurants serve it. The big Chinese restaurant chain in town only serves it on Thursdays. We took them to a restaurant that serves it all the time. Judy hadn't been there before, so she was pleasantly surprised at the menu options.

But I, as usual, digress.

Judy pronounced the dish "General tee-ess-oh chicken". This is the standard pronunciation here in the South. I've heard it pronounced that way since I got here. It doesn't help that the dishes are often labelled in caps, making "TSO" look like an acronym.

Just one of the little observations that tell me that I'm a stranger in a strange land!

For the record, I always thought it was pronounced "General So chicken", but according to Wikipedia, I am wrong. It is more accurately — for westerners, anyway — pronounced "General Zwoh chicken".

I did impress Jenice, the development manager at work, with my pronunciation of Chinese dim sum dishes. Her parents are Chinese, though she was born in the U.S. She was surprised to hear me talk about dim sum, let alone pronounce it. I noticed, though, that my pronunciation wasn't as good as hers. Hers is probably the more accurate, as her mother used to make the stuff. (Jenice said that neither she nor her sister could ever get it to come out right when they tried to copy the recipe...)

It doesn't really matter too much, as there are no good dim sum places anywhere near here. For that you have to go to Dallas or Little Rock, apparently. I keep promising to introduce Alana to dim sum. One of these days...!

Apply directly to the forehead!

Have you seen the Head On commercials? I have, and for some time. I eat lunch at home (what I lose in gas money going home I'm gaining eating cheap... I think...) I usually turn on the TV and watch... whatever. Since network TV is all about soap operas during the day, I end up going up the band to cable commercials.

A couple of months ago (Wikipedia lists it as launching in June) I first came across the Head On commercial.

Here it is, in its entirety:

Yep, it consists of someone rubbing a glue stick on their forehead, with the mantra, "Head On! Apply directly to the forehead," repeated three times. Then it ends by saying it's available at Walgreen's, or wherever.

It's annoying, but it's short. I'll give it that. And as annoying as it is, you can't help but snicker at it.

Apparently it is now an internet meme. According to Wikipedia: An Internet phenomenon (sometimes called an Internet meme) occurs when something relatively unknown becomes hugely popular, often quite suddenly, through the mass propagation of media content made feasible by the Internet. The RPG.Net motivational poster thread refers to this commercial. It was even parodied on The Daily Show.

So, what is Head On? Well, they don't actually... promise anything. You just put it on your forehead. The commercial sort of implies it's for headaches, but it doesn't actually say it's for headaches. That's good, because it would be sued. According to the Wikipedia Head On article, it is a homeopathic product which consists almost entirely of wax. There are two active ingredients, white bryony — a plant — diluted to 0.000001 parts per million, and potassium dichromate at 1 part per million.

It appears that the only thing you'll get from this product is a waxy build up on your forehead...

The big news about the product is the ad itself. It's simple, it's repetitive, it's... cheap. In short, it works. Unlike the product... assuming the product is for headaches, as they don't actually say it is. Maybe it's for putting Post It Notes on your forehead.

At least, for once, I was ahead of the curve in noticing an internet meme. Unfortunately I didn't tell anyone so as to prove it. Maybe the next time I'll be smart enough to post it to the blog.

Path to 9/11 - update

The story of ABC's Path to 9/11 continues.

  • Media Matters reports that a study guide for Path to 9/11 prepared for teachers and distributed by Scholastic — the school book people — has the same inaccuracies as the ABC series. Moreover, a part of the guide encourages students to debate items that are part of the Bush administration's "talking points".

    The study guide is no longer on Scholastic's web site, but a spokesperson said that it would be back up. No comment was given as to whether the guide would be changed.

    The Media Matters report:

  • Media Matters also points out that while the major news media were quick to jump all over the inaccuracies in the CBS "docudrama" on Ronald Reagan back in 2003, they have been very slow to look into the Path to 9/11 controversy. It's been mentioned once by The New York Times and twice by MSNBC.

    Conservative pundits have been lauding the story as the "truth". (I guess the story is "truthy", not "facty". What a week for Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to be out on vacation.)

    Here's the Media Matters story:

  • Think Progress reported that the writer of Path to 9/11, Cyrus Nowrasteh, is an avowed conservative who once described filmmaker Michael Moore as an "out of control socialist weasel". We now know why obscure conservative bloggers got advance copies of Path to 9/11 when actual participants in the events did not.

    The Think Progress article:

  • Cyrus Nowrasteh, the writer, now admits that the controversial scene about Samuel Berger, which I mentioned yesterday, was "improvised". So much for accuracy! This in spite of the fact that ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson once said, "When you take on the responsibility of telling the story behind such an important event, it is absolutely critical that you get it right."

    Here's Think Progress' story about it:

  • An ABC insider told conservative blogs that while there may be a few tweaks here and there before the docudrama is aired, "The message of the Clinton Admin failures remains fully intact."

    The e-mail by the insider is quite fascinating. He claims that, "the lawyers and production team spent literally months corroborating every story point down to the sentence." Odd, since the writer now admits that the Berger scene was fiction. He goes on to say, "The changes are done only to appease the Clinton team - to be able to say they made changes. But the blame on the Clinton team is in the DNA of the project and could not be eradicated without pulling the entire show."

    The Think Progress article is here:

    The e-mail, sent to conservative blogger Hugh Hewitt, is here:

If you are disturbed by the controversy, Think Progress has a page where you can write ABC president Robert Iger an e-mail:

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

9/11 "docudrama" coming under fire

Hot on the heels of my "television news media" post is a brewing controversy over ABC's The Path to 9/11. This so-called "docudrama" is supposedly based on the 9/11 Commission's report. It tells the story of the events leading up to 9/11. It is set to air on Sunday and Monday, with no commercial interruptions.

The Path to 9/11 is coming under fire in the blogosphere (first time I've used that horrendous word!), criticism that is gaining traction in regular media.

Liberal bloggers are up in arms over a number of issues:

  • The story perpetuates the myth that the Clinton administration helped cause 9/11 by setting up the intelligence bureaucracy that failed in 2001. In fact, the structure predates Clinton.

  • One scene has a CIA operative with Afghan tribesmen in shooting range of Osama Bin Ladin. He talks to Clinton's National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger on the phone, asking for the go ahead to "terminate" Bin Ladin. Berger freezes. Before he can say anything, the line goes dead.

    Clinton officials, and 9/11 Commission members, are adamant that this never happened. The show's producers say it was a "composite" scene, taken from several different occasions. (Perhaps a CIA operative once had Osama Bin Ladin in his sights, and another time Berger waffled on the phone over what he wanted on a pizza. That would make the composite scene...)

  • ABC sent out something like 900 advance copies of the movie. Some went to such right-wing luminaries as Rush Limbaugh and the blogger Patterico (you're forgiven if you've never heard of him). However, ABC didn't have copies for, oh, former President Bill Clinton, or Samuel Berger, or former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. They requested copies, but were denied.

  • Albright did manage to hear about another scene. She wrote a letter to ABC about it. The scene has Albright refusing to allow a missile strike against bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistanis, who in turn alerted bin Laden. Therefore, Albright was complicit in letting bin Laden escape.

    The only problem: that's not how it happened. In her letter to ABC, Albright writes:
    For example, one scene apparently portrays me as refusing to support a missile strike against bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistanis; it further asserts that I notified the Pakistanis of the strike over the objections of our military. Neither of these assertions is true. In fact, the 9/11 commission reports states (page 117), "Since the missiles headed for Afghanistan had had to cross Pakistan, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was sent to meet with Pakistan's army chief of staff to assure him the missiles were not coming from India. Officials in Washington speculated that one or another Pakistani official might have sent a warning to the Taliban or Bin Ladin."

    I fully and unconditionally supported the strike against bin Laden. The planned notification to the Pakistani military was not objected to by the Pentagon, nor insisted upon by me. It is my understanding that the notification to Pakistan was delivered once the missiles were already in the air. At no time did I inform the Pakistanis independently that a strike was to take place. The scene as explained to me is false and defamatory.

  • On Monday's telecast, one scene has a CIA analyst declare that Bin Ladin was no longer using phones after a (liberal) Washington Post article declared that the government was eavesdropping on him. In fact, the article came from the (conservative) Washington Times, it spoke of Bin Ladin using satellite phones, and he stopped using them days after a cruise missile strike on his training camp in 1998.

For the most part, the right have been quiet about the "docudrama", probably because it plays up myths about the Clinton administration, and it even offers a reason for some of the Bush administration's calls for control over the press. However, not everyone on the right is happy. Roger Cressey, a security advisor for both Clinton and Bush, Jr, said, "it’s amazing…how much they’ve gotten wrong. They got the small stuff wrong" and "then they got the big stuff wrong." He added that the Berger scene was "something straight out of Disney and fantasyland. It’s factually wrong. And that’s shameful."

The scary part in all of this is that the facts won't get out to the mainstream audience. They will see the docudrama and believe it is real, thus perpetuating some right-wing myths about 9/11. Either ABC doesn't care about the facts, or they've decided that the way to get ratings is to swing to the right, like Fox.

Items come from Think Progress, Hoffmania, and The Carpetbagger Report.