Monday, February 21, 2011

Trailer for "Thor" Movie

Saw this last night at a friend's party.  I haven't historically been a fan of the "Thor" comics but this looks kind of cool.

I see they're not going with Thor and company being the actual Norse gods, based on the comment about magic and science.  I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who said sufficiently-advanced technology is not distinguishable from magic anyway.  Are they conveniently human-like aliens, then, or humans who had developed uber-advanced technology and masqueraded as gods?

In Norse myth, if I remember right, Odin was the god of war.  Here, he seems inclined to maintain peace while Thor just wants to fight.  I guess when it's one's own realm one is maintaining, it's in one's interest to keep the peace.

Not sure if I'll go see it, but it looks like it'll be a fun movie if I do.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Coed Wrestling In Iowa....

Came across this online the other day. This is likely to get inflammatory so here goes...

Firstly, I will give Joel Northrup credit for having convictions he's willing to suffer for. He could have won this tournament had he been willing to bend on this issue. Furthermore, this might even jeopardize his position on the wrestling team and through that, college scholarships and the like.

A lot of people pay lip service to a particular code or creed but aren't willing to stick to it when the time comes to sacrifice for it. And I will also give him credit for, despite he and his family likely having ideas about proper female behavior I don't agree with (see who is supporting him on this), not talking trash about the two female wrestlers for being unladylike, rebelling against their "God-given" gender roles, etc. and claiming that he's preaching truth to power or whatever excuse people use to make offending people into a sacred act.

The father of Cassy Herkelman, the female wrester Northrup didn't want to face, agrees with me too. Despite how he looks to others (see some discussion below), the man's got class. So does his daughter, based on her comments. Given the amount of crap I imagine they get because she's a girl competing in what has traditionally been a boy's sport (heck, see some of the comments from the Freepers), I could imagine both of them having gigantic chips on their shoulder about the issue, but they don't. Bravo.

I wish I could say that everyone with an opinion on the issue is similarly honorable, but there are people on both sides who are acting like complete imbeciles. I think I'll break it down by category.

Northrup's Supporters

Northrup's pastor is a member of, an online conservative (although lately it's taken a turn for the wacko, being infested with birthers and Obama-is-a-Muslim conspiracy theorists) site and there is a heated discussion going on there.

I'm not going to link to individual threads and comments when there were so many of them, so I'll just link to the threads tagged "wrestling" and you'll find them all there.

One person said that he didn't think women should wrestle, as that doesn't prepare them for what God wants them to be.

What does God allegedly want them to be? Spineless and unconfident? Weak and vulnerable and dependent on men for protection? Given how a lot of so-called "complementarians" seem to think women should live at home until they're married and not work if at all possible, I guess making women unprepared for the dangers of the outside world is a good way to make sure they stay within "God's bounds."

I'll go on the record and say if I had a daughter, I'd send her to karate (or to be really scary, Krav Maga) class from the age of five. That way, she'll be able to defend herself against bullies, slimy teenage boys who want only one thing, and psychopathic vagrants on the Applachian Trail.

(This is a reference to the case of Gary Michael Hilton, the vagrant in question, who robbed, raped, and murdered people on the Appalachian Trail. One of his victims was a grad student at the University of Georgia when I was a student.)

Another poster made some comment about Herkelman's parents not caring about her "respectability." Just because someone is a tomboy doesn't make them a slut. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that the basis for this mindset is something like "she plays roughly with boys/she must not be a virgin/she's not worthy of marriage." Given my objection to attributing motives to people (see below), I will not claim this is what the person actually believes, but I will suggest that this is the origin of the social attitude.

Some people also took issue with Herkelman's dad, saying he looks like Charles Manson. Just because the guy's unkempt doesn't make him a bad person. Surely this person was taught in elementary school if not preschool not to judge by appearances.  They've also claimed both he and the daughter have no shame, the daughter is a gender-confused freak, etc.  Someone tell those characters to shut up, since they're bringing both the Christian religion and political conservatism into disrepute with their antics. 

(I will give credit to the Freepers for coming down on the guy who said if he was wrestling her, he would deliberately hurt her to deter her from wrestling again. Someone who would do that is utter scum and should be treated as such.)

A whole lot of people on FreeRepublic, especially the religious ones, are claiming coed wrestling is defying God's plan for the sexes or something like that. I challenge them to find Scripture backing that up, since right now, all they have backing them are their own opinions. Loudly insisting God is on your side doesn't win you any arguments against someone who isn't intimidated by bluster.

There's also the fact that John Piper, a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, has said in the past that Northrup's was the right course to take.

I would put "Biblical" in quotation marks because I don't think it is the only Biblical view or, for that matter, the correct one, but that might look like I was misrepresenting the organization's actual name.

Piper indulges in the usual "everyone knows deep down I'm right and the only reason they disagree is they're afraid of being criticized" B.S. common to Calvinism these days. In fact, he explicitly DENIES that defending female participation in wrestling is about committment to equality of the sexes but is really about fear of criticism. I once saw a video online of him claiming those who don't believe in salvation by grace through faith really want to be God and not for any other reason. His arrogance in claiming he knows what people *really* are thinking, without evidence, grinds my gears.

(That being said, he applies the same attitude to himself--he said if he ever abandoned the Christian faith, he meant he *must* have become a pastor only for the public praise and not because he had a sincere view and then changed his mind. At least he's consistent, even if he puts ideological correctness ahead of reaching a conclusion via examining evidence.)

It is entirely possible to disagree with someone for good reason (not wanting to deny women opportunities, not thinking the case against coed combat sports is strong enough to justify not participating), not bad ("fear of men" or secretly wanting to grope one's opponent). Piper needs to not assume everyone who disagrees with him is evil or cowardly. I will acknowledge even evil causes can have virtuous champions (Robert E. Lee for the Confederacy, Erwin Rommel for the Third Reich) and it would do Piper well to do the same.

Furthermore, I could argue the fact it would seem "weird" has nothing to do morality and everything to do with brainwashing by society at large. Piper invokes conscience, but the conscience is shaped by one's upbringing and culture and is therefore not always a reliable moral guide.

Northrup's Opponents

The issue is also being discussed on, the left's equivalent of FreeRepublic. These are the guys claiming Bush would cancel elections and make himself dictator, that most people in the upper levels of the American economy and government are psychopaths (methinks because calling someone "evil" evokes concepts like sin and they don't like that), that Obama is governing in a more centrist manner because the people who assassinated JFK showed him footage proving their involvement and told him to moderate, etc. The one good thing about DU is that it's largely pro-gun-rights.

Since there are fewer DU threads discussing it, I'll just supply two links:

One person on DU is claiming that Northrup should be ejected from the team, since he cost the team points and is not being a team player. Although there is some sense behind that argument, we should be wary of letting the group take precedence over the individual conscience--this was not the act of some petulant whiner or a coward afraid of losing to a girl.

Another person is claiming he was "scared shitless" that she would "beat his ass." He knows this how, precisely? If he gets tossed off the team next week, that's one thing, but the one making that comment has no basis beyond his or her own prejudices for thinking that.

On FreeRepublic, on DemocraticUnderground, and on the CNN site, there are people who are taking issue with Northrup participating on the high school team, since he is home-schooled. They're saying since he doesn't attend the school, he should not participate in the program.

However sensible that sounds, home-schooling parents pay taxes that support school athletics too. Furthermore, being on the wrestling team is something Northrup had to earn--he had to compete with everyone else to get it, it wasn't just a matter of signing up and automatically getting a spot.

Also, many opponents of home-schooling claim home-schooled kids are being isolated from "mainstream society" and indoctrinated and this is why home-schooling needs to be suppressed or at least closely regulated. As one of the Freepers pointed out, it's hypocritical for them to complain about alleged isolation going on and then when one home-schooler decides to un-isolate, not wanting him around.

Plus there's the usual trash-talking about alleged religious indoctrination. I will admit I find a lot of the religious home-schooling distasteful due to the stuff that's being taught (young-earth creationism, reactionary ideas on women's rights, etc), but there's no need to hate on Christian home-schooling in general.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Some Fun Alternate Pacific War Scenarios...

Some more alternate timelines courtesy of my message-board, all centering around the Pacific Theater of World War II.  Both of these are in the post-1900 forum, so people who are not members of the site can view them.

Here's the first one, simply titled "Guam."

The point of divergence from our history is that FDR, upon seeing the fall of France, has Guam more heavily fortified.  In our history, Guam fell without a fight, but here, Guam becomes a bone in the throat of the Japanese Empire as it expands throughout the Pacific in the early days of the war.  It's really interesting to read about.

One thing one gets from studying the Pacific War is how lucky the Japanese were.  If things had gone differently in the slightest, they would have had a much more difficult time of it.  If what happened in 1941-1942 in our history was written as fiction, the writer could easily be blasted as a foolish Japanese nationalist making his country do better than they could realistically--after all, they were facing a power that had a much greater population and industrial base (the United States) and several lesser-but-still-strong powers (the British, for example).  Although I won't go into detail for fear of spoilers, the continued survival of Guam throws a major wrench into Japanese plans.

Here's another one entitled "Thirty Extra Feet."

In this one, the Pacific War begins in 1938 with the Panay Incident in which an American warship in China is attacked by the Japanese, combined with the Rape of Nanking.  Neither side is prepared for the conflict at all and in the United States, the popular support for the war that formed after Pearl Harbor isn't there.  The war in Europe hasn't even begun yet.  I don't have particularly strong opinions about it, but it is interesting anyway.

And now the third, "December 28th, 1941: The Day of Infamy."

Basically Pearl Habor is delayed until just after Christmas and the U.S. forces are even more unprepared.  Plus some of the carriers are in port and get destroyed along with the battleships.  One of the few realistic scenarios where the Japanese could actually have done better than in our history during the intitial phase of the war when they were rolling up everyone else's colonial empires in the Pacific.

I hope you all enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Support of the Bahraini Protesters...

Hosni Mubarak has been removed from power and the Egyptian military is overseeing reforms in the county's corrupt, schlerotic government (I hope), but here's something else potentially going wrong in the Middle East.

Bahrain is a largely Shi'a state ruled over by a Sunni royal family who employs foreign thugs to keep their people down.  It's also home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

There are Egypt-style protests brewing there that may well bring down the monarchy just like the Egyptian protesters brought down Mubarak.

There's one key difference though--the presence of a militarily-powerful neighbor that doesn't want its own oppressed masses getting ideas.  And I'm not talking about Iran, although that designation certainly applies.  I'm talking about our "friends" the Saudis.  The BBC article suggests the Saudis might intervene militarily if the al-Khalifa family looks like it's losing control of Bahrain, much like how the Soviets intervened in Hungary to crush the rebellion that had thrown out their Communist puppet government in 1956.

I hope Barack Obama tells the al-Sauds to keep their oppressive, terrorist-enabling fingers off Bahrain.  If the U.S. doesn't want a Saudi military intervention in Bahrain, it's not going to happen.  A long causeway connects Bahrain to the Saudi mainland and anything on that causeway is vulnerable to aerial and naval attack.  If we don't want Saudi troops crossing the causeway, they're not crossing the causeway.

I'm sure certain parties are going to go on about the dangers of radical Islam in this situation, with Iran standing in for the Muslim Brotherhood, but that would be rather foolish.  Based on the slogans the BBC is reporting, this is a non-sectarian popular uprising, not an Islamist one.

The only way terrorists will benefit from this is if the Bahraini monarchy or the Saudis crush the uprising and it appears the U.S. supported or allowed it to happen.  Then Osama bin Laden and his ilk will have a field day recruiting people who will be very upset at the United States and its allied regimes.

However, if the U.S. tells the Saudis to keep out and the Bahraini monarchy falls, something tells me that will generate a lot of good press for the United States among the Bahraini public and in the wider Middle East.

Two Opinion Columns I've Written

I've recently gotten a new job in the northern suburbs of Metro Atlanta, working for a chain of weekly newspapers.  As part of my job responsibilities, I will be writing a column for my paper twice a month.

Here's the first column, written about how I interviewed Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann and took the opportunity to examine a whole of Western fiction at a local library.

Here's the second column, which I posted online today and will be published in print this week.  It's about Sunday alcohol sales in Georgia and why local communities should have the chance to vote on allowing them.

I'm pleased with this one, since it's gotten 26 Facebook recommendations in a few hours and has been tweeted five times (I've only tweeted it once, so that means four people like it enough to pass it along).

Especially spiffy is that I'm allowed to put my blog link at the end of each column.  I don't think the first column attracted many readers here, but the second one has attracted eight already and it's only been a few hours.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Retrospective: Journey to the Center of the Earth Animated Series

When I was but a wee lad (probably early elementary school), I first became acquainted with the Sci-Fi Channel, which ran a lot of older cartoons.  On weekdays, there was Defenders of the Earth, which I thought was quite cool (it combined Flash Gordon and his nemesis Ming the Merciless with the Phantom--the Ghost Who Walks--among others) from the 1980s, but on Saturday mornings, there were even older cartoons like Star Trek The Animated Series.

From a few years before the Star Trek show was the animated series Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Apparently it was an animated, kiddified (if that's even a word) version of the late-1950s Journey to the Center of the Earth, since it includes elements from that film like the evil Count Saknussem and Gertrude the Duck.  I was curious about the show, so I figured I'd go looking to see what I could find on the Internet.

Here're both halves of the first episode, courtesy of YouTube:

Creating an animated film capitalizing on a theatrical release strikes me as a good marketing idea.  You could draw in the people who saw the original in theaters or those who liked the book on which it was based.  Furthermore, since many parents probably viewed the theatrical film as not particularly appropriate for the youngest children (Count Saknussem murders some rival explorers and even kills and eats Gertrude the Duck and there are various scary situations involving natural disasters and dinosaurs too), this is something kids could watch.

Plus an episodic TV series gives the creator the opportunity to expand the storyline, since he or she has a lot more time to work with.  An actual journey into a subterranean world (assuming such a thing could exist) would take months--this wouldn't work for a theatrical film, but it would work for a TV series.

Of course, the series does show its age.  The animation quality isn't the best and some of the characterizations are rather stereotypical.  Lars, the party's Scandinavian guide, has a ridiculous accent, speaks English poorly, and goes around saying "in my country" a whole lot.  The professor's niece is really ditzy and easily frightened.  And Torg, Count Saknussem's thuggish and stupid minion, has a distinctly Asian-henchman look to him (think Oddjob from the James Bond films).  One wonders why he puts up with the Count's abuse--I would imagine it's because he's too dumb to know better and because serving the count gives him the chance to indulge in sadistic violence (see the scene where Torg wants to kill Alec but the Count wants to keep him as a hostage).  And some of the dialogue is laughably bad--in TVTropes terms, Narm.

That being, the 1950s/1960s cultural vibe does have its pluses.  The professor is an athletic hero rather than being a cliched nerd or "evil or misguided," as scientists were often portrayed in later media.  Furthermore, the protagonists were willing to do violence and use weapons when needed--Lars throws Cerebrus off a cliff into a river, the professor's niece shoots a menacing griffin with a flare gun, and Alec is willing to brawl with ancient Greek warriors rather than count on someone else to save him.

I don't think I'm going to be watching all the posted episodes on YouTube, but those of you who are interested in animation, particularly vintage animation, might find this interesting.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Another News Article Round-Up

It's been a long time since I've posted some news articles with commentary, so here goes....

Those of you who are interested in helping someone out, here's an opportunity to do so. 

The above link is old and apparently things are going better.

However, with these kinds of things, recovery takes a long time and they're not out of the woods yet.

And fie on the insurance company for not doing what the family was paying them for.  The purpose of insurance is to pay into the system so that, in the event of trouble, the system can help you.  By not helping at all, the company showed its value--or lack thereof.

A pity the company isn't named in the story so I can exhort people to get coverage from someone else.

This smells.  Why did the military panel unanimously decide to deny Pao an Arlington burial?   He was part of a CIA force, not the army of a sovereign state.  And given how the Laotian Communists are still in power, it's not like they'd give him an honorable burial over there.

Good for the two California Democrats for pushing for him to get an Arlington burial though.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Two Interesting Alternate History Scenarios

I just found on my alternate-history forum a timeline that has been going since last fall that, since it's in the Post-1900 forum, is available for my loyal readers to see without joining the web-site.

Behold, Protect and Survive by Macragge1.

The scenario depicts the effects of a mid-1980s nuclear war on Great Britain.  It's not as awful as the film Threads, which has been posted in pieces on YouTube but isn't available on DVD apparently, but it's a lot more brutal than The Day AfterThreads' American counterpart.  The titles of each chapter come from "Protect and Survive" British Civil Defense instructions about what to do after a nuclear war.

Things aren't as horrific as Threads because central authority in Britain survives (the Soviet bomb intended for Portsmouth, a major Royal Navy base, malfunctions, and the city becomes the de facto national capital), so the country doesn't break down into feudalism (complete with urban refugees planting potatoes by hand under the guns of the surviving soldiers), nuclear winter is more "the year without a summer" than "a new Ice Age," and enough of the North Sea oil fields survive that mechanical agriculture can continue.  However, the story extends into the months following the war, unlike TDA, which ended with the announcement of a cease-fire between the U.S. and the Soviet Union a few days after the primary nuclear exchange.

The story contains moments of both brutality and heartwarming. 

The former includes a civil servant in Newcastle or thereabouts denying rations to infants because they cannot work in reconstruction efforts and being overthrown by a soldier whose son died in Northern Ireland who distributes food to infants but also puts Irish nationals or those with Irish names in a soccer stadium with no food until they confess to being in the Irish Republican Army and being involved with some incidents of civil unrest.  There's also a scene of 14-15-year-old girls (some of whom are still wearing their school uniforms) offering themselves sexually to soldiers outside of Portsmouth in exchange for food. 

The heartwarming bits includes a young British girl offering what little food she has to a starving sailor from a Typhoon-class Soviet submarine that ran itself aground at Whitby, prompting nearby adults to do the same and possibly averting the lynching of the submarine crew, and a British exploratory team that crossed the Atlantic in one of Britain's last surviving nuclear bombers conversing with the dying President Ronald Reagan in Columbine, Colorado.

Overall, I think it's very good--a very interesting scenario with a lot of technical detail.  However, one board member who claims to have worked with the Strategic Air Command said the scenario was entirely too optimistic and that in real life, Britain would be totally leveled.  I will defend Macragge1 on the grounds that the projections from the time might not have included high numbers of Soviet missile malfunctions--apparently a lot of them weren't well-built and had a significant failure rate.

Some board members recommend this be published as a book.  Given how easily and cheaply Ebooks can be done, I think that would be a good idea.  The scenario is still ongoing, so publishing can wait until it's done.

Here's another scenario, one that actually caused several people to join the site just to comment on it.

Behold, The Anglo/American-Nazi War by the illustrious CalBear.  The premise is that the Nazis take Stalingrad, Stalin has a paranoid fit and kills off his best generals (including Zhukov, the one who broke the Germans in the East in our history), and the Germans defeat the Soviets in the East.  Although Britain is protected by the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Army Air Corps, and the U.S. Navy--forces that contain the Germans and Italians in Europe and destroy Japan--the Germans have mastery of Continental Europe and an invasion is not possible until the 1950s.

CalBear is a major gearhead and it shows.  The description of all the technologies used, including tactical nuclear air-to-air missiles used to scupper a Nazi bombing raid on New York City, is well-done.  The geopolitical situation is also well-plotted.

The timeline also has its moments of horror.  During a less nasty phase of the war, the Allies make a deal with the Germans--rubber for Jews.  The Germans provide 1,500 decorated Jewish veterans of WWI (who I think might have been exempted from German racial laws) and said they were all that were available.  The Poles as an ethnic group in Europe have been rendered extinct and I think the Ukrainians are hard on their heels.  The Nazis extort a labor tribute from Molotov's puppet Soviet regime, most of whom never come home.

CalBear said the point of the timeline was to show what evils the Nazis would have perpetrated if they'd won and it is most horrid.  Of course, then everyone can cheer when the Nazis--technologically behind the Allies with their sciences poisoned by Nazi politicization to make that worse--get blasted by superior Allied weaponry.  Most awesome is when D-Day finally comes, a major role is played by Polish exile units and the Indian Army (both viewed as inferior races by the Nazis) and the SS get mashed.

Plus India in this timeline is not partitioned, which is great.  In my opinion, the partition of India was one of the greatest mistakes of the 20th Century, one whose bad consequences echo to this day (al-Qaeda, the threat of an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war, etc).

The second scenario can also be viewed by non-members.  Y'all enjoy!