I almost hardly know where to start with a review such as this. Battlestar Galactica is finally over, after an unprecedented run over the past five or so years. Over the course of four seasons, a miniseries and film, Galactica has far and above exceeded expectations, and will likely be known as one of the greatest Science Fiction television shows to appear on our screens, indeed, one of the best television programs to have ever been created. There will be spoilers for the finale of this episode, so be warned.
The final episode has come amidst years of speculation and expectations, and was something that seems almost impossible to have been able to successfully wrap up a show with so much momentum and story behind it; yet, while watching on Friday night, I found my expectations blown away and replaced with genuine surprise throughout. There were many things that I had essentially accepted would happen - I predicted that Adama would die aboard the Galactica in a blaze of glory, that Lee and Kara would be finally united, that we would have a fundamental happy ending for the show, something to redeem the last four seasons of misery and heartbreak for the colonial survivors. But, in the way that good stories often are, Ron Moore and his fantastic team of writers have crafted something more. None of those predictions happened - Adama survived (although the Galactica was destroyed, for sure), Kara and Lee go their separate ways and the result is a fulfilling end, something far better than what I had predicted.
From the miniseries, Battlestar Galactica has remained a show that was consistently good, and one that held broad appeal to a wide audience. On the surface, for the first couple of seasons, the show was mainly a science fiction adventure, with space ships, action, robots and the vague notion that the fleet would continue on towards earth, giving the show's creators an easy out once the show started to wind down. But at the end of Season 1, the seeds of something far greater started, with the discovery of Kobol, which brought the show to something much more interesting, injecting religion, destiny, fate and a number of other heady concepts into the plotlines.
The finale itself has been described as brilliant, fullfilling and uneven by a number of reviewers, and each point has its merits. The finale is indeed well done, and a fantastic end to the series, but it is at the same time uneven, with the first half essentially an entire season's work of special effects work, and some of the best action that we've seen in the entire series, from ground combat against Cavil's forces, to some spectacular space sorties (although I have to say, my favorite space battles include the Battle of the Asteroid in Season 1, and the opening battle for Season 4). This first episode essentially brings everything to an exciting head, and brings out some of the best in the most unlikely characters. Baltar has his heroic moment after his talk with Lee about his self-centered nature, Cavill agrees to negotiate, and Boomer sacrifices herself to hand over Hera. It is here that we essentially learn the nature of the shared visions between Baltar, Roslin, Athena and Caprica 6. The climax of this part helps to fulfill Kara's destiny as well, giving purpose to the song that she has been hearing, and brings the story to its natural conclusion that has been building since the miniseries: she brings the fleet to Earth. Not the bombed out and uninhabitable Earth that they discovered earlier in the season, but the Earth that we now call our home.
Starbuck has been one of show's hallmark characters since the beginning, initially, because the character had been turned from a male in the original to a female in the new version, which caused much uproar from fanboys before subsiding. Since early in the show, Starbuck has been singled out as a special character, one with a growing significance over the course of the show, the highlight of this coming with her 'death' in the Season 3 episode Maelstrom, and her rebirth at the end of the episode Crossroads.
Kara Thrace's story arc has been an interesting one throughout the show, especially between her tent pole episodes You Can't Go Home Again, Scar and Maelstrom. Her story is complex, and where it would have been easier for Moore & co. to have simply explained away her special nature as being a Cylon, they resisted this temptation and made her something more - her true nature is never explained away, but in the finale, when Starbuck simply vanishes into thin air, her true nature almost doesn't need to be explained - there is a certain mystery and allure to her character that enriches the experience, and I believe that a straightforward explanation of her character would cheapen that.
Gaius Baltar is possibly one of the characters that has changed the most over the course of the series, beginning his life as a brilliant scientist who rejects the notion of a supreme being and religion, to someone who not only accepts the idea, but embraces it and that he holds a purpose in a larger picture. He fills the role between the side of faith and religion and reason and science.
Intertwining with Balter's evolution has been the presence of model # 6, known as Caprica. For the first chunk of the series, she really only existed in Baltar's head, until later on, when the Cylons split, and a number were captured or fled to the fleet. Capica, the flesh and blood model, likewise saw Baltar in her head. Both stated that they had destinies, that they had a place in god's plan. To someone like Baltar, this provided both amusement for the audience, but also an excellent story mechanism that helped drive his character, and provided some of the initial development. In the end, this ties together with Hera's fate, as well as the hallucinations that Sharon and Roslin saw.
Hera was a central part of the story from fairly early on, and she is essentially responsible for the last story arc of the series, with her capture and experimentation, and the subsequent rescue that the remains of the Colonial Fleet mounted to get her back. This has been building from the end of Season 1, where we learned that an upcoming hybrid child would have enormous consequences for the fleet. While a lot of the fanbase suspected that there was something to this, such as that she had abilities or something along those lines, this was something more simple, more elegant - Hera united the fleet and Cylon/Human factions, and brought forth a new era on their new home.
Halfway through Season 4, Kara leads humanity to Earth, where they find it bombed out and uninhabitable, after having found Kobol and New Caprica and left them. Having left Earth for new pastures, Starbuck once again brings humanity to salvation by randomly jumping the Galactica to safety after the battle with Cavill's forces, jumping right on top of the Moon and is joined shortly thereafter by the rest of the fleet, hundreds of thousands of years in our past.
As Adama notes to Roslin, Earth is an idea, and this is their Earth. In a way, this explains why the colonists never settled on the Kobol and New Caprica after the fall - this wasn't their Earth. Obviously, the story wasn't finished, but neither location would have provided any fulfilling conclusion to the human race - neither location was Earth. Earth, in this show, essentially provided humanity with hope, a reason to continue, and a home in which the slate was wiped clean, where they could completely start over. Kobol had too much history wrapped up in it, too much blood, while New Caprica was a convenient stopping point to appease political pressures, while sporting an unpleasant climate. The second Earth, our Earth, represented everything that Kobol and New Caprica didn't - a rebirth of society. The refugees rejected technology and in essence, everything that had happened before, to break the cycle and bring about Six's conclusion that humanity would not follow the same path that is had been consigned to before.
The last five minutes of the show proves to be the most on the nose and profound when it comes to delivering any sort of message in the show, as the episode jumps forward 150,000 years to modern day New York City, while Baltar's 6 and 6's Baltar (whom we now know are Angels or similar messenger) observes that society has become decedent with commercialism and technology, much like it had before in Kobol, the first Earth and Caprica, part of the repeating nature of parts of the show's mythos: "All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again." Yet, as Caprica notes, any complex system that tends to repeat itself will have its anomalies. The real question at the end of the episode, of course, is did the colonists break the cycle, or did they merely slow it down?
The balance between science / technology and human maturity is a theme that has long been used in science fiction. Numerous writers have talked about the subject, noting that our ability to create is often not outpaced by our ability to utilize our creations wisely. Such has been the case in Galactica's world, where humans create, but are ultimately destroyed by their creations, as we see throughout the show on Capria, Kobol and the first Earth. As the episode draws to a close with Jimi Hendrix's version of All Along The Watchtower, we are treated to a short series of clips of modern day robots, which had an odd prophetic feel to it - will we, in this world, follow in the footsteps of stories past, or, will we follow in Six's prediction that we will be the anomaly in god's complex series of systems?
The episode Crossroads ended with a Galactica version of Bob Dylan's fantastic song All Along the Watchtower, and so this episode ended with Hendrix's version, playing on a boom box in Times Square. While this was a bit of an odd choice for a musical selection for the show, there are many elements of the song that make this a fitting choice, one that has a lot of meaning wrapped up within it - in particular, the imagry of a god overlooking his creation, with its subjects trying to figure things out within - this fits very closely with the show, especially with this conclusion, to the song. It is an appropriate and fantastic way to conclude this fantastic show.
So Say We All.
There is a scene in the middle of David Fincher's latest film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that really struck me, and seems to fit the entire theme of the movie. In it, Benjamin narrates a short section in which a woman is delayed when she hails a cab. She talks on the phone, grabs her jacket. The cab driver had gotten a cup of coffee earlier, and because of this, he picks up the woman. The two of them are further delayed when the package that she goes to pick up hadn't been wrapped, because the girl who was supposed to wrap it had been late because she had just been broken up with. Once the package had been wrapped, a truck pulled out in front of the cab, and at that point, Daisy, while talking with a friend, left the building, in time to meet the cab as it passed by, knocking her to the street, shattering her leg and ending her career as a dancer. Benjamin notes that had any one of those events not occurred, Daisy and the passing cab would have never met.
This point resonates throughout the film. Benjamin Button is a strange man, and his tale is even stranger. When he was born, he came into the world with the body of an eighty year old on death's door. From that point, he goes backwards, getting younger as time passes him. He lives with his adoptive mother, who lives and works in a retirement home. It is there that he meets Daisy, whom he falls in love with from the first moment that he catches sight of her. Because of their different ages, his advanced, hers not, they form a curious relationship, one that intersects at various points, before they finally meet in the middle, before each continues onwards.
This film is nothing short of brilliant. It is complicated and deliberate throughout, with a touching, tragic and somber story throughout. The entire film has given me a lot to think about with a number of the themes that are presented here. Loss is probably the most prevalent theme throughout the story. Benjamin grows up in a nursing home, and as someone who appears old, he grows up in the company of elderly. Those whom he makes friends with don't last long, and the only constant in his life is Daisy, and even then, because of their respective ages, lose one another throughout their lives, only really finding each other as they grow closer in age, at which point, life reaches perfection. But, like all things in life, this doesn't last long. A woman that he meets in the beginning says the following: We're meant to lose the people we love. How else are we supposed to know how important they are? It is because of this, she says, that people realize the importance of one another.
The film itself is a masterpiece of coloring, scoring and direction. From the beginning, there is a stark difference as the film opens in 2005 in New Orleans - Blue, gray, drab and modern, and this appears periodically as the film flashes forwards to a dying Daisy, as she lies on her deathbed. When the film goes back in time, the colors deepen and feel like the earlier 1900s. As the story progresses, the lighting and coloring changes to match the time period; Grainy, grayish and rich during the 1930s and 40s during the second World War, washed out and bright during the 1950s and 1960s, and so forth. This works well with a film that covers a number of periods, and helps give even more of an appearance of forward progression.
One of my favorite composers, Alexandre Desplat, scored the film. The music here is absolutely gorgeous. It has a light touch, that is flowing and dramatic, and it fits with the film absolutely perfectly, and is easily Desplat's best work since Syriana.
Another theme that's present in the film is destiny. Not so much in a religious or spiritual sense, but more in the way that the story described. Another quote from the film helps to describe this: Our lives are described by the opportunities in our lives, even the missed ones. Everyone's lives in the film follow this, especially Benjamin's, and he is in a unique position in life to really see this - he is starting life from the end, where his body is failing him, and throughout the film, he seems to be able to really understand life, and to live with very few regrets. His life is guided by opportunities throughout his life, and ultimately, defined by them.
Ultimately, despite the constant theme of loss and death, the film is about life. The characters here are in a unique position to witness it, and, while their circumstances are tragic, their story is one that is full of insight. I personally took a lot from it.
I've been missing London a lot lately. Just this week was the two year mark since I first got on a plane to go overseas for the first time. I remember that entire day with an incredible clarity. The flight, not so much, but meeting our Resident Director Barbara, learning the ins and outs of the Tube and watching London fly past as we rode into central London and to our flat at Doughty Street in Camden.
Looking back at my entire time there, I've only begun to realize just how much going abroad changed me. It was a huge change in how I lived - I'd never had a roommate, nor had I lived in a city.It was a bit of culture shock for the first day, but I adapted to life quickly, and picked up a lot of things from my experience there.
There's a number of things that I really miss about the city. The biggest thing that comes to mind is just the environment. I miss the traffic, walking down the streets to get to class, hell, even the commercials on the television. London was extremely easy to get around, and there was plenty to do when I had downtime, from visiting the vast number of museums, historical sites and parks to just finding a random place around the city to explore. My biggest regret is not getting out more often, and not making the effort to meet new people while I was there.
One of the best parts of living over there was the ease to which I could make my way around the country. Through my class, I visited Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Norwich, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Oxford, Windsor and York, while on my own, I traveled to Edinburgh and Eastbourne (as well as Athens and Munich). I really looked forward to those classes, every other week, when we got to see something completely new. I loved the trains - I loved sitting and watching the countryside go by while I read my book and listened to my music. I especially miss Oxford, the bookstores and Forbidden Planet, not to mention Eve's, the little sandwich shop off of Tottenham Court Road. I miss the pubs, and the museums and galleries.
There's something about England and London that I've never really been able to find here in Vermont. I miss living in a city.
Cinematical, a movie blog that I check up on every now and then just posted up an interesting article called The Geek Beat: Defining the Geek Genre. Actually, when I say interesting, I mean somewhat misguided. It provides an interesting starting point when it comes to this sort of genre, but the conclusions that she comes to are very misguided when she says things such as : "That's why I restricted "geek films" to be movies based on (or accompanied by) graphic novels and comic books."
Okay. Backing up for a moment, geek is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the following:
• noun informal, chiefly N. Amer. 1 an unfashionable or socially inept person. 2 an obsessive enthusiast.
When it comes to films or media in general, items that fall under the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Genres are generally lumped together. It's not too hard to see why this happens - all three share the same notion of the fantastic, whether it takes place in the future, past, alternate worlds or even this world. In general, the definition of geek here refers to the human component. When it comes to a genre, it's hard to really describe films as socially inept or obsessive. (Unless they're a documentary or some really obscure, brilliant film that nobody watches, etc).
Rather, a sort of Geek demographic would seem to include the films that the 'traditional' image of a geek (sci-fi/fantasy/horror fan who lives at home, collects comics and has never been within five feet of the opposite sex1) tends to frequent. You can pretty much include any sort of film that has the science fiction, fantasy and horror elements. Star fighters, aliens, ghosts, wizards, magic, weird creatures, things like that all seem to be fairly common elements, and genre (for lack of a better word at the moment) fans tend to be attracted to these elements and stories that come along with them, generally because there are many things to be examined about them, but also because they tend to be somewhat escapist in nature. (Discussion of escapism is probably an entire discussion for later).
The problem that I have with the article here is that the author is limiting it to things with media tie-ins such as books and comic books. That falls incredibly short of where the interests of this sort of geek demographic fall. Comics and cartoons are certainly part of this demographic, but they are only a small part of this genre. Additionally, some science fiction films are well received by mainstream audiences. Star Wars has grossed billions of dollars, as has Star Trek, and these are arguably some of the more geeky franchises out there. Shows such as LOST, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly have likewise been well received critically, and in some cases by mainstream audiences that don't generally go for the typical geeky genre.
In general, I had thought of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in terms of separate genres. Science Fiction had space ships and robots, Fantasy got the wizards and magic, and horror got the guys with the axes and blood. Obviously, that isn't the case, and while often times there are a number of superficial differences between the genres, I've come to believe that these differences aren't the best things to judge by - oftentimes, it is the type of story that really counts, and why fans of the various genres tend to be attracted to them as a whole. You will always have people who are interested more in SciFi than fantasy (I tend to go more towards SF than I do the other two.) but when it comes down to it, there are common elements.
The article cites a number of films such as Transformers: Rise of the Fallen, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Terminator, and seems to label them different, a geek or a nerd sort of genre. Lump them all together here, and more. I consider things ranging from Robot Chicken, Indiana Jones, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Sherlock Holmes, Life on Mars, Battlestar Galactica, and Chuck to be part of the same demographic. Not all of these have the elements that one might consider to be in a sci-fi, fantasy or horror genre, but they do tend to attract people who are fans of those genres - they all contain fantastic elements that has to do with a escapist or speculative story, and thus, you can't really apply any of the SciFi/Fantasy/Horror genre titles to this sort of thing because not all of the content falls under those titles. I don't necessarily want to label the overall genre as a 'Geek' genre because it's not necessarily accurate, if you go straight by the definition. I'm a self described geek, but I tend to also be a geek when it comes to music, history, reading, etc. By labelling this sort of genre a GEEK genre, you'll get some of the cultural connotations right, but would that mean that films that history buffs and music affectionatos would also be included? No, because when one thinks of a sort of Geek Genre, they think of the content that tends to be attractive to your traditional/typical geek/nerd/etc. Additonally, in and of itself, it's not necessarily something that only appeals to geeks, but to those who like the fantastic.
This is the Fantastic Genre, something that covers the Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror genres, and what their fans tend to be attracted to.
There is a concept that I learned when I was in high school that is applied to history called Micro/Macrocosm. It's one of the main things that I took from my studies there and I've used the concept before to make parallels with various historical concepts and events.
This year was a year of change. The concept and words were everywhere this year. We just elected a new president on a platform based on major reforms and changes to the way that the country is governed, to counter the past eight years. The price of oil has gone from a record $130 + per barrel to $35, the result of which is a drop in demand for automobiles and a change in the way that we drive. This change is part of a global slowdown in demand for goods, resulting in recessions across numerous countries around the world. Change has been present in other, smaller things as well. Several of the bands that I've listened to for a while have released new albums, exhibiting changes in their styles and sound - Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Ray LaMontagne, and a couple others. It's been an interesting and gratifying shift, and with these changes came commentary from others, which has made me realize: with change comes thought, and changes are both good and bad.
I've been working to change. Since my final years of college and the first years out, I've changed many things. I've had some things in my life shift, over the past couple years, but it really hasn't been until this year that I've really begun to question things - how I interact with people, what my personality is and how that guides me to approach life, and in the past year, I've realized that there's a lot about me that I've come to dislike. I've been selfish, shallow and insecure. I don't like that.
Looking back over the year, I've realized that there was one point where I was able to throw all that away, and I didn't realize it at the time. It's only been in the past couple of months that I've realized this and been prompted to make changes to how I do things. I've questioned much the assumptions that I had about my life before this summer began. I'm returning to that point, because that's who I am.
The changes don't stop. My job and my school is on the brink of major changes because of the economy and internal issues. On January 20th, we'll see a major historical milestone, and hopefully the changes promised over the past eighteen months will begin. In August, I'll finish my master's degree in Military History, which will hopefully have some additional changes for me professionally. There will be other, unexpected things that will happen that I can't predict, that any of us can predict.
It's interesting how the micro/macro can be applied to almost everything. With the changes in the world, I've found changes in my own life at the same time. I can only imagine what next year will bring.
Today, 40 years ago in 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the Moon, taking the famous Earthrise photograph. This mission was incredibly important for manned space exploration as it's the first mission to completely escape earth's gravity and orbit another celestial body. The mission's crew was Commander Frank Borman, and pilots James Lovell (who was later the commander of Apollo 13) and William Anders. They were also the first humans to see the far side of the moon.
Interestingly, I came across this article today on MSNBC News:
NASA awards $3.5 billion for space deliveries
NASA has awarded a pair of contracts worth $3.5 billion through 2016 to two private aerospace firms seeking to haul vital supplies to and from the international space station, the space agency announced late Tuesday.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based firm Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corp., of Dulles, Va., beat a third competitor for NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contracts with their proposals to privately develop and launch spacecraft capable of delivering cargo to the space station and returning supplies back to Earth.
This is really interesting, and I suspect that we'll see more of it in the near future as NASA plans on grounding the Shuttle Fleet in 2010. Commercial space programs are coming!
I see this as important because I believe that the future of space exploration will be firmly rooted in commercial enterprise, not as much with public institutions, such as through NASA, although they're certainly to play a role in the coming decades. Commercial interests will be able to take the necessary risks that NASA's unable to do, and because of that, we will be able to leap into space again.
It's interesting that our first huge trip into space with Apollo 8 on Christmas eve, given its significance with many of the world's religions, and somewhat ironic. I'm not a religious person by any means, but the implications of leaving a world that many consider to have been created by divine hands is huge, and opens up huge questions, theories and thoughts when it comes to our place in the universe. The crew read from the first ten verses of Genesis during their broadcast, an incredibly touching and humbling thing to read, and entirely appropriate for the occasion, in my opinion.
When it all comes down to it, we're very small, and alone in the universe. Merry Christmas to all of you on the good earth.
It's coming up to the end of the year, and looking back, 2008 has been a very fun year for geeks everywhere - in books, television programs and films, among other things. Over the past couple of days, I've been thinking back over the year to see what was the best and worst of 2008.
Starbuck returned from the Grave; The Fleet reaches Earth. (Battlestar Galactica Season 4)
The third season of Battlestar Galactica was a little rocky in the middle, but the last episodes set up a real bang. Starbuck was presumably killed, only to turn up during a major confrontation of the Human and Cylon fleets. Season 4 opens even bigger, with one of the best space battles that I've ever seen. Our four new cylons are freaking out, Starbuck's back and everything culminates in the discovery of Earth in episode 10.Galactica has long been one of my favorite shows, and with a certain end point in mind, Season four was where Galactica got somewhat back onto the tracks, with a fairly tight story arc, only to get to another long wait for the final ten episodes. It's been well worth it though.
Pushing Daisies... back from the Grave, and back to it
After a long hiatus due to the writer's strike (more about that in a bit) my favorite show of 2007-2008 came back with a new set of episodes. There are not enough good things that I can say about this show. We left off last year with Chuck learning that it was Ned that killed her father, only to end up at the end of this season with him being awoken. It was another season of fantastic storytelling, character development and extremely fantastic dialog. Unfortunately, the show has been axed due to low ratings. Fortunately, Bryan Fuller will be going to Heroes for the latter half of Season 3.
Lost Gets Better - Again.
Here's the situation. LOST season 1 blew everyone away. Season 2 drove them away. Season 3 brought some people back, and Season 4, everything got interesting again. This season was the best since Season 1, in my opinion. We had several new characters (my favorite was Daniel Faraday, the physicist), and a couple people killed off. We started seeing flash-forwards, where Jack has a beard and addicted to pain pills, Hurley's in a mental institution and Sayid is channeling Abram's Alias. Oh, and they get off the island. Then the island vanishes.
I have Leonard Nemoy's DNA? (The Big Bang Theory)
This show started in 2007, where I was annoyed by its laugh track and annoying characters. But this year, I started watching it and enjoying it. While it's certainly a very stereotypical portrayal of nerds and geeks, it's fun, because the creators have put in place a series of fun characters, and the writers make some jokes that are actually funny. This week's episode was absolutely priceless, when Sheldon gets a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy. Now, if they'll just ditch the laugh track. This show's likely to be around for a while longer - it's been getting better and better ratings as the year goes on.
Back in a Nick of Time (Life on Mars)
One of my absolute favorite shows of all time was Life on Mars. Up until this year, it was only a BBC drama, until ABC picked it up and made a pilot. That pilot sucked, horribly, so the cast was ditched, except for Jason O'Mara, and the show was redone, set in New York City, given a good cast and started up. The result? A solid TV series that's mirrored the original (but it's starting to diverge a bit now), a wonderful soundtrack of classic rock and a story that's actually interesting. I can't wait for its return in 2009.
The Joker raises worldwide GDP. (The Dark Knight)
First, there was excitement when it was announced that the Joker was going to be the villain. Then Heath Ledger signed up for the role. Then he died earlier this year after filming was completed, leaving some people to wonder if the film would be released on schedule. Then Warner Brothers covered every surface they could find with Dark Knight ads. When the film was released, it went on to gross $996,680,514 in theaters. The film was a huge success, and a fantastic film at that. It was a comic book movie with true darkness, some real symbolism and good storytelling throughout. It's a pity that we won't see Heath Ledger reprise his role of The Joker, because he's done the best portrayal of a villain in recent film memory.
I am Iron Man (Iron Man)
Before The Dark Knight blew the doors off the box office, there was Iron Man. Iron Man has long been a favorite marvel superhero of mine, and everything fell into place for this film. Good story, well directed, fantastic casting (Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was brilliant) and of course, the Mark II set of armor. Marvel proved that they could make a good superhero movie, one that was relevant and not stuck in the low-humor that characterized other comic book adaptations. Already, I can't wait for Iron Man 2. And Iron Man 3. And The Avengers.
Pixar has released what is possibly their best film to date. (Except maybe Toy Story and The Incredibles). Following a robot far from home, Andrew Stanton has presented a film with a cute, romantic science fiction story with some social commentary (said to be unintentional) woven into the CGI. Wall-E is easily the most appealing robot since R2-D2 hit the big screen in 1977, and his antics as he's pulled along for the ride (literally) are cute, heartbreaking and funny.And with very little real dialog.
Roar. Crunch. Repeat. (Cloverfield)
Monster movies meets social networking video and America gets its own monster. This film was brilliantly shot with an extremely fun concept. A monster comes and plays t-ball with the statue of liberty, and it's caught on camera by a bunch of twenty-somethings as they escape. The project was conceived of by LOST creator J.J. Abrams, and his fingerprints are all over it. From the lack of explanation of everything to the weird stuff, this is a very fun film to watch. Rumors are that there's a Cloverfield 2 being talked about.
With My Freeze Ray I Will Stop... The World (Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog)
This project was a huge success for Joss Whedon & Co. Conceived of during the Writer's strike, Whedon presents an aspiring supervillian, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), his buddies and his quest to finish his freeze ray, avoid Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) and win over Penny (Felicia Day). We're treated to musical numbers, crazy plots and a fantastic venture to prove that the internet is a viable place to release content.Take a look here.
This year was NASA's 50th year in operation, and the Discovery channel released a fantastic documentary entitled When We Left Earth that touted its major achievements and failures throughout the years, bringing viewers some of the most incredible footage of space that I've ever seen, and telling a fantastic story of how NASA has come to be, with interviews with astronauts and support personnel. I get chills when I watch it, and wonder when we'll return to the moon and beyond.
Hobbit's Labyrinth (The Hobbit)
After long rumors, production problems and drama with Peter Jackson (who directed Lord of the Rings), Guillermo del Toro signed on to direct the upcoming Hobbit film and prequel. (Or two Hobbit films?) This is extremely good news, because the people who can adequately fill Jackson's shoes after LOTR are few and far between. del Toro is the perfect director for this project, and has already proven that he can do fantasy brilliantly, with his masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth. Plus, he can play in other people's universes, as per his work with the Hellboy films. (Which weren't as good, but fun)
Watchman Trailer (Watchman)
What's called the greatest graphic novel ever is coming to the big screen, much to the annoyance of its creator, and to FOX, apparently. A trailer for Watchman aired with The Dark Knight, and it made fanboys everywhere sit up and take notice. There's still complaints about how it's unfilmable and that it'll be too short or too long, but from my eyes? This looks like it'll be THE comic book film to see next year. It looks like it captured the feel of the comic book pretty well, and it's embellished a bit to look badass. Plus, Rorschach looks dead on. Just like I thought he'd be like.
Large Hadron Collider (Science)
The Large Hadron Collider was turned on on September 10th, to many worries about the world ending. Contrary to popular opinion, the earth didn't vanish in a tiny black hole. It was set to uncover the mysteries of the universe, but then it broke down again nine days later and won't be up online until 2009. But, it's still cool!
Geeks in Politics (Obama [spiderman, conan, superman] Patrick Leahy [Batman Cameo])
There's been a lot of geekiness in politics this year. No lightsaber waving from McCain this time around, but President Elect Obama has claimed to be a big Spiderman and Conan fan, and did a superman pose in Metropolis, IL. In addition to him, VT senator Patrick Leahy, a huge batman fan, had a cameo in The Dark Knight. He's also the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ironic.
Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Costumes)
The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibit earlier this year (it's since closed) called Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy. It featured a number of costumes from a number of classic films, such as the original Superman and Wonder Woman films, but also things as recently released as The Dark Knight and Iron Man. The fashion section was a bit of a miss for me, but the exhibit as a whole was just outstanding. Plus, they had several original copies of Superman and Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man on display. Covered in a plastic shield of course...
Star Wars Encyclopedia (Star Wars)
Del Rey released a new and expanded Star Wars Encyclopedia this year, one that is not only complete, but still remarkably up to date. That's not likely to last as long, given how fast LFL churns out canon material, but it's a beautiful repository of information in the universe. I can spend hours just paging through reading things.
I actually have yet to read this book, but it's caught my eye, and it's made a splash when it comes to the sci-fi literary world. All I really know about it is that it takes place on an earth-like world, and doubles as a philosophical text for knowledge and religion. I'll have to pick it up, and only expand my to-read list further.
A Game of Thrones picked up by HBO (Song of Fire & Ice)
Another book that I have yet to read, but I actually own this one. HBO has picked up the book for a series. If there's one thing that HBO does well, it's TV shows, because they can pour money into them and get a good result. And, they have a good track record with adaptations, with things such as Band of Brothers and John Adams. I'll watch this when it's released.
We'ss Har Wars End (Karen Traviss)
Several years in the making, Karen Traviss has finally finished her Wess'Har Wars series with book 6, Judge. Starting back in 2003, she introduced readers to a fantastic story of first contacts filled with alien races, political commentary and expert storytelling. Judge didn't deliver quite as well as I'd have liked (It certainly wasn't the strongest of the series), it carried the momentum well, and proved to be a good read, one that finished up one of my favorite series satisfactorily. Hopefully, Karen will be back to writing hard scifi again, because she's incredible at it.
This year I got back into trooping with the 501st Legion. All in all, I did a total of 30 or so events, ranging from small affairs here in VT to much larger ones. The most memorable ones were the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade, Burlington Kid's Day, the Weird Al Concert, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Balloon Festival, Walk for Autisms, and the 2008 Woburn Halloween Parade. All my events are listed here.
With all the good things that have happened this year, there's the other side of the coin, and some letdowns, disappointments and pure flops.
Okay, this started in 2007, but it messed up television for the foreseeable future, by ending some shows and putting others on a long hiatus that has really hurt ratings. Pushing Daisies was one casualty, Terminator was almost one, LOST was put off for a year, as was 24, and already, we're on the eve of another major strike over pretty much the same issues - internet distribution. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned.
Surviving a Nuclear Detonation (Indiana Jones)
Indiana Jones came back, and he came back bland. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was an impossible undertaking to fill the hopes of fans for the past twenty years. While it's not a horrible film, it's nowhere near as high quality as Raiders or Crusade (although I did like it better than Doom). There was no passion, a crazy storyline and some annoying characters. It does have its moments, but they are few and far between.
Skyguy/Snips/Roger Roger (The Clone Wars)
Star Wars was another big LFL franchise that came back this year, and while The Clone Wars certainly had its moments, even high points, this film just extends the image of money grubbing that LFL is involved with, which is a shame. There's too much bad dialog, characters and situations to make this a good part of the Star Wars universe, but the TV show has been making some improvements. The animation is stunningly good, some of the stories are actually good, but every time the battle droids start talking, I want to throw something at my TV.
Michael Crichton Eaten by Cyborg T-Rex and Flesh eating Space Bacteria from the Past.
While my interest in Michael Crichton has waned over the years as he began to write crappy books (Such as Prey and State of Fear), there's no doubt that he's shaped my reading. I'm still a huge fan of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man and a number of his older novels. He's one of the most popular scifi authors (although he's resisted the genre title) out there with his works, most of which were made into films. It's a shame that he's passed - I was always hoping for another good story from him.
Gary Gygax failed his saving throw
Geek-God Gary Gygax likewise passed away this year, leaving behind a legacy that has shaped nerd-culture in the US forever. His creation, Dungeons and Dragons, along with co-creator Dave Arneson, was one of the defining features of geeks everywhere, something that I got into back in 2001. Along with giving geeks something to do in groups, it helped define a generation's activities, reading materials and conceptions of fantasy through to this day.
Arthur C Clarke becomes the Space Child
Arguably one of the greatest science fiction authors ever, Clarke's death hit the world hard. He helped to define the literary genre, and the actual science behind it, and was responsible for such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rama, Childhood's End, and numerous others, as well as the telecommunications satellite. He will be sorely missed, and is one of the last of the golden age of science fiction to be with us.(Today would have been his 91st birthday)
On election nigh, CNN touted their new thing in news casting, a hologram of Will.I.Am. Looked cool, and it looked like a hologram, but it was nothing more than a lot of cameras and empty space plus some CGI. Blah. Let's see some real technology in action please.
Close the Iris! (Stargate Atlantis)
I was a huge fan of Stargate SG-1, and same with Atlantis for the first couple of seasons. This season has just plain sucked. It's a shame, because there's a good concept there, amidst the horrible characters, stories and situations. Not long now, because Atlantis has been canceled, and will be replaced with Stargate Universe next year.
Even more Confusing and Confounding! (Heroes Season 3)
Heroes Season 1 was brilliant. It introduced a new spin on superheroes, only to fall to its own success and have a fairly slow and boring second season. (To be sure, the writer's strike had something to do with it, because it got better). Season 3 was promised to be bigger and better. And it was certainly bigger, with heroes coming back from the grave, more time travel and action, but none of it really made the same impression that season 1 did. I'm still behind episodes, but apparently it's been getting better. Now that Bryan Fuller's returning to the show, can we PLEASE start off really good and get better? Please?
Weird Science (Fringe)
I was really excited for Fringe, the latest show by JJ Abrams. It was a fun concept, and had a good couple episodes at first, but just became so dull that I stopped following it. I might pick it up again at some point, but only when I can marathon the entire thing at once.
Forrest J. Ackerman Dies
Forrest J. Ackerman, one of the first science fiction fans out there recently passed away. He was a key element of the spread of science fiction fandom, and he helped to found the LA Science Fantasy Society, among other numerous achivements, as well as influencing numerous authors over his long life.
Borders Downsizes SciFi Sections
I ranted about this earlier, as did a number of authors. Borders has been downsizing their sci-fi sections. While it's understandable that they have to sell items, and that they can't put everything on the shelf, you can't predict what the next big hit will be, and you can't know that until you actually start selling things.
That's it for this year. Next year, there's already quite a bit coming up. Should be a fun year.
I know exactly when my tastes in Science Fiction and Fantasy began to change to what they are today - December, 2003. While driving a friend up Burlington, we stopped by the University Mall in South Burlington, ostensibly to do some Christmas shopping. Earlier that week, I was reading a copy of SciFi Magazine, which had run a review of the recently released Firefly DVD set. It had an outstanding review, and with a little more followup research on Amazon.com, I was stunned to see this with a full five star review almost universally. I hadn't seen any of the show, so picking it up from the mall that day was a somewhat whim purchase. It looked interesting, and with the coming vacation, I would have plenty of time to watch it.
When I returned home, I sat down and watched the first episode. It wasn't until a couple minutes into the show, after the opening introduction that the show hooked me, hard. There was something about it - the superior CGI, witty dialog and interesting storytelling that I really hadn't seen in a whole lot of television shows before. To be fair, I hadn't really watched a lot of SciFi TV prior to this - some Stargate, some Star Trek, but not a whole lot beyond that. For the next three days, I watched the entire series, bouncing around the house humming the theme song, before telling my siblings about the show and marathoned it with them over the next couple days.
I can extoll the virtues of the show endlessly. After Star Wars, Firefly became a new series for me to completely obsess over. Watching the show from that point, and eventually watching the commentaries, I began to view science fiction in a far different manner than I had before. Whedon's technical commentaries on how the show was shot - how they did the lighting, what the dialog meant, and how the characters came to be - as well as seeing something completely different - made me begin to look at television and how science fiction should be in a far more critical level.
Shortly on the heels of Firefly came a second franchise that I like just as much - the 2003 version of Battlestar Galactica, which was released as a pilot miniseries in December. I watched it after reading several articles (again from SciFi Magazine) and like Firefly, fell completely for the show, but in a different way. Like Firefly, Galactica presented a non-conventional approach to space sci-fi with its presentation and storytelling, and I really liked that, along with the fantastic CGI, characters and stories.
Both shows are rarities in the genre. There are very few shows that have similar content, which is a huge shame. I like space ships, visiting new planets, especially in the manner that Battlestar Galactica and Firefly went about it. A third show that I came across several months later, Farscape is also up there.
The way that I viewed these shows percolated down to other elements of how I viewed television shows, movies, books and comics. I began to take in these while paying far more attention to the story, characters and the smaller details that I'd previously missed or never paid a whole lot of attention to. Instead of taking things at face value, liking things simply for the sake of liking them, a critical perspective helps to fully realize and enjoy the story for all of its points.
So, this December, I'll be back to my roots and revisiting some of my more favorite episodes. It's liely been a year or so since I've actually sat down to watch an episode of Firefly, and it's been a while since I've watched Battlestar Galactica. It will be a fitting thing to do as that paticular show draws to a close with the final season this spring.
My copy of American Nerd came in last night, and it proved to be a fairly short read, only 222 pages, which took me the better part of my evening to get through. While it is very short and somewhat abbreviated, it proves to be an interesting read that brings up some interesting points about American Nerd culture.
Ben Nugent's book seeks to examine the roots and definition of the Nerd. In doing so, he teases out two large factors in culture that have helped bring about the popular nerd image, and that's isolation from the main population and an affinity for rules and structure. From my own experiences and observations, these are relatively accurate assertions that these elements do help to influence those who call themselves nerds or geeks.
Nugent's book looks to history for some of the background on the subject. What I found most fascinating was his take on elements of the progressive movement on society and how this has some root causes for nerds and for why they are generally abused by popular culture in general. One thing that is made clear - nerd/geek culture is created, in part, by isolation from the rest of the population. Nugent goes back to the 1880s to the first Ohio school that introduced mandatory physical education, through to Theodore Roosevelt and building of a 'all American' sort of culture. Athletics in schools, by nature are exclusionary - they seperate out the weaker, meeker and smaller. There are many tales of the nerds/geeks in high school being picked off one by one by one in dodge ball.
One aspect of this is duality, a theme that comes up multiple times throughout the book, and through different means. Nugent brings up several racial and social theories to help explain this. One example of this is how he examines and compares geeks vs. jocks. Jocks tend to draw more from the animal side of the spectrum, tend to be more empathic and emotional while geeks tend to veer more towards the machine side, where logic and reason take precedent. The animal, emotional and empathic side of things, because of the progressive movement, has become the more accepted social position in the US.
While the book does take a good look at the background history of nerds in the US, there are serious flaws in the book's structure. It bounces from history to social theory to biography and guide to nerdom, with very little overall flow. While the book brings up a number of points, is up to date (items such as Robot Chicken, Freaks and Geeks, Battlestar Galactica and other geek fare) and is fun to read - it doesn't get drowned by the bulk and density of some historical events.
This book is too short and doesn't go far enough to examine the history and cultural factors in nerd/geek subculture. The history is abbreviated and the methodology is inconsistent. There is no bibliography, despite his criticism of another book of not having one, although there are some footnotes throughout the book.
While it purports to examine the story of Nerds in the US, there are some very obvious gaps here that undermine the history. There is no discussion of the rise of computers - I don't believe that Steve Jobs is mentioned with the creation of Apple computers, nor is NASA talked about, which seems like a huge thing to overlook when talking about geek/nerd history. Nor is there any discussion on the impact of Sci-Fi films during the 70s and 80s. There's some talk about Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, a little more about Dungeons & Dragons, but there's precious little talk about the impact of these huge juggernauts on the geek/nerd community. While it's unreasonable to expect that this book would be anything comprehensive (or any book on history, for that matter), leaving things out such as this seems to be a gross oversight.
To some extent, this book feels uncompleted. There are short sections that cover a broad range of subjects, so it feels like it covers a lot of ground. This is good, but unfortunately, it only seems to cover the surface of much of the issue. That being said, it is an interesting read. It's certainly a book that can be expected as nerd-culture has gotten far more popular in recent years.
The best thing that we have here is a good definition of the term, of the entire population that's out there. It's a good start, and hopefully, we'll be seeing some more work in this aspect of history soon.
Earlier today, while browsing through Slash-dot, I came across what looks to be a facinating book entitled American Nerd: The Story of My People, by Benjamin Nugent. As the title suggests, the book is about the nerd/geek culture, looking back over its history in popular culture. Checking up on the publisher's website, I found the description blurb:
Most people know a nerd when they see one but can't define just what a nerd is. American Nerd: The Story of My People gives us the history of the concept of nerdiness and of the subcultures we consider nerdy. What makes Dr. Frankenstein the archetypal nerd? Where did the modern jock come from? When and how did being a self-described nerd become trendy? As the nerd emerged, vaguely formed, in the nineteenth century, and popped up again and again in college humor journals and sketch comedy, our culture obsessed over the designation.
Mixing research and reportage with autobiography, critically acclaimed writer Benjamin Nugent embarks on a fact-finding mission of the most entertaining variety. He seeks the best definition of nerd and illuminates the common ground between nerd subcultures that might seem unrelated: high-school debate team kids and ham radio enthusiasts, medieval reenactors and pro-circuit Halo players. Why do the same people who like to work with computers also enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons? How are those activities similar? This clever, enlightening book will appeal to the nerd (and antinerd) that lives inside all of us.
Followup poking around found some articles on NPR, On Point and the New York Times, all of which had some interesting things to say about the book, but also some of the cultural differences that help to spring this argument.
Nerds, it is explained, are a type of stereotype of a small group of any given population where logic, knowledge and to some extent, social awkwardness are the key defining features of a person. That doubtlessly doesn't need to be explained to anybody, for who can forget about that kid in High School? From what I've been able to glean, Nugent looks to a number of areas to find out where this perception comes from - literature, history, society, and from listening to a couple of interviews and similar articles, he hits the nail right on the head, and provides some really interesting examples of where this comes from.
I've long identified myself as a geek, and I'm always remembering that I had a comparatively easy time in high school. I had the glasses, social awkwardness, nose in a book and a huge interest in a lot of my school work. This isn't to say that I was a stellar student, but when I was interested in something, I went after it. For me, a defining feature of geekdom is something that a roommate of mine said in England: "I'm jealous of you - you have a real passion for what you're interested in - that's something that I don't have." Something that I've long identified with people who tend to be more geeky/nerdy is that there is an intense passion for detail with whatever interests them. In the 501st, that tends to be costuming accuracy, with some PhDs that I know, that tends towards historical accuracy, completion. Film and music nerds collect or at least know about everything that a particular artist or director releases. As the saying goes, Knowledge is power, and there's certainly good argument for that, when you have people like Bill Gates being one of the most important innovators in the world today, from the simple roots of building his own computers.
There's a whole gamut of activities that define geeks - Dungeons and Dragons, space, Science Fiction magazines, comic books, and so on. What's interesting to me here is that (as the book recognizes), geekdom and nerd culture has become much more popular in the past couple of years. I noticed it at camp when one of the classes that I taught, fantasy gaming, filled up very quickly by the same group of kids who lugged around Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars books and action figures wherever they went. Since then, I've noticed the same thing - geeks are 'cool' now, or at least the expected appearance of a nerd is.
To some extent, pop culture is responsible. Commercial juggernauts such as LOST, Heroes, Harry Potter, Spiderman and any number of other genre-related media items certainly haven't hurt, and most likely, have helped this subculture along nicely. The books and films can be among some of the most creative and thought provoking works out there. Indeed, on the occasions that I've been out in armor for the 501st, ridicule is overwhelmed by awe and fascination from bystanders. People are fascinated that I've put together my own armor, and the times when people make fun of me are fewer and farther between. That doesn't stop some of our members from experiencing major problems, such as assault, which does happen on occasion.
Still, I don't believe that popular culture picking up geek culture is totally responsible for its growing acceptance. Not all nerds are interested in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and its certainly not a defining feature of the group. Rather, I think that its the degree to which people like me can obsess and escape to things that are presented in science fiction and fantasy that makes the genre so appealing, as it pulls from a number of intellectual levels with made up languages, obscure sciences, literary items and practical craftsmanship.
Furthermore, I have to wonder if these traits - the desire for knowledge, social awkwardness and logic - are becoming more acceptable in and of themselves in a digital age. Certainly, geeks and nerds were at the forefront of the computer revolution because of its complexity, but from my experiences, the internet nullifies some of the barriers that make geeks more socially awkward - for this reason, it would seem, games such as Second Life or World of Warcraft are very popular (monster-slaying reasons aside) as people can vicariously live through their characters and open up a bit more without being self conscious.
Nerds are certainly here to stay, and from all indications, will become far more hip as popular culture allows, and as the traits that define us become more needed and desired, something that I can easily see happening as the internet becomes more inclusive. In the meantime, I'm going to buy that book.
Now that the endorphins from last night has somewhat worn off, I had a couple of thoughts about the election that has completely consumed the news and minds of the entire country. It has been an exhilarating, interesting and ridiculous two years of campaigning, and I for one, am both happy with the end result and that it is now over - for now.
The first and foremost thing that I am the happiest with is the sheer heroic nature of this election on numerous levels. America, a country long seen by the world in the light of its history with African/Colored Americans. This, in my mind, is the complete realization of the entire Civil Rights movement, and I was astounded at the landslide in the electoral college last night when President-Elect Obama took the election at a huge margin. This to me speaks to the distance that the American people has come, and while it is not a complete journey yet, it is something to be vastly proud of.
That being said, I was extremely disturbed by the comments of a number of people throughout the election. The past eight years seems to have reinforced a sheer willful ignorance on the part of the American people, and this was no exception. The shouts of Senator McCain supporters during his rallies and my fellow Norwich Students, of Kill Him! Hang Him! was very troubling and it shows that there are still deep divisions within the country. To his credit, Sen. McCain did his part to silence this, but nowhere nearly as effective as Pres-Elect Obama did during his rallies at cries directed at Sen. McCain during his campaign.
This was a huge element that I didn't like - it drudged up a lot of unpleasantness and as in any campaign, there was a lot of mis-direction on the part of both parties. In particular, I took issue with the charge that Sen. McCain was going to be a second President George Bush and that President Elect Obama was essentially a socialist.
Sen McCain isn't and wouldn't be a second President Bush. I suspect that he would have made a fine President, certainly better than our current one, because of his long experience in the Senate, and because of the nature to which he has worked. The election spinsters did an effective job of turning him into a much further right-winged politician, when he's shown himself to be a more moderate one at times. I don't think that I would have liked how he handled the war, or how he would have approached the financial crisis, but I would suspect that he would have maintains the status quo to some degree. Perhaps even made things better, if gradually. Most troubling was his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin, whom I saw as both a loose cannon, and someone far more unprepared for the office of the President if need be. Her selection showed that Sen. McCain was far more reactive than Obama, which is something that I don't think is healthy with that amount of power.
To the allegations that P/E Obama is a socialist - I disagree, and this is something that has been both spun out of control by the media and the popular labeling of people like 'Joe the Plumber'. P/E Obama's plan to raise taxes on a percentage of the population is a very small one - 4%, which isn't nearly the same thing as advocating state ownership or takeover of production, something that is never going to happen. While I think that raising taxes isn't going to be popular with those being taxed, I think that it would have a chance of working. I was somewhat disturbed to see the number of people who just took this campaign line at face value, with little thought or critical thinking about how this would play out. The Obama administration will still have to work with Congress and the American people to enact his plans.
As far as foreign policy and experience goes, I think my boss hit the nail on the head - The current administration was composed of a lot of experienced people, and look where that got us. We have squandered a national surplus, wracked up enormous amounts of debt and have fallen out of favor with the world because of our actions overseas, and particularly Guantanamo Bay. That being said, while experience is necessary, P/E Obama has an experienced VP in Sen. Joe Biden, as well as numerous qualified people around him as advisers. This is where the media should have been looking far more closely, because this really is where any president gains their policies from.
The Media has been a real mess and problem throughout the entire election cycle, and I'm very glad that I got rid of my cable in the past couple of months. There are far too many political hacks, who are blatantly partisan, who don't ask the questions that need to be asked, and merely perpetuate what each party was saying, but not what they were doing. Of all the political correspondents that I followed, John Stewart of the Daily Show was the only one who was really worth watching and listening to.
Overall, I felt that P/E Obama's campaign was far better than Sen. McCain's, right down to basic themes. The Obama Campaign was far more positive, held itself to a much higher level and held a candidate that was calm, collected and respectful. The McCain campaign, on the other hand, seemed to spend far more time attacking P/E Obama as a person, politician and a candidate and was far better at trying to instill fear into voters. While I don't see McCain as a main perpetrator of this, he's ultimately campaigning on that sort of thing.
All in all, this has been a fairly positive experience for the United States. It revealed many problems that are still underlying throughout the country, but despite these problems, we were able to elect a candidate that has fairly broad, but not universal, support, one who initially campaigned on education, and someone whom the world sees as a positive leader. While change is not going to come overnight, or most likely in this first term, it is a very important start for our generation, and it is something that I was immensely proud to have witnessed and participated in.
And of course, I was really impressed with the 'hologram' technology that CNN unveiled last night. Does anybody know - was that a true hologram, or just a computer projection worked into the broadcast? If anything, it was really impressive!
I remember where I was exactly 4 years ago at this point. I was in a computer lab here at Norwich University, in the Cabot Wing, I'd just finished a geology lab, and was killing time before something else. Over the past year, there had been the campaigning between the parties, and eventually George Bush and John Kerry. I while I was sitting there, I was talking to a fellow student, a kid that I'd tutored in geology and asked him who he was voting for. Given that this was a military college, I wasn't terribly surprised that he said that he voted for Pres. Bush. When I asked him why, he told me that he wasn't sure, but he knew that he didn't like John Kerry very much. Thinking about it then, I realized that while I had made up my mind about who I would vote for, I didn't really think about why I was voting for any party.
Certainly, there were several reasons for why I was voting against Pres. Bush and siding with the democratic party. I was shocked at the way the war had begun to turn, and being the young, somewhat mindless liberal that I was, I was unhappy about the perceived arrogance in America's place in the world, at how we could simply impose and mislead nations and our own people to achieve something that I for one thought was the desires of a small group of people within the government.
Since that moment a number of years ago, I've been working to better understand the political world in the nation. I don't know that I see that specific moment as a turning point, but it is one that stands out in my mind as a point where I began to really question what was going on. I had, at many points, questioned the Republican party. But I had done little, if any questioning of the Democratic, or any of the smaller parties that seem to appear around an election, if however briefly. My views have changed and matured over these past couple of years.
Earlier this year, I attended the Society for Military History conference in Odgen Utah, where I was talking with our program director about politics. Somewhere along the line, I spoke to how I was disturbed at how much the government spends and wastes every year, and that to some extent, I believed far more in a sort of hands off approach to the government, such as when it came to business. He remarked that that it was fairly libertarian thinking for someone who described themselves as liberal. This made me question some more things about how I approach my views on politics.
I realized that it is impossible to pigeonhole an extremely complex set of beliefs and ideas into one or two 'sides', which makes this race even more frustrating than it already is. I like the idea of a smaller government. A character from The West Wing had a fantastic quote:
"I am a citizen of this country, I am not a special subset in need of your protection. I do not have to have my rights handed down to me by a bunch of old, white men. The same Article 14 that protects you protects me, and I went to law school just to make sure."
She was referring to the constitutional amendment in which women were specifically given the right to vote. I agree with her in theory, especially with something that she says later on, that more laws further limit, especially when there is already something in place that does the same thing. In practicality, however, some people seem to really need things laid out in plain, clear cut rulings in order for the desired effect. Of course women, blacks and whoever else is allowed to vote. But that didn't stop numerous people from preventing that desired effect for so long.
Thinking back to the fundamental differences between the parties, I still lean far more towards the left than I do the right, because of a couple of points that the right has picked up, which essentially boil down to two items - hypocrisies and discrimination.
I largely see the right, conservative wing of politics as something that is contradictory in nature, mainly with the issues that they support. While proponents to a smaller government, hands off, or whatever, there are still feelings that certain books should be banned from the public because of the content that they contain, the government will restrict who a person can marry or what they can do to themselves, while pushing for greater security while hiding behind the notion that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.
What frightens me the most is the introduction of religion into the far right that dictates much of the policy in the country at times. I have nothing against religion - I certainly don't believe that freedom of religion translates into first amendment violations or a freedom from religion, but I don't believe that the government should endorse or have anything to do with it, except for instances of attacks because of someone's religion. Religion in government has been used to discriminate against various minority groups around the country, which I can't support. This has transformed things far from the more traditional conservative view of governmental policy.
Furthermore, it seems to help continue a trend between logic/reason vs. belief and faith. The past eight years have shown that a governmental body can encourage the notion that knowledge is optional and that intelligence can be trumped by a gut feeling. This is a theme that will continue for decades and centuries to come, but in this day in age, it seems like a very sad thing to watch happen.
To be sure, the left wing of the nation is hardly better when it comes to certain issues. Rampent spending, redistribution of wealth, etc are not terribly solid ideas to begin with and can cause further problems. To some extent, I have to wonder if at times, the left and right, with the basic idea that people should be free from their governments. If anything, I see most liberal thinkers as increasingly isolated, operating in a vacuum when it comes to their beliefs. While this is the case with every extreme of the political spectrum, the left can seem to be far more idealistic, but far more clueless.
What has disturbed me the most in this current election has been the sheer amount of racism and idiotic misconceptions that have been perpetuated by national media and political junkies rooting for the various sides. Watching various news programs, I have been continually stunned at how people believe that Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim, that he has been linked to terrorists, and at how my classmates and people around the nation have even been heard calling for him to be killed. I also find it sickening at how the notion of guilt by association is still alive and well in this country, fifty years after Sen. Joseph McCarthy started his campaign against communism. Similarly, I find it extremely annoying to continually hear that Sen. John McCain will be a President Bush 2.0, where he isn't - McCain, to me, seems to be far more moderate and less religiously inclined than Pres. Bush. Even more disturbing is how he's failed to silence or to little to stop rally-goers from yelling things such as Terrorist, kill him, and other derogatory things during speeches. Sen. Obama has proven himself to be a far better person by doing the opposite.
This election has brought out the best and the worst in our country, in my opinion. I could not have written this four or eight years ago, and I think that I've just touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I believe. I sincerely believe that the next four years will get better. I hope that over these next four and hopefully eight years, this race will have started some change and realization between the two sides of the country.
Tomorrow is November the 4th, election day, and I hope to look back on it as the day the world changed.
I love Halloween. Of all the holidays, it ranks up there as one of my absolute favorites, although my appreciation of it has changed over the years, from the free candy one was sure to recieve with a good enough costume through to today, where I've come to really enjoy after taking an English course on Gothic literature and gaining an appreciation for the darker elements of the day and horror in general. As a geeky person (and member of the 501st), there's the added element that seems to really appeal to this social group in which they are able to celebration their interests in a time that it's socially acceptable by dressing up as their favorite movie characters.
It wasn't until this morning that I really began to wonder just how it came to be that you could have small packs of children, dressed as goblins, witches and power rangers, pounding on doors, demanding candy and wrecking havoc throughout the neighborhood. I came across a set of photographs on Wired Magazine's webpage, of Halloween costumes from the 1940s, prompting a line of thought that made me wonder about America's history with this holiday, and what it meant.
Halloween is commonly connected to things such as witches, fairies, devils and other devilish creations that give the night something of a sinister edge. Interestingly, this is not too far off from the original reasons for the celebrations that gave basis of the holiday. The earliest connections to the modern holiday is the celebration of a Celtic day called Samhain, the New Year in the calendar and was traditionally linked to agriculture, given the time of the season. Few records exist for how the holiday was celebrated, and by the 9th through 12th centuries, Christianity was becoming a dominant force in Europe, and as this gained far more importance and power, local traditions were folded into the religion. This is similar to what happened with Easter and Christmas, with Christianity pulling elements of local traditions and essentially updating them in ways that would allow the locals to better accept this new religion without too much fuss.
Samhain has long been associated with death and the underworld, with early connections to the fairies. One version of the take tells of setting aside of food and drink for wandering spirits who come out on this New Year's Day. Along with this, people would imitate these spirits, or represent them, and would accept these gifts. "The road from the saga literature of the early centuries of recorded history to children in masks trick or treating door to door is a long one, with many intersections and fords and side roads and curves, but we can already see in the earliest materials associated with the ancient ancestors of Halloween the beginnings of traditions still practiced today." (1)
While there was an association with spirits and the dead early on, it wasn't until Christianity took its hold in the holiday that these elements were branded with an evil connotation. Elements of native religions were labeled bad, and associated with the devil - to some extent, its this transformation that gives modern Christianity its imagery of hell - "The Celtic underworld inevitably became associated with the Christian Hell" (2) At this point, while there was an effort to re brand this holiday as evil and to try and coax people over to more acceptable holidays and celebrations, there was resistance to this. This became All Soul's day, and then to All Saint's Day, also known as All Hallows - Hallows meaning saint. People continued to celebrate the dead and the wandering of streets, as well as the gifts of food and drink. "Consequentially, All Hallow's Eve, alias Hallow Even, alias Hallowe'en, is an ancient Celtic pre-Christian New Year's day in modern dress." (3)
There are still links to the agricultural nature of the day through to the present day. Houses are decorated with pumpkins and corn stalks, which connects the two somewhat. Carved Pumpkins further connect the day to evil or dead spirits via a story of Jack the Blacksmith, who was banished from both heaven and hell and forced to wander the earth. To light his way, he used glowing coals in a vegetable that he was eating (4), giving us the modern day jack-o'-lantern. Elements such as witches, also with links to ancient religions and branded as evil by Christianity, have also been associated with the day.
Halloween in America has been celebrated for a long time, since the colonies in the 1600s, where it was likewise an agricultural holiday. The Salem Witch trials of 1692 only added to some of the elements that are celebrated in the modern day. With Irish Immigration during the 1800s, the holiday was further reinforced. (5) It was also during this time and the early 1900s, that the holiday began, along with others such as Mother's Day, Christmas and Thanksgiving, to be commercialized in an effort on the part of businesses to increase profits. (6) While looking over pictures of the 1940s costumes, it would seem that this commercialization was probably pretty low key compare to what the holiday is today. According to Wikipedia, the practice of trick-or-treating didn't come into widespread practice until around the 1950s (7), which would place it firmly within the time of a boom of commercialism in the United States following the 2nd World War. Undoubtedly, the growth of the holiday has been helped along by the growth of the middle class and the consumer culture that has gone along with it. With the introduction of the block-buster movie season in the 1970s, costuming would have most likely become much more popular, especially with children and young adults, who would use the holiday as an opportunity to dress up as their favorite movie characters. Unsurprisingly, in recent years, there is quite a bit of business in creating Halloween costumes and candy through to today.
I remember Halloween with quite a bit of nostalgia. Among some of the costumes that I've donned over the years is Batman (probably my first), an American Indian, Luke Skywalker (Return of the Jedi) and obviously recently, a Storm Trooper. Growing up in a small town, there was always a bit of excitement for the event, to walk up and down Rt. 100 with a group of friends until we were tired from walking back and forth. We rarely had people come to our house because we lived several miles away from town in a very sparcely populated area, but we would put out pumpkins and a plastic ghost. I can't remember when I stopped trick or treating, and I know that I didn't dress up last year for it, or at all when I was in college, although I did help out with the Haunted Hay ride fundraiser that Norwich would sponsor every year with the town of Northfield. By far, the best display of the season will be at Ellies Farm and Market, which boasts hundreds (I believe 700 this year) of lit pumpkins in the forest.
Looking over the costumes that I saw this year at the parade in Woburn or on Church Street or at the Spirit of the Tower event that I attended in armor, it's fairly clear that Halloween has become a sort of celebration of popular culture, especially when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, as these genres seem to have really become popular in the past couple of years. Certainly, there's plenty of films to choose from when it comes to costumes, and this translates, as the most popular costume that I saw this year was Batman and Captain Rex, characters from The Dark Knight and The Clone Wars, but numerous other movie costumes were present.
For me, the holiday will always be one of nostalgia and geekiness, which is how I like it.
1 - Jack Santino, Halloween in America: Contemporary Customs and Performances. (Western Folklore, 1983), 5 2 - Ibid, 7 3 - Ibid, 8 4 - Ibid 5 - Ibid, 12-13 6 - Leigh Eeric Schmidt, The Commercialization of the Calendar: American Holidays and the Culture of Consumption, 1870-1930 (The Journal of American History, 1991), 888-890 7 - Halloween, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween#History_5 (Accessed October 28th, 2008)
Yesterday was the Woburn Halloween Parade in Woburn MA, which is turning into a major 501st NEG and Rebel Legion Alderaan Base event, typically drawing in troopers from a couple other garrisons from the surrounding area. It's a big parade, and last year, we started the tradition of a big, major, eye opening prop to parade around with. Last year, it was Jabba the Hutt. This year, it was a life-sized Dewback.
A year ago, I rejoined the 501st after a long break. While I had joined in 2004, having received my armor in 2003, I only was able to troop once, in 2005, for Celebration 3, and then I essentially dropped off the radar, until last year's parade. Since doing so, I've trooped with three different garrisons on their home territory (New England, Connecticut and Canadian), while meeting an additional two in their own territories (Empire City Garrison and the Alpine Garrison), not to mention the numerous people from Carida, Ohio, German, Carolina and other garrisons who've been at these events. I've trooped 31 different events in a year, essentially just over one troop every other week, ranging from really big ones, such as the Woburn Parade and the Darth Vader Balloon, to the smaller cons and events in the region. The events have been fairly trivial, such as a couple of library visits, with just a handful of people, to incredibly relevant and meaningful events such as the Autism Walks that I just did.
I troop (as we call attending these events in armor) because ... I can't think of just one reason. I troop because it's fun, because the people that I've met have become some of the best friends in the world to me, but because it's important. Being a part of the 501st has become a major part of my identity and who I am. I've noticed over the year that at family gatherings or with friends, when turned to the subject, I talk about it at length, the virtues and the downsides, but why trooping matters to me.
The simplest answer is : I do it for the kids. Kids, everywhere, old and young, always have the same look of amazement and wonder on their faces when they see a storm trooper in front of them. At parades, I hear children screaming "Darth Vader! Darth Vader!". Ignoring for a moment that we portray villains, we step off the big screen and become reality. In doing so, we make something that kids only imagine, real, and that is something special.
But that's not the entire answer. Trooping, I've found, has provided me with a valuable community that I hold above all else. I've found that where I go, I can meet people who are just like me, with one major shared interest. Politics, skin color, language - none of this matters. True, within the group there is a variety of opinions and differences, and should the floodgates open to that particular argument, I suspect that it could get quite heated at times. But that is what groups are - they have their own dramas and issues, and I've made a share of mistakes along the way. But with mistakes, you get up and move on, and that's what I've done.
Looking back over pictures from last year's events, I've been thinking about how much has changed over the past year since I returned to the fold. I've had some incredibly difficult months in my personal life, experienced things that I didn't want to, but by the same token, have met some of the most wonderful people in the world, and have had some of the best times of my life with these people. I've started grad school and am almost halfway done. I've become a very different person, I think, because of these experiences, and much of that for the better, especially recently. Looking at my suit, I realize just how far I've come when it comes to costuming accuracy, and I shudder to think about just how badly I must have appeared on that first troop in Indianapolis, in tennis shoes and taped seams. My armor has undergone numerous modifications and alterations - it's had the velcro ripped out, replaced, ripped out again, glued, reglued, taped, modified and added on to, body suits have come and gone, as well as helmets and handplates. I've picked up two sets of armor, and I've recruited at least three people into the legion, one of whom is already an active member who's most likely catching up to me in troops. I don't like to dwell on my successes, or trumpet them, but dammit, I'm proud of what I've done thus far this year.
One thing has not changed in this past year, and that's the enthusiasm and excitement for the Star Wars universe. It sounds corny, but it fits. I like celebrating the films that have had such an impact on my life, but also bringing that to life for the people that we come across and help out, and I get to be a complete geek while I do it.
I wonder what the next 365 days will bring.
It hit me as I was on the train this morning. In a week, from that moment, I'll be on an airplane, going back home. Everything that I've known and been forced to get used to will be gone. The money will change, my friends will seperate and go their own ways and in the end, all we'll have is just the memories.
It's a bit sobering, at just how fast everything has gone past. I remember coming in very clearly. My own nervousness and self doubt even a day or so in, hoping to hell that I had made the right choice, coming out here.
So far, I have few regrets about making the trip. Now, I'm torn over returning. Now that I've lived here for four months, I'm reluctant to leave the confines of my squeaky flat, my own cooking, the city and the people around me that I've come to know and enjoy being around. In a week, that'll all be gone, and I'll be back home with familiar people and surroundings.
On the other hand, I'm eager to leave. To see my friends and family back home, to share my experiences, pictures and stories that I've slowly accumulated over the past 104 days that I've been here. To see my two dogs, my sister, my room and my own computer, and to be away from my roommate and for the near future, work in general.
Most of all, I'm aprehensive about what's coming up, I think. Living here has been a dream. I'm surrounded by things that are fantastic and different, and that'll be gone soon, and in the next year, I'll be coming up to my last year of school, and spat into the real world, something that I'm nervous about and not sure if I'm ready.
I don't have a plan, an idea or a clue about what to do next.
A year can teach you a lot about people. It can take a small thing that can really change your opinion of someone, for better or worse. Looking back, it seems like this year has been nothing but ups and downs.
It’s always disconcerting when you have someone tell you that someone else can’t stand you. Not that I really mind that. There are plenty of people who I can’t stand, and there are probably a large number of people that can’t stand me. But it’s always annoying when they don’t come out and say something. Why do people leave things hanging like that? I don’t get it.
I think that this year has been one of the more difficult ones. I’ve had my heart broken worse than I’ve ever had it, but I got over it, and realized how much of an idiot I was for it in the first place. I guess some things are catching up to me. I’ve been disappointed more times than I can count this time around, and it really hurt, for the first time, it really pained me to think about some people. But, as the saying goes, time heals all wounds, and it did. Didn’t help much with self-confidence, but there’s other things for that, like Sky Diving or landmine removal. I still can’t seem to get things right around women. People have offered suggestions, some of which have worked, some of which have completely backfired, but I guess I’m learning. Maybe sometime, somewhere, somehow.
I’ve also seen people close to death, and despite all mental preparations, it shook me more than I could have thought possible. My grandfather has been in and out of the hospital, and for a while, we thought that he wouldn’t make it. It was sobering to see it happen, and to my family as it was happening. I don’t know how my mother or aunt got through it the way that they did. I don’t really know how I managed not to get as upset as them. I guess that I do have to thank my friends for what support they gave me for it, especially during the really bad parts.
I value friends more, I think. At one point, I completely stopped hanging out with some people because of their girlfriends or other friends, and the ways that they’ve changed because of that. Sometimes I really wish it didn’t happen, but sometimes, I’ve found that if I step back and look at them from a different perspective, I don’t blame myself. There were other times when I just wish that people would open their eyes a bit, earlier, and see the people around them.
I’ve become a little too opinionated with some groups of people, and less so with others. There’s a couple people at the University that I absolutely couldn’t stand at all the past two years. They talked too much, were annoying and everyone was annoyed by them. One of them, I’ll never enjoy being with – mainly for the things that he was arrested for, and given my work at a summer camp. But the other, I’ve grown to like more. I’ve listened more, and better, and realized that he’s not a bad guy. By the same token, I’ve grown to really loath some types of people, mainly when I go up to Burlington – the rich, liberal freshmen that seem to populate UVM, and who’ve only taken on their own political views just because that’s the environment. They dress like they’re a couple of pay scales below what they’re really at, not to save money, but because it’s hip and popular, just as being a geek seems to have somehow been vaulted into popularity by the movie Napoleon Dynamite. Geekdom should not be trendy. Ever. But then again, I’m opinionated about this subject. But, I just wish that people would stop pretending who they aren’t, and be who they really are. That being said, I’ve realized that among some of my closer friends, you see them and they are who they are. They don’t pretend to be something different, they don’t act different because of different social situations. They are as you see them, and for that, I truly enjoy being with them.
My summer was a big change as well. I worked at a Geo-Hydraulic Consulting company that my Dad works for, writing reports and doing fieldwork, something that I enjoyed a lot. I learned a lot about the field that I was working with, but also about myself. I learned not to make excuses for a poor job, and to take blame when I messed up. I learned how to prioritize, how to focus on a job and to finish it on time. It’s something that I carried with me when I went to my next job at Camp Abnaki.
This was also a change from my prior years, a larger challenge, because I was now working in a new role: Village Director, a promotion of sorts. I was the guy with the radio, the one that people looked to for the decisions, when they needed help with something, and the guy who came down on them when they didn’t do their job, when they slacked and mouthed off. It was an interesting adjustment this time around. I was in charge of my friends and learned how to distance myself from things that I might not ordinarily do. And despite that, I’ve always wanted the job, I’m not going to deny that, but I genuinely missed being a counselor, where I could put my head down and worry only about myself and my own cabin, not about the other counselors, or the overall picture of what was going on. I learned how to deal with bitchy people who couldn’t and/or wouldn’t realize that they’re doing a crappy job.
It was hard. My dad told me at the beginning of the summer that Management was the hardest job that I’d ever do. I didn’t believe him when he said it, but after this summer, it turned out to be correct. It was hard, exhausting, rewarding and exciting all at the same time. I got to see a side of Camp that I really hadn’t put as much thought into before, and really took a look at what the job required, on all levels. And I’m going back to it. Hopefully.
And during the school year, I tutor people in geology. But there’s not too much that’s interesting in that.
I’ve developed a taste for travel. This year, I traveled even more about the States, visiting Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Hit some major landmarks, such as the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam and Zion National Park. Visited some not so common places that you’ll never hear about, such as that little convenience store, run by three Mormon women in dresses, where I was able to call home for the first time in a week. I slept over in an airport after a seven hour drive down and through New York City to get out there in the first place, and that first campsite at the Valley of Fire, surrounded by ten meter tall dune cross beds.
I took off from school for half a week and flew out to Indianapolis, Indiana to attend a Star Wars convention, dressed up as a Storm Trooper. I stayed out in a hotel right across from the Convention and every morning was surrounded by thousands of fans of the series. I met some of my favorite authors, Timothy Zahn, Matthew Stover, Karen Traviss, Jan Duursema, and Joe Corroney, as well as the other workers on the Clone Wars Site that I work on. I met some crazy people there, some interesting ones and some people that I still talk to, even after several months. I went with my family to New York City, to Carnegie Hall, not once, but twice, to watch my brother perform with first the Vermont Youth Orchestra and then a national wind ensemble that he was accepted into. I found, each time that I was there, that I really enjoyed walking around the streets with such a large number of people. I also found that I especially liked Central Park, and walking in general.
Those were the major trips. My geology class took a day and we drove out to Central New York, looking at the rocks and examining a progression of strata as the mountain ranges shed material off. I went to Maine to visit my friend Sam at school, taking a much needed break from Vermont. 400 miles and a hundred dollars on the credit card later, I still maintain that it was a good idea. Then of course, there were the spontaneous trips up to Burlington with Eric or to meet with Rachel over the weekends. Then there were the times when I hiked around my house, ten miles at a time.
Someone mentioned to me that the end of the year is a perfect time for reflection. Every year brings about a number of new changes in ways that one cannot anticipate, and along with it, a number of gains, losses and hopes for the future. I guess this year is no different. It’s been an interesting year thus far.
I’m nostalgic. I like to remember things, and one of the best things, I’ve found, it reminiscing with friends about games we’ve played, history, life, politics, other camping years, school and everything and anything that comes to mind. I’m a history major, and I’m finding that a lot of that carries over to other things. I look back to see where I messed up and to try and fix it, but also to the good times. So here, where I rant and rave and talk, it seems like a good place to look back on the year, for it’s good and bad things that have happened. Funny thing is, despite everything that’s happened; I don’t know that I’d trade it for anything. 2005 In Review.