Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The ABSOLUTE Worst Movie I've Seen This Year

Earlier this month I wrote about The Worst Movie I've Seen This Year.

Well, just before this year ended, I watched an even worse movie, which now holds the title of The Worst Movie I've Seen This Year:

The Transporter, starring Jason Statham.

It was truly awful.

And to think that they've made not one, but TWO sequels, Transporter 2 and Transporter 3.

I'm sure that there have been even worse movies made, but of the movies I saw this year, The Transporter was a truly time-wasting way to spend 1-1/2 hours of the last evening of 2008.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rock Band 2

A week ago, Rock Band meant nothing more to me than the fact that our older granddaughter was getting it as a Christmas present from our son for her Nintendo Wii. I'd heard it was "fun," but that and a humor piece I'd read at entitled "How Rock Band saved my marriage" was the extent of my knowledge.

I was in Wal-Mart on Wednesday night, Christmas Eve, shortly before they closed for the holiday, and saw that they were selling Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band 2 for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 (my platform; primarily for Blu-Ray movies, though, not games) for $109, a significant savings from their regular $189.99 price (apparently to price-match Toys "R" Us). I thought, "Well, why not? If I don't like what I see in my granddaughter's game after she opens it, I can always return it unopened." I had my son check for user reviews, and it seemed that Rock Band 2 was rated better than Guitar Hero World Tour, so even though I could have bought both and returned one, I went with Rock Band 2. A later at-home search on the Internet seemed to confirm that Rock Band 2 was the better choice for us - plus, if I liked it, it would be the same game our grandkids were getting, so they could play it at their house and ours with no relearning needed.

Well.... Curiosity or anticipation got the better of us that night (that, plus the glowing reviews I'd read), and we opened it up, assembled the guitar and drum set (a very minor procedure), plugged in their wireless dongles, inserted the disc, started up the game, and...


We had a blast that night playing... and playing... and playing the game. In fact, after finding out that the Wii version of Rock Band 2 had just been released on December 18, we convinced our granddaughter the next day to hold off on opening her game until I could find and exchange it for Rock Band 2 (which was said by everyone to be an improvement, both in minor and major ways, from Rock Band). After a bit of a hassle, I was able to accomplish that mission on Friday, December 26.

The kids and family were at the house all day on Christmas, and the hit of the day was Rock Band 2. Our youngest granddaughter, age 5, was doing her part on drums and vocals, and surprisingly well for someone who had never played the game, nor seen it before. The grandkids were over again the next day, and... you guessed it, more Rock Band 2!

I can see why it's such a popular party game. Unlike a lot of video games, you are not simply absorbed in and by the game, but are also interacting and visiting with your band members as well as the others in the room, especially if you trade off instruments among yourselves. It's a great social activity.

It's of course mostly, if not entirely, rock 'n' roll, and the lyrics of some of the songs are on occasion not what I like hearing or saying, or having young kids hear or say, so there are some things that some parents might or should be concerned about. But I think those are very minor compared to the sheer fun of the game.

I'd read or heard that Rock Band 2 was one of the hottest-selling games for Christmas this year. Now I understand why.

Rock on, dude!

- - -

FYI, here are the "cheat codes" for Rock Band 2:


Xbox 360

Nintendo Wii


Rock Band Feature: Harmonix's Top Tips For Drummers

Equipping Your First Fake Plastic Rock Band

Five Accessories to Improve Your Rock Band Experience

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ugo Nation

With all the talk about the U.S. Government taking over the automobile industry (or at least 2 of the Big 3, if not all 3), may I suggest that if this comes to pass, they ought to call the resulting car that rolls off the assembly line the Ugo: The "U" stands for the "United States," of course, and as for the rest of it - well, the name will quickly bring to mind what kind of car the government is likely to produce:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Way To Go, Wen!


TAMS student wins national award

11:50 AM CST on Monday, December 8, 2008
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

(Wen and his younger brother Yieu were students in the New Testament Greek classes I taught at Denton Bible Church several years ago.)

Wen Chyan, a second year student at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas was named national champion and the recipient of a $100,000 scholarship Monday in the country's premier high school research contest.

Announced about 9 a.m. Central time Monday in New York City, Chyan was named individual winner at the 2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

The 17-year-old beat out five other high school students for the coveted title with his project "Versatile Antimicrobial Coatings from Plasma Deposited Hydrogels and Hydrogel Composites," work that could possibly help hospital patients avoid bacterial infections resulting from treatment.

In his project, Chyan developed a polymer coating for medical devices that could prevent infections caused by bacterial biofilms. Such infections affect more than 2 million hospital patients annually and kill about 100,000.

The polymer, which was created by Chyan, is adhesive and embedded with silver ions that can be used on medical devices such as catheters and breathing equipment, which require a tube to be inserted into a patient.

Broadcasted live via a press conference on the Siemens Web site, Chyan gave brief remarks shortly after the announcement in which he thanked his parents, Jin-Jian Chen and Oliver Chyan, and his mentor, the University of Texas at Arlington chemistry and biochemistry professor Richard Timmons for their support while creating such a project.

"I feel very honored to be [presented] with this Siemens award," he said.

Timmons said he was delighted with the news that Chyan earned top honors at the contest.

“It’s just a great feeling to know him,” he said of Chyan. “Sometimes teaching you get jaded with students who aren’t highly motivated, but when you come across a Wen Chyan, it makes the experience more important.”

Dr. Richard Sinclair, dean at TAMS was overwhelmed with surprise at Chyan’s accomplishment. He said Chyan is the first student from the school to go on and win the contest at the individual level. In 2002, student Charles Halford was named champion at the competition in the team category, he said.

Sinclair said having Chyan be named the 2008 Siemens champion shows what TAMS is about, the students they produce and the kind of research they conduct.

“We couldn’t be more proud of Wen,” he said. “All of us just can’t believe it. It’s just fabulous news.”

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is


TAMS student wins an education

$100,000 scholarship awarded for Wen Chyan’s infection-fighting project

11:57 PM CST on Monday, December 8, 2008
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

A Denton student at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science won a $100,000 scholarship Monday for a chemistry research project that could prevent hospital-related bacterial infections.

Announced Monday at New York University, Wen Chyan, 17, was named the top individual finisher in the 2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, the country’s premier high school research contest.

Wen Chyan “[I’m] definitely very excited about the turn of events,” Chyan said shortly before boarding a plane back to Texas on Monday.

Chyan is a second-year student in TAMS at the University of North Texas. Students in the program complete their first two years of college while earning a high school diploma.

In brief remarks made shortly after the announcement, Chyan said he was honored to earn the award and was grateful to his parents and mentors who’ve contributed to his success.

Chyan beat out five other students in the individual category for the coveted title. For his project, he developed an adhesive polymer coating for medical devices that is imbedded with silver ions, which could prevent infections caused by bacterial biofilms. Such infections affect more than 2 million hospital patients annually and kill about 100,000.

The coating could be used on medical devices such as catheters and breathing equipment, which require a tube to be inserted into a patient.

Siemens competition judge W. Mark Saltzman, a chemical and biomedical engineering professor at Yale University, said in a statement that Chyan’s project was a creative idea that required “a proactive approach where cross-disciplinary initiatives” such as electrochemistry, materials science and biology were explored.

“With further testing, these findings have the potential to improve a wide range of medical devices from intravascular devices at hospitals or catheters used in insulin pumps,” he said.

Dr. Richard Sinclair, TAMS dean, was overwhelmed with surprise at Chyan’s accomplishment. He said Chyan is the first student from the school to advance and win the contest at the individual level. In 2002, TAMS had a student named champion at the competition in the team category, he said.

“We couldn’t be more proud of Wen,” he said. “All of us just can’t believe it. It’s just fabulous news.”

Among other privileges, Chyan also will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange in February with the winners of the Siemens team award, Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo. The pair, both seniors at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, presented genetic research of chemotherapy.

Launched in 1998, the Siemens competition recognizes America’s top math and science students. This year, 1,893 students entered the contest with 1,205 projects. Eighteen students — 12 of whom competed on teams — advanced to the national finals after being named top finalists at one of six regional competitions.

“These remarkable students have achieved the most coveted and competitive high school science recognition,” Thomas McCausland, chairman of the Siemens Foundation, said in a statement. “There is no doubt that these scholars will change the world, starting right now, with their passion for math and science.”

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is


To view the press conference naming Wen Chyan as the winner of the 2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, visit

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Worst Movie I've Seen This Year

I watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on Blu-Ray disc (via Netflix) Friday night, December 5, 2008. I had skipped seeing it at the theater (even though my wife went) because of the less-than-enthusiastic reviews, and also because the trailer I had seen had horrible-looking green-screen effects (though the film looked better than my memory of the trailer).

I started feeling embarrassed for Spielberg, Lucas, Ford and Blanchett almost from the beginning. Labeouf was about as lifeless as a mannequin.

What a sorry way to end a series.

I don't know which was worse: the story, the dialogue, or the acting. The movie was a "perfect storm" of the worst of each of those elements all coming together and generating this turkey. Watching the featurette on Disc 1, “The Return of the Legend,” about how they came to make the film made me wonder if Spielberg and Lucas have just been extremely lucky that they've made not just one but several good films, because if Crystal Skull is an example of the way they think and what excites them, they are seriously messed up.

It was the Hudson Hawk of Indiana Jones films, except it makes Hudson Hawk look brilliant in comparison.

As far as I'm concerned, there are only three Indiana Jones movies. Crystal Skull is merely a parody - no, a travesty.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Multiple Guess Test
Posted by celtic-dragon on Friday, August 11, 2006 10:20:09 PM

Multiple Guess Test

1. In 1979, the U.S. embassy in Tehran was stormed and the diplomatic personnel held hostage by:
A. The Sandmen from "Logans Run"
C. Cheech and Chong
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

2. The Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked and passenger leon Klinghoffer murdered and thrown overboard by:
A. Sponge Bob Squarepants
B. Jaques Costeau
C. Flipper
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

3. The U.S Marine Corps barracks and French peacekeeper barracks in Beirut were blown up by:
A. Deranged Jodie Foster fans who read "The Catcher In The Rye"
B. Salman Rushdie
C. Truman Capote
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

4. Suicide Bombers, snipers and molotov cocktail throwing people in Israel and Palestine are usually:
A. Disgruntled postal employees
B. Disgruntled "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" Fans
C. Disgruntled Kerry/Edwards campaign workers
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

5. U.S. Embassies in Africa were attacked by:
A. The guys from the movie "Zulu"
B. General Rommel and The Afrika Korps
C. The Mummy
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

6. A U.S. warship was attacked in Yemen and nearly sunk by:
A. The good ship Lollypop
B. The Pirates of the Caribbean
C. The Bermuda Triangle
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

7.Journalist Daniel Pearl was tortured and beheaded on T.V. by:
A. Captain Kangaroo
B. Mister Rogers
C. Big Bird
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

8. Women in Afghanistan were imprisoned, denied basic human rights and reduced to slavery by:
A. Ruyard Kipling
B. Ghandi
C. Mother Theresa
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

9. Christian and Animist Sudanese are being massacred, displaced and sold as sex slaves by:
A. Nelson Mandela
B. The rock band "U2"
C. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45

10. The World trade Center was initially attacked in 1993 and subsequently destroyed in 2001 by:
A. The Death Star
B. The Klingon Empire
C. Orcish armies from "The Lord Of The Rings"
D. Male Muslim extremists, mostly between the ages of 18 and 45.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bob Dylan - No. 7 Greatest Singer Of All Time (Rolling Stone Magazine)

Photo: Wilmer/Redferns/Retna

7 Bob Dylan
by Bono

Born May 24th, 1941
Key Tracks "Like a Rolling Stone," "Lay Lady Lay," "Visions of Johanna"
Influenced John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Conor Oberst

Bob Dylan did what very, very few singers ever do. He changed popular singing. And we have been living in a world shaped by Dylan's singing ever since. Almost no one sings like Elvis Presley anymore. Hundreds try to sing like Dylan. When Sam Cooke played Dylan for the young Bobby Womack, Womack said he didn't understand it. Cooke explained that from now on, it's not going to be about how pretty the voice is. It's going to be about believing that the voice is telling the truth.

To understand Bob Dylan's impact as a singer, you have to imagine a world without Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Lucinda Williams or any other vocalist with a cracked voice, dirt-bowl yelp or bluesy street howl. It is a vast list, but so were the influences on Dylan, from the Talmudic chanting of Allen Ginsberg in "Howl" to the deadpan Woody Guthrie and Lefty Frizzell's murmur. There is certainly iron ore in there, and the bitter cold of Hibbing, Minnesota, blowing through that voice. It's like a knotted fist, and it allows Dylan to sing the most melancholy tunes and not succumb to sentimentality. What's interesting is that later, as he gets older, the fist opens up, to a vulnerability. I have heard him sing versions of "Idiot Wind" where he was definitely the idiot.

I first heard Bob Dylan's voice in the dark, when I was 13 years old, on my friend's record player. It was his greatest-hits album, the first one. The voice was at once modern, in all the things it was railing against, and very ancient. It felt strangely familiar to an Irishman. We thought America was full of superheroes, but it was a much humbler people in these songs — farmers, people who have had great injustices done to them. The really unusual thing about Bob Dylan was that, for a moment in the Sixties, he felt like the future. He was the Voice of a Generation, raised against the generation that came before. Then he became the voice of all the generations, the voices in the ground — these ghosts from the Thirties and the Dust Bowl, the romance of Gershwin and the music hall. For me, the pictures of him in his polka-dot shirt, the Afro and pointy shoes — that was a brief flash of lightning. His voice is usually put to the service of more ancient characters.

Here are some of the adjectives I have found myself using to describe that voice: howling, seducing, raging, indignant, jeering, imploring, begging, hectoring, confessing, keening, wailing, soothing, conversational, crooning. It is a voice like smoke, from cigar to incense, where it's full of wonder and worship. There is a voice for every Dylan you can meet, and the reason I'm never bored of Bob Dylan is because there are so many of them, all centered on the idea of pilgrimage. People forget that Bob Dylan had to warm up for Dr. King before he made his great "I have a dream" speech — the preacher preceded by the pilgrim. Dylan has tried out so many personas in his singing because it is the way he inhabits his subject matter. His closet won't close for all the shoes of the characters that walk through his stories.

I love that album Shot of Love. There's no production. You're in a room hearing him sing. And I like a lot of the songs that he worked on with Daniel Lanois — "Series of Dreams," "Most of the Time," "Dignity." That is the period where he moves me most. The voice becomes the words. There is no performing, just life — as Yeats says, when the dancer becomes the dance.

Dylan did with singing what Brando did with acting. He busted through the artifice to get to the art. Both of them tore down the prissy rules laid down by the schoolmarms of their craft, broke through the fourth wall, got in the audience's face and said, "I dare you to think I'm kidding."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Scratch Out!

I was in Wal-Mart yesterday, and on a whim/chance, I bought a product called "Scratch Out!" barcode 6-89076-62379-7 from viaMarket CP, LLC I figured it's only $5.98, and if it doesn't work as promised, I can return it as "defective" and get a refund.

FAQs on how it works:

So I took it home and gave it the "acid test" (which was the reason I bought it):

My DVD of A Thief In The Night - a decently-acted kind of cheesy '70s Christian movie about "The Rapture" (part 1 of a 4-part/4-movie series) from Russ Doughten films of Des Moines, IA (formerly Mark IV Pictures) - - had become unplayably scratched. I had tried every method I had of cleaning and "buffing" it from DVD/CD scratch remover/polisher to toothpaste. No luck. It would freeze up about 2/3 of the way through in both my old DVD player and my computer DVD drive. This was the only DVD I hadn't been able to repair to playability using these methods. (I had loaned it out, and when I got it back it was loose in the case and had bounced all around and back and forth and who knows what else it had been subjected to.)

Well ... Scratch Out! fixed it.

I tested it by FFWd'ing it in my PC DVD drive, with no problems. I then did the same thing in my recently-bought PS3 at 120x. No problems. Then I watched it in the PS3 and it played all the way through with no problems.

I'm impressed with "Scratch Out!" (It comes with a microfiber polishing cloth as well.)

(It also seems to have restored a hopelessly-scratched "Barney Sing-Along Fun!" DVD.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008


PostSecret (November 2005)
My Secret (October 2006)
The Secret Lives of Men and Women (January 2007)
A Lifetime of Secrets (October 2007)

The instructions were simple, but the results were extraordinary.

"You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything -- as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative."
It all began with an idea Frank Warren had for a community art project. He began handing out postcards to strangers and leaving them in public places -- asking people to write down a secret they had never told anyone and mail it to him, anonymously.

The response was overwhelming. The secrets were both provocative and profound, and the cards themselves were works of art -- carefully and creatively constructed by hand. Addictively compelling, the cards reveal our deepest fears, desires, regrets, and obsessions. Frank calls them "graphic haiku," beautiful, elegant, and small in structure but powerfully emotional.

As Frank began posting the cards on his website, PostSecret took on a life of its own, becoming much more than a simple art project. It has grown into a global phenomenon, exposing our individual aspirations, fantasies, and frailties -- our common humanity.

Every day dozens of postcards still make their way to Frank, with postmarks from around the world, touching on every aspect of human experience. This extraordinary collection brings together the most powerful, personal, and beautifully intimate secrets Frank Warren has received -- and brilliantly illuminates that human emotions can be unique and universal at the same time.

About the Author
Frank Warren is a small business owner who started as a community art project. Since November 2004 Warren has received more than 150,000 anonymous postcards. The website won two Webby Awards in 2006 and this year was named Weblog of the Year at the Seventh Annual Weblog Awards. The PostSecret project also received a special award from the National Mental Health Association for raising awareness and funds for suicide prevention. Warren lives in Germantown, Maryland, with his wife and daughter.

I have all four of these books, and find them fascinating. Reading them is like therapy. It makes you realize that most of the people you see and work with and talk to every day are showing you only part of themselves. It also makes you realize that you are not alone with your fears, problems, and secrets, but that others have theirs, too - many of which are just as awful or guilt-inducing or traumatizing as your own, and likely worse.

You'll find yourself saying a prayer for some of these anonymous persons, too.

See examples of the postcards/secrets that are in the books by viewing the sample pages for the books at or by visiting these Websites (warning: some of the secrets deal with mature or adult subject matter, as is to be expected):

The PostSecret Website/Blog

The PostSecret Community

A Google Images search for "postsecret" yields lots of results and examples like these:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How And Why Did You Vote?

I wonder if the election was also a referendum on old vs. young, as well as liberal vs. conservative religious beliefs? I'd like to see the age and religious demographics of voters, and if things changed from 2004 to 2008. I'm not too fond of most polls, because I often find the answer choices aren't right for me or are too vague or broad. Here's my attempt at one, though:

1. What was your age on November 4, 2008 (i.e., Election Day 2008):

2. How would you most accurately describe your political party affiliation or preference:
a. Democratic
b. Republican
c. Libertarian
d. Other
e. Undecided

3. If you voted in the 2004 Presidential election, how did you vote:
a. Democratic - John Kerry
b. Republican - George Bush
c. Libertarian
d. Other
e. I did not vote for a Presidential candidate

4. Who did you vote for President for this election:
a. Democratic - Barack Obama
b. Republican - John McCain
c. Libertarian
d. Other
e. I did not vote for a Presidential Candidate

5. What party did you mostly vote for Senator (if applicable) and Congressman this election:
a. Democratic
b. Republican
c. Libertarian
d. Other
e. Split between Democratic and Republican candidates
f. Split between Democratic and non-Republican candidates (e.g., Democratic and Libertarian)
g. Split between Republican and non-Democratic candidates (e.g., Republican and Libertarian)
h. I did not vote for the Senator and Congressman candidates

6. How would you describe your religious affiliation/identification:
a. Jewish
b. Christian - Protestant
c. Christian - Catholic
d. Christian - Orthodox
e. Christian - Other
f. Muslim
g. Hindu
h. Buddhist
i. Other religious/spiritual
j. Agnostic (no firm beliefs about God's nature or existence or non-existence)
k. Atheist (firm belief that there is no God)

7. How would you describe your religious beliefs and views:
a. Liberal religious views
b. Moderate religious views
c. Conservative religious views
d. Not Applicable (e.g., Agnostic or Atheist)

8. How much did the Abortion issue affect or influence your choice of whom you voted for President:
a. Very strongly
b. Moderately
c. Not much at all

9. How much did the Iraq War issue affect or influence your choice of whom you voted for President:
a. Very strongly
b. Moderately
c. Not much at all

10. How much did the Economy issue affect or influence your choice of whom you voted for President:
a. Very strongly
b. Moderately
c. Not much at all

11. How much did the Presidential candidate's race/ethnicity affect or influence your choice of whom you voted for President:
a. Very strongly
b. Moderately
c. Not much at all

12. Which of the above issues (questions 8. - 11.) have strongly affected or impacted you personally:
a. Abortion (e.g., you are actively involved in the abortion issue; you closely know someone affected by abortion; etc.)
b.The Iraq War (e.g., you or a family member or close friend have been personally impacted by the War)
c. The Economy (e.g., you or your family are being strongly affected by the economic situation)
d. Race/Ethnicity (e.g., you or your friends or family are affected by racial or ethnic issues)
e. None
Select any one, two, three or all four of a., b., c., and d., or select e. (None).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Happy Halloween!

My wife and I on our 3,000th wedding anniversary

Someone was offended that a friend posted the above picture on their "Christian" blog, and in defense of my friend, I replied:
Don’t you recognize us? We’re two of the four horses of the Apocalypse! If you look up the original Greek, you’ll see that the word translated as “pale” (as in, "behold, a pale horse" - Revelation 6:8) is χλωρος (chlôros), which means "green" (e.g., "chlorophyll" = "green leaf/blade"). That would be my wife. The first horse is a white horse (Revelation 6:2), and that would be me. We look like death because the four horses bring death and destruction.

And ... My wife’s black hair and my red/orange fiery hair represent the other two horses. See Revelation 6:4 (Greek = πυρρος (pyrros) = fiery-colored - e.g., "funeral pyre") and 6:5. We’re THOROUGHLY and TOTALLY Biblical, and in the best of Reformed/Wesleyan/Lutheran/Catholic/Orthodox theological tradition, too. :^D
Yeah, I was a bit snarky. Sorry.

Monday, October 27, 2008

100,000 Miles, No More Warranty

This isn't our car, but one just like it

This morning our 2000 Hyundai Elantra lost its 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. As I was driving to work on the service road parallel to I-35E South just past the new Hwy 121 and coming to the Frankford Road 270-degree crossover, the odometer turned from 99999 to 100000.

I hope I don't need any major repair work anytime soon!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Happens When We Die?

Thursday, Sep. 18, 2008
What Happens When We Die?
By M.J. Stephey

A fellow at New York City's Weill Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Sam Parnia is one of the world's leading experts on the scientific study of death. Last week Parnia and his colleagues at the Human Consciousness Project announced their first major undertaking: a 3-year exploration of the biology behind "out-of-body" experiences. The study, known as AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation), involves the collaboration of 25 major medical centers through Europe, Canada and the U.S. and will examine some 1,500 survivors of cardiac arrest. TIME spoke with Parnia about the project's origins, its skeptics and the difference between the mind and the brain.

What sort of methods will this project use to try and verify people's claims of "near-death" experience?

When your heart stops beating, there is no blood getting to your brain. And so what happens is that within about 10 sec., brain activity ceases —as you would imagine. Yet paradoxically, 10% or 20% of people who are then brought back to life from that period, which may be a few minutes or over an hour, will report having consciousness. So the key thing here is, Are these real, or is it some sort of illusion? So the only way to tell is to have pictures only visible from the ceiling and nowhere else, because they claim they can see everything from the ceiling. So if we then get a series of 200 or 300 people who all were clinically dead, and yet they're able to come back and tell us what we were doing and were able see those pictures, that confirms consciousness really was continuing even though the brain wasn't functioning.

How does this project relate to society's perception of death?

People commonly perceive death as being a moment — you're either dead or you're alive. And that's a social definition we have. But the clinical definition we use is when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working, and as a consequence the brain itself stops working. When doctors shine a light into someone's pupil, it's to demonstrate that there is no reflex present. The eye reflex is mediated by the brain stem, and that's the area that keeps us alive; if that doesn't work, then that means that the brain itself isn't working. At that point, I'll call a nurse into the room so I can certify that this patient is dead. Fifty years ago, people couldn't survive after that.

How is technology challenging the perception that death is a moment?

Nowadays, we have technology that's improved so that we can bring people back to life. In fact, there are drugs being developed right now — who knows if they'll ever make it to the market — that may actually slow down the process of brain-cell injury and death. Imagine you fast-forward to 10 years down the line; and you've given a patient, whose heart has just stopped, this amazing drug; and actually what it does is, it slows everything down so that the things that would've happened over an hour, now happen over two days. As medicine progresses, we will end up with lots and lots of ethical questions.

But what is happening to the individual at that time? What's really going on? Because there is a lack of blood flow, the cells go into a kind of a frenzy to keep themselves alive. And within about 5 min. or so they start to damage or change. After an hour or so the damage is so great that even if we restart the heart again and pump blood, the person can no longer be viable, because the cells have just been changed too much. And then the cells continue to change so that within a couple of days the body actually decomposes. So it's not a moment; it's a process that actually begins when the heart stops and culminates in the complete loss of the body, the decompositions of all the cells. However, ultimately what matters is, What's going on to a person's mind? What happens to the human mind and consciousness during death? Does that cease immediately as soon as the heart stops? Does it cease activity within the first 2 sec., the first 2 min.? Because we know that cells are continuously changing at that time. Does it stop after 10 min., after half an hour, after an hour? And at this point we don't know.

What was your first interview like with someone who had reported an out-of-body experience?

Eye-opening and very humbling. Because what you see is that, first of all, they are completely genuine people who are not looking for any kind of fame or attention. In many cases they haven't even told anybody else about it because they're afraid of what people will think of them. I have about 500 or so cases of people that I've interviewed since I first started out more than 10 years ago. It's the consistency of the experiences, the reality of what they were describing. I managed to speak to doctors and nurses who had been present who said these patients had told them exactly what had happened, and they couldn't explain it. I actually documented a few of those in my book What Happens When We Die because I wanted people to get both angles —not just the patients' side but also the doctors' side — and see how it feels for the doctors to have a patient come back and tell them what was going on. There was a cardiologist that I spoke with who said he hasn't told anyone else about it because he has no explanation for how this patient could have been able to describe in detail what he had said and done. He was so freaked out by it that he just decided not to think about it anymore.

Why do you think there is such resistance to studies like yours?

Because we're pushing through the boundaries of science, working against assumptions and perceptions that have been fixed. A lot of people hold this idea that, well, when you die, you die; that's it. Death is a moment — you know you're either dead or alive. All these things are not scientifically valid, but they're social perceptions. If you look back at the end of the 19th century, physicists at that time had been working with Newtonian laws of motion, and they really felt they had all the answers to everything that was out there in the universe. When we look at the world around us, Newtonian physics is perfectly sufficient. It explains most things that we deal with. But then it was discovered that actually when you look at motion at really small levels — beyond the level of the atoms — Newton's laws no longer apply. A new physics was needed, hence, we eventually ended up with quantum physics. It caused a lot of controversy — even Einstein himself didn't believe in it.

Now, if you look at the mind, consciousness, and the brain, the assumption that the mind and brain are the same thing is fine for most circumstances, because in 99% of circumstances we can't separate the mind and brain; they work at the exactly the same time. But then there are certain extreme examples, like when the brain shuts down, that we see that this assumption may no longer seem to hold true. So a new science is needed in the same way that we had to have a new quantum physics. The CERN particle accelerator may take us back to our roots. It may take us back to the first moments after the Big Bang, the very beginning. With our study, for the first time, we have the technology and the means to be able to investigate this. To see what happens at the end for us. Does something continue?


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Best Of This Election!

The best photo of this election season:

The best cartoon of this election season:

The best video of this election season (the first one, in fact, IIRC):

The funniest thing to happen this election season:
Barack Obama's pick of Joe Biden for Vice-President. Comparing the Democrats' enthusiasm for Biden to the Republicans' enthusiasm for Palin is like comparing a rusted old Yugo

to a brand-new Corvette

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I Saw Bob Dylan

Friday, August 28, 7:30 p.m., Uptown Theater, Kansas City, Missouri.

Cameras were not allowed (though some people sneaked theirs in; at times it pays to have a slim pocket digital camera!), otherwise I'd post some pictures.

Here is a review: and some comments by people who attended:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What Michael Phelps Eats

By CLEMENTE LISI with Post Wire Services

August 13, 2008 --

Swimming sensation Michael Phelps has an Olympic recipe for success - and it involves eating a staggering 12,000 calories a day.

"Eat, sleep and swim. That's all I can do," Phelps, who won two more gold medals today, told NBC when asked what he needs to win medals. "Get some calories into my system and try to recover the best I can."

By comparison, the average man of the same age needs to ingest about 2,000 calories a day.

Phelps, 23, will swim 17 times over nine days of competition at the Beijing Games - meaning that he will need all the calories he can shovel in his mouth in order to keep his energy levels high.

Phelps' diet - which involves ingesting 4,000 calories every time he sits down for a meal - resembles that of a reckless overeater rather than an Olympian.

Phelps lends a new spin to the phrase "Breakfast of Champions" by starting off his day by eating three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise.

He follows that up with two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes.

At lunch, Phelps gobbles up a pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayo on white bread - capping off the meal by chugging about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks.

For dinner, Phelps really loads up on the carbs - what he needs to give him plenty of energy for his five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week regimen - with a pound of pasta and an entire pizza.

He washes all that down with another 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks.

Phelps remains on course to at least equal Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals won at the 1972 Munich Games.

At these Summer Games, a typical day for Phelps starts with a 5 a.m. wake-up call. Most of his races have taken place between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET when in China - 12 hours ahead of East Coast time.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beware The Windigo

August 11, 2008
Horrifying coincidence in beheading

Nathan Carlson has barely slept since July 30.

"Ever since it happened, I haven't been able to get it out of my head," Carlson says haltingly. "I just don't know what to think of it, quite frankly."

The Edmonton ethno-historian is one of the world's leading experts on Windigo phenomenon, and the recent horrific beheading and alleged cannibalism on a Greyhound bus bound for Winnipeg from Edmonton rocked him to his very core.

As the grisly details of Tim McLean's last moments on Earth came to light in the following days, Carlson sank deeper and deeper into a fog of horror and revulsion.

Vince Weiguang Li is accused of abruptly attacking McLean, who by all accounts he didn't even know -- while McLean slept on the bus.

Up until a few days before the killing, Li held a part- time job delivering newspapers in Edmonton. He was well thought-of by his boss and considered a nice guy, if a bit quiet and shy.

On July 20 -- just 10 days before the killing -- Li delivered copies of the Sun that contained an extensive interview with Carlson about his research into the Windigo, a terrifying creature in native mythology that has a ravenous appetite for human flesh. It could take possession of people and turn them into cannibalistic monsters.

The two-page feature talked about how, in the late 1800s and into the 20th century, Windigo "encounters" haunted communities across northern Alberta and resulted in dozens of gruesome deaths.

In one case, a Cree trapper named Swift Runner was hanged after admitting to killing and eating his wife, children, brother and mother in the woods northeast of Edmonton in the winter of 1878-79.

Prior to being charged with murder, he had suffered screaming fits and nightmares, which he attributed to being possessed by a Windigo.

In several other cases, people banded together and killed individuals they feared were possessed by a Windigo. Often, they would decapitate the corpse and bury the head separate from the body in order to keep it from rising from the dead.

Carlson documented several cases in northern Alberta communities where people believing they were "turning Windigo" would go into convulsions, make terrifying animal sounds and beg their captors to kill them before they started eating people.

In last month's bus case, Li allegedly butchered McLean's body, brandishing the victim's severed head at the men who trapped him on the bus until police could arrive.

He was later accused of eating McLean's flesh.

When he appeared in a Portage La Prairie courthouse on charges of second-degree murder, the only words Li reportedly uttered were pleas for someone to kill him.

A lot of his reported behaviour eerily mirrors the Windigo cases recounted in the newspaper feature that Li helped deliver to Edmonton homes just days before McLean was killed, one of the most gruesome slayings in modern Canadian history.

Several media reports called McLean's killing unprecedented - an unspeakable, random attack the likes of which has never been seen in Canada.

But Carlson knows better.

"There are just too many parallels," he says.

"I can't say there's definite connection, but there are just too many coincidences.

"It's beyond eerie."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Astronaut Ed Mitchell On Alien Visitations

Moon-walker Dr Edgar Mitchell Claims Alien Contact Cover-up

"There has been visitation"
July 24, 2008 12:01am

FORMER NASA astronaut and moon-walker Dr Edgar Mitchell - a veteran of the Apollo 14 mission - has stunningly claimed aliens exist.

And he says extra-terrestrials have visited Earth on several occasions - but the alien contact has been repeatedly covered up by governments for six decades.

Dr Mitchell, 77, said during a radio interview that sources at the space agency who had had contact with aliens described the beings as 'little people who look strange to us.'

He said supposedly real-life ETs were similar to the traditional image of a small frame, large eyes and head.

Chillingly, he claimed our technology is "not nearly as sophisticated" as theirs and "had they been hostile", he warned "we would be been gone by now".

Thursday, July 17, 2008

O Brave New World!

The 3D Internet Will Change How We Live
July 17, 2008

Last summer, several hundred thousand very real dollars disappeared into a Ponzi scheme in the popular virtual world, "Second Life." The owner of the "bank" behind the scheme fled, and hasn't been seen since last October. There were no investigations, lawsuits or arrests.

Second Life users had invested "Linden Dollars" in the scheme, hoping to make money. Linden Dollars are purchased with real cash, and can be converted to real money on an exchange run by Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life.

After the debacle, the angry mob surrounding the virtual bank's ATMs appeared to consist mainly of hookers, mafia enforcers, skateboard punks and theme-park mascots. Though these computer-generated "avatars" represented real people in front of computer screens, some of whom lost real money, you're forgiven for not caring. It was as bizarre as it was tragic.

The picture is changing though – faster than you think. Real-life rules are starting to be applied to virtual worlds. Second Life banned unlicensed "banks" earlier this year, after previously banning casinos and simulated child pornography. Users cheered.

Virtual worlds may look like toys for the geekiest of geeks, but they have quietly slipped into the mainstream. Second Life reports that over the last two months, 1.2 million accounts were logged in for over 65 million total hours.

Other virtual worlds, like the PG-13 rated "There," China's forthcoming "HiPiHi," youth-oriented "Barbie Girls" and teen-oriented "Habbo Hotel" attract millions more. Big technology players are involved too. Sony is developing a 3D environment for its popular PlayStation 3 called "Home," and Google recently launched its own world, "Lively."

Dozens of major brands and organizations, including MTV, Playboy, CBS, Cisco, Toyota, L'Oréal and the American Cancer Society have significant virtual-world presences. IBM has made a particularly strong commitment to virtual worlds, and regularly holds meetings on a sprawling, privately firewalled Second Life campus.

Washington is paying attention. Earlier this year Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, presided over a hearing on virtual worlds. The hearing was simulcast into Second Life, where Rep. Markey was represented by an avatar.

The financial marketplace, of course, hasn't missed this opportunity – $345 million was invested in 39 virtual world-related companies in the first half of 2008. Last year, Gartner Research predicted that 80% of all active Internet users will have a virtual-world presence by 2011.

Bandwidth and processing power are constantly growing, leading to several convergent trends. First, interfaces are moving closer to reality. Over the last 30 years, we have gone from punch cards to typed commands to drag-and-drop folders to Windows Vista's 3D panels. Second, hardware that makes 3D immersion possible – from motion-control devices like Nintendo's Wiimote to $90 Webcams that track face and body movements – is now reaching average consumers' homes.

Finally, we are becoming an increasingly networked society. Eighty-two percent of American homes now have Internet access, up 11% percent from 2006.

The allure of the 3D Internet is easy to see. What auto maker would be content to put 2D pictures of a new SUV on its Web site when it can offer buyers a virtual, first-person drive down a snowy mountain road? What sculptor will want to display 2D photographs of her work when she can invite collectors on a guided tour of her virtual sculpture garden?

No privately held virtual world is going to end up in sole possession of the 3D Internet, just as no early 2D "walled garden" network provider like Prodigy, Compuserve or AOL owns the 2D Web today. A number of industry groups are working on open 3D standards. As soon as one of these gains widespread acceptance, anyone will be able to build a virtual world that is connected to any other similarly coded virtual world – just like HTML now allows anyone to create a 2D Web page that is connected to any other 2D Web page.

If current trends hold, the Internet will evolve into a 3D space, and virtual worlds will become an integral part of human communication. Real life will never be the same.

Mr. Duranske, a writer and attorney, is the author of "Virtual Law: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds" (American Bar Association Publishing, 2008).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I was the third out of four foolish/lucky people who stayed at Wal-Mart all night long on June 11 (until 12:01 a.m. on June 12) and got/bought the limited-issuance 80GB Sony Playstation 3 Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots bundle with the $100 Wal-Mart gift card (the real incentive).

I bought the PS3 primarily to play Blu-Ray discs, and also because our DVD player was, after 6 years, starting to have occasional problems reading some DVDs. The PS3 has the latest Blu-Ray Profile (2.0, a rarity among current Blu-Ray players), with regular firmware updates/enhancements, and it receives high marks for how well it upscales regular DVDs. Thanks to Netflix we've been able to enjoy Blu-Ray's visible superiority to standard DVDs.

I've been playing MGS4 off and on, and am somewhere about halfway through it, I think - or maybe I've just barely begun! I'm in South America; last night I killed the Laughing Octopus and rescued Naomi, and tonight I met up with Raiden, who killed a bunch of gecko mechanical robots for me. I'm basically running and blasting my way through the game in the direction of the target on each level/mission, without really experimenting with all the weapons and items or exploring all the trails and ways one could go. It's a very complex game, and potentially quite addictive. ;-)

Monday, July 7, 2008

John McClane For President

I just watched Live Free or Die Hard (i.e., Die Hard IV). We have the wrong guy running for President. Instead of John McCain, we need John McClane.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Multitasking Madness

On my walk to work from the bus stop a few weeks ago, as I passed the Starbucks at the Magnolia Hotel I saw a young lady walking her dog (a black Labrador, I think). She was holding the leash in one hand and a large cup of Starbucks coffee in the other while talking hands-free on her cell phone - not via a Bluetooth headset, but by adopting that frequently-observed hunched Ygor-like pose of holding it to her ear and cheek with her shoulder. And then, to top it all off, she reached into her purse and took out a cigarette, which she put in her mouth and proceeded to light.

And she and her dog were walking all this time.

I wish I'd had my camera.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I'm Not There

Get the DVD!

If you don't know much about Bob Dylan and/or are unfamiliar with his music and life, refer to my earlier posts for some CDs and movies to listen to and watch before seeing I'm Not There.

The extras on Disc 2 do a great job of explaining the film, and Disc 1 (the film) has an audio commentary track as well. The review of the DVD at DVD Talk gets it right.

I also purchased the 2-CD soundtrack. Some argue that it's not a true "soundtrack," since Dylan does only one of the songs, whereas the movie used clips of Dylan for many of the songs that on the "soundtrack" are performed in full by others. That, to me, is a small quibble, and if you like the movie, I think you'll equally like the soundtrack CD.

- - -

I recently bought the (remastered) CDs of "Blonde On Blonde" and "Blood On The Tracks."

Monday, April 21, 2008

White Flash

A Merciful White Flash
Tyler Wigg Stevenson
March 31, 2008

Before I became a Christian, I had the worst lunch breaks in the world. They went like this:

Every day I would take my bowl of rice and beans into the noonday sun and sit on the tailgate of my '87 Ranger, which commanded a billion-dollar view. Armed with the painfully earnest idealism of a new college graduate, I had scored a job at a nonprofit organization located in a house-cum-office just off the southern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. I'd sit there in the parking lot, humming Otis Redding, literally at the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. As I ate, I'd take in the bridge, the Marin headlands, Alcatraz and the East Bay, and the stunning Mediterranean sweep of the San Francisco skyline.

And every day the scenery was swept clean, in my mind's horrified eye, by the merciless white flash of a nuclear airburst.

Dust and Ashes

I was then an irreligious religion major, raised in a secular home and employed straight out of college by Alan Cranston, a four-term warhorse of the U.S. Senate who dedicated his retirement to advancing the global abolition of nuclear weapons. The crash course in nuclear policy I received my first two weeks on the job was nothing short of traumatic. My imagination had become a bit zingy from eating only rice, beans, and lettuce, and sleeping every night under my desk. (It was the height of the dot-com boom; rentals, especially for impoverished, nonprofit employees like me, were impossible to find.)

As just one example of the things that kept me awake at night: We had in 1999, and inexplicably still have today, thousands of nuclear-tipped warheads on hair-trigger alert. This is a holdover from the Cold War, when policy wonks were afraid that a preemptive nuclear attack by the Reds would destroy our ability to strike back. So we, like the Soviets, developed launch-on-warning procedures to have thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles airborne in 15 minutes—i.e., before missiles from the other side would hit our silos. In the event of a suspected attack, we would fire back instantly, and in a half-hour, the urban centers of two continents would be burning ruins, with hundreds of millions dead.

There's not a lot of time for double-checking analysis in 15 minutes. On the multiple recorded occasions when American and Soviet early-warning radars confused a flock of arctic geese, a weather satellite, and the rising moon for a nuclear attack, it was only the sheer disbelief of each side's nuclear commanders that kept us all alive.

It's this sort of thing, along with the less apocalyptic but far more probable prospect of a terrorist bomb, that haunted me. It's this sort of thing that turns a spoonful of rice and beans to dust and ashes on the tongue.

Grim Details

Here's what was behind the white flash I saw each day from my perch on the dock of the bay:

A one-megaton nuclear explosion releases an unfathomable, unstoppable amount of energy. What happens in the time it takes you to read the next word—a millisecond— is that from that core explosion, a fireball as hot as the core of the sun envelops 19 square miles of one of the most densely populated cities in America. Instantly, more than 300,000 sons and daughters die—and maybe double that, given all the people who have commuted in to work.

In the next seconds, a blast wave roars outward from the explosion's center at the speed of sound, accompanied by radioactive heat that causes second-degree burns at a distance of 6 miles. Fifty percent of people within 2.5 to 4 miles of the explosion die then; 10 percent of those in the 4- to 6.5-mile ring. Given the circumstances, 10 percent somehow starts to sound pathetically, perversely hopeful, until you realize that's 10 percent of everyone in a ring covering more than 80 square miles, or the entire northern section of the San Francisco peninsula. The view from the heavens would look like the Devil's cigar had been stubbed out on the earth.

All in all, a minimum of 700,000 lucky souls die in the first moments, more than all the combatants killed on both sides of the American Civil War, the costliest in U.S. history. I say lucky, because nearly twice that number are desperately injured, but all the hospitals are destroyed—as are the ambulances, paramedics to drive them, and roads to drive them on. Hundreds of thousands more die from burns as firestorms spring up everywhere, and the firefighters are already dead. Many who survive being burned die of asphyxiation as all the oxygen is consumed. Radiation, a patient killer, will claim its share as well over the coming weeks and years: for decades, the death toll will be recorded in pencil, not ink. And the psychological and spiritual impact is unimaginable.
We will never be over this. Never.

(The entire article can be read here.)

Tyler Wigg Stevenson is director of the Biblical Security Covenant..

Friday, April 11, 2008

More Bob Dylan

I bought the DVD No Direction Home, and found it fascinating. I also bought the 2-disc Soundtrack CD ("The Bootleg Series Vol. 7":

Recounting their time together, Joan Baez said:
He came out and stayed with me in a beautiful house, in Carmel Valley. Bob liked to write there, and he would just stand, tapping away at that typewriter. He would always say, "What do you think of this?" And I wouldn't understand the thing at all, but I loved it. So I went, "Okay, I'm gonna figure this one out." So I read through it, and I gave back my interpretation of what I thought it was about. He said, "That's pretty f------ good." He would say, "See now, a bunch of years from now, all these people, all these a------- are gonna be writing about all the s--- I write. I don't know where the f--- it comes from. I don't know what the f--- it's about. (laughing) And they're gonna write what it's about."
Liam Clancy said this about seeing Bob Dylan at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival:
I was on top of this 12-foot station and I had a long lens. I was looking at Bob Dylan coming out on stage. He was Charlie Chaplin. He was Dylan Thomas. He talked like Woody Guthrie. He was constantly moving. In old Irish mythology they talk about the shape-changers. He changed voices. He changed images. It wasn't necessary for him to be a definitive person. He was a receiver. He was possessed. And he articulated what the rest of us wanted to say but couldn't say.
These two comments epitomize what I think the film tells and shows us about Bob Dylan - i.e., he was not only a force, but he was also driven by a force which even he didn't understand, and perhaps doesn't understand to this day, judging by what he says in the interview that cuts in and out during the film and holds the film together.

So, who/what is Bob Dylan? I'm not sure even he knows. The following, from a review of the movie I'm Not There, may contain the truth in the quote from Harry Weber:
Even with new information provided in the film, however, his personality remains not so much elusive as cantankerous, particularly in contrast with the expansiveness of his songs. That gap gives I'm Not There something of a hollow centre. The contradiction is neatly summed up in Robert Shelton's 1986 biography of Dylan, also called No Direction Home. Shelton quotes Harry Weber, who knew Dylan as a university freshman in Minnesota, saying: "Dylan is a genius, that's all. He is not more complex than most people; he is simpler."
Here is an interesting story about what is perhaps the most influential rock song of all time, Poetic Accident: Recording 'Like a Rolling Stone':
No matter how timeless "Like a Rolling Stone" might turn out to be, what happened over the two days of recording sessions makes it clear that had circumstances been even slightly different -- different people present, a different mood in the studio, different weather in the streets outside, a different headline in the morning paper -- the song might never have entered time at all, or interrupted it.

I also bought DYLAN at Best Buy (the digipak 3-CD set, not the too-expensive Deluxe mini-boxed edition with the same 3 CDs, plus a bigger booklet and some postcards):

And after listening to the above, as well as Modern Times (also bought - the music videos on the extra DVD disc are interesting - he sure has aged, and not too well, it appears),

I think I prefer the younger Dylan. His voice is kind of wretched these days - I suspect he continued to smoke (and maybe still does), because his age alone, IMO, can't account for how bad he now sounds. It's really a shame if smoking was the cause, because it's something that didn't need to happen, as I'm sure George Harrison would have told him. So I bought The Bootleg Series Vol. 4, 5, and 6 - i.e., live concerts:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Late To The Party

Last week our local PBS station (KERA-TV, Dallas, TX) had a 90-minute program of selections from The Other Side Of The Mirror: Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965, and offered the DVD and Dylan compilation CDs to those who would pledge various amounts of money to support the station.

Despite having grown up as a teenager during the 1960s, this was the first time I paid any real attention to Bob Dylan's music. Oh, I remember "Lay, Lady, Lay" being a hit, and his performance in The Concert for Bangladesh, and all the other songs he's known for, but I guess I just considered him to be more of a folk singer than a rock musician, so I ignored him. I didn't even listen to him when he entered his Christian phase (Slow Train Coming, Saved, etc.).

Well, it didn't take long for the scenes and songs from The Other Side Of The Mirror to get my attention. What an amazing songwriter!

So I bought the DVD yesterday ($19.99 retail - much cheaper than the KERA "donation" price) and began getting acquainted with someone who has unfortunately been pretty much of a stranger to me for 45 years.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The (Awful) Truth About Trailers

I'm referring to movie trailers, not the kind that people live in (though I suspect that those, too, have their own awful truths).

After watching a trailer for a new movie the other day, I asked on an audio-video forum:
Why are trailers all the same these days - i.e., a staccato burst of very brief scenes with dramatic music/drums/shock or boom sounds that fade to black, to be followed by another scene like it, and then another, and then another, building to a crescendo before they announce the title and opening date?

Trailers like that are usually sufficient to turn me off a movie completely.
I received a quite revealing response:
It's because the trailers are cut by the same few people. It's literally all they do. I used to work with a guy who got a job doing exactly that. He soon got bored and went on to other things exactly because the studios all pretty much want the same thing in a trailer:

- Slow dramatic shots in the beginning that include wide shots of the environment and a few closeups of the cast.

- Fade out and in to some semi-quick shots (roughly 2-3 seconds each) as "trailer voice" sets up premise. Slow ominous drums punctuate with a slowly swelling orchestra. All shots must have movement to them until the point where you get the "sound bite" from a few characters saying something dramatic, like: "They won't take our freedom!"

- Fade out and fade in to shotgun succession of shots with rapid drums - any shots more than a half a second marked with a white flash between them.

- Grand pause.....

- Fade in and out of a few slow, dramatic shots of good and bad guys - heavy drum punctuates each one. Weapons must be displayed by all characters, unless the shot shows the helpless woman or an innocent child.

- Punctuate with final "Boo!" shot of an attack by the bad guy or wild animal.

- Title slate
To which I further responded:
No wonder so few movie trailers impress or entice me these days. What a bunch of cookie-cutter-brained idiots (not the trailer makers, the studio guys who say: "Make us this kind of trailer!"). These must be the same no-attention-span fools who make TV commercials and the news flashes for Fox News and CNN and MSNBC. Even movies with real character development come off appearing as "all action/no plot" in these trailers.

I've about had it with this trend towards trailers that make a movie look like it's "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," as well as with the incessant drumbeat of noise that assaults us everywhere we go. You can't go grocery (or any other) shopping without suffering from the Sound of Muzak (or worse), and browsing in a bookstore is no longer a quiet experience; you have to put up with music there, too. As for restaurants - Good Golly, Miss Molly!, you have to shout sometimes to be heard over the noise and flashing screens of sports channels and other garbage blaring from the ubiquitous LCD TVs.

This current generation will be brain-dead and deaf in 20 years.

[/grumpy old man rant]

Defending Israel And The Jewish People

(I have copied the entire article, corrected several typos and URLS, and made most of the URLs working links. For those wanting to study the Israeli position, this article lists a number of sources and resources.)

March 09, 2008
But What Can I Do About the Crisis Facing Israel and the Jewish People?

By Rachel Neuwirth

More and more people have been saying to me, "I realize that Jews are facing a major crisis in Israel, here in America, in Europe, and everywhere in the world. But what can I do about it? I am just one person. Vast forces are threatening Israel. Can I stop anti-Israelism and anti-Judaism on my own? I feel helpless in the face of the vast forces that are arrayed against us."

These are natural and normal human feelings. I have felt them at times myself. The confluence of international forces that has gathered against the Jewish people and faith, including the spiritual and intellectual fifth column amongst us, is indeed a formidable adversary. Nevertheless, there are things we can do if we are willing to work together to protect our rights and stand up to the massive defamation campaign waged against us.

One very important thing that all of us can do is to counter the endless lies and distortions of Israel's history and character that appear in the press, mass media, on the Internet, and even in scholarly journals. These distortions and outright falsehoods are a major reason why Israel is in such deep trouble, and in danger of "going under." Because the entire world has been led to believe an inaccurate, grossly distorted "narrative" of the conflict, the government of Israel feels it has no choice but to make concessions to the demands of its enemies, in order to appease world opinion. But these concessions imperil Israel's existence.

Each of us can help to correct this appalling situation by acting immediately, whenever we encounter such a distortion in the press or mass media, to correct it with a letter to the editor or news manager. We can also actively monitor the mass media on the Internet in order to locate as many distortions as we can and correct them. Further, we can speak up to counter distortions in public lectures and meetings about the Arab-Israel conflict, and even in private conversations. All of this requires work and time, but it really does help. Each of us should devote as much time and energy to these tasks as we possibly can.

But in order to counter the endless flow of lies and distortions about Israel, we must first learn what the true facts of Israel's history are. Before we can answer the chorus of unfair criticisms leveled against Israel and her supporters in the United States and elsewhere, we must first educate ourselves.

What are the facts about the conflict over "Palestine" that Arab and other anti-Israel propagandists have distorted, misrepresented and covered up? The following are some, although by no means all, of the most important ones:

The Israelis are not colonialists or alien "settlers" in the Land of Israel with no past connection or relationship to the country; on the contrary, we Jews have lived in Israel for at least 3,200 years if not longer. This is far longer than most peoples have lived in their present national homelands. Our two glorious temples, wonders of the ancient world, were there for a thousand years. King David's kingdom endured for more than four hundred years; later, there was the independent Jewish state of the Maccabees. Jews had lived in the Land of Israel in large numbers for at least 1,800 years before the Arabs conquered it in 635 C.E. Moreover, while hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from their land or put to death in it by foreign conquerors, there have been at least some Jews living there almost continuously for 3,200 years.

There has never been a distinctive "Palestinian" Arab people or an Arab "Palestine" state or nation; while it is true that some Arabs have lived in the Land of Israel for many centuries, they have never been ethnically or culturally distinct or different from the Arabs who live in other lands, including the original Arab homeland, the Arabian Peninsula. The Jews, however, are a people who originated in the Land of Israel and never had any other national homeland.

During over a thousand years of Muslim rule, "Palestine" was rarely the name even of an administrative district, let alone a nation. Arabs referred to the entire land that now comprises Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the "occupied territories" as "al-Shams" (Syria), which they regarded as one country.

While the Land of Israel, also called "Palestine" by Romans and Europeans, was densely populated in ancient times, its population steadily declined during over 1,000 years of Muslim rule. In the nineteenth century, Israel/Palestine was very thinly settled. There was very little agriculture, and extensive abandoned and uninhabited "waste" lands. Most of the population, such as it was, lived in dire poverty. Brigandage was such an established and accepted way of life that it was impossible to travel on the roads without the payment of large bribes to the leading men of each village along the way. The roads themselves were no more than unpaved footpaths. Villages fought wars with each other. Nomadic Bedouin tribes frequently raided villages and even larger towns. The inhabitants of the few larger towns (there were no real cities) had to cower behind thick walls and locked gates every night for security.

The Arab population of Israel/Palestine only began to grow in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at the same time that Jews began to resettle the land. Jewish immigrants brought with them modernized agriculture, including the growing of oranges, which had been previously unknown; a market for Arab agricultural goods; employment at Jewish farms and factories; modern hospitals and medicine that saved thousands of Arab lives; the draining of swamps that had caused thousands of deaths from malaria and other insect-born diseases; and vastly expanded Arab education funded by Jewish taxes.

The Arab population of Palestine has grown extensively, from under 500,000 in 1891 to over 3,600,000 today, partly because of increased life expectancy brought about by the economic and scientific progress introduced by Jewish immigrants/settlers, but also in part because of extensive immigration to Palestine from many Arab countries.

As a result, many of the Arabs who call themselves, or who are called by other Arabs "Palestinians," have ancestors who originated in Egypt, Syria, what are now Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and other Arab countries. These Arab countries ought rightfully to give these "Palestinians" citizenship, but refuse to do so.

The Arabs, including and especially the Palestinian Arabs, have been the aggressors throughout the nearly 100 years of the Arab-Israel conflict. This "one long war" began with the communal violence that convulsed Palestine between 1920 and 1948, even before Israel was founded.

Palestinian and other Arabs organized and carried out massive pogroms against the Jews of Palestine in 1920, 1921 and 1929, waged a sustained terrorist campaign against them from 1936 through 1939, and a full-scale jihad against them in 1947-48. Thousands of Palestinian terrorist/guerillas, the regular armies of six Arab states, and "volunteers" from throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds all participated in this aggressive war. Before the 1947-48 Arab attack against the Palestinian/Israeli Jews there had been few if any displaced Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinian Arabs were not innocent bystanders in the war that made them refugees. They initiated the war in which some, although not all, of them fled from parts of Israel in 1948. They killed over two thousand Jews in that war. The six invading Arab states killed over 4,300 more Jews.

The Israelis defended themselves as best they could against these unprovoked attacks. But they did not expel the Palestinian Arabs. Many Arab leaders as well as ordinary Palestinian Arabs have admitted that Arab leaders urged the Arabs living in Palestine to flee, promising them that Arab armies would soon defeat the Jews and allow them to return to their homes. Despite this bad advice, many Palestinian Arabs never left Israel, and became Israeli citizens, with full rights of citizenship. Today there are over one million Arab citizens and residents of Israel -- more than there were in 1947, before Israel was established.

Following this first major Arab-Israel war, the Arab states induced the United Nations to keep the Palestinian Arabs refugees and their descendants in "refugee camps" (actually segregated towns) for generations. All of the Arab states except Jordan denied the Palestinian Arabs citizenship and equal rights. Arab governments and the refugee camp administrations taught the Palestinians that it was their Arab duty to wage war against Israel in order to gain back the homes in what is now Israel where (some) of their ancestors had lived before 1948. This segregation and indoctrination of the Palestinian refugees, as well as their descendants to the third, fourth and all later generations, is the true origin of Palestinian terrorism, not Israeli "oppression" or "occupation."

Also following the Arab-Israel war of 1947-49, the Arab nations refused to sign peace treaties with Israel, sponsored Palestinian Arab terrorist raids into Israel in which hundreds of Israelis were killed, and waged war by economic boycott and propaganda as well. Last but not least, Egypt waged war by blockading Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal and in the Gulf of Aqaba (also called the Gulf of Eilat by Israelis). These acts of war severely damaged the Israeli economy in addition to causing widespread loss of life and injury to Israel's citizens.

Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks on, and raids into, Israel have been continuous since 1949. Whatever reprisal raids and counterterrorist operations Israel has conducted over these years against the Palestinian terrorists have been reluctant responses to aggression against Israeli civilians and soldiers--not deliberate attacks on Arab civilians, as Arab spokesman and much of the press in the West have misrepresented them.

Israel only "occupied" the so-called "occupied territories" in 1967 as a necessary act of self-defense, in response to a whole series of acts of aggression by the Arab world: two and a half years of Palestinian Arab terrorist raids sponsored by Syria; decades of Syrian shelling of Israeli border villages from artillery positions on the Golan Heights, the forced removal of United Nations peacekeepers from the Sinai by Egypt's President Nasser: a reinstatement of the Egyptian blockade of Israeli shipping in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba: the mobilization of the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies along Israel's three borders, and public declarations of war on Israel by Egypt's Nasser, the government of Syria and other Arab regimes. Israel "occupied" these territories only as a means of forestalling the publicly proclaimed, imminent Arab invasion, and to stop the Jordanian shelling of Israeli Jerusalem. This Jordanian barrage had killed 17 Israelis and wounded many more before Israel moved to occupy the "West Bank," (more accurately known as Judea and Samaria).

Israel has now withdrawn from 90% of the territories that it occupied in 1967, including all of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza region, large parts of Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"), and part of the Golan Heights. But these very substantial concessions have failed to persuade the Arab world to make peace with Israel.

All of the other Arab-Israeli wars were also initiated or heavily provoked by Arab states, usually working in tandem with the Palestinian Arab terrorist groups whom they sponsored. Egypt forced a war with Israel in 1956 by sponsoring Palestinian terrorist raids deep into Israeli territory for more than two years, and by blockading Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba. In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched an unprovoked surprise attack on Israel on the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur (the timing was surely no coincidence). Israel invaded Lebanon in 1981 only after years of Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks originating in that country; Israel withdrew completely from Lebanon in 2000, but was forced in 2006 to deal with renewed terrorist attacks into its territory from Lebanon -this time, by a Lebanese, not a Palestinian, terrorist organization, Hezbollah. Israel quickly withdrew from Lebanon again following a ceasefire.

Jewish settlements established since 1967 outside the pre-Six Day War ceasefire lines are not "illegal." The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, issued in 1922 with the unanimous support of the League member states and with the additional support of the United States (although it was not a member of the League), requires that the administration of Palestine "shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency . . . close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes" (article 6). The International Court of Justice has ruled in a similar case (that of Southwest Africa) that the Mandate documents issued by the League of Nations remain international law, even though the League itself was disbanded in 1946, and its responsibilities transferred to the United Nations. The United Nations Charter (Article 80) states that the "rights of peoples" in the League of Nations Mandate documents remain in force, as well as the documents themselves.

The Israel "occupation" of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza is also legal according to international law, for three reasons: 1) Israel only occupied these territories in a defensive war; 2) her enemies continue to wage an aggressive war of terror from these territories, requiring a continued Israel military presence in them for self-defense. 3) Israel has a better title to these territories than any other nation, since the League of Nations Mandate document for Palestine, which has never been rescinded, specifies that the administration of these territories "shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home," The British Mandatory power ceased when the State of Israel was born but the rights of the Jewish people to the land remain intact, since they are a "sacred trust of civilization," as defined by the Covenant of the League of Nations, Art. 22. These permanent rights are enshrined in the Trusteeship Chapter of the UN Charter [Chapter XII, Art. 80]

There are many, many additional salient facts about the conflict that supporters of Israel should learn in order to combat the campaign of defamation and slander waged against her throughout the world. Here we have had space only to summarize a few of the most important points. But learning even these few important facts makes a useful start for those who wish to be activists in correcting the lies and distortions about Israel's history and character. They make important "talking points" for responding to these lies and distortions, whether in the mass media, on the Internet, at lectures and public meetings, or in private conversations.

We need to remember Benjamin Franklin's observation during the American Revolution: "if we don't hang together, then most assuredly we shall hang separately." We Americans, whether Jewish, Christian and even Muslim, cannot separate our own freedom and security from that of Israel.

John Landau contributed to this article.

Documentation: For the history of the Palestinian refugee problem, as well as good general introductions to the history of the Arab-Israel dispute, see Big Lies: Demolishing The Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel by David Meir-Levi, Introduction by David Horowitz, and Arab and Jewish Refugees - The Contrast, by Eli E. Hertz. Carta's Historical Atlas of Israel, and the Jewish History Atlas, by Martin Gilbert, present the long and continuous history of the Jewish habitation of Israel/Palestine in clear, easy-to-follow language with visual aids. Also very helpful for this purpose is "Israel 's Story in Maps," produced by For the condition of Palestine under Islamic rule before Jewish resettlement, see Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial; also Arnold Blumberg, Zion Before Zionism 1838-1880, and Saul S. Friedman, Land of Dust: Palestine at the Turn of the Century. Ms. Peters' book also contains documentation of the extensive Arab immigration to Palestine that went on at the same time as the Jewish resettlement. For the history of the Arab-Israel wars and Arab terrorism in Palestine, the best source is Neaten Lorch, One Long War: Arab versus Jew Since 1920; also excellent on this subject is Martin Gilbert, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Its History in Maps. Another book by Netanel Lorch, The Edge of the Sword: Israel's War of Independence 1947-49, gives the best account of the Palestinian and other Arab aggression in which the Palestinian Arab refugee "exodus" occurred. Also useful guides to these events are Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem, and Jon and David Kimche, Both Sides of the Hill, also published under the alternative title A Clash of Destinies. For the legality of the Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and the legality of the Israeli administration of these areas, see Eli E. Hertz, "This land is My Land: Mandate for Palestine; The Legal Aspects of Jewish Rights; and Eugene V. Rostow, "Resolved: are the Settlements Legal?"

Professor Meir-Levi's pamphlet Big Lies can be downloaded from the web site, and can also be ordered in "hard copy" from that site. All of Mr. Eli E. Hertz's articles can all be downloaded from his web site. Eugene V. Rostow's article can be found on the web site and elsewhere on the web; it was originally published in the Oct. 21, 1991 issue of The New Republic. "Israel 's Story in Maps," is available for downloading on the web site, and can also be ordered on DVD. Carta's Historical Atlas of Israel can be ordered from,, Biblio-com, and Martin Gilbert's Jewish History Atlas and The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Its History in Maps can be ordered from Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial can be ordered from,,, and other sites on the web. Professor Blumberg's Zion Before Zionism 1838-1880 can be ordered from and Professor Friedman's Land of Dust can be obtained from Netanel Lorch's books One Long War and The Edge of the Sword can be ordered from and Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre's O Jerusalem are available through and Jon and David Kimche's Both Sides of the Hill can be ordered through,,, and

Pro-Israel activists wishing to counter the constant misrepresentations of Israel's history and actions should obtain, and read, as many of these or similar books and articles as possible.