Archive for May 2009

Too true!

May 28, 2009

I found this via Mark Shea and thought it was too good not to share. Disturbingly accurate, isn’t it?


Star Trekkin,’ Across The Universe . . .

May 21, 2009

Boldly going forward, ’cause we can’t find reverse!

(with apologies to Dr. Demento)

ATTENTION: Here there be Spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and still want to, DO NOT read this review. You have been warned.

More than three years after I first heard about it, the new Star Trek movie is finally here. I’d say it was worth the wait.

I saw the movie (which is mercifully unburdened with a ponderous or pretentious subtitle) last night with some friends, and we all had a great time. Good fun for hardcore Trekkies/Trekkers and newbies alike. My friend Bill, who, of the three of us, initially seemed the most skeptical and least enthusiastic about a new Star Trek movie, was laughing and hooting delightedly at the action sequences like a kid on a roller coaster ride. Indeed, the whole film is played up like a gigantic action adventure romp, and if the story has a fault, it tends to rely a bit overmuch on eye-popping visual effects, with things crashing into other things and exploding dramatically. On the other hand, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a sense of humor, which means that viewers are spared pious lectures about how “non-interference is the Prime Directive,” which was never really anything more than a plot contrivance anyway.

Speaking of the plot, it’s based on one of those temporal paradox/alternate time line thingies so beloved by Star Trek writers and fans. A renegade Romulan named Nero, who blames the elderly Spock (Leonard Nimoy) for the destruction of his home planet (don’t worry, it’s all explained in the movie), contrives to travel back in time and attempt to destroy the young Spock early in his career and eliminate Spock’s best friend, James T. Kirk, at the moment of his birth.

Nero’s first attempt at temporal mayhem fails, however, thanks to the heroic self-sacrifice of Kirk’s father, and young Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) and young Spock (Zachary Quinto) meet years later, when the two of them are hotshot young punks fresh out of Starfleet Academy. At first, the two future heroes and fast friends can’t stand each other, but events soon force them to put aside their differences. Nero is still up to no good, and he’s out to turn the planets of the Federation into black holes, one by one, with the help of a monstrous “space drill.” His first target is Spock’s home planet Vulcan, followed, of course, by the Earth.

Starfleet pulls out all the stops to meet the crisis, mobilizing its new state-of-the-art flagship, called the Enterprise, and, because experienced crews are in short supply, manning her with untested young cadets. Among these are a cranky Southern surgeon named Leonard “Bones” McCoy; a brilliant young communications officer named Uhura; a nervous fencing expert named Sulu; a cheeky Russian named Chekov; and an irascible, eccentric engineer named Montgomery Scott—in short, all the beloved supporting characters from the original series. Under the wise guidance and heroic example of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the heroes we know and love come together for the first time. When Pike is forced to put himself in jeopardy to protect the Enterprise, it’s up to his brash young first officer, Jim Kirk, and the hyper-logical Mr. Spock to devise and execute a desperate plan to save the Earth. Can they do it?

C’mon! This is Star Trek we’re talkin’ about! Of course they can! Suffice it to say that at the end of the movie, Pike recommends that Kirk replace him as Captain, the crew is assembled on the bridge with Kirk in the center seat, and Leonard Nimoy, in a husky voiceover, proclaims them ready “to boldly go where no one has gone before,” like a priest intoning a benediction. The torch has been passed from one generation to the next. The new adventures of the old heroes have begun.

The blend of new and old elements are what the movie is really about. There are many nods to the original series, from the use of the original sound effects to the retro-styled uniforms (Kirk is back in a yellow shirt, Spock and McCoy in blue, and Scotty in red, with Zoe Saldana, the new Uhura, ably filling out a miniskirt-like costume for female officers). And speaking of skirts, Chris Pine as young Jim Kirk chases more than a few of them, and tends to be the “shoot first and ask questions later” kind of captain that fans of the original show may remember. Zachary Quinto, perhaps best known as the psychotic supervillain Gabriel Sylar from the NBC show Heroes, is pitch-perfect as the young Spock. Only Karl Urban, as the younger Bones McCoy seems to be doing a bad DeForest Kelley impersonation. His obligatory, “Damnit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” line seems a bit forced. Otherwise, it’s almost as if director J. J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman really do have a time machine and are able to show us the pasts of these characters we know so well.

However, even as Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman make it clear that they respect the broad outlines of the Star Trek mythology, they also make it clear they are going to do Star Trek their way and not be bound by a slavish obedience to any previous continuity. About halfway through the movie, young Spock observes that by traveling back in time, Nero has irrevocably altered the fates of the Enterprise crew in a way that’s impossible to predict. I take that as a message to hardcore fans that if they are looking for absolute consistency between previous versions of Star Trek and this current incarnation, they will be disappointed.

Hence, there are some new wrinkles and surprises in this new version of Star Trek even as it deliberately hearkens back to the old. Fans will be startled and perhaps saddened to learn that in this outing, the planet Vulcan is destroyed, claiming the life of Spock’s mother Amanda. Also in this version, there is an open and passionate romance between Spock and Uhura, as opposed to the clandestine and unrequited love between Spock and Nurse Chapel from the original series. Another smaller surprise is the look of the Enterprise herself. The designers and art directors have kept the classic saucer and cylinders configuration that’s become something of an icon, but the new/old Enterprise looks both sleeker and more muscular, a starship that really looks like it could kick some serious alien bad guy butt.

Overall, this is a great summer movie with plenty of action, a dash of comedy, and a new look at old friends in a science fiction universe that feels simultaneously familiar and brand new. Let’s hope the adventures continue.

My 15 Minutes of Fame

May 21, 2009

Well, Good Golly, Miss Molly! I’m almost famous.

It seems my recent review of Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen has come to the attention of some bloggers I really respect, including John C. Wright, Mark Shea, and some other folks who have asked me to be a guest blogger at

Recently, John C. Wright, author of science fiction, master of obscure pop culture references, moral philosopher of the blogosphere, and recent Catholic convert, blogged about how much he hated the film version of Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta. In the comments I mentioned that I had a very similar reaction to Watchmen and included the link to my review in my comment.

Then, I’ll be darned if Mr. Wright didn’t actually read the review, quoting it approvingly and at length in a post on his own website. He was particularly impressed with the way in which I was able to cite a pop culture icon of yesteryear, The Shadow, and the great Catholic apologist G. K. Chesterton, in the same essay. Mr. Wright observed:

My comment: Anyone who mentions both Chesterton and The Shadow in the same paragraph has won my favor, and therefore shall be made one of my ministers and granted way-cool ninja-jedi Mind Control powers, once my dirigible planet enters the solar system from the transplutonian darkness. Perhaps I will make him master of Australia, and wed him to my beautiful but evil daughter, Princess Aura.

To which I replied:

You are far too gracious, O Mighty One! I’d settle for the flight powers of the Hawkmen and a ride in your dirigible planet. I’m sure your beautiful but evil daughter Princess Aura is a swell gal, in an evil sort of way, but she’s not gonna, like, murder me in my sleep or anything, is she? Just askin’.

This exchange, in turn, came to the attention of Mark Shea, who is, in my humble opinion, the dean of the Catholic blogosphere. He wrote that my essay was “full of wisdom and insight.” Imagine! Mark Shea said that something written by li’l ol’ me was “full of wisdom and insight.” I’m all tingly. Usually the stuff I write around here is definitely full of . . . something . . . but it ain’t wisdom and insight!

In the comments to a subsequent post, I received an invitation from one David Marcoe to be a guest blogger for the Modern Conservative website. We corresponded at length, and I am still waiting for final word as to whether they would like me to blog for them. I may include my e-mail to them as a future post.

Stay tuned.


May 18, 2009

Your results:
You are Chekov

An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Deanna Troi
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Geordi LaForge
Jean-Luc Picard
Mr. Scott
Beverly Crusher
Mr. Sulu
Will Riker
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Brash, rash and hasty,
but everyone loves you.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test

Tarantino vs. The Tempest

May 13, 2009

This weekend, by a curious coincidence, I happened to see two movies (or parts of movies) that are almost polar opposites of each other: Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino’s epic, two-part, and unbelievably bloody homage to kung fu and mobster movies; and The Tempest, Shakespeare’s comedy about a wronged duke who exacts vengeance but then grants forgiveness to his enemies. (Find a synopsis of Kill Bill, Volume 1 here and a synopsis of Kill Bill, Volume 2 here). I admit I only watched bits and pieces of Kill Bill because I was so appalled at the level of violence in the clips I saw that I feared watching the whole movie would be absolutely unbearable. In between, still feeling a bit queasy from the virtually nonstop gore-fest that is Kill Bill, I happened to catch Shakespeare in Love,the brilliant little fantasia that imagines Romeo and Juliet was inspired by a doomed love affair in the young Bard’s own life. Indeed, I think it was seeing Shakespeare in Love that motivated me to seek out some of The Bard’s actual work as a kind of antidote to the mindless cruelty of Tarantino’s films. The Tempest, as it turned out, provided some particularly excellent counterpoint.

As near as I can figure, Kill Bill is simply a gigantic bloody revenge story. Shakespeare was no stranger to bloody revenge stories (Titus Andronicus being the most gruesome and Hamlet being the most famous), but Kill Bill is so blood-soaked that it makes these latter two plays look like episodes of the Teletubbies in comparison. A female assassin known as The Bride (Uma Thurman), finding she is pregnant, decides to get married, go straight, and make a new life for herself and her daughter to be. The day of the wedding rehearsal, however, the entire wedding party is massacred by a team of hitmen dispatched by The Bride’s former boss and sometime lover, the crime boss known simply as Bill (David Carradine). The Bride is left for dead, but wakes up from a coma years later, bent on revenge. She trains with a martial arts master to take her homicidal skills to the next level, and, armed with a samurai sword, sets out to chop, kick, smash, slice, and dice her way through what seems to be thousands of Bill’s friends, associates, rivals, and minions, all in an effort to get to the man himself.

When she finally succeeds in locating Bill, their final confrontation seems strangely anticlimactic, and she weeps over his dead body. Has her single-minded quest for revenge truly made her happier? She finds the daughter she carried has survived and is actually Bill’s child (the cherubic B. B., played by Perla Haney-Jardine). The last shots of the film are of The Bride and B. B. enjoying quality mother-daughter bonding time in a hotel and driving away joyously looking forward to their new life together. The message seems to be that once the Bride has taken revenge on the bastard who hurt her so cruelly, she can finally begin to live.

Contrast this with the plot of The Tempest. Prospero, the Duke of Milan, was wrongly exiled by his treacherous brother Antonio, who was in league with Alonso, the King of Naples, Prospero’s enemy. Prospero causes the title tempest to bring all of his enemies together on the island, but explains to Miranda that he prevented anyone from being killed in the storm (Act I, Sc. ii, 30-38). The Bride doesn’t seem to care whom she slaughters in her effort to get to Bill. Prospero, by contrast, when he has all of his enemies before him, demands only that his dukedom, that which was rightfully his, be restored to him. He does not punish Antonio any further, but instead forgives him. Would The Bride have said anything like this to Bill?

Flesh and blood,
You, brother mine, that entertained ambition,
Expelled remorse and nature; whom, with Sebastian—
Whose inward pinches therefore are most strong,—
Would here have killed your king; I do forgive thee,
Unnatural though thou art.
(Act V, Sc. i, 81-86)

Somehow, I don’t think so. Prospero keeps his promise to release Ariel and even releases Caliban, who had attempted to assault Miranda before the play began (Act I, Sc. ii, 410-416). Caliban comes to recognize the error of his ways and berates himself for plotting against Prospero and forming an alliance with the drunken and venial Stephano and Trinculo:

I’ll be wise hereafter,
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I to take this drunkard for a god,
And worship this dull fool!
(Act V, Sc. i, 341-344)

Stephano and Trinculo are likewise forgiven. When he realizes Prospero has saved his son Ferdinand’s life, King Alonso begs forgiveness for his part in Prospero’s exile. Prospero willingly grants this forgiveness. It struck me while watching the film that The Tempest is practically a meditation on the importance and power of forgiveness. Nobody in Kill Bill, to my knowledge, asks for, receives, or grants forgiveness— or the enlightenment that can come with it.

Kill Bill? If it’s Bill Shakespeare, no. I think Shakespeare’s plays will be read, acted and discussed long after the films of Quentin Tarantino—especially dreck like Kill Bill—are consigned to the cinematic trash heap where they belong.

Proud Supporter of the "Army of Oppression"

May 13, 2009

I paid my dues and renewed my membership in the army of oppression Knights of Columbus last night.

Wait, what?

The Knights of Columbus are an “army of oppression” because they oppose same sex marriage?

The pope and Catholic bishops are “discredited leaders” because they believe condom distribution isn’t really an effective means of slowing the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases?

Such opinions would no doubt come as a shock to the members of my local K of C Council, but apparently they have been espoused by one Harry Knox, a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives. Fred Lucas, a correspondent for the Cybercast News Service (CNS) reported Knox’s comments in a story here.

It seems Mr. Knox was upset because Knights in California supported Proposition 8, a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that would have defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The State Supreme Court had earlier issued a ruling saying that limiting the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples was unconstitutional discrimination. The ballot measure, a response to the ruling, passed 52.5% to 47.5% (Darn pesky voters!)

Lucas reports:

On Mar. 19, Knox told the San Francisco-based gay newspaper The Bay Area Reporter, “The Knights of Columbus do a great deal of good in the name of Jesus Christ, but in this particular case [Proposition 8], they were foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression.”

The newspaper further reported: “Knox noted that the Knights of Columbus ‘followed discredited leaders,’ including bishops and Pope Benedict XVI. ‘A pope who literally today said condoms don’t help in control of AIDS.’”

While I appreciate Mr. Knox’s admission that the Knights do some good, I’d also point out that there is evidence that condoms don’t help, and the pope isn’t the only one who says so.

Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, writes in a letter to the British medical journal Lancet:

Could condom promotion exacerbate epidemics? The phenomenon of risk compensation—engaging in higher-risk behaviours because risk reduction technology conveys a greater sense of safety than warranted—could account for higher infection rates, and has been suggested by at least one randomised, controlled study, which found that “gains in condom use seem to have been offset by increases in the number of sex partners.”

In other words, people can mistakenly conclude that as long as they have a condom, irresponsible casual sex that dehumanizes both parties is “safe” and can encourage people to spread disease. Funny, that sounds a lot like what the Pope said:

..”I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress”.

But that’s not all. Even when the facts are against them, gay rights activists are not only targeting the K of C as an organization, but are also harassing individual Knights who freely volunteer their time to raise money for organizations that support people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

It seems that one Brad Allison, a gay man from Fair Oaks, Va. took it upon himself to decide that the Knights of Columbus were a “hate group” because the Knights opposed same-sex marriage, complained to the management of his local grocery store because Knights were soliciting donations there, and harassed both Knights and grocery store patrons who wanted to make donations.

Mr. Allison claims that the Knights’ charitable fundraising activities are just a cover for “hate” and compares the Knights to the Ku Klux Klan. These claims are despicable and outrageous. I personally have participated in these fund drives for many years and I know that the overwhelming majority of money raised (on the order of 80%) directly to local people and organizations that need it. Most of the remaining 20% goes to organizations that provide assistance at the state level. Only a tiny fraction of the money is used for administrative costs, and NONE of it is used for other projects such as support of Proposition 8. I have been present when checks have been presented and heard emotional firsthand testimonials about how the money is used and how much it is appreciated.

I find Mr. Allison’s comparison of the K of C to the KKK to be particularly absurd, given that for many years I was a member of a council in which most of the officers were African-American. It was one of the most racially integrated and convivial organizations I have ever belonged to. The KKK was and is also staunchly anti-Catholic, which is obviously not true of K of C. No, the only “oppression” going on as far as the Knights of Columbus are concerned is in the minds of radical homosexual activists such as Knox and Allison–which they would know if they bothered to check facts rather than simply indulge in slander and name-calling.

Hat Tips: Mark Shea and Joanna Bogle.