Saturday, November 29, 2008

Godzilla

At K-Mart this weekend I bought two figures from the latest Ban Dai Godzilla toy line: a figure of the 1968 Godzilla from Destroy All Monsters and a figure of the Millennium Godzilla from Godzilla 2000 (yes, the Japanese were making Godzilla movies into the 2000s). I now have eleven 6" daikaiju figures (daikaiju is the Japanese term for "giant monster"); six figures are variations of Godzilla himself. I also have several 2" figures, half of which reside on my desk at work (I thought it would be funny to have figures of radioactive monsters on my desk given the nature of my work).


After years of waiting, I was happy that this latest line of figures has the Millennium Godzilla, which is my favorite version of the character. My wife claims that she can't really tell the difference between any of the versions of Godzilla, much in the same way she can't tell the difference between the starships on Star Trek. So of course she thinks it's silly that I keep buying toys that all look the same.

Godzilla is another arcane hobby of mine that was recently resurrected from my childhood. The first Godzilla movie I ever saw was King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), which my father remembered from his childhood. After that first exposure, I would watch any Godzilla movie that happened to be showing on TV. While I was in college many of the Godzilla movies were released/re-released on DVD for Godzilla's 50th anniversary. Well, I ended up buying quite a few of them. I now own 17 out of the 28 Godzilla movies made since 1954, most of them in Japanese with English subtitles (the best way to watch a Godzilla movie)!

For the most part, the Godzilla movies are goofy fun, particularly those made during the late '60s and early '70s when Godzilla movies were actually produced for children. However, the first movie made in 1954 and 2001's Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidora: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (often abbreviated as GMK; the title suffers from the direct translation) are actually rather serious in tone, presenting Godzilla as the embodiment of nuclear war. For example, during one of Godzilla's initial rampages in GMK, Godzilla's spines begin to emit the classic blue glow as he prepares to fire his radioactive breath on a plaza of fleeing people. The camera then cuts to a classroom miles away where the teacher is interrupted by the scene of a mushroom cloud rising in the distance. This was the most obvious reference to the original symbolism of Godzilla in 47 years.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Four Good '50s Sci-Fi Movies

Now I've really blown the 'post every day' goal. I never thought I'd have difficulty thinking of things to talk about (most of my friends would probably say the same thing).

I love modern science fiction movies. In fact, it seems like the only movies that appeal to me anymore are sci-fi. Thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000, I enjoy older science fiction movies as well. Now, to enjoy a '50s sci-fi movie you have to understand a few things about how they made movies back then: the pacing is almost always slower and more deliberate than modern movies, you have to suspend disbelief quite a bit since the quality of special effects that we expect in a movie started more or less with 1977's Star Wars, and the movies' endings seem to be very abrupt since they lack the kind of wrapping-up scenes we see in most modern movies. With those forewarnings, here are four of my favorite 1950s science fiction movies:

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
This movie, based on Ray Bradbury's short story, The Fog Horn, stars a prehistoric monster (the fictional Rhedosaurus) awakened by nuclear tests in the Arctic. The monster, a stop motion creation by the famous Ray Harryhausen, is the first of the atomic-spawned monsters that would so famously populate monster movies of the '50s. The monster's origin, and its attack on New York, would be a major inspiration for Japan's own Godzilla the following year.

Although the monster doesn't seem to spend enough time onscreen (a common occurence given the budget of most '50s sci-fi movies), the Rhedosaurus scenes are great. The human characters are likeable enough, if just a little bit generic.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
In this sci-fi classic, a flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. Its two passengers are Klaatu, a human-looking alien, and Gort, an enormous and heavily armed robot. Klaatu has an important message for earth, but before he can give it he's shot by a twitchy soldier. While in Walter Reed Hospital, the rapidly healed Klaatu asks to speak to Earth's leaders, but is told that world tensions prevent those leaders from getting together. Sneaking out of the hospital, Klaatu disguises himself as an earthling in order to get to know humanity better. He also must figure out a way to give his message to the people of earth in such a way that they'll listen.

A remake of this movie (if you could call it that) is due out later this year. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, but I can't imagine I'll like Keanu Reeves as Klaatu more than Michael Rennie in the original.

Them! (1954)
One of the movies inspired by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, this movie presents us with colonies of ants mutated to gigantic size by the Trinity atomic bomb test in New Mexico. This is one of the first of the 'big bug' movies and presents us with what would become a staple of the genre; the dreaded 'exposition by means of a nature film'. That's right, these movies inevitably contain a scene in which the heroes watch a documentary of the menace in question which explains the creature's habits and why said creature is so dangerous.

Although primitive by modern standards, the giant ants look great and are sufficiently threatening. The opening scenes involving the discovery of a newly orphaned little girl wandering through the desert in a state of shock opens the movie on a strong, suspensful note. And the death of a major character at the end of the movie took me by surprise; most '50s sci-fi movies didn't kill off their protagonists.

Gojira/Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1954/1956)
This is the first movie staring the most famous of the atomic monsters. The prehistoric creature Gojira (anglicized as Godzilla) is awakened by nuclear weapons testing and begins wreaking destruction: first on ships, then on a small island, and later on Tokyo itself. Japan's only hope lies in a reclusive scientist and his latest discovery; a weapon even more horrible than the atomic bomb.

Up until a few years ago, the only version of this movie available in the United States was the Americanized Godzilla, King of the Monsters! This version contains scenes staring Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin that were inserted into the original Japanese film. Translation of the movie was done rather creatively. Scenes in which Burr is not inserted are dubbed whereas scenes in which Burr is shown to be an observer (for example, a debate in the Japanese legislature) are roughly translated by Martin's Japanese interpreter. Given the limitations of '50s technology, it is fairly impressive how effectively Raymond Burr was integrated into a movie that had been made two years before.

However, for those purists out there (i.e., people like me), you can finally purchase the original, unedited Gojira in Japanese with English subtitles. Whereas the Americanized version (which is also included in the DVD set) seems more like the typical '50s monster movie, the Japanese version is significantly more somber. The Japanese version's anti-nuclear weapons angle is much more obvious as is Gojira's role as the embodiment of the atomic bomb.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Liberal Fascism

Well, it took six months on the library waiting list, but I finally got to check out Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. While the title sounds like it is intended to be inflammatory, like most of Ann Coulter's book titles, it is actually the author's argument that modern liberalism in fact shares much in common with European fascism.

The first chapter (which I just barely finished) is intended to explain what he means when he uses the term fascism and why most people's notion that Nazism is the defining example of fascist political philsophy is inaccurate. When we think of fascism today we think particularly of Nazism's institutional racism (particularly anti-semitism) and extermination camps. However, Italian fascism under Mussolini and Spanish fascism under Franco (both of whom nominally supported Hitler) were effectively indifferent to race. In fact, a disproportinate number of Jews supported Mussolini's fascist reforms. Jews were only ousted from the Italian government when Mussolini was pressured by Hitler. The extermination of Italian Jews only began after the Nazis invaded Italy in 1943. Franco categorically refused to hand Spanish Jews over to Hitler and even eliminated Spain's 1492 Edict of Expulsion of the Jews. Nevertheless, both Mussolini's and Franco's regimes were clearly fascist (Mussolini had actually coined the term).

I found the following paragraph from the book to be a succinct explanation of why modern liberalism is indeed a fascist philosophy (the remainder of the book is a defense of this thesis). It also clearly sets forth (with more eloquence than I can muster) what really bothers me about modern liberal philosophy:

"Again, it is my argument that American liberalism is a totalitarian political religion, but not necessarily an Orwellian one. It is nice, not brutal. Nannying, not bullying. But it is definitely totalitarian-or 'holistic,' if you prefer-in that liberalism today sees no realm of human life that is beyond political significance, from what you eat to what you smoke to what you say. Sex is political. Food is political. Sports, entertainment, your inner motives and outer appearance, all have political salience for liberal fascists. Liberals place their faith in priestly experts who know better, who plan, exhort, badger, and scold. They try to use science to discredit traditional notions of religion and faith, but they speak the language of pluralism and spirituality to defend 'nontraditional' beliefs. Just as with classical fascism, liberal fascists speak of a 'Third Way' between right and left where all good things go together and all hard choices are 'false choices.'"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Can We Get to the Plot, Please?

The other day I was talking to a coworker who simply does not enjoy reading. He's a fan of science fiction television and movies, but he can't even get through a sci-fi novel. He complained mostly about wading through fifty pages or more before actually getting to the plot, by which point he has put the book down for good.

Like my wife, I am a compulsive reader and have at least two books going at any given time; if one is fiction then the other is non-fiction so I don't confuse two separate plots or sets of characters. I am therefore generally unable to sympathize with my non-reader friends. However, in the case of my coworker, I am able to sympathize with his impatience at getting to the plot.

The two authors who most annoy me in this regard are Michael Crichton (whom I hate to criticize since he passed away recently) and Greg Bear. The two authors have wonderful ideas, which is the only reason I keep returning to their books, but the execution of their stories drives me insane.

Crichton's novels take approximately 100 pages to actually arrive at the plot. During that time he tries to play it mysterious... which doesn't work because we read the back of the book before we started the novel and therefore know what the 100 pages of suspense are leading us to. The "mysteriously" injured worker at the beginning of Jurassic Park, the "mysterious" lizard found in the beginning of the Lost World, the "mysterious" "black cloak" and odd medical symptoms at the beginning of Prey; these are all delays that seem to have been written as padding to ensure that the novel hits at least 500 pages. Crichton's early novel, Andromeda Strain (about 300 pages long) played it mysterious, all right, but the mystery was the point of the novel, not the padding before the plot actually started.

Greg Bear is even worse, since the padding is spread like a cancer throughout the book. Both Eon and his Star Wars novel Rogue Planet suffer from the same problem; massive, unnecessary description. Now I'm sure that Bear sees his hyper-detailed descriptions as 'immersing the reader in the story', but it feels like padding to me. Eon spends at least a quarter to a third of the book physically describing the hollowed-out asteroid that is the setting of the story. In Rogue Planet, bear seems so enamored with the admittedly unique aspect of his plot (living starships) that he spends almost the entirety of the novel in deep, detailed description of the living starships and their construction. By the time you've waded through all 352 pages of it, you realize that the plot could easily have been summarized in the form of a short story (I'm not exaggerating). While I could tell you the shape, color, and texture of the seeds used to grow the starships in the book, the insight you get into the characters (particularly the 12-year old Anakin Skywalker) takes up a couple pages at most. I haven't seen so many words spent to advance a plot or develop a character so little since the last time I read Steinbeck (I despise Grapes of Wrath).

The complete antithesis to the above authors (and the author I suggested to my coworker) is Orson Scott Card of Ender's Game fame. Orson Scott Card is a master of literary economy; I have never felt like he was wasting my time or padding out the story. Every page advances the plot and/or develops the characters without feeling rushed. Whereas Bear will spend three pages describing a starship with no plot function other than to take the protagonist from one planet to another, Card will simply state that the ship was cramped. A perfect example of Card's brevity can be found in Empire. Within less than fifty pages you're introduced to the major characters and their backgrounds, the protagonists unveil a plot to assassinate the president of the United States, fail to stop it, and must find out who did it before they can be blamed for it. All that, and you learn to care about the characters, too. In less than fifty pages of a 368 page book! The remainder of the book, which is packed with character moments, detective work, and action sequences, is told with the same efficiency as those first fifty pages. Reading one of Card's novels after finishing a wordy, overlong novel is an utter relief. And when you go on to another novel, you can't help but wish that the author could tell the story with Orson Scott Card's efficiency.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Introduction to Star Trek

My previous post on the new Star Trek movie seemed to get comments faster than any of my previous posts. I found Desi's comment about her grandparents to be pretty funny. I guess I've never thought of anyone's grandparents being enthusiastic Star Trek fans.

I think most people know me as an enormous Star Wars fan. Although I had enjoyed the original trilogy since I was young, I didn't really get into Star Wars until Episode III came out in 2005. Only then did I start collecting the novels, comic books, Legos, etc. Long before that, I was a Star Trek fan.

My uncle enjoyed the original Star Trek series, so I saw the occasional episode while visiting my grandparents' house. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came out in '87, my best friend and his family watched it religiously. I also remember my parents watching the Next Generation series premier. However, I was never really interested in the show.


One night in 1990, while looking for something to watch on TV, I came across a rerun of the Next Generation episode Peak Performance. That's the episode where Commander Riker is commanding the U.S.S. Hathaway in wargames with the Enterprise when the Ferengi interfere. Shortly thereafter I saw what was to become one of my alltime favorite episodes, Yesterday's Enterprise. I was immediately hooked and began to watch the series regularly. The next year I saw my first Star Trek movie in the theaters, Star Trek VI (which has one of the coolest post-opening credits moments ever). By that time I had begun collecting trading cards, novels, and technical manuals. Soon I had even caught up on all the original series episodes that were shown on cable at various hours.

I never missed an episode of Trek prior to college. Unfortunately, I was deprived of Star Trek for most of my time at BYU since BYU Cable didn't get the Paramount network. The worst was that I only got to see a handful of episodes of Star Trek: Enteprise before it was cancelled (then I bought all four seasons on DVD and watched the entire series within a couple months).

With the cancellation of Enterprise and Star Trek: Nemesis' poor performance at the box office (I really liked the movie, personally) it looked like the franchise might be dead. Novels were still being published, but TV series and movies seemed to be long gone. I think it was the apparent death of Star Trek, along with the subsequent rise in the popularity of Star Wars (which seems to have reached a peak with the excellent Clone Wars cartoon series) that turned me from a casual Star Wars viewer into a fan. However, I really hope that this new Star Trek movie revives the franchise in one form or another. The more I see of the movie, the more hope I have for it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Star Trek Movie!

The full trailer for the new Star Trek movie is finally online. There's been some debate over what it's supposed to be about. The oldest rumors said that it was about Kirk and Spock's first adventure in Starfleet Academy. That seemed like an absolutely lousy premise to me. However, now that the still photos and full trailer are out, it seems that the events of the movie occur well after the Academy. The director (J. J. Abrams, who directed Cloverfield) and the writers say that the movie won't violate the history established by the original TV show, but a lot of what I've heard suggests that that might not be true. It doesn't really matter to me; I'm perfectly happy with a reboot ("rebooting" means to take the basic premise of an old series and to reimagine or revise it; this was done with Battlestar Galactica, Bionic Woman, and most recently with Knight Rider).

The opinion regarding casting has been fairly neutral, with most comments being along the lines of "he's a decent actor, but he doesn't look like such-and-such." However, the notion of Zachary Quinto as Spock has been taken pretty well by the Star Trek fans. Quinto has made a name for himself as Sylar on Heroes and he looks more like Leonard Nimoy than almost any other well-known actor. The Heroes fans among us will have a hard time forgetting him as the brain-stealing supervillain, though.

The images of the redesigned Enterprise have caused some controversy. Many have pointed out that it's very different from the ship on the original TV series, but that it's similar to the Enterprise refit from the movies. Now I know that normal people can't see the difference between the Enterprise in the '60s show and the Enterprise in the new movie, but trust me, the nerds can tell the difference (the deflector dish glows, the primary hull connects farther back on the secondary hull, the secondary hull undercut is much longer, the front end of the warp nacelles/Bussard collectors is totally different...). I actually like the design, which makes me somewhat of a Trek heretic.


The photos of the new Enterprise bridge have also had a mixed reception. It's certainly not the cardboard and plywood set of the TV show, but some have criticized it as looking like it was made for a Galaxy Quest sequel. Again, I quite like the new bridge's look.


Anyway, I'm really looking forward to this movie. The rest of the Star Trek fan base seems to be divided: some are cautiously optimistic while others are bitterly pessimistic, slouching in front of the computer in their parents' basement and posting on Star Trek-themed bulletin boards about how Trek lost it's way sometime during The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. These are the same whiners whose lack of support allowed Star Trek Enterprise to get cancelled a few years back (yes, I'm still bitter about it).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Great Quotes: Theodore Roosevelt

This is one of my favorite quotes. It's something that really needs to be said to our society, which so perversely enjoys watching people fail.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Airshows and Historical Airplanes

Well, last night I fell asleep about two to three hours earlier than I usually do on a weekend night and neglected to post. So much for posting every day.

Anyway, I'm sure those (very few) who have seen this blog have noticed that I have a wide variety of interests. Well, one of my oldest obsessions is aviation. Thanks to my dad, that interest shifted away from modern aircraft and toward World War II-era warplanes (they have more character, he always said). It was a convenient hobby given where we lived; while I was a teenager in El Cajon, California our house was under the flight path of Gillespie Field, the local municipal airport. The airport was a yearly stopping point for several organizations that restore and fly historical aircraft such as the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) and the Collins Foundation.

My sophomore year in high school, the Collins Foundation flew in their B-17G and B-24J, two of the most important and famous American bomber models of World War II. My dad and I went to the airport after school to walk around and through the bombers while taking dozens of pictures. My dad found out that for a donation of $300 you could go on an hour long ride in one of the bombers along with six other donors (the donations just barely paid for the gas burned by a World War II-era bomber in one hour). He asked me if I'd like to fly in one of them; I said that I would love to, believing that it was a rhetorical question.


The next morning (it was a school day, but a note from my dad would take care of that) I found myself flying on the world's only flight-worthy B-24J. The flight took us over much of San Diego, giving us a great view of such sites as the Coronado Bay Bridge. We even buzzed Miramar Naval Air Station, a privilege almost never given to civilian-owned aircraft (I was in the bombardier's station in the nose at the time and probably got the best view of anyone on the plane). I will always be grateful to my dad for his generosity, especially given how tight our family's budget was at the time.


A few years later, the summer after my first year at BYU, I attended the yearly Wings Over Gillespie Airshow. The airshow featured such historical aircraft as the B-17G, the Heinkel 111 (the only one flying in the world), the P-38 Lightning (extremely rare), and various other bombers, fighters, and transports from World War II. I usually went to the airshow either with my dad or, if he was busy, by myself. That summer, though, a girl I had been dating told me that she would like to come along to the airshow.


A few years later I married that girl. I suppose that any girl who is willing to go to an airshow featuring World War II warplanes to be with you has to be worth marrying.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Great Quotes: Ronald Reagan

Everyone loves a pithy quote. Some of my favorites, and ones that best summarize my views on government, come from the late President Ronald Reagan.

"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."
When you actually look at how deeply the government interferes in the lives of Americans, you realize the truth of this statement.

"Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty."
Now that we have a House, Senate, and Presidency controlled by politicians that are far left of the electorate and who have promised ever more government involvement, this quote should make you think.

"Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves."
Its anti trans-fat regulation shows that California has become one of the worst nanny states. It's ironic then that Reagan was one of California's most popular governors.

"Thomas Jefferson once said, 'We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.' And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying. "
McCain may have gained more support, or at least better deflected some criticism, if he had been this witty when people questioned his age.

"The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
I once said this at work to a government representative who said he was there to help. Thank goodness he thought it was funny.

Leaving the most inspirational for last:
"Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Loose Lips Sink Ships

It's only the 13th of November and already I'm having a hard time writing a blog entry every day (hence yesterday's unusual entry). Today's entry has to do with an interesting moment in history when someone really should have just kept his mouth closed.

There is an old saying in the military; "Loose lips sink ships". The idea is that a sailor, because of drunkenness, bragging, or just plain carelessness, can inadvertently say something that gives the enemy sufficient information to stage successful attacks on Navy ships. This might be something about departure dates, ship capabilities or weaknesses, etc.

A horrendous example of loose lips came in June 1943 when Andrew J. May, a U. S. congressman and member of the House Military Affairs Committee, accidentally released confidential military information during a press conference. Up until that time, American submarines often survived Japanese depth charge attacks (depth charges are anti-submarine weapons designed to explode upon sinking to a predetermined depth). Being unaware of enemy submarines' capabilities, the Japanese navy had been setting its depth charges to explode at shallower depths than U. S. submarines were capable of reaching. The submarines were simply diving below the level of the depth charges and sneaking off when the coast was clear. Well, during the June 1943 press conference, the careless congressman revealed to reporters that American submarines had a high survival rate since the Japanese depth charges didn't go deep enough.

This fact leaked out to several newspapers and soon came to the attention of Japanese military intelligence. A short time later, Japanese depth charges were adjusted to explode at deeper depths and U. S. submarines lost their previous advantage. Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood would later estimate that May's loose lips had led to the sinking of approximately 10 submarines and killed 800 sailors.

With all the talking they do, it's a good thing that most politicians' words don't usually end up killing anybody.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Did You Know... Dromaeosauridae

Dromaeosauridae is a family of bird-like carnivorous dinosaurs commonly known as "raptors". There are several known species belonging to this family, three of the most famous being Velociraptor, Deinonychus, and Utahraptor.

Velociraptor (75-71 Million Years Ago): Despite its depiction in the Jurassic Park novels and movies, the Velociraptor was actually a very small dinosaur. Not only that, but Dr. Grant couldn't possibly have been digging for Velociraptor fossils in Montana; they are actually found in Mongolia.


Deinonychus (121-99 Million Years Ago): Dr. Grant actually could have dug up this raptor. Slightly larger than Velociraptor, Deinonychus fossils are found in Montana and Wyoming. The discovery of Deinonychus (an animal clearly built for speed and agility) in 1964 began to change paleontologists' view of dinosaurs. Gradually, the traditional view of dinosaurs as slow, cold-blooded reptiles doomed to extinction began to change to one of fast, warm-blooded, biologically successful animals.


Utahraptor (132-119 Million Years Ago): This raptor is among the largest, most heavily built Dromaeosourids yet discovered.


It now appears that another inaccuracy of Jurassic Park is the absence of feathers on the Velociraptors. Shortly after the release of the movie, many paleontologists began to believe that most, if not all raptors had feathers based on the discovery of feather imprints around fossils of very small members of the Dromaeosauridae family (e.g., the 2-foot long Microraptor). In 2007 this belief was further strengthened by the discovery of quill knobs on the forearms of a well-preserved Velociraptor specimen. Quill knobs are bumps on an animal's bone where ligaments that connect to feathers are attached. Thus, it is even more likely that even the large Dromaeosaurids, such as Utahraptor, sported feathers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This Day In History: Armistice Day

In the United States, from 1926 up until 1954, November 11 was known as "Armistice Day" (from 1919 until 1926 the day had been celebrated on November 12 instead). This day honored the veterans of World War I and celebrated the end of the "Great War", which officially occurred on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918.

The treaty ending the war was signed between Germany and the Allies in a railway carriage in France's Compi├Ęgne Forest. Following Nazi Germany's defeat of France in 1940, in a symbolic move, Adolph Hitler chose the same carriage in which to sign the treaty between the two nations.

In May of 1954 President Eisenhower officially rededicated Armistice Day to honor the veterans of all wars. In November of 1954 Congress renamed the holiday "Veterans Day".

Monday, November 10, 2008

Star Wars Legos


Since it's national blog posting month, I'm going to try to keep up with my wife and post daily. Of course, since I didn't start this blog until after November 1st, I guess I've already failed.

Anyway, a friend recently commented on the fact that I collect Star Wars Lego sets. Apparently her husband also collects Legos and will be glad to learn that he isn't the only adult who collects them.

Like almost any boy of my generation, I collected Legos up until my teenage years. Past the age of about 13 or 14 I replaced Lego collecting with scale model airplanes. Of course, like most other teenage boys, I thought that I had outgrown Legos.

Years later, Lego made a fateful decision to join with George Lucas and to produce Lego sets and figures from the Star Wars universe. All of a sudden, thousands of adult men found that some diabolical individual had joined two of their favorite childhood franchises: Legos and Star Wars.

Much to my wife's chagrin, she was primarily responsible for my Star Wars Lego hobby. In April, 2005, with the release of Star Wars: Episode III, Lego released nearly a dozen building sets tying into the film. She offered to buy me one as a gag gift for my 26th birthday. I said that that would be fun and suggested the "Jedi Starfighter and Vulture Droid" set. Something in my head clicked (or possibly snapped) as I assembled Anakin's starfighter and flew it around our BYU apartment. I believe that putting a model airplane or spaceship into any man's hands inevitably results in the irresistible compulsion to fly it around the house, usually while making sound effects.

Three and a half years later, my collection consists of about 60 Lego sets. The smallest is a 23 piece set with minifigures of Luke Skywalker, a stormtrooper, and an Imperial officer; the largest is the 3,104 piece Imperial Star Destroyer. Now my wife wishes that she had just bought me a tie for my birthday.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Star Trek Vanguard: Reap the Whirlwind

Yesterday I finished the third book in the Star Trek: Vanguard series. For those unfamiliar with it, Vanguard is a series of novels set in the Star Trek universe. The plot is centered in and around the Starbase Vanguard during the 2260s; the same period as the original Star Trek series.

The first three books have dealt with Starfleet's investigation of the so-called meta-genome; an extremely complex strand of genetic material that is always associated with strange alien artifacts and a mysterious electromagnetic signal. The second book of the series introduced the Shedai, a race of near god-like aliens who created the meta-genome and who are seriously displeased at Starfleet's and the Klingon Empire's intrusion into their territory. The third book continues this story line, fleshing out the past of the Shedai, the relationship between the Shedai and the Tholians (a crystalline alien species introduced in the original Star Trek series) and the nature and purpose of the meta-genome. It even introduces a totally unexpected tie-in with the Genesis Project that is so important in Star Trek II and Star Trek III. The Vanguard series in general, and Reap the Whirlwind in particular, are some of the better franchise science fiction I've read. This series incorporates all the aspects of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that made DS9 my favorite of the five Star Trek television series.

The cast of characters is enormous, consisting of crews on three separate starships, the crew and several civilians who live and work on the Vanguard station, and various intelligence agents of the Klingon Empire. The series' villians, the beings known as the Shedai (a species that exists in the form of pure intelligence but is able take on physical form by way of the meta-genome) are interesting and well written. The power struggle within the Shedai themselves, in which the Shedai called the Maker and her followers are continuously opposed by the Shedai called the Apostate and his followers (which constitute nearly 1/3 of all the Shedai), should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Judeo-Christian theology.

The only complaint I have about the Vanguard series is the same that I've had with nearly all recent Star Trek book series. In the past there was a vocal minority of Star Trek fans who asked why there weren't any openly gay characters on any of the shows. Well, it seems that the authors of the various Star Trek book series (which are about a dozen individuals) have decided to compensate for this "oversight". Nearly all the Star Trek book series that I read on a regular basis now have at least one homosexual character. While most of the series are content to imply or simply state that a particular character is gay, Vanguard has decided to push the boundaries a bit more. Nothing in the book is particularly explicit, but it does reach the level that I've seen on some primetime television programs (e.g., ER).

I should clarify that it's not the occasional presence of a homosexual character in Star Trek that bothers me; an accurate reflection of our society would result in at least some gay characters. It's the sheer number of such characters that have been introduced into the Star Trek universe that gets to me. This is exacerbated by the presence of the occasional racy scene (such as those in Vanguard). It seems to me that the inclusion of so many such characters is politically motivated and is intended, at least in part, to make homosexuality more acceptable.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Kid Who Gets Bullied Is the One Who Doesn't Defend Himself

So, Obama isn't even president-elect for two days before his insane policies get us in trouble. It would appear that a newly belligerent Russia is planning to deploy missiles near our ally, Poland. Within two days of Obama's election, Russian neo-commie president Medvedev (Putin's willing puppet) called Obama to tell him the news. A Russian analyst has said that "Moscow isn't interested in confrontation, and if Obama makes some conciliatory gestures it will respond correspondingly." Conciliation... for what? Oh yes, the Russians have blamed the U.S. for Russia's recent war with the former Soviet satellite of Georgia. This accusation is absurd on the face of it; America was in nowise involved with the war.

Of course, there are those of us who knew this would happen, we just thought that it would wait until after his inauguration. You see, earlier this year Obama made a few promises to a left-wing pacifist group, the Caucus for Priorities.

Here are a few things promised by Obama; my comments are in brackets:

"...I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending."
[From Obama's previous statements, I have to assume that he believes nearly all defense expenditures are wasteful. The last time such cuts were made, Bill Clinton left our military completely unprepared for even limited military engagements (Somalia, anyone?).]

"I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space."
[You mean our successfully tested missile systems that would be handy in a situation like the one Medvedev has handed us? Here Obama shows his ignorance; missile defense systems do not "weaponize space". Space was weaponized in the late '50s when the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMS) were developed that could cross into sub-orbital space to strike targets on the opposite side of the globe. Missile defense systems are not used to attack an enemy but to destroy his missiles in transit.]

"I will slow our development of future combat systems."
[You mean the combat systems that will keep America secure in the coming decades? History has shown that when America stops advancing its weapons systems, America's enemies grow in strength and aggressiveness (e.g., the Nazi military buildup in the decade before World War II, the Soviet and Red Chinese military buildups in the years between World War II and the Korean War, and the Soviet nuclear buildup during the Carter Administration).]

"Third, I will set a goal for a world without nuclear weapons. To seek that goal, I will not develop nuclear weapons... and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBMs off hair-trigger alert, and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal."
[First, a missile taken off hair-trigger alert can be put back on hair-trigger alert within a day; they are designed this way. Second, experience during the Cold War has shown that the cuts Obama will pursue will be unilateral; Russia will not actually honor any agreements (communists never do; between 1917 and 1955 alone the Soviets signed 52 agreements with the West - they only kept two of them). Our nuclear arsenal has kept the peace for nearly 50 years since America's enemies know full well that a nuclear attack on the U.S. would guarantee their own destruction too. The Soviet Union increased its demands and aggression in the late '70s and early '80s thanks to the Carter administration's cuts in our military and our nuclear retaliatory capabilities.]

Now that America has chosen a leader as weak in defense as Jimmy Carter, if not more so, Medvedev has decided to play the same kind of bully that his forerunners in the Soviet Union did in the '70s. Was a renewing of the Cold War part of the change that Obama promised?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Political Ideology

My wife asked me the other day how I determined my political ideology. After some thought, and given the recent elections, I decided to draft the following post giving the reasons I believe the ideology that I do. Please note that when I say "Democrat" or "Republican", I'm referring to the party leaders and not the party members. While individual party members may have a diversity of opinions, party leaders are relatively monolithic in their beliefs.

For starters, I'm a conservative Republican, just as my parents are. They never forced their politics on me, they simply explained the difference between the parties (they generally summed it up as Democrats=more government, Republicans=less government), told me why they thought the way they did, and let me decide. My father taught me about the virtues of everyday, normal people, and that American freedoms allowed them to benefit from their hard work and ingenuity. Of course, a side effect of the right to self-determination is that there is always the possibility of failure.

Around the age of 14 I began to look into politics. I found that that the Republican party generally tries to reduce government interference in the lives of Americans (I said generally; I'll discuss social issues in a later post). In the '80s this had the effect of allowing some to become very successful while others only slightly improved. It should be noted that, while the Democrats spent the next decade declaring that "the rich got richer and the poor got poorer" during that time, economic data actually shows that the rich got richer and the poor became slightly less poor.

In contrast, the Democrats make it their policy to enact regulations and legislation to supposedly "level the playing field". In other words, they rob working Americans of their hard-earned money through confiscatory taxes in order to give it to others who didn't earn it (i.e., socialism). Various other laws have been enacted by Democrats to control Americans lives for 'our own good'. You see, while Republicans believe that you can live your own life without a state-appointed nanny, Democrats have decided that you are too stupid to make your own decisions on how to spend your own money (despite Obama's campaign promises, Democrats are notorious for raising taxes), what to eat (California's new trans-fats laws, anyone?), what to drive, etc. In the meantime, they attempt to make people more dependent on the state through subsidies, welfare, socialized medicine, increasingly intrusive schools, etc. While many well-meaning people see such policies as compassionate, I see them as an attempt to subvert my free agency by people who do not respect my right to succeed or fail based on my own decisions and efforts (at best) or who crave power (at worst).

Furthermore, Democrats seem to excel at identity politics. I have never seen the Republican party play races or classes against each other. However, the Democrats frequently use class envy to try to gain an advantage (for example, by saying that the Bush tax cuts were only for the rich when middle class individuals such as myself greatly benefited from them). They play the race and gender cards constantly, establishing just about everyone as a victim of white, heterosexual, Christian males and demanding recompense (If you don't believe me, just ask yourself what party race-baiters such as Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson are allied with or who the male-bashers of the National Organization for Women support). This obsession with victimhood backfired on them when they had a black man and a white woman as their front-runner candidates in the primaries; the resulting bitterness allowed McCain to do significantly better than he should have. Not only are these efforts to arouse contention based on class, race, or gender against my moral principles, but it also strongly resembles the power-grabbing tatics of another political ideology; communism.

Between their collectivist economic policies, the drive to control how Americans live their lives, and the identity politics, the Democratic party seems to be trying to establish a socialist or communist nation on the European model. This is why the election of Obama, ranked as one of the most leftist senators in congress, worries me so much. The Soviet Union and several other nations have tried communism in the past. It destroyed Russia's economy, nearly destroyed China's (they had to change to a free-market system to save it), and left a body count in the tens of millions. Those countries that have tried more moderate forms of socialism such as France and England have become stagnant and are dependent on the United States for such basic things as national defense. America became the superpower that it did through the hard work, independence, and goodness of a free people; socialism, dependency on the state, and an ever-increasing bureaucracy will only destroy it, just as it has done and is doing to so many other nations.

The above statements are general by necessity; there are a multitude of details and exceptions that could be debated, but I hope that the above serves as a reasonable explanation for why I hold the political ideology that I do.

Introductory Post

Having seen how much my friends and family members enjoy blogging, I've decided to give it a try. I'll let my wife handle discussions about our kids and family events for the most part, since she does it so well and is more sentimental than me. I will probably give more time to the odd things that interest me: e.g., technology, politics, science fiction, history, etc.

Although this is pretty redundant, since the only ones who may ever read this blog are friends, family, and friends of friends, here is a brief introduction of myself:

  • I am currently in my late twenties and am married with three children.
  • I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).
  • I received a B.S. and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Brigham Young University.
  • I live in Idaho where I work as an engineer in the nuclear industry (hence the "Atomic Spud" blog title).
  • I closely follow politics and am a lifelong conservative Republican.
  • I am a science fiction fan and particularly enjoy the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises as well as the literature of Orson Scott Card.
  • Having apparently never grown up, I collect toys, particularly Lego's Star Wars building sets as well as Godzilla figurines.
  • Bulleted lists are my favorite way to organize information.

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