Thursday, September 30, 2010

Countdown to Halloween

Like any red-blooded American kid, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. However, Halloween has always been a close second. Since elementary school I've loved horrific imagery (although I have a limited tolerance for explicit visual depictions of gore). Well, Halloween gives me a whole month to revel in that imagery. I don't much care for the candy, but I love the plastic skeletons, Styrofoam tombstones, and cardboard monsters.

Inspired by a comic book artist's blog that I frequent (who got the idea from another blog), I decided to post about a Halloween-appropriate subject every day this October. Again taking inspiration from the artist's blog, I decided to feature a different monster for each day. Each monster is one that particularly interests me because of cultural significance, novelty, influence on other writers, filmmakers, etc., or its strength as an object of horror. They have been been selected from mythology, pop culture, literature, and film and range from supernatural beings of classic horror novels to alien creatures from modern science fiction movies. Some are sentient agents of evil while others represent mindless brutality. Being a traditionalist, I've saved some of the most famous monsters for last.

Each post will list the real world origin of the respective monster as well as an "in-universe" (i.e., within the context of the story or myth) description. Tomorrow I'll start with creatures from Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings. Oh, and these blog entries will have been scheduled in advance; I'm not actually staying up until midnight to post them.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sometimes It's Hard To Keep Things Straight

A typical dosimeter badge
To get to work I have to get up at about 4:30 AM so I can catch a bus out to the middle of nowhere. During the hour and a half long bus ride I try (usually unsuccessfully) to sleep. Once I get to work, I'm usually pretty groggy and take a while to fully wake up.

On Friday I decided to dress a little more casually than usual, so I put on a Godzilla T-shirt that a friend recently gave me. A couple hours later I found myself at work and picking up the dosimeter badge I wear to monitor my radiation exposure. As I clipped the dosimeter onto my shirt, I briefly thought, "I shouldn't put my dosimeter right next to Godzilla; he's radioactive."

It's funny how often your mind can conceive such bizarre thoughts, especially when you're tired.

All giant monsters love trains

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another U.N. Outrage

Eventually Americans will finally believe conservatives when they say that the U.N. is an anti-America and anti-Israel organization. From
Applause for Ahmadinejad

He was greeted by applause when he walked into the United Nations General Assembly, and applauded again, even after questioning 9/11 and claiming that the American government may have been behind the attack.

That’s right, applauded after questioning the motivation for the terrorist attacks, who was responsible for them, and essentially suggesting they were a U.S. plot.
First the Holocaust and now 9/11; once again Iran's murderous dictator is trying to deny reality when the evidence is apparent to any rational human being. And the U.N.'s response to this absurdity is to applaud? Ahmadinejad even had the gall to say that:
"the majority of the American people as well as most nations and politicians around the world" believe that "some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining of the American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order to save the Zionist regime."
I doubt anybody at the U.N. really thinks that "the majority of the American people" believe the U.S. government had anything to do with 9/11. But since any attack on America and "the Zionist Regime" (i.e., Israel) is a good thing in the eyes of many U.N. ambassadors, Ahmadinejad was even given applause as he stepped down from the podium.

Has the U.N. ever been useful? At the height of the Cold War its main function was to provide a venue for the Soviet Union's grandstanding. It was the nuclear threat of NATO that kept the Soviets at bay, not U.N. diplomacy. Now, aside from ineffectively trying to convince Iran to give up its nuclear program, the U.N.'s primary role is to provide a soapbox for brutal dictators and useful idiots to rant against the United States (the U.N.'s number one financial donor and home for U.N. Headquarters) and Israel (the most democratic nation in the Middle East).

The United States has already tolerated too much from that worthless body. It's time to yank the ambassadors' visas, send them home on the next available airplane (in the coach section if possible), and raze the building. From then on we could meet with ambassadors from nations that are willing to be reasonable in some mutually acceptable location, preferably a nice restaurant. As for countries like Iran, we might just have to make use of Teddy Roosevelt's Big Stick diplomacy every now and then.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Daddy-Daughter Bonding Time, Part II

As I mentioned last time, my daughters were eager to watch the sequels to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The very next day, at around 8:30 in the morning, we watched Revenge of the Creature. Once again the girls loved it, not realizing that the movie is a pretty average one for the '50s and therefore greatly inferior to the original.

It starts out well enough. There's some of the suspense of the original as two scientists working for an aquarium in Florida go searching for the gillman in his lagoon. They eventually capture the creature and bring him to the aquarium where they study his biochemistry and try to condition him to make him more controllable. At this point, the movie shifts focus to the male and female leads and their developing romance. This whole portion of the movie is interminable; the kids sat through it well enough but I wanted nothing more than for the gillman to escape and start wreaking havoc. I'd like to point out that the original also showed a budding relationship, but it evenly balanced that with gillman-related action. The only useful part of this whole sequence is the discovery that the gillman is physically more similar to humans than to fish.

Eventually the gillman does escape and 1950s-style violence ensues. Unfortunately, the movie places the lone gillman among civilization, where he is at a distinct disadvantage. This reduces the menace that the gillman poses and kills the suspense.

Yes, the gillman has been reduced to a
supporting character in his own movie.

This morning we watched the third and final film, The Creature Walks Among Us. Once again the girls did a good job sitting through it, but at least once my five year old asked, "when are we going to see the monster?" Actually, I had been thinking the exact same thing. Eventually the scientists do capture the gillman in the Florida Everglades (where it was last seen at the end of Revenge of the Creature), but in the process the creature is badly burned. Despite loosing its gills, the creature continues breathing due to a previously unused set of lungs. The gillman's outer layer of scales sloughs off to reveal a human-like layer of skin underneath. Because of the sensitivity of this newly exposed skin, the scientists dress the gillman in makeshift canvas clothing. All this furthers the purposes of the surgeon financing the expedition; the creature's development into a more human-like being encourages his own theories that mankind can be transformed to become more survivable in hostile environments.

Unfortunately, this movie also reduces the gillman to a supporting character. Most of the plot is spent on the surgeon, who is shown to be abusive and possessive of his wife, and his decaying marriage. Of only two(!) killings in this monster movie, one of them is perpetrated by the surgeon. While this movie has a more interesting plot than its immediate predecessor, it lacks suspense or excitement. The gillman has only a few ineffective rampages and spends most of its time in bandages or trying to get used to its new surroundings. The movie's primary success is in making the gillman a sympathetic character; now that its gills are gone, it can no longer survive in the only home it has ever known.

He may be even uglier now that he's more human.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Daddy-Daughter Bonding Time

Last year, after watching the hilarious Monsters vs. Aliens, I showed our two older daughters pictures of the monsters that were spoofed by the characters in the movie. One of these, the gillman from the 1954 film The Creature from the Black Lagoon, was represented in Monsters vs. Aliens by an amphibious character called "The Missing Link". Both girls were immediately interested in the pictures of the gillman and said they wanted to see the original movie.

This past week I finally bought a copy of The Creature from the Black Lagoon Legacy Collection, which has all three Universal gillman movies. The girls immediately wanted to watch it, but it had to wait until the weekend. This morning we finally got to have some daddy-daughter bonding time over the original Creature. My girls (who often have short attention spans) sat through the whole movie, actually remembered the characters' names, startled at the first full body shot of the gillman, and laughed when certain characters died. I'm so proud.

In short, they really enjoyed the movie and are looking forward to seeing the first sequel: Revenge of the Creature.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Rising Cost of Education

Cartoon by John Fewings
Today I was reading a PajamasMedia article by Roger Kimball about the rising cost of higher education, particularly in the upper tier schools (e.g., Yale or Harvard). The article links to a post by Paul Caron, who believes that higher education represents a bubble that's even bigger than the notorious housing bubble. Immediately beneath a graph comparing the rise in the cost of homes to the rise in tuition, Caron says the following:
Note that the housing bubble resulted from about a 4-time increase in home prices between 1978 and 2006, and college tuition has now increased by more than twice that amount since 1978 - it's gone up by more than a factor of ten times. The college tuition bubble makes the housing price bubble seem pretty lame by comparison.
Apparently Yale's tuition next year will be $52,900. While most colleges won't be charging quite that much, over the past thirty years tuition costs throughout the United States have soared at a rate far in excess of inflation. Glenn Reynolds, writing in the Washington Examiner, cites a report saying that "After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439 percent since 1982."

Kimball continues by pointing out that the sort of politically correct nonsense that is currently taught in so many universities will never allow heavily indebted graduates to ever pay off their loans. He specifically refers to the case of a young woman "who graduated from some name school with a degree in Women’s Studies and Religious Studies and debt of $100,000. That’s about 3 times her current annual income." As parents (who pay most of the average student's tuition) realize that the education their child is receiving is less and less likely to pay for itself, they will become less willing to foot the bill. As Reynolds reminds us, "Bubbles burst when there are no longer enough excessively optimistic and ignorant folks to fuel them. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen already."

Given what the Ivy-League schools have given us lately (e.g., most of the Obama Administration), I look forward to the day when this bubble bursts.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Shakedown Socialism

A couple years ago I read about the website "The People's Cube" on one of the many conservative blogs I visit. The People's Cube uses satire (mostly in the form of pretending to be a neo-Soviet group working "towards the Progressive World of Next Tuesday") to mock Liberalism and so-called "Progressives". The owner of the site, Oleg Atbashian, who posts under the name "Red Square", knows a thing or two about what it's like to live under communism, having been born in the Ukraine under Soviet rule. At one point he even worked as a Communist Party propaganda artist in a Siberian town.

While living in the Soviet Union, Atbashian realized that "Marxism was not the solution, but the cause of the dysfunctional system, and that the communist utopia was only a dead-end exit in humanity's long and stressful journey towards progress." He therefore joined the political underground and used his writing talents to attack the Soviet system. Finally, in the early '90s, he immigrated to the United States. On the official website for Atbashian's recently released book, he describes his experience in coming to the United States:
I moved to the United States in 1994, hoping to forget about politics and enjoy life in a country that was ruled by reason and common sense, whose citizens were appreciative of constitutional rights, the rule of law, and the prosperity of free market capitalism. But what I found was a society deeply infected by the leftist disease of "progressivism" that was jeopardizing real societal progress. So I started writing again, this time in English.

The result is this book [Shakedown Socialism], as well as many more essays, political parodies, and cartoons, published in various media in America and around the world.
I have enjoyed both Atbashian's satirical works on The People's Cube as well as his more serious articles on various political sites. Although his writing is witty and keenly observant, the primary reason why his articles draw my attention is because of his background. Here is a writer who has actually lived under full-blown socialism. Unlike most conservative writers who resist something they've only heard of, Atbashian is trying to warn Americans about a mindset and a political system that he has experienced first hand.

His book, containing dozens of of satirical cartoons and images (many of them created by the author), can be found at

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This Day In History: The German Invasion of Poland

This day marks the anniversary of Nazi Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland. Although Japan and China had seen fighting since 1931 (and had begun total warfare in 1937), it was Germany's act of aggression that is generally considered to be the start of World War II. Two days after the invasion, on September 3, France and Britain declared war on Germany. The Soviet Union, which had entered into a non-aggression pact with Germany on August 23, 1939, invaded Poland's eastern borders on September 17.

October 5, 1939: Hitler and the German army in Warsaw

Fighting in Poland continued until October 6, 1939 when Germany and the Soviets fully controlled Poland. Unlike France, which was defeated by Germany in June of the following year, Poland never officially surrendered.


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