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Archive for May, 2012

Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself — and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.
    —    Hin-mah Too-yah-lat-kekht
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians
Quoted from:   “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
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The difference between love and happiness is that those who talk about love tend to be in love, but those who talk about happiness tend to be not happy.
    —    Nassim Nicholas Taleb
From his book:  “The Bed Of Procrustes
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What I can measure, exists.
     —    Max Planck
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If it be Life that awaits, I shall live forever unconquered;
If Death, I shall die at last strong in my pride and free.
    —    The Scots-American War Memorial
Located in Edinburgh and named “The Call“, the memorial shows a kilted infantryman looking towards Castle Rock.  Behind it is a frieze showing lines of young men answering the call and following a kilted pipe band.  Donated by Scottish-Americans, it honors Scots who had served in the first World War.
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One of the books I’ve recently completed is: “The Roving Mind“, by Isaac Asimov (New Edition 1997©) originally copyrighted 1983©.   The book is a collection of articles published over a 15 year span and covering a wide range of topics including Religion, Science, Population, the Future and some personal stories.  The book is sort of mini-tribute to the author as it has brief tributes / forwards by some of the greatest science and science fiction writers of all time as an addition to the “new edition”.
Whenever you think of Science Fiction, you should think of the BIG three: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein.  But of these, Clarke and Asimov wrote about both fiction and science fact.  I personally feel the comparison ends there.  Asimov wrote over 500 books in his lifetime!!  Many were fiction (science fiction), but he also wrote about history, philosophy, and basic sciences (math, chemistry and physics).  But, stop for a minute and think about that – 500 books!  That’s more than most people read in their lifetime, let alone write.
Anyway, I digress – as usual.  If anyone could convince me to become either an agnostic or an atheist (they can’t, but if they could), it would be Asimov.  For me, his writing is so clean and his reasoning and explanations so clear, it is hard for me to imagine there being anything in science or philosophy which Asimov could not turn into a popularized title for the general public.
This book has 62 articles and the first section (of six articles) is titled: “The Religious Radicals“.  If you want to see where the country is headed and how the current path was predictable as early as 1983, this section is worth the price of the book itself.  It is a bone-chilling, frightening indictment of anti-science / fundamental Christian faith in America which, if anything, is more true today than it was in 1983.
I grew up reading Asimov.  When I was a teen I read his hundredth book: “Opus 100“, which was a book similar to this in that it was a collection of works.  I was amazed back then that anyone could write 100 books.  Forty odd years later, Asimov continues to amaze me and make me think.  Asimov passed away in 1992 and we may never see his like again…
Highly recommended!!
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To err is human; to forgive, divine.
    —    Alexander Pope
[Just human, I guess.    —    KMAB]
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The best and noblest lives are those which are set toward high ideals.
    —    Almeron
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I am a BIG follower of things Sci-Fi and “Action / Adventure” pop-culture, and to me one of the best new shows in the last several years is a drama called: “Person of Interest“, which can be viewed on CBS on Thursday nights at 9:00pm.  The show began airing in 2011 and has won the People’s Choice Award for Best New Drama.  …And yes, it is all THAT!!
As someone who is extremely conservative on matters of personal freedoms and the Bill of Rights, the show has an initial “objection” factor which is normally (for my tastes) not easily overcome.  Essentially, the show’s premise is that post-9/11, the government has built a super-surveillance system to look for terrorist activity and/or threats to national security.  In order to do this, the system monitors EVERYTHING – phones, emails, private and public video surveillance cameras – everything.  The system doesn’t generate extensive results, though.  All it provides is a Social Security Number (SSN) for somebody (NSA, FBI, CIA) to look at (into) to find the problem/issue.  This is referred to as “actionable information” in the series.
Now the creator of the system has limited the actionable information for the government to only terrorist or national security issues, but the system is fully capable of generating actionable info about other types of crimes, too.  In the case of the weekly series, the info is about people who are either going to be murdered or who are about to commit murder.  The system doesn’t say which is which – so the “heroes” never know if they are helping the victims or the perpetrators.
The series has two main heroes: the computer nerd who invented the system and the bad-ass who has to be the muscle for the nerd (and the system).  There are also two other minor-heroes – cops who are drawn into the vigilante (hero) fight against evil.
Now, IF you can set aside the personal liberties issues, this is a terrific show.  It has action – fights and explosions, drama – nick of time rescues and last second escapes, great acting with multiple surprise plot twists (always one and sometimes two an episode), and, of course, great technology – surveillance (duh).  And the kicker is there is a slowly evolving relationship amongst the four characters which serves as the over-arching story line for the series.  All in all, it is a truly interesting and entertaining series.
What’s the problem then?
It is supposed to be fiction…  There is not supposed to be (in America) government surveillance of ALL citizens at all times.  We have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights.  Well, we may still have them, but now we also have the “God” system, too.  If you don’t believe me try reading this article in Wired Magazine (April 2012): “Inside The Matrix“.
It appears the NSA (and all the other alphabet-soup agencies) are building exactly the super-God system depicted in fiction by this series.
Now, if I WERE the paranoid, conspiracy theorist kind of person, I would say TV is being used to show how such a system “could” be used to benefit society beyond fighting terrorism.  Since I’m not that kind of person, I’ll just put it down to a “happy coincidence” that TV is being used to make the system palatable to conservative civil libertarians like me.
The only problem is, while I’m happy to see a God-system on TV, I don’t actually want such a system to exist in reality as I have too little confidence in the human nature of government security bureaucracies.  Call me old fashioned and naive, but I still believe in innocent until proven guilty and restrictions on government regarding unlimited searches of my personal / private interests without probable cause and a search warrant.  Like I said, I guess I’m just an old fashioned conservative about some things.
If we are all inside the box, can the real “1984” (Orwell’s)  be far away?
By the way, last night was the season finale and it was SUPERB!  I can’t wait for the series to come out on DVD.  Gotta have, gotta have, gotta have it!!
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After what I owe to God, nothing could be more dear or sacred than the love and respect I owe to my country.
    —    De Thou
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I was in the past,
I am in the present
And I will be in the future.
I like,
I love,
I live,
I die.
I need not be,
But probably will,
And so,
I leave.
    —    KMAB
[Thank you.  Thank you, very much…  (In my best Elvis impersonation.)]
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My son, James, collects comic books.  Not comic books like I used to collect – monthly issues for $.10, $.12, $.15 and then a quarter.  He collects the actual books which are consolidated versions of the single monthly issues which I used to buy.  (Back in my day, they didn’t have consolidated versions…)  Anyway, he’s been passing them on to me by the foot-load –  I have about two and a half foot worth stacked in various places around the house.
I’ve started to read them, so I’ve decided to start passing along my comments here.  I’ve read a few of the books but not included them because I generally felt they were too trivial to bother noting, but I’ve changed my mind.  I’m not sure of why.  I’m still considering the reasons in my own head.
Hawkman – Omnibus Volume 1 (2011©)
This book is almost 700 pages long!  Obviously, this is not a “comic” from my day.  It is, in fact, a work of literature.  I’m not sure how many pages a comic book needs to move into the “literature” category, but this one definitely drops into the category with the “whomp” of a decent dictionary.  My background knowledge of the main character is very limited as he (Hawkman) was very much a third (or fourth) tier character back in my day.  He was in the Justice League of America and I remember checking out some individual issues, but he was never someone I followed.
Anyway, the character seems to have been recreated in the “Highlander” mode of living forever – slightly different in that he is reincarnated, not simply immortal, but basically, he and his wife are immortal.  The book covers a couple of their lifetimes and there are promises of lives to come.  All in all, I found it a surprisingly good “book”.  It is definitely something I’d continue to follow when the second omnibus is issued, but it is extremely pricey (by my standards), so unless my son is passing it on to me, I’ll not be spending $50-plus dollars to read further adventures.
For anyone not familiar with the character, Hawkman has wings to help him fly and he is reasonably “super” strong.  The flight and strength come from a harness made of a non-Earthly metal which affects gravity.  Please, no comments about weight vs mass in the area of being super strong – it’s just a comic book…  Bottom line: a surprisingly interesting character and I highly recommend it if you can borrow it or find it second hand.
The Spectre – Infinite Crisis Aftermath (2007©)
This is a much shorter book (142 pages), but it seems about the standard size for these compilations (as opposed to the doorstop of “Hawkman”).  This is another third tier character I barely remember from my youth.  The Spectre is a ghostly character who goes around “harvesting” the souls of folks who have committed major sins (mostly murder).  There seems to be some requirement to be connected to a recently deceased person (this is not fully explained in this volume).  So, Spectre has to first convince the recently dead to merge with him, and then he has to get on with his real business.
The individual stories are all graphically violent (excessive not visual) in nature and this is not a series suitable for pre-teens (probably not teens either).  Also, the artist seems to change from modern detailed drawing to old fashioned smooth drawing, sometime in adjoining frames, which I found visually annoying.  All in all, I might follow the character for one or two more collections, but there would have to be some real story-line development / change as revenge for murder simply doesn’t hold my attention as an over-arch for the story.  The stories are simply too dark for my tastes.  Bottom line: I would consider following this character only if there were some major changes in the story basis.
Green Lantern Legacy: The Last Will & Testament Of Hal Jordan (2002©)
Green Lantern was a character I followed in my youth.  He was no where near as fleshed out as he is now – some 45-50 years later.  He’s gone through multiple personas and I guess that’s a good thing.  It’s certainly better than pretending the character doesn’t age, but history is changing around him.  In this volume, the Green Lantern I knew (Hal Jordan) is dead and is passing on the ring to another person.  I got “it”, but I didn’t.  The artwork is very good and consistent with a nice variation between simple and extremely complex images.  By that I mean, some are of just the character and some are of the millions of things around in a Green Lantern universe.
Bottom line: while this book itself doesn’t sell me on Green Lantern, I would definitely read follow on’s and it seems likely I’d get hooked on the character arch.
Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes – The Early Years (2011©)
This volume is the “origin” story for the Legion Of Super-Heroes.  This was a teen version of the Justice League Of America, but spread out across the planets instead of just being American super-heroes.  As a “Marvel” comics follower (as opposed to a “DC” follower), the Legion always seemed to me to be a reaction to the X-men.  In fact, it’s the other way around, but the X-men (historically) have been better received (more popular) than the Legion.
What did I like – Saturn Girl.  She is the only interesting character in this volume.  None of the characters, except Superboy, seem to have their powers well developed and that may be the main issue for me, but even though Saturn Girl’s only power is her ability to read minds, she still came across as the best character.  “Best” meaning developed and interesting.  I enjoyed seeing a female character not only play a predominant role in the comic, but also assume leadership in the Legion.
What did I dislike – developing powers is hard to understand when one minute you can barely hold your own and the next you’re lifting ships full of civilians and then you’re back to being “weak” again.  Also, the individual powers (and heroes) don’t seem that great either.  At first I wondered why this bothered me and then I realized it’s because they are not unique in their powers on their home world.  They are only heroes because they are on Earth where not everyone has their ability.  In theory, the same argument could be made about Superman/boy, but it is less valid because his planet is destroyed and there are few other Kryptonians (but of course there are more all the time).
Outside of the character development, what was wrong?   My main complaint would be the art work.  In this case there is a full issue of suddenly “stringy” super-heroes, who then flip back to being drawn normally in the next issue (chapter) of the book.  Needless to say, stringy super-heroes are not my cup of tea.  I would still buy the comic if the story line is good, but I would not enjoy the artwork as much.  Finally, there is the issue of intoxicated promiscuity.  Because the book focuses on a young lady, she ultimately ends up intoxicated and waking up in bed with another hero.  Admittedly, I’m old fashioned, but I would ask: does a young female have to be intoxicated to consent to sex and if she does have sex, is it too much to ask for some mention of protection (disease and birth control).  Granted there may not be any such things as sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies in the future, but while the story is centuries in the future, it’s still being read by people today.  Now, having asked my questions, I’ll answer: it’s ridiculous to imply anyone HAS to get intoxicated to desire and/or enjoy sex AND I would have wanted the issue of protection dealt with regardless of whether the interesting character were male or female.  But that’s just me…
Group comics are only interesting if the individual characters are interesting and if there is some issue of group dynamics being dealt with.  In this case, Saturn Girl, Brainiac and Superboy are all interesting characters to me, (with the others being far less interesting so far) so it will come down to their interaction as a group.  Bottom line: I would definitely follow this series for several more volumes to see what happens to the group.
Justice League – Volume 1: Origin (2012)
What does a comic book publisher do when they feel they are running out of story lines after 50+ years of stories?  You create a new universe with mostly the same people!  This allows you to re-boot all of your story lines and re-tell your old stories in different ways or with different endings.  Now, how do you get from here to there?  Well, traditionally to have one of your “super-super” characters (good or bad) do something which alters the the time-space continuum and blah, blah, blah, everything different.  Hence, DC Comics now has the new 52!!  In a way, this is even better than the old way of doing things because DC now has 52 ways of telling and re-telling the same stories with a host of ways to end up with alterations.  This book is the origin for the new Justice League.
Now the JLofA is one of the DC comic series I did follow as a child.  Having said that, I don’t remember any of their specific issues or arch-enemies.  I do remember the individual heroes and I did like them in their individual series too (some of which I bought).  The classic characters are Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Aquaman.  I’m not sure when the additional character (Cyborg) was added, but he is appearing in this so he’s now an “original” member of the League.
So, where to start – the artwork.  It’s great but a bit dark for my taste.  This seems to be a big carry-over from the famous “Dark Knight” days of Batman and made more famous by all of the movies.  It seems the darker the movie, the more it’s popularity, so the comics have trended the same track.  Does it work?  Well, most of the time, yes.  In this volume, most of the characters don’t know each other, so it’s an introduction for them as much as one to them (for us).  Does this work?  Yes, but it’s not particularly believable.  The problem with this book, like most other “super groups” is finding a villain powerful enough to believe there is a real conflict.  In this case, it’s not difficult to believe the villain is worthy, it’s just difficult to believe some of the “lesser” heroes having any chance of surviving.  When you’re a child, you can put aside this problem, but the older I get the harder it seems to be.  Anyone Superman would have a hard time with would destroy Batman or the Flash; anyone they could handle would be insignificant for Superman.
Anyway, setting aside this issue, what’s good? Batman and Wonder Woman!! Batman has no powers and so must get by on brains and leadership. Wonder Woman is just a bad-ass female warrior! Without going too much farther into the story, that’s it… an average guy and a dynamite female – that’s enough to get me to sign-up for future issues/volumes. Interestingly enough, Batman and the Flash were my two original favorites in the JLofA. Bottom line: I’d buy this series for a while just to see the story lines for these two characters. I’ve never been big on Aquaman and never heard of Cyborg, so I’d have to see how these fleshed out. The Flash could be a big attraction for me if he is developed better. Superman will always be a problem character and I don’t like the psych-case they are trying to make out of Green Lantern, but I’d still give the League a good long follow before deciding against them.
So, that’s about five inches of comic book reading over the last few days. If you used to read comics in your youth, I highly recommend you go back and take a look at both the DC and Marvel universes. If nothing else, you’ll know what the action movies will be like in the next decade…
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Peace cannot be kept by force.  It can only be achieved by understanding.
    —    Albert Einstein
[But I still prefer to keep my powder dry…    —    KMAB]
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The criterion of a man’s greatness is his ability to lift up all who live in his time.
    —    Sydney Smith
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Great is the man who does something for the first time.
    —    Alexander Smith
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You write.  That’s the hard bit that nobody sees.  You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days.  Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die.  Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny.  But that does not matter.  What matters right now are the words, one after another.  Find the next word.  Write it down.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.
    —   Neil Gaiman
[From the “About” page of Maria Mankin and her web site: “Books, j’adore“.
For me, blogging isn’t the hard bit.  Making the time for it when there is so much of life to be lived (tasted, swallowed whole, squeezed out like lemon juice) is the hard bit.  Reflecting and writing is the easy bit.  I guess that’s just the cowboy in me…    —    KMAB]
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