Sunday, September 16, 2007

Raid! (a)

Our quiet little cul-de-sac had a not-so-quiet morning today. At 9:00 AM, the sheriff's department conducted a raid. No, not on our house. Twas on a house catty-cornered across from us.

Raid! (b)

There were cops with assault rifles converging on the house, both from the front, and climbing over the back walls. Sorry, no pictures of this. They didn't wait for me to get my camera.

Raid! (c)

In all, we had five sheriff's cars on the cul-de-sac.

Raid! (d)

Here's the house that they raided. Note that there's a red car in the driveway, that wasn't of much interest to them. It was much more about the contents of the house (and maybe the backyard), and a pick-up that hadn't shown up yet.

Raid! (e)

And the cooler is for?? Either to keep seized evidence in it for transport to the lab. Or the cops' sandwiches and bottled water.

The sheriffs weren't real thrilled about me acting like a dumb tourist and taking pictures from my front lawn. Their "official" story to me was that the red car was a stolen vehicle. No one on the cul-de-sac is buying that story. There was a lot of traffic at odd hours at this house. People driving up, staying for five minutes, then quickly leaving.

Raid! (f)

By 11:00, the pick-up of interest had shown up. Along with a tow truck. And a re-arrangement of the cop cars. I should mention that at least two of the house's residents were cuffed and taken away.

Raid! (g)

Here's a good view of the pick-up. I wasn't outside when it arrived, so I don't know if they cuffed the driver or not.

Raid! (h)

The cops were verrryyyyy interested in the contents of the carpenter's box in the back of the pick-up.

Raid! (i)

Found something!

Raid! (j)

After the truck-search was done, it was time for the tow truck to do its thing.

Raid! (k)

Bye bye, pick-up!

Raid! (l)

Now I know what you're thinking - hey, Terry! This really could've been a stolen vehicle case. Well, here's a picture from 5:00 PM. Cop tape all around the house, and a sheriff sitting watch. Kinda strange, if the stolen truck and the perp were both taken into custody 6 hours earlier, doncha think?

You'll also note that the place where the aliens built their short-lived summer house is right in front of this house. Liz says if I even hint that this is related to that incident, she's doubling my medicine.

So we'll close this story for the time being, and scour the paper tomorrow for a mention of the raid.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Harry Turtledove - How Few Remain

Title : How Few Remain (1997; 594 pages)
Author : Harry Turtledove
Genre : Alternate History
Rating : C+

This Month I Read...
Harry Turtledove is a prolific author of Science Fiction and Alternate History books. This was my first Turtledove book.

HFR is "pure" Alt-History. The timeline doesn't change due to some inscrutable cosmic event. Instead, McClellan's army doesn't intercept Lee's battle plans after Antietam. With the US army kept in the dark, Lee is victorious in the battlefield; England and France recognize the new nation; and the Confederate States of America gains independence.

HFR is set in 1881, when the "second war of independence" erupts between the North and the South.

What's To Like...
The book is a great "What-If" novel. Turtledove weaves a detailed alternate timeline by following a number of historical figures. Abraham Lincoln is doing the speech-giving circuit and contemplating becoming a socialist. Teddy Roosevelt is a bronco-bustin' cowboy in Montana. James Longstreet is the president of the CSA. Frederick Douglass is giving anti-slavery rallies. Samuel Clemens runs a newspaper in San Francisco and rails against the folly of war. George Custer, Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and even Geronimo are also followed.

Some of the good guys die. Some of the bad guys live. And, unlike many other works of fiction, you can't predict who lives/dies by the author's character development (or lack thereof).

What's Not To Like...
Well, if the character-development is superb, the plot-advancement is non-existent. Mexico sells the states of Sonora and Chihuahua to the CSA, which for some unfathomable reason p*sses off the USA to the point of going to war. So far, so cool.

Alas, the total events of the war consist of a few CSA minor victories in Arizona; some skirmishes between the US and Canadians/Brits in Montana, a British naval raid on San Francisco, and the USA for some reason trying to take (of all places) Louisville, Kentucky. That's it. Failing in those endeavors, the USA calls off the war. Talk about a lack of resolve.

Turtledove tells the story from a pro-CSA POV, so the issue of slavery in the South is downplayed, almost to being ignored. James Blaine, the US President, is given short shrift. It would've been nice to understand the workings inside his head as to why he decided to quickly go to war, then just as quickly opted out.

Oh yeah, and the couple of sex scenes are incredibly lame and completely pointless. Were they put in there to titillate teenage male readers? If so, it failed miserably.

Why I've Been A Lifelong Alt-History Fanatic...
I read my first Alt-History book 45 years ago. It was titled "If The South Had Won The Civil War" (yep, same theme), and if you google that, you will find that it is by MacKinlay Kantor and was re-issued in the 1990's, and is still available from Amazon.

Looking back, it was a rather tepid attempt at Alt-Hist. The South wins; Texas secedes from the CSA; slavery again gets downplayed; and the three countries remain best-of-buddies for a hundred years. After a century of group-hugs and bonding, they all schedule a joint news conference, and it's strongly implied that Reunification will occur.

Okay, it was not a hard-hitting book. But I was in 5th or 6th grade at the time, and despite its lameness, I thoroughly enjoyed the "What If" scenario. That passion for Alternate History has stayed with me ever since. The genre is done much better nowadays, but I think it's fair to say that that's because science fiction & science fantasy as a whole are done much better nowadays.

But I digress. Your opinion of How Few Remain will hinge on how important a plot is to you. For me, this was a fun read, and I enjoyed "getting to know" the various historical characters. But the story didn't go anywhere. The war came, the war went, and nothing really changed and/or progressed. I came away with the feeling that Turtledove only wrote this to set up the characters in his World War One Alternate-History series. The first book of that series (second if you count HFR) is on my "to be read" bookshelf, albeit, along with a dozen other "must-read" books. So eventually, I'll find out whether this tangential timeline takes off or fizzles out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Bourne Supremacy

Title : The Bourne Supremacy (109 minutes)
Genre : Action (PG-13)
Rating : **** (out of 5*)

This Weekend I Watched...
In "Bourne-2", Jason gets framed; and the GF from Bourne-1 gets offed in the first five minutes. From there on, it's non-stop action; as the CIA and its crack squad of assassins try to stop one agent who can't remember his past, can't remember to use a passport other than the one that says "Jason Bourne", and can't remember to disguise himself when he passes through customs and under surveilance cameras.

What's To Like...
Same as the Bourne-1 : the action is first-rate; the locations are picturesque (I want to go to Russia!); and the chase scenes are breath-taking. It is rumored that the primo car chase here was done in Moscow, cuz that's the only city that would allow its major streets to be
blocked off for the movie-shoot.

The action is more believable this time around. No more flying-carpet-down-the-stairwell foolishness.

What's Not To Like...
Lots of people griped about the hurky-jurky camera work. In watching it on TV, this wasn't a problem. But I can see where it would be irritating to watch it on the big screen.

I'm not quite sure why anyone would frame Jason Bourne. Wouldn't that be like framing James Bond? Or maybe Carlos The Jackal. You can do it, sure. But why? About all you accomplish is to get a p*ssed-off killing machine not on your tail.

The Bourne Redundancy...
I have come to the conclusion that there are several "movie" occupations that are out-and-out death warrants. One (seen here) is to be the still-living GF of the hero from the previous movie.

Another is to be the detective-hero's male partner. Especially if you're old and near retirement, or young and think you know it all. You can be sure that the bad guys are gonna take you out to send a message to the hero. Hey, villains! You wanna send a message? Take out the hero!

The third is anyone on a team of action heroes who surreptitiously betrays the team. Even if he gets away with the treachery; God, or some demon-spawned monster will make him pay for his bad karma.

Speaking of monsters, the fourth "goner" is any black guy on a team of heroes that's fighting aliens, predators, man-eating sharks, and/or gummi bears. If yo' is black, yo' is gonna be somebody's snack.

Last but not least is anyone who is fat or ugly. Good looks equates to good fortune. Bullets seek out blubber. Calamities seek out cellulite.

Just once, I'd like to see a movie where someone in any of these "loser categories" actually survives while the hero/damsel/good-looking white boy suffers an untimely and early demise. (*)

But I digress. The Bourne Supremacy offers absolutely nothing new from The Bourne Identity, other than female counter-hero revealing Jason Bourne's real name (David Webb) in the final three seconds of the movie. But repetitiveness is not necessarily a bad thing, if the initial movie was quite fine. So we'll give this four-stars, same as Bourne-1, and be happy that the middle episode wasn't the usual weak link of the trilogy.

(*) : Okay, there was one instance where the handsome male lead died off rather quickly. The captain of the ship in Aliens-One. I think his name was Dallas, or something like that. You knew Sigourney Weaver was gonna be the last survivor. But I kinda thought Captain Dallas would be the second-last.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Finntroll - Ur Jordens Djup

Artist : Finntroll (2007)
Album Title : Ur Jordens Djup (From The Depths Of The Earth)
Genre : Polka-Metal (yes!!)
Rating : ***** **½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
A few weeks ago, while reviewing the Folkearth album, I tongue-in-cheekly made reference to "Polka Metal", blithely assuming there was no such genre. A kind reader left a comment, saying that, indeed, Polka Metal does exist, and recommending listening to Finntroll.

Finntroll is a Finnish band, who nevertheless sings in Swedish. Cuz Swedish is "more trollish", they say. They have 6 albums out. Ur Jordens Djup is their most-recent offering.

What's To Like...
The reader is correct (many thanks for the tip!): this is Polka-Metal. More precisely, it is "humppa-metal"; humppa being best described as a specific form of "Finnish Polka".

The Metal is fairly standard power-metal stuff. The vocals are all "grunting", which means that the fact that the lyrics aren't in English doesn't matter. I wouldn't understand them, no matter what language the grunts were in.

There is some very nice blending of polka (and folk) with the metal. The opening track, Gryning ("Dawn") is 3½ minutes of some well-arramged dark, brooding, instrumental stuff.

The tracks that are the most "polka-ish" are delightful. One gets the feeling Finntroll really enjoys playing polka-metal songs.

What's Not To Like...
This is my first Finntroll CD. Those who are familiar with all of Finntroll's albums give this one the lowest rating. The criticism seems to be that this one isn't as polka-ish as previous efforts; that it's a lot darker; and that, while the tracks are consistently good, there aren't any really great ones.

There is a "hidden track" at the end of the CD. The last song fades into soft "marshy" sounds, then into silence. But if you wait another 10 minutes, a fun-filled bar-room-sounding track comes on. Okay, the first time, it was a cool discovery. After that, however, it just means you have 10 minutes of dead time (cuz technically it's part of the last track) , which is rather annoying. Fortunately, a little bit of snipping via Sound Forge eliminated the 10 minute dead-space.

Ask Not For Whom The Finn Trolls...
It trolls for thee.

Finntroll is coming to Tempe on 07 October. To The Clubhouse, where I once almost saw Wolfmother. This is a metal concert, so there are no seats. You just stand around, moshing, or pogo-ing; or whatever you do at a standing-only metal concert. I'm making plans to go see them. The concert is nicely sandwiched between Within Temptation (two Sundays from now), and Nightwish (07 November). So if all goes as planned, I'll actually see my first three Metal concerts over the next three months.

I've talked Liz into going to see WT, but I doubt I'll be able to convince her to attend Finntroll. Whether or not I can get her to go to Nightwish remains to be seen.

But I digress. Ur Jordens Djup is a good, enjoyable, polka-metal album. The guitar-work is good, the fusion of genres is great, and if the music is dark, well, isn't metal supposed to be dark? We shall see how it compares to their earlier stuff, but if we assume they'll be showcasing UJD at their upcoming concert, it will be a great show.

Another Craig Cartoon

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Village Hypocrite

Well, color me amazed - another anti-gay hate-spouting Republican bigot gets nabbed, this time by the Minnesota vice squad.

There is a pattern here. We've seen it in Foley, in Ted Haggard, in Jimmy Swaggert, and now in Senator "Toe-Tappin' Craig. Apparently, when you're posturing yourself as a "family values" guy; but have ...umm... skeletons in the closet; far from keeping your mouth shut, your head down and avoiding the subject; you instead spew out venomous hate against that very skeleton.

So is it guilt? Do these phonies think they'll exorcise their demons if they denounce their secret often enough? Or is it Republican arrogance - spout off any old right-wing line of bullsh*t, and assume that everyone's a Dubya-IQ ditto-head and will just blindly believe the drivel?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Within Temptation !! In Phoenix !!

On Sunday, 23 September. At the Marquee Theater. With "The Dear And The Departed" and "Attitude". (Who?)

Oh my, oh my! This is another "can't miss" concert. There are three of these now. Within Temptation in September; Finntroll in October; and Nightwish in November. I need to talk Liz into going to all of these, so she can take pics with her cell phone. The venues don't allow digital cameras, and I don't know how to take cell-phone pics.

Tickets (General Admission only) are $13.75 each, with another $5 per ticket thrown in for "convenience fees" and "facility fees". Still, that means two people can go for less than $40. There are no seats; everyone just mills around the arena.