Aaaargh! Languatron Invades Real Life!

Saying the name “Languatron” aloud in polite company is a slightly disturbing experience.

I’ve certainly done it on a few occasions, usually with members of my family. (My wife likes to use the handle “Languatron” when we play laser tag, in honor of Langy’s own stated enthusiasm for that particular activity.) But last night, my strange Internet history collided with real life in an unexpected way, and it was all somewhat surreal.

We were at a wedding reception for our across-the-street neighbor, and several members of our local LDS congregation came to wish her well. I’m a little peeved, because my wife and I had decided she was supposed to marry my brother-in-law, and now that ‘s not going to happen, dag nab it. But I digress.

It was there that one of our other neighbors came up to me and said “I enjoy your blog.”

My blood froze.

Keep in mind that I don’t advertise my blog with actual flesh-and-blood types. For quite some time, in the real world, I’ve been able to pass myself off as a respectable, almost-normal citizen with no strange Yul Brynner fixation and/or propensity to inappropriately use the word “moist.”

So how had he found it?

He began here:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2gqBFmGtFw]

Javelin Man was a movie and song that I wrote for an LDS stake film festival, and a while ago, I put the finished product up on YouTube. It’s been quite successful – over 7,500 views at last count.

Well, this neighbor went to watch it and clicked on my handle to see if there were any other films in my collection.

He found this:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZL22_ieG2v0]

He told me it was strange and confusing, and he did a bit of research to find out who this Languatron guy was, which led him here. He concluded, as do all reasonable and sane people, that the guy was a major lunatic. We spent a few minutes discussing the history of Andrew Fullen’s grand battle against Universal executives.

That’s when I learned that it’s one thing to write about this stuff. It’s quite another thing to discuss it out loud.

So Jared, hello! Keep reading! I promise there’s a lot more stuff on here than just Languatronic drivel. I’m not sure if any of it’s worth anyone’s time, but you can talk about most of it out loud without sounding like a loon.

Maybe.

The Dangers of Playing God

My wife gave me a copy of WarCraft II for Christmas of 1996, about two weeks before my first daughter was born.

She’s never given me another video game since.

I can’t begin to calculate the hours I wasted sneaking off to play that game. Just one more level. Just let me finish this. I’ll be there in a second. I’m almost done, I swear. It put a strain on my marriage, on my health, and on my professional career. And for what? Was killing orcs really that much fun?

Yes, it was. That’s why I need to stay far, far away from anything where I get to command digital armies.

I’ve always been a bit of a computer geek, even back in the days when I spent my paper route money to buy an Atari 400, which featured a really annoying plastic keyboard and all data had to be saved on audiotapes. It took about a half an hour to save even the most simple computer programs. Dreadful.

But I played all the games. I wasted those half hours. I remember loading up “States and Capitols,” a game on tape where you guessed what the capitol cities were of every state in the country. You can probably google a similar program somewhere today that would take about two seconds to load. Those aren’t the games that interest me now, anyway. They don’t waste nearly enough time.

I’m into God Games.

God Games are the ones where you essentially rule the universe and play out the consequences of your decisions. WarCraft is probably the best one out there, so I’ve scrupulously avoided getting anywhere near the whole World of Warcraft thing. I love my wife and I want to stay married.

The ones that have wasted most of my time since the initial WarCraft have been the SimCity and Civilization games. Especially Civilization, versions II, III, and IV. I keep deluding myself into thinking that every time I boot one of these suckers up, I’ll only play for an hour or so. At the end of a day wasted in front of one of these things, I’m left with a feeling of ennui and crippling guilt. Don’t try this at home.

On the surface, this looks like a fairly innocuous temptation. After all, it could be worse. I don’t do porn; I’m a complete teetotaler; I haven’t gambled in almost two decades. And these games are educational, right? You learn about civilizations and city management and interesting stuff, so how could it be bad?

Trust me. It is.

I’ve tossed all my Civ CDs and gone cold turkey. As long as I stay away from the hard stuff, I’m OK.

Rumors are that Civilization V will be released next year.

Hooray for Ann Coulter

I dig Ann Coulter.

There. I said it.

Respectable conservatives are supposed to shun her, because she “goes too far.” She says incendiary things that are supposedly an embarrassment to all good-hearted people. Liar Al Franken says she’s a lying liar. Hillary Clinton has called her heartless, and Elizabeth Edwards, if she were just a touch more violent, would probably have a contract out on her today.

I still dig her.

There’s no question that she’s far more provocative than almost all of her fellow conservative pundits. She’s certainly unafraid of what people might say about her, and she’s not interested in holding back out of respect for the rules of decorum. Unlike so many of her tepid allies, she’s willing to be loathed in the interest of winning her arguments. Consequently, she actually succeeds in advancing the conservative agenda – at the expense of her own personal reputation.

Case in point: when her book Godless was released, everyone zeroed in on her comments about the Jersey Girls, four 9/11 widows who have used their newfound prominence to campaign for John Kerry and excoriate the Bush administration. The sentence that brought the most criticism was her statement that “I’ve never seen people enjoy their husbands’ deaths so much.”

Outrage! Shock! What an awful, awful thing to say! Republicans and Democrats alike fell all over themselves to condemn this mean, mean lady and her flying monkeys. In the meantime, more than a few people took a look at why she would write such a thing, and they discovered that she had a pretty good point, which is that Democrats rely on victims to present arguments in order to inoculate themselves from criticism.

So anyone who calls Cindy Sheehan a lunatic – which she is – runs the risk of looking like a bully, because she lost her son in Iraq. Similarly, Senator Max Cleland lost three limbs in Vietnam, so who are you to say that he’s not supportive enough of anti-terrorism measures? Democrats counter arguments with biographies, and the opposition is cowed into silence.

Except for Ann Coulter, who blasts through with a comment so incendiary that it’s impossible to ignore.

As a result of this, Ann Coulter came off looking like a shrew, and many people willfully misinterpreted her comments to insinuate that she was deriding all 9/11 widows, which was clearly not the case. But she made her point. And now it’s much harder for Democrats to get away with this kind of nonsense. Just last week, the Democrats used an uninsured 12-year-old child to respond to the President’s weekly radio address and complain about the decision to veto the SCHIP program. Talk show host Glenn Beck mocked the Dems mercilessly for this, and nobody called for hanging him up by his thumbs. I’m not sure if that would have been true had Ann Coulter not paved the way for him with her over-the-top rhetoric.

This is not to say that all conservative firebrands are created equal. I can’t listen to talk show host Michael Savage for more than ten seconds. He’s just belligerent – he has none of Ann Coulter’s prickly intelligence or wit. His idea of reasoned discourse is to tell gay people to get AIDS and die. He’s utterly humorless, whereas Ann Coulter makes me laugh out loud on almost every page. And she always has a point to back up her insults.

I bring all this up because yesterday a local talk show host was up in arms over a statement in her new book where she says that it might be a good thing for women to lose the right to vote, because it would mean no Democrat would ever be elected.

That was the first I’d heard of her new book, so I rushed out and got my own copy of If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans. (I got a really dirty look from the Borders clerk who rang me up. That was kind of fun.)

I was disappointed to discover that the book is the literary equivalent of a TV clip show – a collection of quotes from her previous books and columns with very little new material. I also found the quote that had the local host’s panties in a twist and discovered it was a statement she’d made over four years ago. It’s also based on a factually true premise – if women hadn’t been able to vote, every Republican in the last 50 years would have won – even Bob Dole! To be “offended” by something like this is pretty stupid.

Have I ever been personally offended by anything Ann Coulter has written? Almost. In the new book, she cracks that Mitt Romney is a member of a “quasi-Christian church, the Masons.” That bugged me for about three seconds. Then I realized that most evangelicals wouldn’t even be willing to call Mormons “quasi-Christian,” and that calling Mormons “Masons” perfectly illustrates the confusion that the average voter has about my faith. So, in other words, Ann’s insult aimed at me actually has a point to it, too. (Taking offense is a colossal waste of time and energy, anyway.)

Flipping through the book, I stumbled on several quotes that might qualify as “beyond the pale,” but they made me laugh. So I share just a few of them with you.

The New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media will only refer to partial birth abortion as “what its opponents refer to as partial birth abortion.” What do its supporters call it? Casual Fridays? Bean-with-bacon potato chip dip? Uh… Steve?
_________

Italian Interviewer: Is it possible to export democracy?
Ann Coulter: Yes. Ever heard of “Italy”?
_________

If John Kerry had a dollar for every time he bragged about serving in Vietnam – Oh wait, he does.
_________

Perhaps the Democrats could find an orphaned child whose parents were brutally hacksawed to death to put forward their tax plan.
_________

We must attack France. What are they going to do? Fight us?
_________

Interviewer: How would your career be different if you looked like Molly Ivins?
Ann Coulter: I’d be a lot uglier.

Don’t tell me you didn’t laugh at that last one.

Star Trek Movies

Despite my crusade against the horrors of transporter technology, I’m a Trek fan from way back. In college, after final exams, I would set up my little TV/VCR combo and watch Star Trek movies into the night. Not sure why this ritual caught on, but I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to soothe your inner geek.

Not all Star Trek movies are created equal. The conventional wisdom that the even numbered films are better than the odd numbered films pretty much holds true, except Star Trek III is pretty good and Star Trek 10– i.e. Nemesis – is bloody awful.

Trek movies, from best to worst:

Wrath of Khan isn’t just the best Trek movie. It’s one of the best movies ever made. It’s airtight – not a wasted moment. The characters are note perfect, and Spock’s death is extraordinarily moving. My six year old son watched this with me and cried himself to sleep. We had to show him Star Trek III the next day to console him.

I’ve also memorized the dialogue from this movie, and it comes in handy in everyday situations. Walk into a crowded room and yell “This is Ceti Alpha V!” or “KHAAAAAAN!” and you’ll be sure to win friends and influence people. No complaints, other than it would have been nice if Khan and Kirk had been in the same room at some point, but there it is.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is an overlooked gem. I was actually given the script for this before it came out, and it included a fun opening sequence where Kirk gathers up his retired crew for one last hurrah. I went to a screening at the Paramount lot before it opened, and the crowd was pretty dang enthusiastic. That experience may be why this one holds such a fond place in my heart.

Even so, it holds up very well with repeat viewings. The plot is solid, but what I find truly interesting is what they do with Spock. His confrontations with Valeris take this character to places he’s never been before. A great last hurrah for the original series cast.

After the Generations debacle – see below – I expected Star Trek: First Contact to suck. But the Borg were too good a villain, and the whole Zefram Cochrane/First Contact idea worked too well. This is not, however, a character-driven film, which is a good thing, since the TNG characters aren’t iconic enough to carry a film. That’s why none of the other TNG movies worked. Other than Data and Picard, everyone else is interchangeable. (Maybe Worf, too, although he became something of a caricature as the series progressed.)

A strong plot and a great bad guy make this one work. (Love the creepy/sexy Borg queen!) It’s probably the last piece of good Star Trek that has appeared in any medium.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, i.e. “the one with the whales” is generally considered by the unwashed masses to be the best Trek film ever. Certainly its the most accessible to non-fans, but that’s what makes it off-putting to many die hards. It’s a bit too jokey, and the “Save the Whales” moralizing is pretty tedious.

Still, everyone’s having so much fun that it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Spock’s mind mild with the whale in the aquarium is hysterical, as is Chekov’s quest to find “nuclear wessels.” And Mormons everywhere guffawed when Kirk explained Spock’s eccentricities on his hippie days when he “took too much LDS.”

Shatner was a pretty smarmy date in the pizzeria, though.

In some ways, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is one of my favorite Treks, because it’s the only one that’s almost entirely character driven. It humanizes the characters in a way that has never been done before or since. Sulu was a cardboard cut out throughout the series and in the first two movies. Then he gets to beat up a guard and say “Don’t call me tiny.” Suddenly, he’s a real person.

Everyone gets a moment. In one film, you discover these characters care about each other as people, which changes the dynamic of the whole film series going forward. This is actually a critical film in the series, and it gets dissed more than it deserves.

So why isn’t it higher on my list? Because the plot is a by-the-numbers expositional slog with a cookie-cutter villain. You’re always ten steps ahead of the characters, and there’s a perfunctory feel to the whole thing. It works as a set-up for IV, but it doesn’t stand well on its own.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a noble failure. It tries to be an embodiment of a Grand Idea in an attempt to sell a fairly interesting sci-fi concept, but this is the wrong vehicle to make it work.

I remember loving this movie when it first came out, because it was my chance to see Kirk, Spock and Co. back in action. It wasn’t until I saw it a couple of years later on TV that I realized how ploddingly dull the whole thing was. The V’Ger thing is somewhat interesting, but the delivery comes at the expense of the characters. We finally get to see Kirk and Co. back in action, and all we get to watch is them staring out the window.

The recent Director’s Cut made the stuff in the windows look better, but the film still doesn’t work.

Star Trek: Generations was a collossal disappointment. Contrasting the lifeless TNG ciphers with the boldness of Captain Kirk made his pathetic fall off of a bridge even more disappointing. The opening scene is kind of fun, and Picard’s actual meeting with Kirk was a thrill to watch. In total, that’s about seven minutes of worthwhile screentime.

Everything else blows, especially the goofy “emotion chip.”

Maybe I should rank Star Trek: Insurrection above Generations, since it isn’t really terrible; it’s just pointless. As I recall, it’s a fair to middling TNG episode put on the big screen. To be honest, I don’t remember much about it.

It clearly hasn’t made its way into my repeat viewing roster.

Star Trek: Nemesis just sucked. Dull, lifeless, out of character Wrath of Khan wannabe. Data’s pathetic death is, in some ways, even more embarrassing than Kirk’s.

Actually, no, Kirk’s was much worse. You knew what you were losing when they tossed him off the side of a bridge. When Data dies, you don’t care, and, judging from the fact that Spiner’s B4 now has all Data’s memories, it changed nothing.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is unwatchable. Literally. I can’t sit through it. It’s not even good camp. The plot is preachy and anti-religious and incomprehensible, all at the same time. The jokes are painful. The art direction is muddy and cluttered. The story’s even worse.

William Shatner demonstrates that he has absolutely no understanding of the franchise that made him a star. He shows contempt for his characters, mocking them without affection and undercutting the reasons for their loyalty.

Everything’s wrong here. Gravity boots? Farting around the campfire? Uhura’s shudder-inducing fan dance? Spock’s New Age brother? I can’t think of a single thing I like about this film.

Look away. It’s hideous.

____________________

There’s a new Trek movie coming out next year. Nimoy’s in it, so it might be OK. I think Trek is pretty much spent, though. I watched The Next Generation, never much enjoyed Deep Space Nine, and ignored Voyager and Enterprise completely.

For my money, can Trek altogether and bring back Firefly.

BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE!!!

Back in high school, Bruce Springsteen was the bee’s knees.

I remember seeing him in concert in 1984 at the L.A. Sports Arena during the Born in the USA tour, sitting up in the nosebleed seats. It was a quasi-religious experience. The concert lasted well over three hours, and after the last chord had been played, I still wasn’t ready for it to end. I saw him again the next year when he came back to L.A. and played the Coliseum. We were sitting so far back that the music was almost a full second or two behind the video screens, given the fact that light travels faster than sound. It didn’t matter. Bruce delivered. When I had bought the tickets, the show was supposed to be the last one on the tour, but Bruce ended up adding another show a few days later. I didn’t have tickets to that one, but I went down to the Coliseum anyway, and, along with thousands of other fans, I huddled around the walls of the stadium just to listen to what I couldn’t see.

(Those concerts, incidentally, make up the bulk of the recordings on his huge Bruce Live: 1975-1985 collection. If you listen to the crowd screaming during those bits, you’re listening to me.)

The next time I saw Bruce in concert was in the early ‘90s on his Human Touch/Lucky Town tour. No E Street Band. No Clarence Clemons. It was OK, but it was less than what I’d remembered. I wasn’t a teenager anymore, and I discovered that Bruce wasn’t a demigod. It was a harsh lesson to learn.

Even so, I still felt it was my responsibility to dutifully purchase anything that Springsteen churned out. Even after the disappointing concert, I was one of the first guys in line to purchase The Ghost of Tom Joad. That album, for those of you who haven’t heard it, is a self-indulgent, whiny piece of crap. It was only then that I realized how much of Springsteen’s music is built around the whole concept of victimhood.

For every “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road,” where scrappy rebels celebrate lives of danger and freedom as they blaze off on motorcycles into the night, Springsteen gives us didactic sludge like “Youngstown” from the Tom Joad album, where a working class guy moans and whines about how tough his life is because of dark Republican forces beyond his control. Or “The River,”where a guy knocks up his girlfriend and then can’t find work “on account of the economy.” Or even “Born in the USA,” which, despite its anthemic presentation, is actually a savage mockery of anyone who dares to believe in the American Dream.

I soured on Bruce for awhile.

Then came 2002’s reunion with the E Street Band and the album The Rising. I had heard good things about it, and I decided to give it a chance. It was everything it should have been and more. Written primarily as a response to 9/11, the album celebrates instead of whines. Bruce’s characters grieve for the loses they’ve incurred, but they’re still able to “come on up for the Rising.” The album highlights victims, yes, but it doesn’t dwell on self-pity or recrimination. Like the best of what Bruce has done, The Rising is an exercise in joy. I’ve played that CD a zillion times, and I still get a kick out of it.

Alas, for Bruce, the wallowing was to return with Devils and Dust, an anti-war screed sans E Street Band. I didn’t even bother to pick up the Seeger Sessions. Unless the E Street Band is involved, Bruce tends to wallow in lefty bilge. And there was all the John Kerry campaigning and overt political blech in the intervening years. I’ve never understood why so many entertainers go out of their way to alienate half their audience, and I think he would be disgusted to know that he actually has Republican fans like me. But that’s a story for another day.

All this leads to today. I’ve pre-ordered his new CD Magic from iTunes, and I’ve heard his new single “Radio Nowhere.” It’s pretty good. The E Street Band helps a lot. But I’ve also been warned of left-wing bile therein, including a song based on John Kerry’s comment before the Senate about being the last man to die for a mistake. Yikes. I hope there’s enough joy elsewhere on the album that I’ll still be able to enjoy it.

I’ll let you know.

Say NO to Transporter Technology

Orson Scott Card wrote a wonderful short story entitled “Fat Farm” which tells the story of obese people who go in and have their brains duplicated into new, thin bodies. The problem was that the old bodies were still around, too, and terrible things ended up happening to them. For my purposes, that’s neither here nor there. The point is that the New, Thin Body Guy – NTBG for short – had the illusion of continuity from before and after the transfer. In NTBG’s mind, he was the same guy as the fat guy who came in before the transfer. But he wasn’t – that fat guy was still alive. Well, imagine if the fat guy, instead of being left behind, was summarily executed after the memories were duplicated in NTBG’s brain. Yikes. Wouldn’t that be a bad thing?

Well, that’s exactly what happens every time someone from Star Trek steps on to a transporter platform.

Transporters break down matter into energy, and then use that energy to reconstitute the matter in a different location. Yet the newly reconstructed matter hasn’t truly been transported – it’s been duplicated. The atoms and raw material used in creating the new James T. Kirk on the planet’s surface would undoubtedly be different than the ones that were converted to energy in the Enterprise’s transporter room. That means that, while the new James T. Kirk would, like Card’s NTBG, function and feel as if he were the same James T. Kirk who had been blasted into energy up along the Enterprise, he wouldn’t be. That James T. Kirk is dead. But nobody mourns him, because the duplicate has seamlessly taken over his life.

Several Star Trek episodes address this tangentially while ignoring the central moral dilemma this poses. In an early Trek episode, the transporter produces a Good Kirk and a Bad Kirk, and then it combines the two back into the Regular Kirk. Can anyone really argue that any of those three Kirks is really the same being that first stepped onto the transporter platform? What about the TNG generation episode where a transporter mishap creates a second Riker who’s left behind on a planet while the “real” Riker beams back aboard safely? Or all the episode where people’s transporter “patterns” are used to reverse medical problems and “fix” things? Wake up, people! Transporters are killing people all the time and making new people in their place! Why is that OK?

Some may argue that, since the series of duplicate James T. Kirks have maintained the illusion of a single, linear life, that we shouldn’t worry about it. This is deeply misguided, as it demonstrates a contempt for the unique value of an individual human life.

Others may argue that since transporter technology doesn’t actually exist, and I’m getting all worked up about fictional nonsense, that I should actually get a life. To those who think thus, I weep for your lack of imagination, and I scorn you preemptively to compensate for my own strange compulsions, as evidenced by my vintage Battlestar Galactica lunchbox.