Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: The Asphyx



From Wikipedia:

The Asphyx is a 1973 British horror film directed by Peter Newbrook. It was also known as Spirit of the Dead and The Horror of Death.

It tells the exploits of rich Scientist-Philanthropist Sir Cunningham, who discovers an unimaginable blur being recorded while he searches the negatives of dying men whom he had recorded. Later on, at a party- he is making a motion picture of his wife and son, who are playing in a pool and ends up filming their accidental deaths as well. At first, Cunningham doesn't realize that he's captured that same misshapen blur on the camera, but once he does, he comes to a conclusion: that the blur is a person's soul leaving the body. It isn't until he re-examines the pictures and film however, that he makes the startling discovery that the blur was not moving away from the bodies of those who were dying, it was moving TOWARDS them. After doing some research, the good Doctor finds that he has found a ticket to immortality through the blur, an ancient Greek spirit known as an "Asphyx". According to legends, the spirit will appear only at the moment of a person's death to take them away to the Underworld. Cunningham, in his brilliant madness soon deduces that if he can only stop this process from happening at all, it would make any person immortal and unable to die- unless their particular Asphyx is released.

The Doctor soon goes to his task and makes a deal with his adopted son for help in perfecting and utilizing the procedures, and from there- his laboratory becomes filled with torturous devices and instruments of death. He soon comes to understand however, that immortality comes at a high price, not easily fulfilled by mortal man.

Monday, April 21, 2008

the thinking mans comic: Garfield minus Garfield.

"Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb."


garfield minus garfield

Films you should see but probally never will: The Ninth Configuration.

Captain Cutshaw: "I think the end of the world just came for that bag of Fritos I had in my pants pocket"

Wiki:
The Ninth Configuration, (also known as Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane) is an American-made film, released in 1980, directed by William Peter Blatty (most famous as the author of The Exorcist). It is often considered a cult film and it won the Best Screenplay award at the 1981 Golden Globes. The film is based on Blatty's novel, The Ninth Configuration (1978) which was itself a reworking of an earlier version of the novel, first published in 1966 as Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane.

On a dreary day, Captain Billy Cutshaw sits in a window of a large castle and listens to a melancholy song. As the song ends, he look out the window and announces, "Someone is coming." Over the film credits, a majestic Saturn Five rocket awaits launch as a Jupiter-sized moon rises behind it. Colonel Kane awakes from the dream in a car, being driven to the castle. On the way there, they pass a pickup truck, going in the other direction, that is overloaded with members of a biker gang whom we see later in the movie; in the pickup is an old man tied to a chair. On Kane's arrival at the castle, the staff struggles to maintain discipline in the rowdy and irreverent patients, many of whom are dressed in ridiculous costumes. Kane begins speaking to a doctor (played by Blatty himself), but discovers that the doctor is actually another patient in disguise. Colonel Fell (Ed Flanders), shoos the imposter away and introduces himself as the real doctor.


(selected scenes)

Kane takes a permissive tone with the patients rather than the adversarial one shown by the rest of the staff. He allows several patients to rant at him about their respective delusions, and insists that he is always available to listen to the patients. At night, however, Kane has nightmares consisting of violent and disjointed images.

Cutshaw, one of the patients, is an astronaut who lost his sanity just before launching into space. After an angry tirade insisting that Kane leave the castle, Cutshaw calms down and agrees to give Kane his saint's medallion. Later that night, Kane writes his notes in red ink and makes a notation about the curative properties of "shock therapy". He then inspects Cutshaw's medallion and grips the chain like a garrote as his expression darkens.

Fell wakes Kane from another nightmare and questions him about his dreams. Kane says that they are another man's nightmares, explaining that another man described the dreams to him and now he gets them as well. Fell asks who the man was, and Kane responds that it was his brother, who is a "murderer". Kane asks if Fell has heard of Vincent "Killer" Kane, a guerilla soldier personally responsible for killing dozens of enemy. Kane says "Killer" Kane was his brother, but is now dead. Fell leaves, but as he closes Kane's door his jovial demeanor breaks suddenly into sobs.

Later, Cutshaw talks with another patient about Kane. Cutshaw suspects that Kane is crazy himself. He asserts that psychiatrists often go crazy and have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Cutshaw goes to talk with Kane again, angrily denying the existence of a purpose or divine plan. Kane, who believes that the existence of a God is far more likely than humanity having emerged from "random chance", tries to argue that deeds of pure self-sacrifice are proof of human goodness, which can only be explained by divine purpose. Cutshaw demands that Kane recall one concrete example of pure self-sacrifice from his personal experience, but Kane cannot.

Cutshaw convinces Kane to take him to a church service. Cutshaw interrupts the service with several outbursts. Looking at an altar boy, Kane momentarily sees a Vietnamese boy, but he dispels the illusion with difficulty. Back at the castle, Cutshaw thanks Kane and asks him to send him a sign as proof of an afterlife should Kane die first. Kane promises to try.
Another patient, who is staging a production of Hamlet using dogs as actors, gives a long speech to Kane asserting that Hamlet had to pretend to be crazy in order to stay sane. As he leaves, he meets with Cutshaw, who asks if "they bought it". The director responds, "Hell, I bought it".



A new patient is scheduled to arrive at the castle and Kane goes to meet him. Kane instantly recognizes the soldier, triggering a flashback. In the jungles of Vietnam, the soldier stumbles upon Kane, who is kneeling on the ground and muttering that he cut a boy's head off with a wire, but the boy "kept on talking." Insisting that they need to leave, the soldier advances on Kane, whom he sees is holding a severed head in his hands. Kane screams and the flashback ends. In the castle, Kane collapses unconscious.

Fell explains to the staff that Kane really is Vincent "Killer" Kane, and had suffered a breakdown in Vietnam. When Fell, who is actually Kane's brother Hudson, was dispatched back to America, Kane received the dispatch by accident. Kane came to believe that he was really his psychiatrist brother in order to escape from his guilt. He returned to America subconsciously hoping to heal people to make up for his "murders". Realizing Kane's mental state, the Army psychiatric staff maintained the charade and sent him to Fell's hospital under the pretext of being its commanding officer. In reality, Fell has been the commanding officer all along. Kane awakens and remembers nothing of the incident.

Cutshaw escapes the castle and visits a bar. A biker gang recognizes Cutshaw and begins brutalizing him. A waitress contacts Kane, who arrives at the bar to retrieve him. The gang surrounds the two soldiers and insists that Kane perform a number of demeaning acts before he can leave. Kane complies with all of the demands with increasing difficulty. The gang grows bored of Kane's perceived spinelessness and continues to brutalize Cutshaw. When one of the bikers tries to rape Cutshaw, Kane's mild demeanor finally breaks. He kills the entire biker gang and their women with his bare hands.


(selected scenes)

Back at the castle, Cutshaw visits Kane, who has wrapped himself in a blanket. Dreamy and distant, Kane disjointedly mumbles to Cutshaw about God and proof of human goodness before passing out. As Cutshaw leaves, Kane's hand emerges from his blankets and drops a bloody knife. Cutshaw soon notices a spot of blood on a his shoe. He returns to Kane's office and discovers that Kane has slashed his wrist beneath his blanket and died.

Some time later, Cutshaw has returned to uniform and visits the now-abandoned castle. He sits in Kane's office and reads a note written to him by Kane. Kane writes that he hopes his death will "shock" Cutshaw back into sanity, but at any rate, he now has his one example of pure self-sacrifice. Cutshaw returns to his car and discovers that a saint's medallion has miraculously appeared on the seat. He turns it over to confirm whether it was the one he gave to Kane and silently rejoices at what he sees.

Blatty once referred to The Ninth Configuration as the true sequel to The Exorcist and has stated that he intended the character of Captain Cutshaw to be the same astronaut that a sleepwalking Regan in The Exorcist warns, "You're going to die up there." In Configuration, Cutshaw mentions a fear of dying in space that is almost certainly a reference to Regan's line in the previous film. However, the characters were played by different actors and the astronaut in The Exorcist is not named by the credits.
External link: the ninth configuration.com

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: The Power



From Wikipedia:
The Power is a 1968 film based on the science fiction novel The Power by Frank M. Robinson. Its protagonist, a researcher named Tanner, discovers evidence of a person with psychic abilities among his coworkers. As he tries to uncover the superhuman, his existence is erased and his associates murdered, until he faces a showdown with an apparently undefeatable opponent.

Produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin, it was substantially changed in the John Gay screenplay, moving the location to San Marino, California, changing most of the characters' names (although retaining the surnames of Tanner, Nordlund, and department head Professor Van Zandt), and eliminating several subplots and characters, presumably to fit the story into a 108-minute film. George Hamilton starred as Professor Jim Tanner, Suzanne Pleshette as his teammate and romantic interest Margery Lansing (Marge Hanson in the novel), and Michael Rennie (famous among science fiction movie fans as Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still) as new government liaison Mr. Nordlund. Otherwise, the story proceeds in a fashion similar to the novel, except for a somewhat different twist to the conclusion.

This somewhat obscure movie is memorable for a number of intriguing scenes, including murder by centrifuge, a seemingly possessed "Walk/Don't Walk" sign, toy soldiers firing with real gunpowder, and winking inanimate objects (the last two also in the novel). The soundtrack also memorably features a beating heart to signal the mind-control attempts and eerie music from a cymbalum (a hammered dulcimer-like instrument) accompanying the more suspenseful moments. The music, written by Oscar-winning composer Miklós Rózsa, actually contributes an amusing fourth wall-breaking moment when Tanner, hearing the haunting tune, seems to expect a new disaster, only to be visibly relieved when he finds a cymbalum-violin duet being performed in the hotel lobby.

And here it is on the IMDB

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Are You ... You?


If you're really curious - and not at all squeamish - check out a little piece on parasites that control the behavior of their hosts up on the always wonderful Dark Roasted Blend.

Here's a taste:
So far you lucky readers - if that’s really what you are - have been treated to lost nuclear hardware, misplaced biological weapons, an 18th century spiritualist and his clockwork "God", and recently, creatures great and small (mostly small) that can kill you faster than you can read this sentence - even if you’re a slow reader.

But there’s an even more terrifying, creepy, freaky, disturbing subject we haven’t talked about yet: one that can make even the heartiest, stone-stomached of you clutch your tail-wagging doggies and purring kitties while rocking back and forth mumbling "nature is good, nature is good, nature is good …"

As you’ll soon read, however, even your loving pets can't save you from the nightmare that is, more than likely, with you already.

Or, to be precise, living inside you already: parasites.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Great British Catapult Society

A Scud It's Not, But the Trebuchet Hurls a Mean Piano... Giant Medieval War Machine Is Wowing British Farmers and Scaring the Sheep
by Glynn Mapes

ACTON ROUND, England - With surprising grace, the grand piano sails through the sky a hundred feet above a pasture here, finally returning to earth in a fortissimo explosion of wood chunks, ivory keys and piano wire.

Nor is the piano the strangest thing to startle the grazing sheep this Sunday morning. A few minutes later, a car soars by - a 1975 blue two-door Hillman, to be exact - following the same flight path and meeting the same loud fate. Pigs fly here, too. In recent months, many dead 500-pound sows (two of them wearing parachutes) have passed overhead, as has the occasional dead horse.

It's the work of Hew Kennedy's medieval siege engine, a four-story tall, 30-ton behemoth that's the talk of bucolic Shropshire, 140 miles northwest of London. In ancient times, such war machines were dreaded implements of destruction, flinging huge missiles, including plague-ridden horses, over the walls of besieged castles. Only one full-sized one exists today, designed and built by Mr. Kennedy, a wealthy landowner, inventor, military historian and - need it be said? - full-blown eccentric.

At Acton Round Hall, Mr. Kennedy's handsome Georgian manor house here, one enters the bizarre world of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. A stuffed baboon hangs from the dining room chandelier ("Shot in Africa. Nowhere else to put it," Mr. Kennedy explains). Lining the walls are dozens of halberds and suits of armor. A full suit of Indian elephant armor, rebuilt by Mr. Kennedy, shimmers resplendently on an elephant-size frame. In the garden outside stands a 50-foot-high Chinese pagoda.

Capping this scene, atop a hill on the other side of the 620-acre Kennedy estate, is the siege engine, punctuating the skyline like an oil derrick. Known by its 14-century French name, "trebuchet" (pronounced tray-boo-shay), it's not to be confused with a catapult, a much smaller device that throws rocks with a spoon-like arm propelled by twisted ropes or animal gut.

Mr. Kennedy, a burly, energetic 52-year-old, and Richard Barr, his 46-year-old neighbor and partner, have spent a year and £10,000 ($17,000) assembling the trebuchet. They have worked from ancient texts, some in Latin, and crude wood-block engravings of siege weaponry.

The big question is why.

Mr. Kennedy looks puzzled, as if the thought hadn't occurred to him before. "Well, why not? It's bloody good fun!" he finally exclaims. When pressed, he adds that for several hundred years military technicians have been trying fruitlessly to reconstruct a working trebuchet. Cortez built one for the siege of Mexico City. On its first shot, it flung a huge boulder straight up - and then straight down, demolishing the machine. In 1851 Napoleon III had a go at it, as an academic exercise. His trebuchet was poorly balanced and barely managed to hurl the missiles - backward. "Ours works a hell of a lot better than the Frogs', which is a satisfaction," Mr. Kennedy says with relish.

How it works seems simple enough. The heart of the siege engine is a three-ton, 60-foot tapered beam made from laminated wood. It's pivoted near the heavy end, to which is attached a weight box filled with 5.5 tons of steel bar. Two huge A-frames made from lashed-together tree trunks support a steel axle, around which the beam pivots. When the machine is at rest, the beam is vertical, slender end at the top and weight box just clearing the ground.

When launch time comes, a farm tractor cocks the trebuchet, slowly hauling the slender end of the beam down and the weighted end up. Several dozen nervous sheep, hearing the tractor and knowing what comes next, make a break for the far side of the pasture. A crowd of 60 friends and neighbors buzzes with anticipation as a 30-foot, steel-cable sling is attached - one end to the slender end of the beam and the other to the projectile, in this case a grand piano (purchased by the truckload from a junk dealer).

"If you see the missile coming toward you, simply step aside," Mr. Kennedy shouts to the onlookers. Then, with a great groaning, the beam is let go. As the counterweight plummets, the piano in its sling whips through an enormous arc, up and over the top of the trebuchet and down the pasture, a flight of 125 yards. The record for pianos is 151 yards (an upright model, with less wind resistance). A 112-pound iron weight made it 235 yards. Dead hogs go for about 175 yards, and horses 100 yards; the field is cratered with the braves of the beasts, buried by a backhoe where they landed.

Mr. Kennedy has been studying and writing about ancient engines of war since his days at Sandhurst, Britain's military academy, some 30 years ago. But what spurred him to build one was, as he puts it, "my nutter cousin" in Northumberland, who put together a pint-sized trebuchet for a county fair. The device hurled porcelain toilets soaked in gasoline and set afire. A local paper described the event under the headline "Those Magnificent Men and Their Flaming Latrines."

Building a full-sized siege engine is a more daunting task. Mr. Kennedy believes that dead horses are the key. That's because engravings usually depict the trebuchets hurling boulders, and there is no way to determine what the rocks weigh, or the counterweight necessary to fling them. But a few drawings show dead horses being loaded onto trebuchets, putrid animals being an early form of biological warfare. Since horses weigh now what they did in the 1300s, the engineering calculations followed easily.

One thing has frustrated Mr. Kennedy and his partner: They haven't found any commercial value for the trebuchet. Says a neighbor helping to carry the piano to the trebuchet, "Too bad Hew can't make the transition between building this marvelous machine and making any money out of it."

It's not for lack of trying. Last year Mr. Kennedy walked onto the English set of the Kevin Costner Robin Hood movie, volunteering his trebuchet for the scene where Robin and his sidekick are catapulted over a wall. "The directors insisted on something made out of plastic and cardboard," he recalls with distaste. "Nobody cares about correctness these days." [A year or so after this article was printed, the trebuchet was shown hurling a piano during an episode of the American television show "Northern Exposure."]

More recently, he has been approached by an entrepreneur who wants to bus tourists up from London to see cars and pigs fly through the air. So far, that's come to naught.

Mr. Kennedy looks to the U.S. as his best chance of getting part of his investment back: A theme park could commission him to build an even bigger trebuchet that could throw U.S.- sized cars into the sky. "It's an amusement in America to smash up motor cars, isn't it?" he inquires hopefully.

Finally, there's the prospect of flinging a man into space - a living man, that is. This isn't a new idea, Mr. Kennedy points out: Trebuchets were often used to fling ambassadors and prisoners of war back over castle walls, a sure way to demoralize the opposition.

Some English sports parachutists think they can throw a man in the air and bring him down alive. In a series of experiments on Mr. Kennedy's siege machine, they've thrown several man-size logs and two quarter-ton dead pigs into the air; one of the pigs parachuted gently back to earth, the other landed rather more forcefully.

Trouble is, an accelerometer carried inside the logs recorded a centrifugal force during the launch of as much as 20 Gs (the actual acceleration was zero to 90 miles per hour in 1.5 seconds). Scientists are divided over whether a man can stand that many Gs for more than a second or two before his blood vessels burst. The parachutists are nonetheless enthusiastic. But Mr. Kennedy thinks the idea may only be pie in the sky.

"It would be splendid to throw a bloke, really splendid," he says wistfully. "He'd float down fine. But he'd float down dead."


... and here's an new member of the society, from the BBC, compliments of my friend Pauline:

Dung catapult to target vandals

A former stuntman has warned would-be vandals they face being fired at with a catapult loaded with chicken manure.

Former stuntman Joe Weston-Webb, 70, said his offices in Kegworth, Notts, have been attacked by arsonists and he was fighting back with the weaponry.

Mr Weston Webb said: "There's no way anyone will get caught...so I thought I would set up my own defence."

A police spokesman said they would give "practical security advice" but warned against using "unreasonable force".

Warning sign

Mr Weston-Webb, who supplies flooring to hit BBC show Strictly Come Dancing, said he will also use a cannon, which once shot his wife Mary across the River Avon in a circus show, to fire a railway sleeper at intruders.

"I have put up a sign warning anyone who enters the property that they could get hit with a railway sleeper or chicken poo.

"I have got all this old kit and I am going to put it to some use and stop it rather than letting it rot in a field."

Mr Weston-Webb said the arsonists had caused £2,000 of damage to his offices.

He said the 30ft (9m) catapult would be dragged into location with a tractor and loaded with chicken manure. "It will fire and cover the person with the stuff - and we will be able to smell who it is," he explained. Mr Weston-Webb said the device will not injure anyone because "a bag of chicken poo isn't going to do much".

The businessman, who runs Grumpy Joe's Flooring Sales, is also installing 32 CCTV cameras.

Insp Jeff Haywood from Nottinghamshire Police, said: "A crime prevention officer will be making contact with the complainant to offer some practical security advice.

"The officer will give tips around conventional security techniques, such as alarms, lighting and locks, and also around the use of reasonable force.

"The law allows homeowners to protect themselves and their property with reasonable force if they are under threat from an intruder.

"However, the reasonable force must be proportionate to the threat. The setting up of booby traps is outside the scope of the law and is something Nottinghamshire Police would advise against."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Books You Haven't Read But Should: Bad Voltage


Here's a good little write-up of this wonderful novel by an Amazon reviewer:
So you think William Gibson & Bruce Sterling are the only ones writing truly revolutionary "cyberpunk" sci-fi ? Think again ; this 1989 offering from Jonathan Littell is a brilliant novel which works within the genre and yet simultaneously manages to achieve its own distinct style. The novel's brilliance is evident in all its aspects ; from the generically non-traditional European setting, to its strong characterizations, its fast paced plot line and it's sheer street "cred" :-). Last but not least, Littell seems a lot less preoccupied with describing every detail of the advanced technology his characters make use of than Gibson. He concentrates instead on character development & reader empathy, and this makes "Bad Voltage" considerably more accessible to the "average" or first time (cyberpunk) reader than Gibson's "Neuromancer" will ever be...
Here's Jonathan Littell's wikipedia page - and here's the news that he won the Prix Goncourt for his other novel, Les Bienveillantes:
Jonathan Littell, a New York-born writer whose French-language novel about a murderous and degenerate SS officer has been the sensation of the French publishing season, on Monday became the first American to win France’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How Do You Say "Keep Off the Grass" In A Language We Won't Speak for 1,000 Years?

From Wikipedia:

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is the world's first underground repository licensed to safely and permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste that is left from the research and production of nuclear weapons. It is located approximately 26-miles almost due east of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Waste is placed in rooms 2,150 feet (655 m) underground that have been excavated within a 3,000 foot (1000 m) thick salt formation (Salado and Castile Formations) that has been stable for more than 250 million years. Because salt is somewhat plastic and will flow to seal any cracks that develop, it was chosen as a host medium for the WIPP project.

Waste that is to be disposed of at the location must meet certain "waste acceptance criteria". WIPP is unsuited for high level radioactive waste as its high heat attracts water which would lead to rapid corrosion of the waste packages, and the dissolution of the waste into the salty water. The containers can also only contain a limited amount of liquids. The energy released from radioactive materials will dissociate water into hydrogen and oxygen. This could then create a potentially explosive environment inside the container. The containers must be vented, as well, to prevent this from happening.

Because drilling or excavation in the area will be hazardous long after the area is being actively used, there are plans to construct markers to deter inadvertent human intrusion for the next ten thousand years.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Banacek



From Wikipedia:
Banacek (one of the rotating NBC Mystery Movie series) was a short-lived, light-hearted detective TV series starring George Peppard on NBC from 1972 to 1974. It alternated in its timeslot with several other shows, but it was the only one to last beyond its first season.

Peppard played Thomas Banacek, a suave Boston-based freelance investigator who solved seemingly impossible thefts, sometimes referred to as a locked room mystery. He then collected from the insurance companies 10% of the value of the insured property. Banacek's signature was quoting strangely worded, but curiously cogent "Polish" proverbs: "There's an old Polish proverb that says, if you're not sure that it's potato borscht, there could be orphans working in the mines", and "Just because the cat has her kittens in the oven doesn't make them biscuits" are two examples. Another recurring gag was for other characters to mispronounce his name, often (particularly in the case of rivals) deliberately.

Also featured were Ralph Manza as Banacek's chauffeur Jay Drury, Murray Matheson as rare-bookstore owner and information source Felix Mulholland, and Christine Belford.


Monday, April 14, 2008

REALLY The Most Magical Place On Earth?

This delightful weirdness comes from an old and dear friend, C.R. "Buzz" Peirce:

According to Walter Bosley and Greg Bishop in their book LATITUDE 33:Key to the Kingdom there's more to Disneyland than meets the eye:

Was there an interdimensional portal that influenced human perception at the popular amusement park? This book reveals surprising evidence that something otherworldly was built into The Magic Kingdom.
Also featured in an article in the recent issue of Fate Magazine ("A Srange Journey to Latitude 33") the idea is that master Disney architect
Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood, with guidance from Walk himself, drew the plans for The Magic Kingdom to work with the heavy-duty mysticism of ley lines.

One also has to wonder if this mystic conspiracy has also contributed to Disneyland being a horrible death trap (thanks and praise to John Marr):

"...beneath [Disneyland's] glittering facade lurks something malevolent, something lethal." He details the true stories of those who met an unexpected end in The Happiest Place on Earth. For those of you scoring at home, the Matterhorn, Monorail, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the sailing ship Columbia have each claimed a victim, as has the Carousel of Progress. The PeopleMover has claimed two lives, two others were lost in the Rivers of America, and two people met their maker, rather than the Snow Monster, on the Matterhorn."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes: The Heckler

From Wikipedia:

The Heckler is a fictional character, a superhero satire published by DC Comics'. He first appeared in The Heckler #1 (cover-dated September 1992) and starred in an on-going series that lasted 6 issues, ending with The Heckler #6 (cover-dated February 1993)

Biography:

Stuart "Stu" Moseley, co-owner of "Eats", a skid row diner in the ghetto section of Delta City, fights the injustices and slightly goofy criminal element as The Heckler, armed only with his sarcastic wit and a brightly colored costume. Stu's motivations and origins are unknown. Possibly he's just a glutton for punishment, for it seems that he receives no respect from his contemporaries in either his civilian or costumed alter ego's existence.

The best way to describe the Heckler is that he might possibly be the equivalent of Bugs Bunny in the DC Universe, i.e., a wise-acre who seemingly possesses the amazing ability to scrape through any situation on his wits, constantly leaving anyone who opposes him the "butt" of the joke.

Powers and abilities:

A costumed fighter with only average strength and agility, Stu relies heavily on his razor sharp wit to enrage and baffle his adversaries to the point of blinding frustration, opening a window of opportunity that he will exploit to his benefit. The Heckler also possesses an immeasurable level of durability that frequently allows him to quickly recover from extreme amounts of physical damage. Being swallowed whole by a monstrous beast, or falling to the earth from staggering heights only to bounce back minutes later speaks mildly of The Hecklers inability to sustain damage. This one, and only ability, sometimes teeters on the edge of invulnerability.

Supporting cast:

Unnamed Assistant- Stu's buddy and the only person that's in on his Heckler alter-ego. Seemingly mentally challenged (evident in his apparent inability to spell), yet provides Stu with much needed computer files and other various forms of information.

François- Stu's slightly anal-retentive and obsessive head cook at "Eats"

Mr. Dude- One of the patrons of "Eats". Sometimes provides Stu with information on underworld activities. Could possibly be Elvis Presley under an assumed identity (not enough evidence to make proper conclusion).

X-Ms.- One of the Heckler's superheroic peers in Delta City. X-Ms. defends the Christmas-themed section of Delta City called "Tinseltown."

Nemeses:

Boss Glitter- Incredibly dainty and theatrical mob boss of Delta City. Has a penchant for elaborate masks and frilly clothes.

P.C. Rabid- Ultra-conservative media celebrity. Constantly instigating plans that present imagery used as an attempt to demonize the Heckler.

Bushwack'r- Bounty hunter who attempts to collect a price placed on the Heckler's head. A victim of his own constant bad luck, as his weapons and actions keep misfiring and injuring only himself. The character is clearly a parody of the Coyote in cartoons, forming elaborate traps that backfire. In one panel of the issue, the biography of Chuck Jones is prominent.

El Gusano- Assassin hired by Boss Glitter that resembles a large earthworm dressed in a snappy dress suit. Seems to be Latin in origin.

John Doe, The Generic Man- A complete blank slate. Attempted to take over Delta City by using his ability to rob his environment (including all inanimate objects and persons in the surrounding vicinity) of any of its individual characteristics.

The Cosmic Clown- An android assassin from the stars. Humanoid, dresses like a clown.

C'est Hay- Psychopathic killer composed completely of hay and/or straw. Resembles a scarecrow. Has delusions of being an actor, speaks in stilted tongue, as if emoting dialogue…that is when he's not singing and dancing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Books You Haven't Read But Should: High Aztech by Ernest Hogan

In mid 21st century Mexico the ancient gods are worshiped again in the mighty city of Tenochtitlan. Human sacrifice is coming back into fashion, especially on the new Aztechan TV channels, and everyone wants an artificial heart. Xolotl Zapata, celebrated poet, skeptic and songwriter, starts receiving death threats from a cult he's lampooned in a comic book, but his problems really start when he catches a religious virus, and then everybody is out to get him.

Here's a good review by Justin Case:
Science Fiction or SF - never Sci Fi - sometimes speculates on religion and it's themes. That's where the original inspiration for the Church of All Worlds comes from. Writers work with this subject in different ways, often to make a point, rizzoa some stuffed shirts, and have some fun and make some dineroas well. "High Aztech" tries to to exactly that - puncture some xixtatl heads, ocotitia (cause discord) and have some fun doing it.

By 2045, the World has been through an Armageddon of sorts, and TenochtitlAn is in the midst of a Neo-Aztecan revival; sponsered by High Aztech S.A., a heart transplant Clinic/Temple, and the most popular song is "Huitzilopochtli Eat My Heart. XOlotl Zapata, a cartoonist named after some ugly Meso-American god before the general practice of taking an Aztec name became radioactivtl. His problems really began when he drew a cartoon, "Teoguerrilas", which ridiculed some of the street gangs who styled themselves as Aztec Knights. So the Neliyacame Thugitome, or little thugs, want him in MictlAn (Hell) or at least to colotl him in the ahuilotes.

At the same time he's having trouble with his yolotli (lover), and sometimes brujatl, who hypoed him with a highly contagious Aztec religious virus - which makes him an instant convert and carrier. This is Witnessing with a PUNCH ! Later she's found murdered and he finds imself a "guest" of High Aztech as the prime suspect. His mother, a government curadera infects the piligUetl with all the other viruses the government either discovered or seized as conraband - except the Fundie virus which the Fundies gladly "shared" with him later. After he's freed, he wanders around in a visionary haze with many contrary and absurd Commandments dancing in his head. Since he's a virtulent carrier he infects a large part of the city all by himself, and the masses, filled with visions and portents, await the End of the World. Finally, the viruses begin to cancel each other and he regains some rationality - but by that time he's quite Lost - in more ways than one...

A man finds him and destroys a electronic bug that was following XOlotl throughout the city and keeping track of him for Aztech assassins. He is taken to the "TICMOTRASPASARHUILILI !" - the terrorists responsible for the plagues, and their philosophy of "You will pass it on to someone", whose goal seems to be the eradication of Religion.

Its a fun romp, and the book makes some interesting and funny observances along the way - and you will learn some Neo-Aztec as well Its themes of forced conversion, whether any religion can be the True one, and whether people really have free will are quite serious ones.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Lovecraft in Oregon

"We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight. "
- HP Lovecraft
From Wikipedia:

The largest living fungus may be a honey fungus of the species Armillaria ostoyae.

A mushroom of this type in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon, U.S. was found to be the largest fungal colony in the world, spanning 8.9 km² (2200 acres) of area. This organism is estimated to be 2400 years old. The fungus was written about in the April 2003 issue of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research. While an accurate estimate has not been made, the total mass of the colony may be as much as 605 tons. If this colony is considered a single organism, then it is the largest known organism in the world by area, and rivals the aspen grove "Pando" as the known organism with the highest living biomass. It is not known, however, whether it is a single organism with all parts of the mycelium connected.

Armillaria is long lived and form some of the largest living organisms in the world. The largest single organism (of the species Armillaria ostoyae) covers more than 3.4 square miles (8.9 km²) and is thousands of years old. Some species of Armillaria are bioluminescent and may be responsible for the phenomena known as foxfire and perhaps will o' the wisp.

As a forest pathogen, Armillaria can be very destructive. It is responsible for the "white rot" root disease (see below) of forests and is distinguished from Tricholoma (mycorrhizal) by this parasitic nature. Its high destructiveness comes from the fact that, unlike most parasites, it doesn't need to moderate its growth in order to avoid killing its host, since it will continue to thrive on the dead material.

From Scientific American:

Next time you purchase white button mushrooms at the grocery store, just remember, they may be cute and bite-size but they have a relative out west that occupies some 2,384 acres (965 hectares) of soil in Oregon's Blue Mountains. Put another way, this humongous fungus would encompass 1,665 football fields, or nearly four square miles (10 square kilometers) of turf.

The discovery of this giant Armillaria ostoyae in 1998 heralded a new record holder for the title of the world's largest known organism, believed by most to be the 110-foot- (33.5-meter-) long, 200-ton blue whale. Based on its current growth rate, the fungus is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as ancient as 8,650 years, which would earn it a place among the oldest living organisms as well.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The King's Sticky Fingers: Farouk of Egypt

From Wikipedia:
Farouk I of Egypt ‎ (February 11, 1920March 18, 1965), was the tenth ruler from the Muhammad Ali Dynasty and the penultimate King of Egypt and Sudan, succeeding his father, Fuad I, in 1936. His sister Fawzia was Queen of Iran for 8 years. His full title was "His Majesty Farouk I, by the grace of God, King of Egypt and of Sudan, Sovereign of Nubia, of Kordofan and of Darfur." He was overthrown in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, and was forced to abdicate in favor of his infant son Ahmed Fuad. He remained loyal to his country even after his exile. He died in Italy.
From Madmonarchs:
Farouk was undeniably a very charming man, but he was also capricious and irresponsible. He was immensely rich and loved to gamble, but Farouk was also a miser and a cleptomaniac. If he wanted something, he took it. He not only stole from his subjects, but also from Winston Churchill and the Shah of Persia’s coffin. Even with women, he seemed to prefer other men’s fiancées or wives, and he didn’t take no for an answer. If there were seven deadly sins, it was said, Farouk would find an eight.
Farouk used to go to nightclubs, and then sleep the whole morning. He had caviar for breakfast, eating it directly from a can. Large quantities of boiled eggs, toast, lobster, steak, lamb, chicken, and pigeon usually followed. He liked fizzy drinks and drank at least 30 bottles a day. After having a series of nightmares about lions, Farouk went to Cairo Zoo, and shot its lions in their cage. The nightmares, however, continued.
Farouk owned several villa’s, yachts and airplanes, and more than 100 cars. He had all his cars sprayed red and forbade his subjects to own a red vehicle. That way he could drive recklessly without being stopped by the police. When Farouk raced by in one of his red cars, people ran for their lives. When another car tried to pass him, Farouk shot at its tires. Supposedly, an ambulance followed him to pick up casualties.

Although he was immensely rich, Farouk was a cleptomaniac. He stole everything he fancied. He had even taken pickpocket lessons from a professional thief. At official receptions and parties, Farouk pick-pocketed watches, wallets and cigarette lighters. He even stole Winston Churchill’s pocket watch. When, in 1944, the Shah of Persia had died, and his coffin landed in Cairo, Farouk stole the ceremonial sword, belt and medals from the corpse, thus straining the relations between Egypt and Persia. After Farouk’s deposition, they were finally returned to Persia. When Farouk visited people, they put away their precious items, because the next morning a truck would come from the palace to collect the things Farouk fancied. He was especially font of weapons, coins and stamps.