30 Years of ‘Empire’

The George Lucas empire and legions of fans are celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. StarWars.com has tons of material on the goings-on, including a special section. The Star Wars Wiki, Wookieepedia, is often a better, and a much cooler, source. According to the Empire page, a 3-D (three-dimensional) release of the film is being planned.

A screening of Empire with Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew and Ewan MacGregor attending was recently held to benefit St. Judes. It is part of the The Empire Gives Back initiative. The 501st Legion: Vader’s Fist is a terrific group which has local chapters worldwide and participates in events globally.

The Star Wars parodies by the guys behind Family Guy continue with Something, Something, Something, Dark Side, which is based on Empire. Although it is the hour-long season finale of the eighth season of Family Guy, it works well as a stand-alone movie. The first parody was Blue Harvest, which I rented at a Red Box after its DVD release.

From what I remember, I think Something, Something is better. Hulu has it available. The music alone, the original score by John Williams, is reason to watch. There are some really funny clips intermixed, from Rocky and Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I.



Big Mac

I really didn’t know what to think of General Douglas MacArthur. Of course he’s always come off as arrogant and a show off. But upon reading about his gallantry during World War I, I am really becoming a fan of the man. I’ve been reading American Caesar by William Manchester.

MacArthur was chief of staff for the Rainbow Division, and I did not realize how pivotal a role he played, both prior to official American involvement and on the scene in Europe. Obviously he was a complicated personality, but his dedication to this nation and the Army was never in doubt. Pershing and others began to realize this, when time after time, the young MacArthur worked to win the war. Whatever it took, whether sufflign papers or directly leading the charge in the trenches.

Gregory Peck portrayed him in the film MacArthur, although I have never watched it. The television show American Experience on PBS produced a documentary on him as well. Unfortunately both focus on the Second World War, skipping over his time in the Great War. Yet there is an article on the Cote de Chatillon.

He was America’s most decorated officer during World War I, 13 times, and cited seven additional times for bravery.


The New York Times has his obituary online.



The Myth of Angus

I came across a copy of an intriguing book resting peacefully on a shelf at the Dollar Tree waiting for me to come by and pick it up. It’s titled Dream Angus with the subtitle The Celtic God of Dreams. The writer is Alexander McCall Smith, also author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Since there are a few important links to Scotland and Ireland in my family tree I decided to nab it. I also have an interest in pagan mythology, especially Nordic. Norse mythology is just so cool.

The book is a modern retelling of Angus (or Aengus) who is part of the Irish mythos. It is part of the Myth Series (shorthand it’s known as ‘The Myths’) from Canongate, a publisher based in Edinburgh, which is also the home of McCall Smith.

Tom Adair of the Scotsman said it was “perhaps the finest I have ever read from McCall Smith’s pen.” Toby Clements, writing in the Daily Telegraph, declared the book “a gem-like piece of work, slim and polished.”


Thirty years of PAC-MAN!

Thirty years of PAC-MAN! I, like most of the real world, had no idea about this anniversary, but leave it to some of the nerds at Google to help remind me. It keeps distracting me, drawing me into play, because it’s just there and oh so easy to jump right in. No quarter needed.

The only problem is I wasn’t a very good player in the arcade or at the mall when the game was at the height of its popularity. I actually preferred the Ms. PAC-MAN game. I just don’t have much joystick talent.

The Google version is even more problematic because you have to use the arrow keys on your keyboard. And it isn’t that easy to navigate and avoid the ghosts. Of course it has become a popular news item, mostly positive, but some negative, such as in the Christian Science Monitor and Seattle P-I.



My favorite movie in the Star Trek series is the second one, The Wrath of Khan. Yes, I am a so-called trekkie. (And I don’t like capitalizing the word.) However, I was very late to the game. I didn’t become a bonafide fan until I was at a friend’s house and she introduced me to the Borg in the two parter ‘The Best of Both Worlds‘. This was the day I became a real Next Generation fan. I didn’t discover the movies with the original cast until even later.

I caught glimpses of the new show here and there. I remember watching a bit while at the Courthouse Athletic Club in northeast Salem. I was probably in high school, perhaps middle school, and an older gentleman saw me watching an early episode with a beardless Riker and Data.

“You mean Spock isn’t on Star Trek anymore?” he asked, perplexed and curious who this green character — the replacement — was. The man was openly skeptical, even disdainful.

“Nope,” I replied, not knowing what else to say. Honestly I didn’t now much about the show beyond that.

Clearly he was of the opinion that no one, no matter who, could replace Spock. And, of course, he’s right. Especially some actor in green makeup, which oddly enough was reminiscent of Nimoy’s early makeup in the original series.

There are so many lessons throughout the Star Trek universe, but here’s one that has stuck with me.

Spock is about to sacrifice himself for his friends, a very Biblical thing to do.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few — or the one.” It is a recurrent theme throughout the movie, a debate really, using Kirk and Spock and occasionally Bones. (Bones is Dr. McCoy’s nickname.)

The scene I am focusing on here is where Bones is trying to physically prevent Spock from entering the reactor chamber. He gives Bones the Vulcan nerve pinch and Bones goes down. He apologizes, but follows through on his plan.

“I’m sorry, Doctor. I have no time to discuss this logically.”

Spock places his hand on the side of McCoy’s face and mind-melds with him, simply saying, “Remember.”

This has preserved Spock’s katra — his memories and experiences, perhaps even his immortal soul — inside McCoy. Spock then sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise and its crew. This is all brought into better focus in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when Kirk is working through what is happening with Bones.


CBS — Shatner, Selleck & Northam

I just read the news that CBS is cancelling quite a few shows, including Numb3rs (which, though with some great actors and good episodes, I am surprised lasted this long), The New Adventures of Old Christine (a decent show which had a good run at five seasons), and Miami Medical.

I was particularly interested in Miami Medical because of its major star Jeremy Northam. Northam has so much potential, and I hope a network finds a good vehicle for him. I first became aware of him when watching the film Emma.

Among the replacements are a cop show with Tom Selleck and a re-imagined Hawaii Five-O.  I am checking to see if this is an extension of his Jesse Stone TV movies, which it apparently doesn’t. And then there’s William Shatner’s first sitcom with $#*! My Dad Says, making a bit of television history. The Defenders is another, although it may or may not be based on the Sixties show of the same name.

The eHow site has a good, brief history of the network.


Travel guru Rick Steves and the Smithsonian

Travel guru Rick Steves and the Smithsonian are partnering up with a new print magazine and a lot of items on the Smithsonian website. I first became aware of this new venture from an ad in Smithsonian magazine.

Steves loves to propagate his message, including the legalization of marijiana. He is a vocal supporter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). He has written many op-eds on it and other issues.

A few years ago I went to one of his weekend travel seminars in Edmonds, Washington, where he lives and where the Rick Steves dominion has its headquarters.


Two Historians on the Germans’ March 1918 Offensive

Two historians, Jay Winter of Yale University and Trevor Wilson of The University of Adelaide, give details on the March Offensive by the Germans at the PBS site on the Great War. Winter gives a picture of the mood in Germany while Wilson discusses the military side.

Germany was nearing the breaking point.

There is an extraordinary moment in Germany when a society that has suffered very severe shortages collectively holds its breath.

This is March 1918. A month before, two months before, massive strikes in Berlin, major unrest, political movements calling for compromise peace, something to justify all the sufferings that had gone on. And right then and there is the moment when virtually the entire nation stopped, suspended judgment, suspended disbelief, and waited for the army to deliver the victory that they promised. That’s the twenty-first of March 1918.

Over four months in 1918 the German army launched five major assaults at different parts of the allied line. Initially the plan worked. The British Fifth Army collapsed. The allies gave ground. But for every allied trench captured, there was always another for the Germans to take. Soon the elite German storm troopers were a spent force. In desperation Ludendorff resorted to the old and murderous tactic of mass assault.

Ludendorff thought that by an act of will he could break the resistance of the British and the French. Not by an act of power, but by an act of will. And that’s what a gambler does. It’s not rational. It’s supernatural.”

Ludendorff and the German High Command appeared to feel the pressure from the German people, trying to blitzkrieg their way to victory.

Germany’s March Offensive was an attempt to win the war in a hurry . . .

The German High Command said that they had to do it because the Americans were coming. But if you look at the Germans in WW1, they’re always trying to win by a blitzkrieg offensive.”

It’s what he calls ‘Schlieffen Mark Two,’ another try at the Schlieffen Plan.

It’s just the Germans doing again what they tried to in 1914, only this time, they’re going to do it against the British – they’re going to drive the British out of France. If they do that, the French will collapse, and the Americans will never come in.”

Ludendorff’s grand objective is to drive the Brits to the sea.

Now, in order to do it, he employs enormous skill because, like the British army, the German army has been going through a learning curve.”

The Germans had been making strides in the use of artillery.

In addition, they have been developing new infantry tactics, marrying movements of infantry with the artillery.

As long as the German offensive is in its opening phase, it does well. The attack of 21 March, and the next few days, drives the British back a considerable distance. But Ludendorff wants his forces to advance so far and so fast, that there is an inevitable result. His infantry have to outrun his artillery.

Once his foot soldiers leave their big guns behind and keep on attacking without massive support from the artillery, they are doomed.

Within a week, the German offensive on the Somme has been stopped in its tracks.

So Ludendorff turns north and attacks in Flanders. Then he turns south, against the French. Always it is the same story: early success, mounting losses of men, and an attack that runs out of steam.

For all his use of gunnery, basically, Ludendorff in 1918, is trying to win an infantry victory. The Germans are now running desperately short of manpower, and here is the German commander trying to win by means of his infantry. It is lunacy – a prescription for disaster. His advance in the March Offensive gets him deeper and deeper into the old Somme battlefield, extending his line, costing him dear in manpower, and securing no worthwhile objectives . . .”