Sunday, August 30, 2009

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 25

This ended up being a really fun session--the escape from the Separatist Core Ship was really exciting (even though they managed to elude Asajj Ventress), as was the set-piece prelude which involved the same players but with their alternate characters. After the long summer and then this story arc, I felt that the main "mythos" of the campaign (Jocasta, the anomaly, the Forgotten, etc.) was in danger of getting lost and needed to come back in a big way--thus, the discovery of 8P's head as a teaser to my next story arc, City of Sand. The big brawl in the cantina was fun to watch as the director, though my players are perhaps too nice to each other and the amicable settlement they reached at the end certainly didn't end up benefiting Daal.


Session # 25


Hidden in the numberless rooms and corridors of the Separatist research ship Liquidator, Republic operatives Arresta D'avilos and Krevlax Mex meet to discuss the dire situation they find themselves in: within minutes the quickly ascending ship will enter hyperspace, bound for an unknown destination; but if they somehow disable the hyperdrive or escape the ship, they could become trapped in the middle of a war between the Separatists and strange invaders from the Unknown Regions. With a Ssi-Ruuk commando still unaccounted for and a companion still in a detention cell, these adventurers may face their final test of loyalty and courage . . .

And uncountable parsecs away, a pale and sweaty Tarn Tamarand awakens from a nightmare in his small room at the Jedi Temple, clutches his strange lightsaber tightly, and realizes with certainty that the Nine Forgotten Sith have finally found a chink in their millenia-old prison . . .



Seconds after it breaks through the atmosphere and into low orbit, the Core Ship of the Liquidator (a major secret research facility for the Separatists) initiates docking procedures with its cargo rings. An intraship announcement is made that the crew should prepare for hyperspace in five minutes. Asajj Ventress, having led the rest of the Separatist fleet in a desperate delaying action against the invading Ssi-Ruuk forces, returns to the Liquidator in her damaged, custom-made fanblade starfighter. Ventress is livid when she learns that at least one intruder is loose in the facility and orders a detailed, level-by-level search, crushing the ribs of two of Admiral Binth's men to emphasize her point.

Meanwhile, Arresta and Krevlax meet in a dusty, long-unused storage room to assess their options. They discuss the need to conceal themselves and perhaps recuperate from their injuries. Although their chances of escape seem slim at best, hope arrives in the form of a much-needed distraction: general alarms indicate that the Ssi-Ruuk commando has barricaded himself in the engine room and is attempting to disable the hyperdrive. With all security forces converging on that point, Arresta and Krevlax know that they either have to make a risky escape attempt now, stop the Ssi-Ruuk's sabotage and endure the impending hyperspace voyage, or help the Ssi-Ruuk and risk the danger of falling into the hands of the reptile-like alien invaders.

The Princess and the Ankh make decide to attempt escape. With the lift to the hanger deck blocked by two B-1 battle droids, they come up with a hasty plan. Securing an officer’s uniform from the dusty storeroom, Arresta talks one of the B-1’s into accompanying her into the storage unit. With much background noise to provide cover, Krevlax disables it. When the other droid comes to investigate, it too is destroyed.

Before Arresta and Krevlax can make their way to the lift, several B-2 Battle droids discover it is unguarded. Leaving one of their number to take up that position, the others depart. Krevlax sneaks out of another door and attracts the droids' attention, so that Arresta can attack it from behind. With the way clear, they make their way up to the hanger deck.

Arresta carefully slips unnoticed into the hanger and sneaks aboard a battered utility shuttle that is equipped with an ancient hyperdrive. Unfortunately, as he makes his way on board, Krevlax is spotted by one of the many droid guards. Blaster fire fills the hanger as the large Anx leaps for the loading ramp of the shuttle. Arresta begins the ignition cycle as Krevlax tries to hold back the charging droids through brute strength. The hanger's exterior blast doors begin to close, but Arresta manages to raise the ramp, engage the ship's repulsor lifts, and ram several droids in a desperate flight out of the hanger and away from the clutches of the Liquidator. In the confusion of a war zone, the small shuttle provokes little interest and reaches the temporary safety of hyperspace, bound for the sector of space that is hopefully still occupied by the Outcast Tiara.

Left behind aboard the Liquidator is Zee, two of the group's droids, and a very, very vengeful Asajj Ventress . . .

MEANWHILE……

Having recently completed her trials, Jedi Knight Lee receives confidential new orders from a senior Jedi Master. The orders instruct her to travel to the smuggler's moon Nar Shadda, where she must intercept an exchange between an Ugnaught and an unknown party. Lee is encouraged to obtain the object of the exchange at any cost as the fate of the Republic may rest in its hands.

At about the same time, half a galaxy away, Daal Mordo accepts a lucrative offer from a mysterious employer through black market connections: if he can interrupt the exchange on Nar Shadda and return with the object, a wealth of credits will be deposited in his account. Should he fail, however, his hidden employer has made it quite clear that the penalty could be fatal.

After a long hyperspace journey, Lee arrives on Nar Shadda and makes her way to a seedy watering hole named the Wretched Hive. The subterranean cantina is filled with the noxious mix of methane and ammonium gas suitable to some non-human species. After donning a breath mask and cycling through an airlock, Lee makes her way to the bar.

Minutes later, Daal arrives and scans the crowd. He manages to fend off a pickpocket and then spots his target: an Ugnaught by the name of Sipra-dorr has arrived, carrying a small bundle wrapped in cloth. Sipra-dorr makes his way to the balcony and starts negotiating when Daal makes his move. He blasts the would-be customer and tries to talk the Ugnaught into turning over the package, but they can't agree on a price and the Ugnaught begins to scurry away.

Before Sipra-dorr can get very far, however, a brightly-clad figure swings down from the ceiling on an ascension gun and yanks the package away. With a flourish of his cape, the figure introduces himself to the stunned crowd as Rycard Ryjerd, adventurer extraordinaire, and then bolts for the airlock. Before he can make it, however, another figure makes his presence known with a flurry of blaster bolts fired from a high-powered rifle: the famed Trandoshan bounty hunter Cradossk (father of Bossk) has also accepted a job to retrieve the package.

All hell breaks loose! Lee and Rycard wrestle with the airlock, until Lee impales Rycard from behind with her lightsaber, and he collapses to the ground. The force of the blow causes the package to tumble out of his hands, but Cradossk is the first to react and he manages to grab it in one large, scaly claw. Meanwhile, Daal bribes several members of the crowd to open fire on Cradossk and Lee.

Cradossk sets the package on a table in order to aim at Lee with his rifle, but Daal sprints pasts, grabs the package, and makes his way into the airlock. Lee does some fast talking and convinces Daal that the Jedi Order will pay him if he allows her to take the package with her to the Temple. The two manage to elude Cradossk in Nar Shadda's maze of streets and tunnels.

After a long journey back to Coruscant, the pair arrive at the Jedi Temple. There, they encounter Jedi Master Creen, the architect of this mission. He gives a raspy laugh when Lee asks him to turn over thousands of credits to Daal. The old Jedi walks away with the package, still chuckling to himself. Later in the privacy of his quarters, Creen unwraps the package to reveal the head of a medical droid last seen inside a strange cosmic anomaly: 8P-MD-4.

Far above the Jedi Temple, orbiting Coruscant in her ship The Sun Runner, Jocasta ponders how to deal with Daal's betrayal . . .

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

The Harvest


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

The Harvest

By Richie Tankersley Cusick, based upon scripts by Joss Whedon (1997)

RATING: 3/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season 1

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Darla, Giles, Cordelia, The Master, Luke, Jesse, Joyce, Principal Flutie, Harmony

BACK OF THE BOOK SUMMARY “New school. Same assignment. Something’s wrong in Sunnydale, California . . . something more than the usual bad hair day. As long as there have been vampires, there has been the Slayer. One girl in all the world, to find them where they gather and to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers. In this generation, she is Buffy Summers, 16 years old and a new student at Sunnydale High. Her experiences at her last school persuaded Buffy to try to resume the life of a normal teenager. But it is no coincidence that Buffy has come to this town at this time. The area is a center of mystical energy, and all the signs point to an imminent, crucial upheaval. Once in a century comes The Harvest: a night when the Master Vampire can draw enough power to break free and open the portal between his world and ours . . . unleashing havoc. With the help of new friends and a new Watcher, Buffy’s back in business . . . .”

REVIEW

The first in what would become an amazingly successful line of Buffy television tie-in novels, The Harvest is a novelization of the first two episodes: Welcome to the Hellmouth and The Harvest. Cusick sticks very closely to Joss Whedon’s script; the novelization matches almost scene-for-scene, word-for-word with the final televised episodes, the only differences being an occasional minor change to a line of dialogue.The downside is there’s nothing here that wasn’t on the screen, but the upside is that Whedon’s humor shines through bright and clear. As The Harvest doesn’t add anything to the episodes, this book is probably only for two classes of people: those who can’t obtain the original episodes on VHS or DVD; and those who collect all things Buffy.

Social Studies

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

This column, although written almost a decade ago, seems apt given the current suggestion in many town hall meetings that Obama is a socialist for moving us toward universal health insurance coverage.

Social Studies

History glosses over influence of Socialism

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

April 10, 2000

"It is not only radical or currently unfashionable ideas that the texts leave out - it is all ideas, including those of their heroes."-- Frances FitzGerald

In America, "socialism" is almost an obscene word. In the minds of most Americans, the word calls to mind images of the Berlin Wall and a tyrannical government; it is a virtual synonym for "communism." For example, when Hillary Clinton floated around her national health care plan a few years back, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill were quick to denounce it as "socialistic."
Socialism is seen as a threat to the American way of life - this tremendous freedom we're supposed to have to make ourselves into anything we want to be. Because socialism holds that not every citizen has this opportunity because of economic inequality, it is seen as a threat to "family values."
Pat Robertson once said, "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women ... It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." (Hill & Cheadle, 1996) So Robertson puts an attack on capitalism in the same list of evils as child-murder and witchcraft; it's hard to tell which he thinks is the worst.
The ironic thing is that many of our nation's most cherished heroes were socialists.
In history textbooks, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is glorified as the leading black civil rights leader of the 20th Century. This is arguably true, but besides ignoring the often fierce resentment King provoked in other black leaders, the textbooks almost uniformly ignore the fact that King was a self-proclaimed socialist. He knew that the overwhelming poverty suffered by blacks could not be caused solely by racism.
In 1967, just a year before he was assassinated, King said, "...One day we must ask the question, 'Why are there 40 million poor people in America?' And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader redistribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy." (103 Harv. L. Rev. 1039)
Another example of historical tunnel vision is Helen Keller. She's remembered as the determined and courageous woman who learned to speak and write while blind and deaf and went on to be an advocate for the disabled. Her life is lauded to such an extent that she becomes almost a cartoon figure. Keller is held out as the embodiment of the belief that through hard work, anything is possible.
What the textbooks don't say, however, is that Keller was a radical socialist. She joined a socialist political group in her early twenties and remained a socialist until her death at the age of 88. Keller spent most of her life writing and speaking on socialist causes. At the time she became a socialist, however, she was idolized world-wide; the shift in her political views caused a fickle public to react angrily and newspapers, once full of praise, became full of disdain.
Keller spoke about one of these critics, an editor at the Brooklyn Eagle: "The compliments that he [once] paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism, he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him." (Loewen, 1995)
History has immortalized the first two decades of Keller's life. It has forgotten the last six decades of her life that she spent fighting for economic justice under the banner of socialism.
We've all heard of the famous novel "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. When I talk to people about it, all they can remember (with justified horror) are the disgusting practices of the meat-packing industry detailed within. When the book first came out, it horrified society to such an extent that it led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, one of the most extensive food safety regulations the country had ever seen.
Focusing on this small portion of the book, however, completely ignores the main thrust of it. "The Jungle" is a call to arms for socialists. It was written as a wake-up call for the poor to unite and protect themselves from economic exploitation. Much of Sinclair's life was devoted to socialism. History chooses to remember him generically as a "reformer" or a "progressive."
Glossing over these national heroes' socialist beliefs is common. The New America Desk Encyclopedia (3rd ed.) for example, does not use the word "socialist" once in any of the entries for King, Keller or Sinclair. History has pulled out a piece of their lives and ignored the rest, distorting what they were really like.
Understanding King's desire for racial equality cannot be complete without understanding his desire for economic equality. Keller's drive to help the disabled is inseparably intertwined with her drive to help the poor. Sinclair's passion for "muck-raking" is inexplicable without understanding the socialist beliefs on which it was based.
Just as the influence of socialism on these individuals has been forgotten, so has the influence of socialism on America. Many of today's government policies, such as minimum wage laws, Social Security benefits and Medicaid, were espoused by socialist parties long before they were adopted by Democrats or Republicans.
As Michael Harrington, one of the leading American socialists of the 20th Century, said, "One of the main consequences of the socialist movement has not been socialism, but a more humane, rational and intelligent capitalism, usually in spite of the capitalists."
Even if the textbooks are ignorant of the contribution of socialism to our nation and its heroes, we shouldn't be.

(c) 2001 Daily Nebraskan Online (www.dailyneb.com)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Torchwood Magazine # 5


We'll go from back to front this time around. Spicy!

* An ad for the Doctor Who Nintendo DS game--I didn't know such a thing existed, but I would certainly buy a used copy. (Random aside: I'm still very slowly working on the first game I got with my DSa couple of years ago, Metroid: Fusion--it's quite hard! After that, I plan to get to the game I really want to play, Professor Layton and the Curious Village) (Even more random aside: I'm secretly very happy that my Star Craft game constantly freezes up on my computer, so I have an excuse to try something else out--real-time strategy games just aren't my cup of tea).
* Interviews with the writers of three Torchwood novels: Something in the Water, Trace Memory, and The Twilight Streets. I like this because there's a limited number of episodes for so many issues of the magazine to pore over, while the sometimes-quite-interesting spin-off fiction usually doesn't get much attention.

* A photo-spread "The Many Deaths of Captain Jack". Electrocution and gunshots seem to be in the lead, with stabbing and suffocation running behind.

* The second part of the Rift War! strip. I still hate the artwork, but I don't hate the story as much as I did the first read through.

* A surprisingly interesting piece on how they pick the different fashion styles for the characters.

* Interviews with Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto) and Chris Chibnall (writer of Fragments, the really good flashback episode).

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

By Richie Tankersley Cusick, based on screenplay by Joss Whedon (1992)

RATING: 3/5 Stakes

SETTING: Prior to first season, movie continuity.

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Merrick (watcher), Pike (boyfriend), Lothos (vampire master), Jennifer, Nicole, Kimberly (friends), Benny (Pike’s friend), Amilyn (Lothos’ servant), Joyce (Buffy’s mom), Buffy’s Dad

BACK OF THE BOOK SUMMARY “The fourth teenage girl in L.A. has disappeared in less than two months! But Buffy’s oblivious. She’s brainstorming a theme for the senior dance. One nightmare later, she meets a stranger named Merrick who tells her she bears the mark of the order: only she—the Pom-Pom Princess of California cheerleaders—can stop the vampires before they engulf L.A. They’re everywhere . . . she can’t even trust her best friends! Merrick has brought her knowledge, physical and mental powers beyond her wildest dreams, and a terrifying enemy: Lothos, King of the Vampires, who is determined to have Buffy for himself! All she has are a stake, a cross and a mission: destroy the evil—even if it takes her own life!”

REVIEW

The tie-in novel to the 1992 Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (yes, there is a comma in the title) movie is interesting in two aspects. First, it’s based more on Joss Whedon’s original movie script than the final film version, and the differences are significant and striking. Second, the novel has several aspects that would later be revived in the first few episodes of the Buffy television series.

The overall plot will be familiar to anyone who has seen the movie. Buffy is introduced to us as a vapid, valley girl cheerleader attending Hemery High School in Los Angeles. She is accosted by Merrick, a Watcher, who eventually manages to convince her that she is this generation’s Slayer. Along the way, Buffy befriends Pike, a fellow high school student, and battles Lothos, an evil vampire-king.

More of Joss Whedon’s dry wit shows through in the novel than in the movie, and there are some interesting differences. Perhaps the most dramatic difference is that Merrick ends up committing suicide rather than let Lothos turn him into a vampire. Some other scenes are changed, such as a funny one where Buffy and Merrick play video games, and the very end scene, which has Pike and Buffy standing before an ancient castle instead of taking off on a motorbike as in the movie.

Many moments in the novel are seen again in the television series. For example, Buffy kills Lothos’ vampire servant by pulling the same trick she did against Luke in The Harvest (tricking him into believing it’s daylight and then staking him). Lothos is often referred to by other vampires as “The Master” and rises out of a pool of blood in his lair. Principle Murray in the novel has almost exactly the same “I want to be your friend” personality as Principle Flutie. Finally, drug-crazed gangs are blamed for vampire killings at the high school.

We can also see some of Joss’ ideas that he later discarded. In the novel and movie, vampires faces don’t change and they don’t disintegrate when staked, and the Slayer always has a birthmark on her shoulder and suffers cramps when vampires are nearby.Overall, the novel tie-in is probably more entertaining than the movie. Neither is spectacularly interesting but each has some value in its own way. In the end, the novel is probably worth picking up as it does contain Buffy’s origin story in its original formulation.

Substance Over Symbolism

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Substance Over Symbolism

Flag burning amendment's defeat sensible decision

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

April 03, 2000

"If our democracy is to flourish, it must have criticism. If our government is to function, it must have dissent. Only totalitarian governments insist upon conformity, and they do so at their peril."
--Henry Steele Commager, 1947

Last Wednesday the U.S. Senate rejected, for the third time in five years, a proposed Constitutional amendment to prohibit desecration of the American flag. Senator Bob Kerrey led the opposition, supported with statements from national heroes and fellow veterans, such as Gen. Colin Powell and former Sen. John Glenn.
Of course, the amendment supporters will not go away quietly. The Citizens Flag Alliance and other groups will use these votes to punish those senators who opposed the ban, and veterans groups will probably push for the measure to be introduced again next year.
In doing so, they will elevate a symbol of freedom over the very substance of freedom.
Supporters of the ban believe the flag is a sacred symbol of what veterans fought and died for. "Too many have died defending the flag for us to allow it to be used in any way that does not honor their sacrifice," said Sen. Chuck Hagel. (Omaha World Herald, 3/30/00)
This is incorrect. Men and women who fought and died in conflicts around the globe didn't do it for a cheap piece of cloth with some silly stripes and stars. They may have done it out of duty, loyalty or fear. Or they may have done it for what that cloth represented to them: freedom.
A constitutional prohibition on flag burning would protect the cloth and destroy what it represents.
Burning the flag is such an offensive act to most people that the person doing it has a reason; he or she is usually dissatisfied with government policy in some area, whether it is taxes, foreign intervention or human rights. The very fact that the act is offensive draws attention to the message. Although burning the flag usually backfires, it may transmit the message that something is so terribly wrong with the country that people need to wake up and pay attention.
In his famous essay "On Liberty," John Stuart Mill discusses why tolerating unpopular opinions is so important for society. The first one, of course, is that the reviled opinion may actually be the correct one. The only way to know is to evaluate it fairly. Even if it is incorrect, it will create a better understanding of why the truth actually is the truth. As Mill said, "Mankind ought to have a rational assurance that all objections have been satisfactorily answered; and how are they to be answered if that which requires to be answered is not spoken?"
Even when mostly false, unpopular opinions may also contain an element of truth. In Mill's words, "Heretical opinions...are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept them down..."
Much like our legal system is based on an adversary process, the only way to find these "suppressed and neglected" truths is to allow them to enter the marketplace of ideas and clash with current conceptions.
In a practical sense, a ban on flag burning is unnecessary. The actual act is rather rare, much more so than all the attention it receives from legislators. It seems grossly unjust to incarcerate someone for it, and the persons who are most likely to burn the flag have probably been arrested in previous protests for loitering, breach of peace or disorderly conduct. An additional charge will be no deterrent.
This is not a question of patriotism. If America has any patriots, they are Sen. Kerrey (who lost a leg in Vietnam) and Gen. Colin Powell, both of whom oppose the ban. Supporters believe the ban will restore respect for the country. When a country has to force its citizens to respect it through criminal sanctions, it has deteriorated past the point of salvation. Respect, as the saying goes, must be earned.
Flag burning, although distasteful, should not be illegal. Justice Brennan, in one of his last great civil rights opinions on the Supreme Court, said it best: "We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in so doing we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents."
Although I'm increasingly aware of all the evils done in its name, the flag to me is still a symbol of freedom. I would never burn it. That is, unless it became illegal to do so. For then I would truly know that all it stood for had become a lie.

(c) 2001 Daily Nebraskan Online (www.dailyneb.com)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Torchwood: Ghost Machine (S1,E3)


"Since when did we care about courts?"

Ghost Machine (Season One, Episode Three) ("An alien shows visions of the past to the Torchwood team, bringing a long-buried crime to the surface.")

What I Liked

* After the rest of Torchwood busies themselves looking for someone by a variety of hi-tech means, Owen finds him in about ten seconds by looking at the phonebook.

* Gwen and Rhys' flashbacks--clearly a couple very much in love.

* Jack bitching the team out when they get lazy and stop looking for Bernie Harris.

* The scenes with young Ed Morgan--a very effective and scary portrayal of a rapist/murderer.

What I'm Not Sure About

* When Jack and Gwen are at the shooting range, they don custom-embossed Torchwood ear protection. Does Torchwood really set aside part of the budget for corporate branding? Do they have their own ballpoint pens and coffee mugs? And aren't they supposed to be a "secret" organization anyway?

What I Didn't Like

* Near the end, when old Ed Morgan is about to impale himself on Gwen's knife, Jack gets a really cheesy slow-motion "Nooooooo!"

Commentary

By: Burn Gorman (actor), Helen Raynor (writer), Colin Teague (director)

Tone: Amiable, though Colin Teague talks way too much and leaves little room for Helen Raynor and Burn Gorman to get a word in.

Interesting Tidbits:

* Burn Gorman joking that Eve Myles is difficult to work with--that she does yoga on set and takes two hours to get into character.

* The Bernie Harris character was based on an old boyfriend of the episode's writer.

Deleted Scenes

* A slightly longer intro to the beginning chase scene--Tosh temporarily loses the signal, leading Jack to suggest they go see a Charlotte Church concert.

* A boardroom scene in which Jack figures out the purpose of the alien device--it's a sort of "G.P.S." for "transdimensional beings" so they can orient themselves through space and time. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but that's okay.

Torchwood Declassified: "Living History"

* Interviews with the cast and crew about Owen's character--variously labelled, in very British fashion, as "boozy", a "geezer", "cocksure", and a "Jack the Lad"

* Discussion of the virtues of Cardiff as a site for filming and a little backstory on the big Owen/Bernie garden chase scene.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Un dossier perdu

Next up in my random stack of French novels was a 1974 "aventure--policier" novel, Colette Renard's Un dossier perdu. It was one in a series of the publisher's "lire et savoir" ("read and know") series, which was apparently intended either for crazy foreigners like myself or for elementary school children--the book makes a point of noting it requires a vocabulary of 3,500 words and includes a handy glossary in the back (the definitions are also in French, and the list of defined words includes an odd mix of stuff I would assume people would pick up very quickly like "sol" or "message" and much harder stuff I've never encountered before, like French historical figures and Paris street names). It also contains maps of Paris and photographs of mundane things like cafes and automobiles--not really necessary to following the story, but I always appreciate publishers who put a little something extra in novels.

It starts off in a very intriguing way--a man is found beaten in the middle of the sidewalk, barely conscious and repeatedly mumbling a strange name. When brought to safety, he's very mysterious but constantly fears that someone is looking for him. It turns out (and yes, I'm going to spoil this for the thousands of you who were just about to bombard E-Bay looking for this book) that the man is a scientist working on creating a synthetic substance that is much stronger than steel and cheapter to make. Because his plans will revolutionize the world, some folks from Big Steel (I assume) are out to get him. There follows a bit of running around and one mild fist-fight, but most of the excitement is gone as soon as we know what this guy is running from (I thought for the longest time we would get a "surprise twist" and realize that this guy is the bad guy and the people looking for him are the good guys, but no such luck). Anyway, the poor bastard's scientific files (the "lost dossier" of the title) end up destroyed through sabotage and, in despair, he crashes his car into a tree. Fin.

Night Terrors


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

NIGHT TERRORS

Alice Henderson (2005)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Two

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Xander, Angel, Joyce, Giles, Principal Snyder, Oz, Ethan Rayne

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: The Night Terror (demon)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “Banished to the realm of dreams, the Night Terror stalks its victims as they sleep. By replacing another’s soul with its own, the demon can assume anyone’s body and wreak havoc in the real world. But the effect is short-lived. Human bodies soon break down under the tremendous stress of the transfer, and the Night Terror is forced to find a new body to inhabit. That is, until it discovers Buffy’s secret and imagines the Slayer would make an ideal—and permanent—host. . . .”

REVIEW

Night Terrors will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s the first Buffy Choose-Your-Own-Adventure (“Stake Your Destiny”) book I’ve successfully completed on my first try. Indeed, one of the aspects that sets this book apart from most others in the series is the wide range of possible endings, ranging from complete success to mediocre survival to outright death.The core plot of the book is an attempt by a demon, the Night Terror, to take over the bodies of residents of Sunnydale by entering into their dreams. This leads to some really interesting and fun dream sequences with Buffy, and shows us examples of how White Hats like Giles, Joyce, and Angel would be like if evil (of course, this last one we know all too well).The writing is smooth and the dialogue is appropriately quirky. In addition, crisp action scenes and a well-researched bad guy help keep the plot moving. Definitely one of the better Stake Your Destiny books.

NU Plays Catch-22 With Benefits

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

NU plays Catch-22 with benefits

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

April 02, 2001

"Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism."
-- Mary McCarthy, The New Yorker magazine

We are angry, we are frustrated, and we are tired. But we are not going to be quiet until NU stops spouting "equality" and starts delivering it. The history of domestic partner benefits at NU is like something out of Joseph Heller's "Catch-22."
The University-Wide Fringe Benefits Committee says it is not itself "a decision-making body" and tables the issue of domestic partner benefits. Higher-level administrators say that the issue must be decided by the regents or by the Legislature.
The Board of Regents avoids addressing the issue because the benefits committee is supposed to decide it but asserts that the "public policy" of Nebraska is against it. Legislators, who decide the state's "public policy," point to the Nebraska Constitution, which leaves responsibility for deciding issues like faculty benefits to the Board of Regents and the committees it creates.
Everybody has excuses; nobody has answers. And the result is that gifted faculty members who have spent their entire careers at NU are denied the benefits any heterosexual teacher acquires: funeral leave, sick leave, family medical leave of absence and the institution's crisis leave sharing policy. Additionally, faculty members with same-sex partners are denied equal access to NU's health plan, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars more on private health insurance. The net effect is that heterosexual teachers and staff earn several thousand dollars more than gay or bisexual faculty members. Although UNL's Academic Senate and ASUN have repeatedly called for domestic partner benefits and two-thirds of NU's "peer institutions" offer them, no visible progress has been made.
It all began in 1992, when the Annual Report of UNL's Homophobia Awareness Committee called for domestic partner benefits. After a meeting, then-Chancellor Graham Spanier stated that he "supported a revision in the proposed family leave policy to accommodate gay and lesbian couples."
No real action was taken until the University-Wide Fringe Benefits Committee considered the issue in 1996. The committee permanently tabled the idea on a 6-3 vote and "agreed not to reconsider the matter until legal, financial and other matters are resolved." (Omaha World-Herald, 8/16/96) Unclear as to what the "legal, financial and other" questions were, the Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concerns offered to provide more information. John Russell, an administrator at NU, wrote back and stated that the committee didn't need any additional information and wouldn't reconsider the question until "such issues ... are resolved by the appropriate jurisdictions (judicial, legislative, etc.)."
And thus, the dissembling begins. One should ask exactly which "judicial" and "legislative" issues the committee was waiting on. The benefits committee is not made up of lawyers, it did not ask for legal advice, and if it really did do its research, it would have seen that dozens of "Tier 1" universities implemented domestic partner benefits without difficulty. The benefits committee could have addressed the issue and simply chose not to.
Their decision making is controlled by two factors. First, is offering benefits in the best interest of the faculty and staff? Second, is it economically feasible? Of course, the answers to both questions are a resounding yes. By permanently tabling the issue, the committee was cowardly able to avoid justifying its actions by placing the burden on vague "legislative" and "judicial" shoulders.
Fast-forward to 2000. The issue is still tabled in the benefits committee. In August of 2000, UNL's student health plan goes into effect, which allows students to claim their domestic partners for health insurance. Now, not only are GLBT faculty members denied benefits that straight faculty members receive, they are denied health benefits that both undergraduate and graduate students receive.
Questioned about the effect of Initiative 416 in the Daily Nebraskan, University General Counsel Dick Wood states that it would not prevent the university's offering domestic-partner benefits. This makes sense, especially considering that the amendment is of dubious constitutionality and that resolving the legal dispute is likely to take years.
The most recent blow came on February 5, when NU President Dennis Smith sent an e-mail to all faculty and staff about the new tuition credit for faculty family members. He began the letter by saying, "I want to share a development with you that, if approved, will positively impact all full-time university employees." (emphasis added)
It quickly became apparent that the tuition-credit plan would only benefit some faculty members: GLBT teachers and staff would suffer an additional inequality in benefits.
All of this, then, comes in the face of NU's written policy that it makes "all decisions regarding recruitment, hiring, promotion, and all other terms and conditions of employment without discrimination on the basis of ... individual characteristics other than qualifications for employment, quality of performance ... and conduct related to employment." (emphasis added) Further on in the policy, NU vows to administer all of its "employment programs" without discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation" and "marital status."
The university simply cannot have it both ways. Retaining such a policy under current conditions is dishonest and deceptive to both current employees and those considering employment here. The university must either offer equal benefits to all persons based solely on merit or stop claiming that it doesn't discriminate.
In this case, sincere malice would be preferable to blatant hypocrisy.

(c) 2001 Daily Nebraska Online (www.dailyneb.com)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Drusilla's Back!


I have to quickly note the return of one of my favorite characters to the world of Buffy: Drusilla! Even more, it's written by Juliet Landau--one never knows whether actors can write, but this was a really good (and gory!) story. I'm definitely looking forward to the second half, and consider this the best IDW's Angel series has done since it started.

Colony


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

COLONY

Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz (2005)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Two

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Xander, Principal Snyder, Cordelia, Willow, Giles, Oz, Angel, Joyce, Harmony, Amy, Jenny Calendar

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Victoria Belakane (villain)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “Because of the high incidences of death and violence, the Mayor of Sunnydale has invited a woman called Belakane to speak at Sunnydale High School. Her program, ‘Be the Ultimate You!’ builds self-esteem in teenagers. But Belakane is a demon antlike queen, whose test—and subsequent nurturing of the skills she discovers—is simply part of her plot to enlist workers to build her colony, and to find mates to help her populate it. Soon Sunnydale High is full of kids with only one trait each: aggressive Slayer, brainy Willow, helpful Oz . . .and Belakane has only just begun. . . ."

REVIEW

Colony is a strong entry in the line of “Stake Your Destiny” choose-your-own-adventure Buffy novels. The main plot thread enlists the reader in stopping inspirational-speaker Victoria Belakane from turning Sunnydale High into a giant ant farm, while the subplot pits the Slayer against a Sleaniman demon, a dimension-hopping brute with a surprising vulnerability. Much like its predecessors, Colony is a hard book to win—I died three times before deciding it was review-writing time.

In addition to an original and well thought-out plot, Colony boasts accurate characterization and fun, inventive dialogue. Xander’s transformation into an enormously obese figure of rippling fat is a classic combination of disgusting and hilarious, and the portrayal of high school assemblies is spot-on. Fans of the “Stake Your Destiny” line should try this one out.

The Bible Tells Me So

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

The Bible Tells Me So

Religion adopts secular values to stay alive

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

March 20, 2000 "Both sides read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other..."
--Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address on the Civil War (1865)

A century ago, religion appeared to be on its last legs, an archaic remnant of a superstitious past. Darwin's proof of evolution had stormed on to the stage, Hume and others had shown that the philosophical arguments for God's existence were fallacious and Freud argued that belief in God was an infantile delusion.
Marx hoped to wean society from the "opiate of the people," and Nietzsche declared "God is Dead."
But God didn't die. Instead, religious belief remains as strong as ever. Even in today's "secular" world of "moral degradation," 98% of Americans say they believe in God. (Stark, 1994)
Part of the reason religious belief remains so strong is because most people have a need to feel that some divine presence is watching out for them. But while belief in God remains constant, the social effects of this belief have changed dramatically in the past century.
A little over a century ago, many cities and states had laws forbidding people from working or shopping on Sundays in order to observe the Sabbath.
These "Blue Laws" had ample Biblical support (Exodus 20:8-10, Nehemiah 10:31) and were tied to severe punishments. In colonial times, for example, violators could be fined, whipped or sentenced to spend time in the stocks. Repeat violators could be executed.
As commerce became more important, enforcement became lax. This raised the ire of many of the era's religious leaders.
One reverend in 1890 said "We see this desecration of the Sabbath increasing every year, giving up a little here and giving up a little there...I want to say to the working man, if you give up the Sabbath, you give up the best friend you've got . . ." (Hill & Cheadle, 1996)
Now of course, these laws are largely forgotten and present-day religious leaders don't seem to mind.
In the late 1800s, religious leaders were also appalled at the "loose morals" and increasing "godlessness" of the nation. Today we blame this on movies and the Internet; back then, it was blamed on alcohol.
Citing scripture (Proverbs 20:1, Isaiah 28:7), the Women's Christian Temperance Union formed the "Anti-Saloon League of America." Over 60,000 churches joined the movement. Thirteen years after it went into effect, Prohibition ended due to difficult enforcement and the Depression.
Today, advocates of Prohibition and the supporting scriptures are routinely ignored.
Of course, the Bible was used to justify much more heinous practices than just banning liquor or work on Sundays. For most of its history, Christianity was united in supporting racism and slavery.
They had ample Biblical support (Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:20-21) and some used it to resist the abolition movement of the 19th century.
A typical example was said by a Baptist minister in 1856: ". . . Jesus Christ recognized [slavery] as one that was lawful among men . . . Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command; and . . . he has introduced no new moral principle which can work its destruction..." (Hill & Cheadle, 1996)
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The greatest blasphemy of the whole ugly process was that the white man ended up making God his partner in the exploitation of the Negro."
Christianity slowly adopted the secular values of ending slavery and segregation and allowing people to choose when to work and when to drink.
Another example of a change in Christanity is the extreme changes in attitude by mainstream religious organizations toward once adamantly opposed practices like divorce (Mark 10:6-9) and contraception (Genesis 38:7-10).
Being divorced is no longer a stigma in politics, and fundamentalists cannot be found blocking access to a pharmacy that dispenses birth control pills. Yet at one time divorcing and using birth control were seen as severe violations of God's Word.
These dramatic shifts in view demonstrate how malleable the Bible really is. As Shakespeare said, "Even the devil can cite scripture for his purpose."
Anyone who reads the Bible, literally or not, brings his or her own biases, prejudices and expectations into the act. They all highlight some passages and ignore others, while explaining away contradictory passages to their favor.
This practice is dangerous; racism, the subjugation of women and hatred and discrimination toward homosexuals have all been justified at one time by quoting scripture.
Last week the Pope apologized for, among other things, the brutal slayings of thousands of heretics at the hands of the Crusaders. The Crusaders' battle-cry? "God wills it!"
In the end, the Bible is just an empty tome full of empty words. It's time to close the book, open your eyes and think for yourself.

© 2001 Daily Nebraskan Online (www.dailyneb.com)

Torchwood Magazine # 4


The first "100-page special issue" of Torchwood Magazine is chock full of stuff:

* A good interview with Naoko Mori about Tosh getting killed off--the sense I get is she's a bit bummed, but understands it's the nature of the business.

* A brief interview with Lachlan Nieboer, the actor who plays Gray, Jack's long lost brother. He seems nice enough, but I'm surprised to find out this was his first ever acting gig and he was chosen more because he looks like John Barrowman than anything else.

* Part one of the Rift War! comic strip. I reviewed the collected edition elsewhere, so here all I'll do is reiterate: crap.

* A discussion about seeing the Victorian-era Hub and Torchwood institute in Fragments. I could definitely stand to see more of these characters.

* An episode guide for all of Season Two--this turned out to be better than I expected, as it has some interesting trivia on each episode. The "Analysis" is uniformly positive, but I guess that's to be expected in an official tie-in magazine.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Almost Perfect


I love this book. Chapter headings like "Gwen and Ianto Get a Shopping Montage" and "Captain Jack is Available for Children's Parties" are only the beginning. Ianto mentions speed-dating, and Jack replies "Twenty strangers, some alcohol, and a chance to make small talk? Thirty minutes and we'd all have been in a big naked heap." One in a series of special internal Torchwood publications: "PAMELA'S SUDDENLY SHORTER: Torchwood Operative Instructions for When You Discover You're Not Who You Thought You Were (Last Revised 1958)." It's hilarious and very well-written, with suitable acknowledgment of the hole that Tosh's and Owen's deaths leave in the organization. The plot, about alien entities called The Perfection, is quite interesting--and the trap they set for Jack is extraordinarily disgusting. Rhys gets plenty to do, and mentions a transgendered "Canadian cousin." There's also a brief line about David Brigstocke, a journalist character from an earlier novel I would like to see more of. Almost Perfect: my favorite Torchwood book so far.

Keep Me in Mind


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book review)

Keep Me In Mind

Nancy Holder (2005)

RATING: 2/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Two

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, Joyce, Cordelia, Harmony, Snyder, Oz, Ethan Rayne, Jonathan, Devon, Amber, Jenny Calendar

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: George Handley (intern), Lars Von Teufelsblut (sorceror), Der Luger (demon)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “Ethan Rayne returns to Sunnydale and unleashes a long-trapped evil sorceror from Middle Ages Bavaria. As if that and Ethan’s true motivation weren’t enough to keep Buffy from her chemistry home-work, she soon finds herself encountering a seemingly endless parade of old adversaries out to settle the score.”

REVIEW

Keep Me in Mind is the second in the “Stake Your Destiny” line of choose-your-own-adventure Buffy novels. The plot (if one can call it that) involves Ethan Rayne working with an evil sorceror named Lars Von Teufelsblut (I kid you not) and a demon named Der Luger to free something-or-other trapped in an ancient time capsule. Somehow the magic goes all ka-blooey, and manifestations of old Buffy enemies and allies start popping up all over the place, making for a very trippy read as it’s never quite clear who is actually present and who is simply a figment of a spell gone bad. I’m not opposed to the “Stake Your Destiny” books. The Suicide King, for example, is a pretty interesting read. Keep Me in Mind, however, is an incoherent mess of recycled dialogue and characters, with a recurring didactic tone about the importance of training. There’s a few good moments of light, sassy fun and an interesting framing sequence, but on the whole this book should simply be skipped.

Primary Predictions

One of my rare chances to be a political pundit, and actually pretty prescient in retrospect. Both Gore & Bush won, Buchanan did enter the race, and the Supreme Court was altered in a significant and lasting way.

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Primary Predictions

Gore, Bush have good chance; California's anti-gay marriage initiative will pass

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

March 06, 2000

"The word 'politics' is derived from the word 'poly,' meaning 'many,' and the word 'ticks,' meaning 'blood-sucking parasites.'"-Larry Hardiman

Tomorrow is the famed "Super Tuesday," the day when several of the most important states hold their presidential primaries. Basically, tomorrow's winner has a smooth road ahead for his party's nomination.
As the morbidly cynical quote above implies, politicians aren't highly esteemed by Americans. But hey, at we least we can decide which blood-sucking parasites get elected to office. Not all vampires are created equal.
Tomorrow is important for several reasons. First, it probably sounds the death knell for Bill Bradley in his insurgent campaign against Al Gore. Second, it's the date when Californians will vote on a highly controversial constitutional amendment to forbid recognition of same-sex marriage. Finally, it's the big showdown between George W. Bush and John McCain.

Gore vs. Bradley

Recent reports of former Senator Bill Bradley's demise have not been exaggerated. Bradley has failed to win a single primary: national polls show him losing to Gore by more than 35 percent (USA Today 2/29/00), and he trails Gore in almost all state polls (World-Herald 3/1/00).
Last week, Bradley campaigned hard for six straight days in Washington, trying to gather some momentum with a win. He lost to Gore by an unexpectedly large 37%.
Super Tuesday is the date when 15 Democratic states will hold their primaries or caucuses, including key states like California, New York and Ohio. Because nearly a third of the delegates of the Democratic National Convention will be chosen tomorrow, Bradley needs a miracle upset victory in at least one of these big states to be in a position to win the nomination.
Bradley's done a good job on advocating campaign finance reform, a national health insurance program and reasonable gun control measures. But as much as I and other liberals like the guy, he simply doesn't have a chance tomorrow.
Five or six more percent of the vote would have won him New Hampshire - and all the corresponding momentum and media exposure such an upset would bring. Had Bradley skipped Iowa and focused on New Hampshire like McCain, he might be in a spot similar to the Republican challenger.
Still, Bradley has been good for the Democratic party. Even if he loses, he's improved that party's chances in November. Six months ago, Gore was still under Clinton's shadow and viewed as a wooden lackey. While Gore still isn't exactly Alan Keyes in the charisma department, he's learned how to debate energetically, define the issues and do what needs to be done to win a contested campaign.
Bradley seems to be getting desperate, however. Last Thursday he spent over a million dollars to buy five minutes of prime time during CBS' "48 Hours" in a last-ditch attempt to appeal directly to voters.
It's really too little too late - the Democratic nomination is securely in Gore's pocket. The VP seems to know it, too. Thursday's "USA Today" headline was "Gore shifts attention to GOP candidates."

Religion vs. Equality

On Super Tuesday Californians will vote on the controversial constitutional amendment Proposition 22, the so-called "Knight Initiative." The amendment contains just 14 words: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
Same-sex marriages aren't legally recognized in California now, but proponents of the measure hope to join 30 other states in "defending the sanctity of marriage," in case another state were to recognize gay marriage.
The initiative has proven divisive. Supporters, including the Mormon and Catholic churches, have spent millions promoting it. In response, gays and other supporters of equality have organized a state-wide coalition and raised millions to fight the measure.
The opposition seems doomed. A recent San Francisco Examiner poll found that 55 percent of voters supported the initiative, while only 38 percent opposed it.
This should be a valuable lesson for the gay community on where to focus their scant resources. If the measure fails, little is gained. If the measure passes, little is lost.
The initiative makes no difference at all until another state recognizes gay marriages; and that could be another five to 10 years. Even then, it will mostly come down to a Supreme Court ruling on whether the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution prohibits states from denying recognition to out-of-state same-sex marriages.
The gay community would be better off spending its money to gain small but tangible steps toward equality in areas such as nondiscrimination laws, health insurance for domestic partners and hospital visitation rights.

Bush v. McCain

Judging by the media coverage, tomorrow's primaries pit Luke Skywalker (John McCain) against Darth Vader (George W. Bush) for the soul of the GOP. In reality, the pair have remarkably similar stances on most issues besides campaign finance reform.
Still, tomorrow's race will be interesting. Super Tuesday hosts 13 Republican primaries and caucuses. Over half the delegates needed to win the nomination are at stake.
McCain must do well if he hopes to stay in the race. Next week are the Florida and Texas primaries, containing almost 20 percent of the delegates needed to win, and both are almost certain to go to Bush.
McCain has a chance, however. Pure pragmatists are likely to notice that he matches up better against Gore (59 percent to 35 percent) than Bush does (52 percent to 43 percent) (USA Today, 2/29/00). McCain is also in a statistical dead heat with Bush in New York. (OWH 3/01/00).
However, both New York and California count only registered Republican voters. This could be a big stumbling block for McCain, since his victories in New Hampshire and Michigan depended heavily on independent and Democratic voters.
When it comes down to it, Bush is still the favorite. However, even if he wins the nomination, he won't come out of the campaign in as good of shape as when he entered. Six months ago, Bush was hailed as a "compassionate conservative" able to attract moderates, women and minorities. In the face of McCain's ability to draw independents and Democrats, Bush has had to move to the right and ally himself with the religious, conservative core of the party.
Furthermore, Bush has seen his huge money advantage shrink. Some reports have pegged Bush at having spent over three million dollars a week fighting McCain. This is the same George W. Bush that set records by having raised $70 million.
Both the push to the right and the financial drain will hurt Bush in the fall elections.

Tomorrow's results will set the stage for a showdown in November. There's still one figure waiting in the wings: Pat Buchanan. If he becomes the Reform Party candidate, Buchanan will run with a cadre of loyal followers, tens of millions of dollars in federal matching funds and an invitation to the debates. Although he probably won't win, he'll be able to skew the results to favor one of the candidates.

The elections become even more important when we consider the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Rehnquist is 75 and likely to retire soon. Justice Scalia (another conservative die-hard) has been reported to be considering resigning if a Democrat gets elected President. With other Justices nearing retirement, the next President has a chance to determine the ideological make-up of the Supreme Court, and thus, our country's future.

© 2001 Daily Nebraskan Online (www.dailyneb.com)
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Foundation Trilogy


One of my initial selections for the Science Fiction Book Club was The Foundation Trilogy, the classic series by Isaac Asimov. I was immediately enchanted by the first book. An academic named Hari Seldon has mastered the science of "psycho-history", which allows him to predict with almost pin-point precision the future actions of large groups of people--mobs, governments, countries, planets, etc. Seldon's analysis reveals that the millenia-old Empire is irreversibly doomed to fall apart several decades hence, so he gathers a team of fellow psycho-historians to develop a way to ensure that the period of "barbarism" between the fall of the current Empire and the rise of the Second Empire is as short as possible. To this end, he creates two "Foundations", one at either end of the galaxy, which he believes will shorten the interregnum from 30,000 years to just 1,000.

The first book tells how several generations of the First Foundation survive the break-up of the Empire, periodically undergoing "Seldon Crises"--crises predicted by Seldon, in which only one feasible option is available, and taking that step will further the goal of creating the Second Empire. The idea of psycho-history is quite original and interesting, as was the idea of story-telling that concerned itself with massive social movements as opposed to individual characters--it's almost like Marxist science-fiction.

The second book in the trilogy is about the Mule, a mutant with powerful super-human abilities that could not have been predicted by Seldon because psycho-history concerns itself only with large-scale groups of people. The Mule uses his abilities to take rapid control of the First Foundation and launch a search for the Second Foundation. I found myself mostly turned off by this book, as it has a completely different type of story-telling than the first. Also, the real identity of the Mule is supposed to be a major mystery, but I figured it out at the very beginning so the big reveal just didn't have much impact on me.

The third book starts out better. Although the Mule has been taken care of, Seldon's plans have been thrown well off course. Can the First Foundation or the (possibly nonexistent) Second Foundation get things back on track? Oddly, the last several chapters very much take on a "whodunnit" feel--except instead of constantly identifying and then discarding possible murderers, Asimov constantly identifies and then discards possible locations for the Second Foundation. I found it rather tiresome and the introduction of beings with mind control powers was an unexpected (and unwelcome) addition.

In the Presence of Mine Enemies


In the Presence of Mine Enemies was a 1973 one-shot in the Spire Christian Comic line. From advertisements in the inside front and back covers, it's apparently an adaptation of the book of the same name, which tells the true story of Howard Rutledge's time as a POW in Vietman, but with a heavy emphasis on Christian faith. A fellow POW, Jim Stockdale is mentioned--he would later go on to be Ross Perot's 1992 Vice-Presidential running mate (Stockdale was quite hilariously--and unfairly--portrayed as a senile old man by Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live). Even I'm not crass enough to make fun of the POW experience, but I gotta tell you that the back cover is my favorite thing about the book--it's an ad for several other titles in the Spire Christian Comic line, including The Gospel Blimp, God's Smuggler, and my personal favorite The Cross and the Switchblade ("I could kill you preach!" "Yes, you could Nicky . . .You could cut me up in a thousand pieces . . . And every piece will say I love you.")

The Suicide King


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

THE SUICIDE KING

Robert Joseph Levy (2005)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Second Season

CAST APPEARANCES: Buffy, Angel, Xander, Willow, Cordelia, Giles, Spike, Drusilla, Snyder, Jenny Calendar, The Mayor, Jonathan, Sheila Rosenberg, Willy the Snitch

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Diana Fitzgerald (student), Douglas Teal (grief counselor), K’adolh (demon), Anna & Ilon (cultists)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “A rash of student suicides sweeps through Sunnydale High, jolting the community. When the newly arrived grief counselor ends up killing himself, Buffy and the gang begin to suspect there’s something supernatural to blame. Soon one of their own begins to show signs of debilitating despondency, and it becomes a race against time for the Slayer to defeat the ancient threat known as the Suicide King.”

REVIEW

The Suicide King is the first in the new “Stake Your Destiny” series of Buffy choose-your-own adventure books. For those unfamiliar with the format, the story is told as if the author were speaking to Buffy (“You race down the hallway, knowing vampires are right behind you”). Every few pages the reader has to decide what Buffy should do next, and is then directed to certain pages to continue the story (“Do you stake the vampires? Go to Page 42. Do you keep running? Go to Page 95”). With the anime-style cover, high school setting, and choose-your-own adventure format, the series is obviously aimed towards a younger demographic than the show drew near the end of its run. However, that doesn’t mean it’s tame: the story starts out with a girl plunging a knife into her own skull!

The plot is original and interesting, something many of the standard Buffy novels lack. Why are so many students and teachers killing themselves? Who’s behind it and why? The answers take Buffy into conflict with (depending on the reader) cultists, demons, and even old friends like Spike and Drusilla. The story is well written and contains good humor and characterization.

Perhaps my only complaint is how hard it is! The first time I tried it I got killed very quickly. A friend suggesting I needed to think “What Would Buffy Do?” I tried a second time, and ended up getting arrested and shipped off to live with Dad. On my third and last try, I got killed again! Indeed, flipping through the book, there are far more bad endings than good (or even mediocre) endings. Still, the book was fun, light reading and I’m looking forward to checking out other ones in the series.

(c) 2005 Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

Twisted Logic

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Twisted Logic

Perverse reasoning justifies 'don't ask, don't tell'

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

February 28, 2000

I don't know any gay people (because the Bible says not to consort with sinners), but I sure am glad they're not allowed to serve openly in the military. Like my progressive friend Alan Keyes, I believe homosexuals are an abomination and would prefer that they be completely banned from the military. However, I understand the political realities of the situation: the fault lies with flaming leftist radicals like Al Gore and Bill Clinton.

There has been some pressure on the United States to change its "don't ask, don't tell" policy and allow gays to serve openly. Recently, for example, Britain completely lifted its ban on gays in the military. However, a close look at the facts shows this to be a terrible mistake. Look at what has happened to the once-vaunted British army since it lifted the ban: in the few months since the decision, over two officers have quit in protest, and surely thousands more will follow.
How can the British High Command hope to staunch the flow? Only by reinstating the ban on gays in the army.

The lifting of the ban in Britain should have no influence on U.S. policy because our countries are vastly different; we all know Britain is a godless country of pagan hedonists. Perhaps when our level of morality and civilization has fallen to the level of Great Britain, then we can consider allowing gays to serve in the military.

Others point out that Israel has allowed gays to serve since 1993. This is completely irrelevant. Orthodox Judaism is a bastion of liberal propaganda. Israel is also a secure place, surrounded by friendly neighbors. They don't have to worry about foreign threats like we do. Military superpowers like Mozambique and Latvia have always banned gay soldiers. How are we going to keep up with them if we don't do the same?

Allowing gays to serve in the military would be disastrous because it would disrupt the morale of our highly-disciplined soldiers. Polls of enlisted men and the unanimous stance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff demonstrate this, regardless of what the commander in chief thinks.

In the 1940s, when President Truman wanted to integrate black soldiers with white soldiers against the wishes of the Joint Chiefs, did he succeed? Of course not! The integration of black and white soldiers would have destroyed morale and maybe even have caused us to lose Vietnam.

If military veteran George W. Bush says gays shouldn't serve, that's good enough for me.

Think about this issue from the average enlisted man's perspective. Imagine yourself on a long-range reconnaissance patrol in the humid jungles of Iraq. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, bullets whiz over your head as you dive for cover.

You're pinned!

You turn to shout for someone to bring up the M-60 to lay down some covering fire, but then you remember that soldier might be gay!

In the heat of battle, inches between life and death, only one thing matters: the sexual orientation of one's fellows.

What if we allowed gay policemen, firemen, store clerks or professors? Clearly law enforcement, fire prevention, commerce and education would crumble from within. It would be the downfall of western civilization as we know it.

If gays aren't qualified to do any of these things, they're certainly not qualified to serve in the U.S. military.

How could they contribute anyway? Does the army really need an elite battalion of go-go boys, home decorators and hair dressers?

I don't think so.

Look at the practical difficulties: what if two gay guys were on a submarine and one got pregnant? Or if a marine deserted in the middle of an amphibious assault to visit a gay bath-house in San Francisco?

Allowing gays to serve is a slippery slope. The next thing you know, some feminazi will say women should be allowed to serve in the military, too.

When it comes down to it, if anyone should be allowed to get killed for this country, it's us heterosexuals. Allowing anyone else the privilege simply defies common sense.

© 2001 Daily Nebraskan Online (www.dailyneb.com)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One Thing or Your Mother


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)

One Thing or Your Mother

Kirsten Beyer (2008)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season 2

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Buffy, Angelus, Drusilla, Spike, Willow, Principal Snyder, Giles, Joyce, Xander, Cordelia, Larry, Johnathan, Oz, Detective Stein, Detective Winslow, The Mayor, Allan

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Josh Grodin (demon summoner), Paulina Snyder (Principal's mom), Todd Harter (tutor), Callie (child vamp)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: "It's tough being a teenage Slayer. On the verge of failing her junior year--thanks to annoying Principal Snyder, who seems to be acting even stranger than usual lately--Buffy agrees to meet with a tutor. Not helping her studies is the fact that lately she's been exhausted, waking up each morning feeling more tired than she did the night before. To make matters worse, she's tasked with investigating the disappearance of a child . . . a little girl who happens to have gone missing mere hours before a child vampire surfaced in Sunnydale, accompanied by a wheelchair-bound male who fits Spike's description perfectly. Fighting off exhaustion and uneasy at the prospect of staking a child vamp, Buffy learns that Principal Snyder is the target of a sleep-deprivation spell that has taken over Sunnydale. Putting aside her fear that her tutor is out to get her, and hoping that the sleeping spell is affecting both humans and demons, Buffy investigates Snyder's off behavior. She follows him to his childhood home to discover that he has arranged to have his abusive mother banished to the demon dimension. Meanwhile, Drusilla, who has been playing mother figure to the child vampire, is learning how difficult it is to be a parent. As sleep takes hold of the citizens of Sunnydale, Buffy beings to realize that unless she breaks the spell soon, the nightmare is just beginning."

REVIEW

Whew! The summary on the back of the book is almost as long as the book itself! With such a thorough description of the plot already provided, I can move right into some commentary. One Thing or Your Mother is set in Buffy Season Two and the author has paid close attention to continuity and included several minor characters from the show, like Larry, Allan, and police detectives Winslow & Stein. The revelation that Principal Snyder had to make a deal with The Mayor to have the abusive Mrs. Snyder sent to a demon dimension is done quite well and adds some strange sympathy to the figure of Principal Snyder. The subplot involving Drusilla deciding to be "mother" to a vampire child is also well-written and includes excellent portrayals of Drusilla's fickleness, Angelus' volatility, and Spike's ability to show tenderness as surprising times. Overall, the book has a creepy, dark feel that is missing from too many Buffy novels. It's one worth picking up.

Mixed Media

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Mixed Media

Gays, lesbians have gained television ground, but they have a long way to go

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

February 21, 2000

In media circles, 1999 will be remembered as the Year of the Queer. Gays and lesbians seemed to be everywhere on TV. Calista Flockhart shared a passionate kiss with Liu Lang in "Ally McBeal"'s highest rated episode ever. "Will & Grace" became one of NBC's highest rated shows. Teen heartthrob Jack on "Dawson's Creek" came out of the closet.
In fact, there are now 27 gay and lesbian characters on prime-time television, nearing the number of characters from all other minority groups combined (Minneapolis-St.Paul Star Tribune, 11/7/99).
But the prospect of gays on TV might not be as bright as it seems. Recently for example, conservative radio talk-show host and syndicated newspaper columnist Laura Schlessinger was offered her own hour-long, weekday television show by Paramount. Schlessinger, a recent convert to orthodox Judaism, is famous for verbal tirades against single mothers, gays and others who call into her show for "advice."
Schlessinger believes homosexuality was removed from the list of mental disorders by the American Psychological Association 30 years ago only because of pressure from gay lobbyists, not because of scientific evidence. Dr. Laura is a huge proponent of reparative therapy - the belief that gays and lesbians can be "cured" through psychological treatment (Schlessinger's own Ph.D. is in physiology, not psychology).
Discussing equal rights for gays and lesbians, Schlessinger says: "Rights? For sexual deviants, sexual behavior, there are now rights? That's what I'm worried about with the pedophilia and the bestiality and the sadomasochism and the cross-dressing. Is this all going to be rights, too? Why does deviant sexual behavior get rights?" (Advocate, 2/15/00).
Now, in addition to being on 500 radio stations and in 100 newspapers, Schlessinger will be able to bring these "enlightened" views on gays and lesbians to millions of television viewers nationwide in the comfort of their living rooms.
Pat Buchanan is another anti-gay media star. Buchanan got his start co-hosting CNN's "Crossfire." Although he's now on leave from the show for another run for President, Buchanan called for a "culture war" on gays and other "threats" to the "American family." In a column written in June of 1983, during the first months of the AIDS crisis, he said, "The poor homosexuals. They have declared war on nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution."
Buchanan has also said, "It was militant homosexuals who first stormed across society's old borders. And it is they who are assaulting positions while painting themselves as victims of social and legal persecution ... their conduct cannot command our respect, because it so violently contradicts our beliefs. If that be 'homophobia,' make the most of it." (San Francisco Examiner, 9/17/94) This is not "compassionate conservatism." Now this man is running for President in the third-largest political party in America, with tens of millions of dollars in federal matching funds at his disposal.
Much of the media, though not anti-gay, remains plagued with confusion about the gay community. Recently, for example, in what was meant to be an objective analysis of the military's ban on openly gay soldiers, a column in the Omaha World-Herald titled "Gays in military: Both sides err" listed as one good argument against allowing gays to serve openly is "Would grizzled Green Berets, for example, be permitted to sashay around in drag during off-duty hours?" This glaring failure to grasp the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity is a good example of how far the media still has to go.
Still, the trend towards having visible gay characters in television, movies and other media bodes well for the future. Too often I hear from gay friends that they thought they were the only one in high school. Seeing gay characters will help gay adolescents realize they are not alone and that there is nothing wrong with them. It will also show straight kids that being gay isn't such a big deal. The gay teens of tomorrow will be happier and less neurotic than any previous generation, and the straight teens of tomorrow will be more tolerant and accepting.
With these prospects for the future, my only regret is that all the gay media in the world won't have any effect on the bigots already in place.

Copyright 2001 Daily Nebraskan Online (dailyneb.com)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Everyone Says Hello


Everyone Says Hello was one of the first Torchwood audio books. Read by Burn Gorman (Owen), it's the story of a strange phenomenon: all over Cardiff, people stop living their lives and begin introducing themselves to each other and telling each other their life's stories, usually leading with the most mundane details. Things escalate from there, until Cardiff reaches an almost apocalyptic state, overrun with zombie-like people who insist on either converting or killing everyone else.

This is a long story (2 and 1/2 hours) compared to the 45-minute audio plays the BBC recently released, and frankly I think it would have come across better in the shorter format. The central idea behind this story (people acting creepily friendly) very quickly grows tiresome and repetitive. Way too much time is spent on forgettable side characters. The story picks up a little bit near the very end, when there's some action, excitement, and general running-around. I've liked some of what Dan Abnett has done on Torchwood, but this story just lacked real drama, humor, or enough of a hook to keep the story going for such a long time.

Torchwood Magazine # 3


Issue three is again heavy on interviews (actor Burn Gorman, director Jonathan Fox Bassett, guest star Richard Briers) and behind-the-scenes special effects (filming Owen underwater and ageing Martha in Dead Man Walking). There's a fun description of what it was like to film the big, chaotic wedding episode and a nicely drawn comic strip about alien dueling machines, Jetsam. A brief article is titled "Torchwood inspires UFO sightings, says academic"--apparently, UFO sightings over Wales have risen dramatically (up to an amazing total of nine) since the show premiered.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Torchwood: Day One (S1, E2)


"You might want to stop saying 'you' and start saying 'we.'"

Day One (Season One, Episode Two) ("Torchwood must stop a sex-addicted alien as it leaves a trail of gruesome deaths in its wake.")

What I Liked

* Carys, and the actress playing her (Sara Lloyd Gregory). There's a surprising poignancy and depth to a situation that could have been portrayed in a very cheesy way.

* As they approach the scene of the crashed meteorite, Jack says "Assume standard formation." Gwen asks, "What's standard?" The response: "It varies."

* Tosh, Jack, and Owen watching on the security cameras while Gwen makes out with the alien-possessed girl. They have trouble tearing themselves away to go and help her.

* Jack, watching a replay of how the alien-possessed girl disintegrated the guy she was having sex with, just as he reached orgasm: "He came. And went."

* When Carys escapes the Hub, she breaks the container that holds the Doctor's hand. Instead of going after her, Jack focusses all of his attention on getting the hand back into a safe place.

* Gwen does seem to bring a sense of compassion that looks to be lacking in the very jaded and cynical Torchwood crew.

What I Didn't Like

* Nothing--perfect Torchwood as far as I'm concerned.

What I'm Not Sure About

* According to ever-reliable Wikipedia, the actress who played Carys began dating the guy who played Ianto after this episode was shot. They've broken up since, however.

* The alien entity (never named) can only feed off male sexual energy--why?

Commentary

By: Richard Stokes (producer), Chris Chibnall (writer), Eve Myles (actress)

Tone: Relatively balanced, with a reasonable discussion of what the creators felt they could have improved on.

Interesting Bits:

* Chris Chibnall on how writing episode two of a new t.v. series is much harder and, in some ways, more important than writing episode one because episode two sets the basic format and tone that the viewer will expect subsequent episodes to follow for the rest of the series--including things like "Will the viewer figure things out at the same time as the Torchwood team, or will they know more?" and "How much time and backstory should be devoted to guest stars, especially if the cast isn't a part of those scenes?"

* This episode was actually filmed before the first episode.

* Eve Myles' anecdote that involves John Barrowman in a pair of Transformers pajamas. Also, in order to keep crew morale up, he likes to sing show tunes during the long night shoots--a very cool thing.

Deleted Scenes

* A very brief scene of Gwen walking into the fake tourism office to report for her first mission.

* Another example of Carys killing an old boyfriend.

Torchwood Declassified: "Bad Day at the Office"

* Interviews with Eve Myles and John Barrowman on the theme of Jack testing Gwen and Gwen's big mistake in allowing the alien entity to escape.

* Interviews with Davies and others on the thinking behind the "sex monster" plot.

* A tour of the Hub. An amazing set. I want to move in, but my sig-other says it's too dangerous.

Go Ask Malice


FROM THE ARCHIVES (Buffy book reviews)


Go Ask Malice: A Slayer's Diary

Robert Joseph Levy (2006)

RATING: 5/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season Three

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Faith, Kakistos

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Diana Dormer (Watcher); Faith's Mother; George Lehane (Faith's Father); Kenny (psychic & boyfriend); Vanity Collins (social worker); Alex (imaginary friend/Slayer soul?)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: "Faith has always been a loner. Growing up in a broken home in South Boston, shuffled from relative to relative, her only companion was an imaginary friend named Alex, who helped her escape into a fantasy world of monsters and the supernatural, far from the real-life horrors of the waking world. Now, taken away from her mother by social services and shipped off to a foster home, Faith learns that some nightmares are all too real, that the inventions of her childhood really do haunt the night, hungry for blood. Enter Diana Dormer, a Harvard professor and representative of the Watchers Council who has come to tell Faith of her destiny, to train her, to prepare her for what is to come: Faith is the Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. But she's not alone. When Alex, her childhood companion, returns in her dreams, she warns Faith that someone else is coming to her, a force so deadly and unforgiving that it has inspired fear in the underworld for a thousand generations. Its name is Malice. As memory and fantasy begin to merge, Faith's two worlds collide, with cataclysmic results. A violent battle for the Slayer's soul is staged, winner take all. This is her story. . . ."

REVIEW

The stylistic conceit behind Go Ask Malice is that it is the diary of Faith found in an archaeological expedition of Sunnydale after the end of Season Seven (though the last entry takes place just prior to Season Three). The concept works beautifully, as Faith has a strong first-person voice and seeing events from her perspective offers insight in to her character and background that would be much harder to achieve in normal third-person storytelling. The television show hinted that Faith had a troubled upbringing, but this book really fleshes it out as we encounter Faith's frequently-absent mother (who becomes a prostitute), her incarcerated father, her bouncing around foster homes, and more. We're also introduced to Faith's first Watcher, Professor Diana Dormer and learn much more about the backstory of Kakistos, the demon responsible for killing Dormer and driving Faith out of Boston. Kakistos was polished off in a single episode in Buffy (and probably wasn't handled very well), but here the demon has a nice menacing aura and build-up through prophetic dreams that Faith is having. The fact that the reader already knows that Kakistos kills Dormer lends a pall of impending tragedy over the book that works very well because the reader is constantly kept guessing as to how and when it'll happen.

Suffice it to say, Go Ask Malice is a very dark book--something the too-sacharine Buffy novel line desperately needed. If you only like happy endings or can't stand Faith, this isn't the book for you. Otherwise, I highly recommend it (and hope the author can get talked into writing some stories for the Buffy comic).

Meat of the Matter

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

Meat of the Matter

Jeremy Patrick (jhaeman@hotmail.com)

February 16, 2000

I'm probably the most cynical bastard I know. I want a clean environment, but I'm not a stereotypical tree-hugger, willing to sacrifice all progress for the sake of some foliage.
I have a dog back home, but I'll never be one of those old ladies who keeps 27 cats because she can't bear to see a stray. And if I'm ever starving in the middle of a frozen wilderness, with nothing around but me and a deer, I can say without hesitation that I'll be feasting on venison.

My support for reducing the harms we inflict on animals doesn't stem from a bleeding heart or from the theoretical constructions of the learned from on high. It stems from common sense.
There are two main reasons to respect animal rights: health and ethics.

Health

"The new fitness fad," shouts the magazine headline.

Americans seem to be trying anything and everything to improve their health. Some attend expensive fitness centers, while others scrupulously cut fat and sugar out of their diets. For millions of Americans, however, a simple and effective way to eat healthier is by becoming a vegetarian. The strictest of vegetarians (vegans) do not eat any foods containing animal products. Others make exceptions for eggs and milk.

Medical research clearly shows that eating vegetarian is a good way to improve your health. Johanna Dwyer, a registered dietitian at New England Medical Center Hospital, said, "Vegetarians are at lesser risk for obesity, atonic [reduced muscle tone] constipation, lung cancer and alcoholism. Evidence is good that risks for hypertension, coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, and gallstones are lower" (FDA Consumer, October 1995).

Most of the vegetarians I've met have lost weight and have more energy since they stopped eating meat. Although eating vegetarian won't guarantee a healthy diet, it's certainly a good start. And, of course, you don't have to quit cold turkey (pun intended) like I did. Some people start with one meatless meal per day and then gradually eat two or more a day until they're completely meat-free.

Even in beef-infested Lincoln, with a little work, good vegetarian food can be found. It's certainly worth the effort for the sake of better health.

Ethics

St. Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant embody the traditional philosophical view of animals. This view is that animals are a mere resource to be exploited for man's use. Therefore, we have no duties towards them whatsoever. Some modern philosophers, such as Tom Regan and Peter Singer, believe animals have an inherent value. They believe using animals in science, agriculture and hunting should be abolished.

The debate is certainly interesting and worth more attention, but I don't have the space to go into it here. Instead, my support for animal rights stems from the simple fact that animals feel pain.

I think it a defensible proposition that the infliction of pain without a purpose is wrong, and animals suffer in many needless ways because of our selfishness. The meat we eat and the leather we wear does not come from an idyllic, farm-like creature from "Charlotte's Web."
James Rachels, in "Elements of Moral Philosophy," describes the living conditions of a veal calf as one example. The calves "spend their lives in pens too small to allow them to turn around or even to lie down comfortably," because exercise toughens the meat and additional space is expensive. The calves cannot perform natural functions like grooming themselves or suckling from their mothers.

They're fed a diet deficient in iron and roughage (which means they cannot form a cud to chew) and they are not given any straw for bedding -they might eat it, again affecting the quality of the meat. "As terrifying as the process of slaughter is, for them it may actually be a merciful release," Rachels says.

The terrible thing is that all of this suffering inflicted on animals is unnecessary. We have alternatives to meat, animal clothing and animal research in cosmetic testing.

Even from a utilitarian perspective, I could not justify the lifelong suffering of a sentient creature for the transitory pleasure some jerk feels downing a Big Mac. The same principals that would evoke outrage in seeing two teenagers stomp a puppy to death on the curb should evoke anger in seeing a pig butchered. Both are unnecessary, even if one animal is cuter than the other.

Respecting animals doesn't mean we're perfect. I support the use of animals in medical research because it provides real benefits to suffering people. I still eat eggs and cheese because I don't have the money or the skill to be vegan in a place like Nebraska. In an imperfect world, all we can do is the best we can with what we have.

But give the animals the benefit of the doubt. It won't hurt you one bit, and it'll help them tremendously.

© 2001 Daily Nebraskan Online (www.dailyneb.com)