March 30, 2013

Superman Saturday: Intense, high explosive dynamite, pure dynamite

It is Easter weekend, but even if I get a four-day weekend, that doesn't mean Evil takes a holiday. Fortunately for Truth, Justice and the American way, neither does Superman. This week, we conclude the adventure of Buffalo Hills!

The story so far: Clark Kent has travelled to the Western state capital of Boulder City, to cover the unveiling ceremony of Buffalo Hills, a stand-in for Mount Rushmore. He is accompanied by naturalist and photographer Asa Hatch, who is also a freelance correspondent for the Daily Planet and friend of editor Perry White.

Pete Flores, a gangster that opposes the political reforms of state governor Al Carson, has already made several attempts on the life of Carson as well as an attempted shooting of Hatch. He tried to bomb Clark Kent's and Hatch's train while en route to Boulder City, but failed when his henchman was stopped by Superman. His inside man at the executive mansion, Carson's secretary Keegan, succeeded in having Hatch framed and jailed, although Clark evaded arrest. Later he turned himself in, hoping to break Hatch out, but instead became the cellmate of another of Flores' gang members, who revealed a plan to abduct and murder the governor.

As Superman, Clark broke out of jail and tried to warn the governor of the kidnapping plot, but had do knock him out and stuff him into his own closet, assuming his Superman persona and taking Carson's place in bed. As expected, Flores' goons broke into the mansion and, unaware that they had taken the wrong man, tried to kill Superman by throwing him off a bridge. Knowing that governor Carson was still in danger from Flores, Superman rushed back to the mansion only to find the closet empty . . .

March 27, 2013

Wednesday cruci-fiction

There are two constants on the fundamentalist liturgical calendar. One occurs in late October, as Hallowe'en approaches: the Annunciation of the Evils of Trick-or-Treating. The other takes place in the spring: the Epiphany of Good Wednesday.

Yes, Good Wednesday: the belief that Jesus' crucifixion had to take place on Wednesday, and not on Friday as tradition (read: Roman Catholic) has maintained.

I'll grant this: These folks take the authority of the Bible seriously, unlike, arguably, the majority of Christmas and Easter Christians who come to church a couple times a year to assuage whatever guilt they have, and can't be bothered to think these things through the other 363 days of the year. It seems to me, however, that the Wednesday crucifixion thing just doesn't work, and I think a better case can be made for the traditional view.

Some years ago, the only people you would have seen making this kind of argument were from Sabbatarian sects, such as the Seventh-day Adventists or the various groups that grew out of Herbert W. Armstrong's teachings. It's clear why they would advocate for a Wednesday crucifixion: they want to undermine the foundations of Sunday worship in favour of their Sabbatarian theology. Christians gather together on Sunday because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead. I don't see why any group of Sunday worshippers would want to copy their arguments, however; I guess it has something to do with a suspicion of all things Roman Catholic. Just because it's traditional doesn't necessarily make it wrong, and if our timeline of Holy Week is based more on some kind of "Romophobia" than exegesis, then we've started off on the wrong foot.

March 24, 2013

Shine on you crazy diamond

With all the posting I've been doing this year about the 30th anniversary of all the pop music released in 1983, I actually came close to forgetting that there are other musical milestones that I wanted to highlight as well. Fortunately, Google Calendar has reminders for that, and a couple days ago, one of them popped up to remind me:

March 24, 1973—40 years ago today—one of the most groundbreaking, influential, and best-selling rock albums of all time was released: Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.

Palm Sunday

Zechariah (along with Haggai and Malachi) is one of the three post-exilic prophets of the nation of Israel. He ministered to the nation beginning around 520 BC, during the reign of Darius I and about 10 years after Cyrus the Great had permitted some of the Jews to return to Palestine, under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua, and begin to rebuild the Temple.

Zechariah came from a Levite family, and may have been a priest himself. Certainly, his concern for his nation is pastoral. The present problems within the nation are the focus of his ministry: the continuing work on rebuilding the Temple, the integrity of the leadership, and the moral state of the nation as a whole.

However, Zechariah is also concerned with the future. God is working out his sovereign plan with Israel—its deliverance and restoration—in the present as the nation rebuilds. But his work continues into the future, prominently carried out by his chosen servant, the Messiah.

March 23, 2013

Superman Saturday: Gonna make a jailbreak, oh how I wish that I could fly

Here we go again!

Clark Kent has accompanied naturalist and photographer Asa Hatch to a Western state to cover the unveiling of the Buffalo Hills national monument, a huge sculpture carved into the side of a mountain and commemmorating the American pioneers. However, the state's reformer governor, Alan Carson, has an enemy in Pete Flores, a gangster. A sniper in Flores' gang makes an attempt on Hatch's life in Metropolis, but fails, then dies when he shoots himself accidentally during a scuffle with Superman. Flores makes another attempt to kill Hatch and Clark Kent by having his goon Dutchy Ganz plant a bomb on their train car. Again, Superman foils the plot, finding the bomb just in time and throwing it safely away just before it explodes.

We pick up our story in Boulder City, the state capital, where Hatch and Clark have arrived . . .

March 22, 2013

High blood drumming on your skin it's so tight

Another week, another late entry to the 1983 in music series. At least this time I have an excuse: I spent a lot of my free time out of the house and wasn't able to sit down and blog. Stop complaining, it's free.

"Billie Jean" continued its domination of the Billboard Hot 100 on March 19, 1983. Meanwhile, a single from a band that would become one of the quintessential musical groups of the 1980s reached its peak on the chart. Kept from the top spot by both "Billie Jean" and Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," the second single from their 1982 album Rio peaked at #3: "Hungry like the Wolf," by Duran Duran.

"Hungry Like the Wolf" comes close to being the definitive Duran Duran song. The lyrics are vaguely, er, suggestive of Little Red Riding Hood; the accompanying video is inspired by Indiana Jones. And none of it, in the end, actually gets around to meaning anything.

Duran Duran was one of my guilty pleasures back in my teens, as I discovered them as they were becoming unfashionable, so I listened in secret, for fear of the Jews. My earliest copy of Rio was on cassette, and that was how I heard the album for about 15 years before I bought the 2001 re-release on CD. Of course, the sound quality was far superior to my well-worn tape, but the first thing I actually noticed was that the CD cut of "Hungry Like the Wolf" was considerably shorter than I remembered—by nearly two minutes, in fact.

The Internet can tell you anything. It turns out that there were three versions of the album track: the original British LP track, the US album remix, which is half a minute longer, and the extended "Night Version," which is the one I had on cassette. The 2001 remaster uses the UK album version. I don't know if the Night Version has ever been released on CD. I'd love it if it were.

March 16, 2013

Superman Saturday: Someone put the word on you, and I hope my aim is true

I got my first feedback to this series last week from Faithful Reader Warren:

The thing that I always find fascinating about early Superman is that the villains are way more human than superhuman. The only one like that left anymore is Lex Luthor.

I've noted this as well, at least indirectly. Superman himself is more human back in the early years: he can't fly, he doesn't have special vision (like X-ray or heat), and while bullets will bounce off his skin, he's not invulnerable. (By contrast, on The Adventures of Superman radio program, he has been able to fly and see through solid objects right from the beginning.) Hence his foes have also been more human: gangsters, saboteurs, and various other ne'er-do-wells.

Superman's first recurring enemy in Action Comics was the Ultra-Humanite, a bald, mad-scientist type in a wheelchair: not only less than superhuman, but a damaged human at that. Ultra was designed to be the opposite of Superman; instead of a heroic strongman, he is a crippled criminal, albeit a superior intellect (which enabled him to escape death by transplanting his brain into another person's). Lex Luthor was introduced about a year later, and Ultra-Humanite was dropped from Superman's rogue's gallery, since Siegel and Shuster decided Superman didn't need two bald archenemies. Like the Ultra-Humanite, Luthor is a regular human being, though gifted with superior intellect, and motivated from time to time by world domination or revenge against Superman.

It wasn't until the late 1950s that Supe's more superhuman or non-human enemies began to show up in the comics, beginning with the Kryptonian android Brainiac in 1958, at the start of the "Silver Age" of comic books. Others soon followed, including the Kryptonite-powered Metallo and Bizarro Superman. (A notable exception is the magical supervillain Mister Mzyzptlk, who first appeared in the early 1940s.) At this time, Superman himself was also being written as an increasingly powerful hero. My personal theory is that this is a bit of a feedback loop: a more powerful Superman needs more powerful enemies to pose a credible challenge; conversely, more powerful enemies require greater powers to defeat. It's no wonder DC Comics tried to scale back Superman's abilities since the 1980s.

We, of course, have the ability just to travel back in time to a point where Golden Age Newbie Superman still punched out baddies. And so, without further ado, let us travel back to 1940, and a new Superman adventure . . .

March 13, 2013

Habemas popcorn

Delicious, buttery popcorn.

Oh, the drama. The suspense is killing me.

In other news, Marc Garneau has dropped out of the Liberal Party leadership race. Coincidence? We shall see.

March 12, 2013

Time for a 1983bie

I've been slack with the music over the last few weeks. Had a few other things on my mind, I guess. However, I did pretty much promise 52 tunes over 52 weeks, which means that tonight you get not one, not two, but three tunes from 1983 to make up for it. Huzzah!

Back when we last left this series, on February 19, the #1 song 30 years earlier was "Baby Come to Me," an R&B duet by Patti Austin and James Ingram. They held the top spot for two consecutive weeks.

Meanwhile, however, the first hit from a new British band was starting its rise up the charts. That song was "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," from Kissing to be Clever, the debut album of Culture Club. After their first two singles failed to chart, this release became a global #1 hit, although it peaked at #2 on the Billboard chart in the U.S. The reggae-ish "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" thrust the New Wave band with their androgynous, cross-dressing front man Boy George into the mainstream.

After two weeks topping the charts, Austin and Ingram were displaced by another R&B hit. This one is likely more familiar: "Billie Jean," by the one and only Michael Jackson. Really, what more need be said?

"Billie Jean" spent 7 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Journey were not exactly an 80s' band, as they arguably had their best success in the late 1970s. This is not to say they didn't have some major success in the 1980s; in fact, their best-known song, "Don't Stop Believin'" was a 1982 hit, and the 1983 album Frontiers was one of their highest charting. The lead single from Frontiers was the rocker "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)":

The video for "Separate Ways" has gained a reputation as one of the worst ever, particularly for the instrument miming and the dated fashion. Really, it just doesn't make any sense to me.

Thanks to the success of Frontiers, Journey became one of the few rock bands to have their own licensed arcade game. The background music during gameplay was a loop of "Separate Ways." Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Midway Games also manufactured the (considerably more successful) movie tie-in games Tron and Discs of Tron—and "Separate Ways" has a prominent place in the arcade scene in 2010's Tron: Legacy.

Habemas nopem

No Pope today, no Pope today
You can't choose Popes on Tuesday
No Pope today, no Pope today
You've gotta come back on Wednesday.

March 10, 2013

Superman Sunday: It's like a heatwave burning in my heart

When we last left our heroes: Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are in the Southwest, investigating a series of mysterious plane crashes at Bridger Field. After being nearly shot down and mauled by a circus gorilla, they finally arrived at the airfield. There, they discover that the disasters are connected with a Professor Hagen, the circus' animal trainer. However, Bridger Field's head Ed Hamlin has just gotten a visit from his boss, who says a "visitor" is expected within 48 hours. Clark and Jimmy sneak onto the circus grounds, where they discover the underground hideout of Hagen and his henchman, the Russian strongman Fodor. Clark, as Superman, defeats Fodor, as he and Jimmy overhear a cryptic weather report come over Hagen's radio. . . .

March 03, 2013

Who in Xenu's name is FanBox, and why are they annoying me?

Over the last couple of weeks, I've frequently been getting emails from an outfit called "FanBox," claiming to be a "daily earnings statement" of an incrementally large sum from day to day. (It started at about $8.00 and currently stands at about $75.)

This just in: As I was writing this, I received a new "statement" to the tune of $82.21. Huzzah!

As these messages go, I've earned this wallet-bursting packet by "Boosting," i.e. funding other people's ads and getting money when they're clicked on.

Today, however, I received something a little more ominous: a "Courtesy notice" from "FanBox Customer Protection," informing me that:

I noticed that your FanBox account is not protected, despite your sizable earnings of $82.21.

I strongly recommend that you protect your funds by validating your account immediately. [link redacted]

If you need assistance, chat with a community expert.

-Maria Ashford, Customer Protection Team FanBox – Uplifting humanity by enabling opportunity

So, basically, I'm in danger of losing phantom money that I've earned for phantom services on a phantom FanBox account that I never created, but now need to "validate."

Amazingly, someone has to be falling for this stuff, if it's profitable enough for them to persistently send out all this spam. What really annoys me is that at some time I must have accidentally clicked on a link in an email I didn't realize was a spam message—something I'm usually very careful about, since this is exactly the sort of thing I don't want.


March 02, 2013

Superman Saturday: I hope the Russians love their children too

The story so far: Perry White has sent Clark Kent on assignment with Ed Hamlin of the National Air Service to Bridger Field, an airfield in the Southwest. His instructions are to investigate a number of mysterious and fatal transport plane crashes that have taken place in the past two weeks. As they fly their way west, they first discover that Jimmy Olsen has stowed away in Hamlin's plane; second, that another plane is following them, and trying to shoot them down. In the skirmish, Hamlin is seriously wounded by machine-gun fire.

As Superman, Clark successfully fends off their attackers, but their own plane is damaged. Clark manages to make an emergency landing alongside a railroad track, and they are picked up by a circus train en route to the Mexican town of Del Rio. However, the train's brakeman, Balto, is a suspicious figure in the pay of a Professor Hagen, the circus' animal handler—who is also behind the attack on Hamlin's plane and, presumably, the crashes at Bridger Field. (Note: In the previous instalment, I had called Hagen "Professor Egan," but these later episodes make it clear that he is in fact "Hagen." So, Professor Hagen he shall be henceforth.)

Acting on Hagen's instructions to get rid of Clark and Jimmy, Balto locks them in a car with an enraged gorilla. Jimmy escapes, and Clark/Superman fights the gorilla into submission, just before the train starts rolling again, leaving Jimmy behind. Clark also jumps train, hoping to find him in the desert . . .