The Gospel, According to Sam

 

(This post was originally published on HH2B).
75dfb2c008a0801f5f7f7010.L1I mentioned last month that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is like the Bible to me, and I read it annually. It’s not the only book I read on a regular basis, but it was the first I consciously decided to do so with. When I look back, I see that I treat the Lord of the Rings like scripture not necessarily because of the good message of hope it brings (because it does) but because it was literally presented to me as such.

We moved to Fresno as I was entering 4th grade. (Does anyone else do this? Does anyone else remember their childhood not by year, but by grade?) My parents had a religious experience and were preparing to go into ministry. Because of this, we went to the Fresno Bible Book store. A lot. I was entering 4th grade, as I said, and although I’d really enjoyed reading as a child — well, you know, a younger child — I became a voracious reader in 4th grade. I read every biography Slater Elementary’s library had — Disney, Einstein, Eisenhower, Grant, Lee, Tubman. I read Morte D’Arthur, Three Musketeers — well, “Young Adult Classic” abridged versions, to be sure, but the heart and soul of those books were there. I wanted more.

Fashion Fair had a B. Dalton, and whenever we went there (which wasn’t very often, except to go to Gottschalks, which just wasn’t as kid-friendly as you might think, for a store that catered to grandmothers and housewives trying to look San Francisco chic) I’d get something like Beverly Cleary’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or some such. But the best place to go, for me, was the Fresno Bible Book Store. It was like a K-Mart of religious books, music, household decorations and various Christian bric-a-brac. And my mother, knowing my love of reading and hoping she could use that to help guide me to Christ, or whatever, made a pact with me: As long as my grades were up, and I had finished the last one I’d read, I could get a new book every time we went.

I started with the most obvious: CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. It is said that CS Lewis is the third most-quoted Christian, with #1 and #2 being Jesus and St. Paul. I don’t doubt it.

Anyway, I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and learned about deep magic from before the dawn of time. That the Witch was of a race of men God created and then destroyed, sometime between Day 5 and 6 of creation (there are some who believe the giant Goliath, of David and Goliath was of the same race, and the story of Noah describes there being more than one sentient race on the planet at the time of the flood). I read Prince Caspian, which taught that all men are sons of Adam, and have as much right to access the throne of God as any others, despite any calls to divine heritage or special privilege. I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and learned that the kingdom of heaven is open for anyone who searches for it, but only when they’re ready, and their time here is done can they enter. I read The Silver Chair and learned about the erotic power hypnosis can have (maybe another topic on another day lol)… every single book Lewis wrote gave lessons in spirituality and understanding God that were neither “preachy” nor — to be honest — entirely “Christian”  by the rules of Christianity set down by the local preachers in town (in The Last Battle, Lewis flatly says that a man who’s never had the chance to become a Christian, who nevertheless lived a life holy and pleasing to God would still be allowed into heaven, something no Bible-thumping zealot today would ever accept).

OH! And I read them IN ORDER. The RIGHT Order. Lion first, then Caspian, then Dawn Treader, Silver Chair, Horse and Boy, Magician’s Nephew, then The Last Battle. I can’t believe the gall publishers have today, making the Magician’s Nephew first, just because it’s a “prequel” to Lion. I call Shenanigans!

The Bible Book store, full of Bibles, treatises on theology, daily devotionals, and hymnals, had one row dedicated to fantasy. I plowed through the Chronicles of Narnia, and moved on to John White’s The Tower of Geburah and The Iron Sceptre. These books were clearly written in the bent of  Lewis’ work, but my little mind absorbed them like water, not even caring that the protagonists lived in Canada instead of England, and their magical land did not have an all-powerful lion as its deity.

narnia-51
Simba… Remember who you.. Oh wait. I’m in Narnia. Peter! Be the King!

Next on the list was The Hobbit.

Then Lord of the Rings, which, by this time, either 4th or 5th grade, was far, far above my grade and probably reading level, but the words soaked into me, became a part of me. I was as likely to shout “Elbereth Githoniel!” in the schoolyard as another child would be to cry “Stupid Poopyhead!” I was getting these books from a reliable purveyor of theology, and I read them as devoutly as any penitent reads his memory verses. I stayed up late at night, flashlight under the pillow, reliving the battle of Helm’s Deep over and over and over again, Gimli and Legolas fighting and counting orc corpses as they went. Understanding that Sam was very small, and not even the hero, but he did what he had to do to save his master — and even assaulted an entire castle of orcs to save Frodo single-handedly. It was mind-blowing. It was eye-opening. It was gospel. 

Gospel is a word that originally mean “Good news.” The Gospel of St. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are the recollections of four men about the good news that Jesus had come to save mankind. Matthew, Luke, and John’s are first-hand accounts and recollections. Mark’s is the transcription of St. Peter’s experiences, told to the young boy, Mark, late in his life.  To me, The Lord of the Rings was the Gospel According to Sam. We learned that there was great, great evil in the world, and that it had been thwarted in the past, when great heroes and mighty lords existed to do such things, but that evil was back, and growing stronger, even as the forces who might have stopped it before were growing weaker and weaker.

The Good News was that in all of Middle Earth, there was one, small, lonely hobbit who had fallen into the right place and the right time to shift the fate of the entire world. He was a simple hobbit, but he had courage. He had a good heart. He had an uncle with some experience in world-changing adventures. And he had a friend who would not let him down. The Good News was that with these four things, anything could be done. The Lord of the Rings is about friendship. The friendship of two kings, uniting to defeat a common enemy. The friendship of two Hobbits lost in Fangorn with nothing but a centuries-old tree shepherd to talk to. The friendship of a dwarf and elf that was so strong that when that elf left Middle Earth forever, his friend the dwarf chose to go with him.  The friendship of a master and servant, who literally went to the ends of the earth to save it.

Fantasy became my religion on the shelves of the Bible Book Store. Those books taught me about faith, loyalty, discipline, friendship, good, evil, love, hate, despair, failure, and forgiveness. The genre has changed a lot since then — I seriously doubt George Martin’s books are there (I’ll tell the story about how I got a certain fantasy series taken off the shelf there someday), but when I was a child, these were the things that fueled my spirit.

They still are.

A Bucket of Balls and a Roll of Quarters

(This is a repost from HH2B as I convert that site to a comics-only page.)

28465_460329557714_6433176_n1          The confident grin of a 8-year-old playa

When we arrived in Fresno in 4th grade, my parents were convinced that this would (might?) be the last move. To that end, they tried to get me involved in sports to better involve me in the community and make friends and whatnot.  This ended up trying to get me active in sports. For someone whose best friend was a stuffed animal, whose only memory of playing games outside at school involved being beaten up in some way (I’ll talk about that someday lol), and who’d probably never even seen sports before (I sure don’t remember ever having had), it was a challenging proposition to say the least.

First, we tried soccer, I think because we’d just missed Little League season. I played for the Slater Stingers or some such, because I think our team’s mascot was a feral bee with anger issues. I played fullback. If you’re unfamiliar with soccer (or what the Europeans like to call Football, or what the Latin Americans have condensed to just Futbol, or what the Australians call “What we let sissies and paraplegics play if they can’t handle rugby”) then know that a fullback is a defender. They stand between the enemy team and the goalie and (hopefully) make his job easier by blocking their approach to the goal.

The reason why I played fullback is because I had absolutely no soccer skills, and hated running. But I was a body, and I could accidentally trip attackers like nobody’s business. And since I looked so inept doing so, I never got carded, because it really looked like I was going for the ball, even though on the inside, my purpose in life was “destroy the enemy ball carrier at any cost.” It’s a wonder I didn’t get arrested, so badly did I try tripping these kids. Maybe refs at the 4th grade level don’t really look at the intent of the trip too hard. I don’t know.

But yeah. It was the running that got me there. God I hated running. Every day, the coach would make us run laps around Slater Elementary. Maybe it was around the entire school. I don’t know. Slater has an enormous play yard. You could fit three modern schools on Slater’s campus, and still have room for the preschool jungle gym. Coach would make us run, and I’d be in the back, sweating, lagging, essentially dying. Every single lap, I’d ask the coach a question: “How old do I have to be to have a heart attack?” “How old do I have to be to have an aneurysm?”  “How old do I have to be to get leprosy?” Every lap, for an entire season, a different malady. “Heat stroke?” “Epilepsy?” “Tourrettes?” “Malaria?” I wasn’t sure, but I was certain he was torturing us just to meet his sadistic needs. If The Princess Bride had existed, I imagine that with each lap, he could have answered “I just ran 1 year out of your body. How do you feel?”

When the season was over, it was over for good. I never played soccer again. I regretted that decision more times that you will ever believe, because the first true love on my life (who I hung myself in front of once, but that’s another story too) loved soccer, and went on to play it quite vigorously in high school. Nevetheless, I couldn’t imagine having to do another year of this torturous stuff, and besides, I’d run out of fatal mishaps to ask my coach about. It was time to move on.

307471_10150445305537715_292065480_n1She was a stone-cold fox in 6th grade, too. The girl behind her? She pinched me with sharpened talons so hard I still have the scar.

And move on we did, to Little League. My dad, intent on my success like no dad I’ve ever known (honestly, he’s the best dad I’ve ever had), became the coach of the Pirates. We had cool yellow and black uniforms, with white pants, and stirrups. Stirrups! How old-school was that? Well, this was like, 1977. I guess we weren’t “old school” then… Just “school.” Anyway, we had some GREAT players on our team. There was this guy, Louis, who was our first baseman. He’d hit the ball when it was pitched at him. He’d catch the ball when it was hit at him. He was great.

Me? Not so much.

I had trouble concentrating, sometimes, out there in left field. True story, I let the ball roll by me once, too zoned into my own little world to notice there was a baseball game going on very near to me. My father hit me in the head with a baseball once. Not because he wanted to, but during pop-up practice he hit it right to me, and I wasn’t paying any attention at all.  But that’s ok. I was a great hitter. Right? RIGHT?

CAMELOh shut up, Mother Nature. WTF do you know?

 

Yep. I was, I think, the worst hitter in the history of Fresno Little League. For the two years I played baseball, I had a lifetime batting average of 0.000. For those following along at home, that’s zero. I never once got a hit. Ever. The few times I made it on base, it was either because I got hit by a pitch, or walked.  I mean, I tried. I tried. We’d take a bucket of balls out to Lions Park over behind Slater and practice hitting pitches. We’d get a roll of quarters and go to Blackbeards for a day — not riding the water slides, not playing miniature golf — just to blast balls in the batting cage. I could hit a ball. If I tried really hard, I could do it.

But come gametime, when that ball came, WHIFF. Sometimes it was just too fast, it seemed. Sometimes it was just too slippery, it seemed. Sometimes I was threatened by its presence and I closed my eyes and swung unseeingly. Whiff, whiff, whiff. You’re out!

I played baseball for two years. I gave it the old college try. At the end of the day, though, sports and I agreed to end our relationship amicably. Today, I am a mere voyeur, watching my Dodgers rise up from the obscurity they’ve been slumming in for so many years, and I am loving it. But I’m also at a crucial crossroads. My son is in 4th grade. He wants to try sports. He tried soccer and didn’t like it, because he didn’t like running.

Maybe my dad knew I wasn’t the athletic type. Maybe he just wanted to give me every chance to succeed; to do things he’d wanted to do but never had the chance to. Maybe in his quest to become my hero, he built in me the desire to be a hero for my kid too. I kinda feel like finding a bucket of balls and a roll of quarters, and letting the chips fall where they may.

Batter up!

5 Movies That Will Make a Grown Man Cry

(This is a repost from HH2B as I transition that site to a comics-only site).

I don’t watch chick flicks. You can count on one hand the number of “chick dramas” I’ve watched voluntarily, and I shun Lifetime-style movies like Steel Magnolias or The Notebook like a zombie apocalypse. My movies have explosions, guns, ninjas, swords, sexy coeds, and Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme and/or Sylvester Stallone. Guy movies, you know?  And yet… I STILL find myself crying at the movie theater every now and then. There are some film makers who really know how to tug a heart string, and there are some films that give you such an emotional suckerpunch at the end that all you can do is weep uncontrollably. Like a little girl. Like a man in touch with his feelings. No bones about it. If you want to see what it’s like to be attacked by onion-slicing ninjas in the middle of your living room, then watch these movies. But do it with care. Your buddies may never stop ribbing you — after their eyes dry up too, of course.

You know what? I am bawling already, just from looking these quotes up. These movies hit me deep. If you didn’t cry the first time you saw these films, then you have no soul. Begone from me, foul undead minion of Lolth! But if you haven’t, then I cannot recommend these movies strongly enough. There are just snippets of quotes below. I won’t give anything away. You deserve to be stomach-punched as hard as the rest of us were. In order from weakest to strongest response, here are the movies that make me cry like no Fremen ever did.

 

“Make a wish, Lo” — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon-Screencap-crouching-tiger-hidden-dragon-1721374-1600-9001
“Will we ever be happy?”
“No. Our story was filmed in China.”

 

This is one of those films that catches you off-guard. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon follows a formula that I did not know when I first watched it: In Chinese cinema, no one ever gets a happy ending. If I’d known this, I would have been ready for the ending, wherein a witch and her disciple, an aging mercenary and monk who could have been lovers in a different world, and a sword of destiny all work themselves into a lather. But that’s not the ending. That’s the set up. See, we see people die there, and you know. You know people die in movies, especially movies with a lot of sword play and the like. But it’s later, when the young bandit prince is reunited with his lover, and after all he and she have been through, in this grueling ordeal of a movie, she utters one line to him that breaks him as utterly as a man could be broken. And what she does next breaks the heart of every person watching.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Hidden onion-slicing ninja, I say.


“You died on a Saturday morning”– Forrest Gump

forrest-1024x434“Did I give you permission to cry in this film?!”
“No, Drill Sergeant!”

 

Forrest Gump is the least exciting movie about football, Viet Nam, racism, deep sea fishing, and technology ever made. And yet it is compelling to watch a simpleton bumble through the events that shaped our American life. Through all the changes that occur in Forrest’s life, through all the history he personally witnesses, there is one constant in his life. And when that’s taken away from him, nothing — not witnessing the death of his mother, his best friend dying, his former boss coming to grips with double amputation — none of this prepares you for the heart-felt good bye he has to make then. Forrest Gump is an example of movie-making done right. You don’t even realize how attached you’ve grown to these stupid screen characters until one of them is hurt so badly, you can feel it yourself.


“Thanks, guys” — Toy Story 3

toy_story_3_andy1Damn you, Buzz, damn you Woody, and God Damn you, Andy. 

 

I went into Toy Story 3 knowing that this was being billed as the last Toy Story. Disney and Pixar had gone through their famous divorce, and this franchise was the child they’d fought over for custody. This movie gave us several opportunities to fear for the fates of the characters we’ve come to know and love over the course of three films, and there’s a scene near the end where the director threw out all the stops to convince us that this was the end, for everyone. The characters made their peace with each other, found solidarity, and waited for imminent, utter destruction. I mean, this is Disney? Oh whew! It was. They don’t die.

But something else happens. And you have to be a man for this one to hit you. You have to have owned things, and lost them to get that gut-punch the director was waiting to spring on you. The last scene of this movie… Is one of the best scenes ever. In any film.And I absofuckinglutely HATE Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter for writing it. If I ever meet them, I’m going to punch them in the face for making me cry so hard. Dude. Have you ever cried so hard in a movie you wished you could go back to 8th grade and play with that Luke Skywalker and Yoda action figure set you had when you were 12?

You will. You will.

 


“Hey… Dad? — Field of Dreams

fielddreamsend1Welcome to the 21st century. Can I introduce you to Performance-Enhancing Drugs?”

 

Field of Dreams is not the kind of movie I would normally watch. It’s a silly magical realism film where a man hears a strange voice in his head, builds a baseball field in his yard, and dead people come to play baseball in it. Ok, so maybe it is the kind of film I’d watch. And that’s how Field of Dreams hooks you. The premise is so preposterously silly that you start watching it just to see what all the fuss is about.

The movie sets up its gut punch almost immediately, but in a subtle way. By the time the trigger has been set, the film is already underway, and there’s an emotional timebomb ticking inside of you that you don’t even realize. Every single time I see Field of Dreams on the television, I watch it. Every time I watch it, I cry. I cry, and then I call my dad, because, damn. This movie really makes you appreciate dads sometimes.


“Earn this” — Saving Private Ryan

 

Tom-Hanks-Saving-Private-Ryan-wallpaper1Yeah, I am in this movie too. You are so f%$#ed.

 

The first time I saw Saving Private Ryan, I had the most unusual thing happen. This movie didn’t just punch me in the face so hard both my eyes broke and all their fluid pour out everywhere. No. Saving Private Ryan’s denouement was a question so powerfully phrased, that I didn’t just weep uncontrollably through the end credits, aghast at its implications. No… I burst into tears again in the bathroom, popping a deuce. An emotional aftershock? Are you kidding me? I was crying in the bathroom, trying not to make noise, because, really, above and beyond the bodily function noises, you just don’t do that in a public place. And I was stunned. How did they do that? How did they know how to hit me so hard I’d fall down twice?

The only three things I remembered about Saving Private Ryan after that second emotional nuclear bomb — Steven Spielberg’s heart-string Fat Boy to my ravaged Nagasaki –was that the sniper was so very cool, how pissed off was I that the coward of the company was an actor with the last name Clary, and Tom Sizemore should just play sergeants in every movie. Oh, yeah, and I was blubbering inconsolably about none of those.

 

I notice now that Tom Hanks is on here twice. No, check that. Tom Hanks is on this list three times, and Gosh darn it, I was going to include The Cloud Atlas on this list — and The Green Mile, too. The Green Mile makes me cry over the stupidest little thing in the world. Every time. I think it means just one thing:

Tom Hanks is evil. He feeds on the tears of men. He must be destroyed. I am not watching his new pirate movie ever. Because he’s gonna make me cry. I just know it.

Sorry I burned your house down

strike-a-match1[1]

(This is a repost of a page I wrote for HH2B, which is being transitioned to a comic-only site).

When I was a kid, we lived all over the place. From birth to the day I got married (at age 22), I lived in two or three houses in Virginia; two houses in Kennewick, Washington; a house in Keshena, Wisconsin; another place in Green Bay, Wisconsin; and a third place in Shawano, Wisconsin; Boise, Idaho (we lived in Boise for 3 months), then to Fresno, California and San Joaquin Valley, with four houses in Fresno, a house in Clovis, and a house in Orange Cove. I moved out of my parents’ house and lived briefly in Eagle Rock, CA, Sunland, CA, another house in Sunland, and Las Vegas (also briefly). So that’s what?  Eighteen to twenty homes in a 20-22-year period. Not too shabby. Sometimes, when I moved to a new school district, I’d tell folks it was because my father was a fugitive from the law, and we were in the witness protection plan, but not as very important witnesses, because we got to keep our names.

991You know how traumatic it was for Lindsay Lohan to be the new girl at her school in Mean Girls?
I was the new kid at five different school districts.

 

I told my family that I appreciated them moving around a lot, because I believed I was a fugitive of a war-like race from deep in space, and I had only my faithful protector to keep me safe of this planet while I slummed in exile in a fragile human body designed to throw my assassins off the trail (yes… when I was 5 years old, I fully believed I was living a life nearly identical to what the book I Am Number Four ended up being like. How weird, right?) But the secret truth that I knew was the real reason we moved had to be with me. I was wrong in ways that couldn’t be explained by being an alien refugee. I was distorted in ways people don’t normally distort without becoming serial killers or talk show hosts.

When I was five years old, I burned down my best friend’s house.

 

Child-in-handcuffs-3001

I expected to end up like this. I think a lot of other people expected this too.

Let me explain. No, that would take too long. Let me sum up.

We lived in a two story home in Kennewick. At least, I think it was two story. Either that, or I lived in a finished attic. It’s possible. I was five, and my memory’s pretty fuzzy. I know that I was upstairs, though, and my room had a serious draft in it that would cause a rush of wind to fly into the house whenever you opened the window.

It was cool. Like, seriously cool. Total dead air, out there in the deserts of eastern Washington, with nothing for miles in any direction except ominous Mt. Ranier glowering down at us mortals moving across the world like ants. But when I opened my window, WOOSH! Air would suck into the house like it was pushed in a blacksmith’s bellows. I had never seen anything more awesome.

Except fire. Dang I liked fire. My parents smoked. Their friends smoked. It was the early 70s: EVERYONE smoked. To smoke, you had to make fire. So through the course of however many 3 packs of cigarettes is (Does anyone still smoke? How many smokes in a pack?) my parents would show me something mind blowing every time they lit up. Fire. Fire! My dad could tear off a little piece of paper with a funny head from a small square of similar papers, smack that paper — a match, they called it — and FAROOM! Fire! You could use that match to light anything. The hibatchi, the fire place, a camp fire, even that cigarette dangling from his lips.

strike-a-match1AWESOME, right? RIGHT? I’m creeping you out, huh? Dangit.

My best friend was Pat Owens. I don’t think he went to Fruitland Elementary with me, but he might have. I remember my best friend at Fruitland being the ignobly named Frank Baloney. No, I think Pat Owens was my best friend because my parents and his were best friends. They did Amway together, or some such. They were all going to be rich. Pat was diabetic. His dad was gruff. Pat never had fun at his house. But we had great fun at mine. Remind me to tell you about the time I left a poop-filled pair of underwear in the framework of a new house being built with Pat once. If you live in Kennewick, near Fruitland Elementary, and your house smells funny in the summertime, I’m sorry about that.

One day I told Pat he had to see something so awesome, he wouldn’t be able to believe it. I had found a pack of my dad’s matches. I had figured out how to light them. I had discovered that my window could create a blast of wind so strong, it would blow out the match I had just lit. Pat and I climbed the stairs to my room, and I showed him, like a master magician. With all the showmanship a five-year-old can muster, I lit the match, let it burn just a second, then threw the window open and FROOSH! It went out.

Pat wanted to try. He had trouble lighting the match — noob! — but once he had it lit, I threw open the window again, and out the match went, unable to withstand the sudden onrush of air. We went through that whole pack of matches before the day was over, but by the end of it, we were old hands at lighting them. We were possessors of forbidden knowledge, wielders of the secret fire of Udun. We were Prometheus.

A few weeks later, my mom told me that Pat’s house had burned to the ground. He had been playing with matches. He’d tried to light the match, open the window and… his house didn’t have the same draft. No rush of wind came to blow out the match, and when the flame reached his fingers, he panicked and lost it in the carpet. It smouldered, and eventually the carpet caught fire. By the time the fire department came, it was too late. Pat and his family escaped unharmed, but they lost everything.

fire1It probably looked exactly like this.

My mom asked me if I ever played with matches. I told her the only thing I could tell her. “Of course not!” I imagine Pat had already told his parents where he had learned to play with matches. I imagine he had broken under the indescribable power of having your home destroyed in front of your face. I don’t remember ever seeing Pat again. We moved to a new location — this might have even been when we moved clear from Washington to Shawano, Wisconsin. No one ever said why we moved. Maybe it was for a better job, like Dad said. I think it was because I had destroyed my friend’s house, destroyed his entire family’s life. Maybe it wasn’t my dad who was a fugitive from the law. Maybe it was me.

If you’re reading this, and you know Pat Owens, please tell him I’m sorry. I have done so very many things in my life that I am ashamed of that if I’m ever going absolve myself into a position where I feel like I can die without regret, I need to start making amends today. I’m sorry I burned your house down, Pat. I hope that day hasn’t haunted you as often as it has haunted me.

And kids? Don’t play with matches. I mean, seriously. Adults tell you this stuff not because they don’t want you to have fun. They say it because sometimes they’ve seen shit you would not believe — and they’d like to spare you from having to ever see that shit yourself.

 

The Boy Who Cried Ebola

I am VERY happy to announce the publication of my new book, “The Boy Who Cried Ebola!”

It’s a chilling morality tale that evokes the spirit of the ancient children’s fable, brought to life with new, modern settings and experiences. By updating the setting and the threat, this story teaches children to be truthful and teaches adults to take their kids seriously all the time.

 

You can find it at Amazon.com here.

ebola

My Newest Bad Idea: Ibola.

The newest craze in smart disease technology, iBola!

http://ibola.us

 

 

The Top Seven Sequels of 2015 (In Sequel # Order)

I don’t know about you, but 2015 is shaping up to be one of the greatest tentpole movie years of all time. It’s as though every studio on the planet thought “Shit. 2014 was an undead movie-hating zombie. We better unload both barrels into that bitch next year.”

What’s amazing about 2015, though, is that there are going to be a (record, maybe?) 26 sequels on the plate, and at least ten “reboots” (new movie versions of movies that didn’t need to be remade). With that many sequels on the table, most film critics have already penciled in “Complain about all those god damn sequels” into their blog schedules, but not me. I think some of these movies will be not only amazing, not only the biggest, highest-grossing films of the year — but some of the best films of the decade. Let’s look at the top ten, in order of their sequel number (for no other reason than that’s a cool gimmick, IMO).

7. Star Wars 7: The Unbalanced Galaxy

starwars1

Let’s face it. There are really only two contenders for King of All Movies in 2015. The first film on this list, and the last one. My money’s on this one. I have a bitter taste in my mouth from the three soul-sucking-childhood-violating prequels, but everything about this film evokes my fanboy O-face.

Some folks may (rightfully) say that JJ Abrams misstepped with the Star Trek reboots, especially so with how he handled the script and the “secret reveal” of the second one. There is so much more at stake here, though. There has never been a film franchise as big as Star Wars. There is no better a filmmaking team than the crew at Bad Robot. There has never been a film-studio with the Fanboy Goodwill Critical Mass that Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm enjoys right now. Knowing absolutely nothing about this film, I know this:  I want to see this film desperately and will be at the first showing possible. So will hundreds of thousands of other people. If it’s any good at all, and JJ hits the right notes perfectly? then we’ll all see it again, and maybe another time after that.

Star Wars is an addiction, and the last three movies were cut with some bad shit. If JJ Abrams gives me a pure blast of Star Wars? Shut up and take my money. (Also, what do you think of my proposed subtitle?)

Honorable Mention: Fast and Furious 7

A local newspaper described Furious 6 as “Comic book superhero move for guys who like fast cars instead of comic books” and it’s true. The film may have had its roots in street racing and young, virile, attractive humans grinding against each other between races, but it has since evolved into something where laws of physics are really just suggestions, dead people come back (looking sexier than ever) and even 30-ton mechanized armor can get in on the street-racing shenanigans. Teasing Jason Statham as the villain of Fast and Furious 7 at the end of the last film guaranteed I’d buy a ticket for it, because who else do you want to take on the world’s best driving team, than the world’s best driver PERIOD?

fast_and_furious_7___jason_statham_by_bijit69-d6kfs7g[1]Poster by the immensely talented bijit69

Paul Walker’s death was a terrible, unfortunate accident, and changes that had to be made as a result of it may break this movie, but I’ll see it at once, just to find out how they recovered from that, and what kind of crazy wire-fu they figure out how to put a Subaru through this time.

5. Mission Impossible 5

No one runs like Tom Cruise. No one. 

Tom Cruise has been churning out action films like he knows he’s almost at the end of his action film career. Edge of Tomorrow was an especially good one, and I thoroughly enjoyed the previous Mission Impossible. You have to ask yourself, though… just what kind of crazy “Falling off impossibly high shit” stunt is left in Ethan’s bucket list?

“Ok, so we sneak onto the space shuttle, disable the evil laser, and then I’ll jump to safety before it explodes.”

“Ethan! You can’t base-jump from outer space! That’s crazy!”

“It’s not crazy, Luther. It’s Impossible. And that’s exactly what we’ve been trained to do.”

4. Jurassic World

MAN! The 4-spot was hard to pick. You’ve got the 4th Daniel Craig James Bond film (the filmmakers are so sure it will be a hit they haven’t even named it yet), the 4th Hunger Games film (which should dominate the angsty-but-fiesty chick-flick market), and, oh yeah… Chris Pratt’s THIRD gold medal film in a row.

Chris Pratt. You remember him, right? Emmett from the best animated film of 2013 — The Lego Movie. Peter Quill from the best film of 2014 — Guardians of the Galaxy. And now starring in the newest edition of the best movie franchise Steven Spielberg ever did that didn’t feature Nazis: Jurassic World.

I have no idea what this movie is about, except it has Chris Pratt, Steven Spielberg, and Dinosaurs. Done. Sold. Here’s my Regal Card, I hope I get a free popcorn.

math

3. Taken 3

 

A lot of people have seen the barrel of this gun. Just sayin’.

I almost chose Kung Fu Panda 3 over Taken 3, because, frankly, Liam Neeson is running out of people to kill, I think. He has almost reached the point where he needs to just have his name changed to Ebola, because he kills 50-70% of the people he meets in his films anymore. That said, Kung Fu Panda 3 is up against seriously stiff competition from Disney, Pixar, and others. I liked how they introduced the concept of the ept kung fu pandas at the end of KFP2 (ept… the opposite of inept, amiright?), and I’m interested in seeing my favorite anthropomorphic martial artists not-named-Usagi-Yojimbo back on the silver screen… I just think I’m going to like Liam Neeson slaughtering hundreds of deserving thugs more.

(Honorable Mention) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Just had to throw this one out there. Four old Brits make an art-house film, and it’s so wonderful it actually gets a sequel? I loved the first Marigold Hotel film. It made me think about my life’s direction and impending mortality more than I expected. I think this one is well-deserved, and I hope it does well too. Given its budget is probably 1/100th of the other films on this list? They’ll probably have the best profit margin of the seven.

2. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

I’m going to put my cards on the table right now: Avengers 2/Captain American 4/Iron Man 5/Thor 4/Hulk 3/Black Widow 2/Hawkeye 2 is going to make more money than every other film with the number 2 in it… combined. Marvel has been hitting on all cylinders, and there’s nothing that suggests they’re slowing down any time soon. Will Star Wars take the #1 spot for the year or Avengers? I don’t know. My heart says Star Wars. My gut says Avengers. My soul says if this is the kind of dilemma we’re going to have next year? It’s going to be a fantastic fucking year for cinema.

(What, you thought I was going to say “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2?”)

 

#TSQL2SDAY: My Heroes

Today I posted the story of my favorite hero over at TheSQLNomad.com. Not terribly surprising who it turns out to be. He’s been my hero my whole life.

 

What if the Zombie Apocalypse Comes – With No Zombies?

Zombies are big right now. Almost jumped-the-shark big. There’s zombie films in theaters, more than one set of zombies on TV, and zombies in popular media like never before. Zombies are, in the 10s, what vampires were in the 90s. Cracked Magazine (my go-to source for deep, insightful science and social commentary) already showed evidence of nature’s ability to create zombies.

There’s a very compelling image that shows up in zombie apocalypse movies. A quick and easy way to show how fast zombies are spreading, and how quickly mankind is dying.  It looks like this:

The spread of Limon in the great Sprite Zombie Invasion of 2008

What if, though… what if we have a virus that kills people quickly, spreads quicker, and can’t be stopped, except through extreme measures like walling people off and whatever else weird stuff they do on The Walking Dead? What if it did everything we expect a zombie apocalypse to do…

except create zombies?

That’s what I keep seeing when I watch the ebola virus spread. When I see a graph like this, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the virus is slowing down. This is scary on a “we are all going to die” level… but like, on day one.

On day one of the zombie apocalypse, no one does anything. No one cares. It’s just a weird disease. A sickness somewhere that unclean, uncivilized people in Africa get. It’s only killed 100 people — a pittance, compared to the billions and billions of people on the planet.

Then you look at a graph like this:

In every single nation it’s hit, the ebola virus continues to graph its infection and body count upward. And you don’t have to know math to understand this graph, but it really fucking helps. Just look at Liberia. Two months ago, the infection rate was .01% — with a population of four million people, that meant the disease was infecting (math here) 400 people.

Flash forward one month. The infection rate is up to .04%. Sixteen hundred people infected. Flash forward another month. Last month it hit an infection rate of .09%.  The rate of increase, using basic trending techniques (draw a line in the direction of the trend) looks like this, if the infection rate is not slowed:

Untitled

By my birthday in January, the infection rate will be .25% of the population — 10,000 people.

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh shut up. You’re just fear mongering. 10,000 people, while tragic, still isn’t zombie apocalypse-worthy.

Right. That would be true if infections followed linear graphs like this. But they don’t. They follow sharper curves. If one person infections one person, that’s a flat graph. But what if the second person infects 2 people, and those two people infect 2 people? then it’s doubling. And what if the infection rate doubles every month?

logrithmic

That leaves us with .75% infection rate by Christmas – 30,000 infected. And it gets scarier and scarier from there. If the virus doubles its infection rate every month? The entire nation of Liberia is infected… before the 4th of July.

Remember this: Ebola kills half the people it infects. It disastrously sickens the ones it doesn’t kill. The survivors will be weak, tired, and surrounded by dead bodies. Infectious dead bodies. Who will be farming crops? Getting those crops to cities? Who will be running cities full of corpses? Who will be manufacturing clothing, producing fuel, chopping down lumber, making plastics?

What happens when we are left with a world just like the zombie movies predicted: derelict, crumbling, and only a shattered human remnant holding on for dear life?

This is why I don’t like math. It’s terrifying.

 

 

The Four Worst Jobs You’ll Find on Freelancer.Com

I use Freelancer.com to supplement my income. It is a fantastic marketplace of tech (and other skilled) contractors and businesses who need small-to-medium (and sometimes larger) short-term work done. It’s like the eBay of jobs. Employers post an ad, contractors bid for the work, and once the employer picks someone, that person does the job for the negotiated rate.  It’s the free market in action and it’s pretty awesome.

And yet, there are just a lot of jobs out there that seem sketchy at best. You probably want to be careful when you run across these. I’ve compiled the four that you should be wary of when you start hunting for work in the wild, wild west internet.

Students Needing Homework Help

Computer Science classes are somewhat more difficult than, say, American History to cheat on. You can’t just copy Wikipedia or find an essay online to plagiarize  when Professor Obernolte tells you to architect a student enrollment database and design the procedures and constraints needed to make it work.

So what’s an enterprising student (who doesn’t want to actually do any of that work) to do?

You ask Freelancers to do it for you. 

Student

Look at the requirements. That’s not a business need. That’s a “Due on Thursday, Extra Credit if it’s in by Wednesday” Freshman-level CS class assignment. And how do we know it’s a student making this request?

budget1

budget2 budget3That’s right. Froshy McFroshfrosh has a big party on Friday, and there’s a good chance that smoking hot cheerleader’s going to be there and Danny’s bringing a bag of the weed he bought in Denver so there’s not a whole lot of room left in the ole wallet for collegiate fraud.

Spammers Who Can’t Afford LexisNexis

For you people who believe in the myth of privacy on the internet, LexisNexis is the overarching evil overlord of every single snippet of data on the planet (and several exoplanets as well, I bet). A good researcher with a LexisNexis account can find out everything there is to know about a person, place, or thing that’s ever been made publicly available, and even a bunch that’s not. With LexisNexis you could instantly (for instance) compile a list of every pharmacy in Hoboken, or the mailing addresses of ever gymastics instructor in Arkansas.

Problem is, they’re expensive. Real expensive? How expensive are they? They’re one of those companies that doesn’t even put a price on their website. “Want to know about our product? Call us.” That’s right. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it. And what most spammers can’t do is afford shit.

Think about it. If a spammer, whose sole method of earning money is shoving so much garbage onto the internet maybe one person will go fucking insane and buy their shit, had enough money to afford LexisNexis? They would be selling a product people wanted, instead of the “hope someone regurgitates cash onto me” product line they’re currently hawking. Heck, they won’t even pay the more reasonable rates  that corporate email-list providers charge for lists like these.

So that’s why they need Freelancers.

Spammers

 

This guy wants one million email addresses. He’s on a budget though, so the best you’re going to get out of him is $30 — or $0.00003 per address. That’s how valued a customer you are to the guy who just sent you that “I want you to make $5,000 an hour selling worthless products on the internet, because I want you to succeed” email.

Speaking of worthless products

Guys Selling Stuff that Fell Off A Truck

I have to admit, I tried doing this one, in the hopes it was a legitimate job. Turns out I was selling counterfeit Beats by Dre from some guy in Serbia. Don’t get me wrong, there may be some folks here selling legitimate products – who have so many products to sell on eBay that they can’t possibly manage the vast and sophisticated selling tools built specifically to do just that, and need to rely on dozens of unsuspecting rubes with perfect eBay reputations instead to sell for them.

And that’s what Freelancers are there for. 

ebay

If I had quality products to sell I’d just, I don’t know, sell them. Be very, very wary of jobs like this.

Of course, selling stolen shit is, I guess, not quite as bad as…

Flat Out Hacking, Piracy, and Theft

The criminal element of the world is not above asking Freelancers to help them hack Facebook accounts, Instagram accounts, and anything else they want to get into. They’re willing to pay you a pittance to unlock software that they didn’t want to pay for, such as this fellow here is hoping for.

hacking

For the record, he’s willing to pay up to $250 to mitigate the theft of thousands of dollars of software. Perhaps that’s a victimless crime, like some ignorant people like to believe. Maybe if everyone steals a copy of Posture Pro, the company that sells this goes out of business, and the Chiropractic field is without one of its key software diagnostic tools.

All I know is theft is theft, and I steer clear of assholes like this every time I see them on Freelancer.

It bothers me a great deal that they allow jobs like the ones above to be posted. I wish they would police their community more stringently. The marketplace suffers a massive lost of credential when elements like this exist within it. But what can we do? These are the fringe cases. Most of the people posting and bidding on Freelancer are doing so to make money, or make their products better, and I endorse that wholeheartedly.

There’s other bad jobs out there on Freelancer. Writing copy for pittance, voluntary sexual slavery, creating millions of spambots for Twitter and Facebook — the usual Mos Eisley of scum and villainy. But for my money, the ones listed above are what make finding the good jobs even harder. Even for all of that, I rely on Freelancer for a steady stream of supplemental income. If you’ve got skills (or items to sell that fell of a truck, I suppose) you should give them a try.

 

 

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