Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Law and Order - Conviction

Several months, maybe a year ago, we acquired Conviction: The Complete Series on DVD. We watched the first four or five episodes and kind of lost interest. We were not compelled to continue watching, until this week.

The series focuses on a team of young attorneys working for the state prosecutor's office in New York. The boss is ADA Alexandra Cabot, who was a regular character on the original Law and Order series, and L&O creator Dick Wolf also created this series. In the first three Law and Order series. each episode focuses on one case, maybe two. With Conviction, each episode covers three or four cases, so you only see a few minutes of any one storyline.  In addition, the first few episodes seemed to focus more on the attorneys' private lives and sexual escapades than on the cases. What Tim and I like about the other Law and Order series is that we can follow along on the investigation and prosecution, discuss various legal procedures, agree or disagree with how a case is handled, and see if we were right about who committed the crime. Conviction didn't give us enough of that.

After several months of not watching, we decided to finish watching the series this week. We weren't sure where we stopped, so we ended up missing a few episodes in the middle and watching those out of order. The show actually got a lot better as it went along. We still had some personal drama, but it didn't seem to detract as much from the cases. They had some interesting cases that we didn't always agree on. Here's an example:

The cast of Conviction.
In one episode a young gang member had disappeared after his arrest for selling drugs. The other gang members involved had all been prosecuted. They finally nab this last guy, but it turns out he has joined the Navy, and his defense attorney asks for leniency. The prosecutor originally assigned to the case has passed it off to Nick Potter, one of the new guys in the office, and she wants the kid to go to prison. Potter wants to give him a break; the kid is due to ship out to Iraq in a few months, and his CO says he's an outstanding sailor.  Unfortunately, ADA Cabot agrees with the case's original prosecutor. It's a gang crime and he needs to be punished. The drug conviction is a felony and he'll have to serve a year in prison, meaning his Navy career is over. I agreed with Potter. The drug sale (two ounces of crack cocaine) was not a violent crime. The kid seemed genuinely glad to have found a legitimate career that makes his mother proud. Prisons are overcrowded, and in my mind, service in Iraq is just as good a rehabilitative tool as a year in prison. When he gets out of prison, he'll turn back to his life of crime because he won't have a job and he'll be bitter. My husband says the kid probably committed violent crimes before, even if he didn't get caught, because that's what gangs do, and he should be punished. He also said that he'd probably be one of those service members who turn the gun on his own troops or who'll come home more violent than ever. I can see his point, but from the information I had to go with, I would have given the kid the benefit of the doubt.

If you like the other Law and Order series, you will probably enjoy this one as well. If you don't get into the first couple of episodes, just give it time and allow it to develop. In the beginning, I thought I could see why the show didn't get picked up past the first season. By the end, though, I felt like it had gotten a raw deal, and I was really disappointed not to be able to see what happened to these characters in the future.

You can watch full episodes of Conviction on Hulu. The complete series is also available for purchase at Amazon.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Doctor Who Christmas Special + 2011 Preview



A dozen years ago, I never thought I would be a fan of Doctor Who. I was never into the show. I watched a few episodes with my husband, who's been a fan since the '80s, but I just didn't get into it.

When the BBC revived the series in 2005, I sat by my husband to watch. We didn't have cable, so here was something new to see, even if it was a show that I didn't give a hoot about. If you're wondering how we were watching without cable, a friend of Tim's was sending him DVDs of the episodes that he downloaded. Never fear, we purchase all the legal DVDs when they are released; we just don't want to wait a year to see the show.

After watching a few episodes, in particular the two-part story of "The Empty Child and "The Doctor Dances," I was pretty well hooked. When Christopher Eccleston regenerated into David Tennant, that's when I really started considering myself a fan. I still hate to say the words, but I'll type them here: I love Doctor Who.

The new Who anyway. I'm still not inclined to sit and watch Doctors 1-7. No offense to William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy - I'm just not that into you.

It's somewhat of a tradition for the BBC to air a Doctor Who story on Christmas Day, and even though BBC America aired the Special on the 25th, we still don't have cable. So, Christmas Day found us searching for someplace online to watch Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol. No luck. We did find it the next day, and I have mixed feelings about it. It was a good story, with great use of the potential of time travel.

In the story, a space cruise ship is about to crash on a distant planet colonized by Earth in the far future. A crotchety old man controls the device that keeps the planet's frozen skies clear. At the point our story begins, the skies are not clear, and that's why the ship is about to crash. The old man refuses to use his device to clear the way and save the 4,000+ passengers and crew. It's up to the Doctor (#11, Matt Smith) to change his mind.

The Doctor has a personal stake in all this; his current companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams are on their honeymoon aboard that very ship. One of the story's shortcomings, I think, was that we never really felt any tension that the ship was actually going to crash. I didn't quite understand why the ship couldn't change course, why or how they got caught in the atmosphere(did they not request clearance to land?), and so I wasn't quite buying all that. The scenes on the bridge didn't always ring true. Amy and Rory send the Doctor a distress signal, which shows up on the ship's instruments. But it's not really a proper distress signal, I wouldn't think. They use a huge old-fashioned looking mobile phone device to talk to the Doctor at one point, but any mobile phone will work to call the TARDIS anymore. Well, at least mobiles that the Doctor has zapped with his Sonic Screwdriver. Near the beginning, in response to the distress signal ostensibly, the Doctor puts a message up on the ship's screen that says, "Come along, Pond," but how can they come along? The ship is completely out of control. That's why I never felt any sense of urgency, I think.

The story on the planet is more compelling. When the Doctor shows up (down the chimney on Christmas Eve), the crotchety old man, Kazran Sardik (the great British actor Michael Gambon) is Scroogely refusing a Christmas wish for a poor family. The Doctor tells Sardik what's happening, then locates the sky controller device and tries to operate it himself. It's isomorphic, though, and will only work for Sardik. The Doctor notices a few details that make him realize that Sardik's attitude began in childhood, so he goes back in time to make Sardik a better person. Through the magic of the TARDIS, old Sardik watches it all play out in front of him, and we see him reacting to what's happening and to his changes in memory.

The Doctor seems to be succeeding, then something happens that turns Sardik bitter again. Finally, he has one last chance to save the ship, but it threatens the life of Abigail, the young woman Sardik fell in love with during the Doctor's visits.

Overall, I thought it was a well-done take on the Dickens' classic.

**VERY BIG SPOILER ALERT**

The episode shows us a countdown to Abigail's last day, but doesn't explain what the countdown means until near the end. Her family, the ones who were begging to see her for Christmas at the start of the episode, seems to think she's only cryogenically preserved because she's the collateral on a loan. Do they not know the truth? What's wrong with her that she seems perfectly healthy every time we see her? Why doesn't the Doctor check in all of time and space and bring her a cure? It's all very vague and it makes the ending unsatisfying for me.

**END OF SPOILERS**

Now, we wait.

The next few episodes, the first half of the 2011 Season, are supposed to air in the Spring. Here's a preview:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Two Romance Trilogy Winners

My latest two giveaways have ended and the winners have been emailed.

Merry Widows Trilogy Giveaway: Randomizer picked post number 2, which was Shala_Darkstone's Twitter entry.

Ladies' Fashionable Cabinet Romance Trilogy Giveaway: Randomizer picked post number 7, which was Erin G.'s single entry.

Thank you to everyone who entered. I appreciate your reading my blog, and I am happy to know these books are going to good new homes. Come back soon for a new giveaway!


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Merry Widows Romance Giveaway

In Regency England, the most independent women of the ton are members of the Benevolent Widows Society. Having lost their husbands, they've gained control over their fortunes and their lives. They have no intention of marrying again, but they don't want to give up the pleasures of the marriage bed. They vow to take lovers and to share their experiences with the other widows.

The first book in Candice Hern's Merry Widows series is In the Thrill of the Night. Marianne Nesbitt loved her late husband, and before listening to the other Society members' talk, she'd never considered taking a lover. Once her mind is made up, she asks her husband's best friend, Adam Cazenove to help her find the right man with whom to begin her affair.

When Beatrice, Lady Somerfield, enjoys a passionate interlude at a masquerade ball, it's Just One of Those Flings. Gabriel, Marquess of Thayne, is the catch of the season, and dozens of debutantes are vying for his hand. When he catches the eye of her niece, Beatrice intends to end the affair, but Gabriel has other ideas.

In Lady Be Bad, John Grayston, Viscount Rochdale, begins a seduction of bishop's widow Grace Marlowe with a dark purpose. He's been challenged to prove he can entice any woman in London into his bed, and his most prized possession is at stake. Grace's intelligence and her passion win his heart, but he soon discovers he may not be the only one playing games of seduction.

Candice Hern writes beautifully, weaving intricate plots that really keep you wondering how the hero and heroine will ever overcome the obstacles they face. You can learn more about Candice and her books at CandiceHern.com.

I really enjoyed reading these books, but I am running out of space on the bookshelf, so I am giving them away. One winner will receive all three novels in the trilogy. I purchased the books used and have read them once. They are in good condition, although the spines are creased.


FIRST ENTRY: Follow this blog on Google Friend Connect AND comment here on which period of English history most fascinates you. If your email is not visible on your GFC profile, please leave it in your comment.

EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here and be sure to include a link to your comments and tweets.

*leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on Musings (1)
*visit my Crazy Kitty Chick blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*visit my Hurricane Safety blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*follow Auriette on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)
*follow CrazyKittyChick on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)

You can earn a maximum of six entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on December 18, 2010. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States or military APO/FPO addresses. One winner will be selected by random drawing on December 19 and notified by email. Winner must respond to this email with mailing address within 72 hours or another winner will be selected. Books will be sent media mail.

Romance Trilogy Giveaway

The Ladies' Fashionable Cabinet isn't a piece of furniture. It's a magazine, one that differs from other publications for women living in Regency England in that it encourages thoughtfulness and an independent spirit in its readers. The Cabinet also forms the backdrop for a trilogy of romances written by Candice Hern, an avid reader and researcher who imbues her work with fascinating details.

In Once a Dreamer, one of the Cabinet's young readers takes the advice in the Busybody's advice column to heart and runs away with a handsome young suitor. Her aunt Eleanor learns the secret identity of the Busybody and enlists his aid. As Simon and Eleanor pursue her niece, they end up finding much more than the wayward couple.

The second book, Once a Scoundrel, finds the Cabinet in the hands of new owner Anthony Morehouse. Anthony is an old friend and rival of editor Edwina Parrish, and the two enter into a wager that will decide the future of both the publication and their relationship. Adding to the challenge, Edwina is hiding a secret that could ruin them all.

Edwina's brother Nicholas helps run the magazine out of their home, but he pays little attention to the mousy assistant editor Prudence Armitage. That changes in Once a Gentleman. When Pru falls asleep at the office, her titled father demands that Nicholas marry her. Pru is already in love with Nick, and she'll do anything to turn this marriage of convenience into a love match.

Candice is a wonderful writer, who places very realistic obstacles in the path of true love. Her descriptive writing is no doubt influenced by her study of art history, her love of novels written in the Regency years, and by her personal collections of historic artifacts. Learn more about Candice, her books and collections at CandiceHern.com.

I am giving away all three novels in the trilogy. I purchased the books used and have read them once. They're in good condition, though the spines are creased.

FIRST ENTRY: Follow this blog on Google Friend Connect AND comment here on which period of English history most fascinates you. If your email is not visible on your GFC profile, please leave it in your comment.

EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here and be sure to include a link to your comments and tweets.

*leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on Musings (1)
*visit my Crazy Kitty Chick blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*visit my Hurricane Safety blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*follow Auriette on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)
*follow CrazyKittyChick on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)

You can earn a maximum of six entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on December 18, 2010. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States or military APO/FPO addresses. One winner will be selected by random drawing on December 19 and notified by email. Winner must respond to this email with mailing address within 72 hours or another winner will be selected. Books will be sent media mail.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Talking about Death and Dying

I’m always surprised when people don’t talk about what they want done after they’re gone. My mother’s parents were in their 60s when I was little, and I remember them talking about which child or grandchild would get certain of their possessions; they put masking tape on the bottoms of things with names written on them. When they passed, my mom and uncles knew who Mam-ma and Pap-pa wanted to do the service, what music and verses should be performed, and they’d owned their funeral plots for years, decades maybe.

When my dad died of cancer, he and my mom had already picked out coffins and pre-paid for the funeral home, and we all worked together on the obituary (with me sobbing, but it had to be done).

In contrast, an acquaintance of mine lost her mother, and a few weeks later, she took half a day off work to go with the rest of the family to pick out a headstone. It seemed inconceivable to me that someone who was seriously ill for a long time hadn’t picked out her own headstone. Maybe she didn’t want to face her own death, or her husband didn’t think it was fitting to talk about; I don’t know.

Recently my cousin’s common law wife passed away suddenly. That’s a little different. You don’t expect to die when you’re in your 20s. A couple of weeks later, an old friend of the family, who had been ailing for years, passed, and I commented to my mom about the way his life story was written for the funeral program and how generic his service seemed. And then I said that she and I need to sit down and write her obituary now.

It’s not an easy thing to think about, and even though my mom is in good health, I know I’ll sob my way through typing out what she wants to say. On the other hand, it would be much more difficult to think of what to say about her long and varied life, to know what she would want included, without her there to guide me. Because our family has always talked about death, accepted it as inevitable, and discussed it when the subject came up, we are able to plan for that unavoidable eventuality, in a way a lot of people cannot or will not.

For that, I am grateful.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gift Idea - Jingle Bell Rocks!

Jingle Bell Rocks are a quick and inexpensive gift for co-workers, teachers, and family members who like novelty items.

First, you need some flat stones, maybe silver dollar sized. Not too small and really you could go as large as you like. Maybe you have these in your driveway or garden, pick up some by a nearby river, or buy them at a craft store. They're often used in floral displays so they're readily available and not very expensive.

Next you'll need some jingle bells. I used small ones for my Jingle Bell Rocks. Choose bells based on the size of your stones as well as how much you want to spend. You can get more small bells for the same amount of money.

The only other thing you need is hot glue or Epoxy. Make sure the rocks are clean if you picked them up outside. Glue one bell on each rock. There you have it - the Jingle Bell Rock.

When we had a craft store about 15 years ago, I sold these at Christmastime for a dollar or two each. I don't remember exactly how much. People would look at it oddly for a minute, then they would see the sign or I'd say, "It's a Jingle Bell Rock." Once they got it, they'd laugh and a lot of times they would buy one or two or half a dozen of them.

Expect to sing or hum the old song to yourself while you're making these!

DVD Review: Taken

I've been wanting to see Taken starring Liam Neeson ever since it came out. It looked like the kind of story I would enjoy. On Black Friday, Wal-mart had the DVD for $5, so I bought it, and Tim and I watched it on Saturday. The DVD has two versions, and we chose to watch the theatrical release version.

This movie reminded me of the movies I enjoyed when I was in my 20s, back in the 1980s. Yeah, I'm getting old. The plot is simple. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a retired intelligence agent who is trying to spend more time with his 17-year-old daughter Kim. No matter what he does, his ex-wife and her rich new husband seem to overshadow him. When Kim asks for his permission to go to France for the summer with her 19-year-old friend Amanda, Bryan is concerned. He knows how dangerous the world is, especially for two girls traveling alone. Kim gets angry and upset, and the ex-wife is mad, so he gives in, but he buys Kim an international cell phone and asks her to call him at every step of the way.

When Kim and Amanda arrive in France, Kim realizes that Amanda wasn't entirely honest with her, and she's starting to get a little worried. She forgot to call her dad when the plane landed, and he calls her, and she starts to tell him her concerns when several men break into the apartment and grab Amanda. Bryan gives her some instructions, and she is able to get him a little bit of information about the men before they abduct her, too. One of the kidnappers picks up the phone and Bryan warns him that he will come after them if they don't let his daughter go. The man says, "Good luck," and then smashes the phone.

From that point on, Bryan has one goal, and that's to find and save his daughter. He uses his old contacts in the U.S. and Paris, as well as the skills he gained in years of covert work for the government. He is warned that he'll have 96 hours, at most, to locate his daughter before she disappears forever, and that countdown clock is in his mind all the time.

One thing I really liked about this movie is that Bryan doesn't pull punches. These are bad guys he's after, and he doesn't hesitate to fight, torture or kill them to get the information he needs. All the time, we're wondering if he will be able to get to Kim in time.

It's not a long film, just under an hour and a half. The ending seemed a bit abrupt; maybe it's because I'm used to all the "twist endings" and fake-out endings that are common nowadays. I wonder if they could have taken another 10-15 minutes to develop the characters of Kim and Bryan a little more, but then again, I'm not sure it needed it.

If you like action movies, especially movies like Die Hard and other movies from the '80s, I think you'll enjoy this one.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Gentlemen Rogues" Trilogy Winner!


Thank you to everyone who entered. Congratulations to LKnott, who'll be receiving all three books in the Gentlemen Rogues trilogy.

I should mention that there were six posts, and here's why I only randomized from 1-5. The mandatory first entry is two parts: follow my blog AND leave a comment about why you like historical romances, but Ms. Knott (or Mr. Knott) left two posts, one for each part, so I didn't count the second one (comment #6). Someone did the same thing in the Star Wars giveaway, but there were more entries before and after, so I removed that comment before assigning the numbers.

I'm sorry if the explanation isn't clear enough, and I'll be thinking of a new way to phrase it that might help everyone to understand.

I will be emailing LKnott to get the shipping information.

Keep watching this blog for more chances to win!

Friday, November 26, 2010

What did you score on Black Friday?

At 12:33am on Black Friday, I finished going through my emails, entering the sweeps that were about to expire, and making out my shopping list, and I decided that with two hours to go until I needed to get up, I might as well not sleep at all. So, I went to:




When I walked in the store, I was quite pleased to see a tasting booth offering bottles of 5 Hour Energy in pomegranate flavor. I gulped down half the bottle right off the bat. Ewww. Artificial sweetener aftertaste! I saved the rest for later.

I picked up a few DVDs for $1.96 and one (Taken with Liam Neeson) for $5. I bought two electric blankets on sale for $19, because my mom mentioned that she wanted to buy a couple. I also stocked up on water and cat litter for the week.

I was home by 2:00am, drank the rest of the 5 Hour Energy, and bounced off the walls until 2:45am, when I called my mom to make sure she was up. Then I bounced off the walls some more. I put my diet pill in my purse so I could take it later, ate a Lärabar, and cleaned up Trickster yak until she arrived just after 3:30am.

First stop: Target. I had hoped to pick up some of the Chefmate Sandwich Makers for Christmas gifts, but all they had left in the assortment were Hand Mixers, so I loaded up on those. Mom wanted to look at a couple of larger appliances, but it was too crazy, so we checked out. While waiting in line, I noticed a pair of Star Wars gloves on an outwear display, so I'll be getting those for Christmas.

Then we headed over to University Mall, where Mom and I picked up a few things for Tim, and I bought a sweater and two fleece pullovers for myself.

It was time for Best Buy to open and I wanted to get The Tudors: Season 3 for $14.99. The line was wrapped around the building, and while it was moving right along, Mom suggested we head across the street to Kmart. We couldn't find the $5.99 shirts we were looking for, so I found an employee who looked all around, scanned a few things, and decided that the $8.99 shirts were supposed to be marked $5.99. She made a note on the tag and gave us her name so we could check out. I grabbed a two-gallon wet-dry vac. Mom offered to get me the two Star Wars LEGO clocks that were $19.99 each. It seemed a bit steep for what it was (I'm not all that into LEGO, even Star Wars LEGO, because they're so expensive and kind of funny looking), so I said she could get me the $19.99 vacuum instead, and she was cool with that.

Oh, look. The sun is coming up!

Back over to Best Buy, where the line was gone outside the building because everyone had lined up inside the store to check out. Mom was waiting in the car, and I debated stashing my "Tudors" DVD behind something that was not on sale, but the line wasn't all that long.

20 minutes later: Oh, I see, you have two lines that start on opposite sides of the store and now we're moving side by side.

20 minutes after that: Ah, now we're being merged into one line. "One from line A. Now one from line B. Line A. Line B."

::sigh::

By the time I got back out to the car (I think I was in line about an hour), I was starving. Mom gave me a cookie and suggested we head over to Wal-mart to have a deli corn dog for lunch. At 9:00am. Also she wanted to get more electric blankets.

Then she brought up printers, which we had talked about Thursday night, so we decided to go to Office Depot, which is basically in the Cordova Mall parking lot. They didn't have the HP Color Laser Printer that was on clearance for $149.99 and the associate said he was not allowed to call another store. Really. That's very strange. But he was able to give me the number of the Fairfield store, and I called over there, and they had two of them, but they weren't able to put Black Friday specials on hold, necessitating a mad dash across town.

It took them a few minutes to actually find the printers, but they did, and Mom bought one for herself and one for me for Christmas, plus the three year extended warranty on both. I'm excited; we haven't had a working printer at home in a while.

Lowe's was right next door and Mom bought poinsettias to go on Daddy's grave and a bunch of stuff for family Christmas gifts. I got a couple of things for Tim and a couple of different things for family gifts. Our get-together for my dad's side of the family is at the beginning of December, so I needed just a few more things to make sure everyone was covered.

After that we went to Wal-mart. We were planning to go to a different store than the one I'd been to nine hours earlier, but that's the one that was closest. On the way in, we ran into an old friend and colleague from Channel 3, collecting for Communities Caring and Christmas, and Mom made a donation. Once inside, she bought another electric blanket and a heated throw. She's giving her old electric blanket to the cats and she'll use the new one. I bought some "bandage strips" because I have been tearing up my fingers lately, nervous habit. And we got corn dogs and soda, which we ate in the car. Mom's car. Not Tim's and my car, in which no one is allowed to eat.

At that point, Mom was really starting to slow down, but she wanted to go to the new Big Lots, and I wanted to check out the DVDs there, plus I wanted to go to Anna's Linens in the same plaza, and to Petsmart, in the next plaza over. I didn't find any DVDs, but Mom found a Perry Mason set that she wanted and a couple of other things. I spotted a Star Wars calendar for $7. At Anna's, I bought some fleece throws, which completed my shopping for the big family shindig. Over at Petsmart, Mom bought Purina Cat Chow on sale for $9.99, and I got nothing, because Iams isn't making cat food right now, apparently.

Then I dropped off Mom at her house, went to lunch with Tim, went by a different Big Lots near my house, where I found a few different DVDs, and then I came home. I took my purse inside and started to go back out to unload the car.

Oh, look. it's raining. I got an umbrella and ran to the mailbox, then settled into the house for a little while. I wrote out the bill that arrived today, and during breaks in the showers, I managed to unload everything that was coming home with me today and change the litterboxes. Then I went by Office Depot for the things I forgot ($5.99 spindle of DVDs for making restore disks for our computer and my mom's, and some video editing software that's free after rebate) and headed over to mom's house, where I unloaded her haul, changed her litter boxes (well, her cats' litter boxes), backed up her files, and created the restore disk.

By the time Tim arrived, I was starting to drag. We stopped by the vet (about two blocks from Mom's house) and bought some dry cat food there, then came home and took the bag off the chimney so we could light the furnace, because crimeny, the temperature was dropping fast. I moved my tomato plants under the back porch and we tacked up some old shower curtains around to help block the wind. It's so strange that they didn't do anything all summer, and suddenly in the fall, they got huge and are making tomatoes hand over fist, even as their leaves are all dying off from the cooler weather.

So, now I need to go enter the rest of the sweeps that are expiring at midnight tonight, finish looking through my emails and hit the sack for some much-needed sleep.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Caridad Pineiro Banner


Best-selling author Caridad Pineiro is giving away some great prizes at caridad.com. Visit her site and click on "Contest" for details.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Historical Romance Giveaway

Three self-made lords are looking for love in Linda Needham's "Gentlemen Rogues" series, centering on a trio of men bound together as children and as close as any blood brothers.

In the first book The Pleasure of Her Kiss, Jared, Earl of Hawkesly, is returning home for the first time since he married Kathryn in a whirlwind ceremony right after her father's passing. He finds that she hasn't been waiting patiently all those months; she's been very busy. His hunting lodge has been turned into a hotel, his home stripped of valuable paintings, and just who are all the children his wife is mothering? He soon discovers that he'll have to work hard and risk everything else he's won in life, if he's to keep his spirited bride.

A Scandal to Remember finds Andrew Chase, Earl of Wexford, struggling to protect a willful princess in the days before her coronation. Princess Caroline is fiercely proud of her country, but it hasn't really existed since she was born. Her parents were killed in a revolution, the country divided, and its treasures cast to the four winds. Now that she is of age, Boratania's borders are being re-established and she is to be crowned queen - if she isn't assassinated first. Andrew learns that Caro is keeping secrets, but even she doesn't know the scandalous truth about her family tree.

Ross, Earl of Blakestone, is investigating the disappearances of several high-born ladies in Marry the Man Today. His inquiries lead him to intelligent, outspoken Elizabeth Dunaway, whose political activism has earned her many enemies. Ross admires her independent attitude and her beauty, but he knows that she is harboring dangerous secrets and seditious materials. Elizabeth finds Ross attractive, but she fears his constant surveillance will uncover the secret of her most important work. When her choice is prison or marriage to the Earl, she reluctantly says, "I do."

WIN THE TRILOGY *****We have a winner!*****

I purchased these books used and have read them once. The spines are not broken, but they are creased. Corners and edges are very lightly worn. One winner will receive all three books in the "Gentlemen Rogues" Trilogy.

FIRST ENTRY: Follow this blog on Google Friend Connect and comment here on what you like most about historical romances. If your email is not visible on your GFC profile, please leave it in your comment.

EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here and be sure to include a link to your comments and tweets.

*leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on Musings (1)
*visit my Crazy Kitty Chick blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*visit my Hurricane Safety blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*follow Auriette on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)
*follow CrazyKittyChick on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)

You can earn a maximum of six entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on November 27, 2010. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States or military APO/FPO addresses. One winner will be selected by random drawing on November 28 and notified by email. Books will be sent media mail.

A Love of Reading

I love to read. My mom read storybooks to me, I think starting before I was born, and I have always enjoyed books and reading. I don't have time for reading as much as I'd like, actually, but I try to get in a few pages most days. I can't usually afford to buy as many books as I'd like to read, and I don't get to the library very often.

A couple of years ago, I hit the jackpot. We stopped at a yard sale that a local bank was having to raise money for Relay for Life. My dad, both his parents, and at least three out of four of his grandparents all died of cancer, so I am happy to support the American Cancer Society. At this sale, it was easy, because one of the ladies had brought a huge number of romance novels. I had read some of the authors before, but many of them I only knew from visiting their websites and receiving their newsletters. The books were 3/$1, the woman had complete sets of a bunch of series, and I loaded up.

I'm only about halfway through the bag, and I'm finding I don't have any bookshelf space left. Not only that, but because I don't have as much time for reading, I guess, I don't re-read books the way I did when I was a kid. So, I've decided to give them away, starting today. Keep watching my blog for details.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Star Wars Giveaway Winner

Congratulations, Sher! The Randomizer picked comment #33 as the winner, so I counted up and I counted down, and I came up with your entry both times. I guess maybe it's a good thing I didn't have hundreds of entries to count up and down.

I'm deciding what my next giveaway will be and I'll post it this weekend. I'll have another Star Wars giveaway in the future, but the next one will probably be books.

Sher, I'll be sending you an email to get your shipping information.

Thanks again to everyone who entered!

Monday, November 15, 2010

$3 or Less Holiday Gift Ideas

I don't know how things are at your house, but we have an extended family get-together about three weeks before Christmas. It's all my dad's brothers and his sister and their wives, children and, in some cases, grandchildren. Well, not necessarily everyone will be there. All of Dad's siblings came the year before he died. They knew it might be their last chance to see him in any kind of decent condition, and he was already pretty weak.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. I wanted to talk about gift-buying for uncles and aunts and cousins. I don't buy for the youngest generation; I don't have kids and no one is going to bring presents for my cats, so I leave that for Santa and the grandparents. I do like to take something inexpensive for my aunts & uncles and my cousins.

One of the most successful gifts, which I gave to my uncles, male cousins, and the couple of men at the office, was a pocket-sized LED flashlight. I bought a package of 8 or 10 at Home Depot on Black Friday and they cost about $2 each (batteries included). It's a great size to keep in the glove compartment or jacket pocket. This year, Beall's will have Emerson 9-LED Flashlights for $2.50 each. Lowe's is advertising an 8-piece LED flashlight set with different sized flashlights for $6.97; some are those 1 LED keyrings.

A couple of years ago, on the day after Christmas, I picked up some little spa gift sets for half price, and I haven't dug them out of the closet yet, but I think it could work for men or women. Who they go to will depend on what else I find this year. I have at least 33 relatives and spouses, although I haven't confirmed who all's coming. One family lives in the midwest. Some just may not come. I have three male cousins that I don't know if they're married or involved with anyone. I still have to figure out exactly how many gifts I need.

Sears has some fleece throws for $2.99. I always find those handy, but then we don't have central heat, so in the winter, we're always pulling a few extra blankets around us on the couch.

Wal-mart will have assorted DVDs for $1.96, and a movie could be wrapped with a package of microwave popcorn for a movie night gift. I couldn't really make out all the titles in the ad scan, and the assortments aren't always exactly as pictured, either.

The thing is, figuring I need to buy for probably minimum 25 people, anything more than $3 each is out of range.

What bargain gift ideas do you have? Was some inexpensive gift that you've given in the past really well received? Have you noticed any good deals being advertised on the Black Friday sites? Do tell!

Hallelujah! I'm back online!

The alleged virus wasn't really an issue, as far as we can tell. It seems to be completely unrelated that the six-year-old modem just picked that particular moment to die. Once we got the new modem, it should have worked, but it didn't. Turns out that Cox had to fix some setting at the head office in Atlanta, but the first two tech support people I got just wanted to send someone out to our house, which wouldn't have helped.

I tweeted about it (while using the neighbor's wi-fi), and Cox's support team tweeted me back this morning. We also had a message on the answering machine this morning verifying that the problem was resolved, and sure enough, we were able to sign on. Yay!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Internet Withdrawal

I'm having serious internet withdrawal.

Yes, I am on the internet at this particular moment. I'm "borrowing" my neighbor's wifi. I don't know which neighbor or, depending on who it is, I might ask their permission.

I took a few minutes at work to check email during the week, but it was busy, so I didn't have much time.

The trouble started when I installed a perfectly legal download of Adobe Creative Suite. I downloaded all the files, started the installation, and went to bed. When we got up in the morning, my husband looked at the computer and said that one of the installs didn't complete correctly. He shut down the computer and we left. That evening, we still couldn't connect to the internet. All the lights on the modem were on, and one of them was amber. I called Cox, and the guy said our modem was six years old and probably dead.

Next day, we went and got a modem, but unfortunately, we bought one that didn't have input for coax cable. However, my husband started running virus scans and Avast found something. Nothing else found it. That started him freaking out, but after he cleaned the computer, the modem worked again. After a little while, though, all the lights came on and it no longer worked.

I made another call to Cox, and the person could not tell me if modems go in and out like that when they're dying. He did tell me he was surprised that our six-year-old modem still worked at all. He said that it's like dog years, and a six-year-old modem is like an 80-year-old person. Apologies to any octogenarians, I'm sure.

This afternoon, we bought another modem, a Motorola with a coax input. I called Cox and gave them all the model information, then I hooked it up. All the lights came on properly, the PC light flickered, just like normal. No internet, though. I ran the set-up CD that came with it. It said I didn't have enough RAM (it only recognized 32MB when I have 6GB), it wouldn't install the USB drivers, it seems to be trying to connect as dial-up half the time. The computer still can't connect to the internet, though. When I hook it up through our wireless router, all its lights come on, but I can't even connect using my laptop. Perhaps it's something simple, but I've been on with Cox twice and Motorola once since I plugged everything in, and nothing is working. I've tried everything I know to try, and I can't make it work.

The Motorola guy had me run a test and said that the Cox signal was too weak, so my last call to Cox was to give in and schedule a technician to come out. Of course, no one can come until Monday, and they only have four hour windows, like 7-10am or 4-7pm. We both work, we just had a week of vacation at the beginning of the month, Tim had Thursday off as the holiday, and I had an FPRA board meeting and a doctor's appointment last week, and an FPRA general chapter meeting this coming week, and I have a lot to do. So, it's just not feasible for us to leave work early or come in late waiting around on a technician. Especially because if the signal is weak, that's not our fault. I even double checked to see if I saw any little tooth marks from the cats. I know they chewed my laptop power cord and I don't know what else, but the cable is not as accessible and I saw no evidence that it had been chewed. The fitting on the end seems secure.

It's either something very simple, or it's their signal, or it's a combination. Anyway, the guy said that I would have to call again later in the week, because he can't schedule anything that far in advance.

Of course, this would have to happen right in the middle of my very first online giveaway! At least I've been able to get on and approve the comments as they've been coming in. I'm very grateful that I'm getting some entries. Please be patient with me if they're not approved as quickly as you might expect.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Star Wars giveaway from Musings

In honor of my recent visit to the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit, I've decided to host my first giveaway on this blog.

**ENTRY PERIOD IS NOW OVER**Thanks for visiting**

The prize, from my personal collection, is a fairly rare 2-pack of 3.75" action figures. Luke in Stormtrooper Armor and Darth Vader with Removable Dome were originally manufactured for inclusion with Hasbro's Escape the Death Star Game. Later, the figures and a few random blasters and lightsabers were packaged together in a blister pack. I never saw it in stores. Now you can win a set of your own!

FIRST ENTRY: Follow this blog on Google Friend Connect and comment here on what you like most about Star Wars. If your email is not visible on your GFC profile, please leave it in your comment.

EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here and be sure to include a link to your comments and tweets.

*leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on Musings (1)
*visit my Crazy Kitty Chick blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*visit my Hurricane Safety blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*follow Auriette on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)
*follow CrazyKittyChick on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)

You can earn a maximum of six entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on November 19, 2010. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States or military APO/FPO addresses. One winner will be selected by random drawing on November 20 and notified by email.

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

This week, I took a little jaunt over to the Lafayette Science Museum to visit the traveling exhibit "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination." The exhibit offers lessons about space, prosthetics, robotics, and exploration. They also have a lot of really cool movie props, costumes and models on display.

Have you ever driven a hovercraft? I tried, but it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. What I learned from my short and dizzying effort was that when you're steering a vehicle that's floating on a thin cushion of air, your movements need to be subtle. I tried to turn a little bit to the right and ended up spinning in circles. That's just one of the interactive games and activities that relate real-world science to the technologies in Star Wars. The hovercraft is compared to vehicle technologies like the landspeeder and podracer.

My main interest in seeing the exhibit was to get a close-up look at the movie miniatures, costumes and props on display. I've been lucky enough to attend similar exhibits in the past, and each one always offers chances to get close to something I've never seen in person before. This time, I was excited to find the Alliance medical droids FX-7 and 2-1B from The Empire Strikes Back. Other droids on display included R2-D2 and C-3PO, the interrogator droid from A New Hope, and from The Phantom Menace, a battle droid, Droideka, and pit droid.

Models on display included a TIE fighter, large and small Millennium Falcons, an X-Wing, Y-Wing, the Tantive IV blockade runner, and an AT-TE Trade Federation Tank. Several Jedi costumes were on display, along with clothing worn by Han Solo, a Snowtrooper, Stormtrooper, Princess Leia, and little Anakin Skywalker. One cabinet was filled with blasters and lightsabers, and a Hoth display featured macrobinoculars and scanner, a Tauntaun maquette, and a full-sized Wampa costume. This list is only a fraction of the items on display.

I took about a thousand photos (literally) while my mom, who rode over with me, watched the videos and listened to the audio recordings about each exhibit. Sometimes she'd come to me and say, "The recording only talked about these things, and didn't say anything about these other things in the showcase." So, I'd explain to her what everything was. She's never seen the prequels, so for example, she didn't recognize the female Tusken Raider costume in the Tatooine part of the exhibit. With the original trilogy, she did better. When we got to the weapons case, she pointed at the large quote printed inside and said, "That sounds like Han Solo." It said, "Ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side." Yep, that's exactly right, mom.

They have two theatre experiences. The Robot Object Theater is a 15-minute long show that's included with regular museum admission ($10/adult, $8/senior, $6/child). The set is similar to the interior of the Jawa Sandcrawler, and it's mostly a conversation between C-3PO and robotics expert Cynthia Breazeal (who appears on a large monitor). It's a cute show that showcases the work that robots do here on earth and the challenges faced by robot designers. It ties in with several interactive exhibits on robotics.

The other show is the Millennium Falcon Experience. For this you have to buy an extra ticket, but it's only $2 and well worth it. You walk through the hallway of the Falcon, sit in the cockpit and take a ride through the known universe. The wrap-around space images simulate flight motion, so it's really like you're riding in the Falcon's cockpit. At the time I rode, I was the only one, so I got to sit in the pilot's chair. The voyage is narrated by Anthony Daniels (as himself, though he has a conversation with R2, which is kind of weird).

The exhibit will be in Lafayette, Louisiana, through January 17. Visit the website for complete details on museum hours, ticket prices, and restrictions.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Marie Claire: Faux Pas or Cunning Plan?

I have not read the offending article - I'm sure you know the one I mean - and I'm not inclined to give the Marie Claire site any more traffic than it's probably already getting because of this article.

The editor, and possibly the publisher, approved the magazine going out with that article in it; in my opinion, they are more at fault than the writer, because anyone can write anything they want and put it on their personal blog or some other website, but to pay this woman and give her a national forum for her ridiculous ideas is unconscionable.

I'm sure if you did a word-replacement for the article, substituting the word fat with black, Asian, Mexican or gay, the editorial staff of Marie Claire would have tossed it in the trash instead of printing it. If it were published, any number of anti-defamation lawsuits would have been filed in court already.

I don't know if the editor read it as satire or thought it would be funny. Maybe the staff is so out of touch with the real world that they couldn't see how hurtful it would be to people with a weight problem. Or perhaps they published it knowing that it would create a huge backlash and generate a lot of interest in the magazine -- even if it is the wrong kind of interest. You know the old saying, "Any publicity is good publicity." It will be interesting to see where the magazine is in a year -- still in print or out of business.

If the article can do one good thing, it is to bring a larger audience to the TV series Mike & Molly. I have not seen the show yet, although I have the best intentions to look for it on CBS.com. You see, I used to work with this girl named Emily Mixon, and her sister Katy is one of the regulars on the show. Katy (and Emily) are trim and attractive people, and even if they weren't, Emily is very sweet and their mom Donna is nice, and I haven't met Katy, but I'm sure she's nice, too, and their whole family is incredibly talented. So if this nasty article gets more people to tune in to the series, and it stays on the air for a while, and Katy has regular acting work and gets to be really well known, then good for her.

And if Marie Claire is still around, she can turn down their request for an interview.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Goodbye, Stephen J. Cannell

A few hours ago, my husband was showing me something on an entertainment website when another headline caught my eye.

"Stephen J. Cannell has died?!" I blurted out. My husband finally clicked on the link and we learned that he had passed away from melanoma at age 69.

Nearly five hours later, I'm still shocked and close to tears. I'm not entirely sure why it's hit me so hard. Maybe because I "see him" regularly through his email newsletter and appearances on Castle. I haven't read any of his novels, but when I was in my late teens and twenties, his TV shows were among my favorites. I loved seeing him typing at the end, then tossing the finished page into the air where it transformed into the letter C. That video clip changed over the years, his hair got grayer, but the image was familiar, one might say comforting. It was like seeing an old friend.

Cannell's career as a television writer began back in the '70s. He wrote episodes for shows I either watched with my parents as they aired or saw later during their second lives in syndication: Adam-12, Switch, Columbo, Baretta. He created Baretta and Black Sheep Squadron, which my mother watched because she liked Robert Conrad, and The Rockford Files, which mom and I both liked.

In 1981, he created one of my favorite series of the '80s, The Greatest American Hero. A few years ago I won the complete series on DVD, and I really enjoyed watching all the episodes again. William Katt and Robert Culp had such great chemistry together, and it was just a fun, good-hearted show. My only disappointment from the DVD came from the replacement of some of the songs that were such a big part of the earlier episodes, I'm assuming because of a rights or royalties issue.

He went on to create Hardcastle and McCormick, Riptide, and The A-Team. Then came The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage, which I watched until the bitter end, primarily out of loyalty to Cannell, because most of the characters weren't at all likable; I guess it was just ahead of its time.

Cannell also created 21 Jump Street, which launched Johnny Depp's career, Wiseguy; Renegade, Silk Stalkings and a handful of other series that weren't as successful. Tenspeed and Brownshoe, for example, ran for only eight episodes, but it made a name for Jeff Goldblum.

In the past few days, we've lost Eddie Fisher and Tony Curtis, two old-timers who also left us with impressive entertainment legacies. My sympathies to their families, but their loss didn't break my heart the way Stephen J. Cannell's did. Maybe it's because 69 is not that old, at least not at my age. Maybe it's because my father and his parents all died of cancer.

Fisher was a crooner whose greatest legacy, in my world anyway, is his daughter Carrie. You know, from Star Wars? Curtis played a lot of fun, irreverent characters in comedies that I've enjoyed.

Cannell, though, was a writer, a creator. When I started watching his shows, I was the shy kid who liked reading and writing and making up stories. When I started seeing that video of him at his typewriter, I was of an age to think that I'd like to have a job like his. Perhaps this loss has hit me so hard because in some small way, we were kindred spirits, joined by words that turned into stories that made me laugh and sometimes cry and which still bring a smile to my face.



Goodbye, Stephen J. Cannell. You made the world - at least the entertainment world, my world - a better place.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How "Snakes on a Plane" could have been good.

I picked up the Snakes on a Plane DVD in the $3 bin at Big Lots. I did not expect it to be a great film, but I thought it would be an entertaining and perhaps fun way to spend an evening. After watching it last night, indeed while we were watching it, my husband remarked that we paid $3 too much.

In case you just got out of a multi-year stint in a bio-dome, here's a brief synopsis of the film. Nathan Phillips plays Sean, a young man who witnessed the violent murder of a Los Angeles prosecutor in Hawaii. He is taken into protective custody by FBI agent Neville Flynn, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The pair board a plane for L.A. so that Sean can testify against the killer.

In the meantime, the killer ordered an assortment of deadly snakes from an exotic reptiles dealer in California, had the snakes loaded into the plane's cargo hold, arranged a small explosion to free the snakes mid-flight, and sprayed cartons of souvenir leis with snake pheromones, so that when the snakes are freed, they will attack anyone and everyone who got lei'd getting on the flight.

We get no sense of passage of time between the murder and the flight. It didn't seem like more than a day or two. How did the bad guys fly in a few dozen poisonous snakes (a) without anyone noticing and (b) in time to get them on the L.A.-bound flight carrying the witness? It's an unnecessarily complicated plot, when a slightly stronger explosive device could have been rigged to take the plane down in the middle of the Pacific, and no snakes would have been needed.

When the snakes get out of the box, they waste no time and quickly spread throughout the plane. A pet cat in the cargo section is violently killed. Then the young couple joining the mile high club in the plane's restroom are attacked, while flight attendants listening to the screams outside remark what a good time the couple is having. Soon, snakes drop out of the overhead compartments and passengers run screaming while others are gruesomely killed.

The mass chaos makes it hard to follow exactly what's happening. Many of the victims die gruesome deaths that I think the filmmakers intended to be funny, but it's just not. One man is urinating when a snake leaps out of the toilet and bites the closest appendage; a women is bitten on the eye by a snake that slipped into her dress while she was sleeping; another woman is screaming when the snake darts into her mouth and bites her tongue.

I didn't find any of this humorous, just sick and unnecessary. Maybe the filmmakers didn't introduce us to most of these passengers, because they didn't want us to care about them; they wanted us to laugh at their deaths. We didn't even get a lot of background on Flynn, his associate agent, or the witness, Sean, and we got only brief introductions to a few of the other passengers and flight crew.

The rest of the movie is spent trying to correct systems failures caused by the snakes, while attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to protect the rest of the passengers until the plane can reach California.

"Snakes on a Plane" started with a clever enough concept, and it could have been a decent film.

They only needed three or four snakes that slither around unseen biting unsuspecting passengers and crew. Suddenly people are saying they got bitten by something and dying and no one knows what it is or where it is. That could have created real suspense.

They should have had a smaller plane. The plane they showed on the runway did not look as big as the interior of the plane set, which had two coach sections and an upstairs first class section. A smaller plane would have created a more claustrophobic setting, and fewer passengers would have allowed us to get to know everyone over the course of the story. The body count would have been lower, but the suspense would have been much greater.

Alternatively, if the filmmakers were trying to make a comedy, they shouldn't have put at risk a cat, a small dog, two young children and a baby. The deaths should not have been so gruesome. It wasn't written or shot like a comedy, not even a bad comedy.

In the end, investigators in Los Angeles have linked the sale of the snakes to a dealer in exotic reptiles, so Sean's testimony against the main bad guy isn't even necessary to convict him of murder. Still, it would have been nice to have a shot of Sean and Agent Flynn looking at a headline saying the killer was going to prison for life or getting the death penalty before we see the happy-go-lucky final shots of the two men surfing together.

The movie cost about $33 million to make and earned about double that worldwide. It probably wouldn't have made that much had the film not generated a lot of internet buzz months before it came out. It's a shame that the film didn't live up to the hype and deliver a decent, well-acted story of terror in the air. With a little attention and thought, it certainly could have.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Who's Behind the Tea Party?

On Thursday, September 16, 2010, I heard a very interesting discussion about the Tea Party movement on NPR. Click here to listen to it yourself.

In the segment, Morning Edition anchor Steve Inskeep talked with two supporters of the Tea Party about what the movement stands for, and he got two very different responses.

Ms. Toby Marie Walker, lead facilitator for the Waco Tea Party, believes the Tea Party movement should focus on fiscal responsibility in government. TEA supposedly stands for Taxed Enough Already, so one could infer that the Tea Party's primary purpose is to reduce taxes and control spending in the national government. Ms. Walker seemed to think that was the most important issue for Tea Party supporters to focus on.

The original tea party, you may recall, was an action taken in 1773 by colonists in Boston who resented paying taxes to the British government. Remember the slogan from the Revolutionary War, "No taxation without representation"?

According to Wikipedia, the current movement began when Graham Makohoniuk made a post online suggesting that people mail a tea bag to Congressfolk who voted in favor of a federal government bailout intended to keep the shaken economy from completely collapsing.

From that simple suggestion grew a movement that now boasts several national organizations or coalitions that promote local chapters and events. In some cases, they are also pushing the agendas of particular parties or politicians. That's my opinion based on the little bit I've heard about the organization and what I've been reading today on their websites.

The media continues to refer to the Tea Party as a grassroots movement, but I believe it's grown beyond that. One example: the California-based Tea Party Express was founded by a political action committee run by Republicans, a fact I found in an article on Salon.com.

The Tea Party Express website doesn't say anything about who runs the organization. Neither does the Tea Party Patriots website. It disturbs me when a website (political or otherwise) doesn't say who is behind it. Is it run by paid staff members or volunteers? Where are these people located? How can organizers (paid or volunteer) be reached, outside of filling out a generic contact form on the site? This kind of identity opaqueness is a red flag for me.

Moving on, the Tea Party organizations that name their intentions all seem to focus on the same issues. Here's one national organization's mission statement, as presented on http://www.teapartypatriots.org: "The impetus for the Tea Party movement is excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets."

This brings me to the other guest on NPR, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer. He says the Tea Party should stand for everything that the Founding Fathers set down in the Constitution. In his mind, the phrase pledging "that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" means the Founding Fathers were against abortion and gay marriage.

Oh, but wait. That's not from the Constitution. That's from a different document, the Declaration of Independence. If the phrase were in the Constitution, or if one chooses to include the Declaration as part of the Constitution for some reason, I could see how someone could use the right-to-life phrase as an argument against abortion, even though, "In early post-Revolution America, abortion, at least early in pregnancy, was neither prohibited nor uncommon." That's from Constitutional Law professor Lawrence Tribe's book, "Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes." It seems to me that granting the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" would do more to support the legality of gay marriage. Shouldn't any American have the freedom to pursue happiness by marrying whomever he or she pleases?

BOTTOM LINE

I believe that the grassroots beginnings of the Tea Party movement allowed common citizens to express their opinions on the proposed corporate bailout to their elected representatives. The Tea Party name has now been adopted by fundamentalist right-wing extremists who are surreptitiously using it to pretend a more wide-spread adoption of the same rhetoric they've been spouting for years.

The religious right and the Republican Party have the right to believe and say whatever they want. That right is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 1. However, they should do that openly, not in secret behind the name of a true grassroots movement that has now, by and large, become a tool for political deception.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Star Wars Saved My Life

This past Monday, I drove my mom up to her cabin in Mansfield, Indiana. As we were passing through Huntsville, Alabama, I saw a billboard advertising a Star Wars exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and immediately started making plans to stop by for a visit on my way home. (Left, the poster that saved my life!)

EXHIBIT CLOSED

On Tuesday, we went into the "big city" of Brazil, Indiana, and while mom was shopping, I got my internet fix using the free WiFi at McDonald's (thanks, Ronald!). I looked up the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and to my extreme disappointment, the exhibit had ended eight days earlier. Eight days. ::sigh::

THE FORCE IS WITH ME

On Wednesday, I was driving home, south on Interstate 65, and I saw a sign for a rest stop up ahead. "Next Rest Area 81 Miles" it said. Hmmm. Better stop for a potty break. Then I saw one of those electronic signs typically used around construction zones, and it said "REST AREA CLOSED." Great. Then the words changed to say "TO TRUCKS." Okay, then, I'm in a passenger vehicle. I can still stop. Wonderful.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I could see why the truck area was closed. It was filled with law enforcement vehicles, primarily trucks hauling trailers and those large "mobile command center" vehicles. I could see the top of a boat behind one of the trailers. A law enforcement helicopter was swooping by overhead.

Oh, dear. It's not going into a heavy drive period like a holiday weekend, so it's probably not one of those demos for the TV news where they kick off a safety initiative. Hmmm.

While I was inside, I spotted a poster for the now closed-and-moved-on Star Wars exhibit, so I stopped by the desk and asked the staff member if - since the exhibit is definitely over - could I have the poster. While the very nice Mr. G. Knox hunted for tools to detach the frame from the wall, I wandered about the small area looking at the posted map (222 miles to Pensacola), and I overheard someone say that the LEO were out in force because of some kind of chase. One traveler mentioned that he'd heard something about it on the CB, but they were headed south, implying - or at least I inferred - that the chase was happening in the northbound lanes.

When Mr. Knox handed me the poster. I thanked him and walked out the door.

AVOIDING AN ACCIDENT

And that's when the law enforcement vehicles took off. Woosh, woosh, woosh, one after the other. I hung out by my car, tried my cell phone and realized that it didn't actually charge while it was plugged in overnight (probably because it was pre-occupied with trying to find a non-existent signal in Mansfield), considered taking out my camera to take action shots of the chopper swooping low over the now-backed-up lanes of traffic. The last LEO vehicles pulled out and the stopped traffic started moving, so I figured I'd just go on.

Traffic was moving along well, and then it stopped. All those LEO were lined up along one lane of traffic, while traffic crept by. News trucks from Montgomery channels 8 & 12 were set-up on the side of the road by what appeared to be an accident. Here's the CBS 8 report on what happened:

video

And a report on the accident from WSFA 12:



Once past that scene, traffic opened back up. I noticed more people pulled over for the next hour or so, so I guess as long as all the law enforcement was in the area, they were racking up a few tickets. I also noticed streams of LEO heading north again, including that boat plus an airboat. All for a guy wanted on domestic violence charges?! Doesn't make sense.

Then I found another report at Channel 12 WSFA:



The proliferation of LEO vehicles was not related to the chase, although I suppose everyone was ready to help if needed.

WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?

The thing that gets me is, if I hadn't pulled off in the rest area and waited that extra few minutes for the poster, I might have been in the middle of this chase. They couldn't use that electronic sign to warn drivers to clear the road? An innocent civilian now has damage to her car and thankfully she's okay, but whatever she was supposed to do Wednesday afternoon was blown, and she'll be dealing with the aftermath of this accident for weeks, explaining to her insurance and having to get repairs done. None of it had to happen, if drivers could have been warned.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I should have won.

I followed the rules, as far as I can tell. I tweeted about the Geek Twins giveaway. I posted on Facebook. I blogged. I included links to everything that I did. I earned 11 points, as you can see. The two posters with the most points were to win a free download of the Star Wars fandom documentary Jedi Junkies.

The person with the most points, 62, got 50 bonus points for being featured in the documentary's trailer.

The person who took second place had 8 points.

My post has shown up on the site. When I first posted, I got a message that it had to be approved by the moderator.

The post announcing the winners is dated Monday August 9, but it's not time-stamped.

Supposedly the contest ended at midnight MT on August 9.

The only thing I can figure, unless the site owner just has it out for me personally or something, is that by midnight, they meant 12:01am MT, which would have been 1:01am CT, and I didn't post until Monday night, because I was thinking that by midnight they meant more like 11:59pm on Monday.

I am quite devastated.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Jedi Junkies Giveaway

I'm a big fan of Star Wars, and I suppose about 20 years ago if someone had made a documentary like "Jedi Junkies," I might have been in it. I'm still interested in seeing it, and I'm trying to win a copy from the Geek Twins blog. You can, too. There's still a little time to enter. Head on over to Geek Twins now for your chance.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Film Review: Predators

THE FRANCHISE SO FAR

Back in 1987, I really enjoyed the movie Predator, the original film about a race of warrior aliens who home to Earth on hunting expeditions. Their prey is an elite military team on a covert rescue mission. The Predator kills the team members one by one, but it is ultimately defeated by the team leader, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The sequel, set in present day Los Angeles, pitted the Predator against rival drug cartels and LAPD officers. It's a much more convoluted story and not as well done as the first film.

The less said about the two Alien V. Predator movies, the better.

A FRESH APPROACH TO THE SAME IDEA

As in the original film, Predators pits a group of humans against alien hunters. In this film, the group of trained soldiers and experienced killers are dropped into an unfamiliar jungle, which they later discover is an alien planet. They soon realize that they are in a game preserve, where they are being hunted for sport by aliens.

The movie begins with an unconscious man (Adrian Brody) plummeting through the air. He wakes up, panics, but then begins beating the parachute harness on his chest. It seems to be malfunctioning, but opens soon enough that the man makes a survivable hard landing. He is equipped for battle so quickly pulls out his machine gun. Soon more humans fall out of the sky near him. None of them know what's happening, and they are inclined to fight with each other. Brody (his character refuses to give his name) convinces them to calm down, and they figure out that most of them are soldiers, one is a convicted murderer, and one tells them he's a doctor. No one can identify the jungle that they're in, so they begin to travel towards higher ground, where they can observe the lay of the land. When they reach a clearing, they see a sky filled with planets and realize they are no longer on Earth.

During their journey, the group are pursued by alien hunting dogs, encounter booby traps set by another human, and are almost lured into an ambush when the Predators nab one of their group and use him to set a trap. They locate a death camp, where they see the bodies and bones of many previous victims, as well as a living Predator captive. One more human is killed there. The lone female in the group (Alice Braga) recognized the captured Predator, and explains that a similar creature attacked a group of soldiers in Guatemala in 1987 (a reference to the first film).

Another member of the group is almost killed when another human comes to the rescue. Noland (Laurence Fishburne) has been on the planet for a long time, surviving by salvaging weapons and tools from the Predators and their victims. He talks to an imaginary friend, seemingly suffering from the stress of battle and being alone. He tells the group that an alien spaceship has landed near the death camp, and he also explains that they are up against two species of Predators. One is larger and kills the smaller ones (the ones we have seen on Earth before) for sport, just as they kill the humans.

Predators find their camp and several of the humans are killed. One of the humans uses an ancient Japanese sword and duels with a Predator. Both are killed. The doctor is injured by a steel jaw trap, and Brody encourages Braga to leave him. She refuses. Brody releases the Predator in the camp and they seem to come to an understanding. Then the bigger Predator attacks. Brody runs for the spaceship. The spaceship takes off. The big Predator kills the little Predator. The spaceship blows up.

BIG SPOILER ALERT!!

The doctor and Braga are trapped in a pit. Braga offers to kill them both before the Predators can, but he doesn't care about that. He cuts Braga with a poisoned knife, paralyzing her. He tells her that he's a murderer and is going to kill her. Brody comes back in the nick of time, having not gotten on the spaceship after all, and he stops the doctor. In a technique similar to what the Predators did with the first human victim, Brody uses the doctor to lure the Predator close then detonates a bunch of grenades. The Predator is not killed, so they have a big final battle. Braga is wounded. Brody beats the Predator to death. Brody admits that his name is Royce and Braga introduces herself as Isabelle. They look up and see a bunch of new victims parachuting into the jungle, and Brody announces that it's time to find a way off this planet.

Credits roll over to the tune of "Long Tall Sally" sung by Little Richard.

MY COMMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS

Most of the characters are not likeable. They are thugs and murderers. Why should we care that they are in the position of being hunted like animals. They are animals.

The planet was too much like Earth. The doctor recognizes a strange looking plant as containing a dangerous neurotoxin. I know they had to film on Earth, but we saw nothing alien at all except the Predators and one alien hunting victim. No plants that were unrecognizable. No animals or birds. (Hubby says he heard birds but I don't recall seeing any.) Some kind of beetle is found in the crate that an alien captive was dropped in, and they saw the same beetles on the corpse. Brody slapped a bug on his neck once. Just once. He also skewered a beetle of some kind, but I don't know if it was the same as the ones on the alien.

I thought Brody was going to eat the beetle. It would have been gross, but not at all unexpected. They hadn't eaten or said anything about food the whole time. They walked and walked and walked and ran and fought and walked, and never talked about being hungry or thirsty. Some of them had their battle backpacks with them; maybe they had some rations or bottled water, but we never saw it. We never saw the inevitable confrontation by the people who didn't have packs with them and would have also been hungry or thirsty.

The doctor is hanging from his parachute straps in a tree when the others first encounter him. He falls into a pool of water. It's played for laughs like, he's acting like he's going to drown then he stands up. None of these people think about the things that are in water in a jungle. There might have been leeches or bacteria or any number of nasty things. Nobody says to get out quick or anything. Later they are chased off a cliff and into a larger body of water, but they still don't seem concerned about dangers that might be in the water.

When Isabelle (Braga) tells about the Guatemala incident, she says one man survived by covering himself with mud to hide his body heat. The movie goes on for another hour before anyone uses that tip, and even then, it's not really used effectively. A ring of fire is more useful camouflage at that point.

The humans don't seem very careful to grab weapons when someone is killed. They do salvage a few things from Noland's place when they have to leave quickly. Near the beginning, they are using their guns pretty carelessly. After a big gun battle, when they have wasted a lot of ammo, in my opinion, Brody says that they need to count their rounds and conserve what they have, but we don't get a count and they don't seem ever to try to make their shots count.

The doctor's change at the end seems to come out of the blue. He has one conversation with the convicted killer/rapist that could possibly have made us wonder about it, but if they tried to do something subtle, it was too subtle for me. Near the end, he makes one decision that didn't seem in character, and then he lies about a photograph, but this was very near the end. It almost seems like they started out with him as a doctor then decided to go a different direction midway through the script.

The doctor finds the neurotoxin plant early on. Two other characters know about it. we don't see what the doctor does with the poison on his little knife; one assumes he wiped it off somewhere. At no point does anyone suggest that they use the neurotoxin on spears or arrows or bullets that might help defeat the alien enemy. Nor does anyone suggest that they try to reset the booby traps at the other human's camp or create similar ones around a camp of their own. It's like they just don't think about it.

The music was adequate and draws on the themes created by Alan Silvestri for the first film. New composer John Debney has never done anything truly inventive or inspiring, so it's not a surprise that the score wasn't anything special. The Little Richard tune was used in a couple of scenes in the original film, but my husband and I didn't remember it from the first movie, so its use over the end credits was mystifying at the time.

The direction by Nimród Antal was adequate. It's certainly not the worst film direction I've seen. Only one scene featured truly irritating camera work; it's near the beginning when the convict is fighting with a soldier from Sierra Leone. They stand up and the camera is shaking and the men are wobbling, and it's hard to focus in on anything. My husband was not impressed with the way some of the fights were shot. Antal has done a couple of features and apparently a lot of music videos. It's a really bad idea to use music video and videogame directors to direct features, but it seems to be the recruitment tool of choice for Hollywood. I think that's a lot of the reason that movies don't seem to have much heart and soul these days.

Predators was an interesting enough film and a somewhat worthy sequel to the 1987 movie. It's far from a great film. Like so many movies today, it seems less a cohesive script than a compilation of scenes and lines and characters cobbled together from previous films. It's not well thought out. There's no point to having the fight on an alien planet, except that it leaves two characters trapped there in set-up for another sequel.