Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review: "Survivors: The Complete Original Series"

This past Father's Day, I bought myself a DVD collection of the BBC's "Survivors".  Not the recent series that ran on BBC and BBC America, but the original series that originally aired from 1975 through 1977.  I was a big fan of the 2008 series and didn't realize until that series was eventually canceled that it was a re-make of an earlier program.  The 1977 series starred Carolyn Seymour as Abby Grant, Ian McCulloch as Greg Preston, and Lucy Fleming as Jenny Richards.  If any of those names sound familiar to fans of the later series, that's because many of the characters and situations were pulled from the original series and re-envisioned for a 2008 television audience.

"Survivors" is a modern-day post-apocalyptic tale.  It follows the adventures of a band of people who survive an extremely deadly plague that killed off most of humanity.  What's left of humanity now must re-learn how to re-build civilization from scratch.  The cities are filled with bloated bodies and the accompanying diseases like typhoid.  Plague survivors are killing each other over canned goods.  They aren't even sure if it's safe to be around each other for fear of becoming ill.

The program' main protagonist, Abby Grant, has two main goals.  She needs to find her son, dead or alive.  She needs to know what's become of him and she won't rest until she finds out.  She also recognizes that humanity can't scavenge grocery stores and houses for unspoiled food forever.  People need to learn how to make their own food, how to make tools, how to care for the sick and injured, etc.  She knows that they owe it to their future kids and their grandkids to re-learn these tasks that have been largely forgotten by our modern-day way of life.

There are tons of similarities between this original series and the later re-make.  Many of the character templates are the same, albeit less racially and culturally diverse.  In some ways, this original series seems much bleaker than its later version.  In the later series, Abby was an aberration.  She became deathly ill with the plague, but survived.  Everyone else who survived never became ill.  The original series' survivors seemed to be a mixed bagged of those who never became ill and those who got sick and then became better.  Think about it.  At least in the later series, you knew you were okay if you didn't become ill.  Here, it's not so clear and I think they did an effective job of demonstrating that in the first couple episodes.  People were isolating from others, trying to avoid germs and infection after it became clear how truly deadly the virus was.  Without emergency medical care, people with severe injuries are left to die.  Without government or law enforcement, the countryside is taken over by roving bands of militia men.

I've watched the first three episodes and I'm intrigued about where this is heading.  So far, Abby's band is pretty tiny: Only three people compared to the seven or eight that immediately gathered together for support in the 2008 re-make.  The packaging implies that we will begin to see new settlements emerge in ways that we never did with the re-make, plus we will see the beginnings of the new generation of survivors emerge.  This type of stuff was only hinted at in the re-make, which almost seems hopeful when accompanied by the bleakness of the first few episodes.

Faith UCC in the News!

My church, Faith United Church of Christ, was in today's newspaper!  We have been hosting a neighborhood spaghetti dinner on the last Monday of every month for many, many months now.  It was the brainchild of a couple members who were looking for were looking for ways to reach out to the neighborhood, as well as a new fellowship opportunity for church members.

The neighborhood was plastered with fliers to advertise the first event.  It's been a while, but I think we only had five or six folks from outside the church at the event.  Since then, church members have partnered with different community groups and managed to bring in dozens of hungry people from all over the city.  Attendance fluctuates from month to month.  My own family used to go every month, but Monday night Tae Kwon Do practice pretty much eliminated that option.

Here is a link to the article in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.  Articles are usually only available for a week online, so I'll share the article in its entirety below:

Church Reaches out with Spaghetti Dinners by Rob Daniel

The members of Faith United Church of Christ on Iowa City's southeast side have high hopes for their monthly free neighborhood dinner.

Started in November 2008, church members hope to reach out to the neighborhood that has as many as 72 percent of the families living at or below the poverty line, said Terri Logan, the meal coordinator for the church.

"(We) tried to get a lot more community outreach and neighborhood outreach," Logan said of the dinners.

She said the free dinners -- consisting of spaghetti, a side dish and salad, all supplied by church members -- are designed to help those who are struggling financially.

Paula Forest, a church member who has been helping with the meals, said she has seen more young families and middle-age adults come to the dinners in the past because of the down economy. She said the timing of the dinners at the end of the month are designed to help struggling families, particularly children, when either their paycheck has run out or when their food stamps are gone.

"It's to help some people whose cupboards are bare," Forest said. "Kids can't learn if they're hungry."

Logan said the dinner attracted as many as 100 people in September 2009, when the church organized a talk on a neighborhood watch program by an Iowa City police officer. That dinner also featured a demonstration by students from Kang's Martial Arts in Coralville, which is owned by Lonnie Matthews, a member of the church, Logan said.

Despite church members' efforts, the numbers have dropped since then. "We'll get five or six people from the neighborhood (now)," Logan said.

Forest said the church, 1609 DeForest Ave., will continue to offer the meal along with the company the members provide. "It's food not just for your stomach, but food for your soul," she said.

Monday, June 28, 2010

More Pride

I've got some more post-Pride material to share tonight:

Chicago Pride: Chicago Blackhawk Brent Sopel participated in this weekend's Pride parade, along with the Stanley Cup, much to the excitement -- I'm sure -- of friend, "self-described Christian", and Blackhawk nut, Andrew Marin.  Marin and friends of his from the Marin Foundation also participated in this weekend's events with a simple message: "I'm Sorry".  Here are some pics from their group.

Nathan, the Marin Foundation's Director of Pastoral Care shared about his own involvement with Chicago's Pride celebration:  I Hugged a Man in his Underwear.  And I Am Proud.
I spent the day at Chicago’s Pride Parade. Some friends and I, with The Marin Foundation, wore shirts with “I’m Sorry” written on it. We had signs that said, “I’m sorry that Christians judge you,” “I’m sorry the way churches have treated you,” “I used to be a bible-banging homophone, sorry.” We wanted to be an alternative Christian voice from the protestors that were there speaking hate into megaphones.

What I loved most about the day is when people “got it.” I loved watching people’s faces as they saw our shirts, read the signs, and looked back at us. Responses were incredible. Some people blew us kisses, some hugged us, some screamed thank you. A couple ladies walked up and said we were the best thing she had seen all day. I wish I had counted how many people hugged me. One guy in particular softly said, “Well, I forgive you.”

Watching people recognize our apology brought me to tears many times. It was reconciliation personified.

My favorite though was a gentleman who was dancing on a float. He was dressed solely in white underwear and had a pack of abs like no one else. As he was dancing on the float, he noticed us and jokingly yelled, “What are you sorry for? It’s pride!” I pointed to our signs and watched him read them.

Then it clicked.

Then he got it.

He stopped dancing. He looked at all of us standing there. A look of utter seriousness came across his face. And as the float passed us he jumped off of it and ran towards us. In all his sweaty beautiful abs of steal, he hugged me and whispered, “thank you.”
Check out this link to read the rest of Nathan's reflection.

Twin Cities:  Reverend Johnson won his right to pass out Bibles and anti-gay materials to participants at the Twin Cities Pride event, only to be ignored.  He should have taken a few notes from the other anti-gay protester at Twin Cities Pride and brought a voice amplifier.
Another protester at Saturday's event, John Chisham of Marshall, Minn., attracted far more attention than the Johnsons as he stood on a box with a sign that read "You are an abomination to God, You justify the wicked," preaching to a jeering crowd. Chisham attracted shouts of disapproval and arguments from passersby. Eventually, Pride attendees stood in front of him with signs that read, "Standing on the Side of Love." Chisham, who described himself as a Christian missionary, said he had followed Johnson's case but had planned to come to Pride anyway. He brought a decibel meter to prove, he said, that he was acting within the law by not being disruptive. Minneapolis police Sgt. Fred McCormick looked on as protesters argued with Chisham, breaking things up a few times when things got too heated. One man who shoved Chisham was detained by police but released without a ticket. Chisham was acting within the law, McCormick said. "The thing is, he's got the right to be here. He's been cooperative and is entitled to do this, but we're not going to tolerate it if it gets too heated," the officer said. "This is healthy dialogue, but unfortunately it is taking up resources."
New York City:  A group of GLBT Catholics and friends were forbidden by their Archbishop from marching in this weekend's Pride event using their church's banner.  So they flipped it and marched with a blank banner.  The resulting flap apparently drew way more attention than if they'd just been allowed to march normally with their banner like they have in past years.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hawkeye Kennel Club's 52nd & 53rd Annual Dog Shows and Obedience Trials

There was a dog show in town this weekend.  Leslie, Ms. Lion, and I decided to brave the heat and humidity and check out the shindig.

Here's how part of the press release read:
Julia Chalmers jokes that when she began raising and showing dogs years ago, it didn’t take her long to be bitten, so to speak. More than half a century later, the show bug continues to gnaw at the president of the Hawkeye Kennel Club as she prepares for her group’s annual event this weekend. Her club’s 52nd and 53rd annual Dog Shows and Obedience Trials are set for Saturday and Sunday at the Johnson County 4-H Fairgrounds, where more than 500 dogs from around the country will take part in an American Kennel Club competition... The 10 or so members of the Iowa City-based Hawkeye Kennel Club spend much of the year readying for this show, which is traditionally held in late June, and the hundreds of dog owners it brings. “It’s our whole year’s worth of work that culminates with this event,” Chalmers said. “The day after the show is over, we’re planning for the next year.”

Chalmers said the show is a good way for those looking to purchase a puppy to get acquainted with the options available and discover the best fit for them. While dogs cannot be purchased at the show, prospective buyers can get to know breeders from around the country. “They get to see a lot of different breeds of dogs they don’t normally get to see anywhere else,” Chalmers said.
I thought that seeing a dog show might be an interesting learning experience for Leslie.  I've been to minor shows in the past.  I used to show dogs back when I was a member of 4-H and I've attended some of the Hawkeye Kennel Club's previous shows.  On top of that, I've enjoyed watching the hilarious mockumentary, Best in Show, and I've read of all Laurien Berenson's "Melanie Travis Mysteries" book (all dog show themed).  In other words, I know enough about dog shows to avoid looking like a total newb, but not enough to appreciate the nuances.

Unfortunately, we missed the standard poodle judging by an hour or so.  Fortunately, we were patient enough to be rewarded with the toy poodle competitions.  They are all so tiny and dainty.  I can't imagine getting yanked down the street like I do with Nero.  I was tempted for a moment to offer up a trade.  But only for a moment.  Here's a vid of my favorite toy. (If you listen in the background, you can hear Ms. Lion whining at me to get her back in an air conditioned room.)

We checked out the merchandise booths to see if we could find any heavy-duty toys capable of surviving Nero's persistent jaw before I realized that I only had five bucks on me.  We checked out a few more of the show rings before deciding it was too humid to stick around any longer.  Fortunately, Leslie agreed to an interview before we left.

Frankly, there was one thing that I really wanted to learn about the show, but that I never did figure out.  I want to know how it can be both the 52nd AND the 53rd annual show?  Mark thinks there might have been a time vortex that steals a year from your life.  I'm wavering between two different theories.  My first theory is that the anniversary date occurs at midnight between yesterday and today.  Yesterday was the end of the 52nd year and today was the beginning of the 53rd day.  My second theory is that the "Dog Show" began 52 years ago and the "Obedience Trials" began 53 years ago.  That probably makes the most sense, though I didn't see any sign of obedience trials yesterday afternoon.  Maybe they happened today.  If any readers know the answer the this question, kindly share it in the comments section.

Pride Weekend

Pride Month is quickly winding down.  My Pride activities have been few, as have my posts about it.  I thought I'd share a few links about what others are saying on this historic weekend:

My church held its annual Gay Pride service this morning.  Pastor Brian orchestrated a series of GLBT meditations in place of our regular worship sermon.  You can read those meditations here.  Pastor Brian also urged church members and friends to look at an interest survey for this fall's Adult Education programming.  One of the books on the list was Religion Is a Queer Thing by Elizabeth Stuart.  I'm not big on religious book reviews, though I plan to give it a try.  I was most interested in Tour de Faith: Gospel According to RAGBRAI by Bob Molsberry.  If I'd been thinking, I should've suggested Love Is An Orientation by my friend Andrew Marin.  Then again, my church might not particularly fit the demographics for this particular book.  It's aimed at conservative Christian church leaders and members, though his bridge-building strategies are definitely needed by both conservative and progressive Christians, as well as GLBT folks.  Frankly, the item of his inventory survey that peaked my interest the most was the Bible 'n' Beer discussion group ("Exploring Scripture while Imbibing Hops-Inspired Beverages").  I'm just sayin'...

In other blogs, it was noted that today is the 41st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.  Most agree that the Stonewall Riots was the violent birth of the modern gay rights movement.  There was lots going on that preceded Stonewall, but this was the event that grabbed onto the movement and sometimes you just gotta stick with the grab.  NPR's StoryCorps tells an interesting first hand account of the riot.  Blogger Joe.My.God. shares news coverage immediately following the riot as related by the New York Daily News.

Lastly, it was widely reported last week that Twin Cities Pride was unable to prevent an anti-gay Christian protester from passing out Bibles or other materials at a location that they paid thirty-some thousand dollars to reserve.  Turns out that the protester was largely ignored by event participants.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Thoughts on "Jonah Hex"

Leslie and I decided to check out "Jonah Hex" today at the movie theater.  Jonah Hex is based off DC Comics' comic book character by that name. 

I know very little about Hex outside him being a scarred wild western bounty hunter who sometimes fights crime in the future.  I went in knowing nothing about the character's origin or powers (if he indeed had any).  I liked the movie because it didn't bog itself with an overly lengthy origin tale.  They got that done within 5-10 minutes and hopped into the action.  He turned out to be a wild west version of Marvel's Punisher character.  His wife and child were hideously assassinated and he was left for dead.  What remains of Jonah is a vengeance-seeking bounty hunter who likes to shoot first (and often) before asking questions.  Oh, and he can briefly reanimate the dead, which is good for intelligence gathering.  It was an interesting back-story and power.  Turns out that it's all about as phony as Catwoman's 9-lives resurrection powers when he showed up at the cinema.  Check out the linked wikipedia entry if you're interested in learning more about Jonah Hex's rich comic book origin and history.

The story wasn't actually that bad.  Jonah spends his days tracking down wanted criminals, and shooting down the poor sods who get in his way.  In some ways, his life has very little meaning.  That changes when President Grant recruits him to hunt down a man longed believed to be dead by Hex: Quentin Turnbull, the terrorist responsible for murdering Hex's family and scarring his face.  Hex quickly learns that Turnbull is tirelessly working to assemble a super-weapon capable of literally destroying cities.  Hex has until the USA's centennial to stop Turnbull and to avenger his lost loved ones.

When asked, Leslie said that he loved the movie.  He particularly liked Hex's arsenal and more particularly liked the machine guns strapped on the sides of his horse and Hex's initial gunfight.  There weren't any parts of the movie that he didn't enjoy.  He said that he would totally recommend it to all of his friends.

Like I said, the movie was pretty good.  I think that it'll suffer from one big glitch: the origin story isn't remotely close to the main character's origin story and he possesses pretty major and important powers that haven't ever existed in any of his previous appearances.  With a character like this, you need to tell a story that will appeal to casual viewers like myself.  But you also need to keep your core fans.  I don't know if changing a character this much will do that.

That said, I definitely encourage people to give Jonah Hex a chance.  It's got a lot of dark humor in it, it's got lots of action, and it doesn't really have any spots in the movie that drag or lose focus.

Favorite PreviewScott Pilgrim Vs. The World.  I'd heard some buzz about it, but wasn't really planning on seeing it.  The trailer got me totally sparked.  Basically, this guy has to defeat his new girlfriend's seven evil ex-boyfriends or else they can't continue dating.  It sounds stupid in writing, but the preview looked like a lot of fun.  I'll be there, with or without my entourage.

Least Favorite PreviewThe Expendables.  I'm already not that much into mercenary gang-bang movies.  Seeing Governor Schwarzenegger there in a hopefully-no-more-than cameo role just boils.  His state is falling apart.  Does he really have time to do movies???

Friday, June 25, 2010

What Would It Take to Sue Your Church?

This woman decided to sue her church to re-gain past tithes because it performs weddings for gay couples:

What would make you sue?

Take Your Dog To Work Day

Did you know that June 25th is "Take Your Dog To Work Day"?  (Unless you live in Iran, that is...):
(B)usinesses, animal shelters and pet-care professionals from around the world will work together to better the lives of shelter dogs everywhere. Thousands of businesses will GO FURRY to promote pet adoption by opening their doors to employees’ furry, four-legged friends on this day in celebration of the great companions dogs make.
How come you never hear about these things until it's too late to participate?  I first heard about this event on the radio today.  I scoffed and tried to move on, but the idea got planted in my brain.  I half-jokingly asked my supervisor and our department's director if I could bring Ms. Lion to work and they thought it'd be a fun idea!  Now imagine if I'd known about this a week or a month ago.  Ms. Lion could have hung out with me while I answered calls and typed up case notes.  No fair.

I've decided to put a little message reminder in my outlook calendar about Take Your Dog To Work Day so that next June I might actually get a real chance to participate.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Iowa City or Sanctuary City?

First Arizona passed its tougher anti-illegal immigrant law, which led to protests and counter-protests by people and churches.  Then earlier this week, Fremont, NE, voted to effectively ban illegal immigrants from housing and employment opportunities.  Now, a group called the Iowa City Sanctuary City Committee is trying to get local city and country officials to approve an ordinance guarantee basic services to all residents, regardless of immigration status.

The Sanctuary City Committee says the federal government is in charge of enforcing its immigration rules and sanctuary clauses ensure that responsibility doesn’t fall on local agencies.

“City officials should not be mandated — especially unfunded and mandated — to enforce federal immigration law,” said Rudolf Juarez, a Catholic priest and member of the committee.

Without sanctuary measures in place, proponents of the move argue illegal immigrants may be hesitant to call for law enforcement or medical help during a dangerous situation, for instance, out of fear that their immigration status will be scrutinized.

“Really what a sanctuary city is is a place where people can feel safe and secure without fear of being asked to show proof of citizenship in their interactions with the form of government that has adopted the sanctuary city language,” committee member Sarah Swisher said.
Frankly, I'm not sure about this effort.  I don't know how closely local police or hospital workers review individuals for immigration status.  I do know that federal law prevents most social service programming outside of basic essentials like food stamps from being issued to non-legal residents.  Medicaid's not available to illegal immigrants.  County mental health funds are not available to people who cannot provide proof of citizenship.  This was all enacted years ago, long before Fremont or Arizona or any of this discussion about Iowa City/Sanctuary City.  I do know that social services are severely overwhelmed right both on a state, county, and city level.  I can't imagine how they the current social service system could absorb even more potential recipients without drastically cutting back the types of services funded for all people.  Or maybe they'd have to reduce the income eligibility guidelines again, effectively cutting out another swath of recipients.

This topic was discussed on a radio program a day or two ago.  About 20 people showed up to discuss the topic, which makes me wonder how much traction this sanctuary city thing really has.  Ultimately, I want to know what they mean by "basic services" before I put my support behind this movement.  I don't want people to avoid reporting crimes because of their immigration status.  I don't want them hiding serious injuries or spreading untreated communicable diseases because of their immigration status.  I don't want people starving on our streets because of their immigration status. 

Beyond that, I'm not certain that I want to perpetuate a system of cheap, undocumented labor.  If someone is arrested for a crime, I'm not opposed to local police contacting federal law enforcement entities so that they can be taken back where they came from.  And I'm not terribly in favor of making it easy for illegal immigrants to have access to government social services like Medicaid, when legal residents have to wait at least five years before qualifying for most benefits.

My plan is to wait and see if the Iowa City Sanctuary City Committee actually begins making headway.  I'd rather they let the subject rest instead of making the city choose a side regarding this divisive issue.  But we're not alway allowed that type of luxury.

The "2nd Coming" Coming to an End?

I've been following Marvel's "Second Coming" crossover event in this blog and thought I'd better check in with that storyline in case anyone was worried about Bastion's genocidal assault on Marvel's entire mutant community and X-Force's one-way suicidal journey into the future to take out the sentinels on their home turf.  This entry covers last week's New Mutants #14 and this week's X-Men Legacy #237.

Here's the skinny.  Bastion's sentinel army have trapped the X-Men and the citizens of San Francisco in a giant energy barrier.  Every few minutes, a team of five powerful sentinels travels through a time portal from the future and begins laying waste to the area.  The X-Men and their allies are doing their best to destroy the sentinels, but they are fast learners and quickly develop counter-defenses against pretty much any attack.  People are being injured.  People are dying.  It's not pretty.  That's why everything hinges on X-Force's one-way trip into the future to take out the sentinel's base of operations.

Even the X-Men's enemies are being pulled onto the side of the angels, including Charles Xavier's psychotic son, Legion.  Legion is a powerful psionic mutant with multiple personalities.  Each personality has a different power.

Unfortunately, things don't work out so well when Cyclops recruits Scalphunter, Litterbug, Random, the Toad, and Sack in the fight against the sentinels.  (poor, poor Sack..)

It's not looking good in the present.  Unfortunately, things don't look good for Cable, Wolverine, or X-Force in the future as they go up against a couple really big giant sentinels. 

Of course, super-translator Cypher's also with them.  He translates languages and codes.  He has no flashy powers or weapons.  What good is he?

Looks like the sentinels' programming has been dismantled from within by Cypher and are now all falling apart!  X-Force is still stuck in the future, but at least things are looking good in the present.  Except that mutant messiah Hope Summers is still blaming X-Men commander Cyclops for sending Cable and X-Force into the far future for their suicide mission.  She's not very happy...

The membrane of that shrinking time portal?  The one that nothing living can pass through?  What could be emerging through it now???

It's Cable, presumably protected by the effects of the time portal by his techno-virus!  Maybe Hope will be able to find it in her to forgive Cyclops yet.  Then again, maybe Cable won't survive the trip and Hope will just be all the madder.

Either way, we still have X-Force in the far future.  Bastion is still here in the present and surely has at least one or two cards left to play given that there's still two chapters left in this storyline.  Plus, San Francisco's still stuck in that unbreakable energy field!  We'll have to wait until next week to figure out how our merry band of mutant marauders will pull through and save the day.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NOM's Coming to Iowa to Nullify our Marriage Licenses

Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has a message for my family and other Iowans: "We're here, we're not queer, get used to it!"

It was announced yesterday that NOM is coming to Iowa this summer for a 22-city "Summer for Marriage" tour where they will rally Iowans against gay and lesbian families.  Interestingly, they're not coming to Iowa City.
The anti-gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage will be holding rallies in 22 cities this summer — including Des Moines and Sioux City — with the goal of building public opposition to same-sex marriage.

The organization, which spent nearly $100,000 into an Iowa House special election in September, announced last year that it would launch a new initiative called The Reclaim Iowa Project. The goal is to force Iowans to pass a state constitutional amendment reversing the unanimous ruling of the Iowa Supreme Court that the state’s Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has pledged his support for the initiative and lent his voice to a robocall for the organization...

NOM spent millions in Maine and California in campaigns to overturn gay marriage laws.

The state’s largest LGBT-rights organization, One Iowa, is hoping to counter NOM’s efforts in the Hawkeye State. The group is using video from a recent speech in Ames by NOM President Maggie Gallagher to raise money to “educate voters about the freedom to marry.”

A recent poll commissioned by Des Moines CBS affiliate KCCI-TV found a majority of Iowans support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
The sad truth is that this is all a big joke to Gallagher and her supporters.  Instead of spending money and energy actually promoting and nurturing families, they are spending millions to destroy families like mine.  They talk about how kids need to be protected against gay marriages without considering or really even caring about how the children of gay parents might be harmed if their parents' marriage were involuntarily annulled by their neighbors.

I yearn for the day when I can be like any other working father and just worry about raising my kids and paying the bills without having to worry about who's going to attack my family next...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reviews: "Merlin" and "Tremors: The Series"

Last month, I became the proud contest winner of BBC's "Merlin".  I mentioned that I would post a review of the series.  In the meantime, Leslie and I decided to impulse-buy a DVD collection of "Tremors: The Complete Series", which originally aired on Sci Fi Channel (pre-Syfy).  I thought it would be fun to watch the first three episodes of each program and let you know what I think.

Merlin re-visits the kingdom of Camelot.  The biggest difference between this tale of Camelot compared to other versions that I've seen is that this shows how young Prince Arthur meets an equally young Merlin.  Arthur's father, King Uther, has banned magic throughout the realm.  Anyone caught fiddling with charms or spells or potions or incantations are automatically sentenced to death.  No questions asked.

Merlin came to Camelot to train under Uther's chief physician and sometimes advisor, Gaius.  Gaius quickly learns that Merlin possesses powerfully innate magical talents and begins the covert process of training Merlin to hone his gifts.  Very soon, Merlin learns that his destiny is intricately intertwined with the brash young Arthur.

Merlin's first episode, "The Dragon's Call", introduces Merlin, Arthur, and the series concept to the viewers.  After thwarting a magical assassination attempt (by Torchwood's Eve Myles, no less) against Arthur, Merlin finds himself employed as the annoyed prince's personal manservant.  This episode also introduces the last of the dragons, Kilgharrah, who appears to revel in riddles and soothsaying.  "Valiant" has Arthur entered in Camelot's annual sword-fighting contest.  Unfortunately, his chief opponent has a venomous magic weapon on his side that he intends to use against the prince.  Then Merlin struggles not only to find a cure against a deadly supernatural plague, but also to save the beautiful Gwen after she's accused to spreading said plague using the blackest of black magic in "The Mark of Nimueh".

Let me pause a sec to share sometime.  I'd never viewed an entire episode of Merlin before receiving this DVD.  On the other hand, I've seen all four of the Tremors movies and most of the television episodes numerous times.  Leslie went through a huge monster movie phase back in the early 00s and Tremors was a favorite.  The big difference is, I guess, that I know where Tremors went while I have no clue where Merlin heading.

So far, I'm picking up a definite pattern with each episode of Merlin.  A mysterious menace threatens some aspect of the kingdom.  Merlin notices the threat and struggles to do something about it, but stumbles due to his low social status and his need to keep his magical mojo on the down low.  Merlin manages to pull a proverbial rabbit out of the hat and save the day, but nobody really notices.  I know that the series will slip from the pattern in the next episode, but that seems to be the show in a nut-shell.

But it's a heck of a nut-shell.  It's fun to watch Merlin and Arthur clash against each other.  They were thrust together by King Uther and really don't seem to like each other.  On the other hand, for two guys who seemingly hate each other so much, they sure do demonstrate a lot of trust and devotion towards each other.  Merlin and lovely Guenevere make a cute couple, though I don't recall the two of them linked with each other in other tales of Camelot.  I'm really curious how that relationship will evolve as the series progresses.  And, of course, who could dislike any series that brings back Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Anthony Head as King Uther?

Over all, I think Merlin does a respectable job at taking to an old story that's been re-told over and over and over and spinning it just enough to freshen it up for newer, more casual viewers like myself, while remaining true enough to the legend to attract those who enjoyed earlier renditions of this myth.

Next up is Tremors: The Complete Series.  Like Merlin, Tremors comes with a bit of a history.  Back in 1990, Kevin Bacon and the rest of the citizens of Perfection, Nevada, found themselves under siege by a number of subterranean giant tentacled worms (later named Graboids) that are attracted by sounds and movements and that attack their unfortunate victims from underneath the soil.  The 1990 film spawned three sequels and a television series.  Each sequel shows off new stages of Graboid evolution (to use Pokemon parlance), from hopping baby Graboids in the prequel, to the heat-seeking hermaphroditic hunters labeled as Shriekers in the first sequel, to the combustible gliding Ass Blasters in the second sequel.

Tremors: The Series picked up after the events in Tremors 3.  The surviving citizens of Perfection have settled into an uneasy alliance with the sterile albino Graboid nicknamed "El Blanco".  El Blanco is a one-of-a-kind endangered species and the US Government is dedicated to protect this mighty predator.  As long as he survives, the people of Perfection are free from greedy land developers.

"Feeding Frenzy" finds the uneasy truce between the town's locals and El Blanco challenged after the Graboid embraces an unstoppable series of attacks.  Will Perfection survive or will local survivalist Burt Gummer have to take out El Blanco once and for all?  Will Melvin Plug finally fulfill his lifelong desire to pave over Perfection and transform it into Melville?  And what does that mysterious ATV rider have to do with all of this?  Next up, Burt and Perfection newcomer Tyler Reed get recruited by the federal government to eliminate a batch of killer Shriekers before they wipe out a local dairy festival in "Shriek and Destroy".  Finally, Burt and company encounter a "Blast from the Past" when a hang glider is eaten by an Ass Blaster.  Not only do the locals need to take out the Ass Blaster, but they need to prevent Burt's first survival training class from becoming his last.  Within a couple episodes, viewers will be introduced to a new series of genetically modified "Mixmaster" monsters, mad scientists, and government conspirators.

Let me just say that I love Tremors.  I love the monsters.  I love the diverse characters.  I love the dark humor.  I love the continuity.  I love pretty much every aspect of the franchise.  This television series was totally made for me and people like me.  Tremors: The Series built up cult following and really catered to us.  I just can't help wondering if intricately connected characters and storylines turn off casual fans.

Truthfully, I strongly encourage newbies to give this series a chance.  Check out the movies beforehand or review the wikipedia summaries if needed or just jump in cold.  Tremors does a good job acknowledging its past while re-inventing itself with each new incarnation.  Plus it's extremely fun, which is what good TV should be.

Video-Taping Pride in Iowa City

A couple days ago, I shared about Iowa City's 2010 Pride festival.  I took some videos, but none of them really inspired me afterwards.  Or they were too short.  I thought this was funny.  A group of singers from some production of "Rent" walking by singing "Seasons of Love" while we worked the Faith UCC booth.  I pulled out my flip camera and got a few seconds of them, but not enough to really post about.

Until now.  Catch this:

Now catch this:

I happened to run across this second clip while doing a google search on Iowa City Pride 2010.  If you catch the first couple seconds, you can see me videoing the singers.  It made me chuckle.  And I guess it offered proof that I was actually at Pride this year.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day, everyone! 

It's my first Father's Day without my own father, who passed away this past summer after a lengthy illness.  Today's church service was a shared ministry Sunday.  Basically, the minister gets the weekend off once monthly and someone from the church organizes worship instead.  I've led worship in the past, but not today.  Today's service was a Father's Day themed service.  Lots of shared memories by members about their dads and what made them special to them.  D' shared a story that his birth dad recently told him during our recent prison visit while Leslie shared some made up reflection about his dad teaching him how to sharpen hunting knives.  I didn't share any stories about my dad.  I guess his passing still saddens me, both because of his absence as well as for the loss of relationship that we experienced during the last years of his life.

I'm thinking of going to see a movie with the boys this afternoon.  I know we do that a lot, but I enjoy the theater experience.  We'll probably go for a hike at the Resevoir sometime this afternoon, too.  I also had D'Angelo write up a letter to send to his birth dad in prison.  Mark got a bunch of clothes and some air fresheners to hide the smell in his car following this week's flash flood.  I got a "Survivors" DVD set (the 1970s version, not the recent re-make) from Mark.  Plus, we both canceled each other out with dueling $25 gift cards to Red Lobster.

I thought I'd wrap up today's message by sharing President Obama's Father's Day Proclamation:
From the first moments of life, the bond forged between a father and a child is sacred. Whether patching scraped knees or helping with homework, dads bring joy, instill values, and introduce wonders into the lives of their children. Father's Day is a special time to honor the men who raised us, and to thank them for their selfless dedication and love.

Fathers are our first teachers and coaches, mentors and role models. They push us to succeed, encourage us when we are struggling, and offer unconditional care and support. Children and adults alike look up to them and learn from their example and perspective. The journey of fatherhood is both exhilarating and humbling it is an opportunity to model who we want our sons and daughters to become, and to build the foundation upon which they can achieve their dreams.

Fatherhood also carries enormous responsibilities. An active, committed father makes a lasting difference in the life of a child. When fathers are not present, their children and families cope with an absence government cannot fill. Across America, foster and adoptive fathers respond to this need, providing safe and loving homes for children facing hardships. Men are also making compassionate commitments outside the home by serving as mentors, tutors, or big brothers to young people in their community. Together, we can support the guiding presence of male role models in the lives of countless young people who stand to gain from it.

Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step father, a grandfather, or caring guardian. We owe a special debt of gratitude for those parents serving in the United States Armed Forces and their families, whose sacrifices protect the lives and liberties of all American children. For the character they build, the doors they open, and the love they provide over our lifetimes, all our fathers deserve our unending appreciation and admiration.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, in accordance with a joint resolution of the Congress approved April 24, 1972, as amended (36 U.S.C. 109), do hereby proclaim June 20, 2010, as Father's Day. I direct the appropriate officials of the Government to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on this day, and I call upon all citizens to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. Let us honor our fathers, living and deceased, with all the love and gratitude they deserve.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Iowa City Pride Parade and Festival

I just got back from Iowa City's annual Pride parade and festival.  They held it this summer at the Ped Mall instead of College Green Park, supposedly to make it more family-friendly or because they failed to reserve the park on time (depending on whom you talk with).  I was a little nervous with the new location.  The Ped Mall has a lot more walk-through traffic.  You pretty much know what you're going to if you're heading to College Green Park.  Not so with the Ped Mall.  But things worked out nicer than I expected.  There was plenty of shade and a nice breeze going on, which was nice given the 85 degree temperatures.

I've marched in the parade in past years as part of my congregation or as part of my lesbian/gay parenting group, but decided that this would be a good year to be a spectator.  I hadn't really noticed protesters before, but we had a trio of religious protesters this year with huge "Got AIDS Yet?"-like signs in a triangle formation at the intersection of Dubuque and Washington.  It was interesting to watch them.  One would engage participants and get into silly confrontations about gays, hellfire, and shrimp.  Meanwhile, one of the others would videotape the exchange.  Then another of the three would engage another participant and this exchange would get videotaped.  This went on over and over until the parade came through.  Once the parade ended, the three packed up their signs and headed off to parts unknown.  I guess we gays should be proud that people care enough about our souls to protest our parades.  Makes you wonder why they don't care enough to protest the University of Iowa's annual Homecoming parades.

The parade was short, but fun.  It was short enough, in fact, that I almost didn't make it from my booth to the parade route.  There were a few convertibles with titled drag queens in them and a group of mustached women shortly after that.  There was also an elaborate "Dorothy Gale"-themed giant puppet towards the end.  There were a bunch of motorcycles, too.  D'Angelo enjoyed the parade and particularly enjoyed the candy that was tossed to him.

I spent the afternoon helping out at my church's booth.  He gave away free bottles of water and cookies, as well as different brochures.  Our most popular attraction, by far, was a rainbow-colored "Gay by God" sticker.  We came with 100 of those.  They were gone within the first hour.  We got a couple chuckles over a little bookmark at our table reminding people that Jesus had two dads, yet he turned out okay.

For the most part, the festival was pretty mellow.  Lots of music, not a lot of speakers.  The Democrats had a booth.  The Republicans wouldn't touch us.  Several churches had their own cookie hand-outs.  One Iowa and Lambda Legal had booths.  There was a nice pet store with a booth, as well as a couple GLBT-speciality merchandise booths.  I met a nice author named Heidi Cullinan, who self-publishes M/M romance and fantasy novels.  I bought one of her books, "Special Delivery" and got on her e-mailing list for future contacts.

Outside the parade, there wasn't too much costuming.  A couple bearish hunks walked through without shirts, but most people had t-shirts and shorts on.  There were lots of kids and dogs, too.  I managed to get pictures of my two favorite costumes of the day.  Both were kind enough to pose for some strange guy on the Ped Mall and for that, I'm greatly appreciative.  :)
It was fun to chat with folks from church and to mingle with friends and potential friends for the afternoon.  The boys enjoyed their time with our new pastor and his wife and seemed to enjoy passing out stickers to people.  Leslie particularly enjoyed running into various kids from his high school, most of whom he hasn't seen for several weeks.

I'd mentioned Des Moines' 2010 Pridefest event earlier this week and how they had several celebrities at their event.  We didn't have TV celebrities, but we did have several politicians at the event and I did get to discuss "Extreme Poodles" with three different folks.  It would be nice to have a Pride event with some star-power, but it's also nice to be content with what you do have.  Many communities our size have nothing when it comes to Pride.  We have a parade and a month of different events.  We have local politicians who support our lives and loves.  We have several churches in our area who are more than happy to hang with a bunch of homos and not feel like we need to be proselytized against.  And we have an active Pride committee that does a lot with a modest budget.  All of this is a lot to be Proud of.  Thanks Iowa City Pride!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Pet Avengers Visit Ice Cream Mountain

A couple years back, Marvel Comics created one of my all-time favorite super-teams, the Pet Avengers.  Their initial series told how Lockjaw, Redwing, Lockheed, Hairball, Zabu, Frog Thor, and Ms. Lion joined forces to gather up the various Infinity Gems and defeat the deadly cosmic villain/death worshipper, Thanos (assisted by Presidential pooch, Bo Obama).  It was a fun story. 

More recently, Marvel published another 4-issue mini-series about the team called Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers Unleashed.  I just finished the last story and I'm still not sure what it was about.  Basically, Thor Frog trying to find out where he belongs while the team contends with some psychotic cosmic girl and saves a bunch of yeti and unicorns and such.  Much as I love the team, the story didn't do much for me.  I prefer more identifiable villains.  Plus, I just don't get off on dream worlds and imaginary creatures and such.  Marvel will be offering up a one-shot Tails of the Pet Avengers: The Dogs of Summer, guest-starring Franklin Richards of the Fantastic Four and his Puppy.  I'm looking forward to that team-up and hope that it keeps my interest like the first Pet Avengers series did.

As much as this mini-series disappointed me, I absolutely loved the back-up story.  It tells how Blue Hulk and the Pet Avengers decide to travel to Ice Cream Mountain for a snack.  It was cute and funny and didn't take itself too seriously.  It had a quest and a reason why this group is really motivated to complete that quest.  Plus, it featured a clear and appropriate team of super-villains (Red Ghost's super-apes) for the Pet Avengers, which was a huge bonus.

It's sad to say, but the Pet Avengers/Blue Hulk team-up saved this series for me.  Without it, I probably would have dropped this mini after issue two.  Now I have a Pet Avengers one-shot to look forward to next month and a pipe-dream crossover fantasy that likely will never happen pitting the Pet Avengers vs. the Marvel Apes vs. Spider-Ham.  But that's a blog entry for another day...