Pith Helmet

Putin Uber Alles
August 24, 2007, 10:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Much ado has been made over Vladimir Putin’s muscle flexing for the camera. Many have seen it as an extension of Russia’s revived sabre rattling (i.e. long-range bomber sorties in NATO areas, feigned footage of a Russian submersible under the North Pole, refusal to extradite the alleged assassin of Alexander Litvinenko, arms deals with Iran and Syria, military maneuvers with the Chicoms) while others has seen it as Putin’s extending a hand to Russia’s gay community.

When I saw them, they reminded me of the scene in Martin Cruz Smith’s December 6 when Harry stumbles upon General Tojo’s photo-shoot – just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They also reminded me of something else.



Bowling for Illiteracy
August 24, 2007, 9:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Check out the headline below. The Literacy Volunteer Program estimates that 22 percent of the citizenry of Lowndes County, Georgia can’t read. Judging by this headline from WALB, a local television station, that means that there are just too many people who can read in Lowndes County, and they aim to do something about it.


“Bowling to battle literacy.” I am embarrassed for the entire WALB viewing area.

“Care to bowl another frame, Montag?”

TiVo-ing The Tardis
August 24, 2007, 1:28 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Any one who as read more than two things I’ve written can tell that I hate change. For me, there was only One True Doctor. The one I started out with. The one I sat through boring Public Broadcasting panhandling to watch. The one I watched through a haze of snow, courtesy of a set of rabbit ears on top of the t.v. at my dad’s fishing house. The one I took a break from AD&D marathons to watch. Tom Baker (a.k.a. the Fourth Doctor).

Sure, there were other Doctors, but Baker was my own. After Peter Davidson, I pretty much lost interest. A few years back, when I had BBC America, I recorded a few of my favorite episodes on VHS (“Genesis of The Daleks,” “Robots of Death,” etc.). Then, when the Sci-Fi channel started showing the Doctor Who revival, I TiVoed some episodes, but never got into it.

But, I managed to catch several episodes recently, both David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston, and I was pleasantly surpised. Especially by the Eccleston ones. After all, anyone who dresses like a U-Boat Captain, is lucky enough to have Billie Piper as his companion, and has a history of battling the undead (he played MAJ West in 28 Days Later) is all-right in my book.

In fact, two of the Eccleston episodes, “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances,” have become two of my favorite episodes. Set in London during the Blitz, they are a must-see for anyone who loves zombie flicks or anyone who admires good writing, period (the episodes won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form).

Four of the creepiest words in the English language: “Are you my mummy?”

Speaking of Mummies…
At the Egyptian embassy in Berlin, a German man has turned over a package containing a fragment of a Pharaonic carving. He also handed in a note stating that his stepfather’s theft of the object during a 2004 Egyptian vacation had caused the man to fall victim to a “curse of the Pharaohs.”

After returning to Germany, the stepfather was plagued by “paralysis, nausea, unexplained fevers, and cancer before dying recently.”

[ source: Reuters ]

Review: Gaiman, Neil and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens. 1990. New York: William Morrow, 2006.
August 22, 2007, 3:37 am
Filed under: Books

In his 2004 speech to the Mythopoeic Society, Neil Gaiman said this of G. K. Chesterton’s writing:

“I was always aware, …, that there was someone writing this who rejoiced in words, who deployed them on the page as an artist deploys his paints upon his palette. Behind every … sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight.”

That paragraph perfectly sums up my assessment of Good Omen, a novel Gaiman co-authored with Discworld-creator Terry Pratchett.

Good Omens is an apocalyptic comedy. The story centers on the conflict between Heaven and Hell, a conflict, however, that is more akin to something out of John le Carré than it is to something out of John Milton. The two central characters, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, friendly contestants in a game of cosmic Spy vs. Spy, join forces in an attempt to avert Armageddon. What ensues is The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson-meets-The Omen with a dose of Dr. Strangelove and Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy thrown in for good measure.

A common criticism of China Mieville, even by those of us who are in awe of his world-building ability, is that his characters just aren’t likable. Good Omens does not suffer from this malady. In fact, the opposite is true; the characters are all likeable. In fact, most are so down-right lovable that the reader may miss them after they’ve finished the book. I know I did.

I haven’t been this delighted and amused by something so thought-provoking since the last time I cracked open a Robert Anton Wilson book.

(P)review: Flash Gordon
August 6, 2007, 3:42 am
Filed under: television

Like most sci-fi fans of my generation, I grew up with Flash Gordon comic strips and cartoons, and whenever I even hear or see the word “flash,” I immediately hear Freddie Mercury and Brian May. So when I first saw the ads for the new Flash Gordon on the Sci-Fi Channel, I was delighted. After all, in spite of years of disappointment, my faith in the Sci-Fi Channel’s ability to come up with decent programming of their own had been renewed by the first season or so of Battlestar Galactica.

At last, I would be able to see Flash, Dr. Hans Zharkov, Dale Arden, Prince Barin, Vultan, Queen Fria, Thun, and last, but certainly not least, Aura on the small screen again.

Then, last week, I listened to Michael R. Mennenga’s Slice of Sci-Fi interview with T. J. Scott, the director of the new series, and my balloon burst faster than you can say, “Frank Luke.”

To start with, Scott’s credits include sitting in the director’s chair on three of my least favorite sci-fi/fantasy projects: Hercules, Xena, and Andromeda. So one can imagine my horror when he compared the new guy playing Flash, to Kevin Sorbo.

I was filled with further dread as I heard that the good people of Mongo no longer find space travel fashionable. Out are smooth Fritz Langian curves. What’s “in” are portals (gates) that allow one to travel between celestial bodies (stars). However, when confronted with the similarity between Stargate stargates and Flash Gordon‘s stargates, Scott brushed it off with “they’re similar, but they’re different … and better.”

And then there’s Ming. Gone is the malevolent Manchu moustache. What’s left is John Ralston. I’m certain he is a fine actor. But could they have cast a more generic, middle-aged white guy. The photo of the new Ming at the Sci-Fi Channel’s web site looks more like Ralston is playing a walk-on Alliance officer in an episode of Firefly. Not “Ming the Merciless, deposed ruler of the planet Mongo.” They may as well have cast Barry Bostwick.

In spite of all that, I will probably give the new series a shot. But, I’m already placing the Filmation New Adventures of Flash Gordon in my Amazon.com shopping cart, just in case I can’t stomach the new one.

Pulp Art
August 5, 2007, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Art

Inspired by pop-up books, artist Thomas Allen takes old pulp novels and turns them into dioramas.


Examples can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting
August 4, 2007, 2:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

h/t The Adventurer’s Club and The Lair of The Evil DM

Hasbro has announced that Adventure Team G.I. Joe will be returning to store shelves this month in all of his original Kung Fu Grip incarnations: Adventurer, Air Adventurer, Land Adventurer, Sea Adventurer, the Man of Action, and Adventurer.

And the best part is the suggested retail price is $10.00. That’s so reasonable that someone other than thirtyandfortysomething nostalgia-fiends pining for their own lost youth will be able to afford them.

The figures, which are exclusive to Wal-Mart (how’s that for an oxymoron), will “be available for a limited time beginning in August.” However, I have checked the local Wal-Mart daily and have had no luck finding a single flock-haired figure. For my son, that is. Yeah, that’s the ticket. For my son.