Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Revenge Of The Scammer Horde

Of course they never take a hint. The spammers try to post nonsense spam on our posts, and most of the time spam filters kick that nonsense straight into the purgatory of spam folders where they belong, as opposed to publishing. Sometimes those spam comments insult our actual readers. Often spammers try to post endless times on the same post, so the effect over time is that a single post might have thousands more views than others. They never seem to understand that even if they do get a comment published, it won't stay that way for long.

And then there are the internet scammers. This email appeared in my junk email a few days ago. Dear Confidant My name is Jason Hammond, a professional engineer who is interested in establishing some capital investments within and outside our country, but with your assistance and expertise. We would be happy to work with your esteemed person or company in this capacity. We solicit your partnership in a multi million dollars bid repayment proposal for contract in Iraq I shall offer you more details when I am in receipt of your acceptance/consent email. I shall also let you know the following * How I will introduce you/your company to the holding Ministry and make you the beneficiary of the funds. * Who I am and why I have decided to sought for your assistance. *What percentage of the money I am willing to give you for your assistance. Kindly respond with your private phone and fax numbers for easier and faster communication. We would appreciate if you send a positive response to us on to enable us send you full details of the contract bid.Only when we hear from you in this box we know you are serious to deal. Jason Hammond 

Where to begin? Well, with the email addresses. The two listed do not correspond to the one that was  used to send this nonsense to me in the first place. That one was Oh, sure, that sounds legitimate. Because when I think of organizations on the proverbial up-and-up, biz happens to be part of their title. 

More like that's what you'd expect to see out of a used car dealer. Lucky Eddie, Used Cars Biz: Trust Us For Your Next Ride. Which should actually read Lucky Eddie, Used Cars Biz: We're Going To Take You For A Ride.

If you google Jason Hammond, it's a commonly used name for internet scammers on various email letters. Which makes you feel sorry for anyone actually named Jason Hammond. He claims to be a professional engineer, and of course there are the usual tell tales of a scammer- shifting back and forth between the singluar "who is" and the plural "within and outside our country". He claims that he wants to enlist my "assistance and expertise" for a "multi million dollars bid repayment proposal for contract in Iraq". There are the usual punctuation issues- missing periods, the use of an asterix repeatedly- and the usual capitalized words that don't require them, not to mention spacing issues in sentences. And of course, like usual, it's all a line of bull.

"Only when we hear from you in this box we know you are serious to deal." Dear Jason, or to be precise, whatever the hell your real name is- what the hell does that mean? No one who actually speaks English says that. And I hate to point this out to you, but I don't have a fax number. Who the hell uses fax machines anyway? Aside from office managers who think Betamax is going to make a comeback?

And even if you were real (you're not, we've pretty much established that), why on earth would I want to get involved in a business deal involving Iraq? I wouldn't. Iraq's in the list of ten countries I would never want to visit, thank you very much, and let's face it, it's not going to be a stable place to be in for years to come. 

Nice try, dumbass. 

Maybe someone else would buy this con you're sending out to hundreds of thousands of random emails, but I'm not biting.

In an ideal world we could have you sent to Iraq. 

With a one way ticket.

And dropped into the middle of it from the plane.

Without a parachute.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Scruffy Looking Nerf Herder

“Let me give you some advice. Assume that everyone will betray you, and you will never be disappointed.” ~ Tobias

“You look good. Little rough around the edges, but good.” ~ Qi’ra

“I heard a rumour about you, and I wanted to know if it was true.” ~ Han Solo 
“Everything about me is true.” ~ Lando Calrissian

The ever expanding Star Wars universe sees a new installment in the companion films that started with Rogue One. The new film Solo is now out, set a few years before the events of A New Hope, and tells the origin story of the scoundrel and smuggler Han Solo, including his first meetings with friends Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian, in a story that feels much like a heist film. Director Ron Howard capably handles a project from screenwriting father and son team Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, in a project that has had some bumps along the way.

We first meet a young Corellian named Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) seeking a way off the shipbuilding world, and their attempt doesn’t go according to plan. Han winds up in the Imperial forces as a cadet, given a surname fitting his character, and three years later finds himself expelled from the flight academy for insubordination (typical of the man he’s becoming). He encounters a criminal, Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), comes across a Wookie, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and a smuggler, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), among others, and is caught up in a heist scheme involving minerals and a criminal syndicate led by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

The idea of a young Han Solo film had been around before the Lucasfilm deal that saw the Star Wars brand sold to Disney. Writer and director Lawrence Kasdan, who’s had a hand in a substantial part of the cosmic epic as a co-writer in films like The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi, was attached early on, and he and his son Jonathan have developed the idea over time. Their script, crafted to feel like a heist film, mixed with sci-fi fantasy and action, carries over the influences of the Star Wars universe while standing out well on its own. 

The script weaves in little tidbits such as the formations of friendships between the three main characters, Han’s roots, the ownership of the Millennium Falcon, and ties to other elements of the established continuity. There are hints of a building rebellion, an established Imperial military that is still finding its footing, and even a few surprises along the way. This being a heist film, the story brings sleight of hand and backstabbing to the equation, along with a healthy dose of cynicism that explains a lot about the man we first meet in a seedy bar on Tatooine. Characters are invested with a sardonic world view at times, charm at others, and wistfulness at yet other times. 

The production of the film has a complicated history. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were originally attached to the project, had gotten filming done, but were removed from the project by Lucasfilm executives over creative differences. Ron Howard, who’s spent years as a well established director, was brought in to take over the project, and the finished product has a bit of a jolted feel as a result- some of it is still Lord and Miller, but most of it’s Howard, and the difference in style can feel a bit disjointed. 

That said, however, the film works well- Howard has a talent for balancing characterization of actors with a big story, and that certainly shows itself here. Lucasfilm’s production crew handles everything well- the creation of sets and CGI for ships and locations all fits into the previously established Star Wars continuity, albeit one that’s decidedly on the seedier side of the galaxy. Special effects enhance as opposed to overwhelm (something that was problematic during George Lucas’ prequel trilogy), and action sequences unfold in a way that allow you to keep track of the action. This is not a surprise, given that Howard’s shown himself to be adept at that before. The score incorporates themes from John Williams, but it’s the under appreciated John Powell who composes the bulk of the score and takes things in new directions for the franchise.

The cast as assembled is an impressive one, well suited to their roles. Paul Bettany has made a career out of playing character roles, people who are on the side of right and the side of wrong. Here he plays someone who is definitely on the side of wrong. He was brought in during Howard’s reshoots, as the previously cast actor was not available for reshoots. His character, Dryden Vos, is a ruthless sort of crime lord (aren’t they all?), and Bettany gives the character a menacing energy, chewing the scenery as he goes along. 

Woody Harrelson first made a reputation for himself as the simpleton bartender Woody on Cheers, but has been known to play characters with a dangerous, unpredictable quality in film roles. Such is the case with his take on Tobias Beckett, the capable leader of a rag tag group of crooks for hire. He’s the sort who plays his cards close to the vest, keeps his agenda hidden, and goes through life pretty much not trusting anyone. Which makes his influence as a mentor to Han pretty much a good reason Han turns out the way he does. It’s noted that the character is influenced by Long John Silver from Treasure Island, and that fits with Harrelson’s performance. Thandie Newton appears as his wife Val, a member of his gang. She’s an actress I’ve liked in roles before, and her take on the role is that of a resourceful and reliable crook, with few scruples. The actress makes her compelling to watch.

Droids have long been a part of the Star Wars universe, both in terms of background and in terms of central characters. Solo gives us a new one, voiced by a British actress. Phoebe Waller-Bridge gives the voice performance for the droid L3-37, physically a CGI presence as a character who nonetheless merges into the environment with the other actors. The droid is a companion to Lando Calrissian, and proves to be sardonic but resourceful, capable of improvising in a given situation. The actress gives her vocal take on the role a hint of humour and irony, making this droid a good deal more welcome than, oh, that pesky protocol droid from the main movies who worries far too much.

While the core films established Han and Leia as a couple, it would have been easy for the smuggler to have had other relationships long before he became a Rebel. The proverbial one that got away appears here in the form of Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke, from Game Of Thrones, which I’ve never seen. I’ve only seen the actress in that last Terminator film, and this is a different kind of role for her. Her character grew up with Han, in a rough environment, and they were childhood friends, partners in crime, with a dash of romantic spark between them. Her performance is sympathetic and nuanced, a woman fighting to stay alive in environments where a mistake can be lethal. The character is likable and self reliant, and she’s got chemistry with Ehrenreich. I’d like to see more from her in other roles.

Chewbacca has been a central character in the Star Wars mythos from the beginning, appearing in the original trilogy, the final film of the prequel trilogy, and the new trilogy as well. For much of that time he had been played by Peter Mayhew, but health issues finally had the actor step down from the role and turn it over to Joonas Suotamo, a Finnish actor and former basketball player who had started doubling for Mayhew in The Force Awakens and assumed the role in The Last Jedi. Being a Wookie, Chewbacca can live for hundreds of years, and we learn he’s a spry 190 years old when he first meets Han, which explains why he still has no grey in his fur in the current trilogy. The character has always been a fierce but loyal ally, a walking mountain of fur with a temper who acts for the greater good, and Suotamo inhabits the role (with a lot of recorded growls and grunts from various animals making up his vocalizations, which Han understands perfectly) in just the right way. The film quickly establishes the friendship and trust between the two characters as they meet for the first time.

Donald Glover gets a lot to do as Lando Calrissian, the suave, smooth talking swindler played in the original trilogy by Billy Dee Williams (I wonder if we can get a return from the actor in the last of the current trilogy?). Here Lando is younger, still years away from taking on the responsibilities of administering Cloud City and ending up in the Rebellion. He’s a smuggler on the rise, but the charm of the man is well established, as is his tendency to talk and think his way out of a difficult situation. Glover gives the character an effortless grace that fits in with what we already know about the man, while pointing the way towards his future. I like the bantering energy between his Lando and Han as the two smugglers get to know each other and build a friendship, albeit a friendship between scoundrels.

Alden Ehrenreich has done a lot of roles over the last few years for big name directors- Francis Ford Coppolla, Warren Beatty, and the Coen Brothers. He got the role as Han Solo over several other actors, and gives us a new take on Harrison Ford’s well established character. Han is living something of a rough life when we first meet him, but there are hints of the idealist in him. He has dreams for the future, dreams that hit hard against the reality of a galaxy where the Empire rules. Defiance and insubordination fit the character, both in this story and in where he’ll go down the line, and the film’s story gives him reasons to become more of a cynic, more of a scoundrel, as he falls into the life of a crook. While he might be a crook, there are lines he doesn’t cross, and the actor plays to that, giving us a believable take on a starting out on the road smuggler, a few years away from crossing paths with destiny.

Solo is a worthwhile addition to the Star Wars mythos, inhabiting the continuity of the saga and telling the origin story of some of its most compelling characters (sorry, Luke, but somehow Moisture Farm Boy: A Star Wars Story doesn’t sound likely to be greenlit anytime soon). It has a fun energy, a good sense of humour, and is at heart a heist film populated by crooks and cutthroats, seeking the easy score in a galaxy where the darkness is rising. The cast is well suited to their roles, and the film overall, despite being a bit uneven, adds a new chapter to its franchise.

Friday, May 25, 2018

A Day In The Life Of A Cat

And so it is time for the cat to have her say. Your Imperial Grace? The floor is yours, as is everything else.

6:55 AM. Waking up at home. Slept reasonably well. Dreamed of endless fields of catnip. 

7:02 AM. Sitting on the back of the couch, staring outside, watching birds splash about in a bird bath, seemingly without a care in the world. Little do they know that I’m watching. If there wasn’t a window between you and I, you’d have something to care about.

7:05 AM. Consulting the Weather Network. Clear skies today, possible rainstorms overnight. Well, have we not seen enough rain as of late? One day of rain after another. On the other hand, that’s kept that foul hound from venturing too far from home, so that’s a good thing.

7:14 AM. Patiently waiting for the staff to get herself in gear and get downstairs. Well, I’ve heard movement up there, so I know it’s not as if she hit the snooze button and went back to sleep. Come on, staff, you do realize that I have very specific demands in mind for my breakfast. Now, up and at it, and don’t make me come upstairs to meow at you loudly.

7:21 AM. The staff finally comes downstairs. I greet her with head bonks and meows.

7:23 AM. …..and for the record, staff, we really must sit down sometime and discuss your inability to get down here a half hour earlier and put a plate in the fridge. I’ll have you know that one half hour of a chilled plate makes such a difference in the cuisine experience for a cat having her morning tuna or chicken or whatever. Who wants room temperature plates when a chilled plate- but not too chilled- adds so much to the dining experience? Now don’t you start about me being high maintenance. I am not high maintenance. I just know what I like.

7:25 AM. The staff sets down a plate of tuna and a bowl of milk. For reasons that remain peculiar to me, she insists on also setting down a bowl of field rations. I start helping myself to the first two, and shall steadfastly ignore the third.

7:27 AM. Finishing my breakfast. Licking my lips. Leaving the field rations alone. My compliments, staff, bravo. Now remember what I said about waking up earlier tomorrow to put a plate in the fridge. I shall leave you in peace to have your own breakfast.

7:37 AM. Sitting on the back of the couch, staring outside. In the distance, I can hear barking. That idiot mutt is out and about as usual.

7:42 AM. Bidding farewell to my staff as she’s on her way out the front door for that work place she goes to. Don’t forget to pick up some catnip on your way home tonight, staff, we’re nearly out, you know.

7:44 AM. Okay. The staff is now gone for the day. On my to do list for today. Naps! Preferably in big sun puddles, which is a bonus, given that we’ve had days of rain and today just happens to be clear. The only thing better than a nap is a nap in a sun puddle.

8:03 AM. Watching the treeline from an upstairs window. Movement out there. Looking closer. I think it’s that vile hound from down the road… but boy, is he muddy. Looks like a canine version of Swamp Thing. Just don’t you think of coming onto my property, do you hear me? Or there’ll be hell to pay.

9:13 AM. Settling down in a good sun puddle for a nap. As I always say, you can never stockpile too many naps.

11:39 AM. Waking up from my nap. Taking a big stretch. Feeling hungry.

11:44 AM. Caught up in that usual dilemma- do I or do I not eat the field rations?

11:47 AM. After much consideration, I have helped myself to the field rations.

1:32 PM. Distant barking has woken me up from a perfectly blissful nap. A glance at the clock. The mailman must be making his rounds, and that idiot mutt doesn’t seem to grasp the obvious- that it’s his job, and that the mailman isn’t some sort of demonic serial killer.

3:01 PM. Sitting on the back of the couch, staring outside, watching a squirrel dig around on the lawn outside. Perfectly still. Well, almost. I am quite aware of my tail twitching, but the squirrel can’t see that from out there.

4:28 PM. Waking up from another nap. Big stretch. Looking at the clock. Come on, staff, have you ever heard of knocking off work early? I have a whole lot of things for you to do in the interests of spoiling me rotten.

5:19 PM. The staff finally comes home. I meow in greetings and inquire as to if she happened to stop by the grocery store to replenish our catnip supplies.

5:22 PM. On the kitchen table supervising the staff as she unpacks a couple of bags of groceries. The carton of milk meets with my approval, but I detect no sign of catnip. Staff, are you aware that we’re down to one packet? 

5:50 PM. Supervising the staff while she makes dinner. She requires supervision- I mean, honestly, I told her to get catnip on the way home, but did she? No!

6:32 PM. Dinner with the staff. She’s made herself meatballs. I don’t know why she spices and seasons perfectly good ground beef, but she’s considerate enough to have put some of that beef on a plate for me without all the seasoning and spices. So I’m good for dinner. Though I must point out, staff, the advantageous nature of chilling the plate first.

8:07 PM. Musing on the great mysteries of life. If I am hiding in a box, can the staff see me just because I can’t see her? And is the true meaning of it all that boxes are the secret to life?

11:39 PM. Well, they were blathering on about thunderstorms overnight, and lo and behold, we’ve got a thunderstorm barreling through right about now. I shall go check on my staff, who should be settling into bed right about now. I can tolerate a thunderstorm myself, much better than your average dog, who, if you ask me, and you are asking me, will quake in fear. But I can’t say the same about my staff, who may need reassurance.

11:42 PM. Checking on my staff, who is in fact in bed. I commence purring and kneading my claws on top of her. Don’t worry, staff, the thunderstorm is just going to pass on by and let us be. Though those pink flamingos you keep on the back lawn might end up getting dislodged by the wind and end up in the pond. Mind you, that would rate as a good thing.