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Look, I told myself I was going to keep an open mind, I said I didn't care about the old EU going away, I wasn't going to be one of those fans who just complains about how things aren't the way they used to be, but some things... somethings are just beyond the pale.

[Spoilers follow] )
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It's not a good mental sign when your first thought on submitting a Master's application is "I think I'll get away with it", is it?
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Alright, so this has literally bugged me for years. In the TNG episode, “Best of Both Worlds”, Picard has this line, the night before the battle, wondering if the last Roman emperor had realised the empire was going to fall ‘when he saw the Visigoths come over the seventh hill’.

And for years, it’s annoyed me that the line references Romulus Augustus, because while he was technically the last Roman Emperor, Rome had long since fallen, he was half-German himself, reigned for less than a year and was little more than a puppet for his father. And normally I’d accept historical errors in TV shows as errors on the part of the character (Captain Sheridan, I’m looking at you…), PICARD SHOULD AND WOULD KNOW BETTER!

And then the other day, I watched the episode again. Picard doesn’t say Romulus Augustus, he says Honorius. Flavius Honorius, emperor during the sack of Rome of 410. Whose name doesn’t sound anything like Romulus Augustus. I don’t know how the hell I misheard it.

I am sorry I ever doubted you, Jean-Luc.

(Though, technically, Honorius would have been in Ravenna when the Visigoths came over the seventh hill, but I’ll allow Picard the poetic license…)
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Wishing sunnyskywalker a very happy birthday!
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Damn. I mean, he led a more than full life, but I just figured he'd keep going at least a little longer... he was still preparing for another film. Die with your boots on indeed.

I do find it a little darkly amusing that his family kept the news confidential for four days though - they say it was to privately inform his extended family and friends, but honestly, I can't blame them for waiting three days... just in case.
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Continuing my overseas adventures around the Pacific rim, I thought it'd be fun to visit Vietnam. Unfortunatly, it seems all the flights I can find are either extremly expensive, involve twelve hours or more layover at Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, or both.

Is there some major holiday in the region in late June I'm not aware of that would explain this, or am I just horribly unlucky with air fares?
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Babylon 5 headcanon:

Catagia was probably the most popular Emperor in recent Centauri history. Oh, the nobility hated him, and there were always dark rumours coming out of the palace – but for the average Centauri, there wasn’t anything remarkable about that. The nobles were always feuding and killing each other, after all. To most Centauri, the important thing was that the Narn had been brought to heel, and the Republic, so long in decline, was once more a great power in the galaxy. But it was more than that – Cartagia felt like a real man of the people compared to his predecessors. Wearing his hair short enraged the aristocracy but endeared him to the people, and they loved his eccentricities and the way he ignored the rituals and traditions of the old guard.

Needless to say, given his popularity, the suspicious circumstances of his death fuelled speculation. Nobody believed the official story that he’d died of a heart attack, and rumours abounded on the streets of Centauri Prime over who was really responsible for his death. The Narn, of course, were popular targets. Old aristocrats jealous of his success were often blamed. A few conspiracy-minded Centauri liked to place the blame on an obscure Minbari cult known as the “Anla-Shok”.

In time, a new theory began to gain strength - that Catagia had never died in the first place, that death had been faked to legitimise a palace coup while he was off-world. In the dark days that followed the coronation of Emperor Mollari II, the idea that Catagia could return and undo the humiliations the Centauri had suffered proved popular among the common Centauri. New rumours spread; that Catagia was living in hiding, disguised as a human on Earth, that he was gathering support among the League worlds to retake the throne, that he had made it to Vorlon space and was preparing to return with an armada that would unite the galaxy under his rule.

For a long time the Centauri government ignored these rumours as peasant superstitions. But when a rebellion broke out on the colony world of Davos, sparked by whispers that Catagia was about to make his move, the Centaurum realised something needed to be done to put the story to rest. It was a junior member of the body that ended up suggesting the solution: Why not revive the old tradition of deifying deceased emperors? An official Temple of Catagia would provide a safe, controlled way for the common people to show their affection for the dead emperor, and it would make spreading rumours of his survival not just treasonous but blasphemy against the God Catagia himself!

According to several members of the royal court, the only time they ever saw Emperor Mollari overcome with laughter during his reign was when he was presented with the legislation to ratify it – though some admit they were not sure if it was laughter or tears that overwhelmed him.

While far more popular than his predecessor, many Centauri were somewhat offended that Emperor Cotto seemed to go out of his way to avoid entering temples of Catagia during his reign…
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Was thinking about Star Trek 5 – because somebody has to, right? And it occurred to me – why is it a terrible Star Trek movie? Because it’s actually a Star Wars movie!

Think about it. Who’s the villain? Well, he’s a renegade from the group of powerful psychics who repress their emotions and avoid strong attachments. He’s been cast out because he delved into ancient forbidden philosophies, and decided to follow a different path, one all about gaining strength through embracing pain and revelling in emotions. Using this power, he gains power over the minds of the weak-willed and forms an army to carry out his monomaniacal obsession.

The plot draws everyone inexorably to the desert planet with the city full of scum and villainy that is somehow both a total backwater and also the most important location in the galaxy. Everything’s sort of worn out looking and broken down – even the good guy’s ship is a malfunctioning, unreliable hunk of junk.

There’s a lot of weird mystical babble going on as our heroes fly across the galaxy. The villain tries to tempt the good guy psychic into joining him, but fails, even after a contrived family relationship is revealed. Eventually, however, the villain sees the light and sacrifices himself to save the heroes from the real evil, who at the time was busy shooting lightning at everyone.

The movie ends with our heroes celebrating as night falls over a Californian national park, and a childish song wraps up the adventure!
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"And then, the moment arrives—the moment when the movie spreads its wings and reveals its truest self: Noah gives Claire a gift. A first edition of the Iliad."
- In Jennifer Lopez's The Boy Next Door, The Trashiest Moment is a Real Classic, slate.com

A first edition. Of the Illiad. It's... pfft... heh... BWAHAHAHA!

Is it signed by Homer?

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You know, I have to say I'm pretty impressed by the new Star Wars trailer. I'd thought with the demise the old expanded universe, source of such wonders as the lightsaber-whip, the lightsaber-pike, the extendible lightsaber, and that guy with lightsabers in his knees, we'd never again see such absurd attempts to create 'cool' new lightsabers.

And then Disney/Abrams comes up with an all new lightsaber varient that's just as absurd as anything Bantam or Del Ray could have created! Well done! A lightsaber crossguard! It both looks ridiculous and is completly and utterly impractical when thought about for more than five seconds!

Yeah, I've got a good feeling about these movies.
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“The Hawaiian flag…is suggestive of the prominent political elements of the Islands. It is part French, part English, part American, and is Hawaiian in general.”

 - Mark Twain, Letters from Hawaii

There’s something strange about the sight of the Hawaiian flag, about seeing a banner with the Union Jack so prominent flying over a part of the United States. And yet, the more I travelled in Hawaii, the more appropriate its design seemed to be, the more its presence seemed to sum up the history and character of the islands.

It’s not the only American state flag to incorporate elements of a foreign country’s ensign; Iowa is built around a French tricolour, while Florida and Alabama uses the old Spanish Cross of Burgundy. But Hawaii seems different to them – the Spanish connection in the latter two are too obscure to stand out, while Iowa adds a bald eagle to proudly indicate its American identity. Hawaii, though, the British flag remains recognisably unchanged, and while the stripes feel American, the addition of blue to the familiar red-white pattern gives a sense that this is a culture still not entirely American.

The borrowed crosses of the Union Jack seem quite at home as symbols of Hawaii. They form an eight-pointed star to go with the eight stripes for eight islands. And as the symbol of a foreign nation, they also make it hard to forget that Hawaii was itself a sovereign state, that this is not just the flag of an American state or territory, but of a nation outside the American sphere, whose people did not wish for annexation or absorption, but wished to carve out their own identity, like that of the other empires and kingdoms they'd encountered.

For that matter, the Union Jack in the corner calls to mind less Britain itself, but so many other flags built around that design. It almost seems like a symbol of Pacific identity, a reminder of the ancient connections between Hawaii and its neighbours - Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, New Zealand, and the other nations of Polynesia that use such a design.

The more I saw the flag, the more I liked it. Kamehameha I could not have planned it when he designed his new kingdom’s banner, but the symbolism of it still works beautifully.

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First day back from Hawaii has mostly been spent under the house, unsuccesfully trying to coax the cat out of her hiding spot. Apparently she didn't approve of the cat-sitters...
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So, I'm heading out to Hawaii on vacation in November! Going to visit O'ahu, Maui, and the big Hawai'i island itself!

(Did you know Honolulu isn't on the big Hawaiian island? It's on one of the little ones? I don't get you Americans and your state capitals...)

Anyway, anyone got any tips? Little things to see or know before going?
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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has weighed into the debate on Scottish independence by saying those advocating for a break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice or freedom...

…“I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.”

- Advocates of Scottish independence not friends of freedom and justice: Tony Abbott, The Age
Damn it, he saw right through me! Alright, I admit it – my vague support for a peaceful secessionist movement and its efforts to achieve its goals through democratic means was, in fact, entirely based in my undying hatred for freedom and justice, and my desire to usher in a nightmarish future where the island of Great Britain is home to two stable, democratic, largely English-speaking first-world countries instead of just one.

Still, I think it’s going too far to claim all supporters of Scottish independence are driven by such things – surely some are honest men and women, merely pawns of the sinister Gaelic cabal? Perhaps – just perhaps – Mr. Abbot doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about?
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It's funny. You can go your whole life intellectually knowing people are the same all over, but nothing makes it hit home like being stuck in a shopping centre in a Muslim country filled with overly-cheery Eid al-Fitr music and tacky decorations and thinking “Bloody hell, Ramadan just started, is this going to go on all month?!”
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“Beginning in about 2005, the CIA began secretly developing a ­custom-made Osama bin Laden ­action figure, according to people familiar with the project. The face of the figure was painted with a heat-dissolving material, designed to peel off and reveal a red-faced bin Laden who looked like a demon, with piercing green eyes and black facial markings.”
 - CIA hatched plan to make demon toy to counter Osama bin Laden's influence, The Washington Post
You know, I think a lot of us were worried that after the end of the Cold War, the CIA would lose its reputation for complete insanity. It seemed for a while there was no place in the new world order for such cunning plans as securing American power by making Fidel Castro's beard fall out. It's good to know the War on Terror gave them a new opportunity to play to their strengths, as well as finally answering the question: What would Darth Maul look like with a beard?
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For May 4th, a cinema was showing a Star Wars Marathon, so that was fun to go to. The special edition changes still stick out like a sore thumb, but it's been a very long time since I saw any version of Star Wars on a big screen, so that made up for any irritation.

And I noticed something I'd never consciously noticed before.

In Return of the Jedi, when Luke refuses to kill Vader, he doesn't just shut down his saber – he actively throws it away. That's kind of interesting, isn't it? The last time anyone uses a lightsaber, the signature weapon of the series, they're getting rid of it.

It got me thinking about how the lightsaber is portrayed across the trilogy, and made me realise there's something really unexpected there.

Let's go back to Luke's first saber. In hindsight, it's one of the biggest unfired Chekhov's guns in popular culture. Luke gets his father's weapon; that's pretty mythically symbolic, isn't it? Obi-Wan tells us it's a relic of the past, of the better times before the Empire, and trains Luke how to use it; this must be setting up something important, right? And then...

Then Luke never uses it for the rest of the film!

But, alright, it's a trilogy, we've still got a chance to see the saber pay off. So in Empire, we finally get to see Luke use his father's blade against his father's killer. Except... well, we all know what happens there. Vader shatters that simple mythology; Luke was walking into a trap, Obi-Wan lied to him, and that lightsaber, seemingly so important when it was given to him is lost, never to be seen again.

Which brings us to Jedi. And we finally get to see Luke doing awesome things with his new saber, fighting Jabba's soldiers on the sail barge. But... but throughout the Jabba's palace sequence, Luke seems to be flirting dangerously close to the dark side, and it's not clear if his confidence is the serenity of a Jedi or the arrogance of a new dark lord. What does it say that this is when his saber training finally plays off?

And so we come to the final confrontation. Luke is led to the Emperor by Vader, who praises him for constructing a new lightsaber. “Your skills are complete.” The Emperor makes it a symbol for Luke's hatred. “Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. Strike me down with it.” The lightsaber, that “elegant weapon for a more civilised age” becomes a totem of the dark side. “With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant!”

And in the end, Luke throws it away. “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” The blade is not the symbol of the Jedi, not the Jedi as they should be. It's the symbol of Vader, the warrior, the killer, the dark knight that holds death in his hands. Perhaps we should have seen this a long time ago, when Obi-Wan achieved his final victory only by deliberately shuting down his blade.

There's been plenty of criticism that Star Wars is fundamentally conservative. And yet, in the end, Luke turns away from that false mythology; the idea of a “more civilised age”, the idea of “elegant weapons”, the demands of old Ben and the Emperor alike that he use those weapons. The lightsaber is nothing but light and shadow, quite literally an illusion without substance, an illusion of power, of elegance in killing, the symbol of a path Luke in the end rejects.
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A friend was joking about cosplaying as 'Return of the Jedi Leia' – not slave Leia, but Leia in concealing bounty hunter disguise. And I made a joke about there being a second volume of Tales From Jabba's Palace that details in absurd detail the backstories of all the items of clothing there.

Then I remembered that Shadows of the Empire actually did feel the need to provide an explanation for how Leia acquired the bounty hunter disguise. And an explanation for where she got the thermal detonator.

I... I'm kinda glad Disney's announcing they're wiping the EU and starting fresh.




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David Newgreen

September 2017

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