Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Problem with Clones

The Last Command

Bel Iblis gestured to the deck officer, who nodded and got busy. “All right, Leia,” he said, turning back to her. “What’s going on?”

Leia took a deep breath. “It’s the cloning, Garm. I know how Thrawn’s growing them so fast.”

The whole war room had gone dead quiet. “Tell me,” Bel Iblis said.

“It’s the Force,” she told him. It was so obvious – so utterly obvious – and yet she’d missed it completely. “Don’t you see? When you make an exact duplicate of a sentient being, there’s a natural resonance or something set up through the Force between that duplicate and the original. That’s what warps the mind of a clone that’s been grown too fast – there’s not enough time for the mind to adapt to the pressure on it. It can’t adjust; so it breaks.”

“All right,” Bel Iblis said dubiously. “How is Thrawn getting around the problem?”

“It’s very simple,” Leia said, a shiver running through her. “He’s using ysalamiri to block the Force away from the cloning tanks.”

Exchange between Leia Organa Solo and General Garm Bel Iblis in Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

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Agent Coulson

Agent Coulson

I “met” Agent Phil Coulson when I saw Marvel’s first Iron Man movie. I saw Iron Man a day late and a dollar short, catching it on television instead of at the box office.

Yes, yes, I know. I was a traitor, yada, yada, yada. But after being disappointed with Marvel’s X-Men films, I considered Marvel movies to be something of a joke at the time (more on my disappointment with the X-Men films another day). After viewing Iron Man, which was my first in-depth introduction to the character (more on that later, too), my appreciation for Marvel movies went up. After The Avengers, it skyrocketed – though I still hate the X-Men films.

Watching Iron Man, I initially had no idea Coulson was even with S.H.I.E.L.D. Having never learned what S.H.I.E.L.D. was short for, I thought Coulson was nothing more than your average, creepy film MIB. He certainly dressed like one!

Fast forward to 2012. A friend urged me and some of my compadres to view the new Avengers film. By that time, I had gotten my hands on a few old comics and begun researching the Avengers. So I went to see it, and the rest is history. My interest in the Avengers went from mild, to “need more input,” to “must – Have – MORE!” in very short order.

That obvious aspect of the film aside, viewers of the films between Iron Man and The Avengers could have told me that Coulson had grown over the course of those movies. Having jumped from Iron Man to The Avengers, however, I had missed a fair bit. So I worked at catching up on the Marvel films between these two movies.

In doing so, I found Phil Coulson to be a complete puzzle, and that has not changed much. Even with the coming of the ABC live action TV series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, I find him to be one of the most complex characters I have yet encountered.

Coulson has more facets to his character than a diamond. Although portrayed early on as a loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who gets the job assigned to him done, Coulson shows that he has a tendency to be polite to those he is told to deal with.

This is not something most viewers expect from film MIBs. Never once has Coulson sworn; cursed, or snarled at any of the superheroes he meets in the films leading up to and including The Avengers. Yes, he does tell Tony in Iron Man 2 in no uncertain terms that he will make sure the billionaire genius does not fly off the handle and act like an idiot while he’s ‘babysitting’ him, but I think Tony more than earned that rebuke.

One of the more striking elements of Coulson’s character, to me at least, is his almost unshakeable calm. Even when facing the Destroyer in the first Thor film, Coulson never seems to lose his cool. From Iron Man to Iron Man 2, to Thor, to The Avengers, Coulson meets enemies that scare even the superheroes he stands beside. Yet he shows hardly any real emotion during these encounters. Even when he is ‘dying’ in The Avengers (I never bought that idea even as I was watching the scene in the theater), Coulson is unnaturally placid.

Another paradox in Coulson’s character is that, in the films, he is never seen wearing anything but a business suit. Here is a man who is dodging everything from a maniacal CEO, to a Russian genius with a decade’s old vendetta, to a giant alien robot, to an Asgardian psychopath, yet not once does he think to change into attire more suited to combat. In The Avengers he still wears the type of suit that he was introduced in, which feels completely out of place amid flying flak.

I have seen very few episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. all the way through. But even with the few I have seen, I can tell Coulson has begun to break away from the typical government/S.H.I.E.L.D. lackey model he appeared to be from Iron Man to The Avengers. By far, this breakage is most notable in his relationship with one particular character in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the young hacktivist turned rookie SHIELD agent known only as Skye.

Though still unnervingly composed in many situations (and still wearing that business suit nearly 24/7), Coulson has demonstrated the ability to work autonomously from S.H.I.E.L.D. He comes to no longer blindly trust the secretive agency but to question his orders, the right and the wrong of what he is told to do. More to the point, some emotion finally begins to show from behind that professional facade Marvel movie goers have come to expect from him.

Whether or not Coulson makes it back into the Marvel cinematic franchise (I am not betting he will not), he has been a character worth “knowing” all the same. While I have yet to cease viewing him as one of the biggest “Rubik’s Cubes” of the Marvel Universe, I think I like him better now than I did when I first “met” him during the course of Iron Man.

I wonder where he will go from here, don’t you?

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

Be Happy!

Blue

We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us. – William Butler Yeats, Irish poet and playwright

My creed is that: Happiness is the only good. The place to be happy is here. The time to be happy is now. The way to be happy is to make others so. – Robert G. Ingersoll, American orator

Happiness was not made to be boasted, but enjoyed. Therefore tho’ others count me miserable, I will not believe them if I know and feel myself to be happy… – Thomas Traherne, English poet and clergyman

We are made happy when reason can discover no occasion for it. The memory of some past moments is more persuasive than the experience of present ones. – Henry David Thoreau, American writer and philosopher

I have found that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. – Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President

The most evident token and apparent sign of true wisdom is a constant and unconstrained rejoicing. – Michel de Montaigne, French essayist

Happy Father’s Day

Fathers. They are not thought on very much today. In some ways, their position has gotten a worse rap than motherhood. Yes, some of them are downright subhuman, but so are some mothers. (Catherine the Great was not very well thought of by her illegitimate son, Paul, who became Czar after her death. He even passed a law prohibiting women from ruling Russia when he came to the throne.)

Yet fathers have a difficult job, too. No, they do not always have to change the baby, or care for the sick children in the family. No, they do not have to do the dishes or the laundry every day. But then, it is no easy job to earn enough money to pay the bills, buy groceries and clothes, and purchase Christmas presents either.  And many fathers have that situation facing them every morning.

I have heard some say that fathers are mysterious. To some extent, this is true. But why are fathers so mysterious?

“Well, they aren’t around all the time;” “They aren’t as understanding as mothers;” or “They’re always busy.”

All right. But why?

Fathers are not around all the time because it is their duty to provide for the family. In circumstances where the reverse is true, then the mother is mysterious and the father more familiar. By and large, however, fathers are not always nearby and/or are always busy because someone has to support the family. Often, that job belongs to the father.

As for fathers not being as understanding as mothers, my experience tells me that is pure balderdash. No, not everyone has had my experience, but this I know: Fathers can be as understanding as any mother with their children. Sometimes they can even be more understanding than a mother can.

I have nothing that specifically celebrates Father’s Day, but through these two songs below I can express my sentiments:

“Butterfly Kisses”

“Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)”

These songs do not describe a father for everyone, I know. But they articulate my feelings on fathers perfectly.

Happy Father’s Day!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

The Hunger Games: Rue

The Hunger Games  Catching Fire  Mockingjay

I do not know how other readers feel about Rue, Katniss’ twelve year-old ally in The Hunger Games, but I liked her almost on the spot.   I am fairly sure that there are very few readers of the trilogy who could not like Rue.  Though tough, determined, and a competent survivor, Rue still possesses a measure of innocence throughout her part in The Hunger Games novel.  It was not fun for me to read about her death.

One of the interesting things about the character of Rue is her name.  Though “rue” is indeed the name of a plant species, I did not know that at the time I was reading The Hunger Games.  Instead, I thought of the other meaning for her name, which is:  “regret, sorrow,” or “to feel sorrow, remorse, or regret.” [Thank you, Merriam-Webster! 🙂 ]

And indeed the Capitol does come to “regret” Rue’s death in the Seventy-fourth and Seventy-fifth Hunger Games.  It is Rue’s death that is a turning point for Katniss because it infuriates her.  With her ally’s murder, Katniss realizes the fetters the Capitol has enchained her and all the other districts with:  In Panem, if the Capitol wishes you dead, then you die.  If they wish you life, you live, until you are no longer useful to them.  The people of Panem are slaves to a pitiless master who watches them kill each other for sport.

Katniss, however, defies the Capitol.  Not just in The Hunger Games, where she buries Rue in flowers.  Not simply where she saves Peeta’s life as well as her own.  She defied the Capitol prior to that.  She defied the Capitol by surviving her father’s death in the mines and her mother’s depression, ensuring the survival of her family.  By the Capitol’s thinking, as soon as Katniss’ mother became unable to care for them, Katniss and Prim should have been sent to the District 12 children’s home, a place where orphan children were brought up so that they could go to work in the mines.  It was of no consequence to the Capitol whether or not Katniss and her sister would have been happy and cared for at the children’s home, or whether they were treated as property that must be cleaned and fed, it should have happened.

And if it did not happen, then the girls and their mother should have starved, as other people in District 12 who could not care for themselves did.  There were more people where the Everdeen family came from, an idea which is stood on its head in Mockingjay, where District 3 victor Beetee mentions that the population of Panem is dying off.  This is primarily blamed on the war in the third book, but I am not inclined to believe that annually killing twenty-three youngsters (and, in the Second Quarter Quell, forty-seven youngsters) helped the population maintain a healthy balance, either.  Nor did the constant death in risky jobs such as, say, deep coal mining in District 12 and the harsh punishments meted out for infractions of Capitol law in all the districts help to sustain the population of Panem.

But as long as the Capitol retained control of the districts, that is, as long as everyone in Panem (even in the Capitol itself), lived and died according to the Capitol’s rules, then nothing was wrong.

But everything in such a system is wrong.  And that is what Rue’s death finally drove home to Katniss.

Though her part is as small as her stature, Rue is an unforgettable component of The Hunger Games.  She made sure, in her own small way, that the Capitol came to “rue” the day they Reaped both her and Primrose Everdeen for the Hunger Games.  From the day of her death onward the “odds” were no longer in the Capitol’s favor.

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

A ‘Quiet’ Movie

The Quiet Man

The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was a film I saw often while I was growing up.  I can still recall, in my youthful naiveté, hoping to someday meet John Wayne, whom I only later learned had died before my time.   Despite that, he remains one of my favorite actors to this day and, in my opinion, one of the world’s finest actors.

I also consider Maureen O’Hara to be one of Earth’s greatest actresses, due largely to her part in The Quiet Man.  Though she and Wayne rarely starred in the same film (I can only name four films in which I know they performed side by side), when they did work together, the audience could count on great performances from the two of them.

The Quiet Man is no exception.  In fact, it may be the pinnacle of their partnership.  In the film, Wayne stars as a retired American boxer who travels to his ancestral home in Ireland.  Entering the town, he spies O’Hara’s character walking through a nearby field.  O’Hara looks over her shoulder at this point and makes eye contact with Wayne for a full minute, then ‘scurries’ on home.  But the look is enough to tell Wayne’s character – and the audience – that they have just witnessed a love-at-first-sight moment.

O’Hara reportedly said that she thought this scene was the most important one in the film, which would also make it the hardest to perform.  And, perhaps, it also made it hard for her to write it.  That is correct.  Maureen O’Hara wrote the screenplay for The Quiet Man herself, based on a short story of the same name but in a different setting.

O’Hara, when she told her father that she wanted to be an actress, reports that he stated she could try to be an actress.  But in case that career choice did not work out, he convinced her to take a secretarial course so that she would have a job to fall back on if her acting wish did not come true.

Luckily for the world, she made it as an actress and a writer.  Her typist lessons certainly came in handy for The Quiet Man!

There is one more thing I wish to mention about The Quiet Man.  Those who have seen the film all the way through know that, at the end of the movie, Maureen O’Hara stands on tiptoe and whispers something in John Wayne’s ear.  Whatever she said, she genuinely startles Wayne, who looks at her in complete shock.

O’Hara has stated that only she, John Ford, and John Wayne knew what she said.  Neither man ever revealed what she said – and she herself has stated that she will pass on without revealing what it was she told Wayne.

Those who viewed Marvel’s The Avengers may have guessed where I am going with this.  At the end of that film, when Selvig and the other Avengers are bidding Thor good-bye, Black Widow leans over and whispers something to Hawkeye about Loki, which makes him smile in what appears to be wickedly amused anticipation.

So, before Johansson makes a vow of silence on what it was Joss Whedon told her to say, as Maureen O’Hara has – IN HEAVENS’ NAME, WHAT DID SHE TELL HIM?!?

That being said – or asked, as the case may be – I believe that The Quiet Man is a jewel among movies, filled with the indomitable spirit of the greatest actor and actress of a great age.  I definitely recommend The Quiet Man to any and all who enjoy a great story, well told and well performed.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

A Difference of Courage

Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac: Possibly… An officer

Does not lightly resign the privilege

Of being a target.

(Cards, dice, and smoke fall, roll, and float away with increasing satisfaction.)

Now, if I had been there –

Your courage and mine differ in this –

When your scarf fell, I should have put it on.

 

De Guiche:  Boasting again!

 

Cyrano de Bergerac: Boasting?  Lend it to me

To-night; I’ll lead the first charge, with your scarf

Over my shoulder!

 

 De Guiche: Gasconnade once more!

You are safe making that offer, and you know it –

My scarf lies on the river bank between

The lines, a spot swept by artillery

Impossible to reach alive!

 

Cyrano de Bergerac: (Produces the scarf from his pocket.)

Yes.  Here…

(Silence.  The Cadets stifle their laughter behind their cards and their dice boxes.  De Guiche turns to look at them.  Immediately they resume their gravity and their game.)