Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tough guy love sickness

Have ya'll ever experienced the brutal sting of heartbreak, lashing at you like a bullwhip? Feeling like you'll never again learn to feel romantic towards someone ever again and that you'll never meet that special someone? Well, we all do. (I call that Tuesday)

We've all been there, feeling bereft and floating on the tides of loneliness. Often when I'm feeling such blues I'll listen to this little number from one of the few musicals I've actually liked, and one of the few romance stories I've enjoyed, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This I think says less about how good this movie is and more how poor my taste in romance stories is, but whatever. It's a good scene done in one take, and the voices and rhythm of the backwoods work really sends the emotions home. Been caught singing it myself once or twice when feeling lonesome. So take a gander. I'm going to go get some comfort food.


Monday, January 19, 2015

I can has Legos?

Let me bestow upon you listeners a tale of pity and woe, the likes of which have never before visited this earth, nor shall ye again!

Once upon a time I was a young lad, my dad returned from his rough iron working job with a strange and curious parcel on his person. And what should it prove to be? Why, none other than a box of Legos, the fabled and fantastic toys which all children aspired to own! What better toy existed upon this little mud ball save for the toy that invariably requires you to assemble everything by yourself in whatever fashion you choose? Nothing could be better!

So my dad, little brother and I watched as the pieces seemed to assemble themselves before our eyes and soon we had a wee truck, a gator and a little minifigure which brought us inestimable joy! Ah, but how long can a child's heart remain satisfied with but one toy? For it was not mine, but my dad's, and soon my heart lusted after a tiny set of my own. Even now I remember the exact set! It was of the Adventurers series with Johny Thunder, that dashing rogue with his swashbuckler mustache, Indiana Jones-esque motif and Egyptian theme as he got into a little jeep with a map, rifle and the objective of plumbing arcane tombs.

How pitifully I pleaded with my dad, exercising my powers of begging and innocent appeal to the utmost in hopes of wringing sympathy and five dollars from him with which I could satiate my intense desire! No child ever proved more persuasive than I was then, for not long after what should my dad produce upon his return from work? None other than that exact set which I so dearly desired!

And thus started a fantastic journey which my brother and I would undergo in which we would hoard pieces of plastic the way a dragon hoards treasure. For how could I receive a Lego set and not he? Soon my dad began smuggling us tiny five dollar Lego sets behind our mom's back, operating like smugglers in the dead of the early morning. Alas, our secret could not last forever. Mom possessed an almost supernatural ability to detect the most subtle intrigues. And my brother taddled on me. That might have had something to do with it too.

Even into my teens our collecting continued. The Lego company got more elaborate with its designs and themes, getting ever more exciting and intriguing! With whatever money I could scrounge up while being an unemployed youth I was still able to seize the sets I desired most, even completing the covetted Dino Attack series of the mid-2000's. http://brickset.com/sets/theme-Dino-Attack

Ah, but the happiness was not to last! Our collection had become so vast that it took up a good chunk of room, requiring a huge plastic bucket and an organizing rack normally used for tool sets or parts. And then, one day when I was away and unable to defend my horde, my father engaged in one of the most diabolical escapades in the history of human depravity. During a yard sale he paid someone to take my entire horde!

I still haven't forgiven him. Words were unable to describe the passionate rage that shook my soul upon learning of his fiendish betrayal. Granted, some time had transpired since the last time I had utilized my assets, but that didn't mean I was completely done with them!

And so for years I've sat smoldering, plotting my revenge like the Count of Monte Cristo when locked within the bowels of the Chateau d'if. And at last my plans are being put into action! Racing through the UPS Delivery System at this moment is a package, containing within a set of highly desired minifigures and pieces with which I shall begin rebuilding my Lego empire! It is a small start to be certain, but all things that are great start off small, do they not?

So beware world, for soon I shall be bricking once more!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Now there's an interesting find!

Was just scrolling through Yahoo news as once in awhile they have something vaguely of interest, and had the extraordinarily good luck to happen upon this little gem!

Now ain't that just plain neat? Not everyday you find a gun from another century literally just laying around!

What stories do you have to tell old timer?
Now anyone who knows Old West history even in passing recognizes this fellow as a good ol' 73 Winchester which filled quite a few saddle scabbards at the time. Most originals have ended up in museums and personal collections, since even the youngest of the Winchester originals are extremely old. But to just happen upon one leaning against a tree like its owner is just a few feet away waiting to retrieve it? Now that's plain cool!

I'm also astounded that it survived intact for this long, 132 years to be precise. Granted, it probably isn't going to be shooting ever again as I can only imagine what rust has done to the parts, but still! I believe the harsh, dry air of the territory has a bit to do with it, as it's hard for plant material to break down without moisture. Stuff fades slowly in that territory.

Man, I'd love to know this gun's history! All personal weapons have stories. The problem is that they need people to actually tell them. I pity the poor soul who used to own this piece, as it was cutting edge when it was manufactured! Did he leave it there and get distracted, unable to find it again afterwards and lament the loss of 25 dollars? Did he get ambushed and it went unseen by looters? Did something catch the fellow by surprise so abruptly that he didn't have enough time to snatch up his gun?

I'd love to know, and it seems like quite a few other people are curious too! The archaeologists who found it seem just as interested and are actually trying to find its history through old archives. I wish them luck in finding out! I'd certainly like to hear what they find!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jim Corbett: The Greatest Hunter of Maneaters

Jim Corbett featured with a leopard
Colonel Jim Corbett is one of those rare men that accomplished such amazing feats over the course of his life that he seems almost unrealistic. There are action movie characters that pulled off less impressive deeds, and all without the aid of modern tech. No sir, Mr. Corbett was in my opinion one of the finest hunters that ever lived and an intellectual gentleman besides.

He is of course best known for tracking down and eliminating over twenty man eating leopards and tigers in his home region of Kumaon, India. To the uninitiated such incidents were far from rare in India at the time. India's history is plagued with such animals wreaking havoc on the citizens of rural villages. Us folks here in the States and urban Europe tend to freak out at a single shooting incident with less than a dozen people dying. Now imagine that type of terror magnified tenfold as an animal is prowling about looking for its next meal. You don't know where it is, when or where it will strike, and you know that until it is killed it will continue preying upon your neighbors.

Jim Corbett was one of the few men who not only stepped up to the plate to eliminate such troublesome beasts, but excelled at it better than any other hunter I've ever heard of. That's including such famous men as Colonel James Patterson who slew that Tsavo Man-eating lions or George Rushby who killed the Njombe lion pride, although those two certainly took a lot of skill and time as well.

Part of what sets Corbett apart was the uncanny finesse and skill he brought to the table not only as a rifleman but as a tracker. Almost like a pulp character he learned how to track from an early age while growing up in the jungles of Nanital. In fact he became capable of deducing an astonishing amount of information from various marks, to the point that he could actually differentiate between individual animals of the same species just by looking at their tracks. Nor was he limited to just footprints, but other marks also gave him clues. Indeed, he became so familiar with various animals and their habits that he could locate his quarry by listening to other wildlife. Frequently in his books he could pinpoint a man-eater by the alerting barks of deer or monkeys, knowing exactly how they would react to different animals.

He could almost seem to speak to animals in a very literal sense, as more than once he demonstrated that he could attract or redirect animals by mimicking their calls perfectly. Tarzan would have been most impressed at his skill set!

Also very pulpy in origin was his learning curve with firearms. In his youth he started out with a piece of crap double barrel muzzle-loader with one half completely disabled and thus had to use it as a single shot. The stock was even maintained by having wire wrapped around the stock! He was eventually able to graduate to a .450 Martini Henry rifle, then a double barreled 500 Nitro Express and finally a .275 Rigby, more commonly known as the 7x57mm Mauser bolt action. Not unlike Karamojo Bell he had to learn how to make every shot count when starting off with a muzzle-loader.

He was also quite the animal telepath. Throughout his books he has been routinely able to accurately predict the movements and behaviors of almost every animal he dealt with, although it was used to its fullest when bringing down trouble-makers. So well-attuned to nature was he that on one occasion, without seeing, hearing or smelling anything out of the ordinary he somehow knew that a troublesome tiger lay ahead of him along a bend in the trail he was traversing. Sure enough, when he took a round about route to get a view of the path from a different angle he found the foliage disturbed with the fresh tracks of a tiger.

Truly, Corbett had honed his craft to a science. And yet in his writing he seems in no way to be a braggart. As Peter Capstick so eloquently put it "The most common theme of his many books is a feeling of absolute truth." I'm well inclined to agree. The fellow just seems so sincere and honest in his writing that it's most difficult to find any fault with the man.

I'm only going to cover a few of his encounters, as covering even half of them would be to write down an entire book and a half, so hopefully you can bear with me and enjoy the highlights.

His very first hunt for a man-eater was not an easy task, as he went up against the Champawat Maneating Tigress, which had an official body count of 436. And no, that's not a typo! 436! She started out chewing on folks in Nepal until the Gurkhas had enough of that crap and actually chased the cat down south and out of their territory. Just take a second to appreciate how hard core that is. A cat that racked up 200 kills got booted out of an entire country by a group of men with kukri knives. Yeah, the Gurkhas are that awesome.

Gurkha soldiers and mercenaries have consistently been some of the most bad-a warriors in human history.
India on the other hand wasn't quite that appreciative of the accomplishment, as now an established man-eater officially became their problem. As it happens, most villagers in India are poorly equipped to deal with such problems, but who could blame them? Most were simple farmers tending flocks of cattle and fields, and weapons were a bit hard to come by since the British had done a good bit of disarming. Even when guns were present, which they sometimes were, few of the local men had the skill or will to fight what to many of them was a supernatural beast. That's when you call in a specialist.

Jim Corbett just so happened to be that specialist, and the Champawat Tigress would be the first in a long line of man-eaters he would deal with. It certainly helped establish a name for himself! Amazingly he killed this particular animal on his first try with the distinct aid of many of the local villagers. I must take a moment to commend how remarkable it is that people living in fear such as they were able to rally together and help in one monumental effort with one of the most terrifying animals to lurk in their generation with all of their faith hinging on Corbett and a government official. Even though a multitude of these gents were armed with firearms that they hid despite the British trying to confiscate them all, they weren't very good at all and were mostly utilized as noisemakers for the beat that took place. Thankfully though the official present not only said that he'd turn a blind eye to anyone who just happened to have a gun, but he'd supply ammunition for them as well!

For those of you who don't know what a "beat" is, it is a large assemblage of people walking in a horizontal line through a patch of brush and make a heap of noise to scare out any wildlife. It is dangerous even when not dealing with man-eaters, but these boys took to it bravely. Corbett and the official were supposed to reach a specific hill to overlook a canyon the tigress would have been forced to move down, but when the official stopped to fix his shoe which had been troubling him the villagers mistook it for his signal and started the beat! Things did not go all according to plan, but with some quick thinking the day was saved.

Taking as best a position as he could within a patch of grass Corbett's heart lifted when he saw the tigress bounding down the slope towards the gorge he had planted himself next to. But then the official blasted off both barrels of his shotgun, causing the tigress to swap ends and turn right back towards the beaters! Corbett let off a quick shot even though he knew he was out of range and was not unreasonably frustrated with the turn of events. However the natives, upon hearing three rapid shots, believed that the tigress had been slain and the resulting noise that they unleashed at that critical moment dwarfed what they had done before and half scared the tigress out of her skin and again switched directions! Bolting for the gorge again Corbett hit her twice, although the first shot was too far back and she showed no signs of injury at the second hit.

Surprisingly during this episode Corbett ran out of ammunition for his gun, three shots total, on the logic that he didn't think that he'd have the chance to fire more than that. And here is perhaps the only thing I can find that Corbett ever did wrong, that being not carrying sufficient ammunition. I'm probably going to be haunted by his ghost for saying that, and you don't question the authority of someone like Corbett lightly, but I've got to be honest here. This was to be only the first in several different encounters where insufficient ammo caused problems. Often Corbett's logic for carrying such small amounts were actually quite reasonable, but he apparently hadn't heard Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And boy does that happen a lot!

Corbett was probably experiencing some extraordinary anxiety at this point, as the tigress was now looking right at him at only 30 yards away and was less than pleased at him plinking away at her flank. An empty 500 Nitro Express rifle isn't all that useful as a melee weapon and he was going over possible responses in his head if she happened to try and add him to her admirable body count. Again, for those who don't know, wounded animals are invariably more dangerous than healthy ones, as being injured makes them extraordinarily cranky and vastly more prone to charging and mauling an assailant rather than fleeing, as a healthy animal almost always will.

To his unspeakable relief the tigress for some unknown reason began to retreat across a nearby stream. Out of ammo Corbett asked the official to kindly come down and let him use his shotty, but the poor boy wasn't doing too well in the walking department and was unable to oblige. Having had enough of that nonsense Corbett flew up the hill, grabbed the barely weapon and bounded back towards the stream. Now desiring a rematch the tigress emerged from the foliage and out onto a flat projecting piece of rock in what probably looked like a very cinematic showdown.

Corbett ran until he was within 20 feet of her, which is 30 feet too close, but as he lined up the gun he saw that it had a wee bit of a problem. To quote him "And found to my horror that there was a gap of about three-eighths of an inch between the barrels and the breech-block." In layman's terms this meant that the weapon was dangerously unstable and was very likely to blow up in his face and blind him. But with a man-eater almost close enough to kiss he took the risk and let her fly. And yet the despite aiming at her mouth at such close range the weapon somehow, impossibly missed! Instead of going down her throat and into the internal organs it slammed into her paw, which he would later remove with nothing but his fingernails.

Thankfully the tigress had been bleeding badly from his earlier two shots and was unable to offer a rebuttal. Instead she slumped down and to Corbett's intense relief, expired.

The next big contender on the list was the Panar Leopard, who officially racked up a kill count of 400 hundred, only a short distance behind the Champawat Tigress. The writer and hunter Peter Capstick, when writing his own chapter on Corbett expressed skepticism over the accuracy of this number, since the chances of the body count landing precisely on 400 are extremely low and feels that it was rounded off so that bureaucrats would have an easy number to throw around. This is quite possible and even likely, but seeing as how the leopard itself was so inconsiderate as to not keep us posted, we'll just go along with 400 as well.

It is also interesting to note Corbett's own theory on why the Panar Leopard took to eating humans. Common theories today hold that most animals feed on man only due to old age and injuries preventing the hunting of normal prey, or a scarcity of their normal food. At first glance these seem rational as the idea of an animal enjoying the taste of human flesh is far from popular. Corbett theorizes that the Panar Leopard started off by scavenging those who had died from disease in large numbers, and when the outbreak ended the leopard had developed a strong attraction for humans and thus went from already deceased to those still living.

From a chronological angle this makes a good deal of sense, as the Panar Leopard began its reign of terror just after a deadly wave of cholera in that region of India. To directly quote Corbett "A leopard in an area in which his natural food is scarce, finding these bodies very soon acquires a taste for human flesh, and when the disease dies down and normal conditions are established, he very naturally, on finding his food supply cut off, takes to killing human beings."

Spooky stuff, but true! Like the Champawat Tigress, he nabbed this bloke on his first try, but the circumstances were very different. Whereas the tigress was killed in daylight with hundreds of beaters flushing her into the open, the Panar Leopard was killed in the depths of night while Corbett sat in a most unsatisfying tree while watching over a goat he posted out as bait. Now, sitting out without a light waiting for cat that has eaten roughly 400 people is unnerving enough, but things went a good bit worse than that.

Before settling down completely for that night Corbett had his men tie bundles of what he calls blackthorn shoots, which appear to be very stiff and pointy branches, around his perch and the trunk of the tree. This would later prove to be a very wise decision. And this wasn't a thirty foot tall oak tree either. It was a puny thing with one appreciable branch that wasn't very high off of the ground at all and gave Corbett almost nothing to hold on to. And guess what the leopard targeted first that night?

You guessed it. Rather than go for the goat our over-achieving friend went straight for Corbett. Thankfully the shoots kept the fellow from crawling up the tree, as any attempt resulted in him instantly getting a face-full of needle-sharp thorns. So the beast then bit down on one of the bundles and began yanking fiercely, trying to dislodge Corbett from his perch. In fact his position was so precarious that he couldn't even turn himself enough to fire his shotgun! And this was in the dark, where the Panar Leopard could see fine but Corbett was just about blind. In fact in anticipation of this he had tied a white rag about the muzzle of his gun so that he could see something in the gloom.

Corbett writes that the leopard's growling actually didn't unsettle him because at least then he knew where the animal was at. But when it was quiet? That was when he was darned near petrified. Not knowing where a man-eater is is a heck of a lot worse than knowing where it is! After a period of time where Corbett probably lost a year of his life due to pure anxiety the Panar Leopard eventually gave up and rushed towards the goat and gave Corbett the chance he needed. When the leopard killed the goat, which was stark white for the exact purpose of being able to make out better in the dark, Corbett fired and was rewarded with an angry grunt and the sound of retreat.

Corbett's men were soon there to help him down and asking him what happened and he had them make up a good number of torches to follow the animal up. This is not the easiest thing in the world to do. In fact if there is anything more dangerous than following up a wounded man-eating leopard in the dead of night, it doesn't immediately come to mind with the possible exceptions of playing Russian roulette with a 1911 or telling your wife/girlfriend that yes, that dress does make her look fat.

Lining up in a line behind Corbett with torches raised they set out to at least make sure the leopard wasn't dead and curled up within a short distance they set out. But like a horror movie monster the leopard wasn't dead and charged them from the deep shadows. Although his men promised not to run for the hills if the leopard charged, as that would leave Corbett in the dark, they turned tail and bolted. Well, they attempted to, but ended up bumping into each other in such a confused jumble that they either didn't go anywhere quickly or dropped their flickering torches and gave Corbett enough light to empty a barrel into the man-eater's chest.

Corbett is man enough to admit in ink that had he been one of those unarmed torch bearers he would have turned tail too. Hey, who wouldn't? He showed no ill will to his men and with the realization that the terror of the night was now thoroughly dead it wasn't long before the mood was lifted and the people of the region slept soundly.

Now, as if those weren't chilling enough, far worse lay ahead. Although the Panar Leopard had an astounding kill count it actually did little to gain attention from India at large. His activities were kept in the more out of the way areas and thus didn't disrupt much. The Leopard of Rudraprayag was a different story altogether. (Do you have any clue how challenging it is to spell that name from memory?!)

By comparison to our first two contenders, a kill count of 125 may seem paltry. Speaking personally, I believe the death toll was in fact much higher. Corbett explains the grisly census task of body counting and attributing kills to an animal requires at least part of the victim to have been found and brought to the attention of officials. As most of the folks there probably would not be inclined to follow a man-eater and poke at his lunch there were many kills that were unconfirmed and thus not added to the official tally. Corbett himself knew of many who died who were never actually listed.

It also didn't help that many victims were eaten in their entirety, clothing included, and thus left little for anyone to examine.

But the number of dead isn't what sets this animal apart. Unlike the other two, the hunt for the Rudraprayag Leopard lasted eight years! And during that time the people around the leopard's hunting range did everything that could reasonably done in an attempt to kill it short of saturation bombing. If there was an animal more hard to kill I haven't heard of it. These people tried everything. A detachment of Gurkha soldiers were sent to kill it. If you recall above, a group of these guys was amazing enough to make the Champawat Tigress move to another country entirely. The Gurkhas came up empty handed. Almost every single hunter in the country turned up to kill the animal. A sodding bounty was placed on its head.

In eight years only one man besides Corbett actually injured the thing in any way, and that was a revolver bullet creasing his toe as he shot across a bridge at night. When guns in the hands of hundreds of hunters didn't work people literally tried bomb traps and even dousing the bodies of kills with cyanide! All sorts of kookie traps and schemes were attempted, but all in vain.

Wolverine wasn't this hard to kill. So you can understand when the people in the region were paralyzed with fear and considered the beast to even be a devil or demon. And this was in a much more busy region. If I recall correctly this was around a road that was frequently used for a mass pilgrimage by tens of thousands of Indians. You can imagine how well this went over with a hungry leopard on the prowl. If you thought the stakes in the movie Jaws were high, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Corbett himself utilized a heavy duty American gin trap, one of the few I've heard of that actually had teeth on the jaws, cyanide capsules, gun traps, and even had one of the few if only other hunters he trusted to assist him, a fellow by the name of Ibbotson. Corbett almost never had other people accompany him when actively hunting for several reasons. One was that they almost invariably slowed him down, being clumsy and not nearly as adept in the brush as he was. Another reason was that they were in some cases almost as dangerous as the animal's he was trying to kill. In an earlier attempt to kill the Champawat Tigress another fellow actually tried tagging along, and on their return trip the fellow was waving his gun wildly behind Corbett, who expected a bullet in his back at any moment. He then tried switching positions, figuring he was safer behind the man. That was until the bloke slipped and for a brief moment Jim was looking straight down the barrel of his gun. He wasn't so hot on having company after that.

Corbett's prolonged effort to kill this one animal took months and involved so many bizarre twists and turns that it required a book of its own! I don't even know where to begin with how difficult it was to nail this animal. Perhaps I should start with just how cunning and devilish of an animal it was. The fact that it was an unusually strong and powerful animal takes a backseat when hears accounts of how overpowered it was in the stealth department. The animal had killed and taken people from inside their own homes with other people present and not being spotted.

Actually, I don't think I can actually do the justice of reciting the feats the Rudraprayag leopard accomplished, and will instead direct you to Corbett's writing itself below. That entire saga really is just too epic for me to even attempt to retell.

So for now I'll stick with saying that the game of cat and mouse that went on between Corbett and the leopard could have made an entire season of a show. Each came within a whisker of killing the other multiple times and was often by a queer twist of fate that death was avoided. It was almost uncanny just how lucky the bloody thing was, and even now I can scarcely believe that the creature had dodged death so consistently.

Even so, if an opponent is the measure of a man's mettle, then I'd say that Corbett was the best hunter of man eating cats this world has ever seen, putting even the famous Colonel John Patterson, the slayer of the Tsavo Man-eaters to shame. It took every shred of Corbett's wit, marksmanship, and bushcraft to nail this animal, and even then it took many months. At one point his nerves were so shot that he actually had to pack it in for a little while and recover. He knew that if he kept up at the pace he'd been going he would have ended up dead.

When he eventually did slay the Rudraprayag Leopard the territory went into a frenzy of joy with many people believing him to be a sadhu, or saint. Now that's a pretty epic title, hunter saint!
The leopard itself was most unusual. It was actually a giant as far as leopards go. Between the pegs it measured seven feet and six inches long. According to Peter Capstick, any leopard measuring at just six feet will get you a near invincible title in the Rowland Ward sport records, so you can imagine that extra six inches being amazing. His pelt was unusual. Perhaps due to old age his hair was short, pale and brittle. Even more unusual was his entire mouth and tongue being completely black! This might be a result of having ingested such large quantities of cyanide, as on at least one occasion he ate an entire body that had been given many times more than the minimum lethal dosage.

Contrary to popular theories regarding man-eaters, the Rudraprayag Leopard wasn't a broken down animal. Although certainly old with worn teeth, he was actually unusually healthy for his age and much stronger than normal. It's actually unnerving how many man-eating cats I've read of who actually become healthier after a strict human diet. Brrrrr.

Corbett had plenty of trouble with other tigers as well, of note being the Thak Man-eater who pulled her own Tsavo stunt by paralyzing a railroad crew with terror and temporarily shut the operation down. Most tigers become shy and paranoid after being pursued which makes them hard to scope out. The Thak tigress however seemed rather contemptuous in the face of confrontation and actually grew cranky when the railroad workers tried scaring her away with shouts and noise. She just held her position and began roaring until the air stank of fear and urine.

Now, you'd think that after dealing with animals that killed well over a thousand men that Corbett might hold a bit of a grudge against big cats in his home country. Ah, but being the enlightened sportsman he developed no such hatred. On the contrary, when the villages continued to expand and the wildlife became persecuted he was one of the first to step up and try to secure strongholds of nature to be conserved. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he was one of the first men of the century to champion conservation and even got an entire nature park reserved in his name which stands even today!

Although best known as the slayer of man-eaters, and not without reason, Corbett was a gentle soul who loved both men and nature. He was a gentleman of the truest sense who's skill set was almost unrivaled. He is one of my personal favorite heroes and even in this day of technology and distance from danger his work still has relevance.

His writing is still around and has thankfully been put up online for all to enjoy. If you have any interest in his writing of any kind I heavily encourage you to look at it. They aren't meant to be action packed thrillers, but is rather frank and straightforward. The amount of information contained inside is a veritable treasure trove to those who can appreciate the words of such an experienced man. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! :)


I might later do a post talking specifically about man-eaters of different types and titles, examining their causes and how they were dealt with. But for now bask in the glory that is Jim Corbett!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Tragedy in France

I'm going to try and keep this brief and blunt since I've only just heard about it and don't know all of the facts, but I feel it important to throw my hat in the ring.

First, keep the victims in your prayers. It grieves me that people that simply try to make jokes have been targeted and massacred. It also angers me like you wouldn't believe, but we'll get to that. These folks didn't deserve this.

Second, I hope that the militant Islamist scoundrels that did this get tracked down and get what's coming to them. If they don't get riddled on sight then I'd settle for a public execution, preferably by hanging. There truly is only one way to deal with things like these, and I refuse to call them men, because actual men don't do things like this. The solution whenever this happens is to track down those responsible and make sure that they can in no way ever do this kind of thing again. Prison for life won't cut it either. Y'know why? Cuz they can be broken out and wage war again once free. Nope, the only rational solution is to execute them post haste.

These freaks need to understand that if they do this anywhere, it's a one way ticket. Not likely given how some of these countries operate, but I can hope. French forces, I wish you the best of luck in your hunt.

Yes, I know darned well that not all Muslims are radicals, but it's extremists like these that are giving the group a bad name. If you happen to be Muslim then call these guys out for what they really are: Radicals that do not represent you and that you despise just as much as everyone else.

Us average people usually aren't in a position to directly clash with terrorists. They don't want that. They are cowards and shy away from fair fights. By definition they wish to spread fear. Every time you feel afraid to speak about something because you're worried they'll strike, that's them at work. So how does your average Joe truly fight them? Simple: Say whatever you want anyway.

These creeps hate that other people have such rights and the only way they know how to deal with that is to spread fear. If we don't give in and continue exercising them to their fullest, then the actions of the radicals are truly in vain. Don't let them control what you can and can't say. Don't let them dictate what can be done. If you do, then you give them power. I vote that we don't do that.

Heck, that's why I'm writing this article. I'm speaking out against these creeps directly. They're cowards and scum, and they know it.

People of France, I weep for you. I'm sure there will be plenty of more tears in the future, as evil creatures such as these can't be eradicated completely, but their actions can be mitigated.

I may right more on this when more facts come out and I'm secure in them, because there are a few more elements that I wish to address.

In conclusion, don't give into fear. Spread the love you feel for your fellow man in any way you can, regardless of where you are. It's far harder to be kind than to be aggressive in times like these, and I plan to spread love and cheer wherever I can. I hope that more of you will do the same.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Battle of Five Armies movie

Hoo boy! I can't believe that I've waited so long to comment on this.

As I'm sure most of you have picked up on the third and final Hobbit movie was released last December and you can bet that I was giddy at the prospect of getting a viewing in. Even with my passion for literature I've found that I have surprisingly little interest in fantasy at large. In fact, the only two fantasy series I've ever actually gone out of my way to read would be Tolkien's work and Conan. So when I take my dad hostage to try and get into the theater for something, which is once in a blue moon, that should say something.

There are some spoilers ahead, but try not to worry. This won't be like some other of the reviews I've done which cover every nook and cranny. I mean, if you don't know the basic outline of this story, ya'll need to pick up a book... Anyway, this is more a collection of my thoughts on what I liked and didn't like rather than a step by step review.

A lot of people were down on the first movie for being supposedly slow and having little going on. I was one of those few that felt immersed and enjoyed almost every minute of it, but wow this last movie makes up for whatever lack of action the first movie had!

I mean... wow! I honestly can't think of another movie with more action than this. I'd argue that the majority of the screen time is taken up with swords clashing and arrows twanging. And it's good action, not the fluffy incomprehensible stuff you get with some movies. Ah, but don't be fooled! This is no mindless action romp. This movie has all the emotional impact and depth of its predecessors.

Thorin has had a steadily building arc, starting with him being tough at first but showing that he had heart and dignity about him but began to be followed by a decline once they enter the shadow of the mountain. It is beautifully demonstrated how the lust for gold gets a hold of him and twists his once noble nature to one of blind, bitter greed. The imagery and sound that accompanies him on these twists in turns in this movie are really something to behold and there is never a dull moment.

I've gotta praise the handling of the people of Lake Town, as neither the original book or Rankin Bass movie really seemed to capture the true sense of desperation these people feel after their town is destroyed. Okay, not totally fair, as the book did a good job, but wow does this movie strike home. It doesn't feel like so many bad disaster movies where buildings crumble and people get crushed. Nope! Here it actually feels like people who are afraid and devastated, wondering where they'll find food and shelter before the onset of winter takes its toll. It really does feel like a band of refugees in the wake of a disaster.
Although it doesn't technically contribute to the story, a few of the things Bard tends to with the people does add another layer of reality to the atmosphere. We see him giving orders, having people scavenge supplies from the floating wreckage or trying to tend to the injured, of which there are plenty. Maybe it's just me, but I really felt like jumping in and lending a hand to the poor folks. Good work director team! :)

Because lots of other things are taking place here, we actually don't get to see nearly as much of the dwarves as in the prior two movies. I did however find it mildly amusing that Bombur didn't get a single speaking line after all three movies. ... Huh. Should I be sad that I can name and identify almost all of the dwarves on sight? Man, I need to get a girlfriend...

Where was I? Ah, and of course Bilbo is still wonderfully portrayed and doing his best to work behind the scenes to avert upcoming disaster. Here they keep darned close to the book, as Bilbo has the Arken Stone but doesn't yet give it to Thorin as he sees the greed corrupting his friend and debates what to do about it.
The tension is built to a beautiful climax when it finally comes to a head. Thorin really does come to the point where you'd be worried sitting in a room with him and are afraid to speak for fear of throwing him into a rage. He becomes apathetic and paranoid, to the point where you could see yourself really setting yourself against him.

There is a brief little scene however that I really did appreciate and helped relieve some of the tension while also adding more character. When Thorin catches Bilbo peering at something he at first assumes he is hiding something of value, but in reality it is just a small nut that the hobbit pilfered from Bjorn's place that he plans on planting in his garden back home. For just a few minutes Thorin's haze fades as he remembers the simple charms of life and we really see the two connect. Sure, it's a quick little thing, but it was really nice to see. :)

One thing I was wondering about in regards to that whole Five Armies thing is that Bard was supposed to lead an army of men. Seeing as how his faction consisted of a bunch of tired fishermen armed with gaffing hooks and gutting knives I was curious to see how that would work out, since that's more of a rabble than an army. Yet they actually make it work rather well. Although not a conventional battle group Jackson certainly makes them seem like a frightened but determined group ready to do what they have to in order to preserve their families. You really do get to feel for these folks. And my heart leapt when the women actually picked up arms and went to go kick some orc arse rather than cower and await death. You go girls! Woot woot!

Overall actually I'm quite surprised at the rather low scale of the fight, in regards to the size of most of the armies involved. Dain of the Iron Hills arrives not with an army either, but what looks more like a company of one hundred and thirty guys. Granted, these boys are armed to the teeth and work like a well oiled machine, but there's just so few of 'em! Thranduil doesn't exactly bring a giant contingent either.
Azog on the other hand... Wow, this guy pulls out all the stops. Say what you want about him, he knows how to organize a war party and work tactics! I'm actually impressed at the strategy and maneuvering he employed. For example, to help split up the loose alignment of elves, dwarves and men Azog sends a large chunk of his force into Dale where the families of the fishermen have taken shelter, forcing them to run off and intercept them, leaving the elves and dwarves to deal with the rest of the orcs.

Divide and conquer. Azog certainly makes a darned good commander. And yeah, he has a huge advantage in numbers, not to mention he takes the other guys by surprise with some very cunning troop movements. And the trolls with catapults on their backs? Now that's just plain cool! What else could you ask for?

And if you happen to be a hard core traditionalist who shrieks in indignation at the slightest variation from the original narrative, then you might actually get a kick out of the ending. We actually get some decent closure with Bilbo returning to Hobbiton. If you haven't read the book, then you probably don't know that since he was away for so long his dear loving neighbor's assumed he was dead and auctioned off all of his stuff just as he waltzed back home. Hoo boy, if there was ever a bad home reception that was it!

I remember actually being in the theater seeing him back in his old neighborhood and said aloud "Are they really going to... Oh my gosh, they are! We're gonna see Bilbo's house getting looted!" I was rather amused that they took the time to show us that bit, heh.

Ian McKellen, the actor of Gandalf, poor guy, must be exhausted. The dude has been breaking his back with these movies not to mention the last X-Men movie. He's gotta be feeling the need for a vacation. The fellow has certainly earned it! He of course was nothing but superb in this flick, bringing us Gandalf like no one else can. :)

I think the only thing that wasn't actually resolved was the disappearance of Thorin's father, Thrain. I could be wrong, so please correct me if I err, but I do believe that Thrain was actually being held prisoner by the Necromancer at Dol-Guldur and driven half mad. It might be in the deleted scenes, although I somehow doubt it. Of course, no one is going to be bothered by that besides weirdos like me who know the story inside and out, so I'm not exactly upset over it.

I do wanna call out the only major problem that I found in Desolation which made me pause when it came to a head in this movie. The whole "dragon's can only be killed by a windlance" thing always bothered me. It felt unnecessary and kind of shoved in, along with changing the history of the black arrow to have been a special dwarven crafted weapon. Apparently Balin was full of it when he said there was no other way to kill a dragon! Cuz guess what, spoiler warning, the windlance crossbow doesn't get used. Good riddance to the thing. Nobody wanted it anyway.

And I think that's about it! I had a lot of fun and will not hesitate a moment to purchase it when it comes out on DVD. But it is well worth watching in theaters. So hustle up and go watch! :D