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Communism With a Smiley Face!

Jun. 3rd, 2011 | 12:35 pm

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Freaky Stuff

May. 11th, 2011 | 12:15 am

Test for predisposition to Astral projections, lucid dreams and out of body experiences

Astral Projection:


Lucid Dreams:

Your parameters correspond to those of a common man, you live in this world and you're used to the physical plane only. Your subconsciousness will obstacle the development of your abilities, which does not mean you don't have any, it'll only be harder for you to uncover them.
However, other parameters indicate that you will easily master the technique of lucid dreaming and make your life brighter and eventful ;)

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The Last Frontier

Feb. 18th, 2011 | 08:31 am

Once again, no surprise....

The NerdTests' Space Test says I'm an Uber Space Nerd.  What kind of space nerd are you?  Click here!

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Nerd Test

Feb. 18th, 2011 | 08:10 am

As if I didn't know....

I am nerdier than 88% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to take the Nerd Test, get geeky images and jokes, and talk on the nerd forum!

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In My Tradition of Posting Online Personality Test Results

Jan. 20th, 2011 | 12:05 am

I was afraid of that....

Your result for The Buddhist Personality Type Test...


You scored 0 % greed, 19 % anger, 58 % fear, and 29 % confusion!

You are the Fearful type. The Buddha originally taught Metta meditation http://www.wildmind.org/meditation/metta/index.html to people like you: love casts out fear, so cultivating lovingkindness towards all beings will help you become more brave and better able to connect with the world. Aversive types, whether Fearful or Angry, are said to make the fastest progress in meditation because they understand that the world isn't satisfactory--so take heart!

As with all the personality types, remember that there's nothing here to take personally. Tendencies to Greed, Aversion, and Delusion are just that: tendencies. They're learned responses that can (with wisdom and persistence) be unlearned.

Take The Buddhist Personality Type Test at HelloQuizzy

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Another Really Good Song

Jan. 19th, 2011 | 01:41 pm

Not in the Leonard Cohen category, but really good.


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Video Prolegomena to Resuming Posts

Jan. 19th, 2011 | 01:25 pm

A true great.


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Brothers and Sisters

Apr. 29th, 2010 | 01:25 am

My uncle died today.

He was my favorite uncle, when I was a young child.  He was also my father's last surviving sibling.

Dad's other brother, about a year and a half older than he, died last year.  His other brother, the one who died today, was younger than Dad by about the same amount my other uncle was older than Dad. 

There's much more, some of which may find its way into a future post; some of which won't.  Right now, I am impelled to a meditation on siblings.

Dad had the two, now both deceased.  Mom had four brothers, one of whom died at about eleven, another who died in his fifties, the other two being still alive; and two sisters, one of whom died in infancy, the other still being alive.  Like Dad, she was a middle child, one of the sisters and two of the brothers being older, the remaining siblings being younger.  I have a younger sister, and my wife a younger brother and two younger sisters.

All of us have parents, to state the obvious.  Some of us have children (I have a daughter; my sister has no children, nor did either of Dad's brothers).  Some of us (probably most of us, before the Second World War) have siblings.  I was almost seven when my sister was born, so I have a vague recollection of what being an only child is like.  My daughter is and almost certainly will remain an only child.  Thus, if she reads this years from now, it will be partly alien to her, something that does not fall within her experience.  This post will be to her like an explanation of "red" to the blind.  Nevertheless, it will perhaps give her some small window into something she will never experience firsthand. 

The vast majority of us will experience the loss of our parents.  This is natural--the older generations pass on, we survive, then pass on ourselves to be succeeded by our children.  We are saddened, but not surprised.  If we have successfully navigated life into adulthood, we have gained the tools to become independent, to live on our own terms, to love our parents but no longer to need them in the sense we did as children.  We know their death is inevitable, and will almost inevitably be before ours.  We must, willing or no, accept this.  Most of us do.

Before the last century, most people also experienced the death of children, too.  The high infant and child mortality rates made it likely that most families would have at least one, most probably more, children who did not live to adulthood.  Also tragic, but as natural for our forbears as the death of parents is to us.  Today, this is much rarer; but it still happens sometimes.

Brothers and sisters, though, are different, somehow.  Yes, most of us who have one or more will experience the death of one or more siblings.  This, too, is natural.  Nevertheless, there is somehow a subtle difference; or so it would seem to me. 

Parents, of course, bring us into the world; they are the first human beings we love; they are in some sense the primary relationship of our childhood.  Nevertheless, parenthood is a continual process of letting go, of estrangement of a good and necessary kind (if it happens right).  Every step the baby takes, every word she learns to read, every friend she stays over with, every higher mark on the door jamb; each of this is a further step towards adulthood and ultimate independence; which means independence from Mom and Dad.  Hardly have we held our newborn in our arms, it seems, than we have to start the long and painful, but necessary and natural, process of letting her go.  This is the glory and tragedy of parenthood.

Children, for the most part, outlive us now.  Even in the rare and tragic cases where the opposite is true, it is but the ultimate separation after the thousand smaller separations of growing up.

Grandparents are at a farther remove from us, generally, and their deaths, while sad, are not unexpected and are perhaps less keenly felt (though not for all of us).

Brothers and sisters, though.  They are a completely different case.  If our parents are the gods of our childhood, our siblings are our fellow mortals.  They are our first friends, first rivals, sometimes first enemies.  They are our comrades in arms, our partners in crime.  They know us like no other human beings ever will. 

Consider:  as we grow up, we must become individuals with our own lives, tastes, needs, hopes, dreams, fears, destinies.  The best parents in the world can never truly share in this, not fully--for this is the essence of adulthood, of individuation.  The same is true, in reverse, for our own children.  Our lovers and spouses know us in ways our kin never will; but even in the case of childhood sweethearts, they come along later in the game, when our lives are already in medias res.

Most of us have friends; and some of us may consider them to be like brothers or sisters.  The "like", there, though, is a stronger word than we like to think.  In my twenties, I made friends whom I considered to be like brothers.  I have, with some distress and regret, come to discover that even such friends can wound to the quick and become estranged, sometimes over ridiculous matters.  Even in the more optimistic case, they are "like" brothers, but not.  They were not there in the family, living, eating, sleeping, breathing under the same roof.  Even for those of us who meet such friends in our childhood, it's still not the same.  We may spend many or even most of our waking hours with our friends; they may stay over frequently; they may be a major focus of our lives.  

Still, they are not there for the long car trips; they do not observe the ugly parental arguments; they are not there for the joyful surprises; they do not share the unique phrases, the codes, the inside jokes, the unspoken communication that is the official language of the family.  They may be tourists to the country of our family; sometimes they may be resident aliens; but they are still aliens, nonetheless.

I have had periods of partial estrangement with my sister, as I have also with the aforementioned friends.  However, the differences are astonishing.  With a brother or sister, there is always the undercurrent that, no matter what, there will ultimately be a reconciliation, a patching up of wounds, a return to something like normalcy.  I have experienced tension with friends, "breakups" (some permanent), and reconciliation.  None of it is the same.  The tension seemed harder, the breakups at least comprehensible in a way they would not be for a sibling, and the reconciliations never quite seemed as much foreordained.  Worst of all, the normalcy never seemed as normal again with a friend as it did with a sister.

Even when there is no estrangement, of course, life's vicissitudes often dictate that we may go through long periods in which we do not see much of a friend or sibling, or communicate with them only through the occasional phone call, email, or letter.  Here the difference is most striking.  Yes, we reminisce with our friends, catch up, maybe get together and hang out.  Yet there's never quite the feeling of returning to one's home village after years away in a foreign land that unexpectedly springs up at times when we talk to a brother or sister. 

By the rivers of the Babylon that we all encounter at some point in our lives, we sit down and weep, hanging our harps on the willows.  In a sense even the best friend is a sympathetic Babylonian.  He may be a comrade, a sharer in our lives, he may comfort us, be there for us; and yet there is one level on which, when, trying to lift our spirits,  he talks to us and bids us sing, we must say, How shall we sing the songs of Zion in a strange land?  For all their imperfections, for all the tensions, for all the years, our sisters and brothers grew up with us in Zion, for when we are tiny and innocent, the family is our Zion, the shelter from the world, even if it is not always a good shelter.  Only with our brothers and sisters of blood can we sing the songs of Zion and know that however poor our singing and however lacking the songs, they are our songs.  We sing them and know they will be understood.

Of course no family is truly Zion; no family is Eden.  We grow up, we are exiled from Eden, and then we see that it never was Eden after all.  We go our separate ways.  Still, even in leaving a false Eden, even voluntarily,  there is something deep within us which ever after feels banished.  We visit our parents and there are the cherubim with the flaming sword.  We cannot return to Eden, but our siblings are our fellow travelers in the land off Nod; fellow wanderers, that is.  As long as they live, Eden is not completely relegated to memory.  There is always the inchoate feeling that maybe, just maybe, we can somehow find the way back again.  

When a sibling dies, therefore, it is a piece of Eden, of Zion, forever disintegrated; it is a digit lost from the combination of a lock we keep seeking; it is a page torn from the book of our lives.  Gone is one who knew us, in some ways, better than any other person ever will.  Gone is a comrade who spoke our language, marched under our banner, shared the same homeland.  Gone forever; who shall replace them?  The answer is no one, not fully.  

I have thought of this often.  Having only one sister, I have only one such comrade.  All my grandparents are long dead; my parents are elderly; the rest of my family is more remote.   Should my sister die before I do, the last fragment of my childhood, the only other person who shared it, the only other citizen of my native land, will be gone.  My uncle's death, however, brought this into sharp relief.  What my sister is to me, my uncle was to Dad, and is no more.  

Dad isn't one to show emotion much, and now is no exception.  Still, he is human, and I know he feels deeply, though he rarely shows it at all, least of all to his childen.  How must he feel?  What must it be like to be a nation of one?  What must it be like to be the last speaker of a soon-to-be-extinct tongue?  My mind reels.  

As I said, I am nearly seven years older than my sister.  She is in much better health than I am, in general; and even if I achieve my goal of significantly improving my health, women statistically outlive men, anyway.  Thus, in all likelihood, I will never experience the death of a sibling.  I will not be the sole survivor of my childhood.  She, most likely, will.  I do not envy her; I feel compassion for her, should that be the case.  If the opposite, by fate occurs, then it will be I who must live forever in Babylon, without even an echo of Zion.  

Dad is in Babylon now.  May it be gentle with him.  May all of us, when we finally leave Babylon, merit to return, finally and fully, to Zion, to meet with our comrades once more; and may our friends, spouses, and children join us, finally, as true natives. 

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Star Trek, part 2: Not Quite a Review

May. 9th, 2009 | 02:19 pm

Let's trek some more!  Ransom spoilers possible!

OK, we're talking about J. J. Abram's reboot of the Star Trek franchise, titled (logically enough) Star Trek (no roman numerals, subtitles, or other qualifiers necessary). Actually, one interesting thing about this reboot is that in all the interviews and stories I read before it came out Abrams adamantly refused to call it a reboot. He danced somewhat coyly around the topic, saying just that the main themes and characters were intact, he had changed some stuff, but nothing essential, and the fans would like it. I think he was trying to cover his tracks a bit, keep speculation down, and let the movie speak for itself. Trek does, admittedly, have one of the more rabid fan bases, and Abrams shrewdly, I think, wanted to avoid alienating anyone. On the other hand, let's call it what it is, a reboot--and let us be eternally thankful to Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Speaking as an old-time fan who can vaguely remember the original series before it went into syndication, I think old-timers will like it. As to the younger crowd to whom Star Trek means Captain Picard or Captain Archer, or who may even (heresy!) have never seen a Trek show at all--well, I think this movie will make believers of them.

Rather than summarize the plot (if you've not seen it, go and make it so! Or, if not, you can get a synopsis from other reviews), I'm going to discuss some of my impressions of the movie.

Cast: Excellent. No one is imitating the old cast, but everyone really has a good handle on the characters. Chris Pine has got Kirk perfectly as boyishly charming, in a James Dean sort of way, a little bit of a loose cannon, and a brilliant commander. He shows us why Kirk became the youngest starship captain in the fleet. Zachary Qinto, of Heroes, is picture perfect as Spock. Of all the new cast, I think he has the greatest physical resemblance to the corresponding original cast member. More importantly, he conveys well the constant tension between the human and Vulcan sides of his psyche. Karl Urban is a great "Bones" McCoy--crotchety, slightly technophobic, but with a heart of gold. After all these years, his well-known backstory--joining Starfleet after a career as a civilian doctor and a nasty divorce, are finally made fully canonical. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is finally given a lot more respect and a lot more to do than just saying, "Hailing frequencies open, sir!" or "Captain, I'm frightened!" As we'd expect, she is a skilled linguist as well. Some may be a bit surprised by the romance between her and Spock, but I'm not. Look at early episodes of TOS where Uhura is hanging over Spock, casting eyes at him and singing as he plays the Vulcan lyre. Something there--the potential just became actual in the new 'verse! As to the rest of the cast, all were great. Sulu did his samurai smackdown (he put his fencing skills to use!), Chekov mangled English and was excitable and handy, Scotty managed to pull the ship through, etc. etc.

The only classic cast members that did not appear were Yeoman Janice Rand, Nurse Christine Chapel, and Transporter Chief Mr. Kyle. Rand was never developed much, anyway--she was a love interest for Kirk, and when that didn't seem to work, they dumped the character. While I have always liked Majel Barrett Roddenberry, and found the Spock-Chapel dynamic, well, fascinating, I can see the logic of not having her here. The only reasons for the character were 1. She was the producer's wife and her character in the original pilot (Number One) was not popular with test audiences, and 2. As a love interest for Spock. With the Spock/Uhura thing, there's not really any logical need fo the character. Sure, I love Nurse Chapel, no offense to the character or the late, lamented Majel Barrett (who did the computer voices for the movie as her last Trek-related role)--I'm just talking about the dramatic logic. As to Kyle--well, he was pretty minor and you have only so much time in a movie.

Story: Excellent. It really got to the heart of what the characters were all about. It was by turns gripping, touching, heart-rending, slam-bang exciting, and, to coin a phrase, fascinating. The only real weakness, in my view, is that the explanation of the McGuffin (the red-matter black-hole-making-thingy) and the destruction of Roumulus was a little sketchy. However, by the standard of techno-babble or "crazy crap" (to use the David Letterman Star Trek-themed Top Ten from last night) in the Trek franchise, this is mild, indeed, and easily forgiven. Most importantly, this was really about characterization in a way that has been missing from many of the movies. Since we are coming in on the characters at an early stage of their development, we need to get a little insight in to why they are as they are. We see the aimless, reckless life that the fatherless Kirk leads until getting his head on straight and joining Starfleet. We see the bullying and prejudice Spock endures as a half-human. We see how Scotty's hotshot brilliance has landed him in major trouble, and why he's so excited about a chance to serve on a starship. These vignettes and more really flesh out the characters we've known and loved for so long.

Art design: The look of the movie maintains the essence of TOS while giving it an update, especially in terms of technical plausibility in light of the developments over the last forty-three years. The Enterprise itself looks like a cross between the ship as seen in the old series and the refitted ship of the first six movies. It is the interiors that are a revolution. I am inclined to think the layout was influenced by the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. As I pointed out to my wife when that series debuted, it actually looked like the interior of a huge military vessel. Partly as a result of shoestring budgets and partly as an attempt at what was then thought of as “futuristic” design, the interior sets of the old Enterprise were simple, very small, almost cozy, and done in blacks and muted pastels. For those of us who grew up on it, a look that is always the “real” Enterprise; but not what you'd expect the interior of a real starship to look like.

The new Enterprise is full of noisy machines, chaotic passageways full of crew members running back and forth, catwalks, piping, and ramps and stairways. These latter are especially interesting. While the turbolifts still exist, they seem less extensive and mainly for rapid auxiliary access by bridge officers to other areas. This makes sense—as the set designers of the Roddenberry-inspired series Andromeda pointed out, in a real ship you don't want to have elevators be the main access. After all, if the power goes out, you're stuck! Ramps give quicker access in all conditions.

The bridge maintains the classic circular design, with the command chair at center and the other stations in the same relative positions. The color scheme is hugely different. No longer the pastels of TOS, the earth-tone and beige of TNG, or the blacks, browns, and silvers of the movies, but glaring, clinical white—this is the new bridge, which could almost be a surgical theater. On the one hand, I'm not quite sure I like the color scheme—it is much harsher, much less “homey” that that of TOS. On the other hand, a real ship is built for functionality, not coziness. Also, especially in the later series, the bridges of the various ships often seemed rather dark, to the point (by the time of Voyager) that one wondered how the crew could see what they were doing! The new bridge is probably more what you'd actually expect on a real starship.

The costumes are essentially slightly jacked-up versions of the classic uniforms, with all the old color schemes: gold for command, blue for sciences and medicine, and red for security, engineering, and ops. They are now two-layered. A high-collared black undershirt lies below the colored tunics. This is interesting, in that it goes back to the TOS episode “The Naked Time”. In this episode, we see (for the only time in the entire original series, as far as I can tell) a crew member with an undershirt. Spock is lying on the exam table and he has taken off his blue tunic, wearing a black t-shirt and his usual pants and boots. After the exam, he pulls the tunic over the undershirt and walks off. I had thought from seeing this that the shirts were the two-layer effect actually used in the current movie. However, every time Kirk got his shirt ripped, we saw his bare chest, and close examination of close-ups indicates that the black collars are sewn onto the rest of the shirt. Thus, the shirts were apparently one-layer (although McCoy seems to have a separate black shirt on beneath his scrub-top when he wears it).

The new tunics have the Starfleet logo embroidered into them in a tessellation. For me, that's a bit much, but it's OK. The logo on the tunic is now a badge, rather than a patch. The pants and boots seem essentially similar. Cadets wear black shirts, or red uniforms for dress occasions.

Random notes: We are finally given everyone's official names! Until the first movie novelization, we never knew what the T. in Kirk's middle name was. It wasn't until Star Trek VI, I think, that “Tiberius” was made official onscreen. In the current movie, we not only have James Tiberius Kirk from the git-go, but we learn why he was so named (after both grandfathers). Uhura's name has long been a matter of fan speculation. The first suggestion from fandom was “Penda”, from a Swahili root meaning “love”. Coupled with the surname “Uhura”, a slightly mangled form of the Swahili uhuru, “freedom”, her name would mean “Lover of Freedom”. The grammar, as people who actually knew Swahili pointed out, was a bit off, but this was the fan favorite for some time. Later, “Nyota”, from the Swahili for “star” was suggested. These two suggestions bounced around in fandom for decades—some even suggested “Penda Nyota Uhura”. The movie slyly references this debate, making her name an ongoing mystery until near the end when Spock addresses her as “Nyota”. So, after four decades, Lt. Uhura finally has a fully official name!

Sulu also had no first name in TOS. “Walter” had been suggested in fandom, then Vonda McIntyre referred to him as “Hikaru” in one of her novels. This name was finally referred to onscreen briefly in Star Trek VI; but in the new movie, we have it from the git-go. Chekov, for the first time, I think, is given a proper patronymic (the “middle name” which for Russians indicates the father), thus: Pavel Andreevich Chekov. All other main characters had previously been given first names in the series.

To do a bit of a wrap-up: I think, all in all, that Star Trek is everything we fans hoped it would be. It intelligently updates the old series in a way that fans can appreciate, and that newcomers can enter without fear of confusion. In many ways, this is the Trek movie that always should have been made, but never has been—until now! The franchise has now gained a new lease on life, and looks likely (pardon the reference!) to live long and prosper!

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Star Trek, part 1: How to Do It Right

May. 8th, 2009 | 11:12 pm

Having set the stage in the last post, let's talk Trek!  First, the hows and wherefores. 

To begin with, after thirty years, the curse of the odd-numbered movie has been broken!  Old time Trekkers know the long-standing fan lore that the odd-numbered movies in the Star Trek series of movies have been, to be charitable, weak (when they haven't outright stunk!).  The eleventh entry in the series, though, has killed this truism with a vengeance.  Star Trek has not only jettisoned numerical suffixes and subtitles (it's just plain old Star Trek!), but it has also jettisoned the encrustations that have gradually been choking the Trek franchise to death and has restored it to glorious life. 

It is fitting that this is the 30th anniversary of the first Star Trek movie because the franchise has now come full circle.  1979's Star Trek:  The Motion Picture revived the Star Trek franchise ten years after the original series (henceforward TOS) left the air.  Now, J. J. Abrams's Star Trek has once more revived the franchise, which had become moribund over the last several years.  Abrams has managed this near miracle by producing an almost textbook example of how to do a reboot the right way. 

Star Trek has been in need of a reboot for years.  The quality of the movies varied wildly, with the first being widely considered a vast disappointment (as well as a rip-off of several episodes of TOS simultaneously), the second (The Wrath of Khan) considered one of the best, and so on, oscillating like a pendulum.  The successor series also varied wildly.  Star Trek:  The Next Generation (TNG) was mediocre for the first three seasons, eventually developing into a fairly decent series.  Deep Space Nine (DS9) also started out slow, but developed a darker and more political take on the Star Trek universe.  Voyager started with an interesting premise, but lagged until it introduced Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, and put her in a very tight outfit (yes, I'm being cynical).  It seemed to me that it had a higher ratio of weak plots resolved by pointless technobabble than average.  Finally, the well-intentioned Enterprise promised to show us some of the backstory to the Trek world we knew and loved, only to spout muddled crap like the "Temporal Cold War" plotline, engage in some of the worst and clumsiest retconning ever seen (the m*^%$#*@#$%^g Xindi??!!), and use shameless and irrelevant sex scenes even more blatantly than Voyager (I used to joke to my wife about what the "grope T'Pol" or "disrobe T'Pol" gimmick would be for the latest episode).  Enterprise actually had some decent episodes in its last season, but by then it was too late; and the series finale was totally execrable.  It is little surprise that Paramount decided to give the franchise a rest.

The concept for a reboot actually has been floating around for awhile, originally devised by Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski--you can read about it here.  I actually do regret that his proposal never flew--he had the idea of a series, not a movie, and from the outline, I think it would have been truly great.  However, it would be illogical (as Mr. Spock would say) to regret what never happened, and I think the current movie makes up to a large degree for the regret for what could have been. 

In any case, the idea most talked about after the (in my opinion overrated) Nemesis was a Kirk-and-Spock-in-their-Academy-days plot, which I always thought a horrible idea.  One, it would require too much squeezing into current continuity or drastic retconning, and second, it would require really artificial plotlines to get them into galaxy-saving heroics as cadets.  Wisely, Paramount went with Abrams's reboot concept.  The movie does have a bit of the Academy days, but that is not the focus of it, and it is at the end of Kirk's Academy career that the main plot takes place, anyway.

I must say, Star Trek is an almost perfectly done reboot.  Warning:  random spoilers here and there henceforward.  The basic concept is that in the post-TNG future, Spock (last seen working to reunite the Vulcan and Romulan people) has failed to save the Romulan  homeworld, Romulus (presumably Remus, too, although that's not explicit, and really a small quibble) after their star goes supernova.  Nero, an embittered Romulan who has lost his pregnant wife in the catastrophe seeks out Spock for vengeance; at the last minute, they are both sucked into the past, as a result of a black-hole-making device.  Nero arrives just before the birth of James T. Kirk and destroys the  ship captained by Kirk's father (who lived to see Kirk as an adult in the original continuity).  From this point on, a new continuity is created and the Trekverse diverges.  Spock turns up twenty-five years after Nero (by this time, Kirk is a  young adult), and the continuity diverges further.  This is a clever and very successful plot device.  It allows an appearance by Leonard Nimoy in a sort of valedictory performance as representative of TOS, and since the Old Spock remembers the old continuity, it is a tip of the hat to all Treks past.  Meanwhile, by the principle that seemingly minor changes in the past radiate unpredictably into the future, this allows an essentially blank slate for the story of this (and future) movies.

The posts are longer than I'd thought, so I'm going to leave it here and go to number three.  

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