Friday, September 30, 2005

Christmas morning

Well, it's Friday, Sept. 30. When it first occurred to me that I really, really, really wanted to see the film Serenity, today seemed like a long, long time away. And now it's here.

It feels like those many-years-ago Christmas mornings. The movie theater is a big evergreen tree with shiny surprises wrapped underneath. I'm pretty sure I know what I'm getting, but will it be as wonderful as I'm expecting? And will the things I don't expect be cool - like an old record album I never knew existed - or lame, like a tie I'll never wear?

It also feels like more recent Christmas mornings, after I figured out that watching people react to my gifts is even more fun than receiving. Will Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion and Jewel Staite and all the others involved with the film like the crowds we give them? Will it be enough to justify continuing adventures? I'm fairly confident on that score, but I've been known to get overly anticipatory. I was shocked, for example, when "Brian Wilson Presents Smile" didn't debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. No. 13 was pretty good for 37-year-old music, but still ... Is No. 1 too much to ask for a movie based on an obscure science fiction TV show? To me it feels like the birth of the next Big Damn Movie Franchise, but who am I?

A promise, though: I'll keep this space spoiler free. I still remember that otherwise beautiful day in June 1984, when I was going to see "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" and the local paper had a feature on all the Trekkies who went to opening night the day before. In the third paragraph they quoted one fan saying, "I can't believe they blew up the Enterprise." I vowed never to do that to a fellow film fan. I won't even tell you who Rosebud is, and almost everyone knows that.

Update, 5:41 p.m.: Oh my goodness, I'm exhausted. And it was the best Christmas ever!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

B.W.'s Book Report: "How to Kill the Job Culture Before It Kills You" by Claire Wolfe

I ordered Claire Wolfe's book from Loompanics seven minutes after I learned it existed. That's how ready I was for it.

Late in the book, when she repeated the James Madison assertion that "[t]he class of citizens, who provide at once their own food and their own raiment, may be viewed as the most truly independent and happy," my mind wandered and the vegetable garden I intend to plant next spring gained a brother goal: I started thinking it might be fun to learn how to make my own clothes, and thus provide both my own sweet corn and my own "raiment." All of the potential money-making and money-saving ideas I've ever had, crazy and/or achievable, strolled in and out of my consciousness as I raced through the pages. I can't imagine someone reading this book without his/her mind starting to wander outside the box like that.

The book's subtitle offers the modern dream: "Living a life of autonomy in a wage-slave society." No, that's not true. That subtitle offers my dream: Suggesting that any dream is universal sends us down the path to totalitarianism, no matter how well-intended. Many people are content and comfortable as wage slaves; some even thrive in that environment. Wolfe's book is directed toward folks like me, who want to own ourselves again ... or perhaps own ourselves for the first time.

Wolfe, as my two (three? more?) regular readers know, has gloriously moved beyond wage slavery and, to me at least, is one of the foremost proponents of living one's own life. A slim volume at 140 pages, the book is packed full of information and practical advice about "why jobs suck (the vitality out of life)" and how to plan your escape - but not spend so much time planning that you never get started. She sounds a lot like me - easily distracted, the world's greatest procrastinator - and so a life of autonomy seems within reach because she has achieved such a life. It ain't always glorious, but it's autonomous.

There are lots of thought-starters sprinkled here and there and one solid set of "twelve tips for springing the job trap." The tips gave me some resolve for moving forward, but tip No. 11 may be the soundest advice of all: "Don't burn your bridges." You may be fed up with corporate life, but the real people you know and love within that corporation don't have to go away when you split; in fact, they may be your future clients. Wolfe says she's held three "job-jobs" in her life, gaining something valuable from each, and when she moved on, "in each case, one of the prime values was that I gained a client for my freelance work."

Once upon a time, holding a job-job was not the norm, she writes; in fact, job-jobs are largely a creation of the Industrial Revolution and the need to plug people into machines. Such a time may come again someday, and this little book shows a clear path in that direction, one individual at a time.

Order it for $12.95 plus shipping from or by calling 1-360-385-2230. If you still need convincing, she wrote a nifty summary of the book's themes for the Loompanics Unlimited catalog here.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cinema world converges on Hardyville

Movie Week continues here in advance of the premiere of the Big Damn Movie. Sweetie and I caught "The Incredibles" on Starz the other night, so now I've seen three of the five nominated "animated features/family films" in the 2005 Hardyville Freedom Film Festival. At this pace, I'll have watched all 16 nominated films I've never seen by 2007. Better get busy; the voting ends Oct. 20.

I love the idea of saluting films that have themes about liberty and freedom - and, as I mentioned yesterday, I love lists. I note there's been some grousing about some of the picks, but that's the beauty of lists: They start a conversation, they never end them.

Random thoughts: I do agree with David Codrea's astonishment that the anti-gun, anti-hunting screed "The Iron Giant" would be placed in a list of pro-liberty films. I suppose, as a pacifist individualist, I should applaud the theme of defending the peace-loving robot "against the entire might of the U.S. government," if only I hadn't been offended by the film's message that guns and killing animals to eat them are inherently evil. Co-judge Wally Conger says he doesn't agree with all of the picks; I'm guessing this is one of them.

It was hard for me to get into "Traffic," the acclaimed film that is little more than an Americanized, watered-down version of the compelling European TV mini-series "Traffik," having seen the original, but any list of nominated contemporary dramas that includes "Tucker: The Man and His Dream" is OK by me. The Coppola masterpiece has one clunker moment when a juror stands up and says "Let the man speak" and the judge, insteading of declaring a mistrial or tossing the juror out of the box, lets the man speak. But the rest of the movie is a wonderful love note to one of the coolest cars ever made and the forces that rose against it.

I still have to see "Team America: World Police" to confirm that it's the class of the "contemporary comedy" category, but the concept is so funny I may vote for it sight unseen. I have to see "Equilibrium," the only science fiction entry I haven't seen, even though my vote likely will go to "Serenity" - oops, I guess there are two entries I haven't seen. One thought: One day the judges will get over the Jar-Jar Binks/casting Hadyn Christensen debacles and "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" will be recognized as one solid indictment of the seductive power of Power. Neither the Sith nor the Jedi come across as especially noble in Lucas' Big Damn Finale.

I'm shocked that I got this far in life without seeing "The Outlaw Josey Wales," and of the remaining action-adventure entries, I think I'm buying into "Conspiracy Theory." But I have to experience the Clint Eastwood classic before I vote. Hey, wait a minute, howcome Josey Wales isn't nominated in the "classics" category? Oh, wait, I see: "classics" must be at least 30 years old, and "Josey Wales" was released in 1976. They couldn't wait a year to nominate it?

Speaking of classics, all five films that did get nominated are worthy. I like "Shenandoah" because the libertarian message is so damn in-your-face that you can't miss it, even if the price of liberty turns out to be so high in the end.

Foreign language flicks? I haven't seen any of 'em. I'd better plead ignorance and leave that category blank. New Year's Resolution to self: Don't be so darn xenophobic. You love that show where they swear in Chinese, for gawd's sake.

Go check out the list, vote early and often. Unless you don't believe in voting, of course ...

Monday, September 26, 2005

B.W.'s All-Time list braces for a hit

This is Movie Week at Montag. May as well face it, I can't get my mind off Friday, Sept. 30, when - Lord willing and the creek don't rise - I will be attending the earliest possible matinee of "Serenity," a movie I am anticipating with an anticipation beyond anything I can recall. I spent the summer falling in love with the cast and 'verse of "Firefly," and I want to know what happens next.

I am expecting a huge shakeup in B.W.'s All-Time Favorite Movie List. They say you can learn a lot about a guy by finding out what his favorite movies are - you probably can learn a lot about a guy just knowing he makes lists like this. Ever read or see "High Fidelity"? Then you know what I'm talking about!

So since I expect "Serenity" to crack my top 10, perhaps even the sacred Top Five, let's review that magical list and remember it one last time before Joss Whedon's Big Damn Movie.

1. "It's A Wonderful Life." You have to understand. I never heard of this movie until that Christmas Eve, the loneliest Christmas Eve of my life. My wife wanted a trial separation, and wouldn't you know it, while she was gone I bumped into the woman of my dreams. The timing couldn't be worse. I began that Christmas Eve knowing not only that the marriage was over, but I had blown it with my perfect match, too. So when I turned on the TV, I was George Bailey. I knew about that bridge, and I knew how attractive that swirling maelstrom below was. That night Clarence saved my life, too. This has to be my favorite movie, because I owe it so much.

2. "The Wizard of Oz." Anyone who knows me knows I can't go two days without an Oz reference. Shucks, folks, I'm speechless. People come and go so quickly here. I love this movie, for all the reasons you love it.

3. "Casablanca." Perfect timing again: I first encountered Rick and Ilsa in a college theater filled with kids who hadn't ever seen the movie (This was just before VCRs were invented). You haven't lived until you've discovered this movie together with a real audience.

4. "E.T. The Extraterrestrial." Hmmmm ... "no place like home" and "phone home" both in my top 4. Suppose it means something? Someday watch this movie and do nothing but listen to John Williams' score. It's the greatest symphony ever written. No, really! Try it.

5. "To Kill a Mockingbird." Small town injustice, the innocence of children, and Boo Radley. Oh man, what a great story, what acting, what writing, what a movie.

6. "Shakespeare in Love." The nerdy writer gets Gwyneth Paltrow. Of course I love this movie! Plus the best-ever recreation of the Elizabethan stage, and "It's a mystery!" Tragic love worthy of Rick and Ilsa.

7. "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Every modern action flick starts here. 'Nuff said.

8. "Glory." Oh, what a moving film, full of looks. The grin on Matthew Broderick's face after he gets the shoes. The look of angry resignation on Denzel Washington's face when his commander, too, breaks out the lash. This film haunted me for years. Still does.

9. "A Christmas Story." Catch me in the right mood, and Jean Shepherd's beautiful story jumps eight spaces all the way to the top. "You'll shoot your eye out, kid." "Daddy's gonna kill Ralphie." "The duck is smiling at us." The funniest movie ever, because it's so true.

10. "As Good As It Gets." Performs the miracle of making Jack Nicholson one of the most obnoxious and unlikable characters in the history of movies, and getting you to cheer when he gets the girl. The nice thing he says to Helen Hunt to make up for the "housedress" comment still takes my breath away.

The next 10, several of which have found their way into the Top 10 before easing back out -- Contact. Spider-Man 2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Best Years of Our Lives. Field of Dreams. Singing in the Rain. Toy Story 2. Dances With Wolves. Spider-Man. When Harry Met Sally.

Should be in the top 20 except there were 20 films I liked more: Gojira. It Happened One Night. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The Time of Their Lives.

So now you know about my list of favorite movies. The fun part about lists is that everybody has one. No one reading this will agree with everything. Everybody's right, everybody's wrong.

Talking about these movies was fun because it got my mind off "Serenity" for a little while. Next stop: Hardyville!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Applause, applause for JetBlue

I don't fly, of course, because I want to get to my destination and if someone tries to frisk me and rifle through my belongings I'd like to believe I would have the guts to insist on a search warrant - which means I would end up in custody and fail to get to my destination on time.

But if I did fly, after the way JetBlue handled the emergency landing the other day, I think I would take a JetBlue flight if they were heading my way. This because the company did not attempt to hide from its passengers the television news coverage of the crisis on board Flight 292.

JetBlue customer Daniel Terdiman of CNET writes, "The fact that the television service was not turned off on my flight - let alone on the fight that had actually had the mechanical problems - was a surprise to some of my fellow passengers, given that airlines have long been reluctant to show movies or any other video involving airplanes in distress."

In this era of hiding ugly or even embarrassing truths from the public - the ultimate condescension - JetBlue treated its customers like grown-ups. How refreshing.

"Our general policy is not to censor the programming pretty much under any circumstance," (JetBlue spokesman Bryan) Baldwin said. "That's our general policy across the board. We provide customers information on how to make the screen dark if there's something they don't want to watch."

Putting the power into each individual's hands and not trying to force one policy on everyone - what a novel approach! Lovers of liberty everywhere should applaud JetBlue, and busybodies from arts censors to smoking banners should learn by example.

Now if only JetBlue would tell the muggers at the loading gates to go home and let customers get on board unimpeded, I might just fly again someday.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Not exactly my sentiments

An old friend who saw combat in Korea passed along one of those e-mails that begins, "Are we fighting a war on terror or aren't we? Was it or was it not started by Islamic people who brought it to our shores on September 11, 2001?" and goes on to say, in the context of "if it is a war and they did start it," the writer doesn't care if U.S. troops are doing all they can to win the war, including humiliating prisoners if it makes them talk and saves lives. I don't really want to argue with my old Marine friend, so I parse words and agree with him that if you go to war, you're supposed to go all out to win.

Early on, the writer writes stuff like "I'll start caring when Osama bin Laden turns himself in and repents for incinerating all those innocent people on 9/11," which is a sympathetic enough thought, but she goes on to say, "I'll care when the American media stops pretending that their First Amendment liberties are somehow derived from international law instead of the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights."

Whoops! Now it's time to say something instead of just hitting the "delete" button and moving on to the next forwarded message. I wrote to my friend:

I don't have a major quarrel with this lady except over this line. I don't even understand what it means. Neither the Bill of Rights nor international law "grants" anyone any rights. The Bill of Rights is a list of "inalienable rights granted by our Creator" (to borrow a phrase from another important document) that the U.S. government is prohibited from stepping on. It is very dangerous to think of these rights as something the government created, because then you are delegating to the government the right to take those rights away. Can't be done ... we agreed when we adopted the Constitution. Of course, it's being done -that's why I get so agitated about it.

Second, First Amendment liberties are not something that belong to "the American media" - it's not "their" First Amendment liberties that are at risk, it's your right to say and write what you're thinking, it's this lady's right to write this little essay and our right to distribute it to our friends and family. When people come out and say "the media shouldn't be allowed to say that," they're really saying, "the government should have the right to shut anybody up when they get out of line."

And while I don't necessarily quarrel with her about the specific treatment of prisoners, I do think we need to be extremely alarmed about the recent Supreme Court decision that said it's OK to hold a U.S. citizen indefinitely without being charged if he has ties to "enemy combatants." How do we know he has ties to enemy combatants if that hasn't been proven in a courtroom, and if you have proof of his crimes, why hasn't he been charged? It seems someone is saying they don't trust the courts to do justice and find this guy guilty - and if you don't trust the courts to do their job, you're one step away from chaos. Either your rights to a trial by jury and to know the charges against you are sacred and absolute, or we're opening the door to kangaroo courts and dictatorship.

These are scary, scary times and not because there are fricking hurricanes out there. Mostly I understand the lady's sentiments, but there are some underlying assumptions that have to be challenged.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Is America a police state?

You have to wonder about that question. The bigger question, to me, is why of 435 reps and 100 senators, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul seems to be the only one who cares about these issues. On the other hand, Paul answers that question during this brilliant 2002 floor speech:

"It reminds me of the time I was soliciting political support from a voter and was boldly put down: 'Ron,' she said, 'I wish you would lay off this freedom stuff; it's all nonsense. We're looking for a Representative who will know how to bring home the bacon and help our area, and you're not that person.' Believe me, I understand that argument; it's just that I don't agree that is what should be motivating us here in the Congress."

In arguing against creation of the Ministry of Homeland Security, Paul lists all of the reasons why stripping us of freedom here at home will not make us safer ...

"Where is all this leading us? Are we moving toward a safer and more secure society? I think not. All the discussions of these proposed plans since 9/11 have been designed to condition the American people to accept major changes in our political system. Some of the changes being made are unnecessary, and others are outright dangerous to our way of life.

"There is no need for us to be forced to choose between security and freedom. Giving up freedom does not provide greater security. Preserving and better understanding freedom can. Sadly today, many are anxious to give up freedom in response to real and generated fears."

Paul's litany is scary, and this was in 2002; remember three more years have passed since he said:

"Since September 11th, Congress has responded with a massive barrage of legislation not seen since Roosevelt took over in 1933. Where Roosevelt dealt with trying to provide economic security, today's legislation deals with personal security from any and all imaginable threats, at any cost- dollar or freedom-wise. These efforts include:
-The Patriot Act, which undermines the 4th Amendment with the establishment of an overly broad and dangerous definition of terrorism.
- The Financial Anti-Terrorism Act, which expands the government's surveillance of the financial transactions of all American citizens through increased power to FinCen and puts back on track the plans to impose "Know Your Customer" rules on all Americans, which had been sought after for years.
-The airline bailout bill gave $15 billion, rushed through shortly after 9/11.
- The federalization of all airline security employees.
-Military tribunals set up by executive order-undermining the rights of those accused- rights established as far back in history as 1215.
- Unlimited retention of suspects without charges being made, even when a crime has not been committed- a serious precedent that one day may well be abused.
- Relaxation of FBI surveillance guidelines of all political activity.
- Essentially monopolizing vaccines and treatment for infectious diseases, permitting massive quarantines and mandates for vaccinations."

Thanks to John Newman for digging this gem out of the archives. It's a long read, but then, it's been a long journey down the road into darkness.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

B.W.'s Book Report: V For Vendetta

My old friend Wally Conger is so jazzed about the upcoming film "V for Vendetta" that I had to pull the original material off the shelf and read it through again. I remember slogging through all 10 issues of the 1988 DC Comics series, and then buying the hardcover, not because I was deeply enamored of it but because I thought it was an "important" work that I needed to keep.

Alan Moore's previous mini-series triumph, "Watchmen," now, that's one of the greatest comic book stories ever produced ... and reading Miracleman #1 made me a kid again, so I knew Moore had to be up to something good with "V for Vendetta." Maybe I just wasn't ready for it.

Because it was a bit of a chore the first time through. David Lloyd's art was/is a little too muddled for me. It takes me a long time to figure out which character is which, and - perhaps because so many of the book's characters are intended to be faceless bureaucrats - it's a struggle pinning down who's who.

That, and the lead protagonist is a stone-cold maniac killer. This is not a hero as easy to like as, say, Peter Parker. It's an ugly, violent story.

But sometimes you need ugly and violent to point the way to truth and beauty, I guess. And "V for Vendetta" has some intriguing things to say about the nature of freedom and - and here's why Wally loves the story, no doubt - about what anarchy has to offer as an alternative to an oppressive central government.

"Anarchy means 'without leaders,' not 'without order,'" says the mysterious masked figure V. "With anarchy comes an age of Ordnung, of true order, which is to say voluntary order." I don't know if I buy it, but it's interesting reading and, in the end, a compelling story.

How the bejeebers anyone is going to translate it onto film, I don't know. It'll be fascinating to see how it's done ... coming early next year to a theater near you.


Monday, September 19, 2005

What's wrong with this picture

This one is from the "You gotta laugh because crying is unpleasant" department: Schools across the U.S. of A. today are observing Constitution and Citizenship Day. The day established by an act of Congress last year "requires federal agencies and schools receiving federal funds to provide training or educational programs about the U.S. Constitution to employees or students."

One valuable exercise for the kids might be to have them read through the Constitution and find the spot where the founders authorized Congress to micromanage the curriculum of local schools. Those politicians, they're always good for a laugh-so-you-don't-cry.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Who owns my words?

Who owns my words? I do, of course. An agreement where my words belong to someone else is simply unnatural. No one else cares about my words as I do. No one else put them in this particular order.

How can Michael Jackson or some corporation own the words and music of John Lennon and Paul McCartney? Certainly Capitol Records and Northern Songs provided a platform for Lennon and McCartney to be heard, but the song exists separately from that platform. It makes sense that Capitol could and should own the recording, and Northern Songs could own the published notations of the song, but the song forever belongs to Lennon and McCartney ... as Superman belongs to Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster ... as Sherlock Holmes belongs to A. Conan Doyle... as Romeo and Juliet belong to Shakespeare.

I understand copyright laws and ownership of intellectual property. I just don't believe it's right to separate creator from creation. I own my words. You may pay me for the right to reproduce my words in your venue, or we may enter an agreement where I pay you to reproduce my words with your printing press or broadcast waves or Web site, but they are still my words and always will be.

I own my words. Everything else we negotiate about my words flows from that premise. B.W. Richardson, Sept. 18, 2005

Who owns B.W. Richardson? I do, of course, not some corporation, not some government. Who am I? Ah ... that is what this is all about, now, isn't it?

'Hello Mcfly! Government caused this mess!'

Patrick Sovereign nicely sums up how the state essentially set the Gulf Coast catastrophe in motion by mismanaging the levees, building inadequate roads, maneuvering the poor into dependence on the government, prohibiting charities from entering the area to help the state's victims ...

"Even with all these failures of Government, people are seriously asking what Government can do to ensure this doesn't happen again??

"Hello Mcfly! Government caused this mess!

"Not only did they cause this mess, Government thrives on failure. ...

"Government requires things to fail to stay in business."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Not enough chaos, minimally creative

Recently on a whim, I burned myself a CD of the Beatles' classic "Revolver" album with the songs in reverse order, so that it began with the baffling "Tomorrow Never Knows," followed by "Got To Get You Into My Life" and all the way back to "Taxman." It's a brilliant album forwards and backwards, of course, and the "backwards" version tends to put its adventurousness a bit more "in your face." I reflected on "Revolver" as I tried to decide what to write about "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," the new Paul McCartney album.

It's a terribly unfair comparison, of course. But for the cover, he did put a picture of himself playing guitar in the family yard in 1962, so he must have wanted to evoke that era in some way. Sadly, it's 43 years later now. McCartney's music from the 1960s is still fresh and amazing. His new music sounds old and tired. No, that's not true, it's peppy enough in spots. It's just, well, and this is probably the worst thing you can tell a musician - the new music is bland.

If this was not PAUL MCCARTNEY, there'd be not much to recommend this album. Shortly after producing "The Beatles Anthology" materials reacquainted him with his best work, McCartney put out a pair of solid albums, the almost Beatlesque "Flaming Pie" and the early-'60s rock-and-roll throwback "Run Devil Run." But lately he's back to putting out pleasant enough little ditties that melt in your mouth but leave no aftertaste at all. Someone's knocking at the door, somebody's ringing the bell, maybe if we ignore it long enough he'll go away.

The most interesting music on the album is a bonus track that starts at the 4:10 mark of the 3:50 final song, "Anyway." It's an instrumental riff that takes off from the chord progressions of that last song and moves off into different territory. After the pat little tunes he assembled for the actual album, the encore is refreshingly experimental, but even that piece is something to write home about simply because it's different from the rest; it's certainly not going to live forever.

Lyrically, McCartney starts out with a very nice observation: "There is a fine line between recklessness and courage/It's about time you understood which road to take ..." But this album is neither reckless nor courageous. It's just - there. I was shocked a few months ago when I walked into Shop-Rite and found "Run Devil Run" on sale for $6 with the other CD cutouts. I won't be at all surprised when I find "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" there.

Comic books and philosophy

"I sometimes wonder how many radical libertarians began as Comic Book Geeks," writes Chris Matthew Sciabarra in an interesting essay called "The Comic Book Geek Revolutionaries," which quotes liberally from another interesting essay by philosophy professor Aeon Skoble called "Superhero Revisionism in Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns," which appears in a book called Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice and the Socratic Way.

You probably do need to be a comic book geek to appreciate such observations as:

"There are many important ways in which we can be led by Watchmen to rethink the superhero concept: Could anyone ever be trusted to occupy the position of a watchman over the world? In the effort "to save the world," or most of the world, could a person in the position of a superhero be tempted to do what is in itself actually and deeply evil, so that good may result? Is the Olympian perspective, whereby a person places himself above all others as a judge concerning how and whether they should live, a good and sensible perspective for initiating action in a world of uncertainty?"

Sciabarra's "Not A Blog" is an interesting blog, though I am amazed at how prolific he is. I took home the new four-disk set of "Ben-Hur" last night after learning about it from his blog - mostly, I might add, drawn by the opportunity to have the 1926 version with a stereophonic score. How the man manages to write so much and still appreciate a DVD set that will take several days for me to digest, it beats me.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Good Christian Captain Malcolm Reynolds

I've only seen two episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and I've never seen "Angel," so my entire experience with creative genius Joss Whedon is the mere 14 episodes of the "Firefly" TV series and the three installments of this summer's "Serenity" comic book, which bridges the few months between the end of the TV show and the beginning of the movie "Serenity," which opens two weeks from Friday at a theater near you and you're nuts if you miss it.

So the following may not at all be what Whedon had in mind, but it is my interpretation of what I see in "Firefly," which IMHO is right up there among the best television ever produced.

In the opening scenes of the pilot episode, also called "Serenity," Sergeant Mal Reynolds is seen leading his rapidly dwindling force in what we later learn is the Battle of Serenity Valley, one of the most crushing defeats for the Independents who dared stand up to the central Alliance that governs the system of planets and moons where we humans migrated after we used up Earth.

In what I argue is one of the most essential moments setting up Reynolds' character, perhaps the most essential moment, just before attempting a decisive action he pulls out a cross he is wearing around his neck and kisses it. Minutes later, all of the high-falutin' concepts of freedom and independence for which he is fighting are lost.

For the rest of the series, which is set six years later as the sergeant now captains an aging cargo ship around the outer planets, Reynolds appears to be an atheist. "Mind if I pray?" the preacher asks before a meal. "Only if you do it out loud," Reynolds snips back rudely. "You're welcome on my boat, preacher," he adds - "God ain't."

But I don't think Malcolm Reynolds is an atheist. I think he's a believer who is angry at a God who is real to him. No, not angry: enraged. How could this God whom he trusted and worshiped allow the evil Alliance to crush the Independents, who fought on the side of the angels? Six years have passed, and Reynolds has not forgiven God, and he cannot forgive God, for that defeat.

The atheists I know tend to look at believers with detached bemusement. Reynolds is not detached; he has a barely controlled fury when the subject of God comes up. And yet his sense of honor is untouched. He flies in a gray area of space but sees the essential things in black and white, even surrendering hard-earned cash or certain rewards when keeping them would do harm to innocent people. His faith in God may be shattered, but he has not surrendered the values he learned from God.

He is loyal to those under his care without question. When asked why he risked everything to rescue a character, the response is "You're on my crew." When pressed on the matter, he asks, "Why are we still discussing this?" He protects his crew the way he expected God to protect his squad in Serenity Valley - and he is all the more fierce in his loyalty because of how God let him down.

Mal Reynolds as played by Nathan Fillion is one of the most complex heroic characters ever to hit the small screen, and I expect he will be right at home on the larger-than-life silver screen. It's a downright miracle that Whedon had the opportunity to create a 15th adventure for Reynolds and his crew - even if Joss and Mal don't believe in miracles anymore.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Moral: Never, ever count on the government

Claire Wolfe Monday posted a link to a solid piece of work by the Boston Globe chronicling in painful detail what the hell went wrong in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "It is, of course, almost entirely a chronology of government failure," she notes. It's nine Web pages of painful detail. The clear lesson is that everyone who counted on local, state and/or federal government to come to their rescue, instead of taking care of business themselves, was bitterly disappointed. Or dead.

You have to wonder what made so many people think the government was better equipped to handle their personal safety than their own selves.

The incompetence of bureaucrats and the inability of government to be a humanitarian agency was never more obvious.

"...if the increasingly panicked news reports were right, and this was the deadly hurricane that people had been predicting all these years - city officials expected that federal and state officials had their back, that troops had been mobilized somewhere north of the Crescent City, supplies waiting. But that was only an assumption ...

'''I expected State Police,' said (Jay) Batt, who was elected to the City Council almost four years ago. 'I expected the National Guard. I expected the Marines. I expected federal support, bringing in Black Hawk helicopters, basically locking down parts of the city in turmoil. What I didn't expect was total anarchy.'"

That last, of course, is an insult to true anarchists. But I digress. Batt let his constituents down because he figured someone bigger than he would arrive immediately from a thousand miles away take care of his problem.

Wolfe points out that Gov. Blanco's request for help from the president is astonishing in its ignorance and greed - or is it so astonishing when we have let our government sink to the point where ignorance and greed are values to be rewarded?

"... the request did not include what the residents of the Gulf Coast would need most in the coming days: food, water, transportation to higher ground, and thousands of National Guard troops to ferry life-saving supplies and medical personnel and to restore order.

"Instead, she sought access to several federal assistance programs focusing almost solely on the economic recovery that would be required in the aftermath of the storm. She asked for disaster unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, and Small Business Administration loans for the survivors - all critical assistance, but far from the cavalry that would be needed in the immediate aftermath of the storm."

The people who fared best along the Gulf Coast are those who took their lives into their own hands and got outta Dodge. The people who fared the worst are those who committed their lives into the hands of government saviors. The panic on the streets of New Orleans is the end result of creating a culture of dependence, where survival requires a government check, a government shelter, a government teat.

Every so often a citizen remembers what it's all about and tells an insolent government employee, "Knock that off, friend, I pay your salary." Anything you receive from the government begins with the sweat of your brow, which is converted into wages, which is confiscated in taxes and then severely diluted before being returned to you. You're better off in almost every case depending first on the sweat of your brow rather than on the fruits of your labor as strained through machines in Washington, your state capital and City Hall. That's especially true when your very life depends on it.

This point has been made by many observers in recent days, but it is so true it bears repeating again and again: No doubt there will be calls for greater government involvement in future disasters, but that is a call for more of what went tragically wrong this time. The need is for fewer shackles on private groups and individuals - the American Red Cross and Salvation Army know how to do their jobs, and requiring them to follow the orders of government boneheads cost lives. The city officials who opened a shelter in the Superdome, in the middle of the disaster zone, made a bonehead mistake - but the state and federal officials who refused to let the Red Cross into the dome to help those people are simply criminals.

The moral of the story: Never, ever depend on the government to save your life. The sad fact is that no one cares about your life, and the lives of your loved ones, more than you do, and when disaster is imminent you must take charge of your safety and theirs. Waiting for the government to rescue you is suicide.

At least reporters got their guns back ...

There's something scurrying around in the back of my mind, something about "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," but maybe I had a dream where that was the law or something.

A New Orleans Times-Picuyne reporter writes about life covering the aftermath and mentions how police catalogued, removed and then returned all of their guns.

"They took all our information and bid us a good day and then sauntered off to retrieve a dead guy on a front porch down the street.

"Then the California Highway Patrol -- the CHiPs! -- came and demanded we turn over our weapons.

"What are you going to do? We were certainly outnumbered so we turned over the guns. Then, an hour later, they brought them back. With no explanation.

"Whatever. So here we are. Just another day at the office."

"Whatever"? What are you going to do?? Maybe after the storm passes you write a story about how the cops disarmed you and left you in a potentially hostile environment, and you put this outrage in the lead of your story instead of burying it near the bottom and dismissing it with "Whatever." The guy is right when he describes himself as a wuss; more accurately, he's dangerously ignorant.

I know, I know, I'm the Gandhi guy who thinks there's always a nonviolent alternative. But I'm not interested in denying the rights of people to defend themselves.

The confiscation of guns from peaceful, law-abiding citizens has people like cartoonist Scott Bieser and Claire Wolfe and James Leroy Wilson wondering if it's time to start re-reading the Declaration of Independence and rewriting it to suit the new resistance. This is not the rule of law; this is the breakdown of law.

As a friend of mine who's wiser than he realizes wrote me last night, "So, ideally we want to live by Gandhi's words, but realistically if we want our freedom and liberty restored we may have to go with Jefferson." A scary and daunting thought, but it beats "whatever."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Gandhi's personal mission statement

Sometimes a personal slap upside the head comes in the most unexpected places.

After dabbling around the edges and not using my Franklin Planner to, well, plan, this morning I thought I'd review some of the instruction sections and get serious about using this little device that I spend 40-50 bucks a year on. There's more to using a planner than just keeping track of your appointments, doncha know.

My eyes had started glazing over -- prioritize, urgent/non-urgent, plan weekly, plan daily, yeah, yeah, yeah, and then I came across several examples of "personal mission statements." There, they included Mahatma Gandhi's "Resolution," which I recognized from deep in my long-ago memory. It's a thought that would well serve anyone who wants to do something useful with his/her life:

Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

* I shall not fear anyone on Earth.

* I shall fear only God.

* I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.

* I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.

* I shall conquer untruth by truth.

* And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.

That's one darn complete personal mission statement, especially that last line, because if you set out to fearlessly stand for truth and refuse to submit to injustice while bearing no ill will toward anyone (which includes those who perpetrate injustice), you'd better steel yourself for it to hurt a little.

The time since I last encountered Gandhi's "Resolution" can be measured in decades. I'm going to use the wonder of modern technology, e.g., my handy-dandy computer printer, to ensure that I encounter these words on a daily basis. I see just the spot on my wall for it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Reporter harrassed on New Orleans street

"I did not actually count the number of automatic weapons pointed at me, but there were at least five, and I was certain they were all locked and loaded, or whatever that military phrase is signifying that a gun is ready to blow a hole in somebody ...

"The Army has been patrolling this street for a week, and they know what's going on here. All the police had to do was ask them, and they would have known everything they needed to know about this street."

A San Francisco Chronicle reporter writes of being surrounded by armed forces who treated him like a criminal even though they knew he was in the yard of a home where 17 journalists were staying, covering the police state of New Orleans.

Perhaps most chilling was this sentence: "Hearst Corp. hired six armed military contractors, led by former Navy SEAL Chris White, to protect the house and journalists, presumably from looters, but also from arrest by police or the military."

Now newspapers feel compelled to hire armed guards to protect their reporters from forces of the U.S. government? Anyone else wonder what's wrong with this picture?

Tucker 1994-2005

Tucker was one of the only two three-week-old German shepherd puppies that were left after the local Humane Society intercepted a couple of well-meaning kids who were going through the neighborhood giving them away. We bottle-fed them until they could lap the formula up on their own, and gave them shots and saline solution when they contracted the dread parvovirus. When it was time to let them go for adoption, I was not going to let go of the little guy who liked to nestle on my chest and give me puppy kisses (the latter habit he never gave up, and I never discouraged him).

I wanted to name him Studebaker but my then-wife didn't think naming him after an automobile was such a great idea. Naming him Tucker instead was my quiet rebellion, and it turns out the name fit better anyway. The parvo medicine saved their lives but stunted the puppies' growth, so Tuck was always a little guy for a German shepherd, usually a mere 50-60 pounds.

He's been feeling the effects of old age for a while, so when he started having trouble breathing Sunday night, I knew the trauma of packing him into the car for a trip to the vet would just speed the process and frighten him needlessly, so we just sat with him and kept him as comfortable as we could. He wasn't in pain; he's a whiny dog and he would have whined if he was really hurting. About three hours later he stretched out and gave up the ghost.

Lots to write about today, but it'll keep. I don't feel much like writing today; thanks for understanding.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

B.W.'s Book Report: 'Never Let Me Go'

You are a typical teenager growing up at an exclusive, secluded school. It's an academy for a special group of children who are being raised for a special purpose.

I bought "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro based on the description of the plot that I read in the book club flier. The description spelled out for me just what is special about these young people. It became clear to me as I read the book that I wasn't supposed to know that; I was supposed to come to a realization about their special purpose slowly, as the story unfolded.

As an experiment, I loaned the book to a friend who had enjoyed Ishigoro's "The Remains of the Day" but knew nothing about this novel. The book's surprise came as a complete surprise to her. And she loved the book, too.

Much as the publicity about "The Truman Show" a few years back explained the film's secret, the book club robbed me of the surprise. Or did it?

Here's the thing: I would not have purchased the book if I didn't know it is a science fiction novel about an alternate present-day reality. I can't say they robbed me of something I otherwise would not have experienced, so I forgive the book club.

On the other hand, I just told you only part of the secret, without revealing the nature of the special academy. Seems there's a middle ground there somewhere.

Bottom line: I read "Never Let Me Go" last winter, and when I found it on my book shelf this morning, I had a rush of good feeling about this gentle, haunting, extremely well-written novel. It took just a quick glance through the pages to remember how much I cared about Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, and why. This book will linger in your heart for a long time.


A break in the action

Vache Folle over at the St. George blog decided to take some time off to think about some of the nifty toys he remembers from his childhood. Seems like a terrific thing to do on a Saturday morning. We'll be back with more thoughts about how we're going to hell in a handbasket after this important message.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What the hell is happening in New Orleans?

My journey started with a casual visit to Freeman, Libertarian Critter, where the Critter had posted a harrowing first-person story of two paramedics stranded in New Orleans and their attempts to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, which were repeatedly rebuffed by out-of-control cops - or were they out of control? By the time you reach the end of their story, it almost seems like the official plan was to let people go hungry, get sick and die.

"What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, 'stealing' boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded ...

"We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, 'I swear to you that the buses are there' ...

"As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move ...

"Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, 'Get off the fucking freeway.' A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water. Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of 'victims' they saw 'mob' or 'riot.' We felt safety in numbers. Our 'we must stay together' was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups."

Reading that story led me to entire collections here and here of incidents where needed help was available for these people but turned away without explanation. What's going on here?

What is happening? and why? It appears to be a police state run amok, a disaster made worse by uniformed hooligans who were supposed to be helping. And why do I suspect that when these officers are called to answer for their barbarism, the response will be, "Ve vere chust followink orders"?

UPDATE: Claire Wolfe has posted a very nice analysis from Reason Online about why usually people react to disasters with greater cooperation and what went wrong this time. I don't know why the authors of the "Get off the Freeway" piece are identified as "liberal activists," however. Does that make it less likely they're telling the truth?

What I'm going to do when I grow up

My friend John Newman is starting to get irritated with me again. He's one of the small handful of folks who know my life story and the reasons I started the Montag blog. (Do you know this is the first time I realized that rhymes? But I digress.) Every couple of months he gets tired of my e-whining and send me a note that says, in effect, "Either live with the status quo or get on with the next phase of your life, or both. But quit whining."

Once upon a time I took a wild chance, quit my job and launched a new enterprise. But after a month I started second-guessing myself, and I had trouble going out in the morning to do my enterprising thing. That's when I blundered into a book called "Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts" by Peter McWilliams. (Yes, medicinal marijuana buffs, that Peter McWilliams.) The book inspired me to get off my buts and get off my butt. For the next five months I had the greatest adventure of my life with that enterprise. It did not succeed. But it did! I had reinvented myself in the public's eyes, and while that career move didn't work, it opened doors to another career move that made me more successful than I have ever been. Whenever I reach a crossroads since then, I haul out McWilliams' marvelous book.

Obviously I'm at a crossroads or I wouldn't be writing about this. Actually, and this is why John yelled at me again, I've been at a crossroads for more than a year. I have three, four or five ideas for great adventures, but I also have the best job I've ever had - one that is financially and psychologically rewarding but which also carries corporate shackles that allow me to fly but not as high as I'd like. The job and the adventures are mutually exclusive - a condition which, by the way, is nearly identical to that which led me to my successful-but-not-successful adventure once upon a time.

"In one sense you and I are alike," John wrote me last night. "We have a limited amount of time to make a difference - we have more days behind us than ahead of us - so what do we do? I will leave you to answer that question for both of us."

What I'm going to do when I grow up: I'm going to have some adventures. Tonight, when I return home from my comfortable corporate job, I'm going to stop "just thinking" about these adventures and commit them to paper. If I have time tonight after I write them down, I will get started on one or more of them. Otherwise I'll get started first thing in the morning. The corporate job will keep me from going as fast as I can, but it will pay the bills in the meantime.

Why am I writing this here? So that if months continue to slip by and there's no sign of change, my friends and readers with memories will ask, "Hey, B.W. or whatever your name is, how's it coming with those adventures?" The fear of having to say, "Oh, I haven't done much about my dreams" will be a motivation for me.

And this particular Montag blog entry will either be an exciting turning point or an embarrassment on my way to T.S. Eliot's famous life of "quiet desperation." Either way, thanks for stopping by while I'm on the ground floor. It's up to me to determine which way the elevator goes from here. God help me!

Better to have a window and a suit

Once again Walter Williams says it all in a column called "Economic lunacy."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pass the American Freedoms Clarification Bill

The best trick, or perhaps I should say the most sobering exercise, to bring our problem to people's attention was when a libertarian group somewhere went around an Independence Day festival with petitions asking people to support the "American Freedoms Clarification Bill" or some such. My recall is they got fewer than half of the people they approached to sign it, and the declines were accompanied with commments like "Wow, that's pretty radical" and "Sorry, I don't believe in that" and even "Bush won, get over it," that last being a bit silly since this bill has been very necessary for a lot longer than the last five years.

The scariest reaction was from an off-duty cop who said, "I don't know if I can support this, because it would interfere with my ability to do my job properly."

The 10 tenets of the "American Freedoms Clarification Bill" were as follows and, for the record, I think a) it oughtta pass and thank God it did once upon a time, b) I have my doubts whether we could get it past Congress and a majority of the states today, c) the fact that the group found so many people unaware of what they were reading is a damning indictment of the U.S. education system.

It might be fun -- or it might be depressing -- to mass-produce those petitions and leave them out on the counter at our businesses, pass them around at work, and see what the reaction is. When people realize what they've been refusing to sign, it might make them think a little. Maybe. Sorta. You gotta hope they would ...

1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

2. A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

3. No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons,houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

5. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed $20, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of common law.

8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

9. The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What next? Does it matter?

I've been trying to decide what to think about the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist Saturday night. It's now up to The Emperor to designate a second new justice and, of course, a new chief justice.

In recent weeks, of course, I've been tied up in wondering what difference it makes, if at all. The "liberal" justices handed us the eminent domain ruling, which confirms that you have the right to your private property only unless and until the government finds someone who can make better use of it. The "conservative" justices handed us a pile of stuff like the McCain-Feingold First Amendment Repeal Act. Seems like we're damned no matter who gets appointed.

In matters Constitutional, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul remains my guiding light. He put it all in perspective a couple of weeks ago when he wrote about the nomination of Judge John Roberts:

"It’s sad that so many Americans see their freedoms as dependent on a single Supreme Court justice. Federal judges were never meant to wield the tremendous power that they do in modern America. Our Founders would find it inconceivable that a handful of unelected, unaccountable federal judges can decide social policy for the entire nation ... [T]he Supreme Court is not supreme over the other branches of government; it is supreme only over lower federal courts. If Americans wish to be free of judicial tyranny, they must at least develop basic knowledge of the judicial role in our republican government. The present state of affairs is a direct result of our collective ignorance."

What next? In a perfect world Congress would take back the power it has ceded over the years to the president and the Supreme Court, and we would have a government closer to that envisioned by the Founders, who saw these three branches checking each other's powers so that none gets out of line. Given the powers seized from the states and citizens by all three branches over the years, that is not exactly a solution to what ails us, either. But it might be a start. Might be ... if a majority of the Gang of 535 had even a fraction of Paul's respect for the Constitution.

The rebellion of the talking heads

Slate's editor has a nice report on the mainstream media's turning on the governments for which it usually serves as lapdog.

They're all missing the main point, which is that thousands died because they put their faith in government rather than take their lives into their own hands or, in the case of the sick and infirm, into the hands of someone who cares.

But at least they're recognizing the massive failure of government to react to the disaster in New Orleans. When private industry can deploy reporters and communications equipment within hours, it's clear that deploying humanitarian aid that quickly was not impossible.

Meanwhile, NBC wusses out by apologizing for Kanye West's departure from the script to ask WTF was going on.

This is serenity?

I'm horrified. What have I done?

I blithely ordered a couple of books from Amazon about the dearly departed TV series "Firefly" and the movie that it inspired, "Serenity," which hits the theaters Sept. 30, a day which can't come soon enough for me. Since discovering the series via DVD, I have become more geeked out than I have about any characters since, well, since ever. I don't recall even being this fond of the Fantastic Four, or Kirk and Spock, or Luke Skywalker, or Picard and the gang, who might otherwise be considered the usual suspects from my childhood onward. I'm just stoked.

It likely has a lot to do with where I've arrived in life, where I admire those who try to eke out a living by flying under the radar of a massive, intrusive central government - which of course is an extremely brief description of the life of the crew of the cargo ship Serenity 500 years in our future.

Artistic genius Joss Whedon, who created the series and directed the movie, explains it succinctly on the back cover of "Finding Serenity," one of my Amazon acquisitions, a collection of essays about the series edited by Jane Espenson, a talented writer who's responsible for the "Firefly" episode called "Shindig."

Whedon wrote: "You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are. If there's any kind of fiction better than that, I don't know what it is."

Buying the books just made sense while I'm counting the days to be reunited with Malcolm Reynolds and his motley crew. Yesterday, for example, I went into the local comic book shop for the first time in years and came away with the first two issues of the Dark Horse mini-series "Serenity," a story that bridges the dramatic gap between the series and the film.

It's the other book, which I ordered without carefully reading the description, that has me feeling not exactly, well, serene. "Serenity: The Official Visual Companion" is a beautiful book with lots of big photos, based on the peeks inside that I've allowed myself. Come Oct. 1, I no doubt will consider it one of my prized possessions. For now, though, it's a time bomb.

The reason lies in the description of the book on the cover: "With an introduction and the Motion Picture Screenplay by Joss Whedon."

Eeeeeek! I have carefully learned as much as I can about the movie without finding out what actually happens in it. I love the podcast "The Signal" because it's a weekly hour of Firefly conversation (including interviews with cast members and support artists) that is completely spoiler-free. And now I have the whole gorram script under my roof! Eeeeeek!

This morning I am handing the book over to my sweetie with strict instructions not to let me see it again until Sept. 30. Well, I'm going to read the first half of the book first, which includes a memo by Whedon called "A Brief History of the Universe, circa 2507 A.D." But then it's going to a special place known only to Sweetie. And I will try desperately to resist a horde of temptations.

AFTERTHOUGHT: With "Firefly," Whedon has raised perhaps the most thought-provoking question presented by a television series since "Ginger or Mary Ann?" That question, of course, is "Inara, Kaylee or Zoe?" In posting Will Conrad's drawing of actress Jewel Staite, who plays Kaylee (the "real" Kaylee weighs about 20 more pounds), I have submitted my own answer to the world.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

They saw it coming

Perhaps my most amazing discovery of the last few days, reading about Katrina, is the New Orleans Times-Picayune series from 2002 that warns in chillingly accurate detail about what could and did happen to its community.

Just reading the headlines tells you how much has been known for years:

IN HARM'S WAY: Levees, our best protection from flooding, may turn against us.

THE BIG ONE: A major hurricane could decimate the region, but flooding from even a moderate storm could kill thousands. It's just a matter of time.

EVACUATION: It's the best chance for survival, but it's a bumpy road, and 100,000 will be left to face the fury.

TEMPTING FATE: As the country becomes more crowded, the damage from natural disasters skyrockets in at-risk areas such as Louisiana's coast.

SHIFTING TIDE: The Army Corps of Engineers has made Louisiana habitable . . . but it's also caused many of the problems.

COST OF SURVIVAL: New Orleans will continue sinking and hurricanes will continue threatening us. But efforts to rebuild the areas's natural coastal protections are showing promise.

I talked with an ecologist the other day who said she remembers talking 30 years ago about how vulnerable the Gulf Coast was. I keep wondering what they were thinking 300 years ago when they looked around at this area 7 feet below sea level and said to each other, "What a lovely place for a city."

"Washing Away," which was published over a five-day period, is a remarkable piece of mainstream journalism and an example of what the big guys can do when they marshall their resources. In an era of shrinking newsrooms and bottom-line decision-making, expect to see fewer and fewer efforts like this one.

Listening to all the finger-pointing and woulda-shoulda-coulda fury that's been leveled in all directions even as desperate people were fighting for their lives, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the series sat on a shelf for three years. Probably what happened is the people in New Orleans waited for the state and federal governments to come to the rescue, when they should have either moved out or gotten down to work shoring up the shoreline.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Fats Domino survives Katrina

Odd, I suppose, that the thing that finally made the horror of New Orleans hit home for me was hearing that Fats Domino was missing. I admit I was relieved to learn tonight that he is safe and sound. What folks down there are going through remains beyond the ability of my brain to embrace it.


A friend sent this interview with Claire Wolfe that sums up so many concerns about where we're headed that I wanted to make sure you haven't missed it, either.

"I’m a middle-aged lady who has always been scrupulous about obeying the law and trying to do the right thing. And I think that’s part of the reason that all of this particularly offends me. Because I’m not a criminal. I’m not a terrorist. I am the classic law-abiding citizen ... I’m being treated as if I’m guilty. I’m being treated as if I’m a criminal, a terrorist, a dead-beat dad, or I’m going to do something bad. I think that's the federal government's attitude to all the millions of American citizens."

More and more lately, I find that when I'm trying to put my thoughts into words, Claire has already said it. A visit to her blog should be part of every sane person's everyday experience.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

It's the market, not highway robbery

First, a blast from the past: I distinctly remember some apologist for the Daddy Government Party (not to be confused with the Mommy Government Party) screaming, "If Al Gore is elected, we'll be paying $3 a gallon for gas in no time." Well, it wasn't "no time," but here we are with another bit of evidence that there ain't not a dime's worth of no difference between these guys.

Anyway: I'm not a trained economist, but I'm baffled by the number of folks who can't grasp why the price of the gasoline a store has already purchased is increased when the wholesale price goes up. Whole newspapers articles are devoted to people calling for an investigation into "price gouging," with guys saying stuff like "There's no reason for gas stations to raise prices by that much here in New Jersey ... My view is some gas stations are taking advantage of the problems caused by the hurricane."

So class, settle down a second and I'll try to explain: The gas in the big underground tank is going to run out. Mr. Gas Station Owner has just heard that to refill the big tank, he's going to have to pay $3 a gallon. If he sells the last 100 gallons he has for $2.59 a gallon, he'll have $2,590 to buy $3,000 worth of gas. So if he doesn't raise the price now, he'll be $410 short on every 100 gallons his tank holds. What would you do?

It's not highway robbery, it's how the market operates.

As usual, Walter Williams can explain it a lot better than I can:

"With the recent spike in gas prices, the government has chosen not to pursue stupid policies of the past. As a result, we haven't seen shortages. We haven't seen long lines. We haven't seen gasoline station fights and riots. Why? Because price has been allowed to perform its valuable function – that of equating demand with supply."

Williams has a few solutions more practical than having Big Daddy and Big Brother punish 7-11, like lifting the various restrictions on drilling for oil under the U.S.A. They're longer-term, but they might make a difference.

Shorter-term, well, I plan to keep the car in shape so it burns gas as efficiently as it can, slow down to the speed limit (you burn less gas at 65 than at 70), and bend over a little farther when it's time to fill up. I think I'll probably refill when the tank reaches half-full instead of almost-empty, too. No sense waiting until it's $3.49 when you can buy it for $3.29 - or whatever.