Saturday, December 31, 2005

Late-year addendum

Wouldn't ya know it, I finish off my little "Best of 2005" post and sit down the night of Dec. 30 to be blown away by a movie that deserves to be on the list.

Finding Neverland is a sweet story about how J.M. Barrie created Peter Pan after encountering a young widow and her four sons, including a youngster who has reacted to his father's death by growing up too soon.

Johnny Depp is magnificent as always, Kate Winslet for the second time this year has made me forgive her for the gawdawful Titanic (The other time was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), the actors who play the four boys are priceless, and the play-within-a-play features a terrific Peter Pan and a faithful re-creation of how people flying on stage must have electrified audiences in 1904.

And of course, I'm a sucker for hopeless love stories and anything that dramatizes the creative process. Finding Neverland doesn't knock any of the other films off of the "Best of 2005" list, but it definitely belongs in their company - even if it's really a 2004 film.

I suppose I should really add Netflix to my "Best of 2005" list - this fall we canceled HBO and Starz and signed up for Netflix with the money we saved. Seizing the power over the TV schedule has upgraded our home entertainment experience big time.

Friday, December 30, 2005

B.W.'s Best of 2005

I remember when both 1984 and 2001 were far-off exotic lands where things would be a lot different. My impression is that 2005 swept by in a blur on its way to "I can't believe it's 2006." But then I remember 1984 and 2001, and they seem like a long time ago, so maybe time is not moving as fast as I perceive.

But I didn't come down to my basement nook to wax philosophic this morning. I'd rather add my two cents to the "What was the best of 2005" musings that proliferate like mushrooms this time of year. Of course, since often I don't bump into something the same year it's produced, this will be more of a "best stuff I finally encountered" list.

Alas, I perused a mere baker's dozen of books in 2005 - so much for my resolution a couple years back to read a book a week. If they'd all been as absorbing as the first one I read in '05, maybe I'd have stuck to it better: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Neffenegger is one of the niftiest fantasy love stories I've ever bumped into. Honorable mention: The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

On the non-fiction shelf, How to Kill the Job Culture Before It Kills You by Claire Wolfe helped me in many practical ways, and it may be the single most influential book of my 2006 - although if I take my own advice and re-read Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts by Peter McWilliams, it may end up being a tie. Or maybe I'll still be a corporate clone this time next year, in which case those books will be lovely flights of fancy on my way to T.S. Eliot's life of quiet desperation.

This was the year my "all-time favorite flicks" and "all-time favorite TV shows" lists got a major shaking by one Joss Whedon. A trio of friends, all operating independently, told me I had to check out this DVD set of a canceled 2002 TV show, Firefly. I did, and I fell for it. And then Serenity hit the theaters.

Honorable mention TV shows, all discovered via DVD (I'm a little slow on the uptake): Veronica Mars, Battlestar Gallactica and (what else) Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Honorable mention movies: Whale Rider, Fantastic Four, The Notebook, King Kong. (I recognize Batman Begins and Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith as worthy and well-made films; they just didn't grab me emotionally the way I expected. And on that subject, War of the Worlds turned out to be a complete dud to my mind.)

Actually, until Whedon's world came along, 2005 was going to be most notable for shaking up my "all-time favorite music" list, which had been etched in stone for a very long time: Of course Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Born to Run were the greatest albums ever, nothing else came close - until Smile by Brian Wilson. A little asterisk there: The studio album is gorgeous, but the DVD performance is indescribably delicious. And seeing Wilson's band this summer was the greatest concert experience I've had since Springsteen in the summer of 1984 - which was a very, very long time ago.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Orwell was only 21 years off

If you've never read George Orwell's 1984 but plan to do so someday, stop right here. I'm going to write about how it ends.

After being tortured to within an inch of his life and brainwashed out of that oh-so-uncool desire for freedom, Winston Smith is assassinated while sitting in his beloved Chestnut Tree Cafe under the giant portrait of Big Brother.

"Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

Here is the problem with those who choose a life in politics in contemporary America: Washington, the various state capitals and even a great many city and town halls are infested with ignorant men and women who believe 1984 has a happy ending!

That is why, as welcome as is the recent Oakland Tribune editorial about Orwell's great novel, I have my doubts about the terrific idea contained therein: That we collect 537 copies of 1984 and send them to every member of the House and Senate, as well as the president and vice president. Hell, let's get 546 copies and throw in the Supreme Court justices - although they seem to be most in need of copies of the U.S. Constitution.

I've just cited the main problem with the idea: These fools think learning to love Big Brother is a good thing. My other problem with the idea goes back to one of my other favorite novels, the one that inspired the title of this blog, Fahrenheit 451.

If we give away 537 copies of 1984, that's 537 copies of that important novel thrown down the memory hole, as good as burned to a crisp. 537 copies that could very well be given to someone who will actually read it, 537 people who may take it to heart and stand up and say, "Excuse me, but our very own supposedly free nation is described in this dystopian novel. What are we going to do about this?"

I'm not giving away my copy of 1984; it's one of the very small handful of novels I have read more than once and intend to read and re-read again. But what the heck, maybe I'll buy one and send it to the Oakland Tribune, or maybe even direct to my congressman. Even if only 1 percent of the imperial legislature reads and understands it, that's six more lawmakers with a conscience than we had before.

Blame Christians if you like, but don't blame Jesus

Since embracing libertarianism and the concept of limited government, I have had to live with misconceptions about what those philosophies mean, and I have had to cringe over the bad behavior and silly comments of those who also claim to be libertarians and believers in limited government. The "we need this police-state agency to protect our liberty and our system of limited government" types are the most aggravating.

I had plenty of practice in defending my philosophy's bad reputation caused by the stupid acts of so-called fellow believers who don't really get it. For nearly 24 years, I have been a born-again Christian.

Yep, I know Christianity was used as an excuse to launch the Crusades, and that today it's being used to justify everything from the death penalty to bans on gay marriage to wars. And I suppose it's presumptious of me to declare that such political and military actions are based on a misreading of Jesus. But they are.

The Jesus who has lived in my heart these 24 years (and has no doubt sometimes been appalled at the living conditions in there) is a source of peace beyond understanding, a source of freedom, not wars and manmade limits. He was a man who did not tolerate intolerance, who boiled Jewish law down to love of God and love of people - all people, even the hated Samaritans and women caught in adultery. "Love your enemies." You don't slaughter those you love.

I don't go out of my way to talk about this little corner of my beliefs, and I'm certainly not interested in converting anyone. I suppose that goes against Christian theology - the Great Commission, don't ya know. But all I do is tell folks, if you detect peace or good will in me and you're curious about it, check out Jesus, because he's the major source. The flaws are mine; the good stuff belongs to Jesus.

Same with Christianity. All that bad stuff that's been done in the name of religion? That's what you get when you follow what corrupt leaders say instead of checking the source. The only army out there that actually does what he said is the Salvation Army, the one that's feeding and clothing the poor and needy. The good stuff belongs to Jesus.

I think for many Christians, the ones who recognize the difference Jesus has made in their lives for the good, this is why neutering Christmas and Christianity grates so much. Just as the police-state libertarian doesn't get it, the angry and judgmental Christian is the one who doesn't get it. The truth sets you free; anyone who tells you different hasn't found the truth quite yet.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas (and etc.) to all

Thank you, Tom Ender and Ender's Review, for highlighting Claire Wolfe's perfect Christmas musing, "O Little Town of Hardyville."

"We kindle Yule logs and illuminate Christmas trees. We string sparkling ornaments around our houses. We light menorahs. We sing of stars in the east. We dance around bonfires. We light candles on altars. All to say, 'The world is dark now, but glorious radience will return.'" ...

"Merry Christmas.

"Happy Hannukah.

"Gud Yule.

"Freedom on earth."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The face of Faust

I'm surprised to be troubled by the decision this week by Johnny Damon, the blue-collar symbol of the Boston Red Sox triumph over the hated New York Yankees, to sign a contract to play for the Yankees - and shave and cut his long hair to conform to the Yankees' phony cleancut image.

After all, it's just another symptom of why I stopped caring about baseball a long time ago. Baseball has become a job played by free agents who follow the money, and maybe it was an illusion that these teams ever were connected to their communities or that the players had some loyalty to them. After all, the owners could trade them to another town at a moment's notice - if management isn't loyal to you (and the Red Sox wouldn't pony up the cash to keep Damon), why should you be loyal to management?

But diehard fans remain loyal to their teams anyway. Maybe we're attracted to the human drama, the soap opera, and people follow the Red Sox (for example) to see where the story leads next. Understanding all this and having lost interest to the point where I can't tell you the name of a single player on my once-beloved Mets' roster, I still retain a passionate hatred for the Yankees. Go figure.

So it bugs me, having awakened from my disinterest long enough to watch the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004, to see the raggedy Damon sell his soul to and cut his hair for the slick devil Yanks.

It's probably because it stirs some soul-searching that's been lingering under my surface for a couple of years. Having spent seven years of my career working for a family company that was trying to compete with a corporate giant, I and my staff had the rug pulled out from under us when the family sold its company to the giant.

Having sworn to the depths of my soul that I would never work for the behemoth, I walked into an all-company meeting one morning to learn that since midnight (appropriately enough), I'd been working for the behemoth.

Because I like the money, the work and my staff, I stayed on rather than follow my instinct to flee the darkness, and I discovered that working for the evil empire is not as bad as it sounded from the outside. The principled corner of my soul keeps looking for another way to make a living, but not that hard.

So maybe seeing a clean-shaven Johnny Damon in New York Yankees pinstripes reminds too much me of looking in the mirror. Damon has followed the money, even though it comes from the evil empire. And we'll both sleep well this Christmas Eve in our comfy imperial-subsidized beds. I have no doubt now that most nights, Faust slept well too.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Returning to the first meeting between Malcolm Reynolds and The Operative in this year's hands-down freedom film fest winner, Serenity.

"I've seen your war record," says the Operative, brilliantly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. "I know how you must feel about the Alliance," which crushed the forces of independence at the critical Battle of Serenity Valley.

"You really don't," Reynolds replies.

The Operative, and I in the audience, interpreted this response as meaning the depths of his hatred for the Alliance go beyond imagination. But writer-director Joss Whedon has a different idea - one that goes back to Reynolds' line early on: "War's been over for a long time. We're all just folk now."

I mentioned the next exchange the other day: The Operative tells Reynolds he can't beat the Alliance, and the response is, "I got no need to beat you. I just want to go my way."

Taken as a whole, Reynolds' actual feeling for the Alliance (confirmed by Whedon) is not blind hatred but indifference. He just wants to live his life as free a man as he can be - which is why he avoids the "civilized" inner worlds and makes his living in the less regulated but wild and woolier outer planets. The simmering unresolved anger we feel throughout the film (and, earlier, the TV series Firefly) is not about being defeated by the Alliance but the betrayal of the Independents' leaders, who ordered him to surrender instead of coming to his assistance in Serenity Valley.

There's a reason a cliche's a cliche: It is a truth that is told repeatedly until the meaning is almost lost. But Malcolm Reynolds has the courage to change the things he has the power to change, the serenity to accept the things he can't, and the wisdom to know the difference. The Operative's miscalculation of Reynolds is all wrapped up in his false assumption that Reynolds is consumed by the passion of hatred.

An examination of the screenplay, which is published in Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, reveals one exchange from this crucial scene was left on the cutting room floor: Referring to the central chase of the film, The Operative says, "I need her, Captain. River is - my purpose and I will gather her to me. The brother as well. Whatever else happens is incidental - in the greater scheme."

"Why is it," Reynolds replies, "that the greater scheme always makes everything not that great?"

Whedon calls this the dark underbelly of utopia - whenever someone tries to impose a greater scheme on us folk, the result is an assault on our freedom to live our lives in peace.

Perhaps in the Serenity Prayer, and in Serenity the movie, lie the answers to maintaining one's sanity in a world where the boss makes you pee in a cup and monitors your e-mail, where wanting to board an airplane requires you to submit to invasive searches of your person and property, where powerful people from Washington on down to City Hall - or rather small people who think they're powerful - desire to micromanage your life in the name of a greater scheme.

I don't fly anymore, for example, because I understand it's something I can't change: My fellow flyers want to be mugged and invaded because they believe it will make the flight more safe. Fair enough. I'll use another method to go my way - at least until I find a way to change my fellow travelers' attitude.

The serenity to accept the things I can't change is the easy part. The thing that grates a free man is when he accepts the things that he can change but has neither the wisdom to recognize that nor the courage to do something about it.

In the film, Malcolm Reynolds and his crew get wisdom. They always had the courage. Hiding in plain sight, in what appears to be a simple action adventure movie, is this inspirational message for freedom lovers. It turns out Serenity is not an ironic name for the spaceship or this fast-paced film after all. It's perfect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

'What's the big deal? Everybody does it'

This should not surprise anyone: At least two other recent presidents have issued executive orders authorizing illegal wiretaps against U.S. citizens.

Drudge reports:

"Clinton, Feb. 9, 1995: 'The Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order.' ...

"Washington Post, July 15, 1994: Extend not only to searches of the homes of U.S. citizens but also -- in the delicate words of a Justice Department official -- to 'places where you wouldn't find or would be unlikely to find information involving a U.S. citizen ... would allow the government to use classified electronic surveillance techniques, such as infrared sensors to observe people inside their homes, without a court order.' ...

"Jimmy Carter signed executive order on May 23, 1979: 'Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order.'"

Obviously these are being dredged up to prove George W. Bush is doing nothing that previous presidents haven't done, so what's the big deal? The big deal, of course, is that just because previous presidents jumped off the constitutional cliff doesn't mean it was OK.

This is simply further proof that the assault on our liberties is a bipartisan cooperative effort, and replacing one party's enemies of freedom with the other's will not save the republic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The best film of the year

The civilized man who wants to force his view of a better world on his rough-hewn opponent warns, gently and compassionately, "I have to hope you understand: You can't beat us."

The man who'd rather live free in the world as it is replies, "I got no need to beat you. I just want to go my way."

A quick moment that is gone before the profundity of the exchange can sink in. One of many such moments in the slam-dunk no-doubt best movie of this year, heck, the best movie of most years, Serenity - which arrives on DVD today.

Malcolm Reynolds has become worn and bitter in the years since he fought in a bloody war for independence from the Alliance that rules the planets with a civilized but iron hand. The bitterness grows from the Independents' crushing surrender in the Battle of Serenity Valley. In his disillusionment Reynolds just wants to go his way, eking out a living by hook or by crook as the owner of an independent cargo ship, which he has named Serenity. Mostly he's content to earn his living by flying under the radar of the Alliance, until ...

... until he discovers the depth of the horrors being committed in the name of the Alliance-led better world. He must decide whether to go his way or try to force the Alliance to stand down and leave its citizens alone. He finally realizes he has no choice - he must fight for his right to go his way unimpeded.

Before we settled on the Stars and Stripes, one of the memorable flags of the United States of America depicted a snake and the incription, "Don't Tread On Me." The message was that free men are like poisonous snakes - harmless until you step on them, and then they bite and teach you about their venom.

Serenity is the story of a free man and an attempt to tread on him. It is a story about the cost of freedom. Ultimately it is the story of the triumph of free men, a triumph that feels as shaky as it feels triumphant.

Many TV series and films have featured snappy writing, terrific acting and direction, and memorable characters and images. But Serenity and its predecessor, the beautiful but short-lived TV series Firefly, have something more: A message about the hard costs and glorious benefits of liberty. And that, above all, is why the story of Malcolm Reynolds is the best damn story ever shown on screen.

May America and the world discover this story and begin to shape a future where free people live in peace one with another.

Oh yeah. It's also funny and the best damn adventure ride in years. Rent the darn thing, or accept the inevitable and buy it, because you'll want to see it over and over. I love these characters, I love this film, I love the TV series - I have to believe you will, too.

Bovard: USAPATRIOT renewal tramples free speech

In case someone you know needs a short-and-to-the-point explanation of why USAPATRIOT is a blight on America, try Jim Bovard.

"People still have the right to free speech - as long as no one hears their words or sees their signs."

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Abolish the FCC

If, by some peculiar hiccup in the fabric of the universe, I were put in a position of some power in the federal government, one of my first acts would be to abolish the Federal Communications Commission, the agency formed to crush the freedom of speech and the press in the electronic media.

Patrick Sovereign explains how Howard Stern's jump to Sirius is a blow against the empire.

"To be totally honest I have only listened to Howard Stern maybe twice but that is my choice which is exactly the point here.

"The Government has no right ( and I don't give flying flip what the FCC says) to tell you what you can and cannot listen to or watch for that matter. The Government is not your father and it is NOT your mother and it's about time people start taking responsibility for their own and more importantly the lives of their children.

"If Howard Stern says something that offends you or you find in poor taste then CHANGE THE FREAKIN CHANNEL!"

Auction for a good cause

I haven't mentioned the auction for Walter Bark before because I figure the small readership of this modest little blog is already aware of it, but it's such a neat thing - and maybe you haven't heard about it - so here's the scoop.

The bidding had advanced beyond my means before I looked for the first time - but maybe you're able to push it farther in these last 24 hours.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Small victories are better than none

Well, the renewal of USAPATRIOT has received at least a temporary setback, but over at, Andrew P. Napolitano explains why we still have a large hole to dig out of. And the hounds have been unleashed against the Senators who voted for liberty; the enemies of freedom may yet find a way to renew their assault on Americans in the name of fighting terrorism - and/or they may simply ignore the law if the sunset holds.

How deep is the hole? Napolitano says the feds started digging as early as 1977:

Congress once respected the Fourth Amendment until it began cutting holes in it. Before Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1977, Americans and even non-citizens physically present here enjoyed the right to privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. That Amendment, which was written out of a revulsion to warrants that let British soldiers look for any tangible thing anywhere they chose, specifically requires that the government demonstrate to a judge and the judge specifically find the existence of probable cause of criminal activity on the part of the person whose property the government wishes to search. The Fourth Amendment commands that only a judge can authorize a search warrant.

The attack on our freedom continued all the way through passage of USAPATRIOT and will be permanently enshrined in law if/when the reluctant Senators are turned. How can this happen in the United States of America? Napolitano explains:

"The unfortunate answer to these questions is the inescapable historical truth that those in government – from both parties and with a few courageous exceptions – do not feel constrained by the Constitution. They think they can do whatever they want. They have hired vast teams of government lawyers to twist and torture the plain meaning of the Fourth Amendment to justify their aggrandizement of power to themselves. They vote for legislation they have not read and do not understand. Their only fear is being overruled by judges. In the case of the Patriot Act, they should be afraid. The federal judges who have published opinions on the challenges to it have all found it constitutionally flawed."

The article is must reading. Another Napolitano work worth reviewing is over at the Federal Observer, recounting his fight against the Clinton administration's assaults on freedom and including a very scary account of Janet Reno's behavior as a Miami prosecutor.

Meanwhile, back in the blogosphere ... a number of musings have appeared in recent days about the nature of freedom on an individual level, and the theme is that liberty is not an external thing that can be granted or taken away by governments, but rather a frame of mind. Just as "you are as old as you feel," so "you are as free as you believe."

Over at "Human Advancement," a new blog to me, author Kyle (can't find his last name, sorry) writes real freedom from the state can only happen within:

"Once that private freedom is achieved, no revolution or anything else outside of yourself will really change anything that counts. The real revolution will already have been won, elections won't matter, avoidance will be superfluous, and defiance will no longer be an overt act, it will simply mean that it never crosses your mind to comply."

It's fascinating, because I've been trying to put similar thoughts together for quite a few days. So, apparently, has Claire Wolfe:

"It's been a week of synchronicities. Of multiple people considentally bearing the same very fundamental messages (often having no idea they're doing so). Of random contacts turning out to be linked in a web of connections. Of signposts all pointing in the same direction."

I think Kyle is on to something profound, something that could move America back towards the right track faster and more completely than any wailing and politicking. To put it far too simplistically, it all comes back, I think, to Patrick McGoohan's Prisoner declaring in no uncertain terms, "I am not a number - I am a free man." I'll continue mulling and get back to you on this.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jackson's 'King Kong': Flawed but brilliant

The world of Middle Earth exists in the minds and hearts of those who have read and loved J.R.R. Tolkein's fantasy masterpiece - and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy captured its spirit as well as it probably ever will be. The films are an awesome homage to the source material and a fabulous entertainment - but watching the three movies is not quite as thrilling as reading the original adventures.

I have to say the same applies to Jackson's latest triumphant adaptation, King Kong. This is a magnificent film, an awesome homage to the 1933 classic, and a fabulous entertainment - but as much as I wanted it to be, it is not quite as thrilling as the immortal source material.

Don't get me wrong: You have to run, not walk, to the theater and see King Kong as soon as you can. This is one great theatrical experience. Jackson even improves on the original in one major way: The bond between Ann Darrow (played spectacularly by Naomi Watts) and the big ape has never been portrayed as realistically. It's not a sensual or sexual love these two share - anyone who has ever bonded with a pet or other animal will recognize the love between Ann and Kong.

But Jackson loves the story so much he can't let it go. The movie is about a half-hour too long. It takes too long to get to Skull Island (there are a few too many scenes depicting what a long voyage it is), and it takes too long to get off Skull Island (there are a small handful too many close encounters with icky creatures, they finally grow repetitive, and one scene involving a machine gun and giant insects is simply ludicrous). Only the final act in New York City left me completely spellbound and not shifting in my seat. It's a film begging for a more brutal editor - but the good stuff more than makes up for the clunky scenes.

This is a hell of a film.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

News in the news

"Sen. John McCain and President Bush's national security adviser met early Wednesday in hopes of reaching a compromise on the senator's proposed ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of foreign terror suspects." Link

I thought we were the good guys. Why are we having a conversation over whether the good guys should use torture as an interrogation method?


House ready, Senate balks at renewing USAPATRIOT

"About a dozen Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are complaining that the Patriot Act gives government too much power to investigate people's private transactions, including bank, library, medical and computer records. They also say it doesn't place enough limits on the FBI's use of National Security Letters, which compel thirds parties to produce those documents during terrorism investigations.

"Senate Democrats joined by some libertarian-leaning Republicans want to extend the expiring provisions of the law by three months to give Congress time to add more protections against what they say are excessive police powers." Link

So there about 12 patriots left in the Senate. More than I expected, actually. That's somewhat encouraging, but they're battling in an environment where the "watchdog press" puts their concerns in the 13th paragraph of an alarmist story that spends the first dozen paragraphs emphasizing concerns that "the nation's safety could be endangered if the Senate doesn't follow suit."

Something funny, and something not so funny

Washington Post humor columnist Gene Weingarten takes on Bazooka Joe and provides more chuckles than Joe usually does.

The link was provided by Radley Rako as a break from his coverage of the Cory Maye case, the tragic story of a Mississippi man who shot and killed one of several armed men who burst into his house at 11:30 p.m. Awakened from his sleep by the commotion, Maye grabbed his gun.

"Maye fired three times in rapid succession. After the third shot, the remaining members of the task force shouted 'police!' and entered the apartment. At this point, Maye dropped his gun, put up his hands, and surrendered."

Now he's on death row.

As awful as the death of Officer Ron Jones was, seems to me that executing a man for defending his property (and his young daughter!) against unknown intruders is the textbook example of "cruel and unusual punishment." Oh, there I go again, talking as if the Bill of Rights means something in contemporary America. Silly me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Freedom! Forever! and on film

OK, now I'm starting to be convinced. Wally Conger found some reviews of an early screening of the V for Vendetta film that make it sound very much like the relentlessly brutal screed against the totalitarian state has been interpreted onto the screen intact - not just nearly intact, but, as one reviewer wrote, "They made the comic book."

This would be huge for those of us who believe our society has willingly gone along with a transition to an Orwellian dystopia, where we trust the state to protect us from mostly-mythical dangers in exchange for chains and cages. V for Vendetta the graphic novel, and now perhaps the film, holds a mirror up and forces us to see the chains whose existence we cheerfully deny.

The theme is aptly summed up in the slogan posted on the film's Web site: "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." Boiled down to its barest essentials, the Bill of Rights has the same theme.

This promising news comes within days of the Dec. 20 arrival of the DVD of Serenity, another film that offers up a vision of a benevolent-appearing central government that serves up horrors while attempting to force "a better world" on its unwilling and unwitting victims. The tone of Joss Whedon's masterpiece is much lighter than the Alan Moore graphic novel, but the adventure of Malcolm Reynolds has much in common thematically: Using the brute force of the state to impose a social vision on the citizenry can only end in disaster for individual freedom.

The stories offer different solutions. For all of the violence in the film, Reynolds achieves victory in the end through nonviolent means - trusting that a fully informed public will do the right thing. If V for Vendetta truly makes it onto the screen intact, the solution will be a bit messier.

We can argue for a very long time which approach is more effective for the cause of freedom. But the fact that both films exist is cause for celebration and hope.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

R.W. Bradford, 58

Being assigned as a reporter to cover an appearance by Andre Marrou, the 1992 Libertarian Party candidate for president, was the first major milestone on my path searching for a better solution to what ails us. But I wandered aimlessly for another year or two before, in one of my first forays into a Barnes & Noble store, I was attracted to a modestly designed magazine called Liberty.

For a very long time until the Internet grew into its own, my monthly fix of Liberty was the only link I had to this alternative universe where people still understand the state is not the solution to our problems, it is the problem. When I heard recently that founder-editor R.W. Bradford was seriously ailing, I grew concerned. When I heard this morning that Bradford died Thursday night, I felt like I lost a friend.

Having never come remotely close to meeting him, I didn't realize he would be a hard friend to have. All I know is Liberty is a beautiful institution - not slick, not fancy, just the words and a few cartoons, a meat-and-potatoes meal in a world heavy laden with sugar and processed foods.

R.W. Bradford and Liberty magazine gave me hope for a better answer when everything else seemed to point to Orwellian madness. For that I will always owe him, and the magazine, a huge debt.

Places to read and find other links and discussion:

Liberty magazine (ironically enough, as of this morning there's no reference to Bradford's death there)
Claire Wolfe
Brian Doherty
R.J. Lehmann
Jesse Walker
Thomas Knapp

Saturday, December 10, 2005

They attack Americans because they hate our freedom

Three sources confirmed to Web reporter Doug Thompson that when President Bush met with Congressional leaders last month to discuss renewing USAPATRIOT, the following exchange took place over concerns about civil liberties:

“I don’t give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.”

“Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.”

“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

If this is true - and according to Thompson, at least three people who were there say it is true - remind me again who it is that hates our freedom.

Claire Wolfe and Sunni Maravillosa have posted battle-weary thoughts along the lines that Bush saying this out loud is simple confirmation of what we knew all along, and that it's the equivalent of reporting that a plane landed safely or, as Sunni aptly put it, about "the rain still being wet." It's that same weariness that led me to abandon my "Constitution in Plain English" series - after a while, the horse has died so why keep wailing on it?

Still, while it does indeed merely confirm what he (and other presidents and the Congress and the Supreme Court) have been doing for years, for a president to say out loud that he doesn't give a good goddamn about his oath of office - you know, the one where he pledges to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" - is breathtaking.

We always knew those who hate our freedom are closer than most people realize - they just have never been so brazen about it. This is serious business, folks. We should rest our weary souls but then come back refreshed and with ideas about how to do what the president and Congress and justices refuse to do: preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.

Friday, December 09, 2005

How we deal with extremists

"STORRS, Conn. - Conservative columnist Ann Coulter gave up trying to finish a speech at the University of Connecticut on Wednesday night when boos and jeers from the audience became overwhelming. Coulter cut off the talk after 15 minutes and instead held a half-hour question-and-answer session."

Here's the AP story.

Defenders of the empire like to point gleefully at the critics who are so afraid of opposing views they shout them down.

But nobody's saying Coulter should be deported.

Not so free speech after all

I suppose it was too much to hope for when the jury upheld Sami Al-Arian's free speech rights after prosecutors failed to convince them his radical pro-Palestinian speech was not linked to any actual crime or terrorism. Now we learn:

"Federal authorities hit with a stunning defeat in a terrorism case against a former Florida college professor are considering deporting him instead of retrying him." ...

"The agency can deport any foreigner it deems a terrorism risk. The burden of proof for deportation is lower than it is in the criminal courts."

When a nation is so afraid of dissenting views that it banishes dissenters from its midst, you gotta wonder. I thought we were the good guys and the world is jealous of our freedom. A free country can tolerate and thrive even if some nutcase is screaming nice things about brutal killers. Liberty means Al-Arian has the right to his beliefs as long as he didn't commit a crime himself - and 12 of his peers wasn't convinced he did.

Behind the legend

Sorry if I don't join in as people canonize John Lennon as a man of peace and believer in justice. For all the beautiful and innovative music he created, he had a very dark side.

I still cringe when, at the close of the brilliant Rubber Soul album, Lennon snarls, "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man ... You'd better run for your life, little girl ... Catch you with another man, that's the end."

Earlier, in "Norwegian Wood," he tells the story of a one-night stand that ends on her terms - so he burns her place down. The man had a very disturbing streak of the kind that treats women as toys, objects. And he knew it, too - his whole first solo album is a primal scream as he tried to deal with his rage at the world. It's a fascinating study in near-insanity that makes you wonder if he was talking to himself when he sang "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

The saddest part about his death was that he finally seemed to have gotten those demons under control and started building a life with wife Yoko Ono and little son Sean - so our last view of him was of the gentle house-husband and doting father, not the fellow who didn't have the guts to tell his first wife it was over, and allowed her to find out by walking into her bedroom and finding him with Yoko.

I'll stand with you and applaud the great rock musician and those brilliant songs. Just don't try to fool me with what a great human being he was.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The value of the Net - a free speech triumph

Even working in an environment where news is everywhere, I didn't even know Sami Al-Arian was on trial until Claire Wolfe posted a link to the L.A. Times story about his acquittal.

Outside the Tampa courthouse, Al-Arian's wife, Nahla, said she was "ecstatic."

"My husband is an outspoken Palestinian activist who loved this country, believed in the system, and the system did not fail him," she said. ...

Added David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington: "They say the Patriot Act allows them to connect the dots. But they failed to make the most important connection, which was to tie Mr. Al-Arian to some violent or criminal act.

"It should make the government rethink its reliance on these very broad theories of guilt by association," he said.

The system is broken, but it occasionally produces justice. And even though this triumph of the free speech rights (whatever you think of that speech itself) is being downplayed by most of the media, the word is out there to be found. You can't stop the signal. Cause for a small celebration.

Fee, fee, fi, fi, fo-fo, fum

One of the most incredible three-and-a-half-minute sonic blasts of all time is "Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly" by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. From the opening pulse of the piano and bass drum to the screaming fadeout, it's just pure rock and roll heaven. I can't get enough of it, even all these years later.

That's why it drives me nuts every time an oldies station plays the edited album version, which means it drives me nuts every time I hear it on the radio.

For reasons I have never been able to fathom, New Voice Records snipped the first two lines off the final verse from the single when it produced Ryder's "Breakout!!!" album. As originally released, the song rocks into a searing guitar solo that climaxes the "Good Golly Miss Molly" segment of the medley, and with an awesome rock scream, Ryder downshifts back into the first verse of "Devil":

Fee, fee, fi, fi, fo-fo, fum
Look-a once-again now, here she comes
Wearin her wig hat and shades to match
Gotta high-heel shoes and an alligator hat
Wearin her pearls and her diamond rings
Got bracelets on her fingers, now, and everything
Devil with the blue dress, blue dress, blue dress,
She's a devil with the blue dress on ...

At least that's what happens on the original mono single, which I sold during a dry time about 20 years ago. Over the years I kept hearing it on oldies stations in truncated form - jumping like a broken record from the scream to "Wearin her pearls ..." and discovered the hard way that that version is the one that you get when you buy it in oldies collections. I learned the horrific truth when I bought an original vinyl copy of "Breakout!!!" - the original company mutilated the song for the album! Putting extended versions of songs on the album happens all the time; this is the only example I can think of where someone cut and spliced for the album.

The story has a happy ending; before I sold my pile of 45s, I recorded most of them on a reel-to-reel tape, and this week I finally got around to dubbing them onto a CD. The bad news is that in the earphones you can hear the deterioration of the tape; the good news is when you blast the song through the woofers, you don't notice a thing. I have retrieved one of my favorite rock 'n' roll classics from the memory hole. Life, for three-and-a-half minutes at a time, is good.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

'Scream, Ann! Scream for your life!'

Some movie scenes give you goosebumps, others make your spine tingle, and still others do both. But it's a rare scene that gives you goosebumps and makes your spine tingle just thinking about it, even after seeing the scene dozens of times.

That's how I feel about the scene in King Kong when movie producer Carl Denham, played in all his over-the-top glory by Robert Armstrong, directs his new-found star actress Ann Darrow (the immortal Fay Wray) in a screen test on board the cargo ship that is taking them to Skull Island and an unknown fate.

"Now, you're quite calm - you don't expect to see a thing - then, you just follow my directions," Denham says to her as he starts cranking the camera. "Camera. Look up slowly, Ann. That's it. You don't see anything. Now look higher - still higher. Now you see it! You're amazed. You can't believe it! Your eyes open wider. It's horrible, Ann, but you can't look away. There's no chance for you, Ann - no escape - you're helpless, Ann, helpless! There's just one chance - you can scream - but your throat's paralyzed! Try to scream, Ann, try!!! Perhaps if you didn't see it, you could scream!! Throw your arms across your eyes and scream, Ann!!! SCREAM FOR YOUR LIFE!!!!!

With that, Fay Wray lets out one of the most bone-chilling shrieks in the history of cinema. We have established that Ann Darrow's boyfriend, first mate Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), and the ship's captain have been watching from above. A horrified Driscoll grabs the skipper's arm and says, "What's he think she really gonna see?"

All of this accomplished in the scratchy silence of a 1933 film - no John Williams music score underneath to add any more sense of menace to the scene (although Max Steiner's fantastic work enhances many other key moments in the movie). We're almost 45 minutes into the 103-minute masterpiece before we finally meet Kong himself, but the on-board screen test has long ago filled us with all the dread we need for that big moment. I love that scene.

All of the advance hype for Peter Jackson's reinterpretation of King Kong sounds too good to be true. Well, no, Matt Drudge reports that insiders are starting to think this version could challenge Titanic as the all-time box office champ, and I thought James Cameron's big-boat soap opera was an all-time disappointment. Drudge's report makes the new Kong sound similarly like a crowd-pleaser that stinks artistically:

"The human relationships are s**t ... the dialogue is piss poor and there is a scene of Jamie Bell shooting gigantic bugs off of Adrian Brody with a tommy gun ... those are the bad parts," says a Hollywood reporter. "But.... the scenes between Kong and Naomi Watts tug at the heart strings big time. And the final scene was just great! There were one too many longing looks between the ape and (Naomi) Watts ... but the audience around me ate it up."

Jackson did an amazing job with Lord of the Rings, so I have high expectations - but the thing is, I loved just about everything Cameron did until Titanic. Jackson has made some great decisions, beginning with setting the film in the 1930s where it belongs - but he's also added more than 80 minutes to what was a perfectly-paced thriller. Unlike Tolkien's treasure, you don't need a whole lot of time to tell the story of King Kong; I hope and pray Jackson hasn't added too much padding. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing this one - even if I don't expect Naomi Watts to make me forget Fay Wray screaming for her life.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The lure of alternate realities

Woulda/shoulda/coulda is one of humanity's favorite pastimes. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I hadn't screwed up that one girlfriend-boyfriend relationship that has now become my best platonic friendship - if we had gone on to marry and have kids etc., would we still be friends, as we are now, or would we be divorced and hating each other by now? What if I had not found a job four days before I graduated from college and had to go home to use my parents' house as a base of operations while searching for my first "real-world" experience - where would I be today?

Many of my favorite works of art/media are variations on this theme. It's A Wonderful Life is my all-time favorite movie. "The City On The Edge of Forever," "Yesterday's Enterprise" and the film First Contact are among my favorite Star Trek stories. "A Sound of Thunder" is one of my favorite Ray Bradbury short stories. The little choices we make every day change our lives forever (How will my taking a sick day today change the man I am in five years, for example?) - as Sara Groves sings in her song "Generations":

Remind me of this with every decision -
Generations will reap what I sow.
I can pass on a curse or a blessing
To those I will never know.

James Leroy Wilson explores these thoughts intriguingly in his post "Butterfly Effect," jumping off from a historian's suggestion that if Chamberlain had died at Gettysburg and the Confederacy went on to win independence, Hitler may have won World War II because the United States would not be big and strong enough to defeat him.

"If Chamberlain died," Wilson counters, "maybe the South would have won. But also and more likely, a Great War in Europe - if one were to happen at all - would have started differently and would have more likely ended in stalemate. It is most likely that Hitler would never have risen to power."

We have no idea how the world might have proceeded if one butterfly fluttered its wings differently, if one choice, one decision, one event was altered - because each different choice would open up a whole series of options different from those made available by the original choice: "It is crazy to suggest that anything that transpired since would have been the same, in large part because zillions of zillions butterfly effects large and small transpired since," Wilson writes.

That's why it makes for such interesting fiction: We all have moments in our lives we wish we had handled differently. But, as the old saying goes, careful what you wish for, you may get it. And don't forget the phenomenon of the happy ending: I lost a girlfriend and gained a lifetime friend, and I'm now hooked up with someone whose personality meshes with mine much more comfortably than that once-upon-a-time match. It wasn't what I wished for; it was better.

Whither Serenity?

With the Dec. 20 U.S. release of the DVD, the hope is that sales will supplement the relatively disappointing box office for Serenity to the point where a sequel is justified.

As Wally Conger and others noted last week, one option floating out there in cyberspace is, if not on the big screen, maybe one or more TV-movie sequels could fill the demand for more adventures of Malcolm Reynolds and his crew. I think this would be terrific - assuming Joss Whedon is still in charge and the original cast is on hand.

I think the Star Trek people - who seemingly milked the cash cow to death - missed an opportunity by not taking the TV-movie route. A number of ideas that may not have sustained a big-screen blockbuster could have fit the small screen nicely - I'm especially thinking of the adventures of Capt. Sulu of the starship Excelsior.

I have to admit, though, I think Serenity would be a fitting conclusion to the Firefly saga if the pieces of the puzzle don't fall into place. As Orson Scott Card put it so well, "I'm not going to say it's the best science fiction movie, ever. Oh, wait. Yes I am." So far, every episode of the TV show, and the film, have moved and entertained me in a way no other TV show and few films ever have. If it ended now, gorram it, I wanted to see it continue, but if it ended now, gorram it, that was an excellent ride, if way too short.

Bottom line, though, if the Sci-Fi Channel is willing to do it right, let's see those TV movies and soon!

Wish I could be somewhere near Burbank this weekend ...

one hundred mondays

I had intended my 100th post to be something special ...
I even deleted a fawning tribute to Yahoo's girl in the cowboy hat as maybe not
dignified enough for the occasion. I do have an enormous crush on the lady ... don't tell my Sweetie.

But then I found this excellent summary of the drug war, libertarianism and how modern-day liberalism (as opposed to classical liberalism) has let us down with its inordinate trust in the state. This seems like an appropriate theme for our 100th Montag together ... especially since three days of flu have left my brain foggy enough that I gladly relinquish control of the conversation to a more cogent mind than mine.

Writer Ryan Grim writes:

"I've always believed that we live in a fundamentally liberal society that can trace its way back to enlightenment thinkers like Jefferson, Madison, Locke, Mill and Rousseau. Sure, the past 24 years of the Reagan, Bush and even Clinton regimes haven't been kind, but one bedrock principle still seemed intact: If not equality and fraternity, we'll always have liberty.

"And so, as guards frogmarched my friend out of the courtroom shackled hands to feet, I wondered how confining that man for 17 years jives with my understanding of our nation's values. Is imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people an acceptable policy result of a liberal, pluralistic democratic society? Or, is the drug war proving libertarians correct about the potential for abuse of government power?

Of course we are, Ryan, as you have come to realize:

"Eric Sterling, a Reagan-era-drug-warrior-turned-reformer who now heads up the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, refers to what he calls the 'drug war exception to the Bill of Rights.' Unlawful searches and seizures are not permitted - unless cops are searching for drugs, which are not legal property and therefore not protected. No self-incrimination - unless it's a drug test. No cruel and unusual punishment - unless you were caught with cocaine. And so our two greatest bulwarks against tyranny, checks and balances and the Bill of Rights, are out the drug war window."

This is good reading, a nice summary of why libertarians are neither liberals nor conservatives as those terms are currently used, from someone who's obviously second-guessing himself about his liberalism. Keep thinking, Ryan!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Roger Ebert makes me want to see 'The Kid and I'

A good review makes you want to see a movie you never heard of and gives you stuff to think about. This is a good review.

It doesn't hurt that I like True Lies and Tom Arnold's character in it - and it's fun when a film blurs the lines between fiction and reality. And Ebert's decision to write the review without finding out something important is a good one.