Friday, March 31, 2006

The return of Firefly/Serenity fanboy

I just may go see Slither this weekend, if for no other reason than to see Nathan "Malcolm Reynolds" Fillion in a different role.

Roger Ebert's review makes it sound a little bit like a guilty pleasure, although I usually get no pleasure out of modern horror flicks.

"Slither is the kind of horror movie where decent citizens are attacked by a nauseating slimy grub from outer space, and the characters watch Troma movies on TV. If the name 'Troma' means nothing to you, what are you doing reading a review of Slither in the first place? ...

"There are better movies opening this weekend. There are better movies opening every weekend. But Slither has a competence to it, an ability to manipulate obligatory horror scenes in a way that works."

What the heck, Sweetie is out of town, and I have 20 bucks burning a hole in my pocket; maybe I'll buy a ticket and more popcorn than one human being should attempt to eat and go see Mal do his thing.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

We meet again

I took the day off today to make sure I didn't miss a lunch appointment with a couple of old friends, one of whom is dying. He's only about 10 years older than I am, so of course he's too young to be that close to the precipice.

But there he is, looking like hell but sounding like the same guy whose jokes and observations about life I've been chuckling over for the last seven years. A Boston Democrat, he sent me an e-mail back in '99 after I wrote nice things in the paper about The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Turns out he's a Heinlein nut. His e-mail began something like, "I usually disagree with everything you say, but if you like Heinlein you can't be all bad."

It turns out we have more in common than we thought at first, especially as I've shed the last vestiges of my belief in the Republicans. He may be a Boston Democrat, but he has the sense to know when his party is off-base (sometimes at least), and as you might expect from a Heinlein nut, he also has taught me a thing or two about libertarianism.

I have another friend whose 13-year-old son is fighting for his life. My old friend and my young friend are reminders of how we have no guarantees in this life.

Those reminders hurt, but they also empower. These friends may have a matter of months left, or years, or decades - it's hard to say. But they are reminders that we all have a finite lifespan on this Earth.

Time's a-wasting, in other words, so I'm saddling back up sooner, not later. I wasn't planning to be gone for more than a few more days anyway. Thanks for holding down the fort while I was off contemplating my navel. I pulled a few intriguing ideas out of the lint, too. (Yeck, Brian, way to extend the metaphor out to its full grossness ...)

I have a launch date for one project of May 1 - that may be a tad ambitious, but I like a good challenge. Expect an announcement in a week or so.

Both of my grandpas lived to be 85, so I've been ambling along figuring my time left could be measured in decades. At the risk of sounding like a failed president in his sixth or seventh year, at some point you start thinking about what legacy you want to leave behind. I think I've found my themes, now it's time to start developing them. Montag has always been part of the plan - now I'm starting to figure out what that plan really is. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Please stand by

The problem is not in your set. I will be away from this spot for a while.

Nothing to worry about, just taking some time for a little study and contemplation.

In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves. See you soon.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Who are these guys?

From the day they opened the detainee camp at Guantanamo, it's been hard to get the straight poop on who these guys are. The Bush administration has refused to call them prisoners of war, although sometimes they call them enemy combatants, just not POW's. That allows the U.S. of A. not to treat them in accordance with Geneva conventions and send them to trial in special military tribunals, but now the issue of whether that can be done heads to the Supreme Court.

Now we have Michael Isikoff of Newsweek digging up a tape of a speech Justice Antonin Scalia made March 8 at the University of Freiburg in Switzerland, and Scalia is talking as if these guys are indeed prisoners of war after all.

"War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts. Give me a break," Scalia is quoted by Newsweek as telling a somewhat nonplussed crowd.

So OK, they are prisoners of war, then? and have protections under the Geneva conventions? "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs," Scalia said. "I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy."

Scalia's answer didn't address the POW rights question, but it sure sounded to me like he was saying the Gitmo detainees are prisoners of war. Glad that's settled. Or something. Or maybe Isikoff's confusing story needs a clarification - it starts out talking about military tribunals and Scalia seems to be answering a question about civil trials.

Who are these guys anyway? Maybe we'll find out by the time they die of old age in there.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hat Girl retired

I guess it was inevitable, but I was in denial for a few days. It has become obvious that Yahoo! has replaced my girl in the cowboy hat and her friends. There's a new, rotating set of pictures that greet me when I sign in to my e-mail, and Hat Girl doesn't seem to be in the mix. Sigh!

The good news is she'll always be there on my hard drive, waiting for me just a click away, at least until something unthinkable corrupts the drive.

It goes without saying, I guess, that my caring enough to write a post about this is a sign of my mind's rapid deterioration. It's a slippery slope and, no doubt, was caused by Clinton administration policies that were accelerated by Bush.

From the 'Huh?' file

An Easter bunny display has been dismantled at City Hall in St. Paul, Minn.

"St. Paul's human rights director, Tyrone Terrill, asked that the decorations be removed, saying they could be offensive to non-Christians."

What was the name of that city again?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Happy Birthday, Caroline No

The memory of her rose unbidden when I looked at the date - March 23 - and remembered it was her birthday. Fortunately I haven't seen her in more than 20 years, so she won't be hurt that she didn't hear from me.

My college sweetheart was a warm and wonderful young woman, as outgoing as I was introverted. She was my second love but a much better complement to me than my first love had been. She helped me talk through the pain of that first breakup, and then she enthusiastically filled the empty hole in my heart. My junior and senior years of college were happy times because she was wrapped up in the middle of them.

To this day I can't listen to the song "Caroline No" because I was as stupid as Brian Wilson was. I came back from summer vacation and she had cut her long, luxurious tangle of hair into (what I now recognize as) a cute bob that (I now realize) was a better fit for her bubbly personality. Like Mr. Wilson, I reacted with something akin to "How could you do this to me???" Naturally she was crushed that her sweetie would go semi-ballistic over a haircut. Naturally I was embarrassed that I reacted so stupidly but too young to say so.

We continued to have a warm, loving relationship, but it was never quite the same from that point. The night I finished my final exam of senior year, she sat me down and told me our relationship was ending simultaneously with my college career. Talk about mixed feelings! - my greatest achievement (I got da big diploma and my first full-time job) coincided with my greatest (to that point) heartbreak.

The last time I saw her, I was a Reaganite, she hated Reagan, and she introduced me to the man who would become her second husband. I read in the alumni magazine when they had their first child when she was 37 - not sure if she ever had another. I Google'd her a while later and found her father's obituary - he had died five years to the day before I did the search. I was genuinely sad - he was a nifty guy, one of my favorite fathers-in-law who never was my father-in-law.

She turned 51 Thursday, but in my mind she'll always be that vivacious, sexy coed who surprised the hell out of me by taking me into her life and bed - me, the skinny geeky kid who was not in her league. It took longer than I care to admit to forgive and forget that final heartbreak. I'm glad the memory of love is what lingers now. The best part? I can only remember what she looked like when she was grinning.

A simple answer to the gay marriage question

The folks who are agitating to have states recognize the legitimacy of gay marriage have a compelling argument: If the state has a legitimate interest in preserving the sanctity of traditional, heterosexual marriage, why doesn't some enterprising lawmaker introduce legislation to ban divorce? Instead, the folks who believe in that interest are agitating to have states ban gay marriage.

From the start I have believed this is an economic issue, not a debate over the right to love whom you love. The unmarried, or rather, those who don't have a state-issued document sanctioning their marriage, have trouble obtaining benefits that are routinely obtained by married people, such as insurance coverage for the person who shares their household. And they want those economic and social benefits.

The private sector is already addressing this concern, of course - I know of several corporations where employees are offered such coverage for their cohabitating mates of either sex. But for one side, it's not happening fast enough - they want the state to make it mandatory. And for the other side, it's happening too fast - so they draft proposed laws and constitutional amendments under which any unmarried couple, gay or straight, would be denied such benefits by law.

The epiphany came to me a few years during a conversation about the issue with a gay co-worker. We suddenly looked at each other and wondered: What legitimate state interest is served by issuing marriage licenses anyway?

After all, marriage is a religious ceremony. If we are indeed a society that separates church and state, what the bejeebers are we doing issuing state licenses to perform religious ceremonies? Sure, now there's a record of who is married to whom, but what legitimate state interest is served by having such a catalog? Near as I can tell, every purpose you can think of (such as authenticating who's eligible for tax breaks or penalties) traces back to an illegitimate function of government anyway.

Repeal the law that requires a state license for a marriage to be considered legitimate. Let the churches decide who can marry whom. Let the marketplace determine the benefits available for married couples or cohabitants. It seems to me that's how a free society operates.

This does not solve the debate over gay marriage, but it does remove the heavy hand of the state from the conversation. And any idea that eliminates government force from the equation is a good idea.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lovely but ineffective advertising

Newspapers make great packing material for us amateurs who eschew styrofoam peanuts. One of the most interesting things about eBay is reading the newspapers from all over the country.

This ad, for a Midwestern clinic that does cosmetic surgery, shows three lovely women in fetching bikini tops. The ad is for a seminar the clinic plans that will convince women of all shapes and sizes that enhancement is good for the soul.

The problem I see, as a male with somewhat normal hormonal drives, is that were I younger and unattached, I would gravitate to the woman in the middle. She strikes me as the warmest, sexiest lady in the bunch just from looking at this admittedly crinkly photograph.

The clinic wants to convince us of the wonderful benefits of breast enlargement, by showing us a photograph of a beautiful, desirable girl whose breasts are not bulging out of her top. I would not hesitate to take her as is, if she would have me.

Some ads are more effective than others. This one screams the opposite message it intends.

The conversation continues, but is it an awakening or plain old partisan Hollywood?

The discussion rolls on about V for Vendetta, and an interesting exchange between James Greenberg and Butler Shaffer highlights the comments at Wally Conger's Out of Step. "This film will ultimately be meaningless in the pursuit of freedom," Greenberg asserts. Ah, Shaffer replies, but "Too many commentators on this film fail to appreciate its main value: to get people to consider the interplay between peace and violence; between liberty and tyranny."

After a year that brought us examinations of tyranny in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, Serenity and now V for Vendetta, it's easy to believe that the mainstream entertainment world is starting to "get it." I'd be even more encouraged if I believed for a second that this has to do with a genuine rediscovery of the principles of liberty. More likely this string of freedom films will grind to a halt after a few Democratic victories over Republicans at the polls. Hollywood loved, or at least ignored, Clinton's wars and Clinton's assaults on liberty. Inability to recognize Tweedledee's similarity to Tweedledum is the central dysfunction in America as we know it today.

Fanty for president; he's prettier than Mingo.

P.S. Whoa! In searching the Internet for images of Yan and Rafael Feldman, the twins from Serenity, I landed on this nugget of information at "The Big Combo (1955), Allied Artists' seedy B-noir directed by Joseph H. Lewis and photographed exquisitely by John Alton, opens with Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace) splashed in slanting shadows as she runs through tunnels along a boxing ring. She's chased by two hitmen, Fanty and Mingo ..." Am I the last or the first to discover where the interplanetary traders got their names???

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Attention must be paid

Well, they're certainly talking and writing about V for Vendetta out there. After the initial rush of excitement, I still think freedom lovers will be talking about this film for years to come and - now that the genie is out of the bottle - governments from this day may be measured by how far they go to destroy V for Vendetta and any known copies of the movie.

My little attempt to capture my first impressions after coming home from the theater has been joined by some high-powered analysis and discussion (and usually more than one post) by the likes of Butler Shaffer, Wally Conger, Anthony Gregory, James Leroy Wilson, Sunni Maravillosa, and a cast of seeming thousands. We all, I think, want one of those masks and a tall hat.

Equally impressive has been the intensity of the backlash by the likes of Ted Baehr, a new name to me, who sums up the flick as "a vile, pro-terrorist piece of neo-Marxist, left-wing propaganda filled with radical sexual politics and nasty attacks on religion and Christianity," and the Wall Street Journal's Todd Seavey, who much more thoughtfully dissects the movie and reminds us of the evils of anarchy, which after all brought us "the killing of eight Chicago police officers by anarchists in the 1886 Haymarket Riot, the assassination of President McKinley by an anarchist in 1901 and the murders committed by immigrant Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti in 1920."

It is good, I think, that we are having this discussion and even better that the critics of the film's ideas are so virulent. The theory of action and its equal reaction suggests that V for Vendetta struck a deep chord, for someone like Baehr to pack no fewer than six negative adjectives and a healthy heaping of bile into his 20-word summary, and for Seavey to spend so much time reminding us how violent some anarchists can be.

After holding out such hope for Serenity and enduring the tremendous apathy with which that wonderful film was greeted, it is very pleasing to see not only that V for Vendetta is not being ignored but that close attention is being paid.

Sunni's friend Monika gives us a bit of a reality check in reminding us that for all of its similarities, America is not quite the world of V at this time: "The very existence of this blog and the fact that its owner is safe and sound and is about to start a new business venture without having to bribe everyone on the way, is for me a sign that this country is still sooooo far away from anything that feels threatening in such an abysmal country as Belarus."

But it also shows how far we have gone down the wrong road. Just as I get small comfort from the thought that "we may mistreat prisoners of war but at least we don't chop off their heads," it's a comfort but not a great one that the United States of America doesn't abuse its citizens as badly as Belarus does.

There is one phrase that is common to the climaxes of Serenity and V for Vendetta: "Stand down." Here is where I am not as optimistic as the writers of these films. Those are the moments in these otherwise true films that don't ring true to me. Yes, the guy faced off the tank at Tiananmen Square - for about a half-hour - and a lot of other people died. The film writers are hoping that these government operatives are as civilized as the British government that eventually stood down against Gandhi's nonviolent advance. Even the British Empire took a few Indian lives before that happened.

But just having the conversation is a wonderful thing. As Wilson put it so beautifully, "I don't speak out against the State because of the probability of success, but because I couldn't live with myself if I didn't."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Risky investments

So I'm driving along the Interstate, doing my usual 70 in a place where it's down to two lanes each way, when along comes an odd procession in the left lane.

In the front is a Ford Explorer, gotta be doing 75 because he passes me in a hurry. A few inches behind his back bumper is a Dodge minivan, and a few inches behind the Dodge is a Lexus SUV. They zip along ahead of me, and even though there's plenty of room in the right lane, they all stay in the left lane, at least for the mile or so before they are out of my sight. They're all making a point, and they're staying put and making it.

I'm thinking I'm looking at $75,000, $80,000 or more worth of vehicle and here are three drivers willing to risk their lives and their investments to say to each other, "Pull over, asshole."

I suppose if their insurance is paid up, it's an example of how people don't care about wasting money, this time on hospital and vehicle repair bills, if somebody else is paying the tab. But what about the pain and/or lack of breathing that might ensue should something go wrong at 75 mph while you're inches away from two other 75-mph vehicles?

Refusing to be afraid is a good thing - but it's important to refuse to be stupid, too.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Another state caves to Real ID

Looks like Wisconsin has gotten in line to march its citizens to the identification chambers. This guy doesn't post very often, but when he does it pays to listen.

"Real ID is a feel-good measure that will not do a thing to stop illegal immigration or terrorism. What it will do is create a new breed of criminal: People who are walking the streets without their identification cards. The only people who will feel good about this are people who enjoy enforcing bad laws.

"Once upon a time we had a concept in our society that spilled over from the court system. We treated each other as innocent until proved guilty. Slowly but surely, the reverse has taken precedence."

While we're on the subject, Sunni Maravillosa is searching for someone to take up the reins on the Real ID Rebellion Web site, which has lain dormant. Give her a holler if you have the time and energy.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Covered Side of the Moon

Maybe you haven't yet sampled Coverville, Brian Ibbott's three-times-weekly dip into the world of musical reinterpretation. Or maybe you have but haven't visited this terrific podcast recently. Now's the time to check it out.

To mark the 33rd anniversary of the release of the huge Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon, Brian has assembled what he calls "The Covered Side of the Moon" using covers of all of the songs from that project. For the first time, he produced the show without patter, letting the music flow uninterrupted from "Breathe (Speak to Me)" through "Eclipse."

Especially if you're into Dark Side of the Moon - and I'm not, to be honest - you'll love it. And sample some of the other 189 episodes of Coverville, too. A lot of folks are having a ball creating their own versions of familiar and not-so-familiar tunes. Brian creates a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere and Sunday night he's joined for a trivia session with his wife, Tina, who has one of the happiest voices in the podosphere. It's great fun. Three times a week, the radio goes off and Brian covers my commute.

Ideas are bulletproof

From the opening scenes of the X-Men III trailer to the final fadeout of the Warner Brothers logo after the end titles, watching V for Vendetta was one satisfying night at the movies. The film is so true to the story and spirit of Alan Moore's graphic novel that the biggest mystery is the credit "Based on the graphic novel drawn by David Floyd" because Moore insisted that his name be removed from the project. It is so true that I found myself looking around to see how the audience would react to the plot twists that surprised me when I read the original.

No, my tingly-spine moment didn't make the cut when they wrote the screenplay - but I had the spine-tingling satisfaction of hearing my mantra recited onscreen: "Then you have no fear anymore - you're completely free." Refuse to be afraid - what a liberating theme.

The Wachowski Brothers and director James McTeigue have crafted a great movie, an important movie that ought to get viewers thinking about where our world is heading, if anyone can think clearly anymore. Less than perfect: First, the dystopian leader is so over-the-top evil that it would be easy to rationalize, "Well, at least our own leaders aren't that crazy." Second, the Wachowskis' V is more sympathetic than Moore's V. The graphic novel leaves us wondering; the film seems to say of course the ends justifies the means. Finally and most imperfect, I know the climactic scene is meant to be symbolic, and it's very effective, but I don't see thousands of people all dressing alike and marching together as a triumph for individual freedom.

But wow, I forgive them those flaws for bringing this story to a mass audience that needs desperately to see it. Let's see how it plays in the real world from here.

Race to the theater to see this movie. Freedom lovers will be talking about it for a long time.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

V makes a splash

The movie reviews are coming in, and V for Vendetta sounds better than any self-respecting anarchist could hope for, sparking commentaries about oppressive regimes and the question of whether violence is necessary to overcome evil. It's clear from the original Alan Moore graphic novel and, presumably, the movie, that the character of V believes terrorism is required to topple a terroristic regime. While Moore injected some sympathy for V into his story, I don't believe he intended for us to feel V is a hero. In my case, I felt repelled by V's methods while understanding his reasons. It's a disturbing, hard book to live through, as I suspect the film will be.

The observation and question I hope the movie generates are: We live in an increasingly oppressive world and the power to throw off the oppression is in our hands. How can we accomplish that without violence? Because that which V has wrought is not a particularly desirable or, in the long run, effective response to oppression.

And one word of caution to my self-respecting anarchist friends: Be wary of any film where the leading anarchist is depicted as a violent madman. That plays into the stereotype of anarchy as chaos. V may speak some terrific truth - but remember, when all is said and done, he's depicted as crazy. Natalie Portman as Evey has the key role. (Meaningless aside: From the early reviews of the job Portman does, V for Vendetta may once and for all dispel any doubts that George Lucas is a crummy director of actors.)

The tingly-spine moment for me, and I hope the movie includes this scene or at least this theme, is when another tortured prisoner realizes the only chains binding him are those he forged with his own mind, his own fears. Oppression is like the thin electric fence that keeps cows in the pasture - those huge animals could break free any time they overcome their fear of the shock. If the film helps cowed viewers understand the fear mongers and throw off their self-imposed chains, it will succeed beyond the comparatively insignifcant triumph of a boffo box office.

(Aside to browncoats: Hmmmm, a story about a man whose moral core dissolved into violence due to a failed government experiment - is V a Reaver?)

It's tough for me to get off work in time for a Friday night movie; I just may find a way to rearrange my schedule for this one. Claire Wolfe points the way to Time's thoughtful review, although Lev Grossman makes the somewhat alarming, vaguely censorious statement, "It's the kind of film that makes you ask questions like, Who thought this was a good idea?" And the Rotten Tomatoes crew has accumulated a morning full of reading if you're so inclined - bottom line, the critics are almost 70 percent impressed.

Fighting fear with a belly laugh

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Time again to sing my refrain

A month or so into doing this blog, I eliminated a wordy little explanation of what I'm about and replaced it with the simple coda "Refuse To Be Afraid." Ever since, a day doesn't go by without someone, somewhere, trying to frighten us.

Today it's the prediction that if bird flu ever mutates into something that can pass between humans, we can expect half of the world's population to die. Robert Webster of St. Jude Children's Hospital is quoted as saying he's stockpiled three months of food and water to try to survive the panic.

As scary-monster tactics go, this one may even beat "the Y2K computer crash will end civilization as we know it" for its sheer scariness. I think I've reached armaggedon overload, though.

In my lifetime we have been told to be frightened of the inevitable nuclear war with the Russians, the collapse of the ecosystem, the inability of the Earth to feed us all, global warming, my neighbor's cigarette, Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, a Republican Congress, a Democratic Congress, Y2K and dozens of other dangers that surely would end civilization as we know it. Now avian flu. (Sidebar: Someone always makes a lot of money selling solutions to the coming Ragnarok. You might want to research who owns stock in the company that makes Tamiflu.)

There's a grim but simple truth behind this all, which I've addressed before: We're all gonna die. It's OK to make preparations and take steps to postpone that day, but every minute you spend paralyzed by fear of dying is a minute you could have spent enjoying the time you have to live. Refuse to be afraid. Resist the siren call of the fear mongers. Live as a free man or woman, not as a slave to your fears.

Meme addendeme

Someone noticed (OK, OK, it was that Wilson guy again - I swear I do read other blogs) that some versions of the recent "Meme of Four" contain the question, "four albums I can't live without." Now, here we is a subject I could bore you with for days, music soothing the savage breast and all. I love writing and talking about music almost as much as I love drinking it in.

In fact, I've tinkered with the idea of a "10 albums I'd need on that desert island" post or series of posts, but it does seem that four recordings rise above even that group. Even with hundreds, perhaps thousands of selections in my home to choose from, you can expect me to pull one of these four off the shelf more often than the others.

1. "Smile" by Brian Wilson, preferably the CD dub of the DVD performance I made for when I'm in the car. Thirty-seven years in the making and worth the wait.

2. "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen. What rock music could be and should be more often.

3. "Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The masterpiece by one of the coolest, most underrated bands of all time.

4. "Conversations" by Sara Groves. Simply the most thoughtful, melodic collection about living life as a Christian I've ever encountered.

Oh heck, I can't resist, here's the other six.
5. "Cosmo's Factory," Creedence Clearwater Revival.
6. "Songs from the Wood," Jethro Tull.
7. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," The Beatles.
8. "The Beatles." (white album)
9. "Add To The Beauty," Sara Groves.
10. "Thick As A Brick," Jethro Tull. or "Threshhold of a Dream," Moody Blues. or "Wildflowers," Tom Petty. or ... hmmm, that last slot will be problematic.

"American Idol" update

This is a talented group of contestants this year, but from the beginning Chris Daughtry and Taylor Hicks have been the only two performers whose albums I'd definitely buy. Hasn't changed. There are five talented women left IMHO, but Daughtry and Hicks rise above the whole group. Hicks just embodies love for the music, and Daughtry is just the most electrifying singer the show has ever found. Forget the next two months, Daughtry wins this year - I'm not as confident Hicks will be #2, those ladies are pretty darn talented. But I'll still be watching for his album.

Don't bet the farm on my predictions, though. Of last year's group, I loved Nadia Turner, who finished seventh or eighth. I'm still hoping she'll do an album someday.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pot calls the kettle black

You gotta be amused when Russ Feingold is shocked! shocked! that President Bush is trampling the Constitution.

Feingold came out in the Senate Monday with a resolution that would censure Bush for bypassing the law requiring a court order for wiretaps on U.S. soil. Senators couldn't run away from the idea fast enough.

Here's a guy who, with his buddy John McCain, shepherded through one of the most heinous attacks on the First Amendment since, well, since the heinous attack on the First Amendment that happened the day before. He ought to recognize Bush as someone who disdains the Constitution - it takes one to know one.

Feingold has no legitimate right to criticize someone for abusing the laws of the land, seeing as how he and John passed a law making it OK to abuse our most precious law. Not that he's alone; new attacks happen on a daily basis - It's just that Feingold has positioned himself to be called a hero for trampling the Constitution. If they were members of the same branch of the two-headed monster, Feingold would probably favor sanctifying Bush.

Russ and John both want to run for president in 2008. I'm not sure I could think of a choice that would fill me with more despair for America's future than McCain versus Feingold. Oh wait, there's always Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush ...

All hail the welfare state

Ten years after Bill Clinton pronounced "The era of big government is over" and House Speaker Newt Gingrich worked to "end welfare as we know it," The big-government welfare state is as healthy as ever.

The report today is "A sweeping expansion of social programs since 2000 has sparked a record increase in the number of Americans receiving federal government benefits such as college aid, food stamps and health care.

A USA TODAY analysis of 25 major government programs found that enrollment increased an average of 17% in the programs from 2000 to 2005. The nation's population grew 5% during that time. (Related: Federal entitlements have changed)

It was the largest five-year expansion of the federal safety net since the Great Society created programs such as Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.

The difference between the Republican and Democratic parties seems to be that Republicans expand the size of government astronomically while Democrats complain that it isn't expanding fast enough.

The remarkable thing is that everyone pretends this is a substantive difference. Many millions of dollars are spent in a heated struggle between these two organizations that may as well be the Doublemint twins.

I've spent much of the last six years arguing against friends who say going to the polls to vote is giving tacit approval to the sham. Until someone offers a real alternative, I very likely will start joining them on the sidelines.

a k a The Wonder Samurai

Hoo boy ... talk about an addictive site ... thanks (?) to James Leroy Wilson for directing me this way ...

Your Superhero Profile
Your Superhero Name is The Wonder Samurai

Your Superpower is Cursing

Your Weakness is Love

Your Weapon is Your Slime Club

Your Mode of Transportation is Flying Monkeys

Sunday, March 12, 2006

If they could read our minds ...

I walk into the coffee shop near my office and someone new is behind the counter. I look in her eyes and they are a liquid green. I can't maintain eye contact because I am worried she will be able to see the rush of desire that flashed from my eyes to my gut and points south as soon as I looked into those eyes.

To try to change the subject my loins have raised, my eyes dart to an overall view of her lovely face, to her chest which is not overly busty but is very pleasingly proportioned, to her hip-hugging jeans above which just a sliver of her flat belly is showing. Nowhere am I safe; anywhere my eyes come to rest produces a surge of lust, a surge I have no intention or interest in pursuing but which I cannot turn off. I remind myself I'm old enough to be her father, and the thought of fathering makes the sensation stronger.

I'm fairly confident none of these emotions play across my face, but it is all I can do to muster, "Hi! A small medium-roast coffee, please." When she gives me the change for my two bucks, the touch of her fingers on my palm is like an electric shock. Damn hormones.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

He's on to something

James Leroy Wilson takes disparate thoughts from Billy Joel and the late U.S. Rep. Jeannette Rankin and turns them into some important musings about the nature of the American Way.

I think I'm going to open a shop. Or a newspaper. Or a shop that sells my newspaper. (More on the flag here.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Back to the deck chairs

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury led off with a quote from Juan Ramon Jimenez that must rank among the biggest thoughts ever reduced to ten words:

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.

In honor of Bradbury and Jimenez, I have scrambled the lists in my sidebar to take them out of alphabetical order. Think of it as my little blow for peaceful anarchism.

Something to take comfort in as we happy frogs grow warmer

If it wasn't for the fact that it was inevitable, it would be easy to rant about the renewal of USAPATRIOT (which, given that its purpose is "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism," has utterly failed because America is less united than it was before and the concept of America has been further weakened, not strenghtened), but the Happy Curmudgeon has pointed out one small ray of sunshine in the dark, not unlike the crocus plants that should be sending green shoots up through the swiftly melting snow any day now.

The word from the Institute for Justice is the banking institution BB&T has announced it won't provide loans to develop who seize property under the Kelo case's corruption of the power of eminent domain. HC further directs us to BB&T's information page, where the firm spells out a philosophy fairly unlike what you'd expect from a major financial corporation.

It's almost enough to encourage me to move to the former Confederacy so I can hire this company as my banker - if I didn't like the four seasons so much and I didn't know from more than one personal experience how easily one corporation can be absorbed into another.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Department of Forum Security

The Assemblyman representing my hometown has introduced a bill that would require operators of online forums to register their users. You can read it and weep here.

"This bill would require an operator of any interactive computer service or an Internet service provider to establish, maintain and enforce a policy requiring an information content provider who posts messages on a public forum Web site either to be identified by legal name and address or to register a legal name and address with the operator or provider prior to posting messages on a public forum Web site.

"The bill requires an operator of an interactive computer service or an Internet service provider to establish and maintain reasonable procedures to enable any person to request and obtain disclosure of the legal name and address of an information content provider who posts false or defamatory information about the person on a public forum Web site.

"In addition, the bill makes any operator or Internet service provider liable for compensatory and punitive damages as well as costs of a lawsuit filed by a person damaged by the posting of such messages if the operator or Internet service provider fails to establish, maintain and enforce the policy required by section 2 of the bill."

In his introduction to the third edition of Common Sense, Thomas Paine - writing anonymously - said: "Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the DOCTRINE ITSELF, not the MAN."

Mr. Biondi's little Department of Forum Security would have enabled King George III to round up Mr. Paine and bring him to "justice." There are many good reasons to protect one's identity, and for every pinhead who puts up false and defamatory stuff, there are 10,000 people who just want to make a point. That Mr. Biondi is a Republican is further proof that neither of the ruling parties has any interest in protecting the rights of their subjects.

Another eulogy for Harry

My friend John Newman added this comment to my post about Harry Browne, and I can't let it stay buried down the page. I wish I'd written this:

bwr, as you know, I am often without any communication with the world and this is the first I have heard of Harry's passing. Harry had a national audience to spread the Libertarian message and he did it eloquently, simply, and in plain American language and the citizens of this country overwhelmingly rejected him, the LP, and any chance for a real change in politics. To be optimistic that a change will occur in the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens for more liberty, freedom, and self-governing is, I believe, a pipe dream. But, he is now free from government regulation, snooping, and the chains of freedom and can spend eternity in a restful repose. God Bless his soul, he did what he could.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Should have added this to those movie recommendations

While I have said nice things the last couple of days about Crash and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I should have added that both films contain the anti-Second-Amendment underlying theme that guns do unpleasant things to children and other little furry creatures. Without giving too much away, Crash has a couple of key moments that are premised on reckless use of guns. And a central part of Were-Rabbit's plot is the race between our heroes' efforts to catch-and-release bunnies (they're so cuuuute) and the foppish hunter with his big gun.

But once you get past that, they're both terrific, well-made stories. Face it, most movies nowadays don't have that Malcolm Reynolds mentality.

While I have gotten into the Netflix habit and drastically reduced my DVD purchasing, I did go out and buy those two today. I'm going to want to take these rides a few more times.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Fear is a poison

Crash has stayed with me for a couple of nights now, and I think I've figured out why. It's because the point of the movie is the one at the top of my page: Refuse to be afraid.

Crash is the story of people who alternate being fearful of each other and being angry with each other. But in a series of interlocking events, we see the damage that is done by being afraid and the triumph that is possible when you refuse to be afraid.

It's a brilliant movie.

Maybe it's the lingering winter. March is the dreariest month of the year and also the most full of hope - first days of spring, but the last days of winter. But it's been hard for me to ignore my own advice lately.

I've been afraid.

Uncertainties have been creeping into my life, and instead of embracing them and moving on against the challenges, I've been afraid - afraid of being irrelevant, afraid of being too relevant, afraid of being heard, afraid of being ignored, afraid to do something, afraid of standing still, afraid of dying, afraid of living. I've been every politician's dream - they like us scared, you know. Makes it easier for them to wield the power they crave.

Then Crash comes along to show us how wrong it can get if you yield to your fears, your anger, your hatred.

It's a brilliant movie with a brilliant message: Refuse to be afraid. Be careful, but refuse to be afraid. It's not easy advice to follow, but it's the best advice in the world.

Oh, and one other thing: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a cracking good movie, too. I'm so glad it won Best Animated Feature. I haven't laughed so hard since, well, since I saw Serenity for the first time. You know, the box office may be depressed, but 2005 brought us some great, great movies.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Crashing the Oscars

I just saw Crash Saturday night and was blown away by the film. It's a remarkable work of art - great writing and an astonishing ensemble cast producing a memorable set of characters who are interwoven in truly amazing fashion. So I'm just tickled to see it come away as the big winner at the Academy Awards. If you haven't seen the movie, get hold of the DVD and fix that hole. Wow.

I was also thrilled to see Ang Lee win as best director. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of my favorite movies, and I think his Hulk is a brilliant film that got sidetracked in the final reel, so his recognition for Brokeback Mountain is long delayed IMHO.

Good to see King Kong honored as the incredible sight and sound experience that it is. And years from now, of course, Crash will be the answer to the trivia question, "What movie won for Best Picture the year the legendary Serenity was released?"

Saturday, March 04, 2006


It's kind of a Sally Field moment for me - "You really like me!" - to be "tagged" by one of these meme things. Old friend Wally Conger nailed me in the "Memes of Fours" chain post, and it feels kind of tingly to be asked to participate. On the other hand, like Sally Field, it makes me look self-centered and goofy to say so, but heck, I am self-centered and goofy, if not as adorable as Sally was when she did it.

So, without further ado ...

Four jobs I’ve had
Produce department at Foodtown
Radio station program director
P.R. guy for a small college
Newspaper editor

Four movies I can watch over and over
A Christmas Story
The Wizard of Oz

Four places I’ve lived
Milton, Vt.
Grayslake, Ill.
Randolph, N.J.
Hackettstown, N.J.

Four TV shows I love
Veronica Mars
The Avengers
Judd for the Defense

Four highly regarded and recommended TV shows I haven’t seen (much of)
The Sopranos
Arrested Development

Four places I’ve vacationed
Anaheim, Calif.
Sanibel Island, Fla. (My girlfriend, not I, was rich)
Lake George, N.Y.
Chicago, Ill.

Four of my favorite dishes
Ribeye steak off the charcoal grill
An organically-raised turkey with all the trimmings
A bucket of steamed clams
Honey-grilled salmon

Four sites I visit daily/regularly
Out of Step
Sunni Maravillosa and the Conspirators
Independent Country

Four places I’d rather be right now
Dinner with Ray Bradbury
Breakfast with that girl from 20 years ago
Milton, Vt.
A cabin in the woods on a lake in a free country

Four new bloggers I’m tagging
I half-agree with Sunni - "Consider yourself tagged if you wanna play" - and James - "This is always the most uncomfortable part of this tagging business, especially if they've already done it on a couple days I missed their blogs, or if they themselves have run out of people to tag. So they are under no obligation, and probably never watch television anyway." But:
Vache Folle
Tom Ender
Hey, I said I half-agree with Sunni and James, so there's two. Just about everyone else I thought of has already been here ...

This is a fun exercise, even if my paranoia chip kicked in - "Four places I've lived? Who wants to know??" - which is why I fudged on that one. Those are four places where I had an experience that made me feel extremely alive - which is more interesting than places where I had a domicile anyway, isn't it?

Friday, March 03, 2006

HARRY BROWNE 1933-2006

"Left-wing politicians take away your liberty in the name of children and of fighting poverty, while right-wing politicians do it in the name of family values and fighting drugs. Either way, government gets bigger and you become less free."

"You are where you are today because you've chosen to be there."

"You don't have to buy from anyone. You don't have to work at any particular job. You don't have to participate in any given relationship. You can choose."

"The first step in freeing yourself from social restrictions is the realization that there is no such thing as a 'safe' code of conduct - one that would earn everyone's approval. Your actions can always be condemned by someone - for being too bold or too apathetic, for being too conformist or too nonconformist, for being too liberal or too conservative. So it's necessary to decide whose approval is important to you."

"The important thing is to concentrate upon what you can do - by yourself, upon your own initiative."

Great men and women don't die, not as long as someone remembers what they said and reminds us of their wisdom from time to time. The flame of liberty may grow a little less bright for this loss - but Harry Browne stoked that flame in so many hearts and in so many ways. He did all he could - it's up to us now.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ultraviolet opens Friday

I don't know what it is, but I'm curiously anticipatory about the opening Friday of the Kurt Wimmer film Ultraviolet with Milla Jovovich .

OK, yes, I know what it is; it's that poster that Wally Conger posted when he wrote about the movie a couple of weeks ago under the title "A new libertarian heroine?"

Set in the late 21st century, Ultraviolet is about a growing civil war between “normal” humans and genetically-modified humans. Jovovich plays the title character, who finds herself protecting a kid who’s been marked for death by the government.

What I'm seeing today is that the film was not made available to be prescreened by critics, which is usually a sign that they think the critics will hate it, which usually happens because a film is not that good. But maybe it's a pretty decent flick that will benefit from our lowered expectations. Hard to say. But I'm curiously anticipatory. At least it will keep us preoccupied while we're waiting for V for Vendetta March 17.

Gimme Some Truth

Doug Thompson offered some worthy words the other day under the title "Time to set truth free." Veritas Vos Liberabit, indeed.

Lying has become such a pervasive part of political culture that those who lie don't even consider it dishonest. It's "spin" or "our side" or "our position." Truth has no bearing, carries no credence, and lacks even consideration.

Best absorbed while replaying in your mind the immortal song by John Lennon:

I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of soap
Money for dope
Money for rope

I’m sick to death of seeing things
From tight-lipped, condescending, mama’s little chauvinists
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth now

I’ve had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of soap
It’s money for dope
Money for rope

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Random fantasy

I hate to admit this, because it means admitting I failed in my plan to stay away from the idiot box, but I have to say it.

I would pay money to see Simon Cowell punch out Ryan Seacrest. Cowell is trying to be helpful and honest to these aspiring young singers, and Seacrest is a nattering twit.