Monday, July 31, 2006

B.W.'s Book Report: Glory Road

Sometimes the only way to clear your sinuses is to dive into a Robert A. Heinlein book.

You get a bellyful of smoking bans, gay marriage bans, First Amendment bans, gun registrations, people registrations, take a number pleases, what's your phone numbers, what's your Social Security numbers, pee in this jars, pee in that jars, blow in the straws, fill out this forms, where is that forms ... after a while you can either go postal or dive into a Robert A. Heinlein book.

All is right with the world in a Robert A. Heinlein book. In a Heinlein book, everyone knows governments and bureaucracies are counter to everything human. In a Heinlein book, that government governs best that governs least.

"I asked him how advanced societies ran things.

"His brow wrinkled. 'Mostly they don't.'"

Ah! Sweet release.

E.C. Gordon has a mysterious conversation with the most beautiful woman he will ever meet. He neglects to get her name and number and curses his stupidity. Then he answers a personal ad seeking an adventurer and promising "permanent employment, very high pay, glorious adventure, great danger," and finds himself falling into her arms.

I hate to say more because this is one of those books where the less you know ahead of time, the more fun you'll have. I've never seen Glory Road listed next to the immortal Heinlein books like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Stranger in a Strange Land - never heard of it, in fact, until I blundered into it one day and was attracted by the long-haired blonde with the big - err, by the heroic Robin Hood figure confronting a big dinosaur on the cover. And no, this book is not as wildly memorable as the most well-known Heinlein books, but it is wildly memorable, and it contains a healthy dose of Heinlein's famous cheerfully anarcho-libertarian attitude. He wrote it in 1963, and many of the political and sexual themes he would be tackling with legendary skill by the end of that decade were well in evidence already.

There's nothing like a Heinlein book to put yourself in the proper frame of mind for a Monday morning at the wage-slave job - that is to say, to get you dreaming about the day you free yourself.

Because that's the whole point. "A wage slave, even in brackets where Uncle Sugar takes more than half, is still a slave." Even Heinlein's lesser triumphs are full of gems like that. Beautiful!


Friday, July 28, 2006

A Common Sense approach to World War III

The rulers of the American Empire have written about the Third Wave, they've held seminars about the Third Way, and now they're speaking candidly about the Third World War. Newt Gingrich wants us to know that recent violence in Israel and Lebanon and India, and the North Korean missile tests, and the arrests of al-Qaida sympathizers in Canada and Miami and New York, are all related in a way that resembles a world war.

"Whether operationally connected or not, these attackers and plotters are connected in their ultimate aim to destroy the values of freedom, security and religious liberty that sustain civilization in the modern age."

He wants you to be afraid. He wants us "to have a national debate - indeed, a worldwide debate - between those of us who believe we're in a war to defend civilization (and therefore must defeat terrorists and their state sponsors) and those who are made uncomfortable by the price of defeating terrorists and their state sponsors."

That is one gem of a sentence. If you object to invasions of your privacy, if you object to a police-state mentality, if you object to undeclared wars and prisoners-of-war camps filled with people the government insists are not POWs, if you object to a president with the powers of an emperor who is above the law that we common folk must obey without question - well, then, you must not be willing to defend civilization. You must not comprehend that to save our freedom, we must destroy our freedom before the enemies of civilization beat us to the punch.

Gingrich very cleverly sneaks New York and Miami and Canada into a list of troubling developments in the "war on terror." This is no doubt to prepare the reader for the domestic operations that will be deemed "necessary" to prevent terrorism and for the police-state actions like registering all citizens and especially their guns, monitoring their e-mail and their phone calls, stopping them and searching them at random, confiscating the weapons of hurricane victims, and the like.

Ironically, Gingrich concludes by giving freedom lovers a nice four-point plan for conversations with our "friends and neighbors who may not yet recognize the nature and scale of this war." If I may, let me adapt his talking points to the cause of true freedom.

1. It's Us Versus Them: The American people and free people everywhere must come to recognize that we are in a world war that pits the cause of freedom against those of the state who wish to impose a new dark age - with them in charge. Everything our leaders do must be judged by whether it helps or hurts the cause of freedom.

2. Connect the Dots, Then Connect Them Again: We must consistently emphasize that you don't defend freedom and liberty by stripping it away - that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (even if it makes you happy not to include the three words "by our Creator" in that sentence). The push to create a national ID card is related to searches of persons and property in airports. Increased police power to break into our homes unannounced is related to increased government power to confiscate homes and land and personal property for whatever purposes it so desires.

And on and on it goes.

3. Stand and Deliver: We must take every possible opportunity to engage in arguments and efforts that educate people about how whatever external threats the country faces, we face an enormous domestic challenge to protect the right of individuals to live their lives unencumbered and unafraid of overbearing intrusions by the state, so long as they don't infringe on the rights of other individuals.

4. Be Honest About the Challenges Ahead: Those who want to micromanage our lives are very powerful and very dedicated. When every one of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights has been tossed aside and trampled, there is a serious crisis of liberty. We must convince the American people and our allies around the world that fighting this fight is hard but necessary and unavoidable. Allowing them to stamp out the last flickering flames of liberty and erect a wall of totalitarianism on the North American continent would be far harder.

There really are bad guys in the world who'd like to blow up people just because they're Americans. or just because they're Jews. or just because they're Arabs. So it's easy for demagogues to take our fear of being blown up and lead us into a cage, where we'll be safe from the bombs but absolutely vulnerable to their power and their absolute certainty that they know how to run our lives better than we do.

The legacy of Jefferson and Paine and Washington and Franklin and all the revolutionaries we revere absolutely depends on this distinction: Freedom is not a commodity delivered via a spigot you can turn on and off - you don't defend liberty by "temporarily" suspending it. I'd like to think Newt Gingrich believes in freedom and liberty and doesn't realize the extent to which his arguments betray the very cause he claims to champion. But this is a very carefully crafted essay that leads the reader to consider it would be downright patriotic to lay down his freedom if it means defeating the terrorists. The man claims to be about liberty; his words coax the reader down another path.

We were born to live and die as free men and women, and no bogeyman Newt Gingrich waves in the dark can make us afraid enough to surrender our freedom. I'd like to believe we have the courage to stand up to anyone who threatens our God-given freedom - including you, Newt. Including you.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The amazing colossal wage slave

On the last day of my time off - you know, the time off to work on important projects, tune up the resume, finally get serious about the novel and the business and the future - I have played about a dozen games of Free Cell, read the paper, surfed all of my usual haunts, played with the cats, gotten myself fired as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings (Madden 2000 - hey, I've got an old computer), checked my e-mail - fired off a couple of overdue notes - and generally not gotten serious about the novel and the business and the future. I haven't even touched my homework from the wage-slave job.

Why do you suppose that is? A finite amount of time on this planet, and an even more finite time "all my own" - and the impulse is to squander it. Yes, yes, I know I'm not alone, and I'm not talking necessarily just about myself, but I certainly am a fine example of this. Often this frustrates me, but today I'm stepping aside myself and I realize it's fascinating and unfathomable.

A good friend of mine whom I've never met challenged me on this point after I made a big fuss again about refusing to be afraid. He wonders why folks (I think he means me) don't just take hold of their lives, assume responsibility for the risk, and follow their dreams. His theory is we're afraid. I think he's right.

Life is a scary thing. We careen around taking a series of risks, some more risky than others, and at some point we start getting tired of being burned, and we start taking fewer risks and we discover the path of least resistance, a comfort zone where maybe it's a T.S. Eliot existence - "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation" - but at least the bills are mostly paid, the tummy is fed and no one is threatening to take away our toys. And the dreams get hung up on the shelf.

Still ... still ... a little voice somewhere whispers, "You have bigger dreams than this. You wanted to do something important. You wanted to have a life more fulfilling than this!" So we decide to take a day or two to sort it all out. And instead we play video games, eat the bread and watch the circuses, and a day or two later it's back to the wage-slave job with nothing resolved.

I'm tempted to scream in frustration - but I'm in just the right mood to instead, look at this little beast who has grown up and lived a few decades and whom I've named B.W. Richardson, and I'm thinking: Isn't this guy's well-groomed inertia interesting? How long can he just sit here like this?

Oh, I congratulate myself: Becoming B.W. was actually a huge step. Do you know how long I thought about becoming someone like B.W.? Never mind, it was a while. And I'm having fun. But after reading and absorbing such important books as Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts and How to Kill the Job Culture Before It Kills You - Look Ma, I'm still a wage slave!

What's the problem? Where's the disconnect? Hang on, I'm going to play a game of Free Cell and think about this ...

That one (#26620) was fairly easy - three aces lined up in a row there in the third row from the right, that helped big time. What! You thought I was kidding? OK, now that I've played true confessions, I think I'm going to go off and try thinking about the future again ... refusing to be afraid ... Gulp! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

B.W.'s Book Report: Spin

First things first: The other morning, upon finishing Spin, I leaped online and pronounced that Robert Charles Wilson's beautiful novel was the one I would choose as this year's Hugo winner. Upon further review, and pal Wally Conger's brief but effective dissent, I think the honors should indeed go to Old Man's War by John Scalzi, which delivers a powerful message about the foolishness of war and the eternal power of love while providing a page-turning thriller of an adventure to boot.

But that, in the end, is the foolishness of these award things. Spin is also a monumental achievement, delivering a powerful message about how we deal with life while providing a page-turning thriller to boot. The awards process is nice because, by nominating these five novels, the Hugo people drew attention to works that some readers (like me) probably would never have picked up. But how do you choose "the" best novel from such a disparate pile? In the end it's a majority-rules process, a small or large group essentially voting for their favorites. The truth is that Scalzi and Wilson both wrote novels that blew me away and that I would recommend to anyone who thinks my opinion is worth a couple of cents.

On to Spin: It is the day after tomorrow, and three young people - brother-sister twins and their slightly younger friend who narrates our tale - happen to be out on the lawn when the stars blink out. The Earth has been surrounded by some sort of cocoon, all artificial satellites have fallen to the ground, and the sun has apparently been replaced by an artificial heat/light source that acts just like the sun but without its little quirks like sunspots and solar flares.

Before long we discover that the cocoon is some sort of time warp, and while everything seems normal on our planet, on the outside years and centuries are passing so fast that, somewhere around 50 of "our" years from now - when it's billions of years later on the outside - the sun will flare up and die. This apparently is the last generation on Earth.

Wilson gives us a compelling story around this scenario and the next few decades in the lives of our three main characters. Why is this mysterious phenomenon - dubbed the "spin" - happening, and who is doing it to us? How can it be stopped - or can it be stopped - or should it be stopped? And how do different people react to the impending End of the World? As you can tell by my first reaction upon completing the novel, it's an extremely satisfying read.

So, to wrap up my Hugo project: The statue goes to Old Man's War, by a nose over Spin. Accelerando by Charles Stross is a fascinating read that engaged my mind but not my emotions the way Scalzi and Wilson did. Learning the World by Ken MacLeod gets an "incomplete" because I just wasn't grabbed and the pages wouldn't turn for me on the first attempt. And A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin is a victim of my prejudices: I just didn't feel "up" to leaping into the fourth 750-page book in a fantasy series when the point of the exercise is to find the best science-fiction novel of the year.


B.W. under the microscope, more or less

The June issue of Sunni's Salon is now out there, with all sorts of nifty stuff, plus a 15-page (!) interview with moi. If these monologues have meant anything to you, here's a chance to experience what I'm like when I'm interacting with someone else (whatever that means). Thanks to Sunni for a great visit that took us from Spider-Man to God to, of course, Theeeeee Imaginareeee Booooooommmmmmb.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Refuse to be afraid

It's been about a year now that I've used the name Brian Wilson Richardson. If you look in my archives, you'll see the first entry is dated July 18, 2005. I like the name, and when I recently visited some newly acquired friends it felt odd but comfortable to be addressed as "B.W."

Not long after I started writing Montag regularly, a coda began to emerge: Refuse to be afraid. It came up so often, I made it the "subtitle" of Montag. That was a reminder for me as much as for you. It's so easy to let fear direct our lives, even though our basic nature yearns to be free. It's just that so many people, whether they intend or not, try to influence our behavior - restrict our freedom - by making us afraid.

Here's a problem - so much of what draws my outrage and ends up being discussed in this space could make a person fearful, too - afraid that so many people are doing so many things to deprive us of so much freedom, there's nothing we can do to stop them or reverse the trend. Sometimes I look at stuff I've written over a period of days, or on and off over months and years, and I detect that kind of resignation creeping in. "What's the use? The statists have won: A vast majority wants the government to take care of all our problems." And that may be true. Hell, it IS true: Not that the statists have won, but it's true about the vast majority.

So what's a self-respecting freedom-loving individualist individual to do? Well, first, refuse to be afraid. There are worse things in life than being alone. (For one thing, there's being not-alone in a roomful of rabid statists.) And you're not alone, anyway: If you believe you have the freedom to live your life as you please as long as you don't step on someone else's freedom, I'm with you. And so are the folks I've provided links to over there on the right, and so are a lot of the other folks they've provided links to. We're a minority, but we're a pretty feisty minority, and you may not know this, but a pretty feisty minority is what made 13 free and independent states out of the American British colonies.

(No, I'm not suggesting we take arms against the oppressors - England initiated the violence we now know as the American Revolution. The former colonies just wanted to go their way in peace, and the king didn't cotton to that. Oppressors tend to do violence even to nonviolent free people - but don't be afraid of that, either: They can't hurt the idea of freedom, and they can't make you not-free without your permission.)

I suggest simply that as we share the various outrages against freedom in this supposedly free nation, we remind ourselves why we're outraged, and that is: It's not supposed to be this way. By accumulating the evidence, we slowly but surely are building a case to prove our contention that we are not free, and slowly but surely that contention is being heard. How else does a movie like V for Vendetta get made, for example?

There's nothing we can do to win back our freedom? Balderdash. For one thing, we can write little essays like this one and share them as far and wide as we can. The war of ideas is never over: If today a majority is content to let the Vast Machine run their lives, tomorrow a handful of people will read this and decide not to be content, and they will share this little essay with a handful of others or, even better, write or speak these thoughts in their own words. And that's just the beginning. Claire Wolfe wrote a book called 99 Things to Do 'til the Revolution and then thought of 78 more ideas.

Agitating for freedom in an increasingly unfree society may win you more adversaries than friends in the early going especially, but it will win you friends. And it all begins with a decision: Refuse to be afraid.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Their hearts cry out


The winner of B.W.'s Hugo Awards preview: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson.

A proper book report in a few days, perhaps. Right now I just need to recover from the awe.

Say good night, Brian. Good night, Brian. Night? It's 2 in the morning. How'd that happen?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

B.W.'s Book Report: Learning the World

Man, sorry, Ken MacLeod fans, this one just didn't do it for me. I've been trying and trying to get into this book, but after 2-3 weeks I was still stuck on Page 52. It may one day be one of my favorite books, but right now, right here, I couldn't get started on Learning the World. I even was afraid I'd lost my passion for summer reading.

Finally, I just picked up the next entry in my Hugo award nominees box, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Ah, now that's more like it! I'm about halfway through that puppy after one night and a lunch hour.

This was my first exposure to MacLeod, and he seems to have some imagination. Here's an ark-style world within a big spaceship, and over there's a winged species that calls itself humans. Very interesting stuff, you'd think, but my brain just wasn't turning the pages. Maybe I'll try it again after I'm finished with Wilson's end-of-time thriller.

It's been fun trying to read all five Hugo nominees for best novel before the awards are made, because it's an excuse to expose myself to five authors I woulda-shoulda-coulda exposed myself to years ago. Up to now it was hands-down Old Man's War by John Scalzi's contest to lose, but I don't know ... I'm ripping through Spin and really intrigued by the concept. If the payoff is as good as the setup, we might have a two-book race.

I've more or less abandoned the idea of plowing through George R.R. Martin's A Feast for Crows in the next month before the Hugos. A 750-page fantasy novel is a bit daunting to begin with (I thought these were science-fiction awards anyway), and learning that it's Book Four in a series further doused my enthusiasm. But I promise to give MacLeod another chance to win me over. That, and a couple of bucks, will get him a cup of coffee, as they say.


No hoity toity critics to see 'Snakes On A Plane'

The critics won't get to see Snakes on a Plane before the rest of us do. Now I know I once speculated that only turkeys don't get presented to the critics, but I've seen the light.

As David Waldon, who's written a book about the Snakes buzz, explains:

"The movie could very well suck, but they're putting a very creative spin as to why they're not showing it ... And even if the movie does suck, it goes along with the whole thing."

There's a certain genre of movie that it's kind of silly for critics to review, since a review by definition requires the film to be taken seriously. And, as better observers than I have noted, all you need to know about Snakes on a Plane is the title. You're either going, or you're not, when it opens Aug. 18. I think I'm going.

I turned out to be right about why Ultraviolet wasn't shown to the critics ahead of time, or was I? Upon further review (oops- no pun intended) I was converted to some appreciation for the Milla Jovovich vehicle, even if I don't think it's a great flick. It's not even great-bad like Plan 9 in Outer Space, but it's an interesting ride.

While we're on the subject, you have heard that Slither comes out on DVD Oct. 24, right?

Monday, July 17, 2006

The light bulb pops on

I've been exposed in recent months to a small handful of books and programs about time management and goal-setting, and they all boil down to this: Decide what your priorities are and do the most important things first. How hard can that be, right?

We inevitably seem to get bogged down in unimportant tasks and other people's emergencies. "Don't do that," the time coaches argue. How hard can that be, right?

I sat down a few minutes ago to set the priorities for the day and it was a nice little exercise - the wage-slave tasks seem a little less daunting and I have a plan to slough through them. Then, when I turned to bang out some quick thoughts for this space, I had an epiphany: Those aren't my priorities, they're an organized to-do list for the job.

At least in my head, my top priority has been to find an alternative to my wage-slave job that would enable me to keep paying the bills. When I sit down to work out my daily tasks based on my priorities, I haven't been including tasks that would lead toward my personal freedom - which, as we've been concluding lately, is the only freedom I have any control over. Because I haven't been treating it as a real priority - it's simply been the item at the top of my wish list.

Only one sure way to make wishes come true has ever been found: Don't sit around wishing, work to make the wish a reality. How hard can that be, right?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

'When in doubt, take their guns'

For the first time in 50 years of fake gunfights at Wild West City, a real bullet slipped into the mix, and authorities respond by seizing the guns. Nothing surprises anymore.

Guns seized despite this: "Bill Fitzgibbons, the Sussex County First Assistant Prosecutor, said authorities so far have not found any government agency that has jurisdiction over the performances at Wild West City, a Byram theme park." No doubt Fitzgibbons or someone else will be working on changing the law so that some government bureaucrat does have jurisdiction.

Guns seized despite this:
"The theme park is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and local officials have said they know of no other serious accidents ever happening there."

OK, the guns were seized for examination so they could figure out which gun fired the live round - but "
those tests would not determine which gun fired a live round last week - unless the bullet is retrieved and examined."

Yep, it's a darn shame that a guy is lying in the hospital in serious condition, but either somebody deliberately targeted him - in which case we have a case of attempted homicide - or for the first time in thousands and thousands of performances, something went terribly wrong. In either case increased government oversight is absolutely wrong. But that won't stop them.

Friday, July 14, 2006

They 'Done the Impossible'

After many months of work, the folks behind the "Done the Impossible" documentary DVD are days away from shipping. As someone who pre-ordered, I've received an e-mail that the film went to the duplicators the other day and they expect to have them ready for shipping next week sometime.

Fans of the TV series Firefly have produced this film about the effort to coax a rebirth of the story of Malcolm Reynolds and his little band, an effort that amazingly resulted in creation of the feature film Serenity. Regular readers of these musings know they've become my all-time favorite TV show and science-fiction movie. The new film features interviews with creative genius Joss Whedon, at least five cast members, and fans of the series of all kinds, chronicling the improbable journey to Sept. 30, 2005, when the Big Damn Movie debuted.

I heard about the documentary through a series of features on the podcast "The Signal" and pre-ordered as a show of faith in the entrepreneurs who were assembling it. I wasn't sure I'd ever see the DVD, and I'm tickled they've "done the impossible" and finally pulled it off. More info is here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Syd, they never knew you

An Effervescing Elephant
with tiny eyes and great big trunk
once whispered to the tiny ear
the ear of one inferior
that by next June he'd die, oh yeah!
because the tiger would roam.

The little one said: "Oh my goodness I must stay at home!
and every time I hear a growl
I'll know the tiger's on the prowl
and I'll be really safe, you know
the elephant he told me so."
Everyone was nervy, oh yeah!
and the message was spread

to zebra, mongoose, and the dirty hippopotamus
who wallowed in the mud and chewed
his spicy hippo-plankton food
and tended to ignore the word
preferring to survey a herd
of stupid water bison, oh yeah!
And all the jungle took fright,

and ran around for all the day and the night
but all in vain, because, you see,
the tiger came and said: "Who me?!
You know, I wouldn't hurt not one of you.
I'd much prefer something to chew
and you're all to scant." oh yeah!
He ate the Elephant
I heard the news from Sunni.
Didn't even know he was sick.
Didn't even know how much I liked him until I felt my reaction to his death.
Not enough originals in this world.
Syd Barrett was one.
Damn. What's he doing dead?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The most powerful nation in the world

I happened to dial past the guy who was substituting for Rush Limbaugh yesterday, and he was reading from a Bill Kristol column about President Bush's wimpy response to the North Korean missile test. It seems one day Bush said it was "unacceptable" for the test to be held, and then when it was held anyway, the situation became merely "regrettable."

So the neoconservative community is having a fit. How Clintonian of Bush to draw a line in the sand and then, when it's crossed, to attempt negotiations rather than simply nuke Korea into the Stone Age.

Rush's sub was suggesting that it's time we (meaning the U.S. Government) exert a little pressure on China to do something to rein in its buddies, the North Koreans. After all, he said, we have built an amazing trade relationship with China and we are still the most powerful nation in the world. Oh really?

I started talking back at the radio with some of the concepts I learned from the Bonner-Wiggin book Empire of Debt, which notes that Americans as a group spend 6 percent more than they earn every day, that $11.5 trillion worth of U.S. investment is now in foreign (largely Asian) hands, and "our net international investment position has gone negative at more than $3 trillion." China holds a great many U.S. Treasury bonds, and let's be clear: The people to whom you owe money own you.

The radio man sounded full of the elan that Bonner-Wiggin wrote about on pp. 241-242: "Who cares that they spend more than they can afford? Who worries that we have no savings and now depend on the kindness of strangers to maintain our standards of living? Who realizes that the Chinese or Japanese could bring the U.S. economy to its knees with a single word? ... So what if the Chinese and Japanese sell our bonds, we still have our houses!"

The television series Firefly and its companion film Serenity postulate a future in which America and China were the surviving cultures that influenced the world of 500 years from now, so everyone is bilingual. Actually, the Chinese used is mostly epithets - hilarious ones like "the explosive diarrhea of an elephant." We might want to consider learning a few phrases of Chinese more practical than that.

Because the people to whom you owe money own you, and our mighty U.S. government has taken out massive equity loans, backed by thin air, with the Chinese government. Our rulers have no leverage with the Chinese. They are owned by the Chinese. China became the most powerful government in the world while we were sleeping, with the acquiescence of our imperial rulers.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Life merges with satire

James Leroy Wilson points us to Fawkes' new site "No Authority," where today the subject is "The Banality of Evil." And follow his links for the full picture. A new bookmark for me!

The rank injustices roll by so fast, even the most prodigiously incensed don’t, or can’t, note them all. It numbs the outrage in even those most jaded. The banality of evil, indeed.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Daily Bomb

After unsuccessfully trying to find the time in one day to produce one big honking podcast with the last six chapters of The Imaginary Bomb, Plan B occurred to us: Six little podcasts produced one at a time for about a week. Chapter 22: Martyrs is available now, and "Chapter 23: The bomb" should be up by midnight. Then "Chapter 24: Meanwhile back at the Quonset ..." will be up Sunday night, all the way to Chapter 27 Wednesday night.

If we'd thought of this earlier, we might've gotten the whole novel done in 27 days. Woulda shoulda coulda, whatever.

And after this, whither the Richardson-Bluhm collaboration? Will there be a sequel? Are other podcasts under development? Will you ever be able to hold The Imaginary Bomb in your hands and read it out on the porch or in the hammock? Those questions will be answered in their time, and perhaps one or more of them Wednesday night.

B.W. and w.p.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Guilty pleasures

OK, I have to 'fess up. Well, no, I don't have to 'fess up, but I'm gonna.

I have no rational explanation for this, but I really enjoy the movie Ultraviolet, which crashed and burned at the box office but came out on DVD this week. I had Netflix send it right away.

My first take on the film after seeing it in the theater was that it was a muddled mess. I can't decide if they were going for stylized visuals or if they just had no money for special effects, but in the action scenes Milla Jovovich seems to be moving in and out of cartoon land like a reverse Roger Rabbit. The body count easily breaks the record set in Hot Shots Part Deux. Some of the fight scenes are so chaotic you can't figure out what's happening, the dialogue is stale and overly predictable (the conversation in the final showdown with the baddie borders on Dudley DoRight-Snidley Whiplash awful), and well, Milla won't be winning any acting awards for this.

So why did I go back to see the DVD the first week it was available?

Part of it, I swear, was to see if the film makes any more sense in the seven-minute extended version. And it does. There seems to be more exposition than I remember, and this movie badly needed exposition.

But, just as Jovovich's LeeLoo is the only thing that I remember about The Fifth Element, I'm afraid the main attraction of Ultraviolet is Milla's attractive belly, which is in just about every scene. And that seems to be what separates Ultraviolet from the "one viewing was enough, thank you" crowd.

Damn those hormones anyway.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Corzine gets his tax increase

Well, ya knew this was coming. I was just hoping our vacation from state government would last longer than six days. So were state workers, no doubt, who will be paid for all the time off, as everyone knew they would be.

The deal will increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and use half the $1.1 billion that it will raise to help lower property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation. It allows the possibility that, in future years, the entire increase will go to property tax relief.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! It's possible the whole increase will go to property tax relief. Hahahahahahahaha! You guys are killing me.

"I honestly think that in the end with the agreement that we have reached, our state and more importantly our citizens are all emerging as winners," said Senate President Richard J. Codey.

Oh, fer sure, fer sure, Dick. Anytime you can agree on a 16.666 percent tax increase, it's a win-win for the state, and of course in our free democratic society, the state is the people, so all of the people emerge as winners.


"This is a very, very fair resolution: good for the state, good for the taxpayers," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., who had been the main opponent of the sales tax hike.

I'm really having a tough time conjuring this here, Joe: Tell me again about how a 16.666 percent tax increase is good for me. And can we have rabbits, too? Huh, Joe? Please?

Corzine shut down non-essential government operations on Saturday after the Legislature failed to pass a budget by the July 1 deadline.

More than 45,000 state workers were furloughed ...

You know me, I can't pass up a chance to repeat a tired old joke: I KNOW! WE CAN BALANCE THE BUDGET BY FIRING THE 45,000 NON-ESSENTIAL STATE WORKERS!!!

... starting with the 80 Assembly representatives, the 40 senators, and the gorram governor. A sorrier lot can't be found outside Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Police state shuts down casinos

From the Newark Star-Ledger "Live from the Ledger" news blog:

A.C. casinos shut down
Casinos in Atlantic City have closed down their gaming operations.

Across the city, gamblers are upset as State Police have made sure gaming floors are clear of all players and operations are ceased.

Many casinos began closing gaming machines and gambling tables earlier than this morning's 8 a.m. deadline, as many gamblers, anticipating the shutdown, didn't show up.

And earlier:

With the budget still at a standstill, Gov. Jon Corzine will address the state Legislature this morning, for the second consecuitve day. Assembly Democrats and Corzine remain at odds over whether a sales tax increase is needed to balance the state budget.

Corzine ordered a phased-in state government shutdown on Saturday. In addition to casinos, state parks and historic areas will be closed for their first full day today. State motor vehicles offices will remain shut, more than half the state payroll is on furlough, and courts are working at minimum staffing. The state lottery is still out of business.

No doubt "on furlough" means once they reopen the doors, half the state payroll will get a nice fat check for sitting around the house while the pols argue about our money - and probably some nice fat overtime pay for cleaning up the backlog of work when they get back.

This isn't going to last - not only are state employees a huge block of squeaky wheels, but all of the recipients of all of the state giveaway programs will start squeaking as the dates their checks are due start coming and going.

But it's Day 5 of the "crisis," and life goes on as if the government wasn't required for us to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Who'da thunk???

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth of July

In New Jersey the state government is shut down because the governor and the Legislature can't agree on how much to tax the governed and so there's no budget and no money to run the puppet theater.

People are enjoying the day with friends and family, going to the shore, buying and selling, and otherwise living life without the state to run their lives.

What better way to celebrate Independence Day?

Monday, July 03, 2006

What goes around comes around

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Good reading
. May people always exercise their rights diligently.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

'Why are Americans so angry?'

Independence Day thoughts from U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. I found it in one of my too-rare visits to the Free Market News Network. Gotta go there more often.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

B.W.'s Book Report: Empire of Debt

I really don't know why people try to make economics so complicated. From years of personal experience, I can tell you if you always spend more money than you take in, and if you depend on various lines of credit to keep you going, at some point the cash will run out, the credit will run out, and the people to whom you owe money will dictate the terms of your surrender.

A couple of basic facts drive Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin's amazingly sensible book, Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis. First, the United States of America stopped being a republic around the Wilson administration and has been an empire for most of the time since then. Second, instead of funding the empire through the tributes of conquered lands, like traditional empires do, this empire has funded its misadventures by borrowing money and printing federal reserve notes up the wazoo.

It works for empires the same as it works for individuals: If you always spend more than you take in, and if you depend on various lines of credit to keep you going, at some point the cash will run out, and the people to whom you owe money will dictate the terms of your surrender. The American empire is going to collapse under the weight of its debt sooner or later, and Bonner and Wiggin make a compelling case that sooner is more likely than later.

It's a wonderful history lesson, explaining how Woodrow Wilson launched the empire and subsequent emperors, errr, presidents have expanded it. The experience of reading the book was one of curtains being opened that explain so much of the silliness that drives the empire, and why we have never in our lifetimes lived in the republic envisioned by the founders of the United States of America.

A reader could get very depressed reading this book, as it tends to confirm your worst fears about why America isn't the America we were taught to believe it is. But much as there's actually a sense of relief and empowerment at realizing you're going to die someday and time's a-wasting, I actually felt a bit of comfort at understanding Constitutional America was gone before I was born. At least now I know there was nothing I or anyone alive could have done to prevent the establishment of the empire.

Our role, then, is to keep the flame of real freedom alive, to tell the stories of what it must have been like to build a house without getting permission from a bureaucrat at the county seat, to earn a living without opening your books to the federal government and paying a tribute to Washington and the state capital in order to keep going, to have some control over your life.

I'm off on a tangent.

Empire of Debt should be required reading for just about anyone. There's a quote to that effect on the dust jacket, and I agree. Much of this is probably old hat to longtime anarcho-libertarians, but for relative newbies like me, this book is an excellent primer in real economics, as opposed to the voodoo economics that have ruled the roost in recent years.

And oddly enough, parts of it are downright hilarious, too.