Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mencken's Creed

Sometimes I can add nothing ... Gotta love this by H.L. Mencken (even if I'd point out a distinction between organized religion and the original message):
  • I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind, that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

  • I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

  • I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty.

  • I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

  • I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech.

  • I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

  • I believe in the reality of progress.

  • I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Flip Side of Fine Films Lists: Flaming Titanic

My buddy Wally Conger went the other way after I talked about my favorite movies - he started a cool conversation about a Premiere magazine piece called "The 20 Most Over-Rated Films of All Time." You know the old expression "Don't get me started"? Here's part of what I posted ...

"My all-time over-rated, bloated, WTF did I waste three and a half hours of my life on this thing for: James Cameron's Titanic. I squirmed through the first 90 minutes getting to know nothing I cared to know about a pile of unappealing characters, I laughed through parts of the serious sinking scenes, and I was enraged at the end with what that old lady does with a multimillion-dollar jewel that could have rewarded all of the research team's labors. Oh damn, now I've gotten started ... The heartbreaking part is Cameron had done so many really terrific films before that clunker. But what do I know? After Titanic the guy never needs to work again."

It's true. I hated it. It even took two great movies (The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Finding Neverland) to get the bad taste out of my mouth and acknowledge that Kate Winslet is an appealing actress after all. There's one scene where Leonardo DiCaprio's character is handcuffed to a pipe and the water is rising - Kate runs off to find a key, and when she returns to Leo her body language does not say "Thank goodness I'm back in time, let's get you out of there." No - Milady and I looked at each other, giggled and said in unison, "Hi honey, I'm ho-ome." After thrilling to the Terminator films and The Abyss and True Lies and Aliens, I expected a great flick. I've never been so horribly disappointed by a movie.

How disappointed was I? I usually will sink into a movie, my brain completely immersed in the characters and story. Interrupting my train of thought while I'm really movie-watching is like being awakened from REM sleep. About halfway through Titanic, I got up and went to the restroom. I was that bored.

It's not a complete waste. The scene where Leo is sketching Kate is lovely without being prurient, although it did fill my evil soul with prurient thoughts. (Hey, I'm a guy, it's what we do.) Gloria Stuart is simply wonderful as the old Kate - that's why I was so infuriated when they ruined even that character with her stupid, selfish and completely incongruous final act. And nobody films water scenes like Cameron; he was literally in his element with that aspect of this story. But overall, I hated Titanic. I hate it so much that if I think of a film that I think is the second most-overrated film I've ever seen, the level of revulsion won't be even close. Titanic is far and away the all-time champ.

Yep, it's true, I just browsed the all-time USA box office list searching for another well-anticipated movie that disappointed me so badly, and I got all the way down to #223, Traffic, before I found one that sparked any kind of emotional reaction. And even then, I thought it was a pretty good movie, but it paled in comparison with the source material, the 1989 European miniseries Traffik. Sure, I've seen worse movies, but hands down the worst time I ever had when I was expecting a good movie was Titanic. It's just a horrible, sopping, bloated mess.

I know, I know - "Yeah, but what do you really think about this movie, Brian?"

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Favorite Movies List revised at last

Until Serenity my personal top three movies hadn't changed in 21 years - as of Sept. 29, 2005, the list was ...

1. It's A Wonderful Life
2. The Wizard of Oz
3. Casablanca
4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
5. To Kill a Mockingbird

I knew before Serenity premiered that things were gonna change, but those top movies have had such a profound effect on my life that, even after seeing it for the first time was the most fun I've had in a movie theater since my first Casablanca experience with a roomful of fellow college kids in the '70s, I haven't been able to decide where the Malcolm Reynolds saga fits in my brain.

So Nathan Fillion and friends nudge Bogie and Bergman aside, but can they nudge aside the enduring fun of Oz or the spirit-lifting punch in the gut that Capra gave me in Bedford Falls?

After careful review, I think not.
1. It's A Wonderful Life
2. The Wizard of Oz
3. Serenity
4. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
5. Casablanca
6. To Kill A Mockingbird
7. A Christmas Story
8. V for Vendetta
9. Shakespeare in Love
10. Glory

The revised Top 10 bumps Raiders of the Lost Ark and As Good As It Gets. Don't worry, they're never far away.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

7 Steps Out of the Job Culture

You can't just tell the boss to f*!? off and walk away from the life of a wage slave, because - because - because - because - because - because of the wonderful things he does. Well, that, and the credit card bills and the mortgage and all those other tags of slavery you've willingly accumulated over the years. But what can you do while you're waiting for the next phase of your life to present itself to you?

Well ...

1. Stop waiting for the next phase of your life to present itself to you. Don't wait for the next phase of your life to present itself; decide what you want to be when you grow up and start presenting it to your life. In other words, make something happen!

2. Make a plan. The next phase is probably something you can work on in your spare time while you're devoting 40 hours of your life to making the corporation go round in circles. (How the heck did we ever get trapped in that cycle anyway?) I'll bet you can spare one hour a day to a brighter future. In fact, I'll bet you can spare more than that. Sleep, shmeep. Once you get started, you'll be too excited to sleep anyway.

3. Work the plan. Yeah, you came up with some great ideas when you spared that one hour to think about a brighter future. Now get started on it. I said one hour (or more) a day, right? You did great yesterday. What's your excuse today? (The right answer is "I got no excuse." So work the plan!)

4. Go for a walk. Run. Play rugby. Play pingpong. Whatever you enjoy doing with your body. (Down, boy.) Just get the juices flowing, because when you're just sitting in front of a screen all day, the juices in your brain tend to get stagnant. Plus, all of those things about living longer with exercise are probably true.

5. Read. Get involved with somebody else's mind. It'll stretch yours. And it very likely will give you some ideas about the next phase of your life.

6. Refuse to be afraid. (Did I mention these are in no special order? This is really #1.) And of course, by this I mean sure, I know you're afraid - we're all afraid. Just work with it. Peter McWilliams wrote about stepping out of your comfort zone by turning the fear into energy. Bob Parsons, the guy, says get out of your comfort zone and stay out. Everything ever accomplished, from the date with that hottie across the room to the American Revolution, was accomplished by stepping out of the comfort zone and acting despite the fear.

7. Business before pleasure, but remember the pleasure part. Work on all of it, but remember to relax and unwind at regular intervals. Smell the roses. Listen to Guns N' Roses. Read today's "Rose is Rose" comic strip. Rent The Rose from Netflix. Whatever trips your trigger; just trip it early and often to avoid burnout.

You can't find freedom from the rut you're in inside another glass of whine. The old cliche is that freedom has to be earned. Don't wait around for someone or something to free you; free yourself. Take the first step. Today. Maybe even now.

'Extreme Big Brother fears to become a reality'

Yumpin yiminy anyway...

Other surveillance scenarios for 2016 include:

  • Cars linked to global satellite navigation systems, which will provide the quickest route to avoid current congestion, automatically debit the mileage charge from bank accounts and allow police to monitor the speed of all cars and to track selected cars more closely.
  • Employees being subject to biometric and psychometric tests combined with lifestyle profiles and diagnostic health tests, with jobs refused to those who are seen as a health risk or those who don't submit to the tests, and staff benefit packages drawn up depending upon any perceived future health problems that may affect an employee's productivity.
  • Schools introducing card systems to allow parents to monitor what their children eat, their attendance, record of achievement and drug test results.
  • Older people becoming more isolated as sensors and cameras in their home provide reassurance to their families who therefore need to pay fewer visits.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving weekend reruns/leftovers

Aaah, the joys of a tryptophan-induced coma. Would that we have the common sense to break bread with friends and call our faraway loved ones without the prompting of a federally-proclaimed holiday.

Thursday was a day for counting my blessings. The wage-slave position has been weird lately, and time with family and friends was a good reminder of what's truly important.

And with the writer's urge a little blocked up, it helps to revisit past thoughts to see what I'm thinking when I'm thinking straight. I could say this every day and be pleased with myself and feeling like I contributed something to the cause.

I hope you spent the day with whom you most wanted, doing the things you love best together.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Starting to feel a draft

If you thought for a nanosecond that restoring a Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress would have any positive impact on freedom or individual rights, think again.

WASHINGTON - Americans would have to sign up for a new military draft after turning 18 under a bill the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee says he will introduce next year.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said Sunday he sees his idea as a way to deter politicians from launching wars.

Whatever Rangel's motivation, his proposal illustrates once again that these people think they own us - mind, heart, body and soul.

The prayer was for gridlock between two sides that labor under the illusion that they're opposing forces. The reality might be a race between two totalitarian forces to see who can steal the most liberties from us.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Land of the Free Range Chickens

Milady bought something called "Organic Free Range Chicken Broth," which got me thinking in several directions. One is that free-range poultry really does taste better, so there is indeed something to the thought that freedom is better, even for chickens.

Then, of course, there's the darker thought: How free is a chicken that can roam anywhere he wants as long as he stays behind the fence so he's easier to catch when it's time for his head to be removed?

I suppose all freedom has its limits. Even I believe a person should be free to do anything he/she wants as long as that activity doesn't infringe on someone else's freedom - which seems like a reasonable limit, but it's a limit none the less. And that darker thought - eventually we all get eaten - is simply a fact of life, even something that's romanticized: The Circle of Life, doncha know.

As our rulers go about building fences and tightening passport laws to make it harder for us to get out, I find myself wondering if it's all really necessary to keep illegal immigrants and terrorists from invading - or is it all to make us easier to catch when it's time to remove our heads?

"Paranoia strikes deep ... into your life it will creep ... it starts when you're always afraid."

Reminder Number 375 or thereabouts: Refuse to be afraid. Free yourself.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Puzzling out the election leads to a quiet conclusion

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth on one side, and much grinning and self-satisfaction on t'other. "What does it mean? What does it mean?" on one side, and "It means we set the table" on t'other.

Let's if I can figure out what it means:

In each of the last four presidential elections, the winner was the one who said things like "The era of big government is over" and "I'm a Reagan Republican." You remember Reagan; he's the one who said, "In our present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem - government is the problem."

After each of the last four presidential elections, the winner turned to proving once again that actions speak louder than words. The era of big government did not end between 1993 and 2001, and since the self-proclaimed Reagan Republican took office, the proposed solution to our problem has been government time and time again.

Lousy schools? No Child Left Behind.

Prescription drug prices going nuts? Medicare Part D.

Stupid political ads on TV out of control? McCain-Feingold.

Terrorists blew up New York with airplanes? Make airport screeners federal employees. Create a new cabinet agency. Invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

To me, last week the electorate was not saying, "Yep, life was better when the Democrats were solving all our problems with new government programs." It was saying, "If the only choice is between honest statists and statists who lie about being for liberty and individual freedom, let's we choose the honest statists over the liars." Or at least that's what I'd have been saying if I had voted.

Some of us (me) were saying, "I've been disenfranchised by all of these lying bastards. Let's we figure out how to eke out a life despite the iron hand of the security forces looking over our shoulders with their arbitrary rules ready to strangle us if we act suspicious."

So. Statists to the left of us, and statists to the right. We're surrounded, in point of fact. What do we do about this?

Ignore them and they won't go away, but maybe if enough of us ignore them, they'll hold their breaths until they turn blue, not realizing that we won't bother to resusitate them if they do. At least that's in an ideal world. And this is not an ideal world.

The great liberty films of the last couple of years are Serenity and V for Vendetta. But they both have the same flaw, probably because otherwise the stories wouldn't fit in two hours: At crucial moments the totalitarians decide to "stand down." In real life they probably would gun down the liberty lovers.

What would happen if a horde of peaceful, unarmed people in V masks refused to stop marching toward a line of armed soldiers? In the movie the soldiers stand down. In India in the 1940s, they were slaughtered and won independence. In China at Tiananmen Square, they were just slaughtered. In the modern USA they are herded into "free speech zones" and ignored. Beats getting slaughtered, but the effect is the same: Dissent is silenced.

Like animals backed into corners, the impatient find themselves thinking about meeting the violence of the state with violence. But you can't shoot or bomb a nonviolent cooperative world into existence.

I find myself turning back to Mahatma Gandhi's morning mantra:

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

* I shall not fear anyone on Earth.

* I shall fear only God.

* I shall bear no ill will toward anyone.

* I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.

* I shall conquer untruth by truth.

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

Bottom line: Nonviolent resistance is going to hurt, but it's the only way to conquer untruth.

So. There's a bottom line. What next?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Coming: McCain-Feingold in 2008

Well, let's see. Russ Feingold announces he won't run for president in 2008. And John McCain announces he's forming the inevitable exploratory committee to run for prez.

It's obvious what's going on here; Feingold is running for vice president. McCain-Feingold is the dream ticket, symbolizing how unified the two parties have become in their utter disdain for the principles of freedom and the U.S. Constitution.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Save the cheerleader - save the world

After seven episodes, yep, Heroes is the best frickin' TV show in a very long time. I realized how very hooked I was when I sat down at 8:59 a couple of Monday nights ago and shouted out, "Save the cheerleader - save the world!" Good thing I was alone at the time or someone would have trucked me to the funny farm.

Now NBC is promising the next two weeks will bring it all together. I can't wait.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The highest destiny

I stumbled across a wise saying from Albert Einstein the other day. (Einstein probably was one of the wisest people of the 20th century, and also a wise guy, judging from the photo.) "The highest destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule."

These are words that our elected rulers could take to heart, but I can see the potential for the statement to be horribly misinterpreted, much as the famous words about "Render unto Caesar ..." have been misinterpreted to mean "Pay your taxes like a good little slave."

One of the greatest individuals of our lifetimes - and the most Christ-like of Christians - was Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to serve. She probably epitomized Einstein's little proverb, seeing her highest destiny in service to others. She was a great leader by her example. While rulers seek to do great things, Teresa said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

There's an important word hidden in the context of Einstein's statement, exemplified by Teresa's life. She was not coerced to spend her life in service on the streets of India. It was her choice. The highest destiny of an individual is to serve - willingly - rather than to rule. Teresa will be remembered in the annals of greatness long after those who seek power are forgotten.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What it all means

A return to honest tyranny! The party that believes the state owns us all and says so has defeated the party that believes the state owns us all but mouths hypocritical statements about liberty and freedom.

What it all means? Not much, really. No one's talked about limited government and the founders of the republic since Reagan left office, and Reagan's record showed he was all about pretty words and not much else. And Nancy Pelosi will be the first woman Speaker. Whoopee.

The one possible bright spot is we may have gridlock while the White House and the House House wrangle over whether toast should be butter side up or butter side down. But freedom has been toast for a long time in this country.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election Day 2006

Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, thereby those important events of the past usually associated with someone's death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat.

There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why?

Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.

And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.

How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.

I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.

Last night I sought to end that silence. Last night I destroyed the Old Bailey, to remind this country of what it has forgotten. More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives.

So if you've seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you, then I would suggest you allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Refuse to be afraid of rainbows

Yep, this is exactly how the bastards work: