Thursday, August 30, 2007

Das Leben den Anderen

I just wanted to remind you what I said about "The Lives of Others," now that this terrific film is available on DVD.

Netflix delivered it this afternoon. I can't wait to see it again.

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A parable for our times

Warning to optimists: You know how this will end ...


Robber asks for change, only needs $4

Sometimes it's just Weird News, but I'd love to know the back story.

GREENBURGH, New York (AP) - A knife-wielding robber in this small suburban town north of New York City needed only $4, so he refused to take a $10 bill from his victim and waited while the man made change at a pizza parlor, police said.

The story goes on to say that at first the robber - 48-year-old James Mitchell - demanded that the 18-year-old victim hand over an artificial rose he'd just bought. When he refused, Mitchell demanded money. The kid only had a $10 bill, but the robber only wanted $4, so he waited while the young man got change at a nearby pizza place.

The police spokesman said he had no idea why Mitchell wanted only $4. It seems clear to me: He wanted to buy a rose of his own.

An 18-year-old man who has a purpose for a rose so important he won't give it to a man with a knife. A man who wants a rose so desperately that he'll rob someone at knifepoint to get it - but only a rose, so his alternative is to steal $4. For whom did the young man buy the rose? What was the robber's intention once he had his own rose?

This isn't Weird News; this is the scenario for a wonderful short story. Someone should write it. Maybe I should, if you don't beat me to it. Or maybe even if you do.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

B.W.'s Book Report: This Perfect Day

Ira Levin wrote a little book called Rosemary's Baby that made a bit of a stir during the 1960s. Then he wrote This Perfect Day, which isn't in print anymore. I never heard of it until a couple years ago, when my liberty-loving agorist friend Wally mentioned it a time or two (or three or four), always including it among "freedom classics." I figured I had to check it out.

I knew something was up when I had to bid $13 to get a battered paperback copy of the novel on eBay. "Must be pretty good stuff if somebody besides me wants it that badly," I said to myself.

I had no idea.

It's a couple of hundred years from now (or maybe, with some of the petty details changed, it's last week), and peace has settled over the world. Everyone's contented and there's no conflict in the world - well, almost none - because a central computer (UniComp, nicknamed Uni) controls our lives, picks our jobs and mates, and arranges for us all to have regular drug treatments that keep us well. It's a brave new world where everyday life, as we denizens of 2007 know it, is a sorry and violent forgotten memory.

We meet Li RM35M4419 - you may call him Chip - when he is 6 years old and hearing for the first time the legend of the incurables, strange creatures that "catch animals and eat them and wear their skins" and do something called fighting, which means they deliberately hurt each other. Chip is troubled by what he hears, but it's all cleared up when he gets an extra treatment. Well, it's cleared up for the moment.

As he grows older, Chip learns a few more details about the difference between a healthy lifestyle and the sickness that in extreme cases is evidenced by the incurables. And then one day he receives an invitation ...

I think I know why This Perfect Day isn't in print anymore. If too many people read this book, we might wake up.

If you have never read this book, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy. I am too selfish to loan mine out; I do not want to this book to be out of my possession ever again. If you have read this book, you know what I'm talking about.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Big Damn Decision looms

According to the folks at a site called Big Damn, the actors' contract options for doing a second Firefly/Serenity movie expire in September 2007, so if a decision hasn't been made soon, it's about to be made: Fish or cut bait on an entertainment franchise that has drawn a passionate fan following.

There's no questioning the passion of us browncoats - but do we have enough numbers to make Serenity 2 a potential profit-maker? Apparently much depends on the success of the new "collector's edition" of the best movie of 2005. That seems silly; if the last two years haven't shown there's a demand, then the demand's not there. Something must be happening - I keep seeing Firefly stocked up at stores that mostly stock recent popular TV shows. Not many shows on their shelves that are five years old, unless they're Friends or The Simpsons - and if Firefly is in that category sales-wise, then a sequel seems like a good idea.

It'll be interesting to see what happens next. For what it's worth, the set is #10 among DVDs on this morning. So far so good?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

A good reason not to buy high-def players

Well, isn't this stupid.

People who own an HD DVD player can forget about watching "Spider-Man 3" in high definition when it goes on sale during the holiday season. The movie from Sony Pictures will only be available in the Blu-ray DVD format.

Likewise, people with Blu-ray players won't be able to enjoy the action-thriller "The Bourne Ultimatum," which Universal Pictures will release only in HD DVD.

These exclusive arrangements, plus aggressive price cuts for high-def DVD players, are designed to persuade consumers to finally embrace one format or the other.

But analysts wonder if the moves will anger consumers, just as the studios and consumer-electronics companies are hoping to boost high-def DVD sales as growth in standard DVDs stalls.

Well, of course the moves will anger consumers. We made our choices when we bought the machines, and these shenanigans will only ensure that snake-bitten customers will hesitate to buy the next big thing in electronics until any format debate shakes out. And why do they have these debates? Why not release films on all available formats? Imagine if authors made arrangements that their novels would only be available in hardcover, or only in softcover, or only on audiobooks. Why would the creators of these movies deny themselves a market? "I'm proud of this movie, but you can't see it at home unless you own this or that machine." The mind boggles.

In searching for this news article, which I first read in print, I stumbled across this analysis: "Blue-Ray vs. HD-DVD: Scam of the Year?" which raises a whole other question. Do these formats really represent an advance worthy of dumping your DVD machine and all your DVDs?

Instead of filling a DVD to the very last bit (which would suggest we need a new format with more storage capacity), we often see that publishers just don’t seem to care much. Low budget releases often have high compression ratios and no extras, leaving hundreds of MB’s on the DVD unused. So if a DVD isn’t already used to its full potential, why in hell would we need a new format that has even more storage space? The answer: we don’t. Not for movies at least.

New toys are fun, but they have to be an improvement over the old toys dramatic enough to be worth the switch. I'm starting to think HD-DVD and Blue-Ray are this generation's quadrophonic records. And the cassette versus CD versus LP-style "exclusive" deals going on between HD-DVD and Blue-Ray are a good reason to avoid those formats altogether.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Not even the evil are that evil

One of my guilty pleasures is the gonzo TV action show 24, and we've started seeing what we missed by joining the soap opera with the fifth season. I call it a soap opera because only in such vessels does someone stop in the middle of a search for a missing nuclear bomb to have a heart-to-heart about how the fire has gone out of the relationship.

So we started Season 2 the other day, and right away there came a jump-the-shark moment. Jack "he's crazy but he gets results" Bauer needs to find a way to quickly re-establish his credibility with a guy suspected of working with terrorists, so he has the FBI deliver a key witness against the guy. This is the witness who will put the guy away for good. Bauer has a conversation with the witness of about 45 seconds - long enough to establish that he's a total slimeball who will one day be back on the street because he's getting immunity in exchange for his testimony.

Then without warning his boss who is watching the interrogation, Bauer shoots the witness to death and cuts off his head. His rationale is this is the only way he can quickly inject himself back in the bad guy's gang and get the needed information in time to save Los Angeles from its latest nuclear threat. When the boss objects, Bauer replies, "That's the problem with you, George, you never want to get your hands dirty." Bauer is allowed to leave the building with the severed head, and the story moves on.

Give me a break. I count myself among the biggest skeptics about the cleanliness of our government, but even I can't buy that a federal agent could get away with that. A few hours later Bauer finds himself leading an operation that includes a small army of FBI agents, who do what they're told. In real life he's immediately wrestled to the ground by his shocked colleagues after shooting the witness, and he spends the next 24 hours in protective custody so the federal prosecutors don't come in and personally strangle him for killing their star witness. Any contact with the FBI is limited to being slugged and kicked by agents who worked their butts off to make a case with that witness.

You may wonder what the photo has to do with this. Well, I always had a crush on the girl with the hat. All week I've been grabbing photos from my archive and writing whatever came to my mind while looking at 'em. I'm not going to dwell on what in that picture made me think about 24.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Numbers Game

It really would be ironic if a fat government check one day ended my days of toiling at slave wages while cursing the big fat government. A couple of times a week, I plunk down some cash and play the 1-in-146,000,000 odds of the lottery.

It could be worse. When I plunked the cash down the other day and said, "I just came in to throw away some money," the clerk laughed and said, "It could be worse. There's a couple who come in here and spend $100 or more at a time." Now that is quiet desperation, my friend.

We play the same numbers, so we're trapped. A few years ago there was a news story about some poor shlep, in Wales or somewhere, who played the same numbers for years but they never came up until he gave up, and a couple of weeks later the numbers came up, so he blew his brains out. I'd like to think I wouldn't be that despairing, that I'd figure, well if I was supposed to have that money they'd have come up when I was playing 'em, and a lot of people deserve or need the money more than I do anyway. But just in case it would drive me insane, we play the numbers anyway.

I remember cop shows and crime movies about guys being arrested for running a numbers racket, and I wondered what that was. Now the government runs a numbers racket and nobody gets arrested. Funny world.

The government-run numbers racket uses the profits to provide property tax relief, so that's a good thing. Property tax relief is a funny thing. It's a tax they assess you on something so they don't assess a higher tax on "your" land. Why I say it's a funny thing is: You're paying two taxes, but they tell you they're doing you a favor with one tax because otherwise the other tax would be higher. Wouldn't you rather pay one really big tax than two slightly not-as-big taxes? It's a numbers racket of a different color.

Before I started writing this morning, I checked today's numbers. Sure enough, I wasted my money yesterday. Think of it as life insurance: I didn't want to risk ending up like the guy in Wales. And I'll get some property tax relief in return. Such a deal.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Desperately seeking quiet

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

Figures. I found an online text of Thoreau's Walden because I wanted to find the context in which this famous quotation lies. It turns out all I needed to do was read as far as five pages into the book. It's the ninth paragraph. I suppose it's a famous quote in part because anyone who gives the book the old college try is going to find it within about five minutes. Did I mention I never have read Walden despite having a degree in American literature and owning copies of the book for, oh, 30 years?

Every now and then I think of that quote and think it might be me. But every now and then I think of that quote and think I'm enjoying life too much to be quietly desperate about it. Every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears. Every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by.

But then, of course, I say to myself, "Turn around, bright eyes!"

This Thoreau guy had a lot to say, but even though I have a link to some handy HDT wisdom right there on the right column somewhere, I have only dabbled here and there in his writings. I have spent more time exploring the work of Nathan Fillion than Henry David Thoreau. That puts me back in the company of the mass of men, no doubt.

But, ya know, I don't believe in masses of men. It's when you, mentally or physically, organize men and women into masses that you begin to lose sight of the individual. It's easier to deny freedom to someone who is part of a mass - masses are all the same so it doesn't matter if individual liberty is squashed. It's easy to say women shouldn't be allowed to do this or that; it's very hard to look a specific woman in the eye and say, "You can't do that." At least the first time. At least until you start thinking of her as part of a mass of women and not an individual with a name and a soul. Even huge, faceless bureaucracies are comprised of many individuals - many of them, most of them, no doubt living lives of quiet desperation.

In the peace of morning, away from the overstimulation, it's not so hard to separate the individual from the masses. I imagine that's why Thoreau decided to walk away from the overstimulation. I know that's why I feel the urge most every day to walk away. And if I couldn't find the peace of morning to stay somewhat centered for another day, I just might walk away. The best days are when I wake up and am overwhelmed by the complex infinity of souls I encounter, rather than collect those souls into finite boxes. Interestingly enough, in the quiet, the quiet desperation floats gently away.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

She's pointing at me

Every so often I emerge from the haze and say, "This isn't the way I planned to live my life," down on my knees while the robbers circle around us. I reach back, trying not to be noticed, so that I can take action, but then one of them cocks a gun in my face and says, "You know what the definition of a hero is? It's someone who gets other people killed. You can look it up later." So I back down.

Then I hear Johnny Cash singing Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," and so I run after the robbers screaming, "Take me with you!" But it's too late. And on top of that, they shoot me.

Then I wake up, thankfully, and I get up and go to work. But there, I realize, I work on my knees while the robbers circle us ...

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Well, there it goes. Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run last night. Yeah, so?

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that patients with terminal illnesses do not have a constitutional right to use medicines that have not yet won regulatory approval.

In a new effort to crack down on illegal immigrants, federal authorities are expected to announce tough rules this week that would require employers to fire workers who use false Social Security numbers.

Attacks on American forces in Iraq using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the U.S. military [in the latest installment of the ramp-up to the next illegal war].

Presidential candidates in both parties are promising to overhaul the nation's health care system and cover more — if not all — of the nation's uninsured.

And that's just what I found in a quick survey of one newspaper, the New York Times, as to what liberties were being assaulted while that baseball was flying out of the park. My guess is there are well over 756 freedoms under attack at any given moment.

One must keep an eye on the ball to be able to follow the game.

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F%#@! talking ads

If you share a home, as a whole lot of people do, the last thing you want while everyone but you is sleeping is for your computer to explode in sound. So I'm not amused by Toshiba's girl who yells "I want a notebook for college, and I want it loaded" at 5:15 in the morning - and I don't give a shit that New Jersey Transit can get me to the shore. In fact if I was in the market for their products, they just lost the sale.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Another 'yeah baby'

This time for Ken Schoolland.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ron Paul says: Refuse to be afraid

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Free libraries and the RIAA

I had this thought while perusing Eric Flint's explanation of the Baen Free Library, which I discovered while browsing the Get Your Hands Dirty forum, which I really ought to contribute to at some point ...

Aren't public libraries a violation of copyright law as interpreted by the Recording Industry Association of America? I mean, here are people who buy one copy of a book and share it with hundreds and thousands of people, stealing royalties from the authors who otherwise would reap the benefits of selling that book over and over again to those readers.

If we apply the same principle that the RIAA uses to collect fees from radio stations and bars based on how many times they play a certain song, then some book-sellers group should be collecting fees from libraries based on how often each book is borrowed. It only makes sense.

Charging royalties to libraries for sharing books with people who didn't pay for them will make oodles of money for the starving authors, right? Well, no, of course not, and Flint's essay pretty much explains why.

Which reminds me ... this is the reason I've been meaning to post The Imaginary Bomb somewhere, so you can read it rather than listen to Bluhm read it, and then, of course, buy the book. First I have to publish the book, though ... I really oughtta get that done in time for the Christmas season ...

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Sex and your tax dollars at work

I suppose this is a better use of tax dollars than buying bombs or giving tax credits to folks who already have millions in their bank accounts. But you do gotta wonder about a federally funded study of why people have sex.

The study from Professor Cindy Meston (pictured) and the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas has been written up this week as discovering that the No. 1 reason men and women have sex is the same for both sexes: "I was attracted to the person." Also in the top 10 on both lists: "I wanted to experience the physical pleasure," "It feels good" and "I wanted to express my love for the person."

Not detailed in the story ("Researchers at the University of Texas spent five years and their own money ....") but available when you click "About Us" on the lab's Web site is where they got "their own money" for a study that showed what anyone with a libido already knows. No surprise here: "Her research is currently being funded by the National Institutes of Health."

The cliche is that men give love to get sex, while women give sex to get love, but Meston says her study shows we're more alike than that. Was that insight worth the investment? Hard to say. But it's another example of how the fruits of your labor belong to a government that will spend it on just about anything, despite a solemn document that limits its powers and priorities.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wouldn't it be nice?

Listening to: "Money Becomes King," Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Sometimes there's nothing I can add - just click this link and enjoy a lovely excursion into what freedom tastes like.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Glutton for punishment

I don't know why I'm going back to this. I was bummed out at the wage-slave job all day Tuesday after reading Claire Wolfe's quote from a Kate Wilhelm novel ... because I recognized myself.

"... Sanity was accumulating debt and paying it off and accumulating more ... Sanity was pretending things would get better tomorrow, next week, next year. Sanity was pretending there was no beast inside roaring and searing, tormented and tormenting ...

"It was accepting rush-hour traffic and too many horns and poisoned food and too many wars and deaths and killings and armed people shooting other armed people and unarmed people alike and terrorists and more terrorists to fight the terrorists and politicians lying and lying and the war machine rolling forever onward and hunger in the shadow of wealth and too many children and too many people and too many fat religious leaders telling everyone else what their duty was and making everyone hate feeling too fat or too thin or too blond or too dark or too tall or too short or too old or too young and ... pretending it meant the good life and good health and mental well-being and teaching guilt and shame to those who faltered ..."

Great reading, but discouraging because so true. So why come back to it? Because after reading it, I sat down and scrawled 10 things I could do to start clawing my way out of this "Sanity," nine of them short-term and one longer term. It took me about two minutes to write down the list, because all of these ideas had been pressing against my brain busting to come out. The thing that bummed me out was then I had to report for duty as a wage-slave, postponing any active work on anything on the list.

I'm on my way out the door to do the same now, but I'm not as discouraged as I was yesterday. Now I have The List.

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