Friday, January 30, 2009

The future of newspapers, circa 1981

This is a fascinating time capsule, a report from KRON-TV in San Francisco about those rare people who can afford to own a home computer and are getting their newspapers electronically.

"With this system, we have the option not only of seeing the newspaper on the screen, but also optionally we can copy it, so anything we're interested in, we can go back in again and copy it onto paper and save it, which I think is the future ..." Wellll, pretty close.

The most agonizing moment? The online newspaper is complete except for "the pictures, the ads and the comics." No advertising? How will this future newspaper make money? The newsaper geek says, "We're not in it to make money; we're probably not going to lose a lot, but we aren't going to make much either." What if they'd started working then on a way to maintain their big reporting staff with the revenues from an online edition?


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Change that feels like vertigo

That whiplash again, like the one that almost took my head off at the end of January '01 — the Clinton apologists who had believed in bombing Baghdad and monitoring everyone's personal e-mails and bank accounts were new converts to peace and privacy. The not-Clintonistas were putting their faith in a new face that did not belong to Clinton and confident the country was moving back to the way things ought to be.

Now they've switched places again. My head wobbles on my poor stressed neck as I do double-takes for the radio talkers and other self-described conservatives who only now are realizing that the US of A is on a totalitarian neo-socialist track, as if this only began Jan. 20. The not-Bushes are putting their faith in a new face that is not Bush's and confident the country is moving back to the way things ought to be.

I started getting concerned back when Bush I was talking about a New World Order and mustering up new taxes and a big new war. Each administration since then has stepped deeper into the abyss, and people's perception of right and wrong flip-flopped depending on whether the Rs or the Ds held the White House.

I remember reading about a study that indicated partisanship affects the brain in odd ways that make the same behavior good or evil depending on whether your party committed it. The strange thing about the transition to a new president is how quickly this conversion happens. Whiplash is the best word I can muster to describe it.

If I thought my success and freedom were dependent on the U.S. government, I would be very discouraged now. I don't hold out much hope that the trends of the past 20 years are going to be reversed anytime soon. But governments cannot give us freedom; they can only take it away. It's past time I mentioned what cool things lewlew said recently about this subject; read and be encouraged.

Oceania is at war with Eastasia and aligned with Eurasia; this has always been so. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Refuse to be procrastinating

I have recently devoured the book 48 Days to the Work You Love and started listening to the weekly podcast of the same name featuring author and career coach Dan Miller.

I started with the most recent show and started working backwards, and about midway through his Jan. 8 show Miller addressed the subject of procrastination, which regular visitors know is one of my worst habits.

It was a slap upside the head when Dan said:
If you find yourself going weeks and weeks and months and years and never acting, something else is going on. I mean, procrastinating is just another expression of fear, whether it’s fear of failure, fear of ridicule of family members and friends, whatever it is that’s holding you back — procrastination is not an admirable kind of trait. You need to break through that.

I saw — well, this is rather crude, actually, but bear with me, just in making a point — I saw recently a note relative to this that called it procrasturbation. Now again, I apologize for the crudeness of that but you get the point. Just being involved in activity that has no useful outcome — don’t get caught up in that; move through that. Take a idea that you know is good, and then go through a clear plan of action so you do get results on it.

This doesn’t have anything to do with circumstances, it doesn’t have to do with being too busy. It’s a personal issue. You can break that logjam and move into things that really are meaningful.
"Procrastinating is just another expression of fear." Hard words to hear for a guy who preaches and is writing a book on the subject "Refuse to be afraid." But he's right!

For me Dan's book is one of those "whoa!" motivational books that gets me off the dime and back in action. I'm thinking you ought to be noticing some results in, well, within 48 days.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Still wise words

Worth repeating:

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 not bear 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.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The John Galt Plan

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The John Galt Plan will reconcile all conflicts. It will protect the property of the rich and give a greater share to the poor. It will cut down the burden of your taxes and provide you with more government benefits. It will lower prices and raise wages. It will give more freedom to the individual and strengthen the bonds of collective obligations. It will combine the efficiency of free enterprise with the generosity of a planned economy.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Life imitates art

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good. Patience, faith and unity — that's the recipe for progress.

We must stand united among ourselves and united with the rest of the world, as a great big happy family, all working for the good of all. We have found a leader who will beat the record of our richest and busiest past — it's his love for mankind that has made him come here — to serve you, protect you and take care of you! He has heard your pleas and has answered the call of our common human duty. Every man is his brother's keeper! No man is an island unto himself! And now you will hear his voice, now you will hear his own message! Ladies and gentlemen, John Galt — to the collective family of mankind!

The camera moved to Galt. He remained still for a moment. Then, with so swift and expert a movement that his secretary's hand was unable to match it, he rose to his feet, leaning sidewise, leaving the pointed gun momentarily exposed to the sight of the world — then, standing straight, facing the cameras, looking at all his invisible viewers, he said:

Get the hell out of my way!


I defy you, without looking it up, to spot the point where I stopped quoting Tuesday's inauguration speech and started quoting from Mr. Thompson in Atlas Shrugged.

We live in interesting times.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Matheson on vampires

A postscript on I Am Legend from the "wish I could write like that" department — here's a passage from his exposition as he muses about vampires:
At one time, the Dark and Middle Ages, to be succinct, the vampire's power was great, and fear of him tremendous. He was anathema and still remains anathema. Society hates him without ration.

But are his needs any more shocking than the needs of other animals and men? Are his deeds more outrageous than the deeds of the parent who drained the spirit from his child? The vampire may foster quickened heartbeats and levitated hair. But is he worse than the parent who gave to society a neurotic child who became a politician? Is he worse than the manufacturer who set up belated foundations with the money he made by handing bombs and guns to suicidal nationalists? ... Really, now, search your soul, lovie — is the vampire so bad?

All he does is drink blood.

B.W.'s Book Report: I Am Legend

Of course. There had to be a reason three sets of filmmakers and three prominent actors wanted to make a movie out of this book: I Am Legend is absolutely brilliant.

It's too bad its heartbreaking narrative is so poorly represented on the big screen — by Vincent Price in the low-budget but earnest The Last Man on Earth, Charlton Heston in the campy The Omega Man that said more about the late 1960s-early 1970s than anything else, and finally, Will Smith in the stupefyingly incoherent I Am Legend, which preserved the name and one or two elements of the original Richard Matheson book. I love all three actors, but these were not their finest hours.

I have commented before about the downright inexplicable ending of the 2007 Will Smith blockbuster, which betrays not only Matheson but its own set-up. Not until I finally read the short novel, however, did I fully understand how much that big moneymaker betrayed Matheson's story.

All three films don't have enough faith in the tale to follow through on what Matheson wrote, with its compelling and haunting finish, but none insults the author as thoroughly as the 2007 version. That thing turned a thoughtful journey through a post-apocalyptic world into a mindless special-effects action flick by ripping up the screenwriter's adaptation and replacing an insightful climax with an explosion.

Who am I to pass judgment on what, as of this writing, is the 43rd biggest moneymaker of all time among U.S. films, in excess of a quarter-billion dollars in revenues? I'm a guy who can't get back the two hours of my life it took to watch the gorram thing, that's who.

I was insulted by that film, and I had never read the book. Now, I can only imagine the outrage of anyone who knew and loved I Am Legend the book for five decades and sat down to discover that atrocity is all Hollywood could make of it.

Three films, three strikes, they're out. The 1964 Vincent Price effort was a good swing, maybe even a long foul ball to the bleachers, hampered by its budget. The 1971 Charlton Heston beast was a foul tip that didn't trust Matheson enough and tried too hard to be sixties-hip. But the Will Smith monstrosity was a barrel house swing at a pitch in the dirt, a complete and embarrassing miss.

Buy the book, buy the book, buy the book. If you want an OK film adaptation, check out Vincent Price. But the best film version of this story will be the one that plays in the back of your mind as you're reading the book. The book is the only version that I am 100% glad I experienced.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Losing it all

Eventually, I will lose every thing and everyone. All of my property, all of my possessions, everyone and everything I hold dear, including my ability to breathe and function in this interesting world that is all I know. And so will you.

At some point this simple fact will catch up to you and (figuratively) take your breath away. It did to me the first time it sunk in, and it still overwhelms me for a moment every time I remember.

And yet ... and yet ... somehow this basic truth — that no one here gets out alive — is empowering. Perhaps because — no, probably because knowing I will lose it all helps me focus on what it is I want to preserve as long as I can.

(There's more brewing in my heart and mind on this subject, but I post this unfinished because you never know if you're going to finish any given day, and I'd hate to have that thought hidden away in draft form forever. I plan to come back to expand this, but on the off chance that I can't or won't ... here it is.)

Friday morning update: I'm still vertical; just haven't had time to add thoughts.

You have more control than you think

Israeli forces shell UN headquarters in Gaza.

Foreclosures up 81 percent: RealityTrac.

World stocks drop amid mounting economic gloom.

Hey! Now what did I just tell you about refusing to be afraid?

Things are a little dicey at the day job. It also wasn't such a good day Wednesday at Sweetie's day job. We looked at each other last night and said, well, at least we personally each still have a job/source of income for now.

Long ago I managed to learn a simple truth: Certain things are out of my control. But more is under my control than my fears would like me to believe. And again — a lot of folks are trying to fan the cold flames of our fears and offer salvation — salvation which just happens to make them more powerful and comfortable.

Clichés become clichés by containing more than a nugget of truth: The truth is having the courage to change the things you can change, the serenity to accept the things you can't, and the wisdom to know the difference. Sometimes my courage, serenity and wisdom fail me, but here is the underlying truth behind the nugget: You have more control than you think.

That's the fact that the fear-mongers don't want you to know — or (to give them the benefit of the doubt) they believe most people aren't as capable of control as they are. In the former case, they are simple villains who prefer people to be hoodwinked and manageable. In the latter case, they instinctively believe they are superior beings who know better than you about how your life should be running.

To free yourself to dream, it's essential to shake off the fears and it's vital to shake off the influence of those who offer themselves as a path away from what frightens you. Relinquishing control is the path away from freedom; fear is the path to relinquishing control. Fear is the mind-killer — fear makes you give your autonomy away.

Minute by minute, day by day, month by month, year by year for a lifetime, you make a series of choices that add up to the who-what-where-why-how of you. Each choice is fully and wholy yours. You are in control even when you turn the controls over to someone or something else. You always have the power to take the wheel back.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Now I'm better

Thanks to Wally for the shout-out. He's been on folks' mind of late — notice that Uncle Warren gave him a shout-out for recommending the fun B-movie Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD with its immortal exchange:

"Thank God, I thought you were dead!"

"I was — but now I'm better."

These past 2-3 years I have made "refuse to be afraid" my personal coda, my rallying cry, along with its corollaries: Free yourself. Dream. From time to time, however, I neglect to take my own advice. My Sunday night post was my little way of declaring, I thought I was dead, but now I'm better.

As someone with more money and influence than I once said, in our present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem — government is the problem. The struggle in this world does not really boil down to liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican, capitalist versus socialist — it's about the state versus the individual, or if you will, any collective versus the individual.

I would expand the definition beyond simply "the state" to "any collective" because joining any group — or viewing other human beings in terms of groups — tends to suppress the power of the individual. The whole purpose of the state, or the corporation, or any larger organization, eventually becomes to collectivize thought and behavior, which relieves members of the responsibility to think or act for themselves. The whole purpose of lumping people into groups is to relieve one's self of the responsibility to see individuals for themselves.

It's much easier to believe "That's just the way white people act" or "Those damn liberals, they're all like that" or "Women!" — but you miss so much by adopting prejudices (pre-judgments). Even if every person in a particular category has thought and acted a certain way, the next individual who qualifies for that category could be completely different and wildly better (or worse) than you've ever experienced from other members of that group. Draw no preconceived conclusions and you'll catch a lot more of the wide variety that individuals can contribute to your life — even the occasional government employee, fer cryin out loud.

I'm not sure at one what point a partnership, or an alliance of friends, or any small group of people cooperating becomes a collective. I suppose even a couple could qualify if one partner allows herself/himself to follow the other's lead mindlessly. The larger the organization, though, the more likely the individual will become less important and eventually lost. That's why Big Government, Big Business, Big Anything is anti-human.

The key to freedom is accepting my own autonomy as an individual, and respecting the autonomy of other individuals, with all of what that means — whatever that means.

Update: Edited to fix the "I'm not sure at one point" hiccup.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

On beyond paralysis

Let's get one thing straight: The main thing so many people are frightened is because The Powers That Be are trying so hard to scare us all. The why of it was obvious back when the giant Mencken was walking the Earth:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
As we clamor to be led to safety, TPTB are forging new chains. To this point in our history, they have been economic chains — confiscatory taxation, debts, rules and regulations — and it seems a matter of time before they become literal chains, but those won't be necessary if we let them succeed. Economic chains well-forged make literal chains unnecessary.

Always — Always! — when the news of the day causes you to grow anxious and afraid for your future or your children's future, look around: Who is it who benefits from your fear? How do the "practical politicians" propose to solve the crisis caused by the latest menacing hobgoblin — and how do TPTB profit by passing this legislation (it's always legislation)?

Resist any solution that steals more freedom or independence from you or your business or your property. Ask why. "Why is this hobgoblin such a menace that the only solution you propose is to restrict our freedom and take our liberty away?" Shine a light and the rodents may scurry away — even if they don't, the things they tell you to fear won't seem near as big and terrifying shining in the sun as they do now, hiding in the midnight darkness.

Refuse to be afraid. It's hardest to keep your fears under control when so many forces are trying so hard to alarm you. No doubt they have fearful purposes of their own, but they feed on our fear. Refuse to be afraid. It's the first step on beyond the paralysis of fear, the first step toward freeing yourself and following your dreams.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A question of rights

Reading this blog in a vacuum, one might conclude I have drifted away from writing of late, when I've just been writing elsewhere. I want to import one post that I tossed into the fray over at Sunni Maravillosa's place in a lively discussion of whether rights really exist or whether they are asserted in a process akin to blind faith:

It seems to me this question of rights boils down to the fact that the only actions I can control are my own. I can persuade or enter into contracts or (if I was someone else) attempt to do it by force, but in the end I can't make you respect my rights or property.

That's why the Zero Aggression Principle is so important to the free life. The more people adopt ZAP, the more likely it is that agreements will be honored and exchanges will be peaceful - or at least nonviolent.

The concept of rights presents a neutral, immutable appeal to a third party in conflicts - if we've agreed on what those rights are, we have something to gauge who's right and wrong. But it requires agreement on the basic principle.

I'm a Christian in part because I believe Jesus asserted ZAP when he said all law is summed up in two statements, one of which is "Love your neighbor as yourself." (You can accept the other statement or not; I do.) I'm a Browncoat in part because I believe in the words Joss Whedon put in Malcolm Reynolds' mouth: "I got no need to beat you; I just want to go my way."

I happen to think we'd all live better lives if we adopted that philosophy, but if I demand it, it won't work. I can't make you do anything. I can only try to persuade.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The truth, by Papa Joe

The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.

Joseph Stalin 1879-1953

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Monday, January 05, 2009

The history of Nancy

When I was knee-high to the proverbial grasshopper, I would spread the comics page of the Newark Evening News on the living room floor and read up on all the stuff going on in those mythical worlds. Well, maybe not all of them — Apartment 3-G and Rex Morgan didn't do much for me.

One of my guilty pleasures was Nancy, the little fuzzy-haired kid with the red bow in her hair. Even then I thought of her as a guilty pleasure, because the humor seemed pretty lame, but I kept coming back to Ernie Bushmiller's little cast — Aunt Fritzi, Nancy, Sluggo and the rest.

After Bushmiller passed away, the strip went through several lesser hands — including one attempt at a complete makeover — until Guy and Brad Gilchrist took it over in the mid-1990s. Filled with musical and other pop-culture references and the same innocence that Ernie brought to the strip, it's one of my daily Internet stops — sadly, because my local paper doesn't run the thing. And the Newark Evening News died in 1972.

The Gilchrists are starting the new year with a "history of Nancy" series, recreating the look of those old strips starting with 1933. I'm guessing this will make a nice introduction if you're at all curious. Here's the online Nancy archive, which lets you browse back as long as you like. If you're discovering this link sometime in the future, you're looking for the strips that start 01-05-2009.