Saturday, December 13, 2003

The End Times?

I am left with [the] nauseating near-conviction that I am a member of the last generation in the history of the world that is minimally truly free.
Interesting post from Reverend Don Sensing of One Hand Clapping about the eerie similarities between GW Bush's Republicanism and FDR's Democratism! Fun apocalyptic stuff, with Wilsonism thrown in for good measure. Make sure to read the comments as well.
I Want, Uh...My MTV

Good op-ed by Jim Fusilli over at Opinion Journal about how so many "boomers," and I would qualify here, are being ignored by the record companies.
A recent page-one story in the New York Times noted that 11 of the top 50 albums on Billboard's charts that week were recorded by artists over age 40, and that shoppers who'd already celebrated that birthday are buying more than 35% of all albums sold.

The implication: Middle-aged people prefer to buy albums by middle-aged people. "Adults like music too," Columbia Records' president was quoted as saying. "And they're starting to get served."

Forgive me if I don't consider this act by Columbia and its recording-industry brethren a public service. I'm past 40, and about the last thing I want is music by people coaxed into catering to me. What usually results is what the middle-age set is contributing to the current charts: bland, uninspired recordings and stuff you've heard many, many times before.
I almost never listen to radio any more, except talk radio sometimes. I just don't hear the music I'd like to hear. Consulting agencies have turned programming at radio stations into a finely-tuned format that targets particular narrow audiences for the advertisers to sell to. Country music is a perfect example, where the music is programmed for 24- to 36-year old single women with kids. Advertisers want to sell to these women, so the music it's believed they won't tune away from is all that's presented. Never mind that "country" is an enormous range of styles and that there are a large number of artists of real talent dying from lack of airplay. If it doesn't appeal to that narrow demographic, it doesn't play.

I can't speak for others, but I'd like to hear new music, not the same old crap I've had to listen to since the Seventies. (Hello, Rock103, I'm talking to you! If your playlist was any tighter, you'd die of constipation.) I'd like to know where I can find it, and who sounds like what. I've discovered bands like Interpol, who remind me of Television, and The White Stripes, largely by accident and love their music. I want more! Tell me where it is talked about in a way I can relate to. I'll buy it, I promise.

There used to be a radio station here in Memphis, 107.5 FM, that played something called the Underground Network, which was a national radio feed of what came to be called alt-bands, or bands bubbling along in the underground. It was awesome to listen to! But 107.5 was owned by George Flinn, and he in his usual restlessness changed formats after less than a year, to an all-blues station. Which was a perfect idea for Memphis. Now it's something called Radio Pig, a strange mix of folk rock, Americana, singer-songwriter, and New Orleans. That turns out not to be as adventurous as you'd think. You start hearing a lot of Sheryl Crow, The Grateful Dead and The Band/Robbie Robertson. Ah well....

There's tons of cool music waiting for me. With the explosion of the 'Net, I don't know where to look anymore to find the sites that tell me what I might like. I used to know all the music mags of the Seventies and Eighties, even the individual writers' preferences. Any readers here old enough to remember reading Lester Bangs in Creem? Or Greil Marcus when he was a record reviewer? Trouser Press?

Those were the days, he says nostalgically....
Beyond The Red And Blue

Someone (I've forgotten where now, I'm sorry to say.) had only a one-line, knock-off reference to this article from CommonWealth magazine. It would be easy to overlook, which would be your loss.

The author recognised that the famous red and blue map from the 2000 election was simplistic. I still see Republicans who wave that map like a talisman warning Democrats away. But that map papered over a lot of subtleties. Both candidates took varying degrees of the vote in those counties, not 100% or zero.

Robert David Sullivan and the folks at CommonWealth took a slightly different tack, overlaying the votes to a geographical map. They wound up with ten regions, shades of purple as they call it, that tell a more nuanced and predictive story.
Aiming somewhere between the reductionist red-and-blue model and the most accurate (but least useful) subdivision of the United States into infinity, we split the county into 10 regions, each with a distinct political character. Our regions are based on voting returns from both national and state elections, demographic data from the US Census, and certain geographic features such as mountain ranges and coastlines. (See "The 10 Regions of US Politics" for detailed descriptions.) Each region represents about one-tenth of the national electorate, casting between 10.4 million and 10.8 million votes in the 2000 presidential election.

Some states fall entirely within a region, but many are split between two or more. Electoral votes follow state boundaries, but populations don't, and the social characteristics that influence politics spill over jurisdictional lines. Rural sections of adjacent states often have more in common, culturally and politically, with each other than with the urban and suburban population centers of their states. If political campaigns can translate media markets into electoral votes, why not regional identities that cross state lines?
It's not long nor painful to read, and I strongly encourage you to take a look.
My Political Views, Part Three

This is a continuation of what started here and wandered some more over here. This post is just a few odd items I didn't work in somewhere down below.

While doing my usual Saturday morning idle surfing of the Web, I ran across this explanation of American Classical Liberalism, by Lew Rockwell. It says a lot that I said down below, but in far more elegant language and better composed thoughts. Lew is a lot farther along the spectrum than I am in his belief in limited government, and his article tellingly makes no mention of police and courts, but its still good stuff. Maybe I am a Classical Liberal? We'll see....

I really believe the most important struggle going on in America today is the misunderstanding of what government and society mean to each other. As I note below, government must be founded in the individual; society must be founded in the family. Many of our problems are in the disconnect between these two fundamentals. A society based on individuals is lost. It cannot transmit its values nor properly educate and train its young. Government cannot fill that gap, as it must continue to teach the primacy of the one. You get Big Brother, where the government is the society. Nor can government be based, as it once was in this country, on the family. You subordinate the females and adult children to the head of the household. This is anti-democratic.

But finding the balance is tough. This is where the Democratic Party is destroying America. In allowing itself to be dominated by identity-politics groups, which worship the individual, it is moving further and further into government as family, into replacing lost institutions and mechanisms of the family with government substitutes. This cannot work. We see this every day in modern America. Put brutally, no one can be paid or compelled to care as much about your family and children as you will.

Next, I guess the best label for me would be conservative, traditionalist libertarian. I'm conservative in the broad, root sense of the word, one who views change skeptically. I believe change must be for a reason, it must be an improvement you must show me the benefit of. Obviously, I would support ending segregation and gender discrmination, because they enable more Americans to exercise their fullest freedom and liberty. But I'm skeptical of government funded day care -- it serves to undermine the need for family, it supports bad decisions. I'm not convinced of the social good of it.

I'm traditionalist in that I don't see anything wrong with doing things the way they've always been done. This comes through the conservatism above, recognising that change can be good and needed. But I recognise the importance of ritual and formality. They are the structures which deepen and make more meaningful the rites of passage in our lives. Look at marriage. It used to be an enormous family and community ritual. The incredible fuss and formality made going through it something that was deeply impressed on you. You were standing before family, friends, community, church, priest and GOD swearing to something. It became hard to ignore later on when the luster wore off. Today, marriage is something you can knock off one day, something you can get out of very easily, and so something that means little. Look what it's bought us. Tradition brings depth and meaning to our lives; a connectedness to what has come before that transmits through us to the future.

Libertarianism is the political philosophy I'm most close to. Combined with the above, it can often be confusing. I am frequently called a conservative Republican by those who think with their prejudices. I'm not. Democrats have sold their soul to a philosophy that will destroy our culture and society. Republicans have shown they can be just as mercenary as the stereotype, but also be hypocritical enough to do it with the government's money -- my money. I reject the arguments of Republicans and Democrats that voting Libertarian hands a "victory" to the other party. They are one and the same today. I vote for whom I want, not against whom I fear.

So, there you go. More, I'm sure, to come.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Memphis-Area Blogger Bash?

There are more than enough bloggers in the Memphis area that we should have a get-together, to put faces to names. It's a little close to Christmas now to plan anything soon, but maybe an early-mid January date would be good? Or do a lot of people have an evening open in the next week? Any suggestions for a place to meet up?

I should stress that this would be non-partisan and non-ideogolical. Everyone's welcome. It's just that blogging is socialising-by-proxy, so why not remove the filter and just socialise for an evening?

Please post this idea on your blogs to help spread the word. Thoughts, opinions and suggestions are solicited. (Thanks to Chris Lawrence for reminding me about this idea.)
File Under: Duh

I can't wait to see how much coverage this study, reported in The (UK) Guardian, gets in the American media. Britain's Office of National Statistics has released the results of a huge study that shows:
Children born out of wedlock were not only disadvantaged at birth, he said. "It seems that this will go on throughout the life of those children," he added.

Mr Haskey said the study raised the question of how social policy should be formulated.

He asked: "Should the Government be encouraging marriage, or at least encouraging people to stay together in a stable relationship?" Only 1.7 per cent of single parents had a "high income" compared to 17.4 per cent of co-habiting parents (with a joint income of £31,200 or more) and 33.5 per cent of married parents (also with a joint income of £31,200 or more).

The number of single parents on income support was 69.8 per cent. The number of married parents on income support dropped to just 3.2 per cent.

And while 81.1 per cent of married parents owned their own home, only 12.2 per cent of single parents did so, with 58.4 per cent of them living in council housing.
Remember, now, that these statistics are for England, not America, though I am sure the correlation is pretty close.
"It is clear that children born to single, non-cohabiting parents are the most disadvantaged," the study said....

"The most advantaged children are those born to married parents," it concluded.

"The co-habiting couples are substantially better off than the single parents not living with anyone, but are more disadvantaged than their married counterparts."
The best part are these two statements, taken from the write-up:
Mr Haskey said the study raised the question of how social policy should be formulated....

Ministers have so far been unwilling to act to reverse the decline of the instutition of marriage.
You think that last might have something to do with the problem? Could it be that a waning Church is unwilling to shame away the people it depends on, or is so liberal now that more devout folks just don't bother any more?

Is it possible that previous government policy, which has made it more and more possible for non-married people, usually women, to think they can strike out on their own with little harm to children, even if we've known since the beginning it's a bad idea? Will anyone even pay this study much attention, flying as it does in the face of prior policy and requiring, as it does, a near-total turn-around? Will the American media want to tell American women that they've been wrong all along, and are harming their children's future?

Don't hold your breath.

Sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning, Half-Bakered passed the 10,000 visitors milestone. I'm both surprised and happy. Considering the number of times I've quit the blog, gone on hiatus or just plain disappeared for long periods of time, it's amazing so many have seen fit to keep visiting. Thank you one and all. Thanks especially to those who have pestered me about taking Half-Bakered back up when I've gone away. Knowing that folks want me to come back has been a big part in staying with it.

Daily traffic is running around 60 to 80 hits a day! The biggest share lately is from search engine hits, especially for "Richard Pavlick," the man who nearly assassinated President John Kennedy in 1960. The weird thing is, I'm the 32nd listing for that on Google. Why pass over so many for me?

I'm also seeing a number of visitors now from the Snowblood Apple page for the movie Battle Royale. They added a link to my mammoth (4000 words almost) review/analysis of the movie. Thanks for visiting, y'all. That post, by the way, is the longest post ever on this blog.
John Ford...Apologises?

I saw this first on Fox13 news: State Senator John Ford has apologised for the way he behaved in the flap over his abuse of his official FedEx shipping account for personal business by family members. Not for the abuse mind you, just his behavior. Still, it's the first time anyone can remember when John Ford has apologised at all. From the NewsChannel 3 website comes the full statement:
Over the past thirty days I have had my integrity questioned to a degree that it has never been questioned before. Let me hasten to point out that I understand fully that I have been the subject of much controversy in the past. There is one major difference about the instant controversy; it could be seen as questioning my personal honesty and integrity. It is because of that fact that over the past weeks I have made statements and protested vigorously against any insinuation that I would do anything to take something from the citizens of the State of Tennessee to which I was not entitled. This effort is becoming all too consuming. I regret this entire matter and apologize to the citizens of the State of Tennessee.

I recently received from A C Wharton, Shelby County Mayor, a request that I choose the course of statesmanship and take steps to put this matter behind us so that I can continue a leadership role in looking out for the interests of Shelby Countians in the upcoming legislative session. I have the utmost respect for Mayor Wharton's judgement. It is not solely a matter of respecting Mayor Wharton's personal judgment; it's more a matter of accepting his plea that we all put the interests of the citizens of Shelby County and Tennessee first.

Accordingly, I have decided that upon receipt of confirmation from Comptroller John Morgan of any charges which might appear to be inappropriate, I will pay same in full.
As always, the real news is in the details.

Fox13 reported, at the very end of their story, that the State Comptroller's office is considering looking into the matter, as hinted at above. Could it be that the whole apology is motivated by a desire to appear contrite, so as to head off an investigation? Is Ford hoping that reimbursement equals satisfaction?

The NewsChannel 3 story above ends with this bit:
The statement came after Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton urged Ford to apologize. "Since I had a long term relationship with the Senator I gave him a call and he said, 'Yep. You're right. Let's get it behind us we've got work to do,'" says Mayor Wharton. Wharton is Ford's former college roommate and fraternity brother.
What cozy relationships we have in our government, eh? One wonders who approached Wharton to make this move.

Finally, WMC Action News 5 has a very brief report of their own. Nothing on the Commercial Appeal site yet.
What Are These Asshats Afraid Of?

The Chesterfield County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors insist on having a prayer before their meetings. Of course, they can't do that, so they altered it to an "invocation" to keep from running afoul of the ACLU or whomever. Now, a Wiccan wants to offer her invocation and the Board is all in a tizzy. They are trying to fine-tune the law to keep her out.

What is it with asshats like this? They want to practice their religion, which is fine, but they also want to inflict it on others, which is not. Government, with regard to religion, is clear: it's nothing or everything. There is no middle ground. You either keep religion out of the practice of government, or you allow all religions to participate. Either no one offers a "whatever" before the meeting, or you allow anyone who wants to offer a "whatever" the opportunity to do so. It's just that simple.

What are these doofs afraid of? That a one minute exposure to Wicca will corrupt them? Are they afraid that Christianity is so weak in what it has to offer that somone might get ideas if they heard from the competition? Do they want to reserve government to their own kind and keep those "others" out? That's what it sounds like, and if I were a citizen there I'd be worried at where else they apply that kind of thinking. Maybe they want to keep you out of their government as well? Keep the power and privilege and money for themselves?

I swear I despair at this kind of fearful idiocy. There are undoubtedly more ministers in that county than Wiccans. So 95% of the time, Christian ministers speak and 5% of the time it's rabbis, imams and Wiccans. This is intolerable?

Give too much to those who haven't yet learned self-restraint and you get this. It's a terrible, terrible thing to see, shameful and embarrassing. Face down in a pool of their own excess.

Hat tip to er...Hatamaran for the link.
My Political Views, Part One

Two posts that caught my eye, one from Say Uncle, who writes about his differentiation of Libertarian and libertarian, and this one from Rich, of Shots Across The Bow, who runs down his political beliefs, got me thinking that maybe I should do something similar. So, here we go.

I am something of a contrarian by nature. If everyone is going this way, I will automatically look for the other way. I think it's a leftover from the days of ego-definition during childhood. I had strong-willed parents and had to fight hard to create a "me" that wasn't them. I also went my own way a lot, which led to a lot of parental fights. So, I'm stubborn and contrarian.

I think that's a small part of why I am Libertarian. That is, politically a member of the party. The herd is Democatic or Republican; not me. But I'm also deeply impressed by the incredible experiment that is the American Revolution. The men who launched it were all largely self-educated and quite knowledgeable about their political history. We are their beneficiaries. I take quite seriously what they set out, and hew closely especially to the Jeffersonian ideals. We stayed, as a country, within their shadow for longer than the Founders expected, until Jacksonian democracy (or Hamiltonian anti-federalists, take your pick) began the long, slow slide to corruption.

I believe "that which governs least, governs best" at the Federal level. National government is a powerful and dangerous tool. It's too far removed from the people themselves to be given more than the most fundamental and broad duties: protection of our borders, defense from our enemies; regulation of commerce across the States, collecting and publishing information from and about the Nation, ensuring equality of access and opportunity in our basic liberties.

Social engineering was never in the plan and never should be. It is the right of the people to create the society they want, free from the government telling them how it "ought" to look. We launched out into that experiment in the late 19th century with the Progressives and it's warped our society and nation in all kinds of ways. I firmly believe people should have the freedom to associate as they wish, and then be given the consequences of those choices. If people want to do stupid things, we should try to talk them out of it, but if that's their choice we are then beholden to leave them free.

It's not the job of government to stop someone from doing something repugnant to me. It's my job to educate them, or if they choose not to listen, to educate everyone else. Together, the rest of us can go on. The better ideas will win out, as they always do.

When I went from blindly following what I was taught to thinking for myself is when I went from Catholicism to atheism. It's also when I went from Republicanism to Libertarianism. Even despite his criminality and venalism, Nixon was a disaster; China may be his lone, true accomplishment. I think that's when I started to turn. Reagan was a great President, but he never got to put Republicanism into government; Democrats still controlled the mechanisms. Seeing G.W. Bush's Republican Party today, finally given the reins and squandering their chance, has only confirmed my beliefs. Both parties are only separate wings of the same over-class; men and women concerned only with their own power and privilege, to the exclusion of true principle.

The Libertarian Party is the closest to my own political stripe. I acknowledge that the Party has a lot of problems. I've heard allegations about the national office and how it's run. Look up the stories for yourself; I don't know enough to comment more than this.

The Party is also afflicted by True Believers, those who want it all now. Far too many who run the Party at the important levels brag about overturning drug and sexcrime laws, tearing down public education and the social safety net, stripping out a vast body of law, etc., the day after the election. It's the whole thing, right now, deal with it. Best of luck to the winners; good riddance to the losers. Theirs is a smug and condescending view that doesn't sell well at all, as we've seen.

Well, any idiot knows that won't happen. And expecting people to embrace a radical change with welcome is naive. Progressives/Socialists/Communists/Democrats have trumpeted their own agenda for a century, sometimes by letting the most honest voices be cast to the fringes so that the agenda won't be stopped. They never turn away a small victory because it isn't the whole victory they sought. They never stop, and have worked hard to get their hands on the levers that control our society.

This isn't to label most Democrats/Socialists as evil conspiracists. (Some are, and I would encourage you to learn much, much more about Antonio Gramsci, who laid down a blueprint that should be frighteningly familiar.) But most are honestly motivated by a misguided compassion and desire to do good that has been coopted into a view of government that is paternalistic and smothering. It's the Mommy State; and we know what Momma's Boys and Girls end up like.

True adults must be made through tough love, education, instruction, discipline and facing adversity. Most grown-ups today (I have to include myself if I'm going to be honest here.) aren't true adults: strong people with strong moral codes, a willingness to do what must be done to defend their family and property and society, and littler tolerance for those who fritter away what has been given them or endanger those around them. Not everyone will become a true adult, but it's not the job of government to assure that, nor to pick up the pieces of the messes they'll make. When I know someone else will clean up the mess, I'm not encouraged to be careful, skeptical and thrifty. But if I'm the only person who is looking out for me, then I'm very, very careful indeed.

That's not to say we shouldn't have help for those who need it. But it should come from the people directly, through the agencies they themselves create and operate, not through a third agency of the government. A society is only as moral as the people must be. When my moral duties are taken over by another, I become less of a moral person. I don't have to help you because there is a nebulous "someone else" to do it for me.

But if I know there's not going to be help unless I provide it, then suddenly it's my personal morality and ethics at stake. For example, I spent a year in alcohol and drug treatment, by my own choice. But I later spent almost eight more years working in the field, because I wanted to be sure that I paid back for what I'd taken for so long, and to be sure that the same help I got was there for the next man or woman. Doing so derailed the life I had intended to live, and the money I might have made, but I don't dislike the life I live today, and I'm very grateful to have given what I did to someone else.

Government can't do that for me. It's an impersonal and overarching manacle to the soul. Federal government should only be given, as it was in the Constitution, those duties that cannot be performed adequately on the local level. We shouldn't have a national drug treatment system; one size fits all wouldn't work. But treatment options that arise from the needs of the local community will effectively deal with the local problem. To keep itself going, it will inform and educate the local citizens of the problems in their own community, motivating local action.

For example, Memphis Mayor Herenton at one time advocated the City buying a local hospital that was closing to turn it into an adjunct of the jail. People arrested on alcohol and drug charges that didn't involve other crimes, like public intoxication or reckless behavior, would be sent to this facility overnight instead of the jail. The next day, they would be given a chance at treatment, which would also occur at the facility. If they decline, they go to the judge; if they accept, they immediately go into treatment. Following treatment, they'd go back to the judge for dispensation. That's a great idea, as it relieves a lot of the crowding at the jail that alcohol- and drug-related behavior brings. It keeps the dangerous folks locked up and keeps the non-criminal from getting a free introduction. I supported this kind of government program because it is local in origin, intent, operation and action. I can go down there and see for myself what's going on. I can meet with my City Council representative to talk about it. I can show up at government meetings to voice my opinions. I can protest outside the appropriate agency if there's something wrong.

That's the difference. With a Federal program, it's all far, far beyond anything I can do. Everything becomes vast, faceless. Bureaucrats can shift me around forever.

Well, I certainly didn't intend an essay here. And I still haven't explicated my own philosophy. I guess that'll be Part Two.
My Political Views, Part Two

So, what do I believe?

I'm against abortion, but recognise that it's a necessary evil. I think a woman should have access to an abortion, but the government has, in the interests of protecting the unborn life, a right to impede (but not block) her. There simply are times, agonising horrible times, when an abortion is the only solution. That's rare though. Most abortions today, something upward of ninety percent, are for the woman's "convenience." We should work to make abortion be seen as the evil it is, and something shameful. We should also work to make adoption noble again; something to be hallowed and applauded. The folks who work so piously and feverishly on the poles of the abortion debate should focus their energies there, and be productive.

Marriage should be a social contract, not a government one. It should be a religious and civil institution. Marriage laws came about to insure that inheritance would work, plain and simple. They ensured that the children of marriages really were the rightful descendants of their putative parents. We can do that far more accurately today with science. We don't need a fear of King and jail to ensure fidelity. Let churches handle marriage and then anyone can marry anyone they want. This will not result in an aberrant society. The numbers of oddball marriages will be low, of course. Very few people really want to make a polygamous or homosexual marriage; it's no threat to anything.

We need a more public awareness of, and recognition of, the fact that government is based on the individual by necessity. That is democracy, a polity of ones for the good of the ones. It can't be a democratic republic any other way. But society is based on the family. It has to be. That's the best way to transmit values, to create healthy children, to build future societies. Trying to make society work on the individual, and having government pick up the slack whenever the shortcomings occur, is leading us to the society we now live in, and the worse place we are heading toward.

Capitalism is the best method of allocating resources. There simply isn't enough brain power to run a centrally planned economy, no matter how mildly done. Remember, any time you create a position of power, no matter how noble the intentions or the initiators, it will attract those who crave power and position. They will take it, and then deform the thing created to serve their power and position. History is so clear on this matter, I can't believe it's not an article of faith in the average man, as it once was. That's why power should stay as close to home as possible, to keep it from getting out of hand.

Our Federal government should be a fraction of its present size. We should have a strong military corps that can be expanded when needed by a Reserve force, not unlike what we have now. Our borders should be patrolled by this military. We shouldn't be in the business of income redistribution and social engineering. Get rid of the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Housing, Agriculture, Education, etc. Beef up the Department of Commerce.

Laws against what we do privately, and to ourselves, should be abolished. Suicide, prostitution, gambling, drugs, etc. should go. What people choose to do privately is their business, period. If people choose to do something stupid, let them. Try to get involved and talk them out of it, of course, but it's their choice. Get to know your neighbors, get involved, so that you'll know who to watch out for and why. Be smart, armed and vigilant. Be pro-active. Be unapologetic.

America should learn the difference between Republic and Empire. We should be a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world, generous with our friends and deadly to our enemies. We should only intervene if America is in direct danger. Then, we need to do the job, clean up, set things back up to ensure democracy and freedom, then go home.

No UN. National sovereignty is nothing to be ashamed of. Great Britain birthed the American Experiment. Our original setup was the best in the history of the world, and has irrevocably altered its destiny. We have been the model the rest of the world wants to adopt. Diluting ourselves under a supranational world government is a sure path to enslavement under a totalitarian regime. We must stand for ourselves, help others, fend off those who would harm us. For over two hundred years that's worked just fine. Slowly, through adopting our example, more and more nations on Earth become democratic republics. Not one has adopted the UN model.

I'm opposed to capital punishment. It's the only punishment that cannot be undone. Mistakes will always be made. We can free a jailed man, even give him money in recompense though we cannot restore his time. How can we correct a wrongful death? Besides, if capital punishment was done properly, that is quickly, then which would be worse: to spend a year or so in fear of death, or to spend decades in a concrete box?

Prisons should be as minimal as possible. Concrete boxes. It should be an awful place, one no sane person would want. We should segregate jail/prison: the mentally ill go one place, the non-violent (i.e. property crimes) in another, and the violent in a third. The non-violent should be oriented toward restitution and restoration and rehabilitation.

Courts need to be realigned. It is the jury that is the power in a courtroom, not a judge. The judge is more like the ref, keeping all sides honest and riding herd. We need to restart teaching Americans that principle. Juries can rule as they please, not be constrained by agenda-driven judges. Dishonest prosecutions can and should be thrown out of court via juries refusing to find guilt, when proper.

I think most matters of law should be given to civil courts, which should be expanded. That way, as society changes so do the courts reflect that change by altering precedents. In other words, a law stays on the book forever, but judges come and go. New judges reflect the new society they arise from. They should be elected, not appointed, and subjected to up/down retaining votes from time to time to keep them attached to the society they sit over. This way, those judges who stray too far from the mainstream can be gotten rid of, rather than live on and on until they die.

Laws which attempt to reshape society should be struck down. This includes affirmative action, of course, but also laws which prohibit people from doing with their property and businesses as they please. If someone doesn't want to serve me, fine. He should have that right. But I have the right not to shop there and to let others know what kind of person he is; we can drive him out of business, which is the strongest punishment. Someone can refuse to rent to whomever they choose, for whatever reason, but will have to suffer when business is slack, until he learns to loosen up. Insurers shouldn't be forced to take everyone. Let the virtuous have the best rates, and the less-safe pay for their choices.

I'm stuck, though, between my idealist belief that people should be free and the realisation that most folks will squander that freedom, even in a libertarian society that will make them bear the burden. Most folks today falsely believe that theyl share the "costs" of problems because of decades of miseducation and social engineering by Progressives, Communists, Socialists, Democrats, etc. If we have a government that takes up those costs, then yes, that's true. But if we let people rise and fall on their own merits, and bear the responsibility of their choices, then no. Part of me truly believes that given the motivation, most folks will rise up. But I'm still torn.

Freedom is, as John Adams put it, the "great animating contest." That's the source of national and societal vigor. Stifle the freedoms and the nation is stifled too. Constrain the people and you will strangle their souls. We have seen it time and again: liberate and educate a people who are secure in their persons and property and they will soar.

Anyone out there writing a blog from and about Arkansas? I haven't seen or heard of anyone that covers the political scene over there and would dearly love to find one. Please let me know if you do.
He'll Be Back Real Soon Now, So The Techs Promise

Signifying Nothing has been out of commission for the past few days, so I emailed Chris Lawrence, who tells me he's having BellSouth problems, but has been assured (Check's in the mail!) that his site will be back out there about Tuesday or so. It won't be soon enough; Chris and Brock are part of my daily read.
It's Bubba Claus!

Via Possumblog comes this letter from Santa himself:
I regret to inform you that, effective immediately, I will no longer serve the states of Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas on Christmas Eve.

Due to the overwhelming current population of the earth, my contract was renegotiated by North American Fairies and Elves Local 209. As part of the new and better contract I also get longer breaks for milk and cookies, so keep that in mind.
Read on to find out what the differences will be.

By the way, if you've not checked out Possumblog before, you owe yourself a visit. It's always a fun read, but I especially love his tales of domestic travails and the never-ending exasperation of raising kids. He's also the Grand Poobah of the Axis of Weevil, which is to Alabama (my home state) roughly what the Rocky Top Brigade is to Tennessee.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Dad-Blamed Blogger!

I had a long post all about Movie Night tonight and what a good time I had. Then I somehow erased the whole damned thing except the word "was." Grrrrrrrr! It's too late to try to recreate it, so I'll try again tomorrow.
hah! Fooled You

Y'all thought this formerly blank post was some kind of mistake or accident I left hanging out there, didn't you? Well, hah, I say, saying hah! It was actually a secret message. You missed it. And now it's gone, so you'll never know the secret to massive wealth, long life, great sex and a single malt whiskey under $20!

Yeah, that's my story and I'm sticking with it.
Time Please, Gentlemen

I had a long day at work. It never fails. I planned for today, got in really early, stayed ahead of things and still got hosed. You would think a billion-dollar chain would have computers and technicians up to the task, but such is not the case.

Every time we get a computer update from the central office, our system is wonky for two days. We know it will happen, but the Help Desk guys always act innocent. It happened again today, even after I warned the guy it would. Now we go through the dance of useless steps. We know within five minutes if the guy from the HD is clueless or not, based on what he asks us to do. Last time, it took seven hours of deleting and recreating connections to finally discover that the problem was not in our software, but in a bad phone line at the local office.

Every time, they deny what we already can tell them: something they did in the update has changed or deleted something in our setting. Or, someone else has done something stupid and won't admit to it until caught. It's never our fault, but we have to endure their useless monkey-motion until they realise it.

And because of this, we have lost tens of thousands of dollars of sales, and pissed off an unknown number of customers. We've wasted payroll and made a lot of folks unnecessarily angry. Me included. But no one in corporate seems to care as the problem has gone on for eighteen months now. The HD goober today actually told us things would get better in a couple of weeks when we get yet another new system. He swears it'll be great and flawless. When I scoffed, he couldn't understand why I was so skeptical.


So, anyway, blogging is light and short today. I'm going to the Movie Night on Madison Avenue tonight. It's a benefit screening of "The Thousand Eyes of Doctor Mabuse," Fritz Lang's last movie. Only five dollars, and that includes Fat Albert cartoons for the opener! It begins at seven, at Midtown Books at 2027 Madison Avenue, at Overton Square. Lots of parking in the back. Maybe I'll see ya there?

Gotta go. I hope to get caught back up tomorrow night. See ya then.
A Soros Primer

If you haven't yet heard about billionaire mercenary George Soros and his campaign to force "regime change" on President George Bush, here's a good starting article. It gives some history and some quotes to help you decide for yourself if he's a good citizen exercising his rights or one man out to topple a government legally elected.

WARNING! Be careful if you choose to check out the Sightings/ site. It is a nest of anti-Israeli and Jewish-conspiracy thinking. They also cover a lot of fringe and under-reported stories that are important, but some of the views expressed on this site will undoubtedly be offensive to some. Proceed with armor on.

Via Slashdot comes this link to a project to help reduce spam.

Spamhole is not a personal solution, but a server-side one. As I understand it, it leaves an open relay for spammers to sniff out, like a honeypot. Spammers see the open relay as an opportunity to exploit the server they find it on, hijacking the server to send out their spam. But what Spamhole does is to set thresholds that spammers won't normally rise above, identifying them. The mails they send are then accepted by the server and promptly deleted! The spammer thinks they went out, but 'Net traffic is dramatically reduced because the spam dies at the source.

Spammers never know which relay is real or a trap. It forces them to work harder, making spam more expensive and therefore less attractive. It's an elegant idea.
Update On The Passion of the Christ

Since I posted below on the reviews coming in on Mel Gibson's February movie, The Passion of the Christ, more reviews have arrived. Scroll down a bit and look for references to "BNAT 5."

There's still a strong concensus that this will be a blockbuster, powerful and much discussed film. The only negatives seem to have to do with the pacing of the movie, which some have labelled as slow. It also seems that fears of anti-Semitism may have some merit, as most noticed it could be read into the film, but those who paid attention would know the difference between a political fight in a community and the whole community acting together. We'll see. I still think this will arrive in the media as "Mel Gibson's controversial new movie, which some are calling anti-Semitic."

For one example of what's to come, critic-wise, try this story from the Village Voice. The author labors mightily to show us Gibson's Christ-obsession, or his "Jesus Christ pose," as she calls it. She has pictures, too. Oof!

The only two legimate criticisms I've seen so far are that the film doesn't use Greek as one of the main languages, which it would have been in that time and place, and that the actors are, again, European and not Semitic.

There's now an official website, and a trailer is available in several formats. Watch the trailer and see what you think. It gives you a sense of the brutality of Jesus' ordeal, something that everyone is commenting on for it's long, unrelenting nature. It seems that many of the reviewers in this bunch realise that it is what Jesus chose to endure for others that made his sacrifice so meaningful, something that most films haven't really dwelt on too closely. Gibson has chosen to show it unflinchingly and at length.

It's gonna be a big one.
Just As I Thought

The 2004 AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SELECTOR is making the rounds of some of the blogs I read, so I decided to take it. I was pretty sure of where I'd end up, and it's not too surprising.

1. Your ideal theoretical candidate. (100%)
2. Libertarian Candidate (72%)
3. Bush, President George W. - Republican (46%)
4. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (40%)
5. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (37%)
6. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (35%)
7. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (32%)
8. Kucinich, Rep. Dennis, OH - Democrat (31%)
9. Gephardt, Rep. Dick, MO - Democrat (31%)
10. Phillips, Howard - Constitution (30%)
11. LaRouche, Lyndon H. Jr. - Democrat (27%)
12. Socialist Candidate (26%)
13. Hagelin, Dr. John - Natural Law (24%)
14. Clark, Retired General Wesley K., AR - Democrat (19%)
15. Green Party Candidate (16%)
16. Lieberman, Senator Joe, CT - Democrat (15%)
17. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol, IL - Democrat (14%)

Anyway, I come out as strongly, but not totally, Libertarian. I'm not a purist, seeing a role for government in policing and regulation of commerce. I'm not averse to America going to war, but it has to be for a damn good reason. I'm satisfied that Bush's War on Terror is one such case. We're crossing the line once again, though, from Republic to Empire and that worries me. Bush's domestic policy seems more driven by re-election than logic. Republicans got the government they've wanted and squandered it, proving in the process that they are everything they ever criticised in the Democrats. Ashcroft is a zealot, which scares me, and Bush seems to give him a free rein. Nothing worse than someone who believes that what he does to you is for your own good, even if you don't see it that way.

But, jeez, Al Sharpton at 4? It must be a flaw in the test, right? Right?
Surprise Welcome

Look at the comments to the next post and you'll see that another Memphis blogger has come out of the woodwork. Say hello to Mick Wright, aka Fishkite.

Mick is also the author of a "Draft Wesley" website. No, not General Wesley Clark, but the original Wesley.

Yes, Trekkies are everywhere. It's good to meet you, Mick.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

More Thoughts On Star Trek

The other day, I posted some thoughts about the state of the Star Trek franchise, along with a link to a Ron Moore interview. I've got some follow-ups today.

The last part of the Ron More interview is up. He talks a bit more about the Trek establishment and repeats his thoughts that conservatism and fear run the show. His solution is one you often hear, to take the show away for a while and let anticipation for a new one rebuild. He'd also completely wipe the slate as far as crew and production goes, opening all options. That's what he did with Battlestar Galactica, which he also talks about at some length.

I'd like to add to my comments in that post by saying that, if they go to my movie-a-month idea they should open the franchise to new directors as well, and their unique views of the Star Trek universe. Don't be afraid to let someone try something completely personal or off the wall. It can't be worse than what's happening now.

I also meant to point out just how timid the producers still are. Supposedly, the newest episodes this season are some of the best the show has done. I wouldn't really know, as I've missed a few and only partly watched others. It's not bad, but still means nothing.

For example, the episode with the Trip clone. When T'Pol kisses him, it's the fulfillment of the storyline they've been working on between Trip and T'Pol, but it doesn't mean a thing since it isn't Trip. Nothing between them is changed, since Trip doesn't know and it didn't happen to him. Neither did anyone have to do the killing of sim-Trip, he volunteered to die. Sure, Archer got to act tough, but he didn't have to follow through, so how tough is that? Lots of words, no actions; no effects for the future. It all continues as before.

That's been a Trek problem since Next Generation, using the "reset button." That's the magic device that makes it all not happen, or have any effect. Usually it's a temporal anomaly or some kind of wormhole. Voyager was especially bad about that, having all kinds of terrible things happen, only to make it all disappear at the end. Remember "Timeless?" Where Chakotay and Harry Kim were the only survivors of a disastrouts wreck of the ship? Kim was a whole different guy, a great interesting character because of it. The ending took it all away (while giving Kim his greatest moment when he yells "Yes!" as the trick works) because time was "reset" to change the course of history. Hell, Voyager ended on a "reset button."

It's a coward's way. Not changing anything while pandering to the viewers. Some series can do both, like NYPD Blue say, while others stick rigidly to formula and rely on other elements to bring the difference, like the Law & Order franchises.

Let's face it. Dramatically, Deep Space Nine was the superior series. They had a plethora of story lines and stories to choose from, more than they could manage. But it's a hard path, as viewers supposedly don't join in shows in progress that have continuing story lines. It's believed that the show is too complex for newbies to pick up, as though reruns and the Internet don't exist. I don't know what numbers support that, as Buffy and Angel both seem to have disproved it by becoming more and more popular as they went along, even with the continuing dramatic arcs.

Last point: Enterprise, according to rumor may be facing the end. It might get moved to Friday nights, usually a sign of a show being written off, and might have a shortened season, preparatory to next year being its last. All this is rumor, of course, and I'll post more as I learn it.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Movie Night On Madison Avenue II

I'm keeping this at the top of the blog for the next few days.

Just a reminder that Midtown Books (2027 Madison Ave.) will be hosting a showing of the Fritz Lang movie The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse on Wednesday night, at 7PM. Fat Albert cartoons will also be shown! Cost is only a $5 donation that will benefit the Wolf River Conservancy, Hope House and the Memphis Film Forum.

This is a rare public screening of the movie, which will be film, not video, and ought to be fun. I hope to see y'all there. You can read more here. [Scroll down to the same-title post on Saturday night, if the link is bloggered.]
Shelby County Dept. of Children's Services

A couple of weeks ago, there were television and news stories following up on the accusations by some ex-employees in the Department of Children's Services that murders of children in their care had been covered up. The State Comptroller's office found no evidence of cover-ups, which was the main point of most reporting on this.

But I went to the Comptroller's website and found the report for myself. Reading it was eye-opening. They uncovered a massive amount of laxity, overwork and non-communication. The deaths investigated turn up events, and lack of simply doing the job, that show how seriously undermanned and underfunded this agency is. It is, in a word, criminal. Not only that, but there was no communication between the Shelby County office and the State office. No one seems to have done anything about this; it was allowed to continue.

There's a stunning amount more. Sadly, the report is in PDF format, which prevents simple cut'n'paste. I've been meaning to print it out and just type in some of the more startling highlights, but haven't gotten around to it. Hence, this post encouraging you to go there for yourself. It's only fifteen pages and a quick read. But it will turn your stomach and make you shake your head in disbelief. If I can later, I'll try to post some excerpts in an update to this post.

Why this horrowshow wasn't trumpeted by the local paper is beyond me. It's awful, awful stuff. I thought one of the jobs of the papers was uncovering and exposing precisely these kinds of misdeeds. Some legislators need to have their asses held to account for not making sure this agency was on track.

Go read it.
Eww! Ick!

I once more ventured into my site counter's stats and found something gross. First, though, let me thank all of you who read ol' Half-Bakered. My daily hits are back to about the level they were before the latest hiatus. I even managed about 60 hits this past Thursday. Once again, thanks for sticking with me. I am, as always, humbled and amazed by that kind of attention.

Going into the referrer logs, though, was different. I still get lots of referrals from folks in the Rocky Top Brigade, mostly SKB, Say Uncle, Conservative Zone, and the folks who have hosted the Volunteer Tailgate Parties. The VTP is a great idea that does produce results. I'll have to host one here. I just need a theme?

I also get hits from Jon W. Sparks' personal website. He writes for the Commercial Appeal and is a good guy. Thanks Jon! Go check out his site; much fun to be had there.

Half-Bakered gets a whole lot of hits from search engines, on a lot of different topics. But what jumped out were a couple of searches for "American Idol Frenchy nude." Ewww! Ick! Bleah! Hackhackhack! I'm not even going to look into that. It's too creepy for words. You folks need to keep moving along.

Ick. I need a shower.
Our Daily CA

The Commercial Appeal scaled back its regional coverage of Arkansas and Mississippi under new Chief Editor Chris Peck's leadership. For a paper that likes to tout itself as a newspaper for the "Mid-South," that seems odd. I guess they have to cover themselves. Or we here in Memphis are the Mid-South. Anyway, it's creating some problems.

For example, in today's paper, we have this story about an anti-school consolidation rally to be held in Little Rock, Arkansas, today. For starters, it's an Associated Press story, since the CA has cut back on Arkansas reporters. But look at the point-of-view in this story.

Teachers from small schools all over the State are bringing busloads of students, expected to number around 500, to Little Rock for the rally. It's pretty amazing if you think about it. But the AP reporter only briefly mentions this before turning to a lone Arkansasan who is "denouncing" the rally. She turns the story into a short interview with him and his call for an investigation. The rally organiser, Lavina Grandon, gets two short paragraphs to "defend" herself before the writer returns to criticising the rally.

This kind of reporting reminds me so very much of the slanted reporting done in the Income Tax Wars here in Tennessee. There are similarities: the Governor is taking an unpopular stand regarding a core issue. He has the support of the papers and the goverment and the unions that have a stake in the issue. But a large group of people who will be hardest hit by the Governor's proposed solution protest. Their protest is seen in reporting through the eyes of their critics and the Governor's supporters.

I guess we'll see stories tomorrow about "rock-throwing, horn-honking mobs storming" the Capitol in Little Rock.

You can learn more about Lavina Grandon and Save Our Schools by starting with this Google search result page. I have picked out a few random articles here, here, here, and here. I have no dogs in this hunt, but the sound and the smell are real, real familiar. That's why I'm mentioning it here.
9/11: More Questions

The actions of the FAA on the morning of September 11, 2001 have always puzzled me. They knew they had planes in the air that at the least were a concern, and they appear to have known that they had hijacked planes in the air in the middle of the country flying around with unknown destinations and purposes. Yet they waited, as much as twenty minutes, before taking more than cursory action, including notifying the military or the Federal government. It's inexcusable and inexplicable.

I will remind you that not one person has been disciplined, transferred, demoted, terminated or punished in any way for what happened that day. NOT ONE.

Over the weekend, I found this story which shows that a pair of F-16 fighters (not armed, though) were in the air over New Jersey, as the two planes flew into the World Trade Center towers. I do not know this website, so I cannot vouch for its authenticity and accuracy, but they do quote names that can be tracked down, so I'm passing it on to you with caveats.
As two hijacked jetliners bore down on New York City's World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, two Air Force F-16 jet fighters were practicing bombing runs over an empty stretch of the Pine Barrens near Atlantic City.

The F-16 pilots had no idea of the impending tragedy in Manhattan, just eight minutes away in their supersonic jets....

A spokeswoman for the 177th confirmed that two of its F-16s were flying unarmed bombing runs that morning over a section of the Pine Barrens designated for military drills. But the F-16 pilots, she said, were unaware that America's air defense system needed them desperately....

Soon after two hijacked commercial jetliners slammed into the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan, Aponte said, the two F-16s landed and were refitted with air-to-air missiles, then sent aloft. But that happened more than an hour after the trade center attacks....

NORAD confirmed it had only eight fighters on the East Coast for emergency scrambles on Sept. 11. Throughout Canada and the United States, including Alaska, NORAD had 20 fighters on alert - armed, fueled up, and ready to fly in minutes. Four years earlier, NORAD could count on having 175 jets ready to scramble, including two on the tarmac at Atlantic City's airport.

With the New Jersey Air National Guard's 17 F-16s out of the picture on Sept. 11, the commission is trying to assess why the Pentagon left what seems to be a yawning gap in the midsection of its air defenses on the East Coast - a gap with New York City at the center. Since Sept. 11, the 177th has been back on alert status, with its pilots logging hundreds of hours of patrols above New York City and along the East Coast.
This is absolutely unbelievable. It is outrageous, and I'm not just bloviating when I say that. I am fuming as I write this. We have legions of people whose job it is to protect us and they repeatedly dropped the ball on multiple levels. Other than knowing that many of those folks must have been shaken by those events and have redetermined to do their best, I haven't seen any evidence that the bureaucracies have been shaken up and scoured clean of the lethally idiotic space-wasters who didn't do their jobs up to that day. That's what I want. Right now.
The Passion Of The Christ

The movie hasn't been released yet. It hasn't even been screened but for a few people. And yet Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ has already gotten a lot of criticism from the Jewish ADL and in the major media for its perceived depiction of Jews as being responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. Mostly, the ADL has been working from an early draft of the script. The media has been working from the ADL. It's a neat little daisy chain.

The few people who have seen the movie have raved. Gibson showed it to a group from Opus Dei, the fundamentalist, traditionalist Catholic group he is a member of. They all pronounced it deeply moving. A sympathetic audience might be suspected of being biased in favor, though, right?

Now come reviews from a group of cinema lovers who would be steeply tilted against religious sympathy. Over the weekend, Harry Knowles, of the movie gossip/spoiler website Ain't It Cool News held Butt-Numb-A-Thon 5, an around the clock, two day film festival. Movies are shown back to back, all day and all night. One of the movies shown was Passion and this was followed by a ninety-minute Q&A with Mel Gibson himself! The reaction was surprising, considering how juvenile, profane, gore- and sex-loving, and shallow this crowd can be.

Knowles reports that after the movie ended, the audience of over 200 gave the movie a five minute standing ovation. He's published his comments here; scroll down to items 18 and 19.

Other attendees give their thoughts here and here.

Mind you, this is for a movie that is in Aramaic and Latin, with subtitles! No English is spoken on screen. I've been wondering how this will be received when it's released in February. My feeling is that the major media will cover the controversy and the dissenters. The public reaction is likely to be historic. No doubt it will have a huge opening weekend, as the buzz will be enormous. I think it will have strong legs and stay in the top three for weeks afterward.

Why is an atheist so interested in this film? I dunno, but I think it has to do with the effort Gibson is making to have this film be as historically accurate as he can, and as textually close as a devout worshipper would want. He is making this movie "right," and not necessarily palatable to movie-goers' sensibilities. It should make for an interesting experience, to say the least. And yeah, I'm going to see it.
"I See A Bunch Of Crap"

Anyone who ever got tired and pissed-off trying to write a paper on a college or high-school science project that went awry will appreciate this effort: Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass.
Abstract: The exponential dependence of resistivity on temperature in germanium is found to be a great big lie. My careful theoretical modeling and painstaking experimentation reveal 1) that my equipment is crap, as are all the available texts on the subject and 2) that this whole exercise was a complete waste of my time.
It only gets funnier after that. "Fig. 1: Check this shit out." His conclusion is priceless. I haven't laughed this hard since ABC stopped broadcasting "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
The Stalking Horse Theory Re-Emerges

I've been disinclined of late to believe the theory that General Wesley Clark is a stalking horse candidate in case Hillary Clinton needs to enter the Democratic race for President at the last minute. Yeah, Clark met with the Clintons just before he announced; yeah, he has an awful lot of former Clintonistas in his upper campaign staff. But it's hard to visualise the scenario that has Hillary gracefully enter even now, much less after the primaries kick off.

Then came this from US News and World Report's "Washington Whispers" column. It's the fourth item:
Wesley Clark's presidential campaign is going for the heartstrings to revive the Democrat's slumping effort. Insiders say they'll host house parties December 18 during which a DVD bio described as a "tear-jerker" will be shown. It might work. It was done by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the TV producer who made Bill Clinton's campaign movies.
One of those movies was the now-legendary hagiography, "The Man From Hope."

They sure are making it hard to maintain disbelief, aren't they?
Oooh...Pretty Colors

A group of scientists are creating a map of the Internet. Its a striking image that looks a lot like a gaseous nebula. Click on "View & Generate Maps" for various sized images. The imaginary space we call the Internet makes for some amazing art.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Movie Night On Madison Avenue!

Midtown Books, at 2027 Madison Avenue in Overton Square, will be showing a classic, rarely-screened film on Wednesday, December 10th: The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. The showing is a benefit for the Wolf River Conservancy, Hope House and the Memphis Film Forum. It's only a five dollar donation! You get Fat Albert cartoons, too. There's also a great coffee bar, Sip*, in the store, to keep you javanated all night. Best of all, this won't be a projection video or DVD, but actual film shown through a projector! Real movie! A local collector has agreed to share his reels for us.

Fritz Lang was a German director during the Weimar Republic days. In 1922, he made Dr. Mabuse, der Speiler, or Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, based on the book by Jacques Norbert. It was about the arch- master-criminal Dr. Mabuse, the man who seemed to know everyone and everything. He had a hand in every level of society, from top to bottom, and in every scheme and plot around. The whole world was his game. The film was an allegory of the heady, materialistic, greedy days of the Weimar and caused a sensation, even though it was four hours long! Lang was pressed to make a sequel, but declined.

He later made such landmark films as Die Frau im Mond, M and Metropolis, all still very popular today. In 1933, the director returned to Mabuse and made Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. This was a much shorter and more thrilling movie, Lang's masterpiece. The movie is about a detective who tracks the source of a crime wave to a man who is locked in an insane asylum! Or is that what's going on? Unfortunately, the Nazi government thought it was a bit too close to home and so Lang left Germany for Hollywood.

There were more Mabuse films by others, but Lang stayed away. Until 1960, anyway. He then made Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse, or The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. It was a film about seeing and not seeing, with lots of mirrors, secret cameras and people who aren't as they seem, especially the wily Dr. Mabuse. It was Lang's last film.

I'll be at Midtown Books for this screening, you bet. I hope others can make it. Not only for the good you'll be doing for three Memphis groups, but for a really good, if not quite great, film. The fun starts at 7PM. You can call 726-0039 for more information, or email mtart -at-

Kudos to Hugh of Midtown Books for hosting this. Make sure you take some time to wander the stacks. His prices on the used books are pretty great ($4 to $9) and he has built up a good selection on a wide variety of subjects. Also take a look at the Midtown Artist Market in the same space: real Memphis art by real Memphis artists!

And if the big, fat, bald, gap-toothed guy quietly watching everyone else a bit nervously from the corner seems familiar, come over and say "Hi" to me.
Some Thoughts On Star Trek

A couple of things I ran across today about Star Trek reminded me that I ought to share my own thoughts on what needs to happen to revive the franchise.

First, is this story from the New York Post that is critical of the latest incarnation of Trek, Enterprise. It's important to remember that Paramount, the studio that makes ST, has a billion dollar cash cow on its hands. It simply can't turn that off. The shareholders would rebel. So, even in the face of the law of diminishing returns, they must soldier on.

One side note that struck me as I looked at the picture that accompanied the article. One of the many criticisms of previous Trek incarnations was that the jumpsuits they wore had no pockets. It always struck most folks as silly. Were do you put your hands? [The actors actually have to learn to stand with their hands out, believe it or not] Where do you put the little things you pick up in odd moments? Well, with Enterprise they consciously added pockets and zips to the uniforms, but you still don't see them use 'em!

Where does that come from? Read this probing and knowledgeable interview with former Trek writer and producer, Ron Moore. He gives a revealing look into the writing and production of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine (my favorite incarnation) and Voyager. It's long, but well worth your time. There will be a part two on Monday.

This quote from Moore explains a lot of why Trek sucks so much these days:
To an extent. I think it was more like the notes tended to become more conservative. "Don't take as many chances." "Be safer." "Don't go out on a limb with this." "Be careful we still like the character." "Don't let the character make too many mistakes." "Don't get too crazy with the ideas." They were just always conservative. You were always pulling back from something. You were never given a note saying, "Go farther. Go wilder. This needs to be more shocking." It was always "Pull it back. Be safer." Even in humor, "It's too funny." "It's too much of a joke." It was always make it smaller, make it more subtle… just play it safe.
If I suddenly replaced Rick Berman as head of Trek? I would radically rethink the format. No more series for the time being. Instead, I would completely overhaul the whole production department. To begin, I'd plan on a quarterly schedule of two-hour television movies, one a season. After the system had been running a while, I'd then make it a monthly movie.

Star Trek has the richest mythology of any modern tale. Only J.R.R. Tolkien comes close. ST has a history that extends from the Atomic Wars of the alternate-late-Sixties to the time travellers of the 29th century. We have, literally, a whole galaxy to work in and only a small fraction of that has been explored. Some of that exploration consists of a mere line of dialogue in one episode! There are hundreds of worlds and cultures that have already been mentioned; thousands of characters have been written. Fans have clamored for decades for a revisiting of some of those places and people.

The possibilities are unbounded. Young Sarek? Young Kirk? Starfleet Academy? The Bajoran-Cardassian War? A Klingon opera in the original Klingon? The story of the Romulans? A comedy? A war story? A love story? It's all out there, waiting.

Open the franchise to outsiders. Any number of science-fiction writers have licked their lips at the idea of writing for Trek. Some of the best episodes ever were written by outsiders: Ellison's "City On The Edge Of Forever," Gerrold's "The Trouble With Tribbles." Let fresh viewpoints in, fresh ideas, new spins on old ideas. There are any number of social issues to explore in the guise of Trek, scientific puzzles to solve.

Each movie has its own team overseeing it. You already have the make-up and wardrobe and design departments in place. You can farm out the opticals and special effects to companies around town. Let in new writers, but pair them with in-house production to keep the "Trek" factor in place. Each production is independent but overseen by a meta-production office.

Then you can crank out a dazzling array of Trek. A young-adult Starfleet Academy comedy one month. A Romulan spy thriller the next. Then a starship crew on a mission the next. Then a biographic tale of one important character. Constantly fresh, constantly changing. A real sense of wonder returns. If something catches the public's fancy, you can either make another movie to test the waters, or consider it for a new series. But most importantly, you let grown-ups in. Let writers tell the tale as it needs to be told, not within some guidelines that bleed the vitality from the story.

It would be an audacious concept, one that I think might work. Trek has forty years of audience attachment built in, so you have a huge pool of viewers waiting to be tapped. They would be the ones to support something like this. I think this is the direction to go.
It's Here, We Fear; Get Used To It

The Commercial Appeal has an editorial in Saturday's paper taking the Shelby County Commission to task for wanting their own oversight on the FedEx Forum project.
The officials who insist on duplicating the work of the arena's chief consultant - at taxpayer expense - say they are performing the watchdog function their constituents expect of them. But it's hard to escape the suspicion that they are maintaining this obstacle mostly because they can, and perhaps to fight the last war over arena issues that already have been resolved.
Wah, wah, wah. Given how this project was ramrodded down the people's throat, with the CA's enthusiastic support, wanting to have their own watchdog is not an unreasonable thing. And the strength of the CA's and officials' opposition might be something to look at.
The disputed sum, consisting of the $50,000 cost of the proposed county consultant and of arena-related legal expenses, might seem negligible within the project's $250 million budget, which includes $12 million in county money. But arena authority officials say the controversy jeopardizes their ability to keep their pledge to deliver the project on time, within budget and at the promised level of quality.

That's a potentially high price to pay because some commissioners feel the authority has been insufficiently attentive to their micro-managing demands for information. City officials and executives of the Memphis Grizzlies, the arena's primary tenant, have expressed growing exasperation with the commission's stance.
All this for $50,000? That's barely a good party in a skybox at the Forum. Out of $250 million? That's really a sign of this being a power play. Heisley has already forgotten who is the tenant and who is the landlord. Let it go and give the Commission its head. What are you afraid they'll find?

And notice the snarky tone of that second paragraph's first sentence. A sure sign of the lack of good facts to make your argument is when you devolve to name-calling.
For better or worse, city and county officials chose to subsidize the arena project with public money. For better or worse, they chose not to submit that subsidy to a popular referendum. For better or worse, they gave the Grizzlies effective control over the project. Many city and county taxpayers continue to disagree with those judgments, but they have been made and will not be reversed.
What a crock! "For better or worse?" Please. The City Mayor, the tiger team, the developers, the businessmen who stood to vampire a dollar from the franchise and the CA all ganged up to speed this project down the pike. Opposition was treated with the utmost contempt and derision. Reasonable questions were brushed aside as though they were unruly children. And the CA was at the heart of all this.

Normally, a project like this is in danger of bogging down in a mire of turf-wars and "where's my dollar." We're famous for it here. Any project will take a lot of time and a lot of commissions and a lot of lawsuits before it happens. But no the Forum. Even the CA was amazed at how fast this came together. They wondered by local schools couldn't get this kind of action and priority. We still wonder.

This "Hey, it happened. Let's all get over it and move on." attitude is insulting. Just a decade old, sold to us by a huckster the CA failed to uncover, with $60 million in debts still to be paid, and already slated for abandonment, the Pyramid should be a stark and humliating reminder of just how much oversight our "leaders" and the CA really require. For them to tut-tut those of us who think we're being sold yet another bill of goods in a long line of them just won't stand.
The more relevant consideration is that arena construction has proceeded to this point without major problems or cost overruns, despite the delays forced by last July's windstorm. That record appears to speak to the competence and credibility of the arena authority and the professionals whose work it oversees on the largest public construction project in this community's history.
Given that it should have put the arena behind, and there are some reports that it has, we have a right to wonder how they've done it, and what is being done. Do I trust these jokers? Not at all. Give me facts.
It also gives no cause to expect the authority will drop the ball, so to speak, before the arena opens next year, despite the lurid warnings offered by the project's critics. Commissioners' demand for their very own consultant seems less an opportunity for a meaningful independent review of the project, and more a product of the culture of self-important entitlement that has afflicted county government in recent years.
In service of its own needs, now the CA rails against the "culture of self-important entitlement" in our government. Maybe they shouldn't wait until they need it as a defense, and should take the offensive in rooting it out. Remember the scandals that rocked the County government right after the elections? The Ed Jones spending scandal? It wasn't the CA that broke the story, it was the State Comptroller's office investigation. And the CA itself reported that the results of that investigation were being discussed around County Hall for almost five months before the story broke. Great work, guys.
FedExForum will not be torn down. So it is in the interest of all Memphians, both advocates and opponents of the project, to ensure the arena becomes the community asset that will justify the public investment made in it. That is less likely to happen as long as some elected officials equate good government with personal privilege.
That's a persuasive argument: "It's already gonna happen. Let's all just get used to it." The creed of servants, to borrow a phrase. I don't think this is as much about "personal privilege" as it is about lingering anger over a very bad deal that we're all forced to live with.

What's $50,000 to help calm that anger and heal the wounds. If there's nothing to be found, then there's no need for worry. But if it worries you so much as this, I have to ask: What is there to worry about?

Friday, December 05, 2003

Mr. Mike's Ratiometric Political Party Predictions

It's too late to watch the movie I'd intended to enjoy tonight (The Snapper, an Irish comedy with Colm Meaney), since the posts below took much longer than I thought to write and get frickin' Blogger to post. So, I'll throw this in and then hit the bed.

Even though we are a year out from the 2004 elections, it's not too early to start making predictions. Such things will be flexible, of course, as personalities and events will change the relationships. Most Americans still aren't paying attention, even though primary season is nearly on us, and most political junkies have already been feeding on this since last Spring. So, in order to lock in a track record on the subject, to create an arc by which I can later judge and be judged, I'd like to introduce Mr. Mike's Ratiometric Political Party Predictions.

I'll be predicting the vote percentages the political parties will be receiving this coming Fall. Each update will have the parties involved, their percentage of the votes cast, and whatever reasoning and explanation is necessary. To begin:

Republicans (Bush): 53%
Democrats (open): 37%
Greens (open): 7%
Libertarians (open): 3%

That Democratic number is shocking, I know, but I really sense a few currents to support it. First, is the leftward drift of the party away from Bill Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council centrism. That centrism is what made recent Democratic successes possible. Look at the numbers: 44, 46, then 49%. Clinton, Clinton II, then Gore. The dot-com bust exploded that, as did the reshaping of American thinking after 9/11.

Now, look at Howard Dean's rhetoric, and that of the other candidates. Only Lieberman is sounding even vaguely like the old DLC and he's not getting much press coverage at all. Nancy Pelosi's installation as House Minority Leader is another sign; listen to her today. She has moderated some, but the old firebrand still shows through. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, before he got submerged by the crush of War in Iraq news, was also moving leftward. But he's now being targeted within his own party for replacement, by not being activist enough. It will be telling to see the names floated as possible new leaders.

Then there's the free-floating anger of their loss in 2000 which got subsumed into anti-War on Terror feelings. I really do sense they are getting out of touch with a lot of the folks who used to be called Reagan Democrats, who are now moving toward Bush based on his handling of post-9/11 American international relations. The increasingly good economic news (Read Bill Hobbs' blog for excellent coverage on that score.) will only exacerbate the Leftist ideological pull, as this is the only place they know to go to, to take an anti-Bush stance.

Still, there are a lot of disaffected Dems who believe the party isn't Left enough, isn't actively anti-Bush administration enough on a wide range of non-War issues. I think we'll see a furtherance of the gains mady by the Greens as they become the new home for those retro-Marxian, activist Dems. Remember, Nader pulled in 5% last time, a phenomenal number. He's now making noises about trying again. While Dems and the clueless will make the usual noises about Nader "stealing" votes from them and "costing" them their "rightful" victory, I think the Greens will go from 5% last time to 7% this. Depending on whether the Democratic candidate makes much of a move back to the center after they have the nomination, it might be a tad higher.

On the other flank, there are a lot of Republicans who are rapidly and vocally becoming upset with the Republican Party's apparent disavowal of its traditional "small government - less spending" philosophy. Bush seems to want to co-opt every issue he can, usually by buying whatever solution will steal it. And Republican Congress-pigs are slopping the trough like we haven't seen since the heyday of Liberal Democrats back in the Seventies. Plenty of conservative, post-94 Gingrichian Republicans would very much like to make a point to the President. If the Dems sink as badly as I think they will, that leaves room for strategising by those Republicans. They may see enough room in the lead to make their displeasure known, while not jeopardising the President's re-election chances. I think this is a real possibility, if Bush's lead remains strong.

So, they end up in the Libertarian column to make their point. It won't be a lot of votes, hence the small slice I give them. The Libs polled one percent this past election, an embarrassment after once polling at three percent two elections back! Their philosophical purism, the "all or nothing at all, right now or never" attitude, has been holding them back all along. Dems don't stand up demanding the complete Socialist state all at once. They know that by gradualism, by taking each victory and never giving it back, they win the race. The Libs should learn from that strategy and try it.

By starting with small rollbacks; by cutting out some small, meaningless programs here and there; by not demanding complete ends to laws on drugs, prostitution, etc., but starting with baby steps in, say, sentencing and scope; by scaling back the scope of some privacy and surveillance laws while not being seen as foolish in the face of the War on Terror, the Libs could make sensible progress. It took a century to get where we are today with Progressive/Socialist/Democrat policies. You can't expect folks to welcome drastic and catastrophic change overnight. The philosophical underpinnings are only now coming into the consciousness of most Americans. Build slowly on that, don't overwhelm with a tidal wave.

The thing to watch for is Republican over-confidence. Yeah, the famous "red-blue" map makes it look like the Republicans have it made, but don't forget the narrowness of the victories in many of those precincts. It was often only a 2 or three point one! I do believe the country continues to trend Republican, but they stand to lose some of that momentum with their current behavior.

My main feeling now is that the Democratic Party is in for one rude, shocking awakening. Before Bill Clinton re-invented himself in New Hampshire as the "Comeback Kid," in 1992, the Democratic Party was polling at 23%, while Reform was polling, I think, fifteen or so. Clinton is the force that drove them back from the brink. Had things gone differently, the Dems might have stayed at that low level and been reduced by the Federal Election Commission's rules into minor party status. It would have been crippling, possibly sending them into a death spiral that reconfigured American politics. Alas, it didn't happen then, and there's no Reform on the horizon for 2004. But the same anti-politics as usual feeling remains; the current Republican behavior is only making it worse right now. Democratic floundering is killing their credibility. And there's no Bill Clinton this time.

So, there you have it. Discuss; refute. And watch this space between now and November 2004 for further adjustments and refinements.
Hello And Goodnight

I've had a long ugly day at work. Basically, there are supposed to be three of us opening the store, but only I showed up (early no less!) until opening time, by when the manager came in ninety minutes late. Which she increasingly does lately. She's trying passively-aggressively to get me to do all her set up, so she can breeze in and just run things. The other one called in sick, but she wasn't. She's getting back at me for giving her a hard time for not doing her job. Such is her logic. We were very behind from the start and I had to do the work of three people until we got caught up, which was late today.

Note: I only get paid one salary. A low one, too. It makes for tremendous frustration and latent hostility.

I really, really hate being the dependable one, the guy who cares, the guy who'll do what it takes. I'm always being exploited by those who don't. Coworkers are more than happy to let me shoulder their work so they can fuck off. None of them get disciplined, so they just keep on doing it. And I keep on picking up their slack.

As you can guess, I'm pissed. So we'll see you tomorrow when, after some sleep, I've cooled off. There's one more post below this from today, similarly personal. Tomorrow, I hope to knock off a few things that require some time for thought and writing. See ya then.
Discrimination Most Of You Won't Care About

According to the Tennessee State Constitution, I cannot hold civil office in this fine State. Why? Because I am an atheist. And it turns out there are six more states where that's true. May I tell you a bit about me?

Very briefly, I grew up in the Catholic Church. (Catholicism and Judaism seem to be the two main breeding grounds for atheists. Why, I do not know.) I went to Catholic school in the first through third grades. My third grade teacher was Sister Mary Andrew, whom I still remember fondly more than three decades later. She wept on the last day of class because she was going to miss us all so much. I was an altar boy in our church, and even knew the Latin Mass by heart. Some church elders praised me for being a good altar boy.

What they never knew was that I was mostly enjoying the view of the girls from up next to the priest! I was more in love with the formality of the proceedings than the liturgy itself. As I got older, I naturally had questions about why evil existed if God created everything, why a loving God allowed suffering, and that sort of thing. The answers I got made no sense to my teen-aged mind, and frankly seemed more like equivocation and rationalisation to me. It made no sense. I slowly came to reject what I had been taught, which technically makes me an apostate.

I went out and searched on my own. As I learned more and more, I saw that plain old science, as a way of looking at the world and as a framework of evidence and theory, satisfied nearly all of my questions. Also, I discovered that nihilism described my worldview, though not as the empty amoral place most think of. To me, the universe had whatever meaning anyone cared to fill it with. Even seeing God as the meaning and purpose of life was a choice the believer made. Our purpose in life wasn't meaningless, but was up to us to create and fulfill. I quickly found out that this was an awesome and enormous responsibility. To me, though, the universe needed no God or gods to make any sense. I came to understand that I was an atheist. All this happened before my 21st birthday.

I've since been pretty comfortable with it. I've been the target of folks who see "converting the atheist" as a way to earn bonus points with God, or as a badge of merit for themselves. I've had countless arguments with people who demand that I justify, explain or "prove" my beliefs. (Please don't do that in comments or emails, OK? I don't bother you; please return the favor.) I'm pretty much live and let live. I don't usually bring up the topic, and will discuss it gently if it's broached. But it rarely comes up anyway, which is fine with me.

Once, I completely baffled a super-Christian co-worker. She had a terrible fear of blood. When she accidentally cut herself one day, she began to freak out. I went to her and said, "Why don't you go pray about it." She did, in a whispering huddle off in the corner. When she calmed down, she came back to me. "Thanks. But, I thought you didn't believe in God? Why did you tell me to pray?" I replied that while I didn't believe in God, she did and I knew that would help her. She couldn't wrap her mind around that concept and always suspected I was hiding my "true" beliefs. It was just that I understood and respected hers.

I did, in my thirties, seek out some non-theistic kind of religion. I was (still am) in a Twelve-Step program, which emphasises belief in a Higher Power. I had always used the Fellowship as mine, and it worked fine. Some people thought I was filtering my HP through the Fellowship to protect my pride in my atheism. It wasn't true, but I felt honesty and openminded-ness required me to consider it. The closest I could come was Confucianism, which is an ethical system with no requirement for God or gods. It was pretty attractive, I must admit. But it was mired in a lot of sexist and archaic stuff I don't find acceptable. I haven't found a modernist, neo-Confucianism yet, but I don't think I need it. Atheism works just fine for me.

So where does my morality "come" from? Mostly my Catholic upbringing. I was instilled with "treat others as you would be treated, if not better" from an early age. Also, "leave things better than you found them." Both, it turns out, have their biological basis in what's called the "prisoner's dilemma." (You can find a very technical discussion which explains why The Golden Rule is inevitable here. The first paragraph will explain the minimum you need to understand.) Basically, it shows that there are strong biological and logically determined reasons for cooperation in social animals like humans. It doesn't have to be God-given.

Same for "where did the universe come from?" I can't answer that, but I ask my Christian friends the same question and the answer is God. So, I reply, you don't believe in an eternal universe, but do believe in an eternal being who created it somehow. Why not just cut out the middle man? That's sort of how I look at it.

What all this leads to is that I really try to be a moral, ethical person these days. I didn't use to, but Alcoholics Anonymous fixed that. Nowadays I try to follow the law, do well by others, be a credit to my friends and community, and so forth. Heck, I even gave up eight of my most income-productive years to work for less than minimum wage in an alcohol and drug treatment center, something which is still affecting me today. It's not a decision I regret at all. I'm proud to have spent some part of my life repaying the selfishness and destruction I once wrought. Admittedly, it's also fun to tweak those who reflexively assume I'm a greedy, selfish, pig Republican who gloats in the misery of others. When I share this part of myself, it always shuts them up, heeheehee. Part of the reason for this blog is that I'd like to make my world a slightly better place with my talent for words and my persuasive abilities (if such I have).

Plenty of "Christians" hold office who are dangerous, thieving, lying, adulterous scum. But, because I don't acknowledge God as the Supreme Being, I can never hold elected or civil office in Tennessee. I'm not whining that it's unfair; it's what a democratic society created, one in which I'm in a distinct and frequently unwelcome minority. I'm a small-l libertarian, meaning I believe in the right of people to fashion whatever kind of society they want, for good or ill, free of government coersion. This law is the ironic and awful payment for that belief. I support the system of laws which allowed such a thing to pass, and loathe the mindset that sees this as good. It becomes up to me to work to change that.

While I will never challenge that law in court, I wonder when someone will. I have too many things in my past, from the drinking days and from the early sobriety days when I was still making mistakes, that prohibit me from stepping into the merciless glare of public scrutiny that political life requires these days. I would be decimated by political opponents. Heck, even as a political pundit, social commentator and "media critic" via this blog, I'm open to maliciousness such as the Commercial Appeal has occasionally employed. But I'm no longer worrying on that account. I have a big enough ego to want to share my thoughts and opinions with you, and believe it has some effect, but I also know I'm small fry. The whale eats a lot of krill, but a lot of krill also escape.

Well, I've certainly been more forthcoming than I usually am about myself. I hope this hasn't put me beyond the pale for those of you for whom your Christianity is a defining thing. I'm not satanic or communist or amoral, as I've found many people think. I'm a regular working joe just like everyone else. A proud, patriotic American. I live a quiet, dull life, I go to work and I relax, and am generally thought a good person by most folks who know me. In fact, most folks who know me don't know I'm an atheist. It just doesn't come up. When someone says they'll pray for me when we discuss a problem, I know just what they mean. They think enough of me to devote a part of their prayer time to my problem. I take it as the compliment it is, and as the sign of genuine caring it is. I'm humbly thankful, as I should be. What I don't do is what some militant atheistic types do by loudly denouncing the other person for offending their atheistic sensibilities. That would be wrong.

See what I mean? Why should this one thing bar me from participation in Tennessee government? Why am I so awful that a law must segregate me from others? Kindly explain that for me.