The mediocrity (or not) of humanity

Recently onegoodmove, a site I like a lot, posted an excerpt from a book called The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. It was called “Six Reasons to be an Atheist” and seemed all right at first, until I got to number five…

  • The weakness of the opposing arguments, the so-called proofs of God’s existence
  • Common experience: If God existed, he should be easier to see or sense.
  • My refusal to explain something I cannot understand by something I understand even less.
  • The enormity of evil.
  • The mediocrity of mankind.
  • Last but not least, the fact that God corresponds so perfectly to our wishes that there is every reason to think he was invented to fulfill them, at least in fantasy; this makes religion an illusion in the Freudian sense of the term.

No, no, no. Also no, and no. If you think mankind is mediocre, you’re an idiot. Please shut up and go be mediocre yourself in a far-off corner. Humanity mediocre? Give us a fucking break. Monstrous, yes. Insane, yes. Heroic, too. Self-indulgent. Idiotic. Brilliant. Clever. Imaginative. Godlike. Wormlike. Evil. Good.

All of the above aspects of humanity, as paradoxical and maddening they are, are real. We’ve done terrible things. We’ve also done amazing things. But only the most bland and pessimistic moron, who has never understood anything about the passions and ideas and fears and visions that drive us, would think humanity to be mediocre.

So yes, many people believe in God because they’re afraid of death. That doesn’t give you the right to feel superior because you’re not. Yes, it’s great that you can look death in the eye like that. I truly admire that. But if you think that the mind that posits an all-knowing and all-loving being in response to the fear of death is mediocre… then you have no imagination, and no perception, and I’m sad for you. Yes, the Bible is full of bullshit. But it is also filled with writings and thoughts of amazing beauty and depth, not to speak of the works it has inspired. Religion gave us the Inquisition but it also gave us much in the way of visions and dreams and poetry that we would never have had otherwise, and I pity the small-minded fools who cannot see that. A distaste for dogma, blindness and fanaticism is a good thing, in fact a necessary thing in these times of intellectual and social decline; but fashionable misanthropy and snobbishness have as little to do with reason and logic and the principles of thought as the Democrats have with Democracy, or the Republicans with republicanism.

Re-reading the list, only points 1, 3 and 4 make any sense; the rest are extremely flawed. Texts such as this one (much like Richard Dawkins’ work) mean well but are ultimately pretty damn shallow and illogical. Religion is a complex issue, and should be treated as such.


A very short review of the movie we saw yesterday.

It had potential. The locations were great. The sets were good. The actors all have the ability to make scenes work. I haven’t read the novel, but Stephen King is an incredibly gifted writer – one of the best living writers of our times, I would say – and I’m sure that the book is enjoyable and touching and complex and scary and all sorts of other things, even though it’s probably not as good as It, or his absolute masterpiece The Dark Tower.

The script, however, is crappy. The lines themselves are mostly mediocre, but what really kills it is the structure, which just doesn’t work. The first 20-25 minutes are pretty good, the rest is just boring. The director fails to make the material interesting and also fails to get good performances out of the actors, who mostly don’t seem to know what they’re doing there, and who sound like they’re just reading their lines. The special effects are mostly OK, but the director doesn’t know what to do with them, just like he doesn’t know what to do with this movie. It has no emotional weight, and it sure as hell ain’t scary.

This kind of thing should be left to Guillermo del Toro, or other directors who know what they’re doing and take it seriously, like John Carpenter or George Romero.

Better King adaptations: Hearts in Atlantis (many differences from the original, but a beautiful movie), Kingdom Hospital (completely nuts and totally amazing), Storm of the Century (complex and scary), The Green Mile (according to Verena it’s not as good as the book, but still very touching), The Night Flier (deeply flawed but Miguel Ferrer is bloody brilliant) and of course classics like The Shawshank Redemption (perfect) and Stand By Me (very good).

The Golden Compass, or how not to adapt a good book

How not to adapt a good bookJust for once, I’m grateful for the fact that the morons of the Catholic League and other so-called Christians managed to keep people away from the movie. Not because it contains atheist elements – that wouldn’t be a problem – but because it sucks. Had any of their supporters gone to see it, it might have killed off their last remaining brain cells. All three of them.

I mean, Jesus! It really, really SUCKS! What are they trying to do, permanently kill off the fantasy genre? Actually, come to think of it, that seems to be the general plan. Eragon, Narnia, Stardust, this one… these movies are so bad they make the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy look good!

I’m too tired to go into all the details, but…

  • Having a coherent plot would help. There’s this book you could borrow some ideas from. It’s called Northern Lights.
  • Actors would also be an idea. Well, there’s Daniel “Evil Bond” Craig, and Nicole “Just As Bad As Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust” Kidman, and Christopher “I ONLY HAVE TWO LINES IN THE ENTIRE MOVIE” Lee, but… actually let’s do this the simple way:
  1. Nicole Kidman – fine actress, terrible performance.
  2. Daniel Craig – he’s just scary.
  3. Dakota Blue Richards – uhhh… acting classes, please?
  4. Ben Walker – whoever you are, please go away.
  5. Ian McKellen – just because he played Gandalf doesn’t mean you have to cast him in every bloody fantasy movie you make! Just hearing his voice drives me insane by now.
  6. Eva Green – uhh… I’m sure she could act, in a better movie.
  7. Sam Elliott – a joy to watch, even in movies like Ghost Rider and this one; I wonder what would happen if he actually had a well-written part.
  8. Christopher Lee – HE ONLY HAD TWO FUCKING LINES!
  9. The rest – mostly generic.
  • The CGI. Why did this movie cost 180 million dollars? It looked like shit.
  • Apparently ice bears don’t bleed. Even if you rip off their jaws.
  • The music was BORING. But then, so was the movie. It didn’t even manage to rip off Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • But worst of all: the writing. How in Dog’s name did they manage to take a well-written, complex book and turn it into… this? There were bits of dialogue so bad that I literally groaned. It’s more or less on the level of Aragorn Eragon. Characters show up out of nowhere, deliver some entirely random bit of exposition, and then go away. No detail. No personality. No nothing. It’s not like a good story needs people in it, right? Unless, that is, you think American Pie is a good story. Oh, wait…
  • And let me point out that I wanted to like this. I really did. I was even prepared to live with them taking out the religious aspects of the original, if only they delivered the story properly. But this wasn’t just a terrible adaptation, it was a terrible movie.

Why why why why why does this kind of shit have to keep happening? The original books are wonderful. They’re not just amazingly deep on a philosophical level, they’re also fun and imaginative and dark and mesmerizing. And exciting! Ever heard of that word, Mr. Weitz? But no, we can’t have that, can we now? What we need is another boring, bland, amateurish and utterly forgettable piece of tripe that manages to put another nail into the coffin of fantasy films. Thank you so much for this load of crap.

Do read the books. They are very, very good – despite this movie.

Making The Lord of the Thingies

A week ago was the last performance of The Lord of the Thingies, the Christmas panto that took up a significant amount of our time these last few months. There’s a lot to tell, and I’m still too tired from having a sudden and terrible toothache at 6 a.m. to be particularly coherent about it; so I’m going to write several posts, all of them probably extremely confusing and repetitive.

The project began a long, long time ago. We started writing in October 2005, but the actual beginning of the panto lies even further back. The idea first fell while we were writing Star Warts, the previous Christmas panto that we did, sometime in 2004. In theory that show was written by myself and Mr. Morden Michael, Verena’s then-fiancé, but the reality of it is that Verena wrote at least half the show, and more than half of the good jokes, but never got credited. (I suggested in might be an idea, but was overruled. I didn’t have much authority as a director – this is a problem we’ll come back to later.)

By the way: I’m not going into these personal details because I want to spill my personal life all over you. I do indeed enjoy occasionally peppering my posts with remarks about my life, but this isn’t a celebrity memoir; the reason I mention this stuff in this particular post is to illustrate the difficulties of doing amateur theatre, with an eye to maybe helping a few people involved in doing this kind of thing. Besides, some of these points may also apply to other forms of collaborative art.

Star Warts was a success as a show, and introduced some pretty cool ideas that hadn’t been done that way before by Chaincourt (our theatre company). It was a non-traditional panto in the sense that it wasn’t about a fairy tale or any of the usual topics: instead, it was about Star Wars. It featured mostly parodies of modern songs, which the audiences loved – and I think it was also pretty good in terms of what it did with the plot, and how the scenes were built to utilize the entire stage. I know a lot of people who loved it.

Still, it could’ve been better. A lot better. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the writing. Most of it was done by three people sitting around a laptop: Michael, myself and Verena. What makes a big difference is who was sitting at the laptop, in this case Mr. Morden I mean, Michael. To put it bluntly: Verena and I are writers. Michael is not. Ideas would be thrown around, possible lines would be suggested – and then they would immediately be typed up and we’d move along. I would always be unhappy about this and try to work on the lines a little longer – because when you’re writing comedy, even the tiniest difference in the phrasing can make a huge difference.

To take an example from The Lord of the Thingies: in Moria, Footolas (our extremely dumb version of Legolas) stumbles over a book. The original lines go like this:

(Ara = Aragorn, Gand = Gandalf, Boro = Borrowmir, Foot = Footolas, Gam = Gamly)

Ara: Gandalf. Light, if you would be so good.
Gand: Sorry dude, batteries must have run out.
Boro: Oh, great. Let’s just head for the exit. It wasn’t that far.
Foot: Just follow me, my superior Elven instincts will see you safely out of here.
(Sounds of shuffling and stumbling in the dark)
Foot: Argh!
Gam: I wonder were his superior Elven instincts have led him now?
(Lights go on again, Footolas is tangled around a big book)
Gand: Right on, it was just a short-circuit.
Ara: What have you… found?
Foot: A book.
Gam: Really? Wonders never cease. We can see that it’s a book!
Ara: What does it say?
Foot: Can’t say. It appears to be dwarfish.
Gam: Let me have a look, laddy. Hmm… the writing seems to be somewhat slurred.
Gand: Can you read it, dwarf-dude?

This is a fairly funny scene, especially when played out on stage, and the audience loved it. But there was one detail which was greatly improved during rehearsals. One day Johannes, who played Footolas, when saying “A book.” accidentally swallowed the “A” and ended up saying “Book!” We couldn’t stop laughing for about five minutes – Footolas is notorious for constantly pointing out the bleeding obvious, and this just made the character’s light-hearted stupidity even better. So we told Johannes to keep it, and the audiences responded really well. It was hard for the actors not to corpse.

And all of that just because of a single word. Just because we took out the “A” a good joke turned into a fantastic one. (If you disagree, I don’t care. The audience loved it and I’m happy. *g*) This is something that happened during the rehearsals and not during the writing, so maybe the example is bad; but that kind of optimization happens all the time during the writing process. This is extremely important. And on Star Warts, it didn’t happen enough. There were so many lines which were amusing, but which could’ve been hilarious if more work had been put into them. When Verena and I work together, that happens constantly – one of us comes up with a line, the other improves it, then we add another idea, and we end up with something great. The best lines in Star Warts came from precisely that kind of cooperation between Verena and me. Unfortunately, there was interference (and bad spelling) from her fiancé. Am I being nasty? No, not really. Blunt, yes. Nasty, no. If I really let all the stuff out that I’ve got in my head, it would instantaneously destroy the entire internet.

The lesson in all this? Except that relationships are difficult and the past is an ugly country that needs to be burned down, hacked to bits and fed through a meat grinder so that I don’t have to think about it? (As Hartley famously did not say.) Working with people is not easy. That may seem like stating the obvious, but it is something that you should keep in mind if you’re going to work in amateur theatre. Not everyone is talented at the same kind of thing; unfortunately, however, some people think they are. And it’s really difficult to tell them otherwise; after all, they’re not getting paid for this. And you may have to work with people you don’t like, or people you’re not comfortable around. This can make things considerably more difficult than you had anticipated.

Writing is a skill that is difficult to understand for a lot of people. When we were doing The Lord of the Thingies, we got oodles of complaints. Some of them came from the usual backstabbing bullshit any large group will eventually be infected with: people just don’t like you, because you have the wrong hair, or the wrong name, or the wrong girl/boyfriend, or the wrong sense of humour – and then they try to undermine everything you do. But other people complained because they honestly believed the lines weren’t funny, or didn’t work. When they saw that the audiences loved the play more than just about any other we’ve ever done, a lot of them changed their minds. But that was on opening night. Before that, we had weeks and weeks of people dragging down morale by saying that the jokes didn’t work.

That doesn’t mean those people were idiots. Some of them are basically quite nice. (Most of the real idiots threw stones from afar.) But they’re not writers, and they don’t understand how writing works. This is a particularly acute problem when it comes to writing for the stage, where some things only work in the presence of an audience. We could see that it would be funny, because we knew how it worked. They didn’t – not until the audience started laughing their butts off.

All of this would’ve been considerably easier if there weren’t so many people being professionally grouchy about this show because a) it wasn’t traditional enough b) it was a student production, and some people have a problem with that because they don’t want students to have any success, even though they are students themselves. Weird, but true.

This kind of ridiculous and childish infighting isn’t unique to Chaincourt. If you want to direct an amateur show, you have to be prepared to deal with it, or it’ll kill you. It may not be as bad for you as it was for us, Chaincourt currently being in one of its death/rebirth moments (the group has existed for about 40 years, but my theory is that it goes through cycles of being brilliant and being shitty), but it is something you need to be aware of.

In our case, directing the show wasn’t a problem. We knew what we wanted. The real problem was getting through all the whining and self-important complaining. In the end we were proven right – but the process of getting there nearly killed us. I kid you not. It was an incredible amount of effort, and having to fight so many people made it all much more difficult. I had already decided this would be my final show with Chaincourt, but what we went through was a pretty good confirmation. I don’t regret having put all the work into Chaincourt that I did; but professional conditions would be so much better.

Let’s not be unfair: there were more than a few people in this production who were utterly professional. Henning (our Gollum), Matthias (our Frodo) and Fabian (our wonderful lights technician) are three good examples of people who were utterly perfect to work with. I enjoyed working with them immensely. That’s the kind of people you need. People who can follow directions and can also suggest their own ideas, but aren’t disappointed when you say no. Their input improved the show greatly, and simultaneously they never bitched when we rejected one of their suggestions.

Speaking of Fabian, a short digression. There’s a scene, typical panto stuff really, where Gandalf (or rather Randy Gandy) comes in and tells the audience about the ring. Only he can’t remember the word “ring” and tries to describe it: small, round, you can put them on your finger… the idea, obviously, is for someone in the audience to shout “a ring!” During rehearsals, we would shout in the most absurd stuff and see how Gandy reacted. (I always suggested “churches.”) During one rehearsal the following exchange occured:

Gand: You know, they’re small and round, with a hole in the middle…
Fabian: Donut!
Gand: No, not a donut, it was shiny…
Fabian: Shiny donut!

That still brings a lunatic grin to my face. Yes, I do have an absurd sense of humour…

Anyway, back to the story. We started writing The Lord of the Thingies in October 2005. Verena and I did most of the writing, but we were joined in the process by a friend of ours called Sebastian. It was all a little strange – originally we just invited him to suggest a few ideas, not to become a co-writer/co-director, but somehow he decided he wanted to do that and we didn’t say no. (Touching very uncomfortable subjects here, but at least some semblance of the truth is required if anyone’s gonna learn something from our experiences. I’m not saying he meant to do this – but that’s kind of how it happened. Clarity in communcation is extremely important, and we weren’t clear enough about these things.) Adding Sebastian to the group wasn’t a disaster, and he did contribute many funny lines and ideas – but it also caused a number of problems. Verena and I had a very clear idea of what the panto should be like, and Sebastian’s vision (and approach to the work) was quite different from ours. This caused some conflicts and made the entire process much more stressful, especially since we felt that the panto was our baby and didn’t take well to suggestions involving changing things which we’d decided upon months or even years ago. If you do a play with your friends, I think it’s important to be very clear about who does what, or you’ll end up wanting to kill each other. Directing requires vision, and that vision needs to be clear.

Speaking of that kind of conflict – a couple of days before the first show, there was a huge fight during a rehearsal, with people saying the show didn’t work and demanding that scenes be cut. It was extremely frustrating for me and Verena, because we knew it would work when an audience was there, and Sebastian was far too willing to compromise – in the end, I stormed out of the rehearsal room and went home to write a scathing email to our Yahoogroup.

And you know what? It helped. I thought people would get angry. They didn’t. Instead, they suddenly started truly committing to the show. The next day, for the very first time during the production, we had a real team spirit going. People were putting effort into the thing, working together, solving problems. Apparently what they had all needed was a thorough kick in the butt. I was surprised, but happy.

The Lord of the Thingies had the biggest audiences of any Chaincourt show in the past few years. The people who came loved it. Even a lot of the naysayers did. People who usually just get dragged to pantos by their significant others and hate it told us that they really enjoyed this show. People who have seen every panto ever done by Chaincourt said this was the best one. In fact, a lot of people said that.

We did it.

I’m not saying this to show off, though I am proud of the show. I’m saying it because it demonstrates the importance of sticking to your vision and working your butt off for it, even if other people tell you it sucks or it can’t be done. Doing something new and ambitious can be done. It is important to remember that, especially when you’re working on this kind of show – because with so much working against you, every little bit of confidence and hope is a great help.

A dose of sarcasm

Yahoo reports:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – As lawyers for Britney Spears and her ex-husband fought a court battle over custody of their two young sons, a publisher said on Friday that the pop star’s mother is writing a book about parenting.

I suppose it’s going to be sort of a what-not-to-do kind of thing, right? Or is it going to be called How To Pimp Your Daughter, Ruin Her Life and Get a Book Deal Out of It? Either would be fitting.

Religious publisher Thomas Nelson said it will publish “Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World,” by Lynne Spears. Nelson spokesman Curt Harding said the book, to be out next spring, will be about Lynne Spears’ raising three children and will have a religious element.

Well, I’m sorry for all religious people. I guess more than a few of them will buy it, but let’s be honest: using your children as a gateway to fame and money while turning them into little more than deranged prostitutes with no grasp of reality isn’t exactly something Jesus would’ve… appreciated. In fact, I almost think he might’ve, you know, objected. Strongly, even.

Meanwhile lawyers for the pop singer and her ex-husband Kevin Federline were in a Los Angeles court to argue over whether the two have complied with court orders over parenting and, in Spears’ case, random drug testing.

And that’s all because her mother did such a wonderful job of raising her daughter that she managed to turn her into a proper drug-gobbling panty-losing Christan girl. Hallelujah!

Jesus frickin’ Christ… when Kevin Federline Kevin “Yuck” Federline himself – starts looking like a rational person, something is deeply wrong with the world.

Spears, 25, and Federline, 29, split a year ago and for months have waged a custody war over Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, as Spears’ life slipped out of control.

It was in control before? Really?

The pop diva, who rose to stardom on the Disney Channel, has spent time in drug and alcohol rehab, clashed with paparazzi and become the fodder for numerous jokes after being photographed in public without wearing underwear.

Well, what do you expect when someone starts seeing the world through the lunatic eyes of Disney? All that fake sweet sugar-coated optimism with its boiling undercurrents of oppressed sexuality and misanthropy can’t be healthy.

On Thursday, a judge dismissed an automobile hit-and-run case against her after she settled with the owner of the car she hit, and she pleaded not guilty to a lesser charge of driving without a license.

But her singing career appears to be rebounding with a recent single, “Gimme More,” that is topping digital download charts, and a new album “Blackout,” set for release October 30.

Oh dear. More is certainly not what she needs. (It’s also not what we need; I once, quite by accident, was forced to listen to her rendition of I Love Rock N’ Roll on the radio. It still hurts.) The only two things Britney Spears needs more of is sense – and the idea that music is actually art. It’s fun, and it’s meant to be fun, but it can also be beautiful and mean something at the same time. It can even mean something fun – like, you know, a lot of rock ‘n’ roll did. Freedom and joy and rebellion and hope – instead of repetitive prepackaged cliché bullshit.

Actually, it’s not two things that she needs, it’s three. She also needs underwear.

Still, family Court Commissioner Scott Gordon in recent weeks has yanked visitation rights from Spears only to reinstate them after she complied with his rulings.

Gordon has ordered both parents to seek counseling and hire a parenting coach. He has told Spears she must submit to random drug testing twice a week.

A model Christian family, I suppose? Ironically, in more than a few cases the answer would be “yes”. Poor old Jesus. You put so much effort into something, get your ass nailed to a cross, all to make a point about humility and sacrifice and tolerance, and what do you get? You get Lynne Spears using your name as a PR device to sell books about her career as a female ponce.

It’d be funny if it weren’t so depressing.

a short comedy break

They gave Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize.

*audience laughter*

No, seriously.

*more laughter*

I’m not quite sure why they did it. I guess a powerful commitment to making yourself the centre of attention by pretending you are the great crusader for the environment – after you’ve spent eight years as Vice President doing nothing about it – does pay off.

Seriously, people. There are certainly more disgusting figures than Gore – Bush, Kerry, Blair, etc. But just because he’s occasionally put forth an idea which isn’t catastrophically idiotic (Bush), appallingly opportunistic (Kerry) or just butt-crawlingly evil (Blair), doesn’t mean he should be elevated to being the god of the Vaguely Progressive There’s Something Wrong With The World But We Refuse To Use Our Brains To Analyze It movement.

Oh well. Back to Desert Bridge.

UPDATE: Strangely enough, some people linked to this post. Even stranger, though, is the fact that they only quoted the penultimate paragraph, and in some cases seemed to think that my opinion is somehow right-wing. Which, I guess, might happen if you don’t actually read the paragraph above. My point is that Gore is a hypocrite, not that doing something about global warming isn’t important (is is, in fact, one of the most important issues in human history). Furthermore, an in-depth discussion of global warming must delve into political matters – after all our policies and methods of production are a large part of the problem. So no, Mr. Gore, it isn’t just a moral issue – it’s also very much a political one.


Posted by Jakob

I just have to ask, what is your opinion about the film “An unconvenient truth” by Al Gore? (I don’t know if you have seen it but you have surely heard about it) I haven’t seen it yet but from what I have heard it seemes like it makes peoples eyes open up for the problems with nature.

Even if he sometimes indicates that it is worse than it actually is..

My problem isn’t that the movie makes global warming seem worse than it is. It doesn’t. Global warming is a HUGE problem. Probably worse, actually, than the movie predicts.

My problem is that the movie is all about Al Gore being the superhero of environmentalism. And he isn’t. The man was Vice President for 8 years. What did he do in those years to help stop global warming? NOTHING. And don’t tell me about Kyoto. Kyoto was a joke, nowhere near what needs to be done, and in fact the United States pushed to weaken it, not strengthen it. And I repeat: Gore was Vice President. He was one of the most powerful men in the world. And he did NOTHING.

So the very idea that he is this great crusader for the environment is basically just spin. And that’s what he got the Nobel for. Not for what he did, but for what he claimed he did. Which isn’t much. Except support the illegal and immoral war in Kosovo, in which radioactive weapons were used. Like the German Greens, who also supported that war and now portray themselves as a power for peace, that sort of screws up his credibility.

Beyond that, An Inconvenient Truth does not really talk about the causes of global warming on a political level. It more or less fails to mention, say, giant corporations and their policies. In fact, Gore’s often-repeated message that “The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level” is a wonderful way of avoiding the truly inconvenient truth: that to battle climate change, we must change our socio-economic system. Changing the way we live as individuals isn’t enough. Recycling soda cans or not washing your hair too often or using better light bulbs will not save the planet. Even Gore’s own film makes it obvious that the problem is huge – and it follows logically that the measures to combat it must be of equal scope.

But Gore is ultimately a representative of the very system that has for so many years prevented people from taking global warming seriously, and his main interest is in making himself appear oh-so-wonderful. It’s just PR.

It makes me miss Carl Sagan. Now there’s a man who was capable of explaining the scientific aspects of an issue in a fascinating way while also not neglecting its social and political implications.

UPDATE III: I just realized that I barely mentioned how ludicrous it is to give Gore the Nobel Peace Prize, given his support of so many wars. So I’m going to steal this quote from the WSWS:

Vice President Gore, however, is hardly to be identified with the cause of “peace.” One of only ten Senate Democrats who voted for the first US war against Iraq in 1990, he was second-in-command of an administration that dispatched US troops to Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia, financed death squads in Colombia, bombed Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, maintained an economic blockade of Iraq that caused the death of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children, and waged a devastating air war against Serbia.

Blackwater thoughts

As you may have noticed, there’s something of a controversy going on about Blackwater USA, a mercenary army in the employ of the United States. They’re making quite a bit of money in Iraq, and have been spending quite a bit of their time shooting civilians. So now a number of people have been going on about Blackwater being too trigger-happy and that something has to be done about it.

It’s not that I disagree. Obviously terrible crimes are being committed by Blackwater, and the people responsible need to be brought to justice. But let’s think for a moment. Who are the people responsible? Is it just Blackwater?

Or let’s put it another way: why do some people think any of this is surprising? Blackwater consists of mercenaries, for Dog’s sake. And not just that – they’re mercenaries whose job it is to oppress a recently invaded and conquered country, which has turned from a fairly stable secular dictatorship (not nice at all) to a land ravaged by a religious and political civil war (even worse). Their job is to keep Iraqis from trying to win back their nation’s freedom.

So what do you expect? They work for Bush, not Santa. It is a proven fact that terrorizing the population and murdering innocents is part of George the Conqueror’s official strategy, as it has been the strategy of tyrants and dictators throughout history.

And it’s not like Blackwater is the only security contractor killing civilians for no good reason. Even if you throw Blackwater out of Iraq, even if you send observers and create new rules and whatever else is being proposed – none of that will change the fact that the Iraqi people are being occupied by a foreign imperialist power, and occupation has always meant violence. Because people don’t like giving up their freedom. Even if they weren’t free before they were subjected to this new dictatorship.

If you want peace, you have to be peaceful. Getting out of Iraq would help. Christ, apologizing would help. Not killing any more people would certainly help. The main reason monsters like Osama bin Laden have any supporters is because Western foreign policy has driven them there. Do you really believe people are so eager to blow themselves up because they dislike someone’s “way of life”? Bullshit. People cling to their lives – always have, always will. It takes extraordinary circumstances to drive someone to that kind of insanity – circumstances such as having your country bombed, or having foreign governments support a regime that decimates your people and quite possibly your family and friends.

People don’t blow themselves up because someone, somewhere happens to be allowed to do something that they think is immoral. To a guy living somewhere in a poor village in Afghanistan, American freedoms aren’t real. They’re something you see on TV, something far away. Almost fiction. Not enough to give everything up for. But the smart bomb that kills his sister, or his child, or his parents – now that is real.

Obviously there are also other reasons – poverty being a particularly important one. People on the edge of starvation don’t – can’t – think clearly. People with full stomachs and a comfy bed are much less likely to go and blow themselves up. And the Bushes of other countries know how to use that – that and religion – to make people hate the faceless “Americans”.

But I think we can safely assume that decades of war, oppression, murder, assassination, bombing, colonialism and imperialism may have something to do with the problem.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales – Voices in the Dark

The Lost Tales

(This is the IMDb review I wrote. I hope to write a longer, more detailed, and even more emotional review at a later date. You know how it is with these things, though, so it might take a while.)

Babylon 5 is probably the best television series ever made. It’s not that I have an uncritical “fanboy” view of it – it just happens to be the most thoughtful, complex, well-written and touching bit of television I have ever seen.

While B5 is not really a franchise, there is a lot of unexplored space (no pun intended) in the B5 universe; space which should allow for some very interesting stories to be told. The Lost Tales is just that. Not another series, or a pointless and unrealistic “cast reunion” thing (as some people would have wanted it to be), but small stories about the characters and the world that we have come to love. An anthology.

Previous outings into the B5 universe (apart from the series itself) have been mixed; In the Beginning was quite brilliant, for example, whereas River of Souls and Legend of the Rangers suffered from bad direction in one case and studio interference in the other.

Voices in the Dark is everything that we could have wanted it to be. Visually, it beats just about everything out there to a metaphorical pulp – both the special effects and the camera work are just stunning. Musically, Christopher Franke outdoes himself yet again, making me wish he’d done the music for Crusade. (Yes, I see the logical arguments behind using another composer for that series. However, the music in Crusade sucks, no matter how you look at it.) But above all, B5 is about the characters and the story, and that’s where the Lost Tales truly shine.

The actors are, as cliché as the phrase may be, simply superb, adding another layer of complexity to already deep characters. Bruce Boxleitner’s Sheridan in particular is just brilliant; the mixture of humour, empathy and authority makes for a remarkably layered and likable character.

The writing is not just fantastic, but thoroughly enjoyable. From snappy one-liners to long discussions of the role of religion in a spacefaring society, JMS has once again crafted a web of words that will be remembered and quoted for years to come, filled with an intense love of humanity and with hope for its future.

Does this sound over the top? It isn’t. I wouldn’t write such emotional words about The Legend of the Rangers or Thirdspace – but when it comes to this first installment of The Lost Tales, I can go on and on. This is the real deal. This is storytelling of the highest quality.

Enjoy it.

P.S. Since writing this, I’ve looked around the net and read some reviews. That was a serious mistake which almost made me lose my faith in mankind. It’s amazing, really – people will claim any kind of nonsense just to attack something that is too intelligent or thoughtful for their tastes. Someone said the episodes were too talky (umm… hello? not everything has to be about space battles, you know) , someone else claimed the effects were bad (and I’m a Norwegian cephalopod), and yet another deluded soul claimed the original series stole liberally from other shows. The last bit in particular just made me shout WTF? at the top of my lungs. If there has been a single original sci-fi series on TV in the past twenty years, it was Babylon 5! That’s not a matter of debate – there just isn’t anything even remotely similar. And don’t say Deep Space Nine, that’s absurd. DS9 is fine, but it’s a completely different kind of thing. Another drooling ghoul claimed Galen’s lines were badly written – when Galen has some of the most astonishingly brilliant lives ever! Maybe it’s because they’re so Shakespearean, and some people think that’s “unrealistic.”

This always happens to B5. Why is it such a crime for a show to be literate and intelligent?

It’s just sad. *sigh*

Beware the Belching Moose

It’s just so heartwarming to see the mainstream media help raise awareness of global warming. It’s important that people get a clear understanding of the issue at hand, its causes and consequences.

Belching moose add to global warming

OSLO (AFP) – A grown moose belches out methane gas equivalent to 2,100 kilograms (4,630 pounds) of carbon dioxide a year, contributing to global warming, Norwegian researchers said Wednesday.

“Contributing to global warming” – how wonderfully vague. That’s like saying that a kid peeing into a river contributes to a flood.

That is more than twice the amount of CO2 emitted on a round-trip flight across the Atlantic Ocean from Oslo to the Chilean capital Santiago, according to Scandinavian Airlines.

Yes. Only you’re comparing what a moose does in a year to what a plane does in a day. Which, of course, is entirely convenient – since the point is to make us think that global warming is caused as much by nature as by man.

“An adult moose emits about 100 kilograms of methane gas a year. But methane gas is much stronger than carbon dioxide, so to get the equivalent you have to multiply by 21,” professor Odd Harstad at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences told AFP.

You know, I just checked to make sure today isn’t April 1st. Somehow the name Odd Harstad smells of a joke.

With an estimated 140,000 moose roaming Norway‘s forests, that is a total of of 294,000,000 kilograms of CO2 per year.

Oh teh noes!!!111 That much! I wonder how that compares to, say the amount of CO2 emissions from gas fuels in Germany in the year 2004. 294,000,000 versus 49,174,000,000. Somehow I think that gas fuels are a bigger problem – and we’re only talking about a tiny bit of the full amount of CO2 emissions in Germany (220596 thousand metric tons).

But Harstad said that was no reason to begin killing off the entire moose population.

How generous of him! Especially since they are such a threat to the environment!

“Moose have very important functions in nature. They are ruminants that eat the grass. If we don’t have ruminants, we have too much grass and that changes the landscape and has consequences for the flora and fauna,” he said.

What is this guy professor of? Professor of Stating the Bleeding Obvious?

Harstad said the figure of 100 kilograms of methane gas was a rough estimate based on earlier calculations for beef cows in Norway.

It’s good to know that people are investing their time and money into important research subjects that will help save the planet.

As is the case with cows and other ruminants, methane is produced from the microbes in the moose’s stomach which help break down the roughage they eat.

It also comes out of the ears of dumb scientists and bad reporters.

Because methane gas is stronger than carbon dioxide, it is considered even more harmful to the environment. Both methane and carbon dioxide are so-called greenhouses gases, one of the main causes of global warming.

And I guess we’re supposed to make an connection, aren’t we? Greenhouses gases are a main cause of global warming, moose and cows emit methane, so the cause of global warming is… MOOSE!

Once Upon A Time

Inside Myself / Once Upon A TimeHelen Trevillion is not only a wonderful person (and friend), she’s also an absolutely stunning musician. I’ve been complaining for ages that she should release a commercial album – and now she finally has! To add to the fun, it’s a double CD. Oh, and it’s called Inside Myself / Once Upon A Time. That’s all you need to know.

Now all you have to do is to follow this link and buy it. Trust me. It’s absolutely worth it!

Of course you might say that the only reason I’m writing this is to convince Helen to write some music for The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge, but actually she’s already said she would be interested, and it’s my own incompetence (and lack of time) that is to be blamed for the fact that she hasn’t even seen the demo so far. Me silly.

Seriously, though – my enthusiasm for Helen’s music is not even remotely faked. She’s the real thing: an independent artist with a unique voice (literally and metaphorically). Even if I didn’t love her music itself – and I do – that is something to be celebrated in today’s world of unspeakably boring commercialized crap.