Recommended Blog: One for One

Dear readers,

I’m proud to announce a rare addition to my blogroll. Tobe, formerly from the atheist/humanist blog A Load of Bright, has started a new blog called One for One, and in his inaugural post he explains why he choice that name, the reason for a “fresh start”, and his thoughts on Ayn Rand.

Keep your eyes on this one; knowing what a good writer he is, this is sure to be quite popular.

Here’s the link: http://tsoneforone.wordpress.com/

I’d encourage other Objectivists to add him to their blogroll and give him a plug.

Enjoy!

Objectivist Roundup 110217

The latest edition of the Objectivist Roundup is now live over at The Playful Spirit blog, go check it out! There are some really good articles on politics, philosophy, child-upbringing, finance, healthcare etc. Definitely worth a read.

http://theplayfulspiritrachel.blogspot.com/2011/02/objectivist-round-up.html

My Top 10 TV Shows of all Time II

It’s been over 3 years since I last considered this topic, so I thought an update was in order.

When judging a TV show, I can only try to do it as objectively as possibly from what I have seen, which means establishing some criteria coupled with my own tastes and preferences. For one, a show should primarily achieve what it intends, whether it be drama or comedy. Further to this, if it is trying to achieve something, for example a particular message or thought, does it? If so, how well? Most importantly, is that message positive and meaningful? Then HOW it achieves that must be considered, in other words, quality of writing and structure. Other factors, such as acting and use of music are also important. Then it should get bonus points for how long it keeps this quality up. Also worth considering is the context of the show in culture and time. I added this little specification to avoid judging older shows too unfairly, considering how TV styles and attitudes have changed, especially in the last 10 years.

10. Spaced

A short-lived but really clever and funny sitcom. That it was so short-lived is definitely in its favour. It never got stale. Every episode is a treat, full of little gems that can be spotted for the first time with each re-watch.

9. Battlestar Galactica

A very intense, very raw drama. Lots of fantastic action scenes, lots of excitement. Some absolutely superb stories, and a truly mindblowing set of actors. This is dirty on-the-edge sci-fi at its best. Having said that, it loses points for me for a few reasons: I am not convinced the writers knew where they were going from the start. Secondly, the “heroes” of the show are despicable. They are mostly foul obnoxious back-stabbing unprincipled parasites you could hope to meet. I can only think of one character who stays mostly true to himself for the whole show. You might say that humans on the edge lose all friendship and rules and honour. If that’s true, I say I’d rather the Cylons have killed me. Fighting for survival on its own isn’t enough, and this major philosophical point is totally lost on the writers, hence the lower score. (Not to mention the statism/socialism/collectivism/mysticism that is often applauded in the series).

8. Scrubs

A sitcom. Does it make you laugh? Very much so. This is one of those shows that, assuming it’s up your street, will definitely make you laugh out loud so many times. It is also very well written, and has just enough realism when necessary to still make you care about the characters. It has tears-in-your-eyes LOL moments, and shivers-down-the-spine WOW moments (My Screw Up, anyone?). Problems: after season 4 it got too big for its own good and fell away from the originality that made it special. Recurring guest stars became main stars; the regular cast ran out of stories; the interaction between them just didn’t work anymore; and most importantly, it simply stopped being funny. I think it’s because the story was about young doctors growing up and finding their place in the world, the hospital, and amongst each other. But this was achieved by season 4. The story was told. After that I think it just stopped working. Give me 8 seasons like 1 and 2 and this would be higher.

7. Prison Break

Addictive TV at its best. Again I have to say, very well thought out stories and stuff that really makes you think “oh crap! How is he going to get out of this mess??” There are so many twists and turns you’ll never know what to expect, and I can’t think of any dumb ones thrown in just for dramatic effect. It also has its touching moments too, especially the finale. There is an element of it being dragged out a tiny bit and every single event being slightly embellished, but that’s high-paced modern TV drama for you. The only downside of a great show like this is that re-watchability suffers. But I’d strongly recommend everyone give this a try.

6. 24

Most of what I said about Prison Break could apply to 24. I scored 24 slightly higher because I think it’s more re-watchable and there are more of those special moments. 24 is exciting, and grabs you straight away, keeps building up the tension, and intrigues you. It combines all the best sci-fi/drama/cops-and-robbers moments with brilliant characters. The problem with 24 is that it went on too long, and became formulaic. There are only so many times you can re-use a plot idea before it loses its impact. There is only so “big” you can make a terrorist attack before it becomes ridiculous. There are only so many times you can “save the day” in the last second before the tension is lost. And ultimately, they didn’t end the show how they should have.

5. Firefly

With only 14 episodes, it must take something special for a cancelled TV show to come in this highly. Firefly is that special. It is probably the most unique sci-fi show you will ever see, and that will ever be made. No aliens, no kids, no silly costumes. This is a story about a very diverse bunch of people, some friends – some not, making their way in an unfriendly galaxy. The dialogue is totally brilliant. The actors are superb. There are enough funny moments to make you think it was written as a comedy. The characters are so deep the show could run for years and we’d still want to know more. THIS is how a television show should be done. Unfortunately, because FOX are retards and the show never caught on right away, it was cancelled, never to return, save in film form (Serenity). Do yourself a favour, buy the boxset, watch the 14 episodes, and weep that that’s all there was.

4. Babylon 5

In some ways, I wish B5 was more like Firefly. B5 is a very unique show – and was a big divergence from sci-fi at a time when Star Trek had the monopoly. All the things that Star Trek TNG did bad, this did well. Characters that are actually believable, stories that go somewhere, issues that really matter, consequences that aren’t forgotten in 40 minutes. The use of special effects and music is also far superior than any other sci-fi show too (Battlestar Galactica had the right idea). The way the story arc builds, with little hints dropped in every now and then, is just fantastic. The battle scenes are exciting. The Shadows are just, well, awesome. The attention to detail in how the races look and talk and interact, and how the universe “works” with space-stations and jump-gates – all builds a very believable and realistic view of the future. And yet, despite the gritty realism of it, this Tolkien-esque dramatic background of ancient races, spirituality, epic issues and fights beyond our imagination – was definitely a first for popular sci-fi.

The problem with B5 is that it does have some rather corny, cheesy, and cringing episodes, especially in its first season. I think it takes a while to get going, and I can’t promise it will grab anyone, even half-way through season 1. However, this is like much 90s TV. The episodes are generally more self-contained and you don’t have to invest too much to begin with. From season 2 though, it’s non-stop fun and the arc intensifies to the point each episode is more like a chapter in a book.

3. House

Talk about superb writing. I have never seen a TV show where every single episode was jam-packed of so much good dialogue, humour, and drama. I still notice new jokes re-watching it. Obviously, this show is clever and fascinating. It’s a “who-done-it” every week with the culprit being some rare condition. How we get to find out is much more important that what it is. Every scene with House’s sarcasm is a joy. And the sad moments are certainly not contrived to make us think “oh this is a serious show too” – the humour and despair in the show work off each other so well because the source is the same. I can’t work out if House is uplifting or depressing; it’s probably both, with the lean towards the former, eventually. The episodes are admittedly, and almost deliberately, formulaic – because it’s hard to tell them another way. What’s important is what happens around it.

The only downside of House is that from a philosophical perspective, the character is praise-worthy and despicable at the same time, due to the misguided notions in pop culture and writing of selfishness and value. If a drug addict is selfish, then what is a fitness-focused personal trainer? Selfless?? This is a finger I can’t point just at the House writers, but at the “intellectuals” in philosophy who are nihilistic and Kantian.

Everyone must watch “House.”

2. Star Trek

I was cheating here somewhat at first because I was going to lump them all together and pick out the parts I like. But to be fair, I’ll stick with the original series and those films. You have to remember, it’s the 1960s – and NOTHING like this has been before. There is no template, nothing to compare, no words or phrases like “tractor beam” to nick off other shows. This is what started it all off. The best part of the original Star Trek, which was lost on so many future audiences, is that it’s NOT a geek show. It’s not about tachyon particles and warp-core breaches or whatever other nonsense the TNG writers thought their fans wanted to be impressed by. It’s not.

Gene Roddenberry wanted a “wagon train to the stars”; a story about HUMANS and the human condition, but set in space. Amidst a real world that was on the brink of nuclear war, with so much racial and social unrest, he imagined a world where people working together overcame those differences and reached out into space, building a great federation and making friends of aliens. The villains in ST are BAD and must be destroyed. The good guys are GOOD and try to do the right thing. The three main characters, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy – interact wonderfully. The show also gets the comedy right when it tries to as well. Kirk is perhaps the greatest fictional Captain and leader of all time. He is what a true hero should be. This believable and engaging universe sparked imaginations across the world, and directly influenced pop culture, fashion, technology, and inspired dozens of other sci-fi shows. The first US aircraft carrier and the prototype NASA shuttle were christened Enterprise in honour of the fictional starship.

Star Trek lost its way in my opinion even as early as The Next Generation. Picard and Data aside, show me another character in that stale miserable lot who were different from season 7 to season 1 and I’ll eat my hat. DS9 was a better show, but it wasn’t Star Trek. Voyager is the best one of the lot for being true to Star Trek, and Janeway the best captain since Kirk.

Don’t let the geeks and the Klingon speakers and the conventions put you off – Star Trek the original series was a revolution and changed the world. Even almost 50 years on, those episodes and films are timeless. There are negative points, but more cultural and time-specific ones that I won’t mention.

1. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

When I started, I said let’s consider what a show tries to be and how well it does at that. BtVS INTENDS to be dramatic, comedic, theatrical, outrageous, and metaphorical. It succeeds. Despite some of its more outrageous notions (and demons) it takes itself seriously and it asks you to do the same. If you do, you will love it, and if you don’t you’ve missed the point. Created by the same genius as Firefly, this has the same brilliant dialogue and character interaction. It is superbly funny. The characters are real and deep, and they change and grow up. The ability of the show’s mood to reflect the characters’ mood is staggering. It can feel so light-hearted and fun a show to watch, and also dark and dangerous and depressing. It accomplished feats never seen before (26 odd minutes with NO dialogue) or those rarely seen and even more rarely done well (the Sleepless dream sequences; or the Once More With Feeling musical).

This is a show that excels at virtually every quality you would want in a TV show, and on a very modest budget too. It’s a show about young people growing up, and how the monsters they face are metaphors for personal and social problems that we all do. Pain, friendship, unpopularity, social awkwardness, the first crush, the first love, the first loss, heartbreak, depression, death, grief, fear – these aren’t words I am just rattling off – this is what the show is about fundamentally. That the tools used to drive the story, fantastic demons and epic life-or-death end-of-the-world battles, are also brilliantly done is just a bonus.

It is so addictive, especially when it gets going – and ALSO so re-watchable that it gets bonus marks for that alone. As with all 90s TV, especially those set in “sunny” teen American high schools, there are some cheesy moments. I also think the title itself puts people off. But this isn’t a story about vampire-teen-angst though (like some of the shit swirling around today). This is a story about YOU. This is the story of YOUR life, if you were in Sunnydale and had the weight of the world on your shoulders. And yet, who of you hasn’t felt that way at some time in your lives? Can you pick yourself up when there is seemingly nothing to fight for, and battle on one more time against your own demons and the other horrors in life? Our heroes can. That is why they are heroes. But they are just normal people who are friends, and in that respect that are what each of us can and should be. BtVS is a show that glorifies good and positive values, and slays the bad. Evil is something to be defeated, in every tiny way, every day. 

And if you are positive and fight for the good against the demons in your mind and the real world – you can succeed. Now, give me a TV show that exemplifies this spirit, with amazing funny and likeable characters, with wonderful music and a barrage of laughs, with heart-sinking moments and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dialogue, and a plethora of other “female-lead-hero” inspired TV shows that followed, – and I’ll show you the best TV show of all time. Oh hang on, just did…

Stealing is ok if the thief needs your money

Apparently Comrade Cameron is promising a crack down on benefit thieves.

If you read what the PM says, you’ll notice a very obvious contradiction that he, and indeed all supports of the welfare state, hold: the idea the benefit thieves are stealing your money, but people who don’t cheat the system, aren’t.

Hmmm, so…if a man holds you at gunpoint and takes your wallet because of the claim: “my children need new shoes” – how does the truth or falsity of this claim affect the fact that you have indeed been robbed?

Note that I am attacking the contradiction itself: that the only reason (in the PM’s mind) that one group is stealing and one isn’t, is because one doesn’t deserve the property of others, and the other supposedly does. The actual means of acquiring that property is the same; after all, once your tax is taken from you it is used for countless causes; supporting other peoples’ lives is just one of them.

So what does this mean?  That stealing is only stealing if there’s no “genuine” need for the goods. If the need is genuine, then taking someone else’s property is ok. Of course, this reverses the cause and effect of morality, leading to “ends justify the means” thinking, and using the consequences of an action as its justification, rather than any preceding principles. And since “genuine” is an indefinable concept, it’s simply open to opinion or whim, or more precisely, whatever the current government feels will win it the most votes in the short term.

The banning of veils – yet more fascism

With the French government passing a law banning the covering of one’s face in public, and other countries looking to follow suit, a surprisingly large number of people seem to actually be in favour of these regulations.  People, I might add, who themselves aren’t going to be directly affected by it.  I say directly, because laws like this are the symptom of an ever-increasing slide towards something that personally affects everyone: fascism.

There is debate over the merits of the law, with proponents offering arguments ranging from national security, secular values, and the treatment of women.  The opposition cite individual freedom.  Both sides have missed the point.  The issue boils down to a simple question: what is the proper role and purpose of government?

As a being that relies on reason to survive, human beings require one thing in order to exercise their minds: freedom.  Specifically, freedom from force.  The principle that defines that no one may initiate force against another is a Right.  Force prevents chosen action.  Only individuals can make choices and act.  Therefore, Rights only apply to individuals.  The government exists to protect these Rights by using retaliatory force against those who initiate it.

People who choose to dress a certain way haven’t initiated force against anyone.  To treat them like criminals is preposterous.

Proponents seem to be appealing to three major things:

The treatment of women

Legislator Berengere Poletti, of Sarkozy’s party, said face-covering veils “are a prison for women, they are the sign of their submission to their husbands, brothers or fathers.”

Whilst all religions are based on superstitious irrational beliefs, and all religions have treated women like second-class citizens, covering your face is not necessarily the sign of oppression.  The cure for religious oppression is to refuse to recognise supernatural belief systems as valid.  Unfortunately, our society is also riddled with subjective multiculturalism which tells people they cannot judge anything, since there is no right or wrong answer and everyone’s culture is equal.  Religion has been gaining ground for years now by being afforded recognition and privileges it never deserved.

If a government does its job properly, any person of any sex, age, or religion, is guaranteed the protection of their individual rights.  This includes the freedom to practice their religion.

National security

The major casus belli against our civil liberties; this little chestnut is responsible for many violations of individual rights.  The theory goes that in order to ensure security, some liberties must be sacrificed.  This argument is always false, because it reverses the purpose and nature of government into a living contradiction.  If a government exists to protect its citizens from threats at home and abroad, it cannot then become the aggressor it seeks to destroy!  The government is the agent of the people, not the other way around.  It is your agent to protect your rights.  There is never a justification for government violating an individual’s rights on the appeal to any “greater good”.  “Good” is meaningless without reference to values, and as we saw above, values apply only to individuals.  When a man says he must violate your rights for the greater good, he is simply saying that some individuals have greater rights than you, which is a perversion of the concept of Rights.  It is another way of saying that you have become a slave, a sacrificial animal, to the whims or needs of others.  It can mean nothing else.

Values

Some say the anti-veil law promotes “French” values or “secular” values.  The use of “value” here is a stolen concept.  A value is what which one acts to gain and/or keep.  It relates only to those things within the province of individual action.  There is no such thing as “group values” anymore than there is group consciousness.  A group, a crowd, a nation, is just a collection of individuals.  Nobody’s rights, by definition, trump those of another, since the principle defining all of them is the same: freedom.  Freedom for one, freedom for a million; it’s all the same.

The reason the French government, and other governments, and indeed some individuals, support laws like this is because they believe in something else.  They believe that rather than just be the agent of the people, the government is the ruler, the leader, the Big Brother, the conscience, of the people, and has a duty to further whatever agenda is in the “greater good”, or whichever agenda represents the whims of whichever group is large enough at that time to sway votes.  They believe in a government that has executive power to intervene in any aspect of life: business or personal, in order to “correct” it.

Of course, no appeal to individual rights or human freedom will get you to this course of thinking or this system of government.  There is only way of thinking that will, and that is to see human beings as interchangeable cogs in a big organic system; pieces of a puzzle; to be used or disposed of as the collective demands.  Unfortunately, this is precisely the system that most people tacitly agree with and have been ceding power on for decades.  It is happening everywhere, and it affects everyone.  And only 70 years ago this is precisely the evil the world went to war to stamp out.

But fascism, and its brother socialism, never went away.  They slowly returned and grow stronger every year.  The idea of the state dictating what its citizens can wear sounds like the stuff of Orwellian nightmares, or 1930s Nazi Germany…yet it is happening today before our eyes, amidst cheers of support.

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