The rich owe you nothing

One of the most common assumptions made today, by those on various rungs of the economic ladder, is that the rich get rich at the expense of the poor. For example, a man whose childcare benefits have been cut might look at the businessman driving his brand new Mercedes and wonder why his taxes haven’t gone up to compensate for a welfare shortfall. A woman working as a cleaner on a low wage in a huge office might resent the CEO whose toilets she cleans, figuring that one week’s salary for him is six months’ for her.

This perception of being used or exploited by those richer is totally wrong. It’s wrong because of the false assumption that some of us somehow have a claim on the wealth of others. But it’s also obviously false from an evidential or practical point of view:

Consider an office building, the headquarters for a large company. The company is owned by a businessman, the CEO. The company manufacturers a product and sells it. It does this to make money, because money is the means by which we sustain our lives. Necessary to this process is an import division (to acquire raw materials), a construction division (to make the product), and a distribution division (to ship the product out). But a business needs more than just this. It needs a Sales department to acquire and keep customers. It needs a Procurement department, to seek out good suppliers and acquire materials at competitive prices. Is that enough? No. Computers are an irreplaceable part of any modern business, from warehouse to office – so the company must create an IT department to setup and maintain the technology throughout the site. Is that enough? No. With so many employees, the company needs to establish codes of conduct, a forum to liaise with its staff, an independent body to hear disputes and define punishment protocols and many other tasks relating to worker welfare and management: it creates a Human Resources department.

But it doesn’t stop there. The desks, the chairs, the halls, the walls and the floors need to be cleaned, so the company creates cleaning jobs. It wants the area surrounding its offices to be presentable, tidy and safe – so it employs one or more groundsmen to maintain the site. But even this isn’t enough – the company wants to protect its assets and employees, so it creates a Security department and hires guards.

Imagine how many careers and livelihoods are supported by such a company, and by extension the lives of families and friends. Consider the other businesses and jobs kept alive by an employee who can afford to purchase that extra pint, that new TV, a mobile phone, or treat his family to a nice meal in a restaurant, or day-out at the zoo, or holiday. If that jobs wasn’t yours, it would be someone else’s – or wouldn’t exist at all. Businessmen don’t create jobs to be nice or because we need them, and to pretend that they do or should is naivety and begging of the highest order.

The important fact to remember is that wealth isn’t a game of Monopoly with finite notes, houses and hotels to be fought over – wealth is created. How? By production, which is essentially the primary activity of business qua business. If a CEO’s wages were cut (by say, having to pay more in tax to the government), that money wouldn’t magically find its way into your bank account. If footballers’ wages were capped, the average salary of a nurse or doctor would not magically increase. The income of high-earners does not come out of your savings account; it is not taken from the pot you’ve set aside for your child’s upbringing and they do not base their salary on what you bring home. In other words, the wealth of the rich is that which you couldn’t have any claim to in the first place. (Actually, the only way to get someone else’s wealth is by force; if you have to use force to get money, you could have had no legitimate right to it anyway.)

In fact, it is the businessmen that create jobs in the first place. Would the average man have invented the telephone, the light bulb, fast-food, the mobile phone, the internet, the cancer-fighting drug, the aeroplane, the sky-scraper, the electron-microscope? No. But it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to be a genius or work the wondrous every day of your life. But what you can do is take advantage of someone else’s creativity and effort by working for them and getting paid.

Consider a man who invents the ball-point pen. He creates a pen and sells the idea. He is 100% responsible for the innovation and effort and receives no more than what he can sell his creation for. The person who uses a ball-point pen however has committed precisely nothing in any form to the existence of the pen yet reaps all the benefits. As you move further away from the origin of production, the ratio of effort to benefit increases exponentially. For example, the janitor of a hospital has contributed nothing to the invention of X-Ray or MRI machines, nor did he have to attend medical school; he saves no lives and diagnoses nothing. But because the hospital exists, he has a job. The mere act of production by one man opens up opportunities for many other men who can trade as a result without any of the original effort required. And yet some think that the rich still owe them something? What more? What else? Isn’t this enough?

In reality, the rich owe the poor nothing. So should we be grateful that we have jobs? Yes, but not sycophantically. It is true that the hospital founder owes the janitor nothing – nothing more than paying him for a day’s work – and if he thinks about it, the janitor should be grateful he has a job. But at the top and the bottom or the corporate ladder the principle of interaction is the same: trade; a job was offered and accepted. You are paid for your service, and receive no more or less than this. The sooner some people stop asking for the unearned and claiming that the property and genius of others was somehow obtained at their expense, the sooner they’d be open to real and practical ways of increasing their worth to others, and thereby be paid more. Hell, they might even start their own business…

My Top 10 Fictional Characters

As always, my opinion is limited to what I have experienced, but then how could it be anything else? Ranking my “best” fictional characters isn’t easy – because admittedly I can’t explicitly state the criteria used. But this is just for fun anyway!

Now, oftentimes the protagonist of a story becomes an everyman which all of us can relate to, and through whom we see the other characters and the events unfold. The problem with this sort of character (e.g. Harry Potter) is that there isn’t anything particularly remarkable or interesting about them in-and-of themselves; what is interesting is what they go through and what happens to them – apart from some general sense of courage and honesty. Sometimes the most interesting, frustrating, or funny characters in a story are not at all the hero. Of course the flipside of this is that everyone else apart from the protagonist can become two-dimensional and simply there to give our character someone to interact with. It takes a special kind of character to pull off protagonist/antagonist/ancillary and also capture our imaginations and have us glued to TV screen or book. Not every character listed here is a protagonist but they are some of the most diverse/complex/outrageous/compelling ones you’ll ever encounter.

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10. God (Yahweh, Allah,  Christ, take your pick)

Being the most famous fictional character of all time, this guy has to get a mention, albeit rather facetiously. The way his fans so love to revel over competing interpretations of him is fascinating at best and pathetic at worst. You have to be fascinated by his supposed actions though, love or hate him. My personal favourite is the Christian story about him and Noah’s ark. In it, God creates man knowing they’ll fail a test, even though the knowledge required to pass the test wasn’t available to them until after they failed it (!). He then regrets making man, even knowing what would happen in the first place, so promises to destroy them because we’re so evil. He wipes the whole earth out with a flood that takes a varying number of days according to the story, somehow cramming in millions of species and billions of lifeforms into a boat 450 foot long (!!). Afterwards, he doesn’t promise never to destroy the earth again, oh no – he just promises not to use a flood. Oh, well that’s reassuring… Why does he promise not to destroy the earth again? Because he accepts that man is simply evil by nature, even though he knew we’d turn out this way, even though that was his original motive for wiping us out in the first place (!!!). Storytelling at its best!

God is probably the most emotional violent egotistical psychopath ever invented. It takes a special kind of self-hatred, racism and sexism to invent a character with this many conflicting traits. And you’ve got to give him points for that. It’s so bad you have to say “you can’t make this stuff up!” But of course, that’s exactly what happened.

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9. Dr. Perry Cox (SCRUBS)

The classic badass with a heart of gold, Cox is hilarious. Sarcastic and condescending, his constant demeaning diatribes actually inspire students to aim ever harder to win his eternally-escapable praise. No doubt he has the best lines of the entire show, and I daresay the whole thing couldn’t have worked without him. His speech, his mannerisms, his banter and his flaws are superbly put together to make him one of the most fascinating and enjoyable characters to watch.


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8. Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Fire and Ice)

A complex assortment of traits, physical and mental, coupled with quick words and an even quicker mind make Tyrion Lannister a joy to read (or watch). It’s precisely because he has zero physical presence that makes his dialogue so vital to get right, because anything complimentary or threatening from him must be done through subtext or clever words. He knows his weaknesses so excels at his strengths, and shows great bravery under circumstances where even the strongest man might fail. As he himself says, his sword is his mind – and such a fascinating character is he that whether it be consorting with whores, held hostage by enemies, passing subtle threats to quasi-allies, or interacting with royalty – we love what he has to say and every word has us mesmerised!

 

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7. Jack Bauer (24)

Strong, tough, deadly, ruthless, passionate, flawed yet incorruptible – Jack Bauer is all these things. He toughened up so much that there was nothing he couldn’t do – whether it’s expose an entire government conspiracy or take on an immense fortress of bad guys single-handedly.

Jack’s a man who always does what he believes is right. You can take issue whether he *is* right or not, but he doesn’t compromise, doesn’t cheat and doesn’t shy away from doing what needs to be done. He is a patriot, and defending his country is the number one value in his life – a fact his actions consistently demonstrate.

Volunteering himself for a nuclear suicide mission or taking point on the battlefield – Jack won’t ask anyone to do something he isn’t prepared to do himself, which makes him an inspirational leader.

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6. Buffy (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer)

Whilst not the first female hero, it’s fair to say Buffy turned the superhero gender idea on its head. She manages to save the boy in distress but also still be feminine. This statement itself has become a cliché: “strong yet feminine” yada-yada, but it’s become so overused because it appears so incredibly hard to get right. (It’s actually not).  Many movie-makers and writers think a woman who acts like a bloke, fires guns, fraks everything that moves, and acts like she doesn’t give a shit, can be redeemed back into femininity by wearing a skin-tight catsuit or holding suggestive poses. What they don’t realise is: She. Just. Looks. Stupid. Femininity isn’t a matter of how much you swear (or don’t) or kick ass (or don’t), the length of your hair, sex appeal or how much you cry (or don’t). Buffy manages to pull off being a sexy attractive badass lady because she doesn’t try too hard to be, because she doesn’t need to try. Sure, she cares about her girlie stuff and has the angst one would expect of a teenager/young woman – but she is a young woman. She doesn’t need to ram her double-Xs down our throats. She can be dirty, ragged, and unkempt, save the world and kick ass – and also be a girl. (And of course, I’m not implying that there should be any natural conflict at all between gender and strength, but since most writers and producers actually do make this assumption and then over-compensate for it, it makes it all the better when a female character comes along who gets it right for all the right reasons.)

Perhaps an easy to overlook feature of Buffy’s is her humour – she is really quite funny, obviously and subtly – and when contrasted against who and what she actually is, makes it all the better.

We like her because we know she’d make a superb friend and ally, and she genuinely cares about the world and doing right. Like I said at the start, it’s hard to make your protagonist a champion for everyone watching, whom we can all relate to, be a vehicle for the story, and also have many distinctive character traits of their own (instead of being “the funny one” or “the sarcastic one”.) For example, whilst we love watching Jack Bauer, I’d argue that we don’t really relate to him or his situations, certainly not like we can with Buffy.

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5. Londo Mollari (Babylon 5)

Undoubtedly, a character with a lot of blood on his hands, Londo undeniably always acts in what he perceives is in the best interest of his people, his race, his planet. But how often does “Greater Good” thinking lead to misery and death? (Answer: always).

His decisions and actions lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent lives, but he makes the choices knowingly and willingly, because nothing will get in the way of the Manifest Destiny he sees for the Centuari Republic. And despite all this, we understand him, and why he did the things he did. We feel sorry for him, despite the mistakes, the lies, the murders. He is a tragic character, made so by the curious irony that he actually gets everything he ever wished for, but when his wishes become reality they are never what he thought they’d be, and the result is always misery (and often destruction.) He slowly sinks from jovial and silly to dark and allied to evil itself. He finds his way out again after realising what price his terrible decisions almost cost him and his world. But the road to redemption is never fully completed, after being forced to accept a horrible burden that he must shoulder in silence and which his friends can never know.

In Londo’s own words: “When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all.”

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4. Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galactica Reimagined Series)

Another character on this list who qualifies as genius, Baltar is brilliant, treacherous and cowardly. He is unfuriating and pathetic yet understandable and pitiful. Sometimes I think ‘well that’s exactly what I’d do in that situation’ and other times I’m shaking my head in disbelief.

There’s no denying that on the rare occasions BSG does comedy, Baltar is the best example of it. Some of his lines are laugh-out-loud funny, as are so many of the awkward unspoken positions he’s placed in.

Gaius has a continuing nack of saving his own neck (or perhaps it’s just God’s Will™), but despite the reproach he often deserves, what is tragic about him is how often he is vilified for the wrong reasons. We feel aggrieved for him, feel vindicated at times when he is, then wish he’d just shut his mouth. Just a few tiny decisions here and there and how different things might have gone. He’s enough to make you shout at the TV “you frakking idiot! Just tell the truth for once!” Despite his intellect, even he doesn’t realise how better things might’ve been if he was just honest all along.

Tagged as an unchosen antagonist for most of the show, the truth is that despite being painted as “villain”, Baltar’s genuinely reprehensible acts pale in comparison to the deliberate and remorseless crimes of the supposed heroes of the story. As the saga progresses, so often I find myself siding with him against our alleged protagonists.

He richly enhances the whole show and is as much a living breathing complex character as anything seen on TV.

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3. Captain James T. Kirk (Star Trek TOS)

A more-womanising, futuristic, less hysterical version of Jack Bauer, without the gun – Captain Kirk is an all-round proper good guy. He leads confidently and passionately, is clever but also emotional, and is uncommonly brave to fight for his ship and his crew. He’s the perfect leader to the outside world, but has doubts and vulnerabilities which only his closest friends get to see. The expression “The Man” was invented for James Kirk.

He is, in a great many ways, what a man and a hero should be. But not through super powers or even technology – just by his wits and his courage. He is a regular guy, but an achievable hero; he simply exemplifies the best qualities of heroism and command.

 

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2. Dr. Gregory House (House MD)

A character of many shades and levels, nearly always sarcastic and sniping, he says all the things most of us keep in our heads, regardless of who he offends. His honesty and disregard for pretention is refreshing but also cringe-inducing at times. Self-destructive physically and emotionally, he almost goes out of his way to make the wrong choices at times, despite being in all other ways an absolute genius of the highest order. If you needed diagnosing he’d be your first choice at the job, on the condition you never met him – which in itself is an interesting contrast.

He’s fast (not walking), witty, and guaranteed to keep you laughing time and again. He might make you hate him, but you’ll also feel sorry for him. A deeply intriguing character – the perfect blend of humour and tragedy.

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1. Eric Cartman (South Park)

The perfect comedic characterisation of psychopathic evil. Cartman is truly despicable in every sense of the word. He is irrationally self-concerned, self-destructive, manipulative, racist, sexist and whose ultimate dream is dominating all others with his will. He is also ludicrously clever, but so often short-sighted. And all this is tempered by him still being very much a big child with all the insecurities and weaknesses that brings.

Cartman is the perfect plot device through which our likes and dislikes, loves, passions, hates and fears are seen or reflected. He is a foil to the story itself which allows a fantastically rich web of allegories and contrasts to be displayed. Like much of South Park, he is nothing wrong of writing genius. In real life, such a character would be universally despised and unloved – yet in this form, he is just brilliant and hilarious to watch. We can’t get enough of him! No doubt South Park is at its best when Eric Cartman is at his worst.

The Best TV Finales I’ve Seen

In between having several books on the go, over the last year I’ve managed to finish watching and re-watching some TV shows that are favourites of mine. Most of these appear in my two “My Best TV shows of all time” pieces I’ve written. Since I like to judge and rank things, I thought I’d evaluate the endings of these shows and which are the “best” to me; that being the ones I found the most emotional, either depressing, upsetting, uplifting, inspiring, or all of the above. Also factors are how the episode actually did bring the story to a conclusion, and the methods used.

Of course, there are thousands of TV shows out there with possibly greater endings than I’ve ever seen. I know there are all-time classics that I’ve been told about, such as Black Adder etc. But I can only write about what I know and what has meaning for me. No doubt I’ll do an updated version of this list in the future. As can be expected most of these shows also appear on my “favourite shows of all time” list, for obvious reasons.

* SPOILER ALERT – I’ve tried to keep my comments as ambiguous as possible, but if you’re watching or planning to watch any of these shows, best to not read this. *

PRISON BREAK

First time I saw the end of Prison Break, I was really moved. I thought it was touching, even if I knew what was coming well before Sarah said “let’s go and see Michael” to their son. Yeah, I knew what was coming, and it still moved me.  I’m not saying that Prison Break was brilliant in its last two seasons. It had its faults. I think there are only so many realistic twists and turns and last minute surprises you can spring on the audience and still maintain credibility.

The fact the show really struggled to keep its own contrived and arguably daft plot-twists going is the reason is ranked below all the others. But it’s a sad ending; quite depressing actually and possibly uncalled for. But moving? No doubt.

STAR TREK: TNG

I could’ve chosen other Star Treks, (the Original never had a proper series finale) but Voyager’s was rushed and unsatisfying, and DS9’s felt hollow somehow. The ridiculous Vic Fontaine program (inexplicably introduced) was hit on our heads repeatedly throughout season 7 and I can’t help but feel it was someone’s hobbie smuggled lamely into the story. I chose TNG because its ending is the best of all the Treks. Makes you wonder why more of the last two seasons couldn’t have been written this way.

It was a fun ending to a TV show that, taken overall, was above average. You can’t deny it was a solid consistent series with some fantastic episodes. But you can’t deny the crap ones either, and there were quite a lot of them. If we’re taking a show at its best then we should discard the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th seasons, but then we’d have to throw away Scrubs seasons 5-8, Prison Break’s 3rd and 4th, Friends’ 5th to 10th, and so on. But this isn’t about TV shows it’s about finales.

The TNG finale was a great episode to wrap it up; in typical Star Trek fashion we bounce around from time to time, bringing our heroes together for a grand cause. And the lesson from Q is something the Exec Producers and writers of Trek didn’t actually take home: life isn’t about charting stars and mapping nebula (or treknobabble and warp core breaches), but discovering the unknown possibilities of existence. And that, my friends, is what Star Trek was originally all about. But like All Good Things…

FRIENDS

I can look back with hindsight and spot the many flaws with this show, but it’s hard to deny that for my generation, FRIENDS was a hugely popular show, and its humour, in-jokes and story have become pop culture icons in their own right. Could I be any more over the top? That is so not what I meant. You know what I mean: “we were on a break!!”

Hard to grow up with a show like that, with characters you get to know that well, to care for – and not feel something when it ended. It was a good wrap to a comedy that went on longer than it should have. (A lot longer). But it’s hard to keep quality of earlier seasons up; look at Scrubs. But it ended well; everyone got paired off; they went their own ways. In a sense, they (finally) grew up.

ANGEL

Totally different to the Buffy ending. Totally different to almost any TV ending you’ll ever see in fact! No smiles, no wrap-ups, no happy conclusions, in fact – no conclusions? Angel and his (surviving) allies stand alone in a dark alley pouring with rain, having knowingly set in motion a series of events that will strike a massive blow to the forces of evil – and almost certainly spell their own death. After five seasons of a show with many ups and downs, with some great stories and some weaker moments, the hoards of Wolfram and Hart descend on our heroes and we’re left with a dramatic and spine-tingling cut to black after Angel simply declares “I want the dragon!”

What a way to end a series!

(No good video clip available. (God damn fan art.))

SCRUBS

Yup, gonna moan about this one too. From seasons 1 – 4, the best sitcom I’ve seen, and I’d still give it that accolade. Pretentious and obvious with its “moral of the episode”? Perhaps, but what is good storytelling unless you take yourself seriously? Scrubs was so incredibly well-written in its early days that it deserved a quality ending. It got one: a beautiful montage of flashforwards to stunning music; our characters happy and living the lives they’ve deserved. The end of the show nicely brings everything together, ties up the loose ends, and gives a satisfying happy-sad sense of closure. It’s happy, but we’re sad it’s over.

24

Now, I had my gripes with this show too, partly because I totally loved it and think it lost its way somewhat. The return and then switch, double-switch, and switch-back from Tony was…urm…slightly forced in my opinion. And seriously, is anyone else amazed that at least three people that knew Jack were still alive by the end?? Writing tip: when you keep killing off people the audience cares about, the audience stops caring, thereby rendering the story device useless.

But hey, Jack in full body armour – taking out the bad guys and exposing another nasty secret, getting the US President to stop menstruating for one minute and realise she’d made a boo-boo: epic stuff. Grand and sweeping, and in typical Jack fashion he disappears once last time. This ending might have had more emotional resonance if Jack hadn’t already played scapegoat and run off into hiding no fewer than 421 times previously in the series. But maybe I’m being harsh and that was simply “foreshadowing”, as Jack can never seem to find happiness.

He thanks Chloe one last time, the clock for the only occasion in the entire show counts us up from three to zero, and that was that.

BUFFY

What would an ending to the best show of all time be without the best ending of all times? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a bit rushed; there’s too much to get through and a lot to cram in. I would’ve liked to savour more of the victory but that’s TV.

But after seven grand and epic seasons, after battling friends and foes – to face off against the power of the Biggest Baddest Bad of them all, and to win in such heroic manner and stand victorious – with everything wrapped up and all stories concluded in a meaningful and satisfying matter, the smile – the starting of a smile – of “what now?” is just class. An epic battle with fantastic music; the elevation of Willow to goddesshood; the elevation of Potentials everywhere to Actuals; the courage and gift of the newly-ensouled Spike; the end of Sunnydale.

Yeah, we lost a lot of people along the way. It was difficult and often painful – but you can’t help feeling that it all meant something. And hey, the good guys won the day – which is the entire point of Buffy. A great way to go out.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

Oh, Battlestar. What a sweet show you starting out as, and indeed finished as. Shame about all that Balter-Six crap in between. We get it, God exists and has a purpose! Where is Kirk when you need him…

Urm, I just like to ask a question? What does God need with a starship? And incidentally, why does God care so much about saving 50,000 humans to restart a new race, instead of…urm, I don’t know… preventing the frakking nuclear annihilation of them in the first place??

And then Kirk realises we’re talking about the god of the bible, and it all makes sense.

A great show, if taxing in some places – but a bittersweet ending. Slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of perfection – a perfect face, perfect lace. Find the perfect world for the end of Kara Thrace. End of line.

A courageous and suicidal assault on Cylon HQ itself gives us superb battles in space and on the ground. A last ditch breathless escape gives us our second (and our characters’ first) shot of the beautiful world we call home. Galactica sails off into the sun…literally. The human race begins, again. An Angel ascends, the President leaves us, Adama starts a lonely new existence, the war is over. The writers gave themselves a hell of a big job bringing all this together but you have to say they pulled it off, eventually. But all of this has happened before, and will happen again. Cracking stuff.

Counterpoint: read this for a superb deconstruction of BSG and why the ending was poor. And this.

BABYLON 5

No doubt in my mind before I started writing this which was gonna be number 1. B5 is a grand story of our heroes, and on either side lies a million years of history. We witness a small slice of the temporal cosmic pie, and in the last episode jump forward 20 years to see how it ends. In a way, I think this episode is moving not because we don’t know what’s coming, but because we do. We knew what was going to happen, just like you might know that a loved one is destined to die soon from an illness, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it comes – and of course that analogy wasn’t chosen lightly.

It ends with a love story. I always find goodbyes hard, and Sleeping in Light is full of them. Our characters say goodbye to others and we say goodbye to the station. The hardest of all is Sheridan’s and Delenn’s – you can see the pain in their faces, almost horror – as the emotion finally pours out.

J. Michael Straczynski said that the episode “put him away” for a good hour, and kept doing so every time he watched it. I have to confess to the same thing: no matter how many times I watch it, and it’s not often, I find it really hard to get through. It’s a raw and primal feeling: seeing these characters older, the story over, their age past, and time to go; it does feel like coming in when the last battle really is over and many have died and been lost, and it’s quiet and still and there isn’t much left to say; a cloud hangs over the episode, very much like a funeral. Perhaps its tough because there are a lot of unnaturally early goodbyes, which are the worst kind. (Let’s also remember that Andreas Katsulas and the much younger Richard Biggs are no longer alive – the latter dying so shortly after JMS recorded his commentary for this very episode.)

Is it Christopher Franke’s heart-breaking music, majestic and harrowing – yet inspiring? It is Ivanova’s voice-over at the end, “even for people like us”? Is it the sight of the station slowly dying? Is it the sense of emptiness, of leaving things behind? Is it two lovers ripped apart before their time? Is it the sense of hope that somehow we’re left with? It must be all of this.

If the purpose of drama and story is to move the audience – then B5 must get the “best ever ending” accolade from me.  Such a sense of finality and dramatic conclusion. It’s the hardest last episode I’ve had to sit through. And I think that says it all.

New A-Z Page

I decided to create a new page to catalogue useful links and quotes I come across for handy and future reference. This isn’t intended as a lexicon, and is a constant work in progress.

Do this or you will die

If someone were to say this to you, and you replied “do what?” – what you would expect, no, demand – as a reply?

If you are going to ask someone to act as if their life depended on it, or perhaps even change their entire lifestyle, isn’t it fair that you be damn sure what you’re talking about – and even more sure about the criteria required?

When performing brain surgery, a surgeon doesn’t play ip-dip as to where to start the incision – or follow the vague direction “cut into the head”; if the operation was on me I’d like him to be a little more specific than that. A successful businessman when negotiating with traders doesn’t guess the lowest price he can go to, or rely on gut feeling; he calculates his entire margin taking into account all available factors and works out the variables. These two examples demonstrate how, in the real world, reality is uncompromising and makes certain demands on human beings, such as: specificity, accuracy, logic. Most normal people tend to demand these standards in their everyday life, whether they realise it or not. For example, we don’t cross the road without looking both ways; we don’t jump a wall without knowing what’s on the other side; we don’t drink unlabelled bottles without being reasonably sure they’re safe.

Imagine a less mundane situation, like a hostage crisis; a criminal leaves a message iterating his demands. If the demands aren’t met he will kill a room full of people in one hour. Worse, imagine that the message he left was garbled and barely decipherable; you are able to discern demands for some exact amount of money – but how much you don’t know. He wants a helicopter from a specific location – but you can’t tell where – he wants you to forward on a political statement, only he forgot to include the statement in the message. Worse still, you have no way to get back in touch with him. Imagine the frustration and panic you would feel as the minutes tick away.

Bare this in mind, and consider that earlier today I had a conversation with a fundamentalist Christian who was unable to give me a list of criteria required for approval by God, and therefore acceptance by him and survival when The End comes. Think about that… these people who preach repentance to and belief in God, who are asking you, on behalf of this God, to change your entire lifestyle and become a member of this particular belief system that has hundreds of thousands of competing systems in the world, because your life depends on it – cannot even tell you the exact requirements. I was able to dissect this person’s beliefs and assertions to the point they admitted that it wasn’t necessary to be a member of their sect, it wasn’t necessary to read the bible, and it wasn’t even necessary to believe in god… so then, what is the point of belonging to any religion? What extra “good” would I gain by being part of a faith, as opposed to being a good person but not being part of the faith? If the end came today would I die? Staggeringly, no answer was forthcoming. I was told “I don’t have the right to judge.” Which opens up another gaping contradiction in this faith: if you know what is right and wrong, how can you not evaluate something to determine whether it is good or bad? If you cannot judge right from wrong, you cannot know that you yourself are on the right track! How are these people, presumably the ones to be saved come The End, to know they not forgetting something themselves? They either don’t know what it takes, in which it makes no sense to identify yourself as part of a specific faith – i.e. this particular thing and not that, or they do know but have been brainwashed and conditioned through doubletalk and faith that it’s not acceptable to talk about or acknowledge the grim truth that is too horrific to mention yet is tacitly believed: if you are not part of this particular faith, you can’t be saved.

Of course, that would mean that “being good” isn’t enough. It’s not enough to be good or live by an objective moral code – no, you must add on all this extra stuff to it – like meeting several times a week during which point it is never clarified why you are there. You must knock door to door and talk to people about your faith, whilst never being able to specify the most basic tenets of it. Live a strict, self-effacing, and conservative lifestyle, yet not acknowledging nor identifying exactly what this lifestyle should and shouldn’t consist of. On top of all this, you want other people to do the same as you, because you believe their life depends on it!

Of course, the reason all this extra stuff is tacked onto the notion of simply “being good” is because without all that extra stuff, cults and sects and religions wouldn’t exist. After all, as this person and I managed to agree on: if just “being good” was enough to be saved, what would be the entire point of the faith? The irony was lost on them. And when I asked why all this extra stuff was necessary or whether I could have a complete list of this extra stuff, I couldn’t get an answer.

And this is the mental harmony and peace of mind that we are often told religious people have? This is the stuff that “keeps them happy”? This is what gives believers “meaning”?

As I closed in saying to this person, if you are going to hold beliefs and act on them – and integrate them fully into your life, and also ask or expect that others do the same – and insist that not only your life depends on it, but the lives of every member of the human race – it is not just reasonable, but necessary for your own intellectual honesty, respect, self-confidence, reputation and credulity, that you can back these words up. We expect it from doctors, businessmen, hell – even terrorists – so why not the loving all-powerful creator of the universe and his most privileged spokesmen on earth?

We all know the answer.

Should the Lockerbie Bomber have been released?

I was asked recently if I agreed with the freeing of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Libyan behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which resulted in the deaths of 270 people in total.  This isn’t exactly brand new news but since I haven’t blogged recently I thought I’d put my answer here.

My answer is: yes.  I would have released the bomber.

But before I explain why, let me lay the groundwork for my answer.

Justice is the concept of holding man accountable for his actions and treating him in a way that is congruous with the merit or value of his actions.  It means that a man should be praised when praise-worthy and condemned when a villain.

Ayn Rand said about justice “that your moral appraisal is the coin paying men for their virtues or vices, and this payment demands of you as scrupulous an honor as you bring to financial transactions—that to withhold your contempt from men’s vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement—that to place any other concern higher than justice is to devaluate your moral currency and defraud the good in favor of the evil, since only the good can lose by a default of justice and only the evil can profit—and that the bottom of the pit at the end of that road, the act of moral bankruptcy, is to punish men for their virtues and reward them for their vices, that that is the collapse to full depravity.

I’ve highlighted in bold what I think is important here.  Justice demands that a man be praised and allow to fully enjoy the rewards of his virtuous activity.  It also demands that a villain, a criminal, a violator of Rights, is held fully accountable for his actions and they are denounced as nothing less than evil.  He is then to be punished according to the severity of his actions.

There is no middle ground here; we are dealing with absolutes. Either a man deserves his rewards or he doesn’t.  Either a criminal deserves his punishment or he doesn’t; and just as a man who deserves his rewards deserves them in full, so a violator of Rights deserves his punishment, in full.

Justice demands no less.  It is a travesty of justice and a slap in the face of morality to punish a moral man for his good actions.  It is just as bad to absolve a criminal of their evil actions.  It is an act of moral and intellectual cowardice.  It is the equivalent of saying to the good man “you have acted with uncompromised rationality and virtue and achieved great success, and because of that, you will be stripped of some of your values.”  And to the evil man: “you have acted with premeditation to deliberately violate the Rights of another innocent person, but I will only partly punish you.”  The former describes our current welfare state and the latter our system of Law.  The first statement exemplifies altruism and the latter mercy.

Mercy is to justice like faith is reason.  Both words can be synonymous with their more innocent relatives; faith can casually mean hope, confidence, or trust.  But philosophically and religiously faith means belief in spite of reason.  Similarly, just as mercy can mean tolerance of forgiveness, in ethics it means leniency in spite of what is actually merited, in spite of justice.  It is the moral declaration: “you do not deserve my act of good will, of forgiveness, of leniency, but I shall give it anyway.”  Needless to say, this is commonly considered an act of grace or virtue.  In reality, it is the exact opposite.  Judicially, it is worse than sticking your head in the sand; it is the act of sticking justice in the sand, as if justice – doing what is right! – needed tempering!

Now, imagine yourself planning to smuggle a bomb on board an aircraft filled with innocent people of many nationalities, genders, backgrounds, heights, shapes, sizes, each of which is an individual human being with the most fundamental (and only) Right: the Right to Life.  Imagine smiling with glee as you envisage the terror when that explosion first rips through the aircraft and the passengers start struggling for air as the plane depressurises.  As a victim, imagine the speechless and breathless horror of looking out the window and seeing the ground move closer by the second, and feel the aircraft in free-fall, knowing that you are going to die, that your life is about to end, and everything you have ever done and ever will do will be reduced to ash in a fireball, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.  Imagine looking into the eyes of your lover, your friend, or your child, as you wordlessly exchange an encyclopaedia of thoughts and memories in an instant, as you burn their image into your head for the last time, as the tears stream down both your faces.  Perhaps in all this, they asked: WHY?  Was it an accident?  Did something malfunction?  No.  Another human being like you deliberately made this happen; plotted and planned to bring this about; who knowingly wanted to end all life on this plane and your only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One life or 270 it’s all the same; it’s life.  The Right to which was consciously violated.  That it happened in possibly the post terrifying way imaginable makes the suffering worse, but it would have been no different had the 270 been murdered peacefully in their sleep.  And this is because the standard of right and wrong is not and never will be: suffering.  It is this one thing only: the life of a rational being.

And now imagine that 21 years later, the very system that exists for the purpose of protecting Rights and ensuring justice is carried out, decides that the murderer’s suffering of prostate cancer cannot be allowed to continue, and then he DESERVES compassion because he has three months left to live, and allows him the FREEDOM to leave and return home, no doubt to a hero’s welcome.  Deserves compassion, why?  Deserves freedom, why?  Freedom is a Right of those with Rights.  A murderer has no Rights.

The worst part is that the Scottish Government, who decided that this despicable individual deserves compassion, actually believes that he does!  But by what moral standard can they arrive at this judgement?  The one mentioned above: suffering.  Suffering is the standard.  It is the idea that people deserve something based on what they need or want or feel, regardless of the facts of reality.  This morality says that the suffering of one person imposes a moral obligation on others.  ‘He was suffering’, they say.  ‘He only had months to live’, they say.  ‘We MUST do something’.  What about justice?  What about right and wrong?  What about sticking to our principles?

So my answer to the question is: yes, the Lockerbie bomber should have been released…

 …on the way home, from the aeroplane, at 50,000 feet, into the atmosphere.

Neil Warnock is an Idiot

Many of my non-British readers won’t know who Neil Warnock is, or won’t even be bothered about football (Americans, read: soccer), but please don’t click the X on the browser just yet!

Here’s the background: Liverpool FC in the last two years have gotten very far in the UEFA Champions League competition.Last season we got to the final, (we won it in 2005!) and we are in the semi-finals again this season.This is actually the only silverware we’re competing for at this stage of the season, which means our league games are relatively unimportant in comparison.As a result, the Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez decided to rest several of his key players for Saturday’s game against Fulham, as the semi-final first leg against Chelsea is as close as Tuesday night.

Fulham are battling relegation, which means that the outcome of our game against Fulham is not only important to them, but other teams trying to avoid relegation too.The other teams down there would be hoping Liverpool beat Fulham and “do them a favour”.

None of which is, or should be, a concern to Liverpool.Right?Not according to the bitter cynical irrational rantings of Yorkshireman Neil Warnock.His gripe?Last season, Liverpool also fielded a ‘weakened’ team against Fulham, who actually beat Liverpool and eventually avoided the drop.Warnock’s team, Sheffield United, got relegated.

Here’s what Warnock had to say just before this weekend’s game:

“My advice to Reading, Bolton and the rest would be, if you’re expecting any favours, don’t hold your breath.They will have to do it themselves.”

Yes, and what’s your point?

“The fact of the matter is that if Liverpool were already out of the Champions League and needed to win to get fourth spot, they would play their strongest side.”

Yes, but again, what’s your point?Liverpool are in fact NOT out of the Champions League and don’t need to win to get fourth spot, so they don’t need to play their strongest side.So far, so obvious.

“Instead, I fully expect them to play a weakened team at Fulham.”

As did most people in the country.

“It’s part of a big club’s mentality. They look after themselves and they don’t bother about anyone else.”

Isn’t this part of EVERY sports team’s mentality??Which sports team doesn’t think about just itself?

If you’re a professional sportsman and you have guilt about the knock-on effect of a game YOU WIN, you’re in the wrong business!

“The whole story that Sheffield United were going down and me having a pop at them afterwards was just treated like fish and chip paper by them. Liverpool didn’t care because they weren’t the ones getting hurt by it all.”

Well, actually Neil, Liverpool probably didn’t care because no one cares about your small-time poxy little opinions.

Of course, what Warnock fails to mention is that if Fulham would have ended up getting relegated, they would have gotten hurt.Maybe Liverpool were thinking about Fulham and didn’t want to hurt them by relegating them??

“Integrity, doing what is right for the game, comes way down Rafa’s list of priorities.”

Notice the false dichotomy: doing what is right for the game (whatever that means!) versus doing what is best for Liverpool.

What Warnock doesn’t realise (because he’s an idiot and because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about) is that doing what is ‘right for the game’ is precisely doing whatever is right for Liverpool!The only thing Liverpool should be concerned about is doing what is best for themselves.What is good for “the game” is open competition where clubs are free to play the players they want against any opposition they want.

What kind of a warped mentality could suggest that a sports team (or any business for that matter) should be interested in the wellbeing of its rivals?!

All that aside, Warnock’s Sheffield United had 38 games to amass enough points to avoid relegation.They didn’t. Boo hoo.That’s football.Warnock also forgets the last game of the season, when his team LOST to Wigan Athletic.A win would have kept them up, but they lost. Boo hoo.

What does Warnock expect: that a more successful club somehow has a responsibility to not act in its best interest in case another club could possibly incur an advantage/disadvantage as a result??What if all clubs did this?The bigger clubs would go into games actively looking to not win where possible, after all, who wants to “hurt” another club by beating them?!Pathetic.

As always with this kind of sacrificial mentality, it’s the successful clubs that are to be penalised because they are successful; the clubs with the biggest squads should be forced to play their best teams in EVERY game in Warnock’s opinion.Why?Because they have the biggest and best squads.In other words, the better you are, the more you should be penalised and held accountable for taking advantage of your superiority!

But what about Sheffield United and other small clubs?Why doesn’t anyone talk about them pulling their finger out and wining more games?!

Liverpool did go on to lose in the final last year, but imagine if we would have fielded a full strength team against Fulham.Maybe Rafa would have said: “if only I could have rested my key players at Fulham to avoid tiredness/injury etc, perhaps we would have won the final.”People would have laughed at him probably, and Warnock wouldn’t have had anything to say.

But when a team like Warnock’s has 38 games to get enough points and then complain because Liverpool acted in their best interest, he gets his obnoxious face all over the TV and in the papers.

What is wrong with this mentality?In a word: altruism.Basically, the pathetic notion that acting in someone else’s interest OVER your own is somehow virtuous, more moral, nobler, for the “greater good”.Well, that’s nonsense.Ever club must act in its own self-interest, regardless of the effects on other clubs: play whatever team you want; play however you want.At the end of the day, you will stand or fall based on how successful YOU are – not how other clubs are!

The only people who don’t want to play by this fair and healthily competitive rule are the ones who are afraid; the ones who have something to lose by a fair fight; the ones who seek the unearned; the ones who can’t actually achieve success themselves but beg others to do the work for them; the ones who aren’t actually good enough to stand on their own merit.In other words, people like Neil Warnock.

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