Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Age of Enlightenment

I love Babylon 5. It's great sci-fi. And sometimes it's just great story-telling, period. Like the episode I watched last night, "Passing Through Gethsemane."

The premise of the story is that in the future (2260 AD) the human race has found a better alternative to capital punishment. Convicted murderers are sentenced to a "death of personality" wherein telepaths wipe your memories and personality and then reconstruct a new identity and personality for you, along with a strong desire to serve humanity in some way. You're then started over as an entirely different person in a new life somewhere away from those who might know your victim(s). No one has to kill the killer, they pay their debt by service to society, and you don't have to worry about rehabilitation--they're no longer a threat to anyone.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think this solution is actually worse than capital punishment--for the criminal. Think about it. What if the standard punishment for murder today was not only your death, but your body would be harvested for organs, your body preserved via taxidermy, loaded with surveillance gear (camera eyes, microphone ears, and a transmitter) and then rigged to be used as a pose-able mannequin. They'd dress you in a police uniform and stand you in various places for crowd control while some desk jockey monitors the situation via remote feed. Or, if the technology is good enough, use you for a remote control bomb robot.

I think people would be screaming "cruel and unusual punishment" in no time.

But that's essentially what they're suggesting in this futuristic scenario. The criminal as they were known would be dead, even though their body would still be alive. What made them "them" would be gone forever. Meanwhile, they place an artificial "soul" in the body and turn it loose to serve society in some manner. Sure, the new personality may be likable, life-like, creative, funny, whatever, but the reality is that it's only purpose for existing is to serve. They're going to both kill you and make you an unwitting slave at the same time.

It reminds me of the old joke about the cannibal that captures three friends and tells each of them "I'm going to cut your throat, eat your meat, and use your skin for my canoe." Killing them isn't good enough. They have to keep paying and paying.

I'm sorry, but that doesn't sound terribly enlightened to me.

What cracks me up, however, is the brief exchange between the chief of security and an alien ambassador early in the show. The security chief suggests that a mass murderer should be executed, and admits that he's an "eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth kind of guy." The alien ambassador replies with the lame and predictable "But that would leave everyone blind and toothless".

It's lame enough by itself, but this is coming from a Minbari. This is the alien race that, when their leader is killed by humans in a misunderstanding, declares a war of extinction against Earth (declared by this same ambassador, incidentally). This is the race that tries several times during the series to kill or provoke a war with a human officer who managed to destroy their flagship during the resulting war. This is the same ambassador who later on, when an alien race attempts to ambush her fleet, flees out of reach and then turn around and destroys the enemy fleet to teach them a lesson.

Superior Minbari morality? I'm just not seeing it. Sorry. Can the lectures, lady.

In spite of all this I love the episode. The heart of the show centers around a serial killer who has suffered the "death of personality" and been rebuilt as a benedictine-ish monk with no memory of his former life. He is loved and respected on the space station where he now lives, and has befriended the station's commander.

But the families of his victims don't feel that the "death of personality" is punishment enough for what he did. They manage to track him down, get a telepath to restore his memories, and then corner and kill him (well, one of them does--the rest lose their nerve). His killer is then taken, tried, and suffers his own "death of personality." The station's commander finds himself at the end of the episode having to decide whether he can forgive the person who killed his friend--a person who killed his friend because he himself could not forgive.

It's neat little piece circular moral logic, and an amazingly deep story beyond what I've related. The ex-murder-monk is played by the well-cast Brad Dourif. It's an amazing piece of writing, and a great stand-alone story in its own right. There are so many facets to the story that it can leave a person thinking for a good, long time.

Heavy Fog

We're having the outside of our house painted. The painter got started yesterday and prepped half the house. We now have plastic over the windows on two sides, which takes some getting used to. It's like living in a fogbank.

When it's done the house will look...well, the same, only better. We liked the color scheme before, but the paint was wearing thin in places.

Fortunately the weather is cooperating so far. Yesterday was in the 60's, and today may hit the 70's.

Our painter is from Ukraine and is a rather likable fellow. His kids ride the same bus as our oldest (which is how we found out about him--his son deserves a commission), so they all live just up the street from us. After school his kids come over and play with our kids while they all watch dad at work. We wouldn't mind building a friendship out of this, really. His kids are well-behaved, and they seem like a nice family.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Volunteerism Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris

Well, my homeowners association meeting is over. I spent the better part of the day yesterday either getting ready for it or holding it. The turnout was somewhat disappointing. I'd hoped to at least get 30-40 people, but we had around 15. For all the advertising we did I had really hoped for more. Oh well, more cookies for us.

On the other hand, it was a more positive meeting than some previous meetings have been. Those who came seemed genuinely pleased with my efforts so far and feel that my newsletters have been making a difference. I even got several volunteers to be on the architectural committee. Many of the suggestions that came up were positive and do-able. And for a cold, rainy day in October, getting that many people was probably a good effort.

But considering the impact on our day, I'm not sure I'm in a big hurry to hold another meeting.

I did a little research on homeowners associations today. The Wikipedia entry really brought out some of the bad points. I'd like to think I'm a good choice for HOA president, as many of the abuses by presidents and boards it listed would never have occurred to me. I'd like to think I have a genuine interest in making the neighborhood a better place for everyone. I'm certainly not doing this for some sort of power-trip.

Anyway, I think we're making progress. If I can do a good job of marketing and publicity I think many of the problems will take care of themselves.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hardly Working

I've got a new project at work, and I think it's stressing me out. It's big--really big. And of enterprise proportions. And it requires me to call a lot of people I've never spoken to--many of them fairly high level. It's enough to put an introvert like me into a psychosomatic tizzy.

At the same time, I have to admit it's been a lot of fun. I'm learning lots of information about how our company works and how it's structured. I'm learning that the business problem we're trying to solve is both more simple and more complicated than I originally thought.

This project scares me. It's also pretty exciting stuff. I'm also very ready for a weekend.

Too bad the weekend includes me running a homeowners association meeting. The weather is not going to cooperate. I don't know whether to wish for no one to show up or for record numbers. I think I mainly just wish it were over.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gathering Around the Wireless

Did I mention that my mother-in-law is visiting? Well, she is. And she brought her laptop. After trying unsuccessfully to get it to network with our computer so she can access her internet mail I decided to try using the wireless aspects of our DSL router. It would be a sacrifice, as one we activate that function we can't access the internet through our own home computer. Or so I thought.

It turns out it works just fine, so both our computers are up and running. Then, with a little help from guys at work I figured out how to get my work laptop to access the wireless as well. So now we're all able to use computers without fighting over the internet connection.

I know, that's so "last year". Wireless networks at home are about as exciting as watching Elmers Glue run down a board. Well it's exciting to me!

We're most definitely into Autumn now, and it's glorious. Crisp, clear days interspersed with windy, rainy evenings. It's everything I love about Fall, and it almost looks as if it will stay around awhile.

The kids have built a leaf pile. We have a plethora of pumpkins. I'm wearing jackets to work, but wondering why by the time I come home. It's simply marvelous.

Have I ever mentioned Autumn is my favorite season?

I visited my mother over the weekend. She needed her basement cleaned out so the exterminator can come, so my older brother and I drove over together to help out. It was a good chance to catch up and chat about things. The conversation on the way home got quite serious, talking about some pretty deep stuff and delving into the past in ways we've never really done before. It was downright therapeutic.

I'm having to get used to the idea of my nieces being grownups. They're even acting grown up. Our family dynamic is morphing right before my eyes. I'm not sure what it's becoming or if I should even be concerned. It's just...changing.

I'm still my Momma's little boy. I don't think that will ever change.

More Bad News From Iraq

"As violence falls in Iraq, cemetery workers feel the pinch"

Call your congressman immediately. We must put a stop to this. Oh wait, Iraq is protesting against our congress.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In The Midst of the Mist

We had a hearty rain yesterday, followed by cool temperatures overnight. Authentic Autumn weather. This morning a layer of mist hung over every field and large yard, and I could see a ribbon of fog in the distance where the river runs. Romantic stuff. Too bad I was on my way to work.

I'm getting ready for a trip this weekend. My younger brother has asked me to bring my Babylon 5 DVDs, so I'm cruising through them hoping to get them all watched before I hand them over. My DVD player has a cool feature (probably most do, really) that allows you to watch something at twice the speed and still hear everything being said--most of the time clearly. It makes everything go faster, which is initially unnerving, but not so much that you can't get used to it. Compressing a 46-minute show into 23 minutes really helps you cram a lot of episodes into a single night.

I finished them last night, which may give me a chance to go back and watch a few for the commentary tracks. There are not many, perhaps two or three per season, but I always find the ones by producer/director/writer J. Michael Straczinsky to offer a fascinating glimpse into his mind. The ones with cast members offer some interesting behind-the-scenes views, but not much discussion about the plot itself, which is what grabs me most.

In the mean time, I didn't plan this very well. I don't have Season Three yet, so I guess I'll be taking a bit of a break for awhile.

Book 'Em, Dano!

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader
Book Snob
Fad Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Interesting, though I have to admit that without audiobooks I'd probably rate a lot lower.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Deep Thoughts

Quote for the day:
Some people are like Slinkys. They aren't really good for anything, but they bring a smile to your face when they're pushed down the stairs.