Archive | February 18, 2010

Two-Fisted Tales

A lot of Babylon 5 fans aren’t crazy about the spinoff series Crusade, but I really liked it; I think it’s visually more beautiful than B5 (the effects technology had improved), plus it has two of my favourite characters, the cryptic, melancholy Galen and the lovably obnoxious Max Eilerson.

Galen and Eilerson

Galen and Eilerson

Frustratingly, Crusade was marred by intrusive network micromanagement, and then cancelled halfway through its first season. Here are some of TNT’s actual requests:

Can we lose the makeup on Dureena … and make her an alien by her attitude [instead]?

We’d like to have one of the characters include a sexual explorer, so when they make contact with a new race, his or her job is to go and have sex with them.

We want to see more fist-fights on the bridge.

We’d like to see an episode worked around a wrestler, since wrestling is hot right now.

We think you should give the captain a dog for a pet. [Note: as if any science-fiction show would do that!]

Rather than have the characters work their way out of the problem as depicted, we think it would be better if Captain Gideon arranges to have Dureena compromised so the antagonist will rape her, and Gideon will catch him in the act, and use this as blackmail to get the character to back off his demands.

When show-runner J. Michael Straczynski proved strangely unenthusiastic about these suggestions, the network pulled the plug. (There’s some evidence that these requests were not entirely sincere but were instead simply a way of finding an excuse for cancelling the show; if true, that makes TNT look better in one respect but worse in another.)

Sadly, there is no correct viewing order for the episodes that were produced; the network interfered so much that they completely screwed up the continuity. For example, you’ll see someone use a device in one episode and then invent the device in a later episode, or see two characters as lovers in one episode who suddenly just barely know each other in a later episode.

Because the show had already had a pilot (the Babylon 5 tv-movie A Call to Arms, which ought to be on the Crusade dvd but isn’t), Straczynski didn’t write an introductory episode but just led straight off with “Racing the Night.” When you see it, it’s obvious that it was intended to be the first episode; the characters all say introductory, expositiony things and tell each other stuff they all already know, like “When Interplanetary Expeditions heard that we needed a crack archeologist and linguist, they gave us you.”

Starship Excalibur

Starship Excalibur

But then the network said they wanted some earlier episodes to introduce the characters and break the viewers into the show more gradually. So Straczynski had to go back and make some earlier episodes (including a new first episode, “War Zone,” which begins – at TNT’s insistence – with a fist fight, and in which one of the characters says “we had to make some compromises to get this show on the road,” a coded message that TNT evidently didn’t pick up on).

But the network had also mandated a uniform change for the crew halfway through; so now the supposedly earlier episodes had the characters wearing the supposedly later uniforms. The result is a complete tangle of continuity.

After the show’s cancellation, Straczynski briefly posted three unproduced Crusade scripts – “To the Ends of the Earth,” “Value Judgments,” and “End of the Line” – that revealed where the show had been headed; maddeningly, it was about to get especially good, as well as tying in more closely with two of the main plot threads from B5. When the supposedly uncopyable format in which Straczynski had posted the scripts proved all too copyable, Straczynski yanked them down, but it’s easy enough to find “pirated” versions online. (Hint.)

At any rate – and, at last, the occasion for this post – Straczysnki is finally releasing, via the Babylon 5 CafePress store, first a book titled Crusade: Behind the Scenes (available now) and later, a three-volume set ambiguously titled Crusade: What the Hell Happened (available at some time in the future). These four books together promise to fill in a lot of detail about how the show would have gone (including, but definitely not limited to, those three unproduced scripts).

Colin Ward R.I.P.

Colin Ward disguised as Jimmy Carter

Colin Ward disguised as Jimmy Carter

I’m saddened to learn that Colin Ward has died.

Jesse Walker has rightly called Ward’s Anarchy in Action the left-wing equivalent of The Machinery of Freedom.

Ward may or may not have called anarchy the cement that holds the bricks of society together, but the quote is a nice summary of his outlook – that spontaneous, voluntary, non-hierarchical cooperation is all around us, in the interstices of statist society, routing around authority to get things done.

I Am Property; Therefore I Am Theft

From Tom Palmer a couple of years ago, here’s both an amusing anecdote about neocon ignorance and a helpful miniature bibliography on the history of the concept of self-ownership:

I once heard Irving Kristol dismiss libertarian ideas of property in one’s person as “an invention of some hippies in the 1960s.”

I challenged him to explain his unusual historical claim in the context of documents such as the Decretal of Innocent IV (c. 1250), the writings of Henry of Ghent (c. 1217-1293), the Defensor Pacis of Marsilius of Padua (1324), the writings of Francisco de Vitoria (De Indis, 1524) and Bartolome de las Casas (In Defense of the Indians, 1550), Richard Overton (An Arrow Against All Tyrants, 1646), John Locke (Two Treatises of Government, 1689), and more.

He looked at his wife, the distinguished historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, who shook her head, and charmingly replied that “On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question.”

A Question About the Huntsville Shooting

So the media outlets all seem to be saying that Amy Bishop shot six of her colleagues before her gun “jammed,” whereupon she was “pushed out of the room.”

We haven’t heard what model gun she was using, but don’t most handguns have just six shots? If so, why not assume her gun ran out of bullets rather than that it jammed? Is it that the reporters know more than we do (i.e. that her gun held more than six bullets) or that they know less than we do (i.e. the media’s usual vast ignorance about guns)?

A related question: why didn’t those who pushed her out of the room disarm her first? Weren’t they afraid she might reload and come back?

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