Saturday, May 16, 2009


I admire, and more importantly, enjoy, Joss Whedon's work as the creator, producer and writer of television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Beside being a humanist, atheist, and avowed feminist, Whedon is one of only a handful of television writers who genuinely seems to understand the potential of using fantasy and science fiction to ask Big Questions as they relate to human conflicts and aspirations. When I heard that he had a new series coming out in February (alas! on Fox!), I marked it on my calendar, planning for the rare opportunity to watch a program in real time.

"Dollhouse" [Fridays at 9pm] follows Eliza Dushku as a character designated "Echo," formerly a troubled young woman named Carolyn, who has been coerced into "volunteering" to lease out her body for five years in exchange for having her difficulties resolved. She is only one of many "Dolls," men and women kept in self-contained "Dollhouses" hidden throughout the world, where they are hired out as highly-skilled mercenaries and fantasy performers for those who can afford their high-priced "engagements."

Just how do they obtain their extraordinary talents, ranging from hostage negotiator to catburgler, personal porn star, or surgeon? Topher Brink, played in full geekdom by Fran Kranz, operates a technology that imprints amalgams of recorded personalities and talents into the mind of the Doll, transforming them into "Actives" who carry out the assignments for which they have been hired, transactions brokered by the house martinet, Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams). Each Active is supported by a Handler (Harry J. Lennix plays Boyd Langton, who oversees Echo) who monitor and safeguard their charges until it is time for their next "treatment" to revert them to Dollhood.

And there's the rub: in order to imprint the matrix of a new persona into a brain, the pre-existing mind must be "hollowed out." The body's original mind and personality is recorded onto a storage Wedge, and nothing is left in the Doll but a vague child-like personality that can perform basic living functions and obediently follow directions until a new personality and skill set is electronically imprinted in them.

But is the mind all that makes one a person? What about "the soul?" What about one's lifetime of habits that help define who we are? Are these, too, erased? Whedon suggests, perhaps not... and what then?

I understand that developing such a concept takes time. It is particularly difficult to introduce us to, and help us empathize with, characters who can be multiple characters. There is back-story to be hinted at while on-going storylines, such as a rogue FBI investigation by Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, recently of "Battlestar Galactica"), develop. But I admit that I was less than taken with the series after the forth episode, and was composing a blog entry titled "Damning with Faint Praise." It struck me as "Charlies Angels" meets "Total Recall." Fortunately, the elements came together in a critical mass in the fifth episode, and I was hooked.

So many questions are raised. Are there conflicts between ingrained ethical habits and a superimposed persona? What happens if the amalgamated personality is repeatedly imprinted; does it leave its own tracings? Can one cheat death by the recording and re-imprinting of one's personality? What happens if there are multiple imprintings? Is this schizophrenia, or the "Abomination" of the Bene Gesserit's Ancestral Memories in Frank Herbert's "Dune" series? Or are they √úbermenschen on their way to Godhood? And, what of the command of the technology itself? Can one "volunteer" to be a slave? So many engagements appear to be hedonistic ego-gratifications, little more than skilled prostitution; yet the Dollhouse creators claim that they also "do good," and that the revenue is important to... more important goals. Oh, we have heard those excuses before!

The first season of twelve episodes has come to its conclusion, but I understand that "Dollhouse" has been renewed for a second season. I look forward to the mysteries-within-mysteries, and ascertaining the fate of "the ghost in the machine." This one will be added to my DVD collection, one more way that I say, "Well done, Mr. Whedon!" This is a series that I wish to share.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

on Memory Lane

Yeah, we all come here eventually.

The weather is just so, and we've had the precise amount of melancholy, nostalgia, or other intoxicants, or are otherwise seized by a transport of rapture, and the reality laid out before us is fused with the images of memory. We may revel, we may mourn, we may, Spock-like, reflect that it's "Fascinating." But we will inevitably arrive there.

We humans bind time and encode it in symbols. This is what we do, and why we're here.

My olde college towne, just down the road from my home; that vacant lot was filled, that store was reincarnated, once, twice, thrice, and more; it's just an empty space, subject to temporal imagination.

The breeze blows lightly, drying the week's rain, and the stone memorial bench on which I sit is inscribed with the names of people whom I'd met, but who are no more.

That's how it goes, isn't it?

There is a Zen parable that reads:
A rich man asked a Zen master to write something down that could encourage the prosperity of his family for years to come. It would be something that the family could cherish for generations. On a large piece of paper, the master wrote, "Father dies, son dies, grandson dies."

The rich man became angry when he saw the master's work. "I asked you to write something down that could bring happiness and prosperity to my family. Why do you give me something depressing like this?"

"If your son should die before you," the master answered, "this would bring unbearable grief to your family. If your grandson should die before your son, this also would bring great sorrow. If your family, generation after generation, disappears in the order I have described, it will be the natural course of life. This is true happiness and prosperity."
It does indeed give me comfort that the Wheel turns, that Winter has given way to Spring and promises Summer. I anticipate the respite of the Fall after the efforts of the Summer, and the rest that is promised with the following Winter. It will all come around again.

There will be others, on this spot, in their time, their here, their now. Our Shades may linger for a time. But let them fade in the clear sunshine. Let them be naught but echoes and briefly-glimpsed images.

May the distant-worlds in which we may not live bring a smile to our face, but let no regret crease our brow. This is as it should be. This is the slow growth of the generations and nigh-holy evolution. Secure your spot, if you can.

We are but one note in the Symphony.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Simple Things

Back in January I accompanied a client to a local small-town food bank and was appalled. Not at the facility, nor the all-volunteer staff. The program also serves as a referral center for all manner of social needs, for housing, for public grants, for drug- and emotional crisis intervention. It's all good.

No, I was taken aback by the level of need, and the paucity of available resources. The staff having to ration one box of macaroni and cheese for a family of four; having to distribute quite possibly intact, but certainly unsellable crushed boxes and deeply dented cans. The apparent incapacity of the clientelle, with poor hygiene, tattered clothing, bad teeth, and desperately limited understanding of how to independently manage resources to better their situation. The people who the Elite declare need to "get a job" and "pull themselves up by their bootstraps."

I am not living particularly high on the hog and must sometime carefully juggle my family resources. But, as Martina McBride sings:
And here I am in my clean white shirt
With a little money in my pocket and a nice warm home
and I'm keeping my needs covered, and can pretty regularly satisfy my modest wants. I am thankful for the advantages I have due to a whole train of good fortune over my 56-years, despite some seriously foolish moves on my part. I ain't hurtin.' So I decided to do a simple thing, one that really doesn't require that much time, or effort, or expense, on my part.

Every week when I go grocery shopping, I spend five dollars on some extra food. I try to be careful, mix 'n match stuff that can stretch. A box of pasta, jar of marinara, big can of green beans. A big jar of peanut butter, and a matching jar of jam (most food banks seem to have plenty of three-day old bread). A bag of rice, a can of beans, and one of corn. A couple of tins of tuna fish, or stew, or even Spam. The photo above is one month's collection, five dollars a week casually tossed into my shopping cart.

And, once a month, I take it to that food bank in a box. You know, it would be a whole lot easier just to drop a $20. bill on them every month. But that would also be insulating myself from the unpleasant reality, those empty shelves, those frustrated people not sure how they're going to make it to their disability check not due for three days yet. There's a reason to be doing something like this other than personal satisfaction.

There is need.

I'm no hero, here. Again, it's a simple thing I am doing, well within my means. I can burn five bucks a week on a microbrew, and may have several at that. But, if a dozen people were to do this, cutting out the middlemen and the time that the small pool of staffers would have to spend shopping, how many would we feed? If we bought a few packages of basics t-shirts, briefs, and socks a month, how many would we clothe?

Just before I sat down to blog this, I found the following quote, and I think it says it neatly and concisely, and it rings true every time I read it:

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

- President Barack H. Obama

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

is Alive and Well

Sometime you just need to let the pixures speak for themselves.

Hey, you know something people?
I'm not black
But there's a whole lots a times
I wish I could say I'm not white

Frank Zappa "Trouble Every Day" (1966)

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