More Serenity 2 Schemes

Late last night (actually early this morning), I posted an entry about the possibility of a sequel to Joss Whedon’s magnificent film Serenity. I offered a few ideas for promoting the sequel.

Today I received the following comment:

Anonymous Universal Executive said…
Duly noted. Thanks for the tips.

October 5, 2007 8:42 AM

Now, I don’t know if the author is actually a “Universal Executive” — hopefully so — but at least somebody managed to find the blog entry. And the comment renewed my excitement. If a sequel is a dream, at least it is a pleasant one. And it has to be a dream before it can become a movie.

I’d like to lay down a possible line of attack for getting the fan base more involved in marketing the second movie. Let us assume that Universal has approved back-to-back filming of Serenity parts two and three. Let us further assume that Universal has selected cool titles, hired outstanding print-ad designers, and planned the promotion of a slick preview. I think the way to go is to release the original movie to television a couple weeks or so before the second movie pops.

So here’s where the fans come in. Universal should schedule major-city screenings of the original film (or maybe even the new film) about two months before the release of the second film. Send out the stars again, just like before. To the extent practical, hand out free tickets to known supporters of Serenity, and sell the rest of the tickets. But here’s the big difference: print out something like a million slick, full-color postcards that feature the new film and its release date. Hand these cards out in stacks and encourage fans to mail or give them away to friends. Heck, I’d gladly spend $50 on stamps to mail out the postcard to my friends. It would be a good way to touch base with people as well as to promote the film. Also have available for sale T-shirts that feature the film and its release date. And make it easy for fans to buy (or download) these items.

So, Universal, as good as you’ve been about Serenity, “I’m asking more of you than I have before.”

Schwartz Advocates Free Market in Medicine

Brian Schwartz continues to speak out as voice for liberty and free markets in medicine.

David Montero quotes Schwartz in an October 5 article for the Rocky Mountain News.The subject is a meeting of October 4 sponsored by the 208 Healthcare Commission.

Montero closes his article:

And at least one speaker, Brian Schwartz, proposed getting government out of health care entirely – calling Medicaid a “failure” and an example of why single-payer won’t work. Instead, he advocated the free-market system.

“Should we have single-payer food and housing?” he asked. “Didn’t we settle that with Soviet Russia and North Korea? Why is health care different?”

Congratulations to Brian! And thank you for speaking out at a meeting stacked with advocates of political force in medicine.

Serenity 2?

Paul Hsieh of Geek Press e-mailed me a story from Cinema Blend that discusses the possibility of a Serenity sequel.

For those of you who have never heard of Serenity, it’s the spectacular sci-fi film by Joss Whedon (now on video) that follows the television show Firefly.

Unfortunately, even though the critics and the fans loved the movie, it performed poorly at the box office (despite my early predictions that it would do well).

Cinema Blend reports, “Serenity was a massive flop in theaters, but could big DVD sales for the box office bombed film be enough to resurrect the franchise? Alan Tudyk thinks so and he’s excited about it, even if his character is dead. … With the film’s box office numbers as bad as they were, it might make sense for the studio to push a sequel out the door as a direct-to-DVD sequel.”

I think the studio should consider the possibility that a sequel could do far better at the box office. The sequel will build on the success of the first movie. More people will have heard about it. And, if the studio is smart, it will market the sequel far better than it marketed the first movie. (I discussed some of the marketing problems previously.) Here are my recommendations for the studio:

1. Take advantage of the enthusiastic fan base! Sell Serenity shirts, hats, etc. at or near cost so that fans will advertise the movie’s release for you. I never was able to find a licensed shirt to purchase. I loved the pre-screenings. But there have got to be more ways to make it easy for fans to advertise for you.

2. Run competent newspaper ads this time. The print ads for the first movie failed to take advantage of the critical success and other selling points of the movie.

3. Pick a more exciting title. When you go to see, say, Star Wars, you pretty much know what you’re in for. I think the title Serenity, as cool as it was for existing fans, turned off others because it sounds like a movie in which a bunch of old people take a boat out on the lake.

4. Bring back Wash, because we love him, and because, as the article points out, Tudyk is an increasingly successful actor. I know, Wash is dead. But how about a video that Wash left for Zoe? (Now if I can just figure something out for Ron Glass…)

5. Joss planned a trilogy. So film both sequels back-to-back. The up-front cost will be higher, but the cost per movie will be lower, meaning more yummy profits in the end.

6. Re-release the original a week or two before the sequel? Or on TV?

(And now I I see the problem with blogs; it’s 3:00 a.m. But Serenity is worth it!)

McSwane Is No Defender of Free Speech

It would be pleasant if more journalists actually understood the concept of free speech. J. David McSwane, the editor of Colorado State University’s Rocky Mountain Collegian, obviously does not understand it.

As a late October 4 article by Erika Gonzalez in the Rocky Mountain News reviews, McSwane published an “editorial” on September 21 that stated “Taser this? F– Bush,” ” with the expletive spelled out,” Gonzalez notes. (While I reserve the right to publish swear words, I choose not to do so as a general matter of policy, which is not to say that I’ll never make an exception.) That’s it — just four words.

If the story were only about a dumb college kid or swearing about Bush, I wouldn’t care. (I’ve sworn about Bush plenty of times myself, though not in print.) But the important part of the story is much more important, as it gets to the heart of the First Amendment.

Gonzalez’s story notes that a CSU board allowed McSwane to keep his job as editor. Here are the two relevant paragraphs from the article:

Although the board said it considered the opinion expressed in the editorial protected by the First Amendment, it also acknowledged the impact the piece has had. …

“We did not do this to capture headlines,” McSwane said last week. “We did this to spark a discussion about free speech”.

Of course the editorial is protected by the First Amendment. Nobody is questioning that. But that has absolutely nothing to do with whether McSwane should have been fired for publishing it.

If McSwane cares to check, here’s what the First Amendment actually states: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” A document by Cornell further explains:

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. … Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief. The Supreme Court interprets the extent of the protection afforded to these rights. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Court as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to Congress. Furthermore, the Court has interpreted, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the rights in the First Amendment from interference by state governments.

Article II, Section 10, of Colorado’s Constitution reiterates this protection:

No law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech; every person shall be free to speak, write or publish whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuse of that liberty; and in all suits and prosecutions for libel the truth thereof may be given in evidence, and the jury, under the direction of the court, shall determine the law and the fact.

Has Congress passed a law censoring McSwane? Has any law been passed regarding the matter? Has any level of any government taken any action whatsoever regarding what McSwane can say or write?

No.

In fact, no one is trying to prevent McSwane from saying anything whatsoever. If he wants, he can start his own newspaper called Taser This? F– Bush, “with the expletive spelled out.” He can start a “F– Bush” blog. He can run off flyers proclaiming “F– Bush” and distribute them to willing takers (provided that he does not violate property rights in doing so). McSwane is perfectly free to wander the the sidewalks endlessly repeating “F– Bush” if he wishes.

But whether any particular newspaper chooses to hire McSwane is simply not a matter of free speech or the First Amendment. There’s just no connection. The fact that many professional journalists have failed to point out this simple fact does not change it.

Ayn Rand explains the matter with characteristic clarity:

Freedom of speech means freedom from interference, suppression or punitive action by the government — and nothing else. It does not mean the right to demand the financial support or the material means to express your views at the expense of other men who may not wish to support you. Freedom of speech includes the freedom not to agree, not to listen and not to support one’s own antagonists. A “right” does not include the material implementation of that right by other men; it includes only the freedom to earn that implementation by one’s own effort. Private citizens cannot [legally] use physical force or coercion; they cannot censor or suppress anyone’s views or publications. Only the government can do so. And censorship is a concept that pertains only to governmental action. (The Ayn Rand Lexicon, page 175)

For CSU’s board even to mention the First Amendment in the context of McSwane keeping his job is bizarre. Apparently that board understands the First Amendment as well as McSwane does, which is to say not very well. (I wonder whether McSwane cried “free speech!” when Imus got fired.)

There is only one way in which free speech is at issue. If the state-subsidized college’s newspaper is in any way subsidized by tax dollars, directly or indirectly, including related faculty salaries and costs of facilities, then McSwane’s editorial violated the rights of free speech of those who were forced to subsidize it against their will. But this problem is inherent in any spending of tax dollars to advocate any idea or expression whatsoever.

And, arguably, when school administrators accept tax dollars, they effectively become agents of the government. Agents of government-funded institutions are subject to Constitutional limitations. So if administrators of a tax-subsidized college try to limit a student’s expression using tax-subsidized facilities, that may indeed raise First Amendment concerns. But does that mean, for example, that a student could parade around in class screaming “F- Bush?” Obviously not. The problem with any tax-subsidized expression of ideas is that it necessarily violates somebody’s rights of free speech. Within the context of tax-subsidized speech, the problem is intractable. (An article by David Hudson illustrates the difficulties of defining rights of expression in the context of tax-subsidized institutions.) The only solution — the only way to consistently protect free speech — is to stop funding schools via the forcible redistribution of resources. A fuller examination of this particular matter would take us rather far afield. For our purposes, I need merely point out that firing McSwane for publishing a four-word, nonsensical, profane utterance in place of an actual editorial would not pose any serious First Amendment challenge. Otherwise, one might as well argue that students have the protected right not to be “censored” with low marks if they squawk like chickens in response to oral examinations. I mean, let’s get serious.

It is no coincidence that some of the same people who invoke the First Amendment in cases where it doesn’t apply also advocate laws that clearly violate the First Amendment. (I am not writing of McSwane here, as I don’t know what his views are.) The “Fairness Doctrine,” more accurately called the Censorship Doctrine, is an obvious example. Campaign laws that outlaw select political speech are another.

But let us leave the matter of free speech and consider whether McSwane should have been fired. Part of me thinks that he’s just a stupid college kid who pulled off a stupid college prank and found himself in the national spotlight, so who cares. God knows I did far stupider things while in college. But, quite obviously, if he wrote such an editorial for any real newspaper in the country, he’d be immediately kicked out the door. I frankly don’t care whether he edits a podunk paper that hardly anybody reads. But if he imagines that his treatment at CSU is remotely similar to what he’ll face in the real world, then CSU is doing McSwane quite a disservice.

Here’s a fun side-note: I went to Westword.com and searched for “f–” (“with the expletive spelled out”). I got 1,000 results. To read my own defense of the right to use the “f word,” see my article of 2003.

Doctors for Corporate Welfare

You wouldn’t hire an accountant to fix your pipes, and you wouldn’t hire a plumber to audit your financial records. When doctors start prescribing huge doses of corporate welfare, it’s clear that they’ve strayed rather far from their calling.

April Washington’s October 3 article for the Rocky Mountain News reports, “[A] commercial was created by the Physician Committee For Responsible Medicine [that] seeks to spotlight contributions from the agricultural industry’s political action committees.”

According to the article, Neal Barnard, president of the group, said, “Senators take millions from corporations that produce bacon, burgers, and other fatty foods. Then Congress buys up these unhealthy products and dumps them on our school lunch programs.” (See the group’s news release.)

The travesty! The injustice! The solution, then, is to roll back federal intrusion in our diet, right? Of course not.

Washington continues, “Between 1995 and 2004, more than $51 billion in federal agricultural subsidies went to producers of sugar, oil, meat, dairy, alcohol and feed crops to be used to fatten cows and other farm animals, according to the physicians group based in Washington, D.C. … The watchdog organization is urging Congress to overhaul the Farm Bill and shift more funding to producers of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables to help combat childhood obesity.”

In other words, these doctors don’t have any problem with federal elites determining people’s diets; they just want to be the ones in control of the purse strings.

The group details the subsidies it doesn’t like on its web page. However, the federal government should not be in the business of subsidizing any agricultural crop or of buying food (excepting military use). The problem is not that the wrong elites are in charge; the problem is that elites are in charge. The money in question rightfully belongs to the people who earn it, and they have the right to decide what food to buy on a free market.

An “Animal Rights” Agenda

I began to suspect that the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has a broader agenda when I noticed that the group’s web page states, “We promote alternatives to animal research.” The group’s archive of news releases includes the following entries:

The Secret to Long-Term Weight Loss Might Be a Vegan Diet, Research Finds: New Study in Obesity Shows a Vegan Diet with Social Support Helps People Lose More Weight Over Two-Year Period than Conventional Low-Fat Diet
(Sept. 10, 2007)

Prostate Cancer Survival Improves with a Low-Fat Vegan Diet, New Study Shows: Levels of Hormones that Feed Tumors Are Lower in Men Who Consume Less Fat and More Fiber
(Sept. 4, 2007)

Nesquik Commercial Voted Most Deceptive Ad in Online “Badvertisements” Poll: Voters Weight In on Dairy Commercials’ Faulty Health and Beauty Claims
(Aug. 16, 2007) …

Doctors Sue University of California Over Animal Welfare Act Violations: Dog and Monkey Experiments at U.C., San Francisco, Under Fire
(July 31, 2007) …

Residents Sue City of Chandler Over Covance Animal-Testing Facility: Seven Local Plaintiffs and Physicians Group Accuse City Officials of Improper Collaboration with Covance, Violating State Open Meetings Act, Failing to Give Proper Notice of Hearings, and Violating City Zoning Ordinance
(July 3, 2007)

Are you seeing any patterns here? PCRM is not exclusively an “animal rights” group, but it certainly is an “animal rights” group.

A quick Google of the group came up with Wikipedia’s entry, which in turn pointed me to an article published August 1, 2004, by The Observer. That publication states:

Beauty and the beasts

Jamie Doward and Mark Townsend
Sunday August 1, 2004

Kevin Jonas understands the media. As well he should. Over the years the president of Shac USA, the American wing of the militant group campaigning to close down Britain’s Huntingdon Life Sciences, has had a good tutor.

As Jonas, 26, himself pointed out at an animal rights conference in Washington recently: ‘I come from the school of thought and from essentially the school of training of Peta – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.’ …

With such deep pockets Peta is able to disburse millions of dollars every year across a global network of interest groups, including the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which opposes animal experiments on scientific grounds and whose members (95 per cent of whom do not have medical degrees) have well documented links with Shac and other militant animal rights groups.

Over the years Peta has given more than $1.3m to the organisation whose research is regularly cited by Shac supporters as scientific proof that animal testing does not work. In 2001 Neil Barnard, the group’s president, joined Shac’s Jonas to co-sign hundreds of letters sent to the bosses of companies involved with Huntingdon, urging them to break their links with the firm.

(The Observer apparently misspells the name “Neil Barnard,” while April Washington spells it “Neal Bernard.” According to PCRM’s web page, the correct spelling is “Neal Barnard.”)

The left-wing SourceWatch also notes the relationship between PETA and PCRM, though SourceWatch downplays the connection:

PCRM does partner with PETA on some issues of common interest, including a campaign to reduce animal use in toxicity testing. However, PCRM has not received any monies from PETA or the PETA Foundation since 2001, and such funding has never been a significant part of PCRM’s budget.

When Fat is Good

As an aside, the PCRM doctors ought not bash “fatty foods.” Okay, they obviously mean foods with high levels of saturated fat. However, the amount of saturated fat in a burger depends on the quality of meat and the method of preparation. Besides, eating even bacon and burgers in moderation can be consistent with a basically healthy diet. And, as I learned, it’s unhealthy to eat too little fat, though unsaturated fat generally is better. For example, almonds are half fat by weight, and they’re listed among WebMD’s “25 Heart-Healthy Foods.” If you eat too little fat, you may suffer severe health problems or death.

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say about fat:

Your body needs fat to function properly. Besides being an energy source, fat is a nutrient used in the production of cell membranes, as well as in several hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids. These compounds help regulate blood pressure, heart rate, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting and the nervous system. In addition, dietary fat carries fat-soluble vitamins — vitamins A, D, E and K — from your food into your body. Fat also helps maintain healthy hair and skin, protects vital organs, keeps your body insulated, and provides a sense of fullness after meals.

But too much fat can be harmful. Eating large amounts of high-fat foods adds excess calories, which can lead to weight gain and obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for several diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, gallstones, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis. And too much of certain types of fats — such as saturated fat or trans fat — can increase your blood cholesterol levels and your risk of coronary artery disease.

FreeColorado.com Update

I’ve just updated the Colorado Freedom Report with three new links:

People can pick a mover without city force
Mayor Jim Doody wants to bring Robert Redford’s “people-mover” to Grand Junction. But Henry Rustler Rhone built a toll road without city force.

$2.57 a day buys food, perspective
My wife and I spent the month of August eating for $159.04, or $2.57 per person per day. Welfare — the forcible transfer of wealth — should be phased out and replaced with voluntary charity.

To help the poor, preserve capitalism

I hope you enjoy the complete articles.

The Coalition to "Do Something"

Chris Barge’s story for today’s Rocky Mountain News states:

Calling itself “Partnership for a Healthy Colorado,” the group emphasized that reform is needed because the cost of caring for the uninsured and underinsured is passed on to Colorado’s insured majority.

The group acknowledged that it had not arrived at any agreement on a proposal for reform, or how to pay for it.

But there was agreement that something must be done. …

“The members of this partnership are diverse and we don’t always agree on everything,” said Amy Fletcher, associate director of the Business Health Forum. “But we’re here to say that, when it comes to health care, something must be done in Colorado.”

Something, anything must be done — except to actually figure out what’s wrong with medical policy and fix it. Various members of the “new” coalition, including the Service Employees International Union, the Colorado State Association of Health Underwriters, and the Colorado Medical Society, have already advocated more political control of medicine.

Yet political controls of medicine — tax distortions that entrench expensive, non-portable, employer-paid insurance, massive tax spending, and reams of federal and state mandates — are what have caused prices to skyrocket and quality to suffer.

In addition, the claim that “the cost of caring for the uninsured and underinsured is passed on to Colorado’s insured majority,” when taken as a broad assertion, is simply a lie. When my wife and I were uninsured, we paid for all of our own medical expenses out of pocket. The article’s claim insults those who pay their own way.

To the extent that the the statement is true, it is true only because politicians have mandated treatment, forced insurance companies to guarantee coverage, subsidized costs, and made insurance so expensive that many workers cannot afford it. But will the “new” coalition advocate the repeal of the political controls that have caused the problem? Obviously not. Instead, I predict, it will urge politicians to force people to buy insurance. Because, in the eyes of such reformers, the solution for failed political controls is more political controls.

Blog Evolution

September 18, 2014 Update: The contents of this post are out of date; I’m leaving the post up for archival purposes. -Ari

I’ve already made a few technical changes to the blog. I turned the column widths into percentages rather than fixed pixels. I added a link for comments. Note that comments will be moderated ruthlessly, as most unmoderated comments that I’ve seen are basically worthless (or worse).

More importantly, though, I’ve decided to narrow the scope of the blog. One of my friends persuaded me that a more focused blog is more useful than one with random comments. Now, the description says, “Notes on politics, religion, and culture.” Granted, that’s still extremely broad. However, I had been planning to include more notes about products, recipes, etc. Now, I’ll include such personal matters only rarely.

The purpose of the blog is to advocate reason based on sensory experience; individual rights, liberty, and capitalism; and life-enhancing values. I will therefore criticize religion, political violations of rights, and cultural problems such as moral subjectivism and nihilism. I am most influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, though I continue to struggle with some of its tenets.

I’m going to try to use the “labels” function to its full effect. I’m going to label every post with one (or more) of five main tags: politics, religion, books, art, culture, and personal. Then I may add additional labels that are more specific. For example, a post about art might be further labeled as movies, music, or fine art. The category for culture is intended as a catch-all for culturally interesting items that don’t seem to fit elsewhere.

So now I think my blog is on track. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning my goals in blogging. First, writing a blog will help me formalize my thoughts about particular issues. Writing for an audience generally demands more rigor than merely mulling something over. Second, I’ll be able to search my own blog as a way to help me remember particular things. Third, I hope to persuade readers. The point, after all, is to facilitate positive cultural change, not merely to complain about what’s wrong. Fourth, I hope that the blog draws readers’ attention to my other projects.

So I’m ready to take the dive…

Welcome to AriArmstrong.com

Welcome to my blog. Even though the blog is new, I’ve been writing for the internet since 1998 via the Colorado Freedom Report. [September 18, 2014 Update: From this date to the present, I’ve moved most of the contents from FreeColorado.com to AriArmstrong.com.] I’ll continue to publish material on that page, as well, and I’ll make a note on the blog about new material there. I literally predate blogs (which I guess makes me an old timer). According to Wikipedia’s entry on blogs, the term “weblog” was coined in 1997, and the term was shortened to “blog” in 1999.

Yet I’ve never been that “up” on the technology. I’m more interested in the writing than in the presentation. It is with no shame that I admit to having learned HTML from one of the Dummies books. So my blog is simple. I’ll improve it over time. I’m open to suggestions.

I started the blog because posting short comments is so easy. Otherwise, I have to load up a template in my word processor, save the file in the correct folder, load up the FTP software, and upload the file. Blogging services automate the process. I’ll continue to use my traditional process with the Report for longer, more formal articles (especially regarding Colorado politics).

My goal is to use the labels to organize my blogs into broad categories. So far these are the categories I plan to cover: Colorado politics, national politics, movies, fiction, nonfiction, music, products, home, health, and blogging. My goal is to post at least one entry every day. So I hope you’ll check back often.