M$ Profits Up

Iconic computer firm Microsoft has reported far higher than expected profits, helping to restore investor confidence in the battered technology sector..

The figure, released after the close of stock trading in New York on Thursday, was more than double the $1.28bn in profits that the firm reported in the same period last year.

I guess this just goes to prove that the ends really do justify the means.

Season 4: No Surrender, No Retreat

It was the year of fire… the year of destruction… the year we took back what was ours. It was the year of rebirth… the year of great sadness… the year of pain… and the year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed. The year is 2261. The place: Babylon 5. – Lennier, Zack, G’Kar, Lyta, Vir, Marcus, Delenn, Londo, Franklin, Ivanova, Garibaldi, Sheridan

The Shadow War is at a standstill as 2261 begins. Ancient, implacable enemies, held at bay by races long dead or departed, the Shadows were no more than legends to most of the younger races.

All that changed in 2260. The Shadows, awakened years earlier from a millenium-long slumber on their ancestral home of Z’ha’dum, gradually made their presence known, and their purpose became clear: weeding out the weak and defenseless among the younger races to promote rapid evolution. Moving largely behind the scenes, they set the younger races upon one another, causing wars and inciting genocide. The Shadows are the embodiment of the question, “What do you want?” They seek not military victory, but philosophical dominance, a universe in which younger races scramble madly to attain their goals without regard for the consequences. Such an environment demands chaos, and it’s chaos the Shadows have so effectively brought upon the major races.

When the other First Ones departed for reasons of their own, the Vorlons were left behind to oppose the Shadow philosophy. If the Shadows represent chaos, the Vorlons are lords of order: they seek the same outcome, the advancement of younger races, but on their terms, whether their charges like it or not. The Vorlons prefer to ask the question, “Who are you?” It is a question that leads to introspection and spiritual growth, but not to expansion or scientific advancement.

Unfortunately, the struggle between the two philosophies is played out not among the ancients, but among the younger races, unwitting pawns in a game few yet realize is being played.

The Earth Alliance, headquartered in Geneva, is led by President Clark. Clark came to power with the help of the Shadows and the Psi Corps, a Shadow-dominated agency created to control the telepathic talents planted furtively in the human gene pool by the Vorlons. ISN, a blatant propaganda machine, controls the flow of information to the citizenry and the outside world. Political dissent is stifled by an Orwellian agency called the Night Watch. Passage to and from the Earth Alliance is difficult thanks to the imposition of strict martial law, ostensibly to protect humans from alien influences that might spark another devastating war. So far, Earth has largely stayed out of the Shadow War; Clark’s extreme xenophobia hasn’t led him to strike out against the other races. Rumors of a resistance movement persist, but so far they’re nothing more than rumors.

Until recently, Babylon 5 was an outpost operated by the Earth Allance, built with the aid of a few alien governments. Captain Sheridan declared independence in mid-2260 in opposition to Clark’s totalitarian policies. By continuing its function as a remote outpost used by a multitude of species, B5 has been able to maintain its autonomy from Earth, though with autonomy has come the isolation of most of B5’s crew from their families and friends back home. With the war against the Shadows out in the open, the station has served as a base of operations, a gathering point for those who oppose the Shadows: the Vorlon-inspired Army of Light.

The Rangers are the core of the Army of Light. Made up primarily of humans and Minbari, the Rangers were formed to gather information and perform covert operations to undermine the work of the Shadows. The Army of Light as a whole is composed of the Narn, the Minbari, and various minor races, all of whom feel that the Shadows must be opposed at any cost. By implication, they side with the Vorlons, and in fact the Vorlons have encouraged the Army’s formation, contributing tidbits of advanced technology toward the construction of the White Star Fleet of warships.

An old, highly spiritual race, the Minbari are humanoid with exterior bone crests on their heads. A thousand years ago, the Minbari fought the Shadows alongside the Vorlons, and came to trust the Vorlons implicitly. Minbari society is divided into three castes: Warrior, Religious, and Worker. After a recent splintering of their political leadership, Minbari society is at an impasse. The Religious and Worker Castes have given their support to the Army of Light, but the Warrior Caste, arrogant and isolationist, resents such involvement with inferior races.

Only a few know that Minbar and Earth have linked histories: a human, Sinclair, the first commander of Babylon 5, traveled back in time to the previous war against the Shadows and delivered a new base of operations, Babylon 4, to the Minbari. Sinclair became a great spiritual leader, the founder of Minbari society and a prophet thanks to his knowledge of future events. Sinclair’s journey opened a doorway between Minbari and humans, and since the last war a thousand years ago, Minbari souls have been slowly reincarnating in human bodies. Upon discovering that, the Religious Caste halted the Earth-Minbari War, a decision still resented by the Warrior Caste.

The Centauri Republic, until recently a declining empire, has allied itself with the Shadows and is enjoying a renaissance of military and political might. The Centauri are even allowing the Shadows to house ships and personnel on their homeworld. The insane Centauri Emperor, Cartagia, believes the Shadows will elevate him to godhood if he cooperates with them. Instead, the pact is likely to leave Cartagia dead and Centauri Prime in ruins. Centauri are mostly human in appearance; men wear their hair in fans whose height indicate social standing, and women have shaved heads.

Once a major power, the Narn Regime was one of the victims of Centauri expansionism, especially humiliating since they were unwilling subjects of the Centauri Republic a hundred years ago. Under the leadership of former ambassador G’Kar, now living in sanctuary on Babylon 5, the Narn are assisting with Babylon 5 security and acting as footsoldiers for the Army of Light. Narns have a reptilian appearance and are easily provoked.

Season 3: Point of No Return

The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. It failed.
But, in the Year of the Shadow War, it became something greater: our last, best hope… for victory. The year is 2260. The place: Babylon 5. – Commander Ivanova

Babylon 5 has failed in its mission. War has erupted, and is quickly pulling all the major races in.

The Earth Alliance is in charge of the station and the surrounding space. The corrupt administration of the EA, led by President Clark, has connections to the sinister activities of the Psi Corps, a government agency that tracks and trains human telepaths and increasingly seems to be running the government rather than serving it. An Orwellian agency called Night Watch is stifling any signs of dissent, carting people off to be reeducated if they don’t cooperate. Earth has taken a questionable stance by allying itself with the expansionist Centauri Empire, hoping to save its own skin by allowing the Centauri to roll unhindered over the lesser races Earth once saved. Babylon 5’s commander, Captain Sheridan (pictured here,) along with a small group, is working to covertly wrestle control away from the current administration, bolstered by evidence that President Clark was directly involved in the assassination of his predecessor.

The Centauri Republic, only months ago a fading empire, is currently on an expansionist path. A deal with unknown forces enabled Ambassador Londo Mollari (pictured) to regain some of their past glory. It seems only a matter of time, though, before the deal runs its course and the Centauri find out its price. In terms of appearance, Centauri appear human at first glance, though that’s deceptive. Women shave their heads; men wear their hair in fans, with length indicating social standing. The Centauri Emperor is a puppet, completely under the thumb of several royal houses who have risen to ascendancy with Londo’s help.

Once a major power, the Narn Regime has been recently conquered in a brutal assault by the Centauri, especially humiliating since they were unwilling subjects of the Centauri Republic of old. Former ambassador G’Kar, one of the few who knows that the Centauri aren’t working alone, leads a resistance movement from Babylon 5, but his chances of reclaiming his homeworld seem slim. Narns have a reptilian appearance and are easily provoked. The strict new rules imposed by the Centauri (including the death of the killer’s family if any Narn kills any Centauri) have forced them to move carefully.

Once an adversary of Earth, the Minbari Federation has continued to show interest and friendship with humanity, though how long that will remain the case is uncertain. The balance of power in the Minbari ruling body, the Grey Council, has shifted in favor of the warrior caste, many of whom are none too happy about the surrender to Earth twelve years earlier. (Only the Council and a few outsiders know that the war was ended when the Council discovered that some humans carry Minbari souls.) The Minbari have been a major power for well over a millenium, and were instrumental in the defeat of the Shadows when they last rose up a thousand years ago.

Very little is known about the Vorlon Empire. The Vorlons are an ancient race, the last remaining member of a group of elder races known as the First Ones who ruled the galaxy millions of years ago. The Vorlons have visited the lesser races for eons, possibly manipulating many of them for their own purposes. The fact that Vorlons appear as holy figures of legend to the few onlookers who see them outside their encounter suits — different figures to different observers, no less — seems to support that. The Vorlons are ancient adversaries of the Shadows, and it’s to help wage war against them one last time that the Vorlons remained behind when the other First Ones went away. They are able to project images into people’s minds, no doubt part of the reason for their subjective appearance.

The Shadows are a dark power, ancient beyond even the Vorlons. They have fought fierce wars against the First Ones across millions of years. The last Great War against the Shadows was ten thousand years ago; after that, perhaps thinking the Shadows destroyed, most of the First Ones departed. A thousand years ago the Shadows rose again, and were defeated by an alliance of the few remaining First Ones and others, including the Minbari. Now, with no First Ones other than the Vorlons to oppose them, their victory seems certain; what their ultimate goals are, nobody knows, except perhaps their human representative, Morden (pictured.) The Shadows generally choose to make themselves invisible, though some can sense their presence anyway.

The Rangers are an underground “army of light” formed to gather information and perform covert operations in the war against the Shadows. Organized with the help of Delenn, Sinclair (former Babylon 5 commander and current Earth ambassador to Minbar) and Sheridan, the Rangers have pledged their lives to fight the coming darkness. Rangers are identified by a pin which depicts elements of human and Minbari appearance.

Babylon 5’s original mission of peace may have failed, but it has become something greater: a chance for victory. The alliances formed against the Shadows are recent, though, and the players may not be ready to win the war. Meanwhile, the Earth goverment back home seems to have its own agenda, and will likely not be of any help in the fight against the darkness.

Season 2: The Coming of Shadows

The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. A self-contained world five miles long, located in neutral territory. A place of commerce and diplomacy for a quarter of a million humans and aliens. A shining beacon in space, all alone in the night. It was the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind…the year the Great War came upon us all. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5. – Captain Sheridan

Babylon 5’s mission appears increasingly hopeless. After nearly two years of operation, everything is changing for the worse. Though Babylon 5’s mission of peace continues, war appears to be imminent, and there is a dangerous new power in the galaxy that few even suspect exists. Amid the heightening tensions, the complex relationships among the major powers are shifting in unpredictable ways.

The Earth Alliance is in charge of the station and the surrounding space. Its president was recently killed in an “accidental” explosion. His successor seems to be taking the goverment in a sinister direction. President Clark is connected with the Psi-Corps, an organization responsible for the tracking and training of human telepaths; increasingly, though, the Corps appears to be meddling in Earth politics, pursuing its own agenda. Evidence that the last president’s death was not an accident isn’t being taken seriously. Babylon 5’s first commander, Sinclair, was abruptly removed from his post and sent to the Minbari homeworld. The new commander, Captain Sheridan, has his work cut out for him; keeping the peace has never been more difficult.

Once an adversary of Earth, the Minbari Federation has continued to show interest in and friendship with humanity. Over the past year, a few have discovered why: the Minbari religious caste believes that some humans are carrying reincarnated Minbari souls, a discovery they made on the brink of victory over Earth eleven years earlier. The abrupt cessation of the Earth-Minbari War was a direct result; Minbari have a strict moral code against killing others of their kind. Minbari are humanoid, bald, with pale skin and bone crests on their heads.

The Centauri Republic, long considered a fading empire, seems to be on the upswing, thanks to a deal that Ambassador Londo Mollari struck with a mysterious race he knows next to nothing about. Centauri women are bald; men wear their hair in peacock-style fans whose length indicates the wearer’s social standing. The Republic is rife with political intrigue and backstabbing.

Among those formerly under Centauri domination are the Narn, a reptilian-looking race who fought off their oppressors in a century-long war of attrition. The Narn Regime has been building up its military, and it looks like that preparation may pay off, as the Centauri have gotten aggressive again and there may be more conflict ahead. Only Narn Ambassador G’Kar believes that somebody else is responsible for the Centauri’s military flexing and that more races than the Narn are in danger.

Even though the Vorlon Empire has had a representative on Babylon 5 for a year and a half, almost nothing is known about his race. Ambassador Kosh seems to be taking an interest in Captain Sheridan, but Kosh’s interest in humans is still shrouded in mystery. The Vorlons are an extremely powerful race; no expedition into their space has been heard from again. There seems to be some history between the Vorlons and the Minbari, but neither one is willing to say what it is.

The Shadows are a strong and dark power who are clearly not interested in being discovered. Only those who pay attention to prophecies suspect they may have returned after a centuries-long absence. Through their human agent Morden (pictured here) they have offered to help Londo restore the Centauri Empire’s glory… but clearly that’s only one step in their larger plans.

Much has been resolved since Babylon 5 went online, but many more mysteries and problems remain. Who are the Shadows, and what do they want? What is going on back on Earth, where a new administration seems to be playing some dangerous games? How will Londo deal with his newfound power as he moves aggressively to recapture the Centauri Republic’s former glory? Babylon 4 reappeared briefly, in the process of being pulled forward in time by a future version of Commander Sinclair to act as a base of operations in a great war; when will that happen, and how will it end?

Bowling for Columbine

Roger Ebert reviews Michael Moore’s newest film.

Noting that we treasure urban legends designed to make us fearful of strangers, Moore notices how TV news focuses on local violence (“If it bleeds, it leads”) and says that while the murder rate is down 20 percent in America, TV coverage of violent crime is up 600 percent. Despite paranoia that has all but sidetracked the childhood custom of trick or treat, Moore points out that in fact no razor blades have ever been found in Halloween apples.

I’m glad he included this little factoid. I’ve been trying to tell people for years that we’re safer now than we ever have been, but nobody believes me. A friend of my daughter’s just the other day said she wasn’t going trick-or-treating because she was afraid of razor blades! Unbelievable!

The movie is rated R, so that the Columbine killers would have been protected from the “violent images,” mostly of themselves. The MPAA continues its policy of banning teenagers from those films they most need to see. What utopian world do the flywheels of the ratings board think they are protecting?

Isn’t that pathetic? This movie, a documentary about violence in our society, is rated R, and yet “Mission Impossible 2” was PG-13!?!?!?!?! That’s just plain warped.

Spam Messages from the OS?

Spammers have co-opted an administration feature in Microsoft’s Windows operating systems and are using it to bring up intrusive advertisements on Internet-connected computers.

The feature, known as the messenger service, typically lets a network administrator send warnings to users when, for example, a server is scheduled to go down for maintenance. Now some advertisers are using it to send bulk messages to anyone connected to the Internet with an accessible address.

You just gotta love well designed operating systems like this… NOT!

What About Carla Howell?

As the “Libertarian” candidate for governor, nobody really takes her seriously… that is, until they really try and understand what she has to say.

She sought out area Libertarians and attended party meetings on health care. In 1995, Howell went to her first Massachusetts Libertarian convention. She read works by Harry Browne and David Bergland, Libertarian Party leaders and presidential candidates. The next year, she again attended the party’s state convention and this time, the broader Libertarian philosophy clicked.

*I saw a pattern,” she said. ”Big government didn’t work – whether it was guns or health care or education – it just didn’t work.*

I think I’ve seen the same pattern. The more government we have, the less we have.