Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Carroll Video

I've wanted to post on the new Jill Carroll video, but honestly haven't been sure what to say. I'm relieved that she is obviously still alive, but the fact she is still in captivity and either in a great deal of distress or being forced to come across that way for the video by her captors makes too much celebration premature. As noted before, I didn't get to know her that well, but it was definitely well enough that if anything happens to her, my mood will probably best be captured by the "No prisoners!" scene from Lawrence of Arabia.

UPDATE: As usual, Natasha Hynes has more links and commentary.

Afghan Opium Update

The recent London Conference regarding Afghanistan's reconstruction discussed one of my favorite proposals, allowingfor the legal production of opium in that nation:
"Reinert says that a number of members of the Afghan parliament are also interested in a new proposal for legislation that would firmly put the licensing of farmers for the legal production of medicinal opium into the antinarcotics law. It should also help the government formulate a means to make that law work.

"Separately, The Senlis Council has also prepared a draft proposal of a bill that would make any eradication policies -- including the damage to the soil done by aerial spraying -- illegal.

"The members of the Afghan parliament who are in London for the donors meeting seem interested in the proposals. One of them is Safia Seddiqi, from Nangarhar Province.

"'This is a very good idea,' she said. 'I am really supporting that, but [only] if the real beneficiaries are the farmers. In Afghanistan the [strongest] party is the poppy traffickers, not the farmers. The farmers are poor people. They are not receiving their benefit from [the poppies]. For example, out of $100,000, they are receiving just maybe $100 or $200. For that reason, in my opinion, we should be very, very careful.'

"Another member of the Afghan parliament is Shukria Barakzai, from Kabul, who agrees that the proposals are interesting. Barakzai was the organizer of underground schools for women during the reign of the Taliban. She stresses that a Loya Jirga should approve the proposed new legislation.

"'They're thinking about 13 million Afghans, [either] directly or indirectly [affected], [for whom] that's the only way [in] which [they would] benefit,' Barakzai said. 'We should build a law for it, but by the constitution we are not allowed to do it, but we can invite our Loya Jirga [to convene], and [it] can change the constitution.'

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Quiz Bowl

I occasionally post Wisconsin high school quiz bowl results here, and am a contract writer and current events editor for National Academic Quiz Tournaments. Today, I finally saw Greg Lindsay's article on quiz bowl for something called The Black Table. It was an interesting piece which quiz bowl players and fans in my readership should check out. One personal blast from the past was learning that back in the day both Lindsay's Illinois team and my own Quincy University crew had the same nickname for NAQT President Rob Hentzel:
"There was a link on the site to a video clip of the impending tournament's announcement. In the clip, three people are seated at a table with buzzers set before them. Hentzel is on the far right right, in a white shirt, repp tie, and wearing his glasses. Back in college, when he was the captain of Iowa State's team and I was on Illinois; I thought he looked a bit like Jesus. It was just his beard and the placidity of his blue eyes, not to mention his habit of wearing shorts and sandals no matter the weather. But he's filled out a bit since then, and his impish sense of humor -- understandable only by those with IQs of 140 and above -- is pushed aside by an amateur gravitas when he's operating in a presidential capacity. In Chicago, he wore a boxy navy blue suit that stood out as several degrees more formal than the prevailing dress code, and some of its stiffness bled into his manner as master of ceremonies. I could tell immediately when watching the clip that this was the mode he was in here."

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hostage Videos

Via Fayrouz, I find (belatedly) this story on how al-Jazeera handles hostage videos:
"Al-Jazeera says it deals with tapes on the basis of news value.

"When tapes come in -- the network rarely says how it gets them -- Al-Jazeera's editors wrangle over what portions, if any, they can air, al-Sheikh said.

"In the case of the bin Laden message broadcast Thursday, the station played only a few minutes of the 10-minute tape, based on what it considered important, he said. The entire tape was transcribed and posted on Al-Jazeera's Web site.

"Tapes of kidnap victims are the most problematic. When they arrive, the station gets in touch with the hostage's embassy and asks a representative to view the tape and contact the family. Only when the family is notified does Al-Jazeera air any footage, al-Sheikh said.

"Even then, it airs only parts that show the victim in 'the most humane light possible,' he said. Al-Jazeera's editorial policies now prohibit it from carrying the voices of kidnappers or their victims.

"Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials have accused Al-Jazeera of airing videos of hostages being beheaded. But in fact the station has never done so. The gory videos have appeared on Web forums used by Islamic militants."

Emir Sabah

Kuwait officially has has a new emir, as former Prime Minister Shaykh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah has taken the oath of office. As noted previously, given his active role in running the country in recent years, Kuwait will probably continue on its present course of liberalism and pro-Americanism, a rather rare combination in the Arab world. Liberal MP's are calling for a new heir to be named swiftly, which shows the obvious continuing importance of the royal family, but even on that score it's worth noting that no one seems afraid of the new ruler's choice. An important sign will be whether he appoints separate people to be Crown Prince and Prime Minister. These two offices used to be joined, and were separated only when Sa'ad became too ill to function. My bet would be that their division will become permanent.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Hamas Victory

The big news out of the Middle East today is Hamas's stunning victory in the Palestinian elections. Although the Muslim Brotherhood is in no way a terrorist organization, this election perhaps resembles Egypt's Parliamentary contests in showing people fed up with corrupt autocracies turning to Islamists as the credible opposition force. The victory in Iran of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Hashemi Rafsanjani probably falls along the same lines, though he was obviously helped by the failure of the Khatami-style reformists. In that sense, I agree with Lisa and Imshin that this was a victory for democracy.

Of course the problem is that Hamas is really not a nice group of people, and they tend to get involved in some rather nasty activities at times. Israel has already announced their refusal to work with the new government, and Mahmoud Abbas has suggested reviving the PLO as a new basis of negotations. I'm not sure the latter idea will lead anywhere, as Fatah obviously lacks the confidence of the Palestinian people, while Israel has been set on a unilateral course for some time now. I also think that Mark Goldberg is right that Hamas may be moderated by the need for development assistance, which foreign powers may not be willing to give to a terrorist organization. So in the long run, this may not alter the overall course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The effects it might have on Palestinian political development are, of course, another issue altogether, one on which I don't have much on which to base an opinion. It is perhaps ironic, however, that exactly one year ago today I wrote this. The concluding sentiment, by the way, is one I still stand by.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Former Emir-in-waiting Sa'ad agreed to resign, but his resignation letter arrived after Parliament had already decided to oust him. This game was played primarily within the royal family, and the MP's even said they were relieved their action didn't matter, but still, it's refreshing and perhaps symbolic to see a democratically elected body constitutionally remove the heir to an Arab throne. There's some question of what this will mean for the rotation of power between the branches of Kuwait's royal family, but that particular issue is beyond me.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Islam in European Thought

In the past, I've recommended Albert Hourani's essay "Islam in European Thought" as a good history of Middle East Studies in Europe and North America. I had assigned it to my Beloit class, and when it wasn't on reserve as I had expected, one of my enterprising students found an on-line copy here. Some of you might find it interesting.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Planned in Tehran?

Apropos of previous discussion of the foreign connections of Palestinian terror groups, Israel is now claiming that Iran funded Thursday's Tel Aviv bombing, and has shared intelligence on the matter with foreign governments, including Egypt. If this is accurate, then it shows that just because evidence suggests Hizbullah may have lost influence in the Occupied Territories, Iran may not have, and planning may be going through Damascus instead of Lebanon. Syria might have an interest in the matter as well, if they think it will give them a bargaining chip in future negotiations of the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee access.

Sa'ad's Health

The Kuwaiti Cabinet has announced they will begin the procedure to establishing whether emir-designate Sa'ad is physically capable of assuming office. You can take that quite literally, too, as one of the concerns is that he may not be capable of saying the oath of office. If Sa'ad is ruled unfit, then chances are the Prime Minister would take his place; he has been the effective ruler for some time, anyway. The interesting thing on a regional basis is that this may be the first time an Arab Gulf state has removed a head of state through a constitutional process with input from the democratically elected Parliament.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Not Just Jill

From the Boston Globe:
"Beginning with the US invasion in 2003, 60 journalists have been killed in Iraq, making it by far the most dangerous place on earth to be a reporter. One of them was Elizabeth Neuffer, foreign correspondent for the Globe, who died in an auto accident in the early stages of the conflict.

"The danger has worsened as journalists have become targets by design instead of happenstance. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that most of the dead are Iraqi, doing their best to find the news in a society riven with violence. The latest casualties reported on the committee website were Mohammed Haroon, a journalist once affiliated with the Saddam Hussein regime, and Firas Maadidi and Hind Ismail, reporters for a prodemocracy newspaper. These journalists, had they lived, would have provided information and shaped opinions that could have promoted peaceful change in Iraq."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Heretic Test

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant




























Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com

(Via Greg Aldous.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Horrid News

From BBC:
"Al-Jazeera television has broadcast a video purporting to show a female American journalist kidnapped in Iraq.

"The video contained a claim that Jill Carroll's abductors would kill her unless all female prisoners in Iraq were released within 72 hours."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Acts of Parliament

Amin Tarzi of RFE-RL has a new report on what the Afghan Parliament has been up to and what it might mean for the country. He identifies populism as body's main political stance, as it has come out against security barriers around foreign interests in Kabul which make life difficult for residents, and may look at alleged NGO profiteering in the country.

Tarzi sets this in the context of a power struggle between President Hamid Karzai and opposition forces in the Parliament, with the distribution of power within the Afghan political framework as the main issue. I'm not sure process issues are what's really driving this, though, as it could be simple factionalism between the Karzai regime and its opponents, with both blocks defined with little regard to ideology.

What's also troubling is what it could mean for Afghanistan's reconstruction. If you crack down on foreign interests, especially in ways that could affect their security, then they will eventually leave. However, Afghanistan still needs a lot of assistance from outside. If NGO's and foreign governments are in some manner driven away, then Afghanistan will be left to fend for itself just as surely as it was in the early 1990's.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Emir of Kuwait Dies

Emir Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah of Kuwait has died at age 79. The leadership situation might be a bit unstable, as the Crown Prince has been in poor health and there have been calls for his ouster.

Health Care

Ezra Klein makes a good point about the politics of health care:
"And if HSA’s are to be the centerpiece of the Bush agenda, we already know who'll lose. HSA's are cost-shifting devices; they redistribute medical bills from employers to employees. And so here’s your lie: Bush is going to focus on health care in 2006 -- that much is true. But he’s only pretending to hear the concerns of voters. In fact, business is upset about health costs and Bush, true to form, is answering their call. The question, politically, is whether he can walk that tightrope. If the electorate ever understands that these programs are actually aimed at hastening exactly the trend they fear, the backlash will make Social Security privatization look like the very softest of setbacks. But if the media decides the policy issues are too complicated to explain, the storyline will be 'Bush addresses health care costs' and the electorate will simply assume he's addressing their expenses, not increasing them. We'll see."

Health care is actually one of my most liberal issues. Normally I admire free markets and the straight business model, but the effeciency of the private sector is something that tends to occur in the aggregate. During periods of transformation such as the current health insurance woes, dislocations can become severe. I believe that in the modern world, health care, like education, is something we should guarantee to everyone, and only an activist government can do that.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The View

This was one of the views from where I lived in Cairo over the summer, and shows the street just before it becomes the October 6 Bridge over the Nile.

Alan Enwiyah

Via Juan Cole, I find Riverbend's tribute to Jill Carroll's murdered translator, Alan Enwiyah:
"He was an electrical engineer- but his passion was music. His dream was to be a music producer. He was always full of scorn for the usual boy bands - N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, etc. - but he was always trying to promote an Iraqi boy band he claimed he'd discovered, 'Unknown to No One'. 'They're great- wallah they have potential.' He'd say. E. would answer, 'Alan, they're terrible.' And Alan, with his usual Iraqi pride would lecture about how they were great, simply because they were Iraqi.

"He was a Christian from Basrah and he had a lovely wife who adored him- F. We would tease him about how once he was married and had a family, he'd lose interest in music. It didn't happen. Conversations with Alan continued to revolve around Pink Floyd, Jimmy Hendrix, but they began to include F. his wife, M. his daughter and his little boy. My heart aches for his family- his wife and children...

"You could walk into the shop and find no one behind the counter- everyone was in the other room, playing one version or another of FIFA soccer on the Play Station. He collected those old records, or 'vinyls'. The older they were, the better. While he promoted new musical technology, he always said that nothing could beat the sound of a vintage vinyl."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Carroll Kidnapping

In comments to this post, I found this read on the situation by a journalist who has worked in Baghdad:
"Ms. Carroll was apparently expecting to meet with Adnan Dulaimi, the head of the Iraqi Accordance Front/Iraqi Accord Front/Iraqi Consensus Front. This is interesting to me because, although I interviewed him when I was in Iraq, it is my understanding that he rarely grants personal interviews. I was able to connect with him via a network of personal contacts and my clear dedication to opposing the occupation and informing the public about a different view of Iraq. It seems to me that she was probably tricked into thinking she had a meeting with Mr. Dulaimi, or was just trying her luck.

"She is the 31st media worker to be kidnapped in Iraq since the beginning of the occupation, according to Reporters Without Borders. Fortunately for Ms. Carroll, few journalists have been killed by their kidnappers. Assuming this abduction turns out to be routine, she should be released within a few weeks, but it may take a few months, as it did in the case of the two French Journalists."

I certainly hope the pattern in the second paragraph holds up. The blogger, Brian Conley, also calls attention to the fact that the situation for Iraqi journalists is far worse than it is for Westerners.

Cliopatra Awards

A virus has distracted me from blogging much this week, but I still want to contratulate the winners of the Cliopatra Awards as announced at last weekend's American Historical Association convention in Philadelphia. It's common for judges of such things to talk about how hard the choice was, and this was no exception for me. In the two categories I helped with, almost every entry deserved to win something, and I thank all the history bloggers for making the internet such an interesting place to procrastinate.

More on the Massacre

Praktike, newly returned to Cairo, has more information on the massacre of Sudanese refugees in Cairo. It seems clear that racism played some role in the intensity of the violence, which as Issandr El Amrani has noted probably had a far higher death toll than was first reported. I imagine a lot of the racism is related to Egypt's poor employmeny situation and the perception that the Sudanese will take jobs, overlain with other stereotypes about Blacks which might float through the Middle East.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Natasha has good links to people who know Jill Carroll. This has really hit me in the gut. At first part of me wondered if it was the same person I met over the summer, even though the likelihood that there would be two young reporters in Iraq with Cairo connections named Jill who had that same general physical appearance were small. But she was so incredibly friendly and outgoing that even my brief and loose acquaintance was enough to provoke anxiety about her fate. Here's hoping for the best, because that's pretty much all I can do.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Jill Carroll

I'm simply at a loss for words, so let me just echo Abu Aardvark.

Terror Connection

Back in 2003, I read a lot of articles about how Iran was funding and and coordinating Palestinian terror groups in the Occupied Territories via Hizbullah. I'd vaguely wondered if that was still going on, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not thus far distinguished himself with restraint regarding the Jewish state. According to Ha'aretz, things may have changed some in 2005:
"In the West Bank, Hezbollah activity appears to have declined recently, as compared to that of Palestinian terror groups. In 2003 and 2004, Hezbollah was the most prominent cause of terror in the territories: The Israel Defense Forces estimates that more than 70 percent of the terror attacks in the West Bank were initiated by the Lebanese group, which provided funding and general instructions for the attacks, most of which were carried out by Fatah and Islamic Jihad...

"Hezbollah has decided to limit its activity in the West Bank. At the moment, the organization is making sure to demand confirmation of terror activity from the Palestinian cells with which it maintains contact. In addition, the Palestinian Authority has discovered that it is easy to 'buy the silence' of terrorists who work with Hezbollah. Many of them - primarily members of Tanzim, which is affiliated with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' ruling Fatah party - crossed over to work for the Palestinian security services in the past year, in exchange for a regular paycheck."

Control of the Palestinian security forces is an important issue which doesn't get enough quality attention in the Western press.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sharon's Importance

This article from RFE-RL has an interesting perspective of Ariel Sharon's historical importance. It quotes Robert Satloff as saying that although he expects Kadima to win the elections and continue his policies, the process will be more complicated without his authority within the movement. This makes Sharon into an interesting case study in "Great Man History." Sharon was not the first person to propose unilateral withdraws from the Occupied Territories, and in fact some of the commentary I've read the past few days credit him with simply being the one who got things done. One can't forget that his policies were popular with large numbers of Israelis, and hence someone else would probably have come along and done similar things in a similar way. This suggests, and I hope it's still okay to say this under the circumstances, that Sharon is not so much an indispensible man without whom Israel will fall as a creation of Israeli politics, and that the Israelis will sooner or later simply create another one to fill his vacuum. His absence will thus be felt mainly in the short term, unless something radical happens before they have the chance.

"Medieval Islamic Civilization"

Right now, I'm in the process of pulling together the details of the course I'm going to be teaching this semester. One decision I've had to make is what to call it. It's still common in higher education to run together "Islamic" and "Middle Eastern" as subject matter. The graduate seminars I take are all "Problems in Islamic History," while the main undergraduate survey is "The Making of the Islamic World." However, one key point we make in those seminars is that the "Islamic" label is a survival from a past age, and may imply a supposition that everything that happens in the Middle East is somehow caused by or part of the religion of Islam, and that by talking about "Middle Eastern" history we start to overcome that.

So why do I call my undergraduate course "Medieval Islamic Civilization?" One reason is that I think the point about Islam's geographic diversity is worth communicating to undergraduates, and that just mentioning it at some point when discussing the basics of Islam doesn't do the trick. You actually have to introduce them to the introduction of Islam in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and other places, and see them as important components of the "Islamic world." This is especially tempting at a small liberal arts college that doesn't have courses in all of these regions, and where this course might be the only exposure to their history for which many students will have the opportunity.

Another is that I think it can be used to make a subtle point about the way we label the world, and how our geographic regions are often modern constructs with little relevance to people in the Middle Ages. I once considered doing a dissertation topic that would have involved Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia, and was struck by the bureaucratic obstacles certain funding agencies had to projects which involved more than one "geographic region." I rather doubt that medieval travellers had a sense that crossing the eastern border of modern Iran thought of themselves as leaving the "Middle East" for "South Asia."

In practice, this labelling doesn't change much of the content, as most regions outside the Middle East won't come up until late in the course, and I still deal with Middle Eastern Christianity and Judaism in almost the exact same way I would otherwise. One does have to be careful about the implicit labelling of, say, a discussion of medieval Arab housing as "Islamic," but I'm willing to deal with that when the time comes. I don't know if I'll do it this way throughout my career, but it feels the right decision for my current situation.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sharon Perspectives

Imshin and Martin Kramer have the two most interesting views of Sharon I've seen today. First from Not a Fish:
"Hanan Crystal, top Israeli political analyst, said something on the radio yesterday about the shame of Sharon coming into office so late in life and for such a short period. He was echoing my sentiments exactly. For although Sharon has been a major political figure for years, until very recently he wasn’t in control and therefore he was always making a lot of noise and doing controversial things to attract attention. Once he was prime minister and it was all up to him and him alone, he changed his tune. We discovered that his lack of fear and his ‘bulldozer’ quality that was so derided, disliked, even feared before was really what we had needed all the time."

And on Sandbox, a post I really can't excerpt effectively, so go read the whole thing.

It seems he'll be remembered in Israel primarily for his style as much as his substance, which changed a lot depending on circumstances and what he saw as the demands of the times. The not-really-eulogies (because he isn't actually dead at the moment) remind me of American writings about Harry Truman, though with a sense of unfulfilled promise unusual for a man in his late 70's.

UPDATE: Jonathan Edelstein is also worth reading. Here's a key paragraph:
"But there's more to it than that. Israel itself is a nation that was born in blood; it has sometimes been brutal and, like all nations, it has committed crimes. Yet Israel is also the realization of a dream, and its history has been marked with achievements, grand gestures and limitless promise. These things, glories and crimes together, add up to something I love. And in the past two years, it's become clear how much Sharon's story was Israel's - that of the old warrior who was there from the beginning but ultimately realized the sacrifices that had to be made for peace. Maybe this was the reason that Sharon was able to push through a necessary measure that the people wanted but that was opposed both by a politically influential minority and by the mythology that the settler movement had created around itself. And maybe that's why the thought of him departing from politics in this way leaves a hole in the heart of even a confirmed leftist like me."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Comments on Sharon

My comments on the crisis springing from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke are here. As an aspiring traveller to Israel, I watch this with a bit more personal attention than I might have a year go.

Publishing Statistics

Gulf News reports that Bahrain publishes more books per capita than any other Arab country. Also, most of these are not on religion, as opposed to the rest of the Arab world, where it sometimes seems like religious works comprise an outright majority of what lines the bookshelves. The article doesn't go into it, but I expect the island nation's high literacy rate is obviously related to this production.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Matt Bruce apparently googled for me hoping to learn something about qanat. He should come back a year or so, as they actually figure into my dissertation. The qanat system was the underground irrigation system of ancient Persia. Of more interest to me is the falaj system found in Oman, and also probably of Persian origin. J.C. Wilkinson used the archaeological remains of the aflaj as sources for medieval Omani social history, and there's some literature dealing with falaj construction that naturally refers to aqnat. (Is that the right plural? I just realized I don't know, and it's not in Hans Wehr. I haven't seen primary sources on this.)

Americans Abroad

Hugo Schwyzer lays out his attitude that Americans abroad should be cautious about criticing their country, comparing the situation to a family member airing dirty laundry before outsiders. This is not a perspective I share. When I travel overseas, I am conscious of being an American, and to be honest I generally regard it as a good thing. I'm proud of my country and its values, and believe that regardless of the headlines of the day, it does more good than harm, especially when you take into account its mere existence as an idea that inspires others. However, I also admit it has flaws, and I'm not afraid to discuss them with individuals I meet overseas. When I meet a human being anywhere in the world, I treat them all with respect as individuals and not as nationalities. I refuse to treat a friend or colleague in Egypt any differently from one in Michigan.

In practice, however, I'm usually not a rhetorical firebrand. In fact, what I'm most interested in is usually not representation of myself but seeking to add a perspective to the discussion. In the United States, this usually means I'll speak up about the Arab views on, say, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to people who have never been exposed to it. In the Middle East, which is the only region I've travelled in extensively, I usually wind up explaining the perspective of Bush supporters to people who already have a long list of grievances against our current foreign policy. I guess you could say I never quite leave behind the professor out to challenge students' pre-conceived notions, and to be honest, I wouldn't have it any other way.


After a hiatus, Maryam, aka Umm Yasmin, has returned. She already has posts here, here, and here. Welcome back, and glad everything worked out well!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Firefly/Serenity (Spoiler Review from 3rd Paragraph)

(SHORT TAKE: The best science fiction film of the year follows up on a TV show that died too soon.)

While I may have seen a TV commercial in passing during Firefly's brief 2002 run, I only learned of it during the lead-up to September's release of the movie Serenity, and saw my first episode during a Sci-Fi Channel marathon. That episode, "Our Mrs. Reynolds," didn't blow me away, but did give what proved to be an accurate impression of a shiny series with tremendous possibility.

To an extent, this was in the set-up itself, which involved a 'verse divided into haves and have-nots, and with a ship of petty criminals for its heroes instead of the standard military crew of a starship or space station. The richest area of Firefly, however, was its characters. I've only seen about eight of the show's 14 filmed hours, but already you had the interesting plotline of the Tam siblings, Book's mysterious backstory, Inarra having curious taste in transportation, a captain and second with military history, a young female mechanic whom I can't think of a good word to describe, a Jayne who could challenge Snape in the morally ambivalent department, and Wash taking the same poking-fun-at-the-story from within role Han Solo had in the original Star Wars. There were so many potential stories with these people alone, not to mention the few recurring villains we got to see and any other twists that might have emerged out of the writers' imaginations.

Whatever may happen in the future, Serenity was a worthy continuation - and if need be, conclusion - to the saga of Mal Reynolds and his crew which tied up most of the threads that had been thus far developed. It was a film that took this band of hired hands and runaways and showed them decisively as a united family struggling to survive in a realistic world where people are less than the Star Trek "evolved humanity" ideal. This came into focus when Mal announced they were going to reveal the secret of Miranda, but was the clear direction when he instinctively took River back to the ship after the bar incident and The Operative's use of their shared history from the TV show caused them to reunite with characters who had drifted away in search of secrets which affected them all.

Those secrets touched on the core premises of the Firefly/Serenity storyline, dealing as they did with issues of choice and the dangers of trying to force the flaws out of human nature. Traditional views of heroism are turned on their heads as the band of petty theives who care mainly about themselves unequivocally become the good guys in relation to those who idealistically want to improve humanity according to their own conceptions. (I think Isaiah Berlin would be proud.) Mal finds the moral imperatives he tried to turn away from after the war, while the others, without undergoing questionable character alterations, put themselves on the line willingly under his leadership. And in the end, the battle is won not through battle, but through ideas, as telling the truth proves more valuable than killing the other side, an other side that you could justly say just has a different point of view.

In the course of these events, a number of characters found what could be satisfying resolutions (such as Wash proving his heroic mettle), even as the final image of Serenity blasting off with the crew ready to go and River and Mal philosophizing at the helm leaves hope that we will see these guys again someday. Given the overwhelming quality of Whedon's creation, I can only hope that whoever is responsible for its ratings and box office difficulties consider falling on their swords, or at least cutting its rights loose to surer hands.