America’s most dire issue, and how to fix it

“When you’re going through hell, keep going.”  – Sir Winston Churchill.

Winston Churchill would be shaking his head at America today.

Forget net neutrality, homegrown terrorists, racial discord, ideological politics, and socioeconomic iniquity for one moment and let’s look at the most basic, fundamental thing that is going wrong in our nation.  We have lost our sense of respect for the individual and appreciation of community.  We have become a nation of labels, colors (ideologically speaking), and slogans.  Rather than focusing on what we can do to create a better nation, we have allowed ourselves to devolve into a collection of non-confederated sides.  “Balkanized” is quite inaccurate; rather, we have become a circular firing squad, shooting each other instead of focusing our collective national and cultural might at common goals.

Ours is a nation which is in the center of its own hell.  We are falling on our own collective faces, refusing to see the foolhardiness of our intolerance and inhumanity.  Rather than lift one another up, we are focusing on how to keep certain segments of our society and nation down.  Instead of combining our efforts towards a common good, we are dividing our abilities and assets in multiple directions, attempting to eviscerate those perceived to be enemies, rather than focusing on healing our collective national wounds.

The “why” is not the issue, nor is the “who.”  What is now the issue is the “how,” as in how can we right this ship before it hits the rocks, because our own ignorance, intolerance, and inability to see the forest for the trees has extinguished the beacon of enlightenment perched upon the precipice.  Naturally, there are those who say this light has not been extinguished, merely obscured.  If so, that fog is pretty damned thick.

What we, as American, fail to remember is that there are no easy answers to anything in life.  Many, especially pundits and radio hosts, like to wax romantically at the “good old days,” talk about how the government was once so small and regulations so few that people could innovate, build vast empires of wealth, and create rags-to-riches stories.  What these folks fail to grasp is the collateral damage involved in these stories and the struggles taken to level the playing field.  Others fail to understand those who created these empires are now also attempting to maintain them, and the lifestyles afforded by them, in ways which run directly contrary to the original intent of the Founders.  Of course, these folks are also co-opting others who, either out of ignorance, fear or hate, have found some form of collective sense of acceptance in ideologies based upon perverted versions of political or theological thought, much of which have been concocted out of a desire by those in positions of power and influence to merely maintain said position for them and their posterity.

Sickening?  Yes.  Real?  Even more so.

Our nation has, indeed, reached a tipping point.  Many of us have refused to act out of a sense of fear, or a simple desire to focus on our daily lives.  This is understandable; most Americans are busy trying to survive, many are just doing their best to keep from falling behind in a landscape increasingly tilted towards those who are capable of quickly and efficiently, through either informal or legal means, acquire more wealth, power, and influence.  The notion of a “New Feudalism” is not the province of conspiracy theorists – it is a clear and present threat to the very fabric of our national vitality, and one which must be confronted directly.

Yes, ISIS is a visceral danger to our nation, as is our national debt, as is illegal immigration, but our collective will to focus our economic and military might is misplaced.  The notions of “giving jobs” to terrorists or achieving “social justice” to create racial harmony are much a song of misguided angels as is the belief that abandoning our own constitution and imposing a theocratic biblical legal system will cure our ills.  The solution lies in a simultaneous evaluation of both our Founders intentions, the struggles our nation endured through its darkest hours, and the innovative potential of our current and upcoming generations.  Rather than embracing the “herd mentality” of red and blue, liberal and conservative, believers and nonbelievers, and the simple black and white of absolutist approaches, we must conceive a new way of thinking.

Pulling our nation back from the brink requires the sort of ideas which abandon the social Darwinism of the current perverse strain infecting both liberal and conservative thought, and a return to classic American ideals which often seem contradictory when viewed on their own, but work symbiotically to create a national identity so envied that many now seek it out for destruction, rather than transplantation.  Those ideals – liberty, community service, national unity, economic and environmental harmony, religious tolerance, and the ever-so-lofty goal of all created equal under God – truly are the stuff of a nation which is a beacon to the world.  We are truly a nation in need of a rebirth of freedom, which must also come with full knowledge of the responsibility that we must allowed ourselves to be both one and together, individuals and community, to create a new nation, a reborn nation, which may again be a light of hope to all who grasp for it.

Dee Dawning drops by for “Day One”

Welcome to Books and Blondes




Click here to watch the book blast trailer
Old Man Winter has decided to make yet another layover in Atlanta this week.  Since ice, rain and possible snow are keeping us preoccupied, it’s time to escape into a hot, steamy world with Dee Dawning.  Somehow, she managed to dodge this mess and get us the juice on “Day One.”
The Sensual Awakening Series is an ongoing series of ménage a trois books from Dee Dawning, a longtime writer of erotica and erotic romance. The first three volumes, Jasmine’s Urban Cowboys, Sharing Brenda and Victoria’s Secret Life are contemporary westerns set around the fictional Tawny Hills Ranch near Dallas Texas.
 
The last three books, Playtime with Sera, Naked Research and Fancy Lady & the Desperadoes are also ménage a trois books by Dee Dawning, but in unconnected settings.
 
 

      Book Blast Day 1. Featuring Jasmine’s Urban Cowboys.

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“Fifty Shades” shows how many shades of grey perception really creates

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Saturday night I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey in the theater.  The quality of the theater aside (and it was a nice facility), there is plenty one can say about this movie.  Most critics have panned it, many say it glorifies violence against women, and many in the clergy and the moralist right have criticized it for being a piece of trash.  Speaking from male point of view, my opinion may be somewhat surprising.

Despite a great deal of nudity and sexual situations – including some highly controversial moments – this movie did not arouse me in the least.

Yes, that sounds bizarre, but it is true, and with good reason.  Fifty Shades of Grey, when viewed through a storytelling lens, is the sort of movie you would not expect it to be.  To understand the movie, one must first realize this work originated as a work of fanfiction deriving from the Twilight movie franchise.  One could call it derivative, but that would miss the greater point.  It is a work of fiction oriented towards women, but it has elements to it which men can also find engaging.  As I have not read the book itself, relying instead on inferences made by comments and details from friends who have read it, I will base this commentary entirely from my impressions of the movie itself.

The focus of the movie, as expected, is almost entirely on the central characters, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.  Anastasia comes off as naïve, a hopeless romantic, and somewhat sheltered and intimidated by her male counterpart.  Christian’s vibe is that of the aloof rich kid who has to be in total control of everyone and everything.  Predictability in story is everywhere in this film, but it’s done with a sense of foreboding.  Even through you can see the freight train coming miles away, you are never quite sure of the speed, the cargo, or the destination.  More than a movie with a million twists and turns, this is the sort of storytelling which creates a sense of intrigue.  Like lovers in the throes of passion, you know something stunning and potentially controversial is going to happen when you get to the climax, but you aren’t sure how long it will take, how long it will last, and exactly what your actual reaction is going to be.

For that reason alone, Fifty Shades is a well produced piece of cinema, but there are some matters about the film which have raised eyebrows.  The BDSM element of the story is one which has brought much discomfort to the surface.  This is an element of the story which is strictly lifestyle oriented, and should be viewed within context of the characters’ own development.  Some folks simply like the dominant/submissive approach to sexual relations.  There are folks who consider this to be abuse, but to paint the respective scenes with such a broad stroke of the brush forget that all entertainment are stories, told from the writer’s point of view.  Whether it be it the screenwriter, the author, or someone on the cutting room floor, the film is, in essence, a story with a message, a theme, and an overarching point of view.  Fifty Shades is a prime example of how one’s own reaction is a matter of reality based on perception, and why said reaction can create shock waves among the public.

Somehow, I doubt the author’s intent was to give the reading and viewing public a giant dose of “Shock and Awe.”  Instead, this movie, more than any I’ve seen in my life, is about release and freedom, a need to find one’s confident and sense of self, a liberation from the bonds of the perceptions of what “normal” should be.  Do I wish to be suspended from the ceiling, or use a riding crop on my wife?  Would I derive pleasure from the physical pain of another?  Not at all.  Yet, I can see where, to some, this could be something from which people take pleasure.  While there are many absolutes in this world, there is only one thing in this entire movie which is truly absolute – respecting when someone says “no.”

There are those who consider this movie immoral and evil, but that is an oversimplification.  Even Christian himself prefaces all his interactions with a disclaimer of some sort, be it written, verbal, or nonverbal cues.  For anyone to say this movie does not belong in the cinema for the viewing public runs the risk of being perceived of being the very same control-oriented, domineering personality portrayed in this film.

I have taken great pain to not give away any facets of the movie which could detract from the viewer’s enjoyment.  This would be a great disservice – to that point, I highly recommend people who are, at the very least, curious, see this movie.  It is, in my opinion, an outstanding couples movie.  That said, fair warning:  you may be repulsed, you may be aroused, or you may simply watch with fascination.  Whatever the reaction, Fifty Shades will rouse a reaction of some sort within you.  All that can be asked of anyone regarding this movie is to go into it with an open mind and open heart.

Some Valentine’s Day tips for both men and women

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Speaking from the experience of almost 18 years (granted, not always on my best behavior) of marriage, I would like to offer guys getting ready for the Day of Hearts (or Valentine’s Day) some advice for how to make it memorable, fun and, if you really have a great relationship, passionate as can be.

For the sake of editorial expediency, I will use the common “him” and “her,” but feel free to infer for same-sex couples as well.

Buying a massage is great, but offer to give one of your own.  There is nothing more intimate, more bonding, than the feeling of the hands of one’s lover along your body.  The relaxation this generates is beyond comparison.  The massage need not be powerful, not the sort of deep tissue massage offered by professionals.  A simple gentle touch gets the job done with the same effectiveness.  Enhance the mood with massage oils or body lotions, and candles help too!

If you can’t cook, ordering out is acceptable, but make a nice place setting.  Not everyone has an inner chef screaming to burst forth.  Some people can genuinely burn water.  Still, don’t let that dissuade you from creating at least the illusion of “home cooked” meal.  If you have to order out, do it, but set a nice place setting.  Believe it or not, a simple dinner of mac and cheese with a nice glass of wine and swanky place setting sometimes beats a dinner at a five-star restaurant.

Face it – you aren’t Christian Grey, so don’t bother trying.  Just be yourself.  Trying to be a billionaire wannabe, or a celebrity impersonator, only works if your beloved wants to try out some crazy fantasy.  Rather than trying to make yourself look like Donald Trump or Oprah, just be you.  Dress nice, dress simple, and be classy.  Manners are everything.

Jewelry is all about taste – know the recipient.  Guessing is dangerous, assuming more so.  Don’t guess on your lover’s tastes in jewelry, accessories, etc.  If they have a particular designer they love, aim that way.  If they have particular style which catches their fancy, keep your eyes focused there.  Ask them what they want – you might be surprised how much listening means more than any shiny trinket.

Valentine Day proposals can be the stuff of presentation, as well as breakup, legends.  Yes, Valentine’s Day is romantic, emotional, and fun.  It can be a wild whirlwind for new love, and that alone is the number one reason who it’s the worst possible day to pop the question.  A great day to pop the question is Monday in the evening.  Why?  Simple – Monday is usually the lousiest day of the week for anyone.  If they say “yes” on Monday, it’s likely to last because you asked at the worst possible time.  Valentine’s Day, by comparison, is the day where if your lover says “no,” they look a coldhearted, heartbreaking douche.

If you can’t afford the do anything for Valentine’s Day, keep it simple.  So many couples spend hundreds, even thousands, on a perfect Valentine’s Day.  This is usually followed by fights over money, who spent what, who didn’t think ahead with an eye to the future, etc.  Don’t break the bank showing you love someone.  If that is what’s needed to win the heart, it may be a relationship worth reconsidering.  Nobody should have to buy anyone’s affections.

And finally, one tip which I keep close to my heart every year…

The most romantic things really are free.  A quiet walk, singing together in the shower, playing together with pets, cooking together, and even balancing your checkbook can be fun and romantic if you really want to make them so.  Nobody ever said a relationship is automatic; it takes a lot of dedication and work, and even more listening (we men need a remedial on that one).  If you want to demonstrate affection for your beloved, consider doing something which doesn’t cost, but instead pays off with a feeling of closeness and trust in one another.

I’m not expert, nor am I a saint or guru.  What I am is a very flawed man, whose hope is this can be of help to some people with no idea how to pull off a memorable Valentine’s Day.   So, the flowers are a nice touch, so are the chocolates, but what our lovers really want is simple – an ear to bend, loving eyes to see, and the touch of someone they trust who loves then unconditionally.  After all, unconditional love is the greatest gift we can give each other on this Day of Hearts.

A look at a potential – albeit remote – college merger in Georgia

The merger of Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic State Universities continues as the institutional systems combine into a unified network.  This, along with the proposed merger of Georgia State University and Georgia Perimeter College, represents the latest chapter in what has been a story of change and upheaval within the University System of Georgia.   Of course, with 31 institutions spread out across the Peach State, this now begs the question.

Who’s next?  Look southwest, my friend.

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Cost cutting moves are nothing new in the world of academia, especially higher education.  With several states challenging colleges and universities to become leaner and offer more affordable degree options, Georgia has felt the need to keep pace through consolidations and elimination of duplicating programs.  Much of this change has center on the northern tier of the state, with Atlanta, Augusta and Macon affected by recent combinations.  While two institutions in the southeast region have been combined into South Georgia State College, the southern tier has been largely unaffected.

That may be about to change.

A year or so ago, the Albany Herald reported that Darton State College, one of the largest community colleges in southwest Georgia, may be on the consolidation block.  While there have been rumors swirling about a possible combination of Darton and nearby Albany State University, the challenges of merging a community college with a historically black college (HBC) is cumbersome, at best.  Albany State and its HBC brethren, Fort Valley State and Savannah State, are stalwarts in the University System as far as independents go.  The hornet’s nest liable to be stirred up through consolidation of any of these three schools with a community college makes such an idea both politically and bureaucratically unappealing.  So if the rumor mill begins to turn again, which colleges are the likely candidates?

South Georgia is notorious for its local politics and hometown pride, and its local colleges and universities are no exception.  Two of these schools are the big boys on the south Georgia block:  Georgia Southern and Valdosta State.  Both have relatively influential alumni bases, and both have powerful friends in Atlanta, making absorbing a nearby small school unlikely.  Their relatively broad curriculum offerings leave little room for adding value through combining with other schools – while North Georgia’s creation was largely the result of curriculum value from merging respective schools, the Kennesaw State/Southern Poly merger was the direct result of cost-benefit analysis.  There is no institution within reasonable proximity of either Statesboro or Valdosta offering the same sort of return.

So that leaves four schools in southwest Georgia which could be ripe for consolidation.  Darton State College, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Bainbridge State College, and Georgia Southwestern State University.  Of these four, only Southwestern is at the university level, and would likely become the lead institution.  While nearby Columbus State University could ultimately become part of the equation, that would face serious local opposition, with favors being called in to the Board of Regents.

Georgia Southwestern, conversely, has little pull in the capitol, but still holds enough sway thanks to one very prominent alum of presidential stature – Mr. Jimmy Carter – to keep it from being swallowed whole.  In addition, GSW has had a lot of money invested into it, so any sort of merger would likely come with the stipulation that GSW takes the lead.

A combined Georgia Southwestern would go from being a voice in the wilderness to a rural juggernaut almost overnight.  With a combined enrollment of nearly 13,000 students, such a combined institution would face huge challenges swallowing so many enrollees, but the payoff could be massive.  Increased alumni support, combined with stronger marketing muscle, could transform GSW from a “small town” college into a regional powerhouse, capable of competing for money and students with Valdosta State, Columbus State and even Georgia Southern.   Cities affected could use the university as a marketing device, adding value to their business communities.  Add to that enhancements to its already strong Nursing and Education programs through the addition of experienced faculty, and this merger may be just what the doctor ordered.

Of course, this could be a pipedream, and it could be a total logistical nightmare, but the fact remains – if the system decides another round of consolidation is in order, Americus could become ground-zero for the creation of Georgia’s next major regional university, and – pardon the GSW mascot pun – it could rock the state like a hurricane.

An interview with Bernard Foong, author of “A Harem Boy’s Saga” (Note: Intended for Mature Audiences)

Welcome to Books and Blondes

It’s been a busy, busy week, but as always, we find time for new and emerging authors!  Now that the blonde is brewed, we can settle in and have a chat with Bernard Foong, author of A Harem Boy’s Saga.  Please, bear in mind, some of this material may not be safe for work, inappropriate for readers under 18, and uncomfortable for others – please, be aware of this before reading.  That legalese out of the way, time to pour some joe and have some fun shooting the breeze with Bernard!

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Thanks for stopping in today!  What can you tell us about your current work in progress?

I’m working on A Harem Boy’s Saga – book IV – Turpitude; a memoir by Young. It’s a lengthy process since there are a lot of my young life experiences to cramp into each volume. Each book is approximately 3 months of…

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A look at the Babylon 5 TV movies

Last year I posted about the various Star Trek movies and gave them an overall rating.  Today, I am going to discuss my view of the Babylon 5 television movies, as well as my thoughts on the swirling discussion over a possible feature film to begin production as soon as 2016.  While I am a known fan of B5, this is being written with a rather critical eye.  For the purposes of readability, I will proceed in chronological order, vis-à-vis, the story arc, with the movies.

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In the Beginning

Grade:  B+

Synopsis:  The Babylon 5 universe is introduced or, refreshed in this case, with a movie which tells the tale of the Earth-Minbari War, told from the point-of-view of ailing Emperor Londo Mollari.

The Good:  Sets up the Babylon 5 universe, answers some questions about the series as a whole, the chance to see Michael O’Hare in the series one last time.  Good acting and writing.

The Bad:  Somewhat clunky cutaways give this a somewhat B-movie feel.

Review:  It is a good thing The Gathering was the actual pilot episode, because if this had been the actual first offering, Babylon 5 may have been cancelled straight from the get-go.  While JMS does an admirable tale of storytelling through sophisticated CGI and editing, the scenes produced exclusively for this movie do not seem to mesh well with many of the cutaways taken from other B5 episodes.  Overacting isn’t so much an issue with this movie as with other franchises, but the back-and-forth nature of the cutaways, along with the ability to fresh material from “borrowed,” makes this movie feel just a little off-rhythm.  It is, however, an excellent way to see how far CGI came when it debuted on TNT in 1997.

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The Gathering

Grade:  A-

Synopsis:  In the pilot episode of the franchise, station Commander Jeffrey Sinclair is implicated in a plot to assassinate the ambassador of the ultra-powerful Vorlon Empire.  The station crew must race against the clock to find the would-be killer before the Vorlons attack and destroy Babylon 5.

The Good:  Pilot episode, good plot, original use of an oft-cliche plot device (telepaths.)

The Bad:  CGI, though state-of-the-art for the day, was still riddled with errors.  Some makeup errors and one-off cast members with little or no explanation of their later whereabouts.

Review:  The Gathering is far from the gold standard for science fiction series plots as far as CGI goes, but the acting and storytelling makes up for it.  Hardcore Babylon 5 fans are able to forgive the obvious pilot-to-series continuity glitches, such as Delenn and G’Kar’s makeup being near identical, and the leafblower style weapons, as the sort of things to expect in a pilot.  Michael O’Hare’s (Sinclair) acting, combined with a wonderfully silly performance by Peter Jurasik (Londo Mollari) and the usual melodramatic, ham-on-wry loftiness of the late Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar) gives the story the feeling of intrigue.  An air of compelling mystery is provided by Mira Furlan’s (Delenn) performance, and even the one-off acting jobs provided by Tamlyn Tomita (Lt. Comm. Takashima) and Johnny Sekka (Dr. Benjamin Kyle) add juice to the story.  As an interesting aside, this episode takes the near-cliché concept of telepathic humans and turns it into something far more practical, with real-world problems of their old, evidenced by the allure of Patricia Tallman (Lyta Alexander.)  This episode carried the franchise into syndicated existence and, looking back at it, the reason Warner Bros. picked this is easy to see – the storytelling and acting was ahead of the CGI, allowing the latter to catch up and create the total package down the road.

Thirdspace

Thirdspace

Rating:  A+

Synopsis:  The crew stumbles upon a derelict object in hyperspace and allows an Earth-based company to examine and jump-start it, opening a doorway from which a powerful alien race threatens to spill through and conquer the galaxy.

The Good:  Great special effects.  Captain Sheridan using nukes.  Commander Ivanova riding into battle once again.  Lyta Alexander looking like she had just had a wild night partying.

The Bad:  Mostly CGI and continuity errors.  Seeing Vir fighting Zack.

Review:  By the time Thirdspace had hit TNT, Babylon 5 was already established as a science-fiction phenomenon of sorts.  This movie is a rare instance of a feature which stayed true to the story arc, but is strong enough of a story to stand alone as a feature film, had it been released in theaters.  The production team was quoted as saying this particular movie contained more CGI than the first four seasons combined, and it was a masterful work.  Rather than overwhelming the viewer with a confusing, popcorn-movie style shoot-em-up, Thirdspace tells a harrowing tale of greed, power, mystery, and heroism while demonstrating the vulnerability and heart of the main cast.  Some well placed humor, along with a lack of petty dialogue, makes this movie a fun, exciting, engaging piece of filmmaking which could have easily jumped to the big screen had Warner Bros. decided it was worth it.

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The River of Souls

Rating:  C

Synopsis:  A researcher, looking for the secret to immortality, steals a relic containing thousands of souls.  A race devoted to preserving souls at the moment of death sends an emissary to retrieve the relic, but not before a ton of havoc is wreaked.

The Good:  Captain Lochley as a holobrothel fantasy girl.  The “Love Bat.”  Garibaldi being…well, Garibaldi.

The Bad:  Somewhat silly plot.  A lawyer being a character.  Martin Sheen demonstrating why he’s not cut out for sci-fi.

Review:  Let’s get one thing out of the way – this review would have been a D+ had it not been for Tracy Scoggins (Capt. Elizabeth Lochley) being shown in a very sweet-looking bustierre and garters.  That alone bumped the rating into the C range.  That said, the rest of the movie is rather forgettable.  Even with Martin Sheen’s guest as a member of the Soul Hunters, a somewhat silly plot could not be overcome with good acting, and there was plenty to spare.  Despite Scoggins solid performance, the usual sarcasm of Jerry Doyle (Michael Garibaldi), Jeff Conaway (Zach Allen) tossing in his tough-guy act, and some pretty impressive CGI effects, the story’s main premise – life after death versus a mass evolution event – leaves viewers with more questions than answers.  Granted, TNT’s budget restricted the actor usage, but the lack of either John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), or Delenn (Mira Furlan), greatly reduced this movie’s intrigue.  This movie felt like a nod to the supporting cast, rather than a mainline feature.

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A Call to Arms

Review:  A-

Synopsis:  Five years after the founding of the Interstellar Alliance, Earth is faced with total destruction from a race which once served the mortal enemies of Babylon 5.

The Good:  Sets up Crusade.  President Sheridan and Garibaldi working together one last time.  Amusing reproductive system reference.  Excellent special effects.

The Bad:  Lack of closure due to Crusade cancellation.  Some small plot glitches (metric vs. English for weight – why not “kilos”).

Review:  When A Call to Arms first appeared on TNT, it was intended as a bridge from Babylon 5 to its spinoff, the ill-fated but critically acclaimed Crusade.  President John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) bring their usual solid performances, showing why they work so well together.  Earthforce Capt. Anderson (Tony Todd) and techomage Galen (Peter Woodward) add some zing to this story, with Theives’ Guild Member Dureena (Carrie Dobro) showing off her acting chops in a very impressive way.  This movie could, conceivably, stand alone as the first of a trilogy had JMS chosen to go that route, but instead it was the jumping off point for a spinoff which had great promise, great initial episodes, but died as the result of TNT’s meddling and later desire to cut costs and jump on the more lucrative Law and Order bandwagon.  Fortunately, this movie offers answers to several questions, such as the nature of a Shadow Planetkiller, what the Drakh language sounds like, and if we get to see the kind of figure Dureena has (we later learn a killer one!)  Unfortunately, the cancellation of Crusade creates many questions which have not been completely answered, and one can only hope that JMS’ reported Babylon 5 feature film will address the Drakh plague unleashed on Earth at the very end of the film.