31 January 2005

Constantine

John Constantine is a character I feel very strongly about. I wouldn't claim that Jamie Delano's run writing it was the best comic ever, but it is the single comic series that is dearest to my heart. For a whole host of reasons, John Constantine is a character with a lot of personal resonance for me. So this cartoon sums up how I feel about the forthcoming Constantine film.

For all I know, Constantine will be a pretty good movie for folks who don't know anything about the comic. The trailer has some cool eye candy in it. My trailer-dar makes me suspect bad writing, but it could be wrong. So a fun movie is plausible.

I'm trying to resist a fanboyish response that the movie should star Sting, because that's who Alan Moore says he told Steve Bissette and John Totleben to use as a reference when drawing him ... blah blah blah. I recognize the need to change some things around in the transition from a comic or a novel to a film. The Lord of the Rings and X-Men are good recent examples of genre films that take a lot of liberties with the details of the source material, but do it with respect for the spirit of the original. Both did things I wouldn't have done had I been making a film, but most of their changes really worked. In some places --- like Gollum's final moments, or Stryker's driving motivation --- the little changes actually feel like an improvement truer to the spirit of the story than the original.

To that point, Alan Moore, the writer who created the character, has shrugged at other film adaptations of his work. Asked about From Hell shortly before it was released, Moore said:

I think that it'll probably be a very, very good film. It won't be my book, and I kind of understood that from the beginning. I mean, From Hell takes about five hours to read. Even with some serious editing, you've got to take out about three-fifths of the book before you've got it down to something like film length, and the three-fifths that'll be taken out will obviously be a lot of the stuff that I was most interested in: the strange architectural ruminations, or the sort of ponderings upon history and mythology and geography. But that's not really going to play in Poughkeepsie, and it really wouldn't work for a Hollywood movie. So I accept and acknowledge that it's obviously going to have to be very different, but I'm sure it'll be a good film. What I'm hoping for is a situation like, say, the one with Philip K. Dick's short story, "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" It was a very, very good short story, and the film Blade Runner was a very good film which didn't necessarily have a great deal of connection with Dick's story. But both were successful entities in their own right. I think that's the kind of position that I have to take with the film.

But Constantine takes the liberties of adaptation too far. In the comics, John Constantine is a snarky blond working class Brit whose iconography includes chain smoking and wearing a dingy yellow trenchcoat. He is not a mopey black-haired American with a big gun and tattoos. Calling the guy in this movie John Constantine is an insult. If you made a movie of From Hell, which is largely about Jack the Ripper, and decided to change Jack the Ripper into an American stalking the streets of '20 Chicago with a tommy gun, no matter how good the movie was people would be rightly upset.

So I'm pissed. As rumour has it Alan Moore has

instructed (DC Comics) to not credit him as the creator of the character. And putting his money where his mouth is, he has instructed that the royalties that he was splitting with his co-creators goes exclusively to the artists (Rick Veitch and Stephen Bissette) .... Often we hear about an artist upset that his creation has been butchered but this is the first I can recall where the creator asked that both name and money be rejected.

And it looks like Fantastic Four is gonna stink, too. At least we have Sin City and Batman Begins to look forward to. Sin City!

30 January 2005

Markets

I've gotten a bit drawn in to Left2Right recently. There's some clear writing there by smart, serious lefties. I pretty much doubt that it succeeds in its ambitions of trying to talk across the aisle to folks on the right, but it does a good job of creating some clarity about things that I find important.

Case in point, I have a bunch of quotes from a piece there about "market fundamentalism" that have me thinking ....

Don Herzog critiques the faith, common among libertarians and quasi-libertartians on the right, that as much as possible we must keep government's corrupting hands off of the magical workings of the market. First he debunks a sort of crude pro-market argument, which is really an anti-anti-market argument, that I encounter all of the time — “you lefties want the heavy hand of the state to run everything, but the catastrophe of Soviet Communism demonstrates that this is both oppressive and inefficient, proving that we must entrust everything to the wisdom of the market”; — calling these arguments ...

... decades-old and once-plausible right-wing indictments of The Leftist. This creepy character thinks the state a wonderful engine for designing society from scratch. He distrusts private initiative and longs for giant bureaucracies to run people's lives for them. I don't doubt that much of the Western left cozied up to the Soviet Union for much too long, or that you can still find people willing to say nice things about the Khmer Rouge or the glory days of Enver Hoxha's Albania. But please, people. We bloggers are not sketching evil cackling capitalists with top hats and watch fobs. Some of us lefties think markets are great. I sure do. 

As do I. Markets are dazzlingly good at doing the things they do well; the better you understand them, the more you realize what a powerful tool they are, in a way that lefties of 150 years ago, 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago could not have imagined. But though a powerful tool, they are not the right tool for every problem in the public sphere.

What are the proper boundaries to the market?  What do we want to buy and sell, and what do we want to allocate in other ways?

Once we bought and sold people.  Slavery is one way to have a market in labor, and we rejected it.  Now employers can purchase your labor, but not you.  Richard Posner has proposed buying and selling babies, or “;parental rights,”; to get rid of those noxious queues at adoption agencies:  most of us flinch, even though he's got to be basically right about the queues.  The state assigns each adult citizen the nontransferable right to cast one vote.  We could have a market in votes:  the state could assign initial property rights by mailing you a coupon that says, “;bearer has the right to cast one vote.”;  You could "consume" your property by casting the vote yourself; you could donate the coupon to the political charity of your choice; you could sell it to Ross Perot. But we reject any such market, and we don't budge when an economist observes that prohibiting free transfer generates deadweight loss. Citizenship itself isn't for sale.  The usual way to get it is by being born here, which has nothing to do with merit or accomplishment or hard work or consumer demand.  Fans of the Boston Red Sox had to wait for their team to win the right games at the right times to win the World Series; they couldn't pool together and raise enough money to buy the title from the Yankees.

The list of nonmarket goods is awfully long and wonderfully diverse.  A liberal society isn't just a free market underwritten by a night-watchman state.  It has lots of different institutions ...

... and it's a matter of choosing the right mechanism for the problem at hand. The right question to ask is which mechanisms suit which problems. And in the case of the market especially, the question for folks like me is how you acheive the right balance.

For example, speaking for myself, I believe in a mix of changes in the structure of our economy that are radically libertarian in places, and government interventionist in others.

  • I believe in the decriminalization of all available medical and recreational drugs together with extremely vigorous goverment regulation of labeling of those drugs. The state shouldn't be trying to keep me from ingesting things that it deems immoral or ineffective; but it is better able to keep me informed about the risks I'm taking by doing so than I can be as a lone individual.
  • I believe in government investment in public transit, and heavy taxation and regulation of private transit. Our transportation system is a collective choice about shared resources of space, infrastructure, energy, and social convention. New York City is one choice, Los Angeles another; I think something closer to the NYC model fosters economic dynamism, civic culture, and class equity.
  • I believe in much more vigorous criminal liability for corporate officers and corporate entities. If a cold calculation kills people — Bhopal, the Ford Pinto, the Dalkon Shield — you don't just make a company pay a fine. You put people in jail. You disband corporations. Otherwise, you've populated the economy with amoral headless monsters that calculate the worth of human life on a balance sheet.
  • I believe in using heavy taxation to push market incentives in the right directions. Americans are getting obese because, in part, sugar is cheap and readily available while fresh vegetables are harder to obtain. (Anyone who doubts the latter has been spending too much time in foodie places like my hometown; in much of America you can't find anything greener than iceberg lettuce for love or money.) We should tax sugar back into being a luxury, and subsidize the salad industry.
  • While we're decriminalizing drugs, we should do the same for sex and ideas. Why should a pretty girl or boy be prohibited from renting out their embraces? Why should I have to pay a fee to sing Happy Birthday or draw Mickey Mouse — don't those belong to all of us?
  • Medical insurance is a public good whose costs should be shared across society. People get sick and injured largely at random, and there's no moral argument that justifies why their access to care should depend upon their finances. Linking the provision of medical care to employment, and making corporate insurers the gatekeepers is bizarre.

And so on. What does that make me? Not a market fundamentalist, but not a market-hater either. I'm just looking for the right tool for each job.

And to that point, I cannot resist one last quote from that article:

There are other kinds of fundamentalists out there.  A certain kind of participatory democrat wants all of society to be run democratically: she'll demand, why don't workers get to make decisions at firms? and why should the Roman Catholic Church be so hierarchical?  Christians have occasionally suggested that all of society should run on an ethic of brotherly love.  And so on.

Ho ho. Though this quote secures my suspicion that Left2Right is not talking so much to the right as other folks on the left; I doubt that many folks on the right have had the same kinds of encounters with “participatory democracy fundamentalists” and “brotherly love” idealists that lefties like I have, and which Herzog obviously has.

Now in the name of intellectual honesty, I should point you at DeLong's cranky observation about a device in Herzog's essay that doesn't appear in bits I just sampled. Herzog has several quotes from a famous philosopher beloved of market fundamentalists, which he uses to underscore some points. DeLong argues that pulling those quotes out of context misrepresents that philosopher's ideas, and he makes a fair point. So if you check out Herzog, also see what DeLong has to say.

Which in turn compels me to pass on this quote. (The emphasis is mine.) I'll give you a hint — it isn't from Marx:

We know God hath not left one man so to the mercy of another, that he may starve him if he please: God the Lord and Father of all has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods; so that it cannot justly be denied him, when his pressing wants call for it: and therefore no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions; since it would always be a sin, in any man of estate, to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty. As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another’s plenty, as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise: and a man can no more justly make use of another’s necessity, to force him to become his vassal, by with-holding that relief, God requires him to afford to the wants of his brother, than he that has more strength can seize upon a weaker, master him to his obedience, and with a dagger at his throat offer him death or slavery.

It's from John Locke, libertarians' personification of unlimited personal property rights! (Two Treatises on Government, Book I, Chapter IV, Paragraph 42) Who knew?

27 January 2005

Undecided

Being short of time lately, here's a little digging into the archives of something I spotted in the run up to the election, and never posted:

There's a fascinating article making the rounds about undecided voters.

More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I'd just asked them to name their favorite prime number.
....
But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to... So I tried other ways of asking the same question: “Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what's been happening in the country in the last four years?”

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn't the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn't seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief — not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

Often I suspect that low voter turnout is a good thing.

26 January 2005

W throws the goat

I have, in fact, been to a Longhorns game at the University of Texas in Austin. The fans are as lively as you would expect, they have a longhorn cow mascot named "Bevo" on the field, and folks wave their hands in the "hook 'em horns" gesture. News 8 in Austin, Texas, reports that the Hook 'em sign confuses Norwegians.

Many folks are confused. Is our nation's President "throwing the goat" like a heavy metal star?

25 January 2005

Reality-based ranting

The Poor Man has a scathing, funny, scary rant directed at warbloggers.
... you first have to make some contact with reality. Reality is that the situation in Iraq is horrible, the outlook for any lasting peace is grim, and that this has nothing to do with a nebulous, malignant, all-powerful "Left", and everything to do with the people in power who make bad and stupid policies. You can pull your head out of your ass, stop dreaming up stupid conspiracy theories about how everyone around the world you don't like is working together to destroy Freedom, and tell them that they need to do a better job. And if they won't do a better job, the solution is not to get upset at people who aren't waving their pom-poms or denouncing Saddam single-mindedly enough for you, it is to fire the fuck-ups so we can maybe have some chance at salvaging something from this fiasco ....
Um, yeah.

24 January 2005

Picture

Big Media Matt points us to a wonderful picture bearing this caption.
Over the break, while in the liquor section of a supermarket in the Dominican Republic, I saw this ad.

Either you will find this funny without my explaining it to you, or no amount of explaining will do the trick.

Most of my readers would correctly identify that yes, I did find it funny.

23 January 2005

Another silly little political thing

Heavy on the silly, short on the actually political.

TO: The Citizens of the United States of America

RE: Revocation of your Independence

In the light of your failure to elect a proper President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. (Except Utah, which she does not fancy much.) Your new prime minister (The Right Honourable Tony Blair, MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint a minister for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium." Check the pronunciation guide.

The Queen has sixteen rules for us. Number 15 is my favorite. Check 'em out.

22 January 2005

Myth

Another gem from Content Love: if you read only one Barbie fetish photo essay adaptation of a Sumerian myth this year, make it Inanna in the Underworld. Be sure to read the captions.

How would you know?

I heard somewhere recently that the Vatican was considering an apology to the Knights Templar. I had imagined that it was like Galileo; their guilty conscience was getting to them. Or maybe someone had been reading The Da Vinci Code, or gone to see National Treasure.

But no, it turns out that the Templars asked for an apology. Which is quite a trick for a secret society. Especially one that supposedly was disbanded hundreds of years ago. Though conspiracy buffs like me know that conspiracy theorists love to include the Templars in the story: David Icke, Lyndon LaRouche, and so forth.

Now contentlove points out to us that since the Templars used the return address of Hertford in the UK, the Guardian reports that hey, you can just go to Hertford and nose around for the Holy Grail.

The local newspaper, the Hertfordshire Mercury, certainly seems convinced: over the past few months it has published several intriguing stories quoting local Templars, who told its reporter of a secret network of tunnels under the town that was still in use by the order. "It reaches beyond well known central Hertford locations," one Templar said, "including the tourist office, the castle, Monsoon, Threshers, the post office, Bayley Hall, and the council offices." Treasures of "immense importance" were hidden there, it was claimed.
Including the Grail, you ask? Read the article and and see.

21 January 2005

Satire

Thank you, Content Love, for pointing me at this Chick tract for Hellenismos. It's as funny as Darque Dungeon or God Hates the Scene, but has a lot more theological bite.

Four freedoms

FDR's four freedoms speech in 1941 is one of my favorite pieces of political rhetoric. It talks about the importance of both positive and negative liberty, and boils down a rights-based political order into four clear principles.

We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.

That plus the “inalienable rights” passage from the Declaration of Independence pretty much sums up the core of my political philosophy.

Famously, Norman Rockwell did a series of paintings illustrating the four freedoms. “Freedom of Speech” is easily my favorite, but all of them are indelible images.

But I mention all of this to you not so much to get misty about high political rhetoric as to frame these dark, brilliant little satires from cartoonist Tim Kreider:

That last one is my favorite.

20 January 2005

Silly, silly

Two scenes from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Dance Remix. Funnier than it really should be.

Update: The lost catapult story

Second inaugural address

Here's the text. It's eloquent, and offers food for thought for these trying times in America and abroad.
Fellow-Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it --- all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war --- seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope --- fervently do we pray --- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan --- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Whoops. Wrong inaugural address. My mistake.

President Bush's inaugural address said that we are in favor of liberty, opposed to evil. It sounds like Peggy: it would be inspiring ... if I could take a word of it seriously coming from Bush.

19 January 2005

Today's quote

Via Warren Ellis:
I don't see any God up here.

Yuri Gagarin, from orbit

Hmmnn.

Debt

There's no such thing as reading the US Constitution too often. Check out Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
These are very strong words. It doesn't just say that the US must pay its debts, it says the US can't even hint that it might not pay its debts.

Now let's think about the Social Security "crisis." Currently, SS takes in signficantly more money than it pays out; it uses the surplus to buy US Treasury Bonds. Eventually, the aging of Baby Boomers will mean that SS will pay out more money than it takes in; the plan is to cash in those t-bills to pay for it. Projections show that this keeps SS solvent until about 2040 or 2050 --- and mind you, after that point, it isn't that the system is unable to pay any benefits, it's that that it can't pay all of the benefits promised with the current regime of retirement ages, cost-of-living adjustments, et cetera. We could still pay retirees more in real dollars than we pay now.

Ah, but when we go to redeem those t-bills, since there's a sense in which the US government owes that money to itself, couldn't the government just refuse to honor those t-bills in a fit of fiscal irresponsibility? Well, not without a constitutional amendment repealing Section 4 of Amendment XIV, it can't.

In fact, as DeLong points out, if an elected official suggests that those t-bill are no good, it violates their oath of office.

18 January 2005

Food

By way of China Miéville saying interesting things in the UK Guardian, Antonio Gramsci reminds us:
The fact that there is no need for people to die of starvation and that people are dying of starvation is a fact of some importance one would think.
Though "need" is a tricky question. If the ability to produce enough food is inextricably linked with a system of agriculture and economics that leaves people unable to afford food, we're cut by a double-edged sword: once we couldn't make enough food to feed everyone, now we make a lot of food in a way that still leaves a lot of people hungry. Or, stranger still, malnourished without being hungry as Mark A. R. Kleiman observes.
  1. Due to the astonishing collapse in the prices of foodstuffs relative to wages and other prices, undernutrition due to poverty is no longer a serious problem in advanced societies, even among the profoundly poor. That's a huge social advance on the conditions of forty years ago, when hunger remained a major problem in the United States. The refusal of conservatives back then to recognize the problem was appalling; the refusal of some liberals today to recognize that the problems have shifted is perhaps less heartless, but no less obtuse.
  2. Even someone who "doesn't know where his next meal is coming from" isn't going to literally go hungry. So using "food insecurity" as a proxy for the serious problem of economic insecurity is misleading.
  3. Malnutrition remains a significant problem. For complex reasons, many Americans, rich and poor alike, have appallingly unhealthy diets.
A hundred years ago, one might have believed that the problem of nourishing everyone was a Malthusian matter of simply producing enough food. Now we see that it's much more complicated than that. Per Gramsci's observation, shouldn't we be working on the problem a little harder?

17 January 2005

MLK day

For more than a decade, I've been spamming people with this note every year. Now that I have a blog, I'm just sticking to re-posting every year. If you were here this time last year, read it again anyway.

Really. Take a few minutes. I think it's important ...

Most people have forgotten that at the civil rights march on Washington DC on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King was not the featured speaker. He was not the icon of the movement that we think of today. He was a major player, yes, but there were others more famous, respected, and important at that time. The speech he gave --- the one you know --- changed that.

The importance of the speech is distinctively American. The United States, unique among nations, is a frankly artificial creation. France is the place in Europe where people speak French, but the US has no ethnic definition --- this place is full of immigrants who decided to be Americans, and their children. Japan is an island, but there's nothing natural about the borders of the US --- this place wound up a nation through a chaotic combination of war, purchase, legislative decisions, and (oh yeah) genocide. The US is an idea. Something we just made up.

This is why we have the peculiar veneration of documents that we do. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the holiest of holies in our civic religion because they are made of words, made of ideas. Through acclamation over the years we have chosen a handful of other documents that tell us what the United States is, like Lincoln's Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I have a dream speech. In that speech, the power of King's rhetoric and ideas was so great that hearing it transformed our understanding of what the nation was about. I know, I know, that's a white guy thing to say: it's not like plenty of folks didn't know about American racial injustice. But on the level of shared understanding of shared destiny, King gave dazzling voice to ideas implicit in the American national promise that had too long been denied. And still are denied today.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Go read it right now. It will only take five minutes of your time. With no exaggeration, I think it's your duty as an American --- we have a lot of work left to do.

And while you're at it, take a little more time and read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I know you did it back in school. It's worth doing again.

And if you really want extra credit, go read what he said on the last full day of his life.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you ...

16 January 2005

I want to read these

Teresa Nielsen Hayden points us all at some wonderful fiction submission guidelines for a forthcoming book. I want to read this book when it is finished.
Epics have lost their charm. It takes ten or twenty years for a writer to finish a series, writing the same book over and over again, piling up the foreshadowing, wearing out characters’ boots to no good purpose. By the time you’re done --- whether you’re the reader or the writer --- you can’t remember why you started.

That’s where Twenty Epics comes in. Like the neurological anomaly that sparks déjà vu, like the false memories implanted in Blade Runner’s replicants, Twenty Epics shortcuts the repetition and the tedium of reality and goes straight to what we really care about: the subjective emotional and aesthetic experience.

There was a time when you finished an epic. When finishing an epic left you feeling not discontent and exhausted but joyous, melancholy, rejuvenated, satisfied --- left you feeling, even (at least for a little while), that you were a better and wiser person for the experience.

If we do our jobs right, each of the pieces in Twenty Epics will bring back that feeling.

In ten thousand words or less.

Oh how I want to read that book. Follow the link and read the whole thing. Witty submission guidelines --- what a concept.

15 January 2005

Surprise, surprise

It's official: we're not even pretending to look for WMDs any more. The Washington Post reports:
The hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq has come to an end nearly two years after President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein. The top CIA weapons hunter is home, and analysts are back at Langley.
...
Four months after Charles A. Duelfer, who led the weapons hunt in 2004, submitted an interim report to Congress that contradicted nearly every prewar assertion about Iraq made by top Bush administration officials, a senior intelligence official said the findings will stand as the ISG's final conclusions and will be published this spring.
I have a little rant from Big Media Matt and a big juicy rant from The Poor Man, who both say it better than I would.

Today's quote

Loopy popkultur postmoderne painter Brandon Bird says:
My favorite artist is Batman. Because --- because his whole life is a work of art.
He has other equally silly things to say, if you like that sort of thing. And his paintings are witty.

14 January 2005

Ha!

Happydog writes:
In Creem Magazine about 1976 there was a letter to the editor that went something like,
Dear Sirs:
Who is this guy Bo Dulair that Patti Smith keeps talking about, was he in the Velvet Underground?
to which their reply was
One of the founding members.
Truer words.
Indeed.

Though it occurs to me that future generations will have a different version of this problem.

WTF?

See that ridge around the middle of the Saturnine moon of Iapetus?

Wonder what the hell it is? So do scientists.

Downward spiral

The architects of the war in Iraq are slipping into lunacy.

I've got the spirit of Robert McNamera, more torture, and maybe even death squads for you if you want to know ...

Mercifully, the first thing may not even be real news. Newsweek reports the Pentagon considering sponsoring death squads in Iraq.

The Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success --- despite the deaths of innocent civilians ...
David Adesnik at OxBlog argues convincingly and at length that the Newsweek story misunderstands the El Salvador story and is fishy all around. Gregory Djerejian agrees that the story is almost certainly bogus ... but there's something in there that still makes me queasy. He quotes Rumsfeld's lame denials of the story and looks at them closely.
Read Rumsfeld's jocular musings above again. It's the same breezy, press-baiting, cocksure crapola. He could have shot down the story --- decisively --- with purpose and gravitas. Instead, in the course of a single minute or so, he manages to do the following: 1) tell the assorted press corps he hasn't even read the Newsweek article ... 2) ... his denials are not as firm and authoritative as, say, those that would have been forthcoming from real pros like Frank Carlucci or Cap Weinberger; and 3) by stating that the "Pentagon doesn't do things like are described in the reporting on the story [emphasis added]" he likely keeps the story alive by causing people to wonder if the CIA is spearheading the effort instead (from the Newsweek article: "Also being debated is which agency within the U.S. government --- the Defense department or CIA --- would take responsibility for such an operation.").

Djerejian calls this a sign of Rumsfeld's incompetence, which is true.

But it also reminds me of something from Christopher Hitchens' overheated anti-Clinton tract Nobody Left to Lie To. Hitchens observed how telling it was that, in the face of the endless "scandals" manufactured by the VRWC, when there was sex in the mix the Clinton folks always responded as if the allegations might be true. (That there was a VRWC manufacturing bogus scandals on a frequent and regular basis is a problem that HItch does not address, but that's a topic for another day.) In a similar way, I read Rumsfeld as hedging when he speaks in Djerejian's quote. Death squads? I would know if we were talking about that. But it does sound plausible, so I don't want to say anything that will put me in trouble if it turns out to be true after all.

Which is itself an indictment, of a lesser sort. Mark A. R. Kleiman reminds us why.

Death squad activity is terrorism. Its purpose is never merely the assassination or kidnapping of a small number of leaders, but always the cowing of entire populations.

This case is no different. Note the language carefully ...

Death squads sponsored by the US should never be a plausible story.

Meanwhile, as we hear more and more about American practice of torture, it becomes clear that it reflects a systemic problem in our military thinking. As Digby describes ...

They [Rumsfeld et al] decided that they would guage success or failure --- certainly they would report to the White House success or failure --- based upon the sheer numbers of raids, arrests, interrogations, reports, confessions and breakdowns achieved, regardless of whether any of it resulted in good intel or enhanced security anywhere.

This was the only metric they could conceive of and in order to get those numbers up they had to detain large numbers of innocent people and torture them for false information to fill the endless reports of success on the ground in Afghanistan, Gitmo and Iraq. They could hoist up a huge pile of paper in a meeting with their president and say, "look at how much intelligence we're getting. We're really getting somewhere"

... and he goes on to point out how counterproductive this is ...
Since we kidnapped these innocent men and threw them into a hellish gulag they have, unsurprisingly, become radicalized.
...
Yes, they hate us. The ones who have been locked up and the ones who haven't. And it's you and me and your kids who they hate now, not just the leadership or the troops. They hate us personally. And they hate us because we don't seem too worked up about this disgusting breach of human rights. In fact, a majority apparently think it's just dandy, including the most powerful leaders in the land who continue to support the war criminals who concieved this disasterous blunder, even this week elevating one of them to the highest law enforcement office in the land.
... and then lays down the mighty rant.
So let's have another lecture on morality and values. I really need to hear one. Let's hear some more talk about how liberals are leading this country down the path to perdition with our lack of restraint and our inability to draw lines between right and wrong and good and evil. I need to bask in the glow of republican righteousness and beg for forgiveness for sinfully indulging gays in their quest to form families and cleanse myself of the shame of forgiving a man for committing adultery. God help me, I need some moral clarity and I need it damned quickly because I'm really wondering just who in the hell is evil in this war on terror and who isn't. It's getting hard to tell the difference here. It's getting really hard.
In a world where I'm posting links to Djerejian's roundup of the latest informartion about American torture, that's a rant well-deserved.

If you only follow one of my links from this post, make it the Digby one; you should really see the cartoon.

13 January 2005

News item

Bloomberg News tells us:
Georgia's Cobb County school system must immediately remove stickers from science textbooks that say evolution is a ``theory, not a fact,'' because a federal judge ruled the disclaimers were unconstitutional.

Judge Clarence Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia today said the stickers violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Cobb County School Board inappropriately used taxpayer money to ``aid the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists,'' Cooper said in his judgment.

I realize that this is actually a strategic problem, in that the right will use it to beat up on "activist judges", but it still feels good.

Big big rock

MKB has a review of U2's new album where he makes some reflective comments on the nature of a good rock 'n' roll band.
I've seen a lot of talented bands (or decent bands with great material) who simply don't have the presence to fill up a huge venue. Love them or hate them, U2 can do it. There aren't many others in their league: The Rolling Stones. By many accounts Led Zeppelin could do it on a good night. There aren't too many more. I don't care how great your favorite band is, I'm betting they don't have the same larger-than-life quality that enables a select few to project their energy to more than a few thousand fans at a time. Don't feel too bad, my favorite bands can't do it either.
Too true. My two favorite bands are the Beatles and the Velvet Underground. Big shows nearly killed the Beatles: at the peak of their career, they simply give up on performing altogether. And the Velvet Underground never played anything bigger than a warehouse party, and didn't exactly tear down the walls at those.

On the other hand, I haven't bothered to own a single Rolling Stones album, but I saw them do an arena show once, and I have never seen anything like it. They rocked the house --- a hundred thousand people --- and they did it in spite of the lights and giant screens and fireworks and other BS that was supposed to make me feel like I got my money's worth. Mick hit me with more energy from thirty yards away than I've felt in most shows where I've been close enough to feel the performer's sweat and spittle hit my face.

Riding BART back after the show, I was sitting next to a mother and daughter. Apparently the trip was Mom's idea, as the daughter "didn't like rock 'n' roll." But the young lady was mightily impressed. "Who," asked the daughter, "was that really tired looking guy with the bandana? He's cool." Everyone within earshot laughed.

How does that work? Life is full of mysteries.


Reya of Goldpoppy writes:
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band could and did energetically fill huge arenas, probably more stylishly and with more excitement than U2. So can (could?) Prince and Elvis Costello. If you want to move into the realm of funk, I could name a handful of bands right off the top of my head that utterly filled the arenas (how about Funkadelic, for instance?). And I'm willing to bet there are a dozen other bands that someone with more rock n roll moxie than me could think of in a flash.
Springsteen, no doubt: he has a reputation for rocking a big stadium with power and panache. I'll certainly take the point about P-Funk, though I don't know whether they've ever done a venue with an audience in six figures. (Do any readers know?) Likewise, Prince can certainly work the house, but his territory is venues in the 20-50,000 seat range; I have no idea if he can take on the giant stadium show and really make it sing.

Elvis Costello, though? I once accidentally ran into him playing an outdoor concert on the street in NYC, and he worked the crowd pretty darn well for a guy whose favorite composer is Burt Bacharach. But I didn't see the kind of juice that the Stones hit the crowd with when I saw them.

(Reya also confessed to me her Secret Rock Star Crush. No, I'm not telling. But I will make a confession of my own. Living in San Francisco, I'm occasionally asked how exclusively heterosexual I am. I usually shrug and say that I'm just saving myself for David Bowie, who, now that I think about it, is another rocker who can work an audience in a 40 yard radius.)

12 January 2005

Industrial-strength deceit

Teresa Neilsen Hayden hits one out of the park. In three thousand words she takes us through infographic design, to reading infographics critically, to the sinister implications of the wrong kind of good web design, to "tort reform," through the legend of the McDonald's coffee court case, to the black black hearts of American corporations, concluding ...

Deceiving us has become an industrial process.

Most chilling is the array of skills that TNH has to marshal in the process. When she says ...

There was something too slick and simple about the site. It smelled wrong. An organization of real human beings who are trying to address genuinely complex issues ought not generate a webpage as smooth and featureless as a bowlful of Maalox.
... I know exactly what she means, because, as it happens, I'm involved in the website business and I surf obsessively and I know about a range of advocacy organizations and so on. So I've seen articles on the web and followed their links to websites of organizations and said to myself, “there's something more here than meets the eye,” just as she did here. But most often I file it mentally under “didn't have time to get to the bottom of it,” because there's not always time to dig and think and figure out what's really going on.

I talk a lot about the importance of critical reading skills as essential to using the 'net as an information resource. I often rant about how one of the things we need to do is educate the next generation about the epistemological challenge made visible by the ’net — “how do I know that what I read is true?” But this example scares me. It's scary because it reminds me that the level of critical reading that TNH demonstrates here, the critical reading that I like to think that I do, the critical reading that is necessary to use the 'net and be a good citizen in a democracy and so forth, is really really hard. I'm not sure that everyone can be taught to be as crafty as Teresa Neilsen Hayden. Especially when there are very smart people working systematically to subvert our ability to trust the ideas we encounter.

11 January 2005

Cakewalk

I've lifted this quote from the New York Times on 28 February 2003 directly from Kevin Drum, which I found via DeLong.
Mr. Wolfowitz...opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, "wildly off the mark." Pentagon officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops.

....In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo.

He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it. "I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help.

....Enlisting countries to help to pay for this war and its aftermath would take more time, he said. "I expect we will get a lot of mitigation, but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact," Mr. Wolfowitz said. Mr. Wolfowitz spent much of the hearing knocking down published estimates of the costs of war and rebuilding, saying the upper range of $95 billion was too high....Moreover, he said such estimates, and speculation that postwar reconstruction costs could climb even higher, ignored the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country, with annual oil exports worth $15 billion to $20 billion. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he said.

At the time of this writing, Paul Wolfowitz remains gainfully employed as Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Those scruffy kids

Earlier this year, I ran into an artist whose online journal I used to read. Being surprised to have recognized her, I couldn't think of what things I liked about the journal, so I rather dopily told her just that I enjoyed it without saying why.

Well, I discovered her new journal recently, and this rant is the sort of thing that I liked.

They gather their camping gear or a bag of random sentimental possessions and come here, in droves, where they have heard they can live for free on the street.
...
If you're so fiercely free and independent, why are you trying to sleep on the porch that someone else pays for? Uh huh. Right. Go home to mommy and daddy, or go sleep at the church. Oh wait, you can't do that, there are real homeless adults there, and they scare you.
Now I'm unusually patient with these folks, who I encountered in droves in Berkeley. I figure that some of them are running away from situations more horrendous than I can imagine, and many of the others will be returning to mommy and daddy soon enough, with both parent and child much the wiser for the experience.

But still, but still. She hit the nail right on the head, there.

Update: Queen Skarre, the artist and provocateur in question, comments with her experiences of dopey punk-ish anarchism as egocentric justification, to which I say indeed indeed.

10 January 2005

Out of control

Recall a supposition I made a while ago.
I think that Bush was originally chosen by the kingmakers of the conservative movement as an empty suit with name recognition that they could use to get their team into place in government, but once Bush was President, those same kingmakers, being conservatives, felt compelled to respect Bush's authority.
Now consider this rant from Digby at Hullabaloo about the changing of the guard in the Bush administration as we roll into year five.
This is the big story of the second term. Bush himself is now completely in charge. He did what his old man couldn't do. He has been freed of all constraints, all humility and all sense of proportion. Nobody can run him, not Cheney, not Condi, not Card. He has a sense of his power that he didn't have before. You can see it. From now on nobody can tell him nothin. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, doesn't it?

Paranoid pop quiz time. Think about the 20th century. Can you come up with a leader of an industrialized Western nation who rose to power as the puppet of wealthy industrialist kingmakers, but turned out to be a True Believer who those kingmakers could not control? Who plunged his nation into war? Who are you thinking of?

09 January 2005

Life-line

In a beautiful, bittersweet bit of memoir, Waterbones borrows an image from Robert Heinlein's first story, "Life-Line." For her benefit, and my other readers, I offer you this bizzare and unforgettable bit of science fiction imagery:
Your name is Rogers, is it not? Very well, Rogers, you are a space-time event having duration four ways. You are not quite six feet tall, you are about twenty inches wide and perhaps ten inches thick. In time, there stretches behind you more of this space-time event, reaching to, perhaps, 1905, of which we see a cross section here at right angles to the time axis, and as thick as the present. At the far end is a baby, smelling of sour milk and drooling its breakfast on its bib. At the other end lies, perhaps, an old man some place in the 1980s. Imagine this space-time event, which we call Rogers, as a long pink worm, continuous through the years. It stretches past us here in 1939, and the cross section we see appears as a single, discrete body. But that is illusion. There is physical continuity to this pink worm, enduring through the years. As a matter of fact, there is physical continuity in this concept to the entire race, for these pink worms branch off from other pink worms. In this fashion the race is like a vine whose branches intertwine and send out shoots. Only by taking a cross section of the vine would we fall into the error of believing that the shootlets were discrete individuals.
While I'm at it, there's a snide little political comment (Heinlein fans among my readers are saying, "of course") in there that has long stuck with me.
It is true that the Amalgamated has lost business through my activities, but that is the natural result of my discovery, which has made their policies as obsolete as the bow and arrow. If an injunction is granted on that ground, I shall set up a coal-oil-lamp factory, and then ask for an injunction against the Edison and General Electric companies to forbid them to manufacture incandescent bulbs.
...
There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.
Being in the tech industry, it's valuable to have heard that said in so many words.

08 January 2005

Bad cat, no lasagna

It seems that the Los Angeles Times has dropped Garfield from their comics page.
Gene Weingarten, a humor columnist for The Washington Post and Washington Post Writers Group, praised the Times decision during his weekly washingtonpost.com chat yesterday. He said the paper displayed "the kind of cojones missing in too many places" and described "Garfield" as "a strip produced by a committee, devoid of originality, devoid of guts, a strip cynically DESIGNED to be inoffensive and bad, on the theory that public tastes are insipid. Now we need others to follow suit. Like the Post."
Emphasis mine, for reasons my longtime readers will understand.

And Mike "Tycho" Krahulik of the online comic Penny Arcade is overjoyed.

It was a montage of scenes just like the end of the new Return of the Jedi. All the races of the galaxy celebrated in culturally appropriate ways when they heard that Garfield had been pulled from the LA Times. It's hard not to get caught up in the energy of the moment, but it's more than likely just comics page deck-shuffling, so "the revolution" is probably not coming anytime soon. This leaves me with bushels of unfulfilled fantasies. Huge orange cat statues hauled off their pedestals by tanks. Every Jim Davis in every wrinkle of every dimension dragged gasping to the bottom of the ocean.

I don't know where the stricture against upstart webcomics saying bad things about our print forebears originated, but no-one ever consulted me and I never ratified that document.

Being unaffiliated, I can cackle guilt-free. Bwahahahaha!

Bad apples

Speaking of torture, it seems that the President's signature is on an executive order authorizing ... not the torture at Abu Graib, but some pretty unwholesome interrogation techniques. From the FBI memo found by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act:
An executive order signed by President Bush authorized the following interrogation techniques among others: sleep "management," use of MWDs (military working dogs), "stress positions" such as half squats, "environmental manipulation" such as the use of loud music, sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc.
For those who would say that this stuff isn't "real torture," I will grant that indeed, this is not stuff in the "excruciating pain" category. This is stuff in the "drive you bonkers" or "scare you silly" categories. Considering that none of it actually aids in the art of omlette preparation, why is the president ordering it?

Via Corrente

07 January 2005

Stewart 1, Bowtie 0

You may recall Jon Stewart's "stop hurting America" appearance on CNN's Crossfire. It looks like it worked. CNN canceled the show, and Tucker "Bowtie" Carlson got the sack.
"I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," Klein [chief executive of CNN's U.S. network] told The Associated Press.
Remember to use this power only for Good, Jon.

Today's quote

From an essay comparing Frank Miller and Alan Moore in the '80s, a small witticism for comics geeks like me:
Swamp Thing ... is the grandaddy of all Vertigo titles (Sandman is their father and Doom Patrol is their alcoholic uncle).
For those who don't know, Doom Patrol was nominally a superhero book ... but the kind where my favorite character had multiple personality disorder, and where a typical issue might feature a long debate about Cartesian dualism conducted by the villain, a brain in a jar carried around by a trained gorilla.

Brooks

David Brooks is the crafty conservative voice on the editorial page of The New York Times. He's a master at speaking in a reasonable-sounding tone, and oh-so-subtly conveying creepy ideas from the right. He's a popular target for fisking by the lefty blogosphere. For my money, the best criticisms of him come from Busy Busy Busy, because by summarizing his argument very briefly they make clear what he's really saying under the misdirection of his clever prose.

This week DeLong and The Poor Man do a particularly good job of unpacking the weird way he expresses his religiousity. Check 'em out.


A collection of critiques of his troubling conservative deference to authority.

06 January 2005

Flypaper

You hear it all the time: “our soldiers are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to deal with them at home.” Critics of this idea — like me — call it the “flypaper theory.” It assumes that there is set of terrorists out there, and if we can just kill them all off, that will put an end to terrorism. I figure that if we invade a Muslim country for no good reason, and send pictures of American soldiers waving rifles at bleeding women in head scarves around the world, this is going to help Islamist terrorists do some recruiting. Duh.

Big Media Matt has been reading Marc Sageman's book Understanding Terror Networks and has written a dazzling post about the flypaper theory, among other things, arguing that there actually is a grain of truth to the flypaper account, but that the Iraq war has still been badly counterproductive in reducing terrorism. He later summarized that part of the argument thus:

  1. Eliminating the Afghan sanctuary cut down on al-Qaeda recruitment because despite the continuing appeal of the al-Qaeda ideology, people who wanted to sign up didn't know where to go.
  2. By invading Iraq and then botching the aftermath, we've created a new location for would-be jihadis to travel to in order to join the war.
  3. Thus, we're creating some number of new anti-American warriors.
  4. Right now, those warriors aren't killing people in America because they're in Iraq.
  5. But at some point, some of them will leave Iraq, and start launching attacks in the United States, Europe, and other countries.

Now my point four above has a certain similarity to the "flypaper" account. It's different, though, because the flypaper theoy assumes you had some fixed quantity of terrorists prewar who have now been drawn into Iraq. I'm saying, rather, that the war created some quantity of terrorists, most of whom are in Iraq right now but won't always be there in the future. Note that I'm also not saying that every member of the Iraqi insurgency is going to go on and join some worldwide jihad. The vast majority of insurgents are, by all accounts, native-born Iraqis. The vast majority of those native-born Iraqis will stay put if and when the fighting ends. But since al-Qaeda's formal organization was always pretty small (even if there were a large number of sympathizers and fellow-travelers out there), you don't need to add that many new people to revitalize a network that was in trouble after the fall of Kandahar.

Definitely check out what Matt has to say. Then, for extra credit, read Ezra at Pandagon's elaboration on the theme, looking at how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave rise to Islamist global jyhad.

Students of history

James Wolcott has a terrific little essay describing a few chilling details about how badly we've screwed up the occupation of Iraq, and he wraps it up with an interesting comment.

There's a Peter Cook - Dudley Moore routine, one of their woolgathering dialogues, where Dud asks Pete, "So would you say you've learned from your mistakes?" and Pete replies: “Oh yes, I'm certain I could repeat them exactly.”

That seems to have been the Bush administration's approach to Iraq. Take the mistakes of Vietnam and repeat them exactly.

And at that you can't say they haven't succeeded.

That's an obvious reading of what's happening in Iraq if you're a lefty, weaned on tales of how the Vietnam War was a doomed effort to crush a popular nationalist movement that spiraled into napalm-soaked madness as we tried to “win” an unwinnable war against the nation's own people. (Since it seems that one must belabour the obvious when talking about Vietnam, let me add that yes I am a lefty, and yes that is my reading of the war, but I also recognize that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese government were, in many important ways, very bad guys.)

But if you look a the rhetoric of ordinary Americans on the right when they talk about Iraq and Vietnam, I think it's clear that they too are trying to act on the lessons of Vietnam, but they have learned very different lessons. They rarely compare the two directly, but the story of Vietnam is lurking in the things they say about fighting in Iraq. To them, Vietnam was a failure of American will --- had we really tried hard enough of course we would have "won." But the meddling politicians, under pressure from the cowards in the antiwar movement, dishonorably stayed our military's hand.

They don't want to let that happen again. This time, there will be no failure of American will. This time, there will be no failure of American ruthlessness. This time, those liberal traitors won't be allowed to stab our troops in the back.

That first point makes me dread how deep we will walk into the quagmire, and the second makes me dread the things our nation will do in my name, but it's that last point that scares me personally.

05 January 2005

Another demonstration

Abolishing copyright altogether would be a very bad idea. But it would be better than the Perpetual Mickey Mouse Protection System we have now.

For example, why should you have to hurry to go listen to this before the lawyers shut it down?

Opinions

Rivet Pep Squad has taken time out from her busy blogging about parties she's been to, parties she's hosted, parties she's recovering from, and parties she's planning on attending to tell us that Edge magazine has asked a bunch of famous smart people "What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?"

They've got wacky ol' "proof is for sissies" Rupert Sheldrake ...

I believe, but cannot prove, that memory is inherent in nature. Most of the so-called laws of nature are more like habits.
... and "quantum mechanical engineer" Seth Lloyd of MIT at the other end of the epistemological spectrum.
I cannot prove that electrons exist, but I believe fervently in their existence. And if you don't believe in them, I have a high voltage cattle prod I'm willing to apply as an argument on their behalf. Electrons speak for themselves.
There's also stuff about computer programming, evolution, religious experience, and how children respond to television. And that's just the first page of answers --- there are nine more.

04 January 2005

Spirit

Will Eisner
1917 - 2004
Comics pioneer

You kids today don't appreciate what you have. Back before Scott McCloud wrote (and drew) Understanding Comics, all we had was Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art, and we liked it.

We liked it because Eisner was the first person to demonstrate mastery of every dimension of the comics medium. He could draw anything: people, cars, mountains, or rain. He could draw caricature and realistic human figures, and express infinite shadings of human emotion with their postures and their faces. He could tell a story in a single panel or on a single page — but was also the first to succeed in sustaining a long narrative in the medium. He could do comedy or tragedy, adventure or romance, if you can forgive him a small instinct for schmaltz — he was a product of a different era, before readers got too cynical. And he put it all together in an amazing body of work. None of this writer / penciller / inker nonsense for Eisner; he did it all himself.

For me, the thing that dazzles is his mastery of panel layout. Reading The Spirit is an exercise in astonishment. I'd see that some clever way of laying out a page that I thought Wally Wood had first done in the late ’50s had come out of Eisner's pen more than a decade before. I'd turn the page, and see a layout that I thought Frank Miller had first done in the late '80s. Page after page. It can seem like Eisner invented everything.

Well, not quite — but arguably more than any other single person, he is responsible for the language of the medium. He will be missed.

Update: More from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and this from Neil Gaiman:

Will Eisner was better than any of us, and he kept working in the hope that one day he'd get it right.

Advice and consent

Regular readers may recall that I'm horrified by the Bush Administration's pick of Alberto "Torture Memo" Gonzales as the new Attorney General. He's about to come up for confirmation in the Senate.

Now the delightful and demi-famous T. Thorn Coyle tells us that there's a movement afoot to encourage congresspeople to block his nomination.

Here's what I wrote to my Senators:

On Wednesday, confirmation hearings will begin in the Senate for Alberto Gonzales, the President's choice for Attorney General.

Frankly, I'm a little embarassed that lefties like me have leaned so heavily on politicizing the confirmation process in the past couple of decades. On balance, I fear that this trend has weakened the country more than it has strengthened it. So I hesitate to suggest an attempt to block Gonzales' nomination.

But I do suggest it ... even demand it: do whatever you can to block his nomination.

I am sure that you are aware that his main claim to fame is the "Torture Memo" he authored at the White House Counsel's Office. Torture is both counterproductive and evil, Senator, and I am horrified that our current administration not only has had a hand in it, but is promoting its advocates to positions of authority --- to be, in fact, our chief law enforcement officer.

So much of government is a matter of dry and debatable policy, conflicting interests with equally reasonable claims, partisanship, and hairsplitting over differing values. This is a time when clear moral principle is at stake. I hope that you will take this opportunity to stand up for what is right.

Go find yours and give 'em a piece of your mind.

Update: You may want to get on the MoveOn petition as well.

03 January 2005

Today's quote

Brought to me by contentlove, attributed to James Nicoll:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious, and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary.

Anniversary

Today is the first anniversary of me starting this blog. I wasn't sure if it would stick, or if anyone would want to read it, but 523 posts later it seems to be going well. Thanks for reading, folks.

02 January 2005

Collapse

Jared "Guns, Germs, and Steel" Diamond has long op-ed in The New York Times.
History warns us that when once-powerful societies collapse, they tend to do so quickly and unexpectedly. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise: peak power usually means peak population, peak needs, and hence peak vulnerability. What can be learned from history that could help us avoid joining the ranks of those who declined swiftly? We must expect the answers to be complex, because historical reality is complex: while some societies did indeed collapse spectacularly, others have managed to thrive for thousands of years without major reversal.

When it comes to historical collapses, five groups of interacting factors have been especially important: the damage that people have inflicted on their environment; climate change; enemies; changes in friendly trading partners; and the society's political, economic and social responses to these shifts.

He could just leave the implications as an exercise for the reader.

01 January 2005

Happy New Year

In honor of the day, one last silly holiday web thing: The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time.

I notice that the list left out the infamous Star Wars holiday special, but people were quick to bring it up in the comments.