Saturday, January 28, 2006

In Which I Participate in a Meme

Always Remember...


Okay, I don't know if this will make any sense to most of you... Hell, the whole thing doesn't make much sense to me. But if you want to see the rest of the meme, the links to the whole batch are here.

(Image source, with information on Morrison's Animal Man.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas's Electoral Victory: Links in Lieu of Thoughts

In thinking about the politics of Israel/Palestine, I've come around to the side of the angels -- that is, the angels who fear to tread where fools rush in: best to talk about other things, where I have some hope of shedding some light, and some hope of avoiding much heat.

But on hearing of Hamas's electoral victory, I thought of Harvey Pekar's characteristically understated reaction to the news of 9/11:

(Art by Tony Millionaire; from the book 9-11 Emergency Relief.)

I don't feel certain of anything in this area -- not even of my overwhelming sense that this cannot be good. So I won't say much else. But here are a few perspectives that I found interesting to read today; no other endorsement of their views is implied.

Abu Aardvark advises caution. (via)
Patrick Belton, who is currently reporting from the West Bank (and whose blog is probably a good one to watch), says that Hanan Ashrawi told him that she "thought Hamas would bring the West Bank and Gaza into theocracy."
Yossi Klein Halevi says that this means that the Palestinians have rejected the notion of peace entirely.
Ali Abunimah sees this as Palestinian rejection of an unjust, Israeli & American-imposed settlement.
Andrew Sullivan says Hamas's victory "represents one critical pillar beneath the Bush foreign policy crumbling into dust". (Update: Ezra Klein adds that Sullivan "doesn't quite mention that [hispoint] applies primarily to the writings of Andrew Sullivan.")
Eric Alterman says that this shows that "things can always get worse", and dwells on dismal ironies.
The Head Heeb offers a number of thoughts. (via)

More links if/as I see any. If anyone here has any to share, feel free to leave them in comments.

TV for Buffy Fans

As those of you who know me probably know, I'm a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- one of the best shows ever to air on TV. (If you haven't watched it... try it. 'Nuff said.) So when I promote a show by saying it's as good as Buffy, that's meant as a huge compliment.

Veronica Mars is as good as Buffy.

Veronica Mars, for those of you who don't know, is a TV show whose second season is currently airing on UPN Wednesdays at 9. (So far as can be told thus far, the new network that will result from the just-announced merger of WB and UPN will renew the show and continue to carry it -- though nothing's guaranteed, to be sure.)

The first season is out on DVD. For those thinking of getting into it, I strongly recommend getting the DVDs and starting from the beginning. While each episode makes a fairly good effort to be self-contained, there is definitely a season-long arc each season (so far), and the shows are much stronger when watched in order, from the beginning. (Buffy's first season, as nearly all of the even the most diehard fans will admit, was more inconsistent than its latter seasons and, as a whole, not as good; Veronica Mars's first season, in contrast, is superb and worth seeing from the get-go.)

But the comparison with Buffy is not merely in terms of quality. The two shows are, one might say, in the same genre -- a new genre (so far as I know) that I never considered as one until Veronica Mars made me see the pattern. This genre results from taking another genre (for Buffy, horror/fantasy; for Veronica Mars, mysteries/noir) and focusing it on a high-school girl (indeed, a short, blond high-school girl from southern California) in an hour-long drama that includes a great deal of comedy.

But this doesn't mean that Veronica Mars is the least bit derivative -- it isn't. (Interestingly, Veronica-creator Rob Thomas noted in an interview that he had only seen a few episodes of Buffy before creating his show.) Rather, like any good pair of examples from the same genre, the two shows do very different things with similar premises. (Grant Morrison once compared writing a superhero story to composing a rock song: it all comes down to the same three chords -- the trick was to make them new.) In fact, while I don't mean to engage in what is apparently a small-scale trend of praising Veronica Mars by bashing Buffy, it seems to me inarguable that, in some areas, Veronica Mars is better than Buffy (heresy as that claim might sound to Buffy fans (save for another fact I'll get to shortly.))

Three examples. First, Veronica Mars is infused with a complex politics of race and class that is never simplistic or preachy but makes for extraordinary drama. Second, it portrays a relationship of the heroine with her single parent (a father in Veronica Mars's case) as far more positive and interesting than the comparable relationship in Buffy while never being simplistic or treacly. Finally, the social interaction of Veronica with other high school students seems far more complex and nuanced than in Buffy -- rather than a stable group of allies, she has complex, often fraught relationships with everyone (even her best friend, Wallace). -- Anyway, the point, as I said, is not to bash Buffy, which was superb, but to point out that Veronica Mars is equally superb.

I'm far from the first one to notice the comparison, either in terms of the nature of the show or in terms of quality. Just as one example, gave the show it's second annual Buffy award for most underrated show. (It's first one was given to The Wire, a show which, although very different from them in feel, was equal in quality to Veronica Mars and Buffy -- and hence also a show that I'd recommend -- though that's a whole 'nother post.) And lots of other writers & critics have made the comparison.

Most prominently for Buffy fans, however, one of those to praise the show is none other than Buffy-creator Joss Whedon, who went on an internet bulletin board and wrote:

My peeps and I just finished a crazed Veronica Marsathon, and I can no longer restrain myself. Best. Show. Ever. Seriously, I've never gotten more wrapped up in a show I wasn't making, and maybe even more than those. Crazy crisp dialogue. Incredibly tight plotting. Big emotion, I mean BIG, and charsimatic actors and I was just DYING from the mystery and the relationships and PAIN, this show knows from pain and no, I don't care, laugh all you want, I had to share this. These guys know what they're doing on a level that intimidates me. It's the Harry Potter of shows. There. I said it. People should do whatever they can to check out this first season so the second won't be a spoiler fest. I'm nutty.... Some of you may already be all up on this, and some may disagree, but I'm urging peeps to check it out, 'cause there is great TV afoot, and who doesn't want that?

After this, Joss has praised the show in a number of other places, and then done a cameo as an actor on a second season episode. (Alas, he hasn't written nor directed an episode yet... so far as I can tell from a bit of googling, the hang up seems to be Joss's own willingness to do so -- which he attributes to being intimidated by the show's quality (!?!) -- and not Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas's willingness to have him do one.) There's also a bit of other Buffy/Veronica overlap: in actors. Alyson Hannigan has a role as an occasionally-recurring character, and Charisma Carpenter plays a recurring character in season two.

So if you don't believe me, believe Joss: Veronica Mars is superb. (I won't say "Best. Show. Ever" -- but I bet Joss was just being modest.) Anyone looking for some good television -- or good narrative art regardless of medium -- should check it out.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

All Politics Ought To Be Discussed In the Language of a Wacky Superhero Comic's just more fun that way.

Today's example: Ezra Klein channels Grant Morrison:
...what's always baffled me about the Bush administration is that despite their unconcerned, craven approach to policy-making, they refuse to capture enormously popular issues by correctly appropriating liberal policies. When they try, as on Medicare Part D, they end up talking like progressives, but legislating like transdimensional beings composed entirely of greed.
(Emphasis added to show the Morrisony part.)

Aesthetic note: "wacky" is meant simply as a description, not a critique.

Political note: I think EK's basic point here is actually off -- while it's true that the Bush Administration often has a "unconcerned, craven approach to policy-making", they also have a sufficient adherence to conservative ideology that of course they would never genuinely appropriate liberal policies (as opposed to liberal rhetoric, which as EK correctly notes they do appropriate). It's not surprising at all.

...I'm struggling with a formulation that will correctly capture the administration's underlying consistency in being craven in some circumstances and ideologically dogmatic in others -- but I do feel fairly sure there is one. It may be that correctly solving this problem will actually require getting a handle on related ones, e.g. to what degree (and in which cases) does the administration believe their own bullshit and to what degree (and in which cases) are they simply trying to (and often succeeding in) putting one over a gullible and apathetic public, i.e. are they stupid or lying?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Free OED (for a limited time only!)

Via Language-Hat, I see that the new BBC TV show, Balderdash and Piffle (about which I know nothing), is offering free online OED searches from now until February 13. It's on a bit of an odd pattern, though: for the most part you can only search the current "letter of the week" -- as I type it's N. (Very Sesame Street, if you ask me.) But for 48 hours every week -- 21:30 GMT on Mondays to 21:30 GMT on Wednesdays (that's 4:30 p.m. on Monday to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday for us East-coast folks) -- you can search the whole OED. For free.

So if you'll excuse me, I need to go look up a word or two...

(I actually own a dead-trees version of the OED, so theoretically this shouldn't be such a big deal, but it's a bit of a pain what with the microscopic print (even with the accompanying magnifying glass), flipping through the huge, unwieldy volume and so on...)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy Martin Luther King Day

Just a few links (mostly borrowed from other bloggers) to celebrate the occasion.

The text of MLK's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail".

Audio versions of some of MLK's most famous speeches:

The speech he gave at the 1963 March on Washington (the "I Have a Dream" speech) (via)

His 1967 speech against the Vietnam war

The speech he delivered the day before his death. (Bonus: Bobby Kennedy's speech about MLK's assassination, delivered (of course) one day later.)

And, finally, a 1956 comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, available on-line. (via)

(Update: new link added.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Alito à la Lemieux

I quote others only to better express myself. -- Montaigne.

Scott Lemieux gets at the crux of the politics here:

The fact that conservatives are not openly touting Alito's conservative jurisprudence but rather trying to claim that his record doesn't mean what it obviously means tells you that conservatives themselves don't think that overturning Roe and many of the other long-held goals of conservatives are supported by the public. Democrats should not be running scared, and there is no reason to believe--pace Matt--that there is any kind of significant political downside if they strongly oppose Alito, which they clearly should on the merits.

I won't detail the "on the merits" comment -- see Lemieux's links for details (and see here for more). Of course, "the merits" mean the political merits -- unlike Harriet Miers, no one is claiming that Alito is unqualified. But those merits are perfectly valid reasons for rejecting a nominee. As Lemieux wrote about Robert Bork:

He was appointed for political reasons, of course, and rejected for political reasons, and in both cases the reaction was perfectly appropriate. It was Reagan's right to appoint somebody who believes that the Court's entire line of privacy cases is wrongly decided and that the federal government can legally segregate and that the 1st Amendment should be read extremely narrowly. And it was the Senate's prerogative to reject someone with these views.

It's nonsense to pretend that judicial nominations aren't political; so we shouldn't be ashamed or reticent about making explicitly political arguments and judgments about them. The Democrats should filibuster Alito because he is a right-wing judge who will make right-wing political judgments; it's the right political move, both in the sense of the moral thing to do and in the sense of the canny thing to do (if done properly).

Nor do any of the non-political arguments against filibustering stand up. The notion that judges shouldn't be filibustered is just silly -- the filibuster is more reasonable for judicial appointments, which are for life, than for political ones, which are time-limited, or political bills, which can be repealed. As for the notion that one shouldn't filibuster because it's counter-majoritarian, well, the Senate is counter-majoritarian; as Hendrik Hertzberg is wont to point out, "if each of every state’s two senators is taken to represent half that state’s population, then the Senate’s fifty-five Republicans represent 131 million people, while its forty-four Democrats represent 161 million". And -- the silliest argument of all -- the fact that the nuclear option might be invoked is not a reason not to use the filibuster: as Matt Yglesias has argued, the worst possible outcome is for Alito to get on the Court and for the filibuster to remain; ideally, Alito would be blocked, but if that can't happen, getting rid of the filibuster (which historically tends to help conservative causes more than liberal ones) would be a nice consolation prize.*

Filibuster Alito!

* Even if it is gotten rid of in an illegitimate way -- remember, the nuclear option is so-called not because it's getting rid of the filibuster, but because it is doing so in a way that breaks Senate rules. Still, breaking the rules is a bad thing -- so the best result would be a Democratic filibuster which the Republicans would simply fail to overcome.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Happy New Year

Sorry to have been absent -- I've been sick, I fear. More posts when I have the time & energy.

In the meantime, if you like, you can check out some of my old posts. Additionally, let me share with you this quote from John Stuart Mill's Autobiography (chapter 5), which I came across in a recent op-ed by historian Darrin M. McMahon:
Those only are happy... who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.... Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life.
More soon, deus volent. Please stand by...