Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is Now Available for Preorder on DVD

A brief announcement: The DVD of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is now available for preorder on Amazon, with an estimated shipping date of December 19. (via)

Of course, you can watch it for free online if you watch some brief commercials... but the online version doesn't have the commentary, aka "Commentary! The Musical" which Joss Whedon describes thusly:
"Commentary! The Musical" is the most painstaking and exhausting piece of whimsey I have ever mistaken for a good idea. It has nearly twice as much music as Dr. Horrible itself -- since you can't really talk that much during a commentary musical or it sounds like a regular commentary. (Which we also have, with the stars and writers, plus making-of's, ELE applications, and a few items left lying around by a notorious Bunny...) I can say without hesitation that I hesitate to say it's great. And by great I mean ridiculous. It's sophmoric, solopsistic, silly and the most fun I've had being exhausted since the fabled Mushortio itself. And everyone sings beautifullly. Which enrages me. I a little bit hate my friends now.

As for the show itself, my comments are as follows: A) it's just as silly as you'd expect from the title; B) my wife and I have been singing it at each other for months; C) it's probably not for everyone; D) I'll be preordering a DVD post-haste.

Ok, announcement over. As you were.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nailing It in a Sentence -- or a List

At the end of an otherwise rather dreary essay in the New York Review of Books,* Elizabeth Drew has a sentence which seems to do a pretty good job of capturing the Bush administration's nature in a list of adjectives. Of the selection of Obama in the last election, Drew writes:
The American people had overwhelmingly rejected the Bush regime's stupidity, cupidity, its wars, its lies, its torturing and its secrecy, its ineptitude and its power grab that threatened constitutional government.
That about captures it, doesn't it? In fact, let's take a look at that in list form:
Power grab that threatened constitutional government
Yes, very good. So the next question is: can anyone think of either A) any central aspects of the Bush regime's maladministration which is not captured in that list?, or B) any central defining characteristic of the Bush administration which deserves a place alongside those aspects?

I'm not sure if I have any answer to A, but I think I can at least propose a few candidates for B. Here's what I'd suggest:
Defiance of empirical reality
Corrosive politicization of technical areas
Adherence to a malignant ideology

All of these are, arguably, contained in Drew's list above. But I would suggest that they each deserve separate mention. (And after all, all of Bush's nearly inexhaustible negative qualities and effects, the damage he has done to our nation, our republic and our world which will take a generation to fully understand let alone repair, is interlinked.) The Bush regime's defiance of empirical reality -- its ignoring of (and often hiding of and lying about) basic facts about the world, from Iraq to global warming to the economy to Katrina to the constitution, is essential to a large number of its worst acts and omissions. Politicizing things that had never previously been politicized, too, is essential to various aspects of Bush's assault on the country -- the corruption at the justice department, to take a narrow example -- but above all describes the nature of his response to 9/11: using it to eek out political wins in 2002 and 2004 and debasing, in the process, our country's reputation and morals, any hope of a positive response to that crime, and the memory of those killed. And while wars, lies and torturing covers a lot, Bush's imperialism strikes me as separable from all of those.

But most of all it's about ideology. Bush's regime was particularly stupid, avaricious, warmongering, dishonest, secretive, inept and so forth, even by normal conservative standards. But a huge proportion of most of those flaws flowed out the Bush regime's ideology -- an ideology that was the distillation of everything that the conservative movement has strived for since Goldwater and before. Many conservatives have heretofore been in denial about the effects of various principles that they have espoused -- some even saw in the conservative movement a natural basis for opposing the criminality of the Iraq war on the grounds that it wasn't prudent (or whatever), despite the overwhelming bellicosity that has characterized the conservative movement's approach towards foreign policy for a generation. For many, a combination of stupidity, avarice, ideology and deliberate ignorance of empirical reality have disguised the deregulatory roots of our current economic crisis -- and, hence, its roots in conservative ideology. And ultimately the conservative contempt for governance has been basic to both Bush's incompetence and his corruption and cronyism, of which Katrina may be the most obvious example, although there are so very many to choose from. And so forth.

But if we ignore the fact that these manifold flaws are not Bush's personal problem, or even the problem of those he hired and appointed and was elected alongside, but rather the faults inherent in a set of ideas that guided Bush's regime, then we risk returning to it once the immediacy of the devastation it has wrought (moral, political, economic, etc) recedes from view.

I digress. At any rate, my proposed sentence is far too long, but it's more complete, so here is my revised version:
The American people had overwhelmingly rejected the Bush regime's stupidity, cupidity, its wars, its lies, its torturing and its secrecy, its ineptitude and deliberate ignorance of empirical reality, its imperialism, its corrosive politicization and consequent cronyism and corruption, its power grab that threatened constitutional government, and its adherence to a malignant ideology that led to all of the above.
What do you think?

But what is best about Drew's sentence is its recognition of a basic reality -- that in electing Obama, more than anything else, the American people rejected all of the maladministration the Bush regime perpetuated and represented, and that this rejection was the most important reason to vote for Obama and not McCain. To have done otherwise would have been to reward the worst governance in the history of the Republic -- a sure-fire recipe for its further desolation.

But we didn't. At long last -- four if not eight years after we should have, we rejected all of that. No wonder that -- as Drew says in her next sentence -- "the relief was palpable." Given the situation, it should have been.

* Dripping with enough conventional wisdom -- including the pretense that it was in places going against conventional wisdom -- to drown a medium-sized farm animal.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

In Which Thanks Are Given

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.... Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

-- Psalm 100:2, 4

ANYA: I love a ritual sacrifice.
BUFFY: It's not really a one of those.
ANYA: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.

-- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Pangs" by Jane Espenson
A big electronic shout-out to my family in Chicago: I love you all, miss you all, and wish I could be there with you today.

To everyone else, I wish you a joyful Thanksgiving, however (and whether) you celebrate it, and whomever (and however) you give thanks.

As is true every year, I thank each and every one of you for reading. I know I always say this, but it's not just a ritual: it's quite sincere. I am thankful that you (all of you) take the time to come by and read what I have to say. It's an honor to have you visit; I hope you'll come back often.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Lieu of a Rant

For all my stated dread that the film of Watchmen -- a book that I really, dearly love -- would be terrible, I have to admit that I always thought I'd probably end up seeing it anyway, just because I'm a geek and this is my culture...

...until I saw the second theatrical trailer.

(I won't link. Google it yourself.*)

It made it look so bad -- not the look, strictly speaking, but the way they seemed to be approaching the movie, the metastasis of idiotic genre conventions into the film of a book explicitly and brilliantly devoted to subverting them,** the little turns of phrase which indicate that they are going to gut the book, stuff it with cotton fluff, and see if the mounted carcass can serve as well as the living animal -- that I think I am going to seriously try to skip it.

I didn't want even that much of their neutered version in my head or my ears my eyes -- let alone a full two hours worth.

(Oddly, the first trailer had made me want to see it more than I had: it made it look like they were keeping more of the book's spirit than I had guessed they would.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go wash out my mind with something. Bleach.

[This has been a test of the blogger ranting system. If this were a genuine rant, I would go through the trailer frame-by-frame and explain in exhausting detail why, how and precisely which details make the film look so mind-liquifyingly stupid. But to do that, I'd have to see the damn trailer again, and I'd rather watch Jar Jar Binks's reenactment of Birth of a Nation with a polka soundtrack.]

* If and only if you happen to have woken up this morning, looked in the mirror, and thought, "Gosh, I have far too many brain cells. How can kill a large number of them off quickly and efficiently?" Otherwise -- really -- give it a miss.

** In a slightly different genre: the book was about the conventions of the superhero comic as of its mid-eighties creation; the film seems to be falling into the (slightly different) genre conventions of the contemporary superhero film.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ode to the Sandwich Mysteriously Left Upon Our Back Stairs Several Days Ago

O sandwich
Neatly wrapped
In perfectly folded saran wrap
With studied casualness
At a forty-five degree angle to the edge
On the second stair from the bottom --

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ithaca's Protest for Marriage Equality

I just returned from the protest I mentioned yesterday -- Ithaca, New York's version of today's national protests against California's proposition eight, and for equal marriage rights for all citizens, straight and gay.

It went well, I think. There was a very good turnout -- more than a hundred, easily (I was up near the front, and couldn't easily see the whole crowd). This was impressive given the weather here: most of today has seen a heavy November rain, although it let-up for (most but not all) of the rally itself. (I was planning to bring a camera, but the rain dissuaded me; if I find any links to others' photos, though, I'll link. Update: here's a photo I swiped from the Facebook page for the event. (I'm in the second row, behind the woman with the "you can't amend love" sign.) More photos at the link.)

There were more than a half a dozen speakers -- three members of the "Ithaca 50", 25 local couples who sued (unsuccessfully) for marriage rights here; two of the organizers (one of whom identified as a Catholic "straight ally" with a gay father and transgendered cousin, and spoke movingly of her wish that her church support marriage rights); a local Tompkins County board member; two who read other people's testimony from the net... and maybe another one or two I forgot. We had the (apparently) nation-wide moment of silence at 2:00; lots of people waved signs. The sign I brought (pdf link) said "equality for all families", with little icons of three couples -- one straight, one gay, one lesbian.

Unusually for these events, I didn't strongly disagree with anything any of the speakers said; I wouldn't myself have waved all of the signs there, but most of them seemed reasonable. There was a pretty good avoidance of issue-drift -- a problem that some people have with left-sided protests in general -- in the speeches and the signs; and a strong appeal at the beginning for tolerance within the movement, and peacefulness and non-violence in protest. The strongest speakers -- unsurprisingly -- were the three members of the Ithaca 50: having a personal connection to an issue always adds a lot to a speech regardless of its content, and all three speeches were moving.

The one thing I would have liked to see was a greater focus on marriage equality in New York state. (It was mentioned a lot, but not focused on.) While the march was motivated by the defeat in California, it was about the issue generally; and New York is where we live. Also, as it happens, New York is arguably the new central front in this struggle: after the highest court here kicked the issue back to the rest of the state government, the state house passed an equal marriage rights bill, and the Governor said he'd sign it; the hold-up was the state legislature. Well, last week Democrats got a majority in the NY state senate for the first time in more than four decades (although not, alas, by defeating any of the anti-gay legislatures who represented this area). So, in theory, New York state should now pass -- in both houses -- equal marriage rights, and the Governor should sign it.* So I would I have liked more focus -- rhetorical and practical -- on trying to make that happen.

But a good protest.

I must admit these events bring out the cynic in me. Left-wing rallies have a very ritualistic feel to them, and it's not a ritual I always find easy to take very seriously, however much I support the cause. Additionally, I wonder about their efficacy in recent years (as opposed to in the 60's, say) -- the anti-war rallies in 2003 were IMS the largest in history, and had no visible impact whatsoever. I think that as a practical matter new strategies need to be devised -- and as a cultural matter, much of the feel of such events is silly. When one of the speakers started a chant about "the power of the people", I found my cynicism making out: wasn't it the power of the people that just voted against us? Isn't this -- alas -- a matter of justice in the face of popular opposition to it? I think the cause is just, and that we will, thanks to good demographics as well as changing minds, have a majority on the side of equality before long. But chants about power to the people felt like a really silly piece of misplaced 60's nostalgia (changed, ironically enough, by a 22-year-old who might have well been my student, since I taught at Cornell while he was there). And it's hard to get around the feel that these events are a ritual which always bring out the usual suspects, particularly in a town like Ithaca...

On the other hand, my wife recognized someone she knew, a law student at Cornell, who said it was her first protest -- ever, on anything; she'd come to support a friend of hers. And Ithaca being a small, liberal town that is practically a physical instantiation of silly misplaced 60's nostalgia, it probably isn't a good place to see the efficacy or importance of such events even if there was lots of it in the other marches today.

And, in the end, none of this matters: it's an important issue, an issue of justice and equality, and I think that going there was worthy, an act of political speech that has moral worth in and of itself, apart from the issue of efficacy or my cynicism about the culture of these things.

So I'm glad I went.

Now let's start pressuring New York to be third** after Massachusetts and Connecticut -- and the first state to establish equal marriage rights legislatively rather than through the courts. That'd be a landmark worth achieving.

And, of course, it's the right thing to do.

* Yeah, we have a new Governor since then, but he's said he'll sign the bill if it's passed.

** Alas, since it should have been fourth, had California done the right thing...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Protests Tomorrow in Favor of Equal Marriage Rights

In case any of my readers don't know, there is a national day of protests tomorrow against California's now-passed Proposition 8 (which removed civil marriage rights from gay and lesbian Californians). While the protests are aimed at specifically Prop 8 specifically, they are also (at least I presume) in favor of equal marriage rights for all citizens, straight and gay, in all states. The protests are meant to be simultaneous, taking place at 10:30 a.m. on the west coast and 1:30 p.m. on the east (and others as appropriate.*)

For me, as for many others, my happiness at last week's election was severely tempered by the terrible news about proposition eight. I am glad there will be an opportunity to voice continued commitment to equal rights on a national scale.

Note for any Ithaca readers: there is a local protest here, 1:30 p.m. on the Commons. (Web site here; facebook page here.) I plan (bli neder) to be there. Everyone else can find the protest in your area on this web site here.

Just watching the developing reaction to Prop 8 online (largely on these three blogs, although I'd love to hear about others; please leave them in comments (update: two more)) has been extraordinary. It's already been called a turning point in the gay rights movement equivalent to Stonewall or the founding of Act Up. For myself, I keep thinking about the renewed and expanded energy that took hold of the Civil Rights Movement in the early months of 1960 when the sit-in movement spread virally through the South from city to city (soon formalized with the reaction of SNCC). Whatever analogy you wish to use, this is, I believe (and have believed for a long time) the Civil Rights Movement of our day. Tomorrow is a day to stand up and be counted on the side of equality and justice.

I'll be there. I hope you will too.

*Poor Hawaii got stuck with 8:30 a.m. Ugh.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Proposal for a Minor but Worthwhile Constitutional Amendment

Salon is the latest news outfit (via) to speculate on the possibility that Bush will offer pardons to members of his administration -- for their role in torturing suspects, or possibly other offenses -- before leaving office.

Which leads to the following thought.

There may well be good reason to give the President the power to pardon, monarchical as it seems. But is there any good reason, whatsoever, for a lame-duck President to have the power to pardon?

Why not simply have a constitutional -- it would have to be constitutional, I presume, since the pardon power itself is, but IANALTG* -- limitation on that power ending it shortly before the election -- enough time, say, that the effect of the pardons could be taken into account by the electorate? The amount of time is debatable, obviously; it seems like at least a week would be necessary, possibly as much a a month. For the entirety of a Presidential term, up until a few weeks before the election, the President could grant a pardon; then, for a few months, that prerogative would be on hold. Presumably no pardons are so urgent that they could not wait a few months for a new President, with full pardon power restored, to take office. (In the very rare case that might be urgent -- a death penalty case, say -- presumably some reasonable judge would issue a stay of a few months if the possibility of a pardon really seemed likely.)

Note that I don't think it would be enough to simply require ratification by the Congress, or the incoming President, of any pardons in the lame-duck period -- let alone to simply allow reversal of the same; it would create a situation where the default was to let the lame-duck have their way.

One might consider extending this limitation on lame-duck Presidents to other powers, but I can't think offhand of any others which would require a specifically constitutional limit rather than simply a legislative one -- or which are so impossible to reverse.**

Note that there is precedent both for using constitutional amendments to deal with the practical difficulties of the lame-duck period (amendment 20) and for recognizing that some matters require an election to ratify their effects (amendment 27).

It seems to me that one ought to be able to get a good bi-partisan consensus on this matter -- Bush 41 gave out some unconscionable Iran-Contra pardons in his lame-duck period, and Clinton did some minor but slimy pardoning in his which conservatives were rather outraged about. And if Bush 43 does the same it would provide the occasion for this.

Overall the notion that a president immune from political consequences -- even for their party, save in a rather distant contest -- should have the power to grant pardons is inherently slimy and corrupting. Fixing it should be a no-brainer.

Some may want to go beyond this -- prohibit a president from pardoning themselves, say, or even any member of their administration for any action taken in the course of their official duties -- but the simpler form strikes me as far easier to get consensus on.

No lame-duck pardons! It seems a simple, even obvious idea. How about it?

* IANAL = I am not a lawyer. IANALTG = I am not a lawyer -- thank God!

** Except war-making -- but of course there the issue is not constitutional, since the power of war is already invested in Congress, not the President, but rather the utter abdication of that power by the cowardly invertebrates that have made up all of our national legislatures since WW2.

Friday, November 07, 2008

And the Angel Came in Unto Her And Said Hail Thou That Art Highly Favored

This passage in Luke (1:26-38) has been illustrated by some of the greatest artists of all time. My recent blogging hiatus was due to a long-planned trip to Florence where, among many other things, we saw many versions of it. Here are four.

Fra Angelico, painting on the wall of the San Marco abbey (now a museum):

Filippo Lippi, painting on the wall of the San Lorenzo church:

Sandro Botticelli, in a painting now hanging in the Uffitzi Gallery:

Leonardo Da Vinci, in a painting also in the Uffitzi Gallery (in fact in the very next room):

Truth be told, I don't have much to say about these works of art. But I saw them, and loved them and -- utterly inadequate as these jpg versions are -- wanted to show them to you.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Full of the Faith that the Dark Past Has Taught Us, Full of the Hope that the Present has Brought Us

Two hundred years of American history edited into four images, at roughly 50-year intervals:




(The violence that was segregation. Image from here.)


(Little Rock, Arkansas: President Eisenhower has to call out the National Guard in order to get nine African American children their court-ordered place in a previously all-white school.)


"Have not our weary feet/Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?" -- If not even farther than they could have dreamed.

For all my usual focus on the negative, this was a historic election, and one that every American ought to be proud of, and pleased by.

Marriage, Rights and the Long Arc of Justice

In 1961, Barack Obama was born to an interracial couple, who would not legally have been allowed to marry in many states in the Union -- including Virginia -- because of racist laws.

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court, overturning the will of the people in many states, ruled in the aptly-named Loving v. Virginia that laws banning marriages on racial grounds were unconstitutional.

In 2008, Barack Obama won the Presidency with the electoral votes of, among other states, Virginia, which would have prevented his parents from marrying at the time of his birth.

Also in 2008, the citizens of California decided to enshrine a new bigotry in their constitution, outlawing the marriages of many of its gay and lesbian citizens.

Perhaps one of the children of such a union -- or, indeed, one of those unions just annulled -- will grow up to become President of the United States.

At which time, all of us will see what many of us see now, that the laws just enacted in California in 2008 are precisely as contemptible as those in existence in Virginia in 1961.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.