Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Kos saw an article about an increased number of veterans running for Congress and basically just said "Isn't it great, we have more veterans on our side than they do." But when I looked at the article, it was something completely different that caught my eye.
Driven by the unique relevance their experience has to current events and inspired by Paul Hackett’s near victory in an against-all-odds race in Ohio, soldiers back from the Middle East are scrambling to get their names on congressional ballots for 2006. Hackett, though, was not the first to run, or to lose. Marine Steve Brozak completed active duty in Haiti, Bosnia and Iraq before mounting, and losing, a high profile 2004 election fight in New Jersey. Fellow Marine David Ashe was outspent 3-to-1 in Virginia and lost by 10 points that same cycle. A Republican veteran in Wisconsin also lost, and Jean Schmidt, the woman who beat Hackett in the August 2nd special election, beat a different Iraq veteran in her Republican primary. All of this losing means that no Iraq War veteran sits in Congress today.

I don't know for sure if this article is comprehensive, and David Ashe - well, outspent three to one, losing is expected. But as for the rest, that seems like a weird trend. In general, but especially against the backdrop of a war which at the time was popular, why wouldn't veterans have done better? I've got five guesses.

1. Statistical flukes. Anyone can lose here and there, and the above list of names is a small sample.
2. Americans are becoming less jingoistic. Military service is no longer considered proof of patriotism, leadership ability and an unshakable devotion to service above self.
3. Americans fail to take the war, and/or politics in general, seriously at all. Who cares if he's a vet because Congress corrupts everyone, and who knows he's a vet in the first place?
4. The war wasn't that popular after all, at least not by the time these people were running. (Makes you wonder what kind of question the pollsters should have been asking, then.)
5. Incumbency is just that big an advantage.

#1 is a given, really, so the others are all irrelevant unless this trend continues in 2006. I hope #2 is the case, but realistically, it seems pretty unlikely. #4 seems possible, but impossible to be sure of, short of starting up a new polling company from scratch and/or finding some way to reach the 95% of people who always ignore pollers. There's a certain amount of truth to both #3 and #5, but they're only relevant if they're true to a greater degree than was the case in the past. I don't know if they're the main raison, but I hope not. Democracy should not be just a spectator sport, and the outcome shouldn't be a given either.

So I guess this is just idle speculation, but if none of the veterans running in 2006 get elected either, then I'll try to come back to this. (Or rejoice if #2 starts to look possible, but...)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Early New Year's Resolution, No Doubt the First of Several:
To work the word "Belgium" into everyday speech. I mean, really, what's wrong with people? Fuck them. I would boycott whoever the American publisher of H2G2 was, write unfavorable reviews with this specific complaint on the pages for every one of Adams' books, and go out and find the original British version of the book and pay top dollar for it, if doing so didn't involve work.
Zoë was home for the weekend, and last night she rented "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." My parents didn't like it so much, but I thought it was hilarious. A good chunk of it was bad stuff happening to deserving or at least stupid people, which can be pretty damn funny if done well. There was a little actual intelligence in there, and the rest was shlocky moralizing after-school special stuff, and while that sounds pretty bad, it's vastly preferable to the contents of teen movies like "She's All That" and "American Pie." And it's the source (or at least an early example) of a lot of the clichés that get both parodied and used in earnest, like that thing at the end of the movie where the character freezes in a pose and a caption tells you their future and ties up all the plotlines nice and neat.

But maybe mostly importantly of all, I've always liked this parody/homage, and now I can appreciate it even more.

Fun facts: Cameos in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" include Ralph Macchio (better known as the Karate Kid) and Nicholas Coppola (better known as Nicholas Cage, he started going by Cage to get out of the shadow of his uncle Francis Ford.)

Non-movie update. Right. Thanksgiving was fun and relaxing. Two aunts came over here and left our place with almost as much food as they'd brought, so we won't be eating leftovers for very long at all. No Christmas shopping happened - not protest, at least not on my part, just no need or desire to do it. I've started making plans for a surprise gift for a cousin of mine, but that's it. We visited family Friday afternoon - extended family: my mom's cousin and his wife, their two sons and their wives, and their two cute little babies. My cousin Anne had to work that day and her son Aidan was at a babysitter's, unfortunately, but her older brothers have also been breeding.

Personally, emotionally, socially... it feels like I hit bottom in some senses last week. I shouldn't say that, of course - lots of people have it much worse than me, let's hope I don't really hit bottom, etc. - but things were bad, and in some ways (followed by the qualifiers I can't stop myself from adding), they're getting better because of that.

So, that seems as good a segue as any into
What I'm Thankful For:
1. A good job. For who I am and where I am in my life, I couldn't ask for a better one.
2. Family and friends that know me, understand me, and put up with me - gosh, even love me. :)
3. Stuff like, well, this. Things like this with a certain balance of private and public. This and certain similar things have probably kept me from going crazy here and there. (Heh. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Cue H2G2 reference.)
4. Our cats. Gray is on his last legs, which is sad, but Panda, Felix and Lucas are still fat and happy. And funny, whiny, and cute.

Friday, November 18, 2005

You know, when exactly did patriotism become such a hot-button issue around here? Well, I guess that's a dumb question as written; it always has been. It's obviously been pretty important since the existence of the modern concept of nation-states, but here and now it seems even more so than usual. Even during the infamous McCarthy trials, at least then the alleged traitors were being tied to a concrete, threatening enemy. But now?

Google "patriotism", and the first hit ties it explicitly into terrorism, the current war and flag-burning.* The second valid hit oozes a mood of defensiveness, quotes Ben Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr., and pleads with people to stand up for their civil rights. A Daily Kos diary is in the top 10 sites.

And the first site talking about patriotism to a country besides America is the twentieth. And that site is talking about what is wrong with it.

Right-wing pundits question the patriotism of liberals left and right. (Er, no pun intended.) It's ad hominem rather than relevant, and almost never based on facts. But it's hard to see why it matters quite so much. I mean, I'm sorry to sound like my mother, but when someone insults you - so what? Especially if it's a content-free insult. Defensiveness is needed, to judge by how many people out there agree with the conservative pundits, but really, who cares if someone says you don't love your country? More to the point, who cares if you don't love your country? Does it affect your fitness to do your job? Is there no state of mind possible in between "love" and "hate"? Tendency to treason or something ridiculous like that - do people go around killing everyone they don't love?

See, this might say something about my interpersonal skills. Sometimes I have a sense of what is undiplomatic and stupid to say, and even then I say it. :)

* All this applies to mid-July when I wrote the bulk of this post. There have been some changes to the Google rankings since then, or course.
Huh. That last post linked to some of my previous posts, and in the process of looking back I noticed quite a few drafts that I never published. In most cases I think it was just because I wanted to add more to them or "refine" them, or I wanted to take time to think over how controversial it would look. But considering what I just said Wednesday about brevity, adding more would probably just be bloat. And as for controversy - hell with it. I blog pseudo-anonymously*, nothing I've said here in the past is really out-of-bounds, and I have at least three readers and maybe up to thirteen, but almost definitely not thirty, so who cares?

And I think two of those old posts are as worth putting up here as anything is. So the next two posts were originally written several months ago.

* I mean, sure, there's all kinds of stuff about my personal life here, and more than a bit about my friends and co-workers. Just going with what I've said here and what I've linked to, a person could figure out pretty much everything about me. But unless I'm forgetting something, my full name doesn't appear anywhere here, and neither do my friends' full names or my place of work [at least, not after a few edits I just made]. You can get from the blog to me, but I don't see how you can get from me to the blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

So apparently there's a lobbying group devoted to making intellectual property protection even stronger. My opinion of that is here, or, to summarize, "shove it". And by the way, the collection of illegal art I mentioned in that post, or something very similar to it, can be found here.

Here's the really fundemental question: is parody theft?

There's more to it than just theft vs. not-theft, and it applies to many more forms of expression than just parody, but if you had to boil the issue down to three words, those would be the ones. Are culture and existing art legitimate subjects for commentary? Artists and entertainers stand on the shoulders of giants all the time, but is there a legal or ethical principle that forbids them from doing so while that giant is alive? (More relevantly, and to me the question is so clear-cut that asking it is ridiculous, is there a principle that forbids them from doing so while the corporation that employed that giant still exists?)

With the kind of name that George Orwell vilified, the Progress and Freedom Foundation thinks the answers to those questions are "No" and "Yes" respectively.

This isn't really a new phenomenon, even though the technology involved makes it seem that way. I don't see any difference between this and the guilds in pre-industrial European cities that existed to keep the senior craftmen on top, or even to some of the occasional excesses of how unions have done business. It's not in the remotest sense about art or innovation, and it's only about property and individual rights to the extent that they're necessary to the MPAA and RIAA. Simply put, this push to extend copyrights into perpetuity, overturn Sony v. Universal Studios* and outlaw what it now called "fair use" is about keeping those on top, on top.

Via Matt Stoller at MyDD.

* My earlier thoughts on the legality of file-sharing can be found here. But let me clarify something - just because I understand and agree with the Court's ruling on the legality of this specific case, doesn't mean I like MGM's stance in any of the larger issues.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Random Thought of the Day: competing pressures on writers. On the one hand you're given story assignments with word counts, but on the other hand brevity is a sign if not a necessary condition of good writing.

In other news, I've finally got caught up at work. Between the national conference weekend before last (went well, by the way... nothing exciting happened, I just helped set up and sort things out, and mingled with the people I've been e-mailing for months), and my own tendency to procrastination I had got a bit behind on a couple jobs, but I'm up-to-date now. For that and other reasons, it's been a relatively bad few days, but... meh. I'm used to it and I'm trying to do something about it, so there's no point in complaining.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

There were elections in half a dozen states yesterday, and for the most part Democrats did well. The only real defeat that I know of was an amendment to the Texas constitution banning same-sex marriage. Here it is. But there's something funny about it. To my admittedly untrained eye, unless there's something very unintuitive about Texas's previous constitution... it looks like there's something in the bill that shouldn't be. When it was pointed out to me, I had to struggle to keep from laughing out loud at work. Can you guess why?

SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 32 to read as follows:
Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

[Emphasis mine.] So, am I reading that wrong, or did they outlaw all marriage? Well, more accurately, take the government out of regulating marriage. Which might be nothing to complain about, but I don't think it's what anyone was expecting.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Well, it seems all the cool kids are talking about the riots in France, (to economize links I chose some of those because they link to other posts) so here goes.

This seems to be getting a lot more attention on the right than on the left, probably because it fits so much more neatly with their prejudices and fears, and they seem to waffle between blaming the riots on Islamofascism (TM) or the French welfare state. Schädenfreude abounds. Most likely of all, it's multi-determined, as Andrew Sullivan put it in one post. Fears of racism by the police were a spark on the pile of dry tinder of a permanent and disenfranchised underclass, with Islamic fundementalists pouring gasoline on it as they can... or something.

Of course, I'm writing about this much later than some and with no news of my own to report, but on the other hand, unlike most pontificators I've lived in France. I didn't think about the racism that suddenly everyone is saying is pervasive in French society, mostly just because I wasn't really exposed to it. I was relatively good friends with an Arab guy and also a black girl at the Lycée Clemenceau, and they weren't stigmatized in school, but it was one of the good schools in Nantes and the effects of racism are rarely that obvious anyway. So I have just two thoughts of my own about this.

One thing I did notice is that France's concept of political correctness is almost nonexistent. Two examples: comic books like "Tintin" are full of some really caricatured racial stereotypes and they're still mainstream and accepted, and a common slang word for "homosexual" is "pédé" - which is short for "pédophile." It may be coarser than "gay" (which also exists in French), but it's still common and not unprintable. No doubt the lack of PC culture is partly just due to the general French lack of prudery, but that can't explain it all. So I don't find it hard to believe complaints about racism just because the French (on their own soil) skipped the really bloody excesses of bigotry that most other places went through.

But as far as people suggesting that this is a general rejection of the French system of government, the most credit that could possibly deserve is "true but irrelevant." If that. Why? Because it wouldn't be the first time. Since the French Revolution they have had five republics, and a monarchy and a couple dictatorships too. While I was staying in France, I remember seeing newspapers raise the question of whether it was time for the Sixth Republic. The editors at Le Monde weren't thinking of this exact event, but let's just say it's not unprecedented.

There are a lot of valid criticisms of France, but apathy and political cowardice are not among them. So even if Paris goes down in flames - and by the way, not too likely - I don't think there are any larger points to draw from it. Other than "racism is bad, mmmkay?" The brewing intifada is just a menace in the minds of the culture warriors out there.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

More "Serenity" thoughts. A lot of people saw political themes in it, and it would be hard to deny that they didn't exist. And of course, people are seeing what they want or expect to see. Liberals focus on the gender equality and lack of prudery, reactionaries focus on the oppressive government and the gunplay, bla bla bla. It reminds me of "The Incredibles." I had urged a friend to go see it but he refused for a while because he had heard that it had some heavy-handed right-wing messages, but when he finally did see it he was struck by how every unsympathetic character in the movie was motivated by greed and had found or made a place in the "free market" system to prey on the weak.

But on the other hand, as I said before, the protagonists of "Serenity" are the veterans of a war analogous to the Civil War, on the losing side. So does it have a right-wing slant?

Well first of all, I don't think it matters. I've read a few people - not many, but here and there - rejecting the movie for its political message(s), which strikes me as cutting off their nose to spite their face. Whedon and the other creators were trying to tell a compelling story and be entertaining, the work stands on its own, and any moralizing was secondary to that if intentionally created at all. And second of all, it's not clear-cut partisan at all. Just for example, in "Firefly" an interracial marriage was at least as important to the plots as the evil empire, and economic hardship was brought up much more often than political actions - if the Confederate elements are political, should we take political messages from those facts as well?

Also, it doesn't appear in the link I posted above, but I've read and read about similar analyses that were just insane. Of Whedon's other work especially. People saying that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spinoff "Angel" are deeply conservative in tone because they're about a fundemental, sharply divided conflict between good and evil. Well, it one big problem with that is obvious, namely that right-wingers don't have a monopoly on morality. But also, and on behalf of the non-Buffy fans who make up a majority of my friends: the show was liberal in most if not every sense of the word. Three lesbian main characters, all of whom were [intended to be] sympathetic and even admirable protagonists? A title character (and despite having human flaws, she's as close as the show gets to a paragon of virtue) who has sex in her junior year of high school? Guns appearing rarely by any standard but especially rarely for the action/fantasy genre, and always either ineffectively or negatively? And even the "sharply divided" part reveals ignorance, with the lines changing all the time between good and evil in the Buffyverse. In order to see a conservative message in that, you have to be completely nuts.

Edited for typos.