Friday, February 27, 2004

Some folks, whom I normally respect and admire, have been floating some rather dubious assertions in their endorsement of the FMA floater. Specifically, they seem to regard the gay movement for marriage rights as a "benefits" grab - a scam to rake in the fiscal and financial goods associated with civil marriage.

I have to wonder what exactly they think marriage is for.

Is it a squalid tax-dodge, a simple economic arrangement for the benefit of the undersigned? As someone who is never likely to see a wedding from the inside - straight, gay or bestial - I have only one thing to say to that idea. Fuck off.

This cash-and-carry conception of marriage rights reflects very poorly upon the professors. I think I can safely characterize this notion as intrinsically anti-family. It is an economically reductionist picture of the family.

But, before you turn away in disgusted anticipation of some touchy-feely ode to the wonders of familial love, I'll give you this:

Marriage protects the familial rights of association. The spouse enjoys intrinsic rights within the married family in regards to the second spouse, and the children within the family. These rights include favored status in custody cases over the children in the family. I have heard far too many stories of children ripped out of the bosom of a gay family by grand-parents or other interested parties, in which the gay family's non-status as a non-family allows the destruction of that legally nonexistent association. So long as the gay family is outlaw, it is vulnerable to what I would characterize as legal predation by anyone with a grudge and an actionable status.

Marriage preserves the family's possessions within the family. In death, the gay family is weakened by its lack of direct legal standing. The estate of deceased spouse, if intestate, will fall to the control of his or her "legal" family. What if the children in the family are not genetically his or hers? They will be disinherited.

Marriage preserves the family's rights of association in sickness and death. The external "family" can intercede, interrupt, and interfere in times of sickness and weakness. The outlawed family loses the right of control over burial.

Without the right of civil marriage, gay families exist only on the sufferance of others. They are permanent charity cases, dependant on the good will of those with actual, discrete legal rights, who must be willing to pretend the gay family their pretend-rights.

This isn't about the aggrandizement of benefits. This is about delivering gay families from the victimization of beneficence.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

A stretching, on-going literary discussion of Dark Knight Returns is going on here (and extended here, here, here, and here by the same author) and here, mostly by Dave Fiore and Steven Berg. On the whole, I prefer Berg's approach to the subject; Fiore seems over-concerned about how Miller fails to recapitulate Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and I'm not clear on why he thinks this is the valid model for what Miller was doing with Dark Knight Returns.

Heart of Darkness is a very early-modern, externalized approach to the problem of nihilism, whereas the core narrative of Dark Knight Returns is an existential, internalized consideration of nihilism. Conrad's approach is reportorial - couched in a protective array of distancing devices. He assumes that the full experience of nihilistic despair is not something that his audience can understand and accept. "And this also has been one of the dark places of the Earth" - this is a way of connecting a comfortable audience with a deeply discomfiting idea - of carefully and delicately breaking down the barrier between the reader and the idea, of breaking it to the reader that this horror is not something safely hidden in the depths of Black Africa, but something that once was here. But Conrad was essentially a modernist - a hater of nihilisms. It's a polemic against nihilism, not an endorsement.

Dark Knight Returns, if it is anything, is a product of that period in the late Modern period when the nihilists started breaking down the doors, when the irrationalities of Post-Modernism was burning the rubbled remnants of the Enlightenment. Miller re-cast Batman as a nihilistic hero, and I suppose that's the primary distinction between a Conradian Kurtz and Miller's Batman. Miller makes his nihilist a hero - however problematic, however existential. Conrad's nihilist was a cautionary warning, a moral lesson - a monster, in the archaic and literal sense of the term.

Fiore dislikes Dark Knight Returns, but he hasn't gotten heavily into the question except to detail structural differences between that work and Conrad's novel. I wonder if this is the problem he's working towards? This distinction between monster and hero?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A Canadian live-journaler asked why Americans get so excited about our Constitution. I thought my response was worth reprinting here, in lieu of coming up with original material:

The Constitution as itself is considered mildly inviolable because it is the national contract. By directly questioning its legitimacy, you express a revolutionary attitude - quite literally, un-American. It isn't a religion, but it is the heart of the national character. Note that questioning the legitimacy of the Constitution is not the same thing as agitating for its amendment. It has been amended 27 times (17 if you count the original Bill of Rights as part of the compromise that got the Constitution ratified), and can be amended again if need be.

The odd thing is that it hasn't been amended in my lifetime. Since that lifetime has coincided with a decided upswing in judicial activism and aggressive interpretism, that might not be a coincidence. Prior to the current period, constitutional amendment was irregularly but not infrequently used to change the contract to reflect current attitudes about one issue or another. The lowering of the voting age to 18, for instance. Women's suffrage. Prohibition, and the revocation of the same.

A change in judicial ideology in the late Sixties/early Seventies pulled us away from that. Under the previous paradigm, Roe vs. Wade (the famed abortion legalization decision by the Supreme Court, for those non-Americans who don't pay much attention to our politics) would most likely have been implemented as a constitutional amendment by the early Eighties. Instead, the activists went directly to the courts, and won there, by re-interpreting the contract, rather than going through the bother of re-negotiating the contract. This enraged the conservative and religious, and they've been on the warpath about it ever since. In the normal course of events, I doubt we'd have such a vigorous and organized "pro-life" political movement, since they would have boiled like a frog in a pot.

But the judicial activist approach to constitutional law is essentially a religious one - in that it attempts to interpret the existing text to find the desired message. The conservative response to this approach is equally pseudo-religious - a counter-argument is made along the lines of "original intent", and both sides end up tussling over the prophets' meanings, as if it were scripture and not human law.

The current conservative move to enshrine current attitudes about gay marriage is an attempt to return to amendment-minded consensus constitutionalism. Of course, they are trying to seal current attitudes into stone law, while those attitudes still reflect their own opinions. As such, it's a reactionary approach, and seems to disregard the possibility that their proposed amendment might be repealed in the same fashion as Prohibition in its day.

Amendments are supposed to reflect the solid and stable consensus of the polity. That's why it's so hard to pass an amendment. Lots of people give lip-service to crap amendments like the anti-flag-burning floater, the Equal Rights proposal, the anti-abortion proposal, and so on. But the difficulty of passage means that the proposal must both be something about which people really, truly care deeply - that's what deep-sixes piffle like the flag-burning thing - and something the vast majority of voters agree on - which kills divisive, minority-opinion proposals like Equal Rights and "Pro-Life".

Also note the distinction between official oaths and the American Pledge of Allegiance. Officials swear to protect and uphold the Constitution; kids are asked to pledge allegiance to a flag - an abstraction. In a very real sense, the Constitution is a creature of the people, and not vice-versa. This is the main reason I don't consider the Constitution to be sacred - it's a national possession, not the nation itself.

Via Into the Woods.

Monday, February 23, 2004

"Divided by the number of people they finally let go, how many kilos of grain were paid for me? Or my mother? What was the price in grain for the Moscow boy who became a student at Stanford and invented Google? ". An immigrant student loses it at a forced-attendance anti-war poetry reading, and tells her professors - the majority of the "poets" being faculty, of course - exactly what she thinks of them.

Thankfully, few "anti-war" poems have surfaced at the State College slams. It isn't the local political cause. That would be feminism and anti-rape ideology. You know, our bodies, ourselves stuff. Impossible to object to, because there's nothing controversial or hateful about it. Well, I suppose someone coming from a hard Christian point of view would get pissed about pro-gay or feminist material, but hell, why do I have to carry water for the sensibilities of those folks? Let them come and object, if it would even occur to them to do so.

Of course, that feminist or queer-ideology material sometimes comes wrapped in a paranoid persecution-complex. Make that "often", come to think of it. And paranoia never comes across well in an aesthetic context - it reeks of narcissism and self-involvement.

Via Mark Miyake, who has some interesting stuff in between the scary linguistic material. But why the gratuitous Deutsche in the article-title, Mark? The immigrant-author is Russian, and the people driving her up the wall were standard-issue Northern Californian leftists, not particularly known for their Teutonicisms.
Andrew Sullivan has proposed a sunsetted war-tax on people making $200,000 a year, as an admission that he can't continue to "have it both ways" and endorse fiscal fiscal conservatism, the war, and tax-cuts. I'm wondering what the $200,000 represents - if he's being honest, it's because his income exceeds that number by some amount. Since I make considerably less than $30,000 a year, in order to be honest myself, I counter-propose that the war-tax be imposed progressively upon all taxpayers, and be negated solely by the earned income tax credit, which should exempt the real hard-luck cases.

Most of my charity money is going towards war-related incidentals, in one sense or another. I'm sure you've seen a hippy drive by with one of those obnoxious "wouldn't it be great if schools got all the money they needed, and the air force had to throw a bake sale to buy bombers". It was a favorite among "sensitive" boomers. Who knew that they'd make it come true once they got into positions of fiscal authority?
Juan Cole is setting up a nonprofit for his translation project, now named the Americana Project, that I was conflicted about last week. I'd rank the effort now at "half-a-loaf", which is good enough for me. And as a positive, I finally got PayPal to work for me, for the first time in something like two years. I have no idea what fixed it this time, mostly because I had no idea why it wasn't letting me log in before.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Huh. I guess this article in the local Centre Daily Times explains why they were having problems with nasty run-off from the interstate construction over Bald Eagle Mountain at Skytop. For non-locals, I guess I ought to explain that they've been working for years to build an interstate connection between the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) and I-80, called I-99. Large stretches of I-99 are complete - in fact, the only portion that's missing is the stretch down Bald Eagle Valley, from the town of Bald Eagle to Scotia Road in Patton Township north of State College. A few weeks back, they suddenly started having crap wash out of the construction cut, and there was this big fuss. According to the linked article:
The problem is that between 500,000 and 1 million cubic yards of acid rock -- once safely sealed in geologic formations hundreds of millions of years old -- have been dug up and exposed to water that then drains into Buffalo Run, a high-quality tributary of Spring Creek.

Buffalo Run is a creek that runs from the edge of the Scotia pine barrens along the southern base of Bald Eagle Mountain, eventually flowing into Spring Creek in the northern fringe of Bellefonte, just before the whole watershed empties through the Bellefonte-Milesburg water gap. I don't know how great Buffalo Run is, but Spring Creek is big juju in fishing circles, especially downstream from Buffalo Run. The construction firms have a band-aid in place:
The acid-rock discharge is now being temporarily treated with 10,000 pounds of soda-ash briquettes as it washes into the stream. Byron said the treatment is neutralizing the acid -- for now.

There was a big ecological fuss during the planning of the Bald Eagle Valley stretch of I-99, but nobody was talking about the prospects of millions of cubic yards of poison rock. The worry at the time was about sound pollution and erosion from the planned ridgetop path.

They didn't notice that the rock was bad mojo until they had torn it out and left it in a bunch of big piles that seeped out. At least some of it has been used as rockfill for portions of the completed construction, which is going to be expensive as hell to fix from all accounts.

Explaining why they missed the acidic sandstone in the course of environmental evaluations:
"This is a very, very isolated sandstone," Byron said. "Instead of sitting horizontally, like most geologic layers do in Pennsylvania, it sits vertically. So, they would have had to hit it dead center during their environmental-impact work.

One of our consultants with the HighQ project used to do a lot of soil sample work, and he was violently down on the whole concept. He claims that soil types can vary wildly within any average plot of agricultural land, and that the usual ten-samples-per-fifty-acre-field soil study was a totally hit-or-miss proposition. But he was talking about soil types, not rock layers - though they are closely related.
Mike Smith, the DEP's district mining manager, said acid-bearing rock is usually found in coal regions, although the Bald Eagle formation "sometimes" has concentrations of acid rock.

If you know your Pennsylvania geography, you've already twigged as to just how silly this assertion is. Bald Eagle Valley is right on the eastern fringe of a big stretch of coal mines and coal strip-mines, all along the eastern end of the Allegheny plateau. Being surprised by coal-region-like conditions in that part of the state is rather like being surprised by a sinkhole in this part of the state. Not that this hasn't happened recently to another state agency - some bright spark chose to build a new school building for the State College Area School District right on top of the mother of all sinkholes, about three or four years back. In the same township as this mess, come to think of it. Over Park Forest way, if I'm not mistaken.
Iran Parliamentary Elections May Favor the Hard-Liners. No shit, really? The "Hard-Liners" refused to let their opponents run, those opponents are mostly calling for a boycott of the "election", the opposing newspapers have been suppressed and shut down, and there are reports of people being forced to vote by threats to their services and benefits. You think maybe the elections might go the way of the "Hard-Liners"? Are y'all sure you want to go that far out on a limb? Maybe you might want to put a few more qualifiers in there, cover all your bases?

This is sad and disturbing. I didn't start out life wanting to be one of those Jesse Helms-esque xenophobes who where convinced that the United Nations was the seat of all human wickedness and venality. But the more I see of the Annans and Brahimis of this world, the less I can justify their action, their behavior.

To sabotage their own security over the summer can be written up as foolhardiness. Their own notions of noble neutrality and honorable ideals led them to think themselves immune from bloodshed. Fair enough.

To pull their people back could be spun as caution, but it looked a lot more like a combination of laziness and cowardice - the unwillingness to put the work into self-defense, and the physical fear of the very real dangers. Whatever the case might be, they cut and run. Well, the UN isn't a military organization, and one oughtn't expect bravery and nerve from bureaucrats and diplomats, yes?

But their forte is nation-building, right? (Yeah, yeah - I know. Work with me here.) It's what they specialize in - the planning, formulation, consultation, and implementation of political and diplomatic arrangements. It's the primary purpose of the United Nations, and all the bureaus and organizations, the international bodies and NGOs that cluster around the UN proper like a haze of eternal mayflies - those are secondary or tertiary purpose at best. So, when the UN was invited back into Iraq - by the provisional governing bodies, illegitimate as they are - then we must be playing to the very strongest strengths of that august body, the best and brightest hopes of "world government", as enthusiasts like to think of it. The UN wasn't even being asked to organize anything - not yet. It was a round of consultations, in expectation of recommendations. So, the consultations took place.

Oh, yes indeed, the consultations took place. Brahimi encouraged the Shiites to think that they'd get their direct elections, while giving the Kurds the impression that irregular, local elections would be held partially in various parts of the country that were ready for it. They helped trash the US caucus scheme. And finally, the recommendations came down from Mt. Olympus.

Elections weren't possible in the timeframe allowed, but the caucuses shouldn't be held, either. The timeframe should be held to, and sovereignty turned over on schedule. A new sovereign body ought to be composed according to the judgment of the Iraqi people. Not via elections, not via caucusing. The UN recommendations, in fact, declined to specify how this sovereign body ought to be created; not in the least detail, nor in the greatest. The apparent, unspoken notion being, apparently, that the Iraqi Governing Council was good enough for UN purposes. Figure out which budding criminal organizations weren't represented, and invite their bosses into the Council. Who needs popular sovereignty, anyways?

Annan and his cronies seem bound and determined to play to every suspicion I harbor about the diplomatic and bureaucratic fear and hatred of actual representative democracy. Diplomats and bureaucrats, after all, are by definition unelected - deriving their authority from appointment, delegation - seniority. Elections are fine - if it doesn't actually mean anything. Facade before structure, facing before frame, surface above all else. No wonder the diplomatic corps is by all reports delighted by today's farcical, horrible "elections" in Iran, and the prospect of being able to deal directly with the Iranian theocracy. They're tired of pretending to care about the powerless Iranian puppet-parliament.

Diplomats and bureaucrats prefer tyranny. Tyranny makes things simple. One structure, one place to go to, one set of people to talk to, one line to report to headquarters. Why wouldn't the diplomats and bureaucrats sabotage representative democracy wherever they can? Tyranny makes the job easy.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Yipe. I've been having waking nightmares for the better part of nine months now about what happens when it comes down to brass tacks in Iran. I laughed off Trent Telenko's notion that they were going to use the unit-cycling period of this spring to cover an Iranian invasion. But then came all of these rumors of a "spring offensive" in Pakistan, which is covering troop movements into Afghanistan, and the conservative/reformer showdown seems to be coming to a full head, with the younger Khatami calling for the end of theocracy, and the mullahs surpressing reformist newspapers.

I'm afraid that either Bush is up to something covert, sneaky, and totally reckless, or we're about to see a large-scale slaughter of unsupported, democratically-minded Iranian reformers. I am totally at a loss to guess which I'd prefer. A massacre would represent a horrible strategic defeat; a sudden and unprepared plunge into Iranian intervention in an election year would be chaos incarnate. The only scenarios I can construct that would result in positive results all bear more resemblance to a bad Tom Clancy novel than what I recognize as reality.

All thanks to the Allahpundit, who is becoming an excellent news-aggregator when he isn't playing blasphemous comic lightning-rod.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

I see a nice little "White House censoring science!" article on the NYT frontpage featuring something called the Union of Concerned Scientists. A little news-googling gives me this article, which while obviously is something of a partisan hack-job ("green version of the Inquisition"), does help one determine that this Union of Concerned Scientists, when it isn't hectoring politicians, is busy blackening the name of heterodox Danish scientists. Take that as you may. They also seem to act as a factoid-generating body for environmental editorials. Now, don't get me wrong: I don't particularly like SUVs, either, and would like to see them one with the ages. But that isn't exactly the mark of a, hrm, neutral voice in the scientific debate, now is it?

I see that the spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who was speaking about WMD, environmental science, health issues and medical research, was not, as one might expect, an expert in any of those areas. Instead, he was a retired physicist - oh, I'm sorry, "Professor emeritus". First rule of evaluating statements by scientists? Look real close if they're talking outside of their areas of expertise. I call it the Pauling Principle. Elsewise, you very well might find yourself gorging your sorry self with useless megavitamins.

So, I went to their website to see how extensive their "backbench" was, on the theory that they sent their most telegenic member and not their most authoritative one on the subjects in question. Of course, that website is on an overloaded server, probably due to the press release. How very "professional" of them. How lame is it to get "slashdotted" by the New York sodding Times? If you're airing a press release in a large national forum, be goddamn prepared for the expected goddamn traffic, you fucking pikers! Here's an alternate site, off-server. Which leads... right back to the parent site, on the affected servers. Pikers!

Still googling for a board list, or membership list... Oh, look at this description of the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Scientists and citizens working together to reduce air pollution, prevent global warming, protect endangered species, reduce nuclear arsenals, and ensure safety of our food system.

"And citizens", is it? Not so much of a "union" anymore, are we? And look at that list of causes. Betcha these guys were part of the late, unlamented Nuclear Freeze movement, back in the bad old days of virtuous, righteous Popular Front defeatism. Here's some more, along with some outdated ranting about the dangers of population growth. Yeah, that's an example of sage prognostication.

Googling, googling - hey! Here's the half-assed morons who created the Union of Concerned Scientists' under-powered website. Well, perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh. Perhaps they didn't know that the UCS was going to put their site on a dusty 486 stuffed under the secretary's typing carousel.

Hmm - here's an article talking trash about the UCS. Calls them a "A radical green wolf in sheep’s clothing". According to the author of that article, the Union's pronouncements are based on clever push-polling of unsuspecting scientists, who then are portrayed as members of the organization, concerned about whatever sky is falling on that particular day. Ooh - the UCS is also fond of ranting about "Frankenfoods", based on nothing more than unsupported bluesky speculation. My favorite flavor of quackery!

In 1999, UCS joined the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the Defenders of Wildlife, in petitioning the EPA for strict regulation of corn modified to produce large amounts of the bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin. Bt is a naturally occurring insect poison that protects plants from pests like the European corn borer. UCS’s letter was part of a major scare campaign to convince the public that Bt corn posed a risk to the Monarch Butterfly.

Agh! They were part of the stampede on the bt/Monarch mess! We were on the other end of that debacle, cleaning up after their scare-mongering and wackjobbery!

Well, I've given up waiting for the UCS website to recover from its self-inflicted case of slashdottery. I think I've gotten all I need on the subject. Short form? Union of Concerned Scientists is a fraudulent organization of leftists, environmental activists, and blowhards masquerading as a professional group. They have a decades-long history of piling it wide and deep for the benefit of easily-bamboozled reporters. Who gives a damn what they think?
To continue my thinking aloud about the whole Democratic Globalism notion, and the question of "ad hoc" alliances and treaty organizations…

The cautionary example of CENTO and SEATO illustrates that such treaty organizations are essentially fragile and transient, and it is my belief that they distort diplomatic perceptions and calculations by imposing increasingly arbitrary, rigid definitions over what can often be highly fluid situations.

NATO is the only surviving example, and it has been effectively re-negotiated at least two times in the last fifteen years, and currently is in a sort of limbo. It is being used to house several different communities of interest which are essentially alien to the original community of interest which inspired its creation. I'd call those conflicting communities an "Atlantic Community" and a "Continental Community". The basic conflict between the two communities is not so violent or extreme as to cause an outright break, but the difference in diplomatic philosophy is very close to rendering the treaty organization moribund. There are any number of European nations which are being whipsawed between the two communities, due to the confusion engendered by the existence of NATO.

The Atlantic Community is inspired by democratic expansionism, and welcomes the new eastern members as a consolidation of the gains of democratic government throughout the whole of Europe, less some outliers in the Balkans and Belorus. The Continental Community is inspired by a species of Internationalism, and welcomes the new eastern members on universalist grounds, the hope of staving off demographic decline, and European Union expansionism. In other words, the Atlantic Community views the Drang Nach Osten in political, strategic terms, while the Continental Community views it as something like a totalizing, neocolonial expansion of a liberal empire.

Or am I totally full of shit?

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

In the course of an interesting discussion about last week's Charles Krauthammer speech before the AEI, it occurred to me that Australia in many ways represents the ideal American ally. They are functionally independent - they do not require military assistance, garrisoning, or occupation forces. They aren't seriously threatened by any neighbor or rival power, unless you count the very long-term, distant demographic threat posed by China. (I don't - the dynamics are much less impressive than, say, the US's demographic relationship with Mexico.) They maintain a reasonable military establishment - 2.3% military budget-to-GDP ratio, as opposed to numbers under 1.5% for Germany, Japan and Canada - which is more than sufficient for their commitments. They are willing to conduct peacekeeping missions and minor interventions without indulging in imperialism or expansionism. Their immediate neighbors do not fear or hate them. They have enjoyed a stable and uninterrupted form of parliamentary democracy since the moment of independence. They don't indulge in serious cultural warfare with the US, are economically friendly, and are blessedly Anglophone. The elements of realpolitick in the relationship between Australia and the United States are negligible enough to be disregarded almost entirely. We are allied with Australia because we share a community of interests - those interests being peace, trade, liberal democracy, anti-fascism and anti-terrorism. Those latter interests are *derived* interests, short-term issues arising from the common interest in liberal democracy rather than primary interests in their own right. And this is where I diverge from Krauthammer's Democratic Globalism: the Australian example.

In many ways, the ideal future for the neo-conservative is a world of Australias, of liberal democracies strong enough to maintain themselves and their neighbors, and liberal and confident enough to not indulge in irrationalities like border wars, expansionism, and conflict-mongering. To use Krauthammer's metaphor of police power, we do not call the FBI when someone breaks into the house and steals the TV. We call 911, which will, when things are working right, summon a cruiser from the township police department, the nearest city precinct, or the county sheriff's office. In a properly functioning democracy, authority devolves to the lowest practical level. A "Democratic Globalism" in which all threats are dealt with by a unipolar, hyperpower "police force" is an order which is not long for this world.

Thus, the proper goal of a Democratic Globalist is not a world order dependant on a singular American colossus to maintain order and preserve democratic principles. The proper goal of a true Democratic Globalist is a future in which the United States is only one in a vast array of Americas, strong liberal democracies dedicated to the preservation, extension, and celebration of democratic norms. The moment of American unipolarity will be fleeting, as all moments are, passing in time. But we can exert some influence on what will come after us, our legacy. As the British acquiesced and even conspired in the passing of their empire in favor of the Pax Americana which followed, we can plan for the Democratic Peace which must follow the passing of the American Moment.

The Liberal Internationalists will be shaking their heads in disgust about now. After all, they believe, we already have the prospect of that future, and the neo-cons are determined to throw all that hard work, all that preparation, all those institutions of international legitimacy and influence. In this matter, I am squarely with Krauthammer and the "neocons". International "legitimacy" is inherently illegitimate, based on the lie that all states are nations, that all governments are equal, that every flag flies over a free people. No world order based on the righteous "sovereignty" of Syria, of China, Iran, or Yemen, is a world order which can be embraced by an honest Democratic Globalist. I cannot agree with the Liberal Internationalists that their carefully-preserved institutions are worthy of power in their own right, of sovereignty and authority. Because the signatories of these institutions are *not* created equal, the institutions themselves are inherently illegitimate.

The American Constitution contains the following clause, Article IV, Section 4:
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.

This clause makes sure that the component states were created equal prior to acceptance within the United States. An applicant state cannot be a monarchy. It cannot be a theocracy, or an anarchy, or a totalitarian dictatorship or tyranny of any stripe. A republican form of government. These days, we say "democracy", or "liberal democracy" if we're being pedantic, but few people use "democratic" in the old sense of direct mob rule, so we can let that pass. I know of no charter of an important international institution that contains anything like or similar to Article IV, Section 4. The WTO is probably the closest to what I'm describing, but the WTO concerns itself solely with economic and trade matters, and the Nonapplication Clause in question is more of a realpolitick element of a negotiation frame than an element in the constitution of a sovereign body.

Sovereignty derives solely from the consent of the governed; all other institutions are illegitimate in one sense or another. All institutions which do not derive from the common agreement of properly constituted democratic republics are therefore, by definition, illegitimate powers. They do not constitute authorities in their own right.

Of course, an institution can be inherently illegitimate and still present the capacity for good, order, and common gain. Many modern democracies indulge in such anachronisms as constitutional monarchs, vestigial degrees of nobility, and public radio. The UN and many of the other international institutions are useful and worthy tools for international diplomacy and interaction. I am not one of those gentlemen who feel it necessary to drive the UN from our borders with fire, fury, and the pitchfork-wielding peasantry. But they are not the path to the future - they are not the seed of future world government, and they are most certainly not the face of the Democratic Peace.
"Dark Energy" threatens to possibly rip the universe asunder. Sounds like a particularly gloomy episode of Sailor Moon.

Once you get into the meat of the article, it starts getting really wild in a mad-scientist sort of way. Speculation about wormholes, anti-gravity, time travel and a host of really strange shit. And here I thought McCarthy was getting kind of wacky with all of the zero-point energy stuff in The Collapsium. Oh, well. I'm just a stupid liberal-arts major. I can grasp the science-fiction, but the science is over my head.
For those who can't seem to get their heads around the concept of Ricardian competitive advantage, for those that seem to think that the only country to ever export jobs is their own, the New York Times points out the current flow of jobs and capital from Japan to China, and the way in which that outflow is keeping Japan's weak economy above water. In many ways, the Japanese economy is far more fragile and weaker than the United States'. We enjoy a highly diversified economy, with copious internal resources, a world-striding agricultural sector, the world's largest industrial complex, and a cultural/creative industry without peer. Japan, on the other hand, has no resources to speak of, and feels compelled to spend more absolutely on agricultural subsidies for its deeply uncompetitive agricultural sector than the United States spends on a vastly larger agricultural economy. Japan's only economic assets are industrial development and cultural/creative power. They're exporting industrial development - and it's what is keeping them afloat. A protectionist turning-inward on Japan's part would cause a catastrophic implosion of their economy. They rely on trade to a degree only matched by other Asian Tigers like South Korea. (take a look at their numbers in that graph in the Drezner link above. Higher relatively than Japan's!)

Monday, February 16, 2004

Now that the no-call list keeps the debt-consolidation turds off of my answering machine, I've noted a considerable upswing in telephone surveying. I've been surveyed more often in the few months since the no-call list came into existence, than in the rest of my life combined. Usually, it's some sort of marketing survey. I have been surveyed about new sport programming, shampoo, and erectile dysfunction drugs. I've been surveyed about my political opinion on government subsidies of medical research (against them, in a general sense). It's become a fairly interesting addition to my home-life, which tends to be otherwise quite bare due to my hermit-like lifestyle.

This weekend, it was my opinions on marriage. Which was rather awkward, due to my hermit-like lifestyle, and monkish lack of a sex life. It occurred to me in the course of this survey that my profile would just scream "confirmed bachelor", to use the old euphemism. So, since this was very much on my mind, I kept waiting for the questions about homosexual marriage, especially as we tip-toed through the "civil union" minefield.

The survey ended without a single mention of the words "gay", "homosexual", or euphemisms along those lines. Nothing. Lots of questions about what I thought about women, and the cost of weddings, and premarital sex, and, of course, civil unions. ('gainst 'em, by the way.) They asked what I thought of the government setting up expensive marriage-encouragement education programs. (Against such things.) Whether I thought that couples that had children should get married. (Hell, yes!)

No "what is your sexual orientation" question. No question about what I thought of the idea of homosexual marriage. (Rather for it, I think, if you were wondering) No mention of homosexuality whatsover. I can't imagine what the hell was the point of this bizarre survey, which asked every goddamn thing on the subject but the *CORE ISSUE ITSELF*.

Dead or Canadian

You know, I just always assumed that Conan O'Brian was Canadian. Thus, I was very puzzled about the hoo-hah about the Toronto episodes of his show, and the puppet dog with the Spanish accent. My mis-apprehension as to O'Brian's nationality has been corrected.

Now, why did I just assume that he was Canadian? Apparently he presents all of the mental cues I associate with Canadians - he's short, he's soft-spoken, he's a brown-haired, young-looking, inoffensive, clean-cut kid. Most of those types who work in comedy turn out to be either Canadian or Jewish. "O'Brian" doesn't exactly shout "Jewish", so I just assumed that he was Canadian.
A "Kerrified America", according to Mark Steyn. I don't know how fair a characterization that is, but it's first-rate sloganeering. I wish I had thought of it. I guess I'm just not mean enough for politics...
I've long thought that we ought to be burying the Middle East in translations of the Federalist Papers and other works of classic liberal political science. An anti-war blowhard professor named Juan Cole is taking donations for that very purpose. I find myself conflicted.

On the one hand, I really ought to support this, regardless of the politics of the sponsor. Admittedly, I'm not particularly well-off, and I tapped myself out last fall on various Iraq-oriented charities. Still and all, I could probably afford a little something.

On the other hand, Cole doesn't seem to have much in the way of details on his page. I'd have to trust his word that the funds would go to translation, publishing and distribution, and not, say, via indirect means, to a MoveOn project of some sort or another. Finally, I'm not too keen on the particular work he's talking about starting with - a set of extracts from Jefferson's body of works, multicultural pabulum, and stuff about American Jews.

I'm particularly worried that the last set of proposed works would be a literary example of the old Marine tactic known as "hey-diddle-diddle, straight up the middle". The point of the democracy project would be to introduce Arabic-speakers to the logic of self-government at a fine, detailed, and well-argued level. It isn't to make them love their enemies. It's to get them to the point where their governments recognize their own self-interests, where those self-interests are aligned with the best interests of the people. I prefer the actual argumentation of the Federalist Papers, over the social-engineering ideology that Jefferson indulged in. That is, don't bury them in historically dated theorizing about citizen-farmers - get them the reasonings and politics behind the compromises and agreements that constitute the actual practice of constitutional engineering.

I'm asking you - is a quarter-loaf worth my charity dollar? I don't know that a half-loaf or full loaf is going to come along in time.

Via Jeff Jarvis.

Friday, February 13, 2004

I was thinking of going down to Katsucon this weekend, but then I was informed that they had moved back to Arlington & the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. My con ran exactly one year in that Hyatt Regency, and it was cramped & crowded at 2500 people. Katsucon allegedly runs about 3000-3500 these days, which will make the hotel a veritable Black Hole of Calcutta, unless they've significantly expanded the hotel in some fashion which I suspect is physically impossible. Add on top of that the area's dearth of cheapass hotels and Crystal City's status as a Logans-Run-esque modernist nightmare, and suddenly I'm not not too enthusiastic about the whole idea.

Eh, it's not as if my pocketbook couldn't stand a quiet weekend doing nothing at home...

Thursday, February 12, 2004

I got to thinking about the Senate campaign in Pennsylvania this year. Since I'm technically a Democrat, I probably ought to be thinking about what their candidates might have to offer against Arlen Specter. Unlike some Democrats I know, I don't really have anything against Specter; in fact, he's pretty much my kind of Republican - a moderate, secular Jew. Of course, the fact that he's one of only a handful of moderate, secular Republicans left in the Senate is a good part of why I gave up on the party last year. So, the Democratic Party would have to offer me somebody pretty special to lead me to ticket-balance & actually vote for a Democrat for Specter's seat. Let's see what they have on special.

Well, there's this guy, one Keith Seewald. I don't quite understand what the hell he's going on about, but it seems as if he's running to sabotage the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat, in a bid to support Specter by losing spectacularly. No, I'm not being ironic. Read the press release. He's running to lose, explicitly. Almost makes me want to vote for him in the primary, except that I generally have a policy against voting for fuckwits.

Congressman Joe Hoeffel, on the other hand, is a real candidate. He's the usual "yes, but…" Democrat – trying to sound tough on defense while still getting in those little "unilateral" digs. Can't stand his anti-free-trade bullshit, though. Overall, a typical "Well, duh!" candidate.

Huh. That seems to be it. Seems as if the reputable state Democrats aren't interested in going up against Specter. Either they think he's unbeatable, or else they quietly agree with Seewald. I may end up voting for the fuckwit this year. Well, it wouldn't be the first…
I'm reading a fun if deeply unscholarly book called Born in Blood: the Lost Secrets of Freemasonry. I picked it up on the expectation of enjoying it as a work of historical fiction, and so far, it's held to expectations. The writer clearly wants to be thought of as scholarly, and his tone isn't terribly bad. He renounces fantastic lineages that feature famous personages like Solomon and Julius Caesar and all that. But, still and all, it's hard to take a writer of "history" seriously when he doesn't provide footnoting in any sense. As far as that goes, I'd rank Larry Gonick's Cartoon History series as much more a work of scholarship than any "history" that doesn't bother with proper attribution of claims.

The writer, one John J. Robinson, is arguing that the Freemasons are a continuous organizational descendant from the suppression of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century. It's an amusing conceit, but as it's laid out here, I can't think of it as anything but that, a conceit.
Rose in the comment on the "stupid conservatives" post below is a new blogger with a right-of-consensus liberal-arts grad-student focus. Interesting start, and you gotta love it when they say nice things about you, even if you aren't suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder like Ted Bundy or Saddam Hussein.
his ten year old son
shot through his lung fought for air
for hours we died

That's good. If you haven't been reading van Steerwyk's blog, start. He's working on getting his unit ready to rotate out of the theatre, but he's been in the heart of the Sunni Triangle for months now, reporting from the ground and sniping at the press.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Yikes. I googled Edmonds and FBI, and found a trail of reputable articles about this woman's experience with the FBI. Apparently there was a fucking mole for Turkish intelligence censoring translations of wiretaps on the guy running a spy ring for the Turks in the State Department. This was in addition to the tool who runs the Middle Eastern languages translation, who apparently discouraged rapid translation by going through his too-enthusiastic employees' computers and deleting finished work after hours, and the above article's story of translators celebrating 9-11. I went on my Google search expecting to find that she was something of a wack-job or something, mostly because I'm pretty wary of FrontPage. The only thing I could find that was even remotely dodgy was anti-Semite nutjob David Irving's conspiracy theory based on the erroneous assumption that the country in question (some articles refused to identify Turkey due to FBI security requests) was Israel.

Initial tip via Roger L. Simon.

In Defense of the Stupid Conservative

There was a bit of a thing the other day about a Duke University poobah who nastily quoted John Stuart Mills, in defense of the low ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the university's new hires, to the effect that conservatives are stupid. The poobah observed that universities try to select for smart people, and thus were less likely to hire stupid Republicans. Folks have noted that our Duke University poobah has thus committed a number of errors of logic - among others, confusing education with intelligence, making an appeal to an irrelevant authority's bigotry, identifying Mills' "conservatives" with modern Republicanism, and missing the point of Mills' comment, which wasn't that conservatives are stupid, but that stupid people are more likely to be conservative.

Firstly, obviously, education isn't intelligence. Educational achievement represents the conspiracy of a number of factors, among them intelligence, capacity for conformity, affinity for study, stubbornness, social valuations, social grace, and so on.

Secondly, who cares what John Stuart Mills thought about conservatives? This is the sort of reasoning anti-Stratfordian cranks use when they trot out somebody like Henry James, and proclaim, "James thought that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's works!" or "Mark Twain thought that Francis Bacon wrote Hamlet!" It trades on the bigotry, snobbery, or bias of a respected, if irrelevant, authority so as to excuse or conceal the author's own bigotry, snobbery, or bias by association.

Thirdly, Mills was a creature of the early 19th century. A Republican to someone like Mills was a terrible, radical threat to the status quo. They were the anarchists of his day, wild-eyed radicals - dangerous! Mills lived in a monarchy, after all. Good people feared republicans like Algeron Swinburne, who once wrote:

When the devil's riddle is mastered
And the galley-bench creaks with a Pope,
We shall see Buonaparte the bastard
Kick heels with his throat in a rope.

While the shepherd sets wolves on his sheep
And the emperor halters his kine,
While Shame is a watchman asleep
And Faith is a keeper of swine,

Let the wind shake our flag like a feather,
Like the plumes of the foam of the sea!
While three men hold together,
The kingdoms are less by three.

This is the spirit of republicanism in the early 19th century.

But all these are minor sins of illogic and bad thinking. The truth is, Mills is right, the quote is right, the conceit is well-founded.

The stupid should be conservative.

Not in the sense of Republicanism or policy or ideology or any of the rest of that sordid, sticky wad of snobbery that our poobah intended, of course. But in the sense that the best political strategies for the intellectually deficient or cerebrally challenged are conservative, change-adverse strategies. The stupid don't think quickly, or nimbly; they lack the resources necessary to work their way through the traps of the clever. The dim and lackwitted are particularly susceptible to the ploys of the snake-oil salesman or confidence-men. A system in motion is ever so much harder to comprehend than one set in stone, in tradition, in stasis. Change is difficult to predict. Change is *hard*. Change is dangerous to the stupid, because they need more time to react than the better-equipped, the best and the brightest.

The stupid should be conservative, because change can kill the unwary.

Which is, of course, why most stupid people are Democrats. They should be. It's this decade's conservative party, after all. Hell, it's part of why I changed my registration to Democratic. I'm no brain trust, trust me. I know when the merry-go-round is going round too merrily, and the Republican Party got a bit too wild-eyed and visionary for my comfort about mid-way through 2002.

The stupid should be conservative, because change is dangerous. And frankly, I'm starting to suspect that there ain't nobody smart enough to deal with the changes coming down the road. When it comes to politics, nobody's smart enough to not be a conservative. The world's smarter than you, smarter than me, and I'm damn sure that it's smarter than any of the clowns in Washington, of either political persuasion.

The stupid should be conservative, because change is dangerous.

I don't actually read superhero comics, but I have to admit a certain weakness for reading really mean reviews of them.

Via Fanboy Rampage, another superhero-comics blog I've been slumming through.
I'm woken some mornings by the mournful wail of the Nittany & Bald Eagle freight train ambling through town. I've grown almost immune to the screech of my alarm clock, but there's no way to turn off the mating call of the modern American railroad. A vestigial line runs from the water gap up to the limestone quarry outside of Pleasant Gap, and over to the fading industrial park by Nittany Mall. It used to run to the Corning-Asahi plant in that park, but they shut that place down over the winter. These days, almost all of the traffic must be between the limestone quarry and Sutton's gravel plant over on the other side of Bellefonte, in Coleville. You wouldn't think there would be enough freight to justify the line, but I guess limestone rubble is sufficient for the bottom line. They run a tourist bus along the lines on the weekend, but that's a pretty minor use of the rails, at least in this county.

The line used to run all the way through Lemont and points west, but that section of the line has been left to rust, or pulled up, or disappeared into the landscape. You can still see an overpass for it over Corl Street in West College - it's at least half of the reason they let that road go unplowed and closed for the winter - the plows can't get under the underpass, and there's nothing up there but the back end of the golf courses. There's another major quarry between Lemont and Oak Hall, but the line definitely doesn't go that far. They must be hauling with trucks instead of rail cars. Can't be very efficient. I remember folks making a fuss about that quarry, complaining that it was unsightly and a blot on the landscape. Must have been the rich folk in those new McMansions behind Branch Road, because you can't see the quarry from anywhere else, unless you actually drive the back road through Oak Hall.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

I had vaguely heard of Dr. Frank's rendition of "Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy", but I hadn't really gotten the whole story at the time. Apparently he's a singer in an honest-to-Zod, touring punk band, who just happens to be a warblogger as well. I'm not much of a fan of punk, in the usual sense, but I'm interested enough to go looking for a sample. It's a fun blog, and I think I'll be keeping an eye on it from here on out. I especially liked his quotage of a poobah of the American Library Association's justification for why they voted down a resolution of support for some imprisoned Cuban librarians: ""Deep in our hearts, we know these people are not librarians".

Via Michael Totten.
Well, they found Bush's National Guard paystubs, and it doesn't bear out what the "deserter! deserter!" blowhards have been claiming. The Globe tries to spin this by claiming that having records of being paid doesn't prove attendance, but it surely doesn't prove the opposite, either. If the "Bush-was-a-shirker" crowd wants to maintain their credibility, they're gonna have to fall back on complaints about him choosing the Air Guard over the draft. Knowing these people, I'm betting they'll go for imaginary steak over actual sausage.

Via Sgt. Stryker.
The slam on Sunday turned into a round-table reading session, due to the lack of a large crowd, and the bar's disinclination to bother with setting up mikes without a crowd. So, we ended up reading around a cluster of tables, dragged together in an accidental but quite striking display of phallic imagery - long table, large round table at one end, smaller table at the other end. Yay, phallocentrism. Of course, another, looking at the same scene, might see it as a vaginal arrangement. But ideas will make fools of us, if we let them, let ourselves see the idea, in the place of the thing itself. In the end, it's three tables.

I ended up feeling pretty embarrassed about my poetry. I joke about being a bad poet, but it's hard to not get involved a bit. My sort of poem isn't very common at slam-type events. I'm rather excessively idea-oriented, and not at all sensual or physical. I don't really "do" romantic, sensual, or sexual poetry. In a lot of ways, I'm an agnostic monk - religion-obsessed, solitary, and detached from the material world.

The shock-startle-display ethos of the slam as practiced locally tends to favor displays of feminine physicality. At least, that's the impression I take from successful events. I think that this impression is reinforced by the competitive elements of the formal slam. Normally, one takes the competitive spirit as a masculine signifer, but that doesn't seem to be the case in the slam, from my limited experience.

Fred had a work-in-progress about Hooters, and sexism, and intellectual classism. I rather liked it. Wish I could link to it - hint, hint. A lady had a really good stream-of-consciousness piece about turning fifty. I'm so goddamn embarrassed that I've forgotten her name - I'll have to write it down the next time I run into her at one of these things.

I find that I best absorb idea poems - arguments. Relationship and sensual material just goes in one ear and out the other without stopping in the language-processing lobes on the way through.

Monday, February 09, 2004

The Moller AirCar is finally doing flight tests. Or at least, that website claims to show those test flights. Photoshop and more professional editing suites have totally destroyed my sense of reality. I was watching a "reality" show last night on the Discovery Channel featuring a zoologist named Nigel romping around with ancient, extinct sea-predators like the Megalodon and the Dunkleosteus as if he was Steve Irwin with a time-machine. It was functionally indistinguishable from your standard let's-pester-sharks documentary that Discovery used to specialize in. The world has grown strange, haunted by phantasms, whimsy and illusion.

Via Mark Sachs.
Tacitus has given us the second half of his discussion of Rwanda, specifically on what has happened since the 1994 genocide. It isn't a victorious story of redemption or retribution. He notes that the murderous Hutu Power genocides have been replaced by a tyrannical Tutsi junta, which indulges in one-off murder and minor oppression, justifying all by comparing their human evils with the overwhelming monstrosities of 1994.

Those who insist that the Israelis are trading on Holocaust-guilt to justify their sins ought to look to the Rwandan example, which illustrates clearly what that might look like, if it were to occur. When Israeli goons "disappear" dissident journalists in the dark of night, when they press Israeli Arabs into forced-labor corvees, when they hold 95%-margin elections, and then turn and exclaim, "how can you judge us, when you let the genocides kill our people!" - then, then will I allow you your denunciations of an alleged Holocaust-industry. Until then, spare me your insinuations.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Cautionary rhyming scheme for those learning English. Of course, it seems to be written from an accepted usage point of view, so your North American mileage may vary.
Quoth Fred Ramsey:

Spring Creek Slammers'
February Poetry Slam
02/08/04 5PM
Zeno's Pub
State College, PA

Slam Host: Dora McQuaid
Featured Poet: Fred Ramsey

Cover Charge: $2
Competition Fee: $3

Cash Prize Awarded to Winner

The Spring Creek Slammers are members of Poetry Slam Inc and our slams are run
according to National Poetry Slam rules:
1. Please come prepared to perform three different original poems.
2. You will have three minutes to make your presentation without incurring a
time penalty.
3. Competitors will be judged on both the quality of their poetry and on the
quality of their performance.
4. No props permitted.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

101-280 has made a where-are-they-now evaluation of the infamous dot-com advertisers of Superbowl XXXIV in 2000. He's found, rather counter-intuitively, that the majority of them have survived, and many have prospered, such as dark-horse obscurities KForce and MicroStrategy.
This list of current, planned, and historic anime cons is a useful resource. It's set up to be expandable by user interaction. It'd be interesting to see the history portions filled out by participants. I can never get enough of the dysfunctional idiocy of the early-mid Nineties Con Wars. I wonder if that card game we made is still floating around the West Coast? Tatsugawa used to claim that he had an intact deck.
Finally picked up the last set of Bandai's Brain Powerd, due to their dumping of the old pressings via a stock-liquidation outfit. A friend was putting together a minimum order, so I pitched in. $11 for something that was supposed to retail at $40 isn't something to spit at.

Brain Powerd, on the other hand, probably is something any rational viewer would consider spitting at. As the years go on, I find myself less and less inclined to give Yoshiyuki Tomino the benefit of the doubt. He was hot shit in the late Seventies, when he was taking a juvenile genre - giant robot SF - into more adolescent, if not more adult, areas. I still have a certain fondness for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, even if it is a glorified toy commercial, viewed with today's jaded eyes. I like the fact that it was about an actual war, with equally vile combatants, without being a pacifistic ideological jerkoff. But Tomino tried to live up to his reputation, and tried to get fancy. People used to tell me how wonderful Aura Battler Dunbine was, and how I couldn't be a real mecha fan if I didn't like this fantasy version of giant robot anime. So I started getting the discs when ADV put them out last year. Brain Powerd and Aura Battler Dunbine are painfully similar, in a devolutionary-chart sort of way.

I complained the other day about Tokyo Mew Mew being a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Tomino seems to have done the same with his own work - photocopying his old ideas and letting the producers hang new designs on the old frames, with little thought given to making the elements cohere in any meaningful sense.

Aura Battler Dunbine suffers from old animation, this is true. It isn't a particularly pretty series, and that's a strike against it. But still, this lack of polish isn't what made me drop the show. It's how tedious it all is. We have our Japanese protagonist in a fantasy world - good enough. Cliche, but it works in other shows. We have the war between morally ambiguous opponents. Great! Drama is built from the conflict between goods, not simple good and evil. But the characters are all so joyless, juiceless, dull - even nasty.

It's the sort of show where the plot is driven entirely by fighting - for the sake of fighting. There's no sense of a world outside of the central conflicts. Our protagonist has no real interest in the lives of the people around him, except as markers or chips in a sort of cheap game of combat morality.

At least Aura Battler Dunbine is missing the usual Tomino obsession with infantile Freudian family dynamics. Brain Powerd consists of nothing *but* this petty psychoanalysis. It's said that Brain Powerd was Tomino's attempt to rebut Anno's trespass onto his "Freudian psychodrama mecha" territory with Neon Genesis Evangelion. As a result, Brain Powerd's thematic quality is overwhelmingly Tomino. Every phenomenon, every conflict, and every relationship is rigidly modeled on some sort of oedipal dynamic. It almost works in the case of the mecha themselves, who are presented as pre-verbal infants, fixated on their pilots like so many two-story-tall baby ducks in child-love with the proverbial feather-duster. The notion of giant robot-children squabbling in aerial combat suits the sort of conflict found in your typical Tomino anime better than the usual armored-knight or fighter-jock metaphors. If only some of the characters bore any resemblance to something even vaguely like a real human being.

The characters are prone to giving speeches in the place of dialogue, let alone discussion. Fair enough, Shakespeare got away with it for years without being crucified by his audiences. But the ideas that are offered in these speeches are absolutely nuts. Not in the sense of being improbable - although they are that. No, in the sense that they're incoherent gibberish. A sympathetic, elderly couple suddenly returns, in fascist mufti, to lead the bad guys. They attempt to nuke a ship full of war orphans, knowing that this attempt will rebound on their own super-ship, likewise full of war refugees. They do this *ON PURPOSE*, planning to blame the other side for attacking them. And the old man justifies this after the fact to his old lady. Who accepts his justification. WHICH MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

The show does look nice. Well-animated, interesting backgrounds, good character designs. The music is superlative - Yohko Kanno at her absolute best. To be strictly honest, I'm watching the show through the end mostly because I feel like listening to more of her background music. I'm half-way to treating the series as an inordinately long music-video at this point.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Battlestar Galactica gets ordered by SciFi Network. Took them long enough. But "six episodes" as a first committment? Lame.

Via Fark.
Clay Shirky has written an essential post-mortem of the Dean punditry bubble. His points, if I understand them correctly, are as follows:

1) The internet lowers thresholds on previously high-cost political indicators. MeetUp and the other community tools makes it easier to generate crowds - this means that crowd size is no longer as important an indicator of campaign success as it once was. Internet funding makes cash accumulation easier - small-donation funding success is no longer as important a sign of grass-roots importance as it was before the Dean innovations.

2) Internet political activity is affinity-based. Primary systems are political institutions that represent the primacy of geography over affinity.

3) Fanatic elitism is the natural enemy of representative democracy, and our system is designed to drown the very sort of committed enthusiasm which the Dean bubble represents.

4) Amateurs and fanatics make for poor intelligence, and fanatic amateurs are exceptionally unreliable sources of information.

Read it all. Excellent analysis.

Via Dave Menendez.
Tacitus is writing about Rwanda, and trying to explain the 1994 massacres. It's a different perspective from the ones I remember in the papers when it happened. He calls Rwanda "the Prussia of Africa", and suggests that this explains the orderly fashion in which an entire section of society acquiesced in their own destruction, that they were betrayed by their own respect for authority and order. I don't know if I agree, but it's a very compelling post.
Continuing his depressing, inexorable downward spiral towards total, lunatic irrelevancy, Kawamori Shoji has apparently signed up to direct a Voltron-esque robot show about kids protecting the world in a post-environmental-disaster future, named Sousei no Akuerion. How very, very Captain Planet of him. No doubt we'll be getting more of his wacky new cult's wacky new eco-theology along with the tinker-toy robots. To think that this is the same man who made the near-perfect Macross Plus. How the mighty hath etc.

Via Natsume Maya. Wish s/he'd get permalinks...

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth over 4Kids Productions' acquisition of Tokyo Mew Mew, and plans to rename it "Hollywood Mew Mew". Right. 4Kids is an amazing relic of the days when foreign products had to be domesticated five ways from Sunday before they could be passed gently into the tender collective psyche of our nation's youth. Bad juju, for sure.

But we're talking about Tokyo Mew Mew, people. Horrible magical-girl sentai show, the proverbial photocopy of a photocopy of a Xerox of a discarded carbon copy of the original. Remember how people used to make fun of Sailor Moon as a derivative, shallow, repetitive anime for the terminally brain-damaged? Shows like Tokyo Mew Mew elevate Sailor Moon to the status of undying Shakespearean elegance in the comparison. Hell, even piffle like Wedding Peach shine when put next to rubbish like Tokyo Mew Mew or Perfect Pitch Mermaid Melody. If ever a show deserved the tender regards of a 4Kids, it was Tokyo Mew Mew. If ever a batch of anime fans deserved the abuse of a 4Kids Productions, it would be the sort of repellant basement-troll that fancies Tokyo Mew Mew.

4Kids loses its shirt on a shit property, and Tokyo Mew Mew fans get exactly what they deserve - abuse and disrespect. Win-win, people!
Here's a page on what the author calls Japanese "fringe groups": biker gangs, right-wing parties, otaku, anti-Giants fanatics, and so on. The section on ganguro is kind of dated, but the other bits are interesting. Apparently the Yomiuri Giants are as enthusiastically hated by the rest of Japan as the Yankees are by that section of the American baseball-watching public that isn't New York City. I had no idea that the membership of Japan's "right wing parties" was so small. I guess you would compare them more with American militias than your typical political party, third-party or otherwise.

Via Krakow, a webcomic I follow occasionally.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Jurjen disapproves of people making McClellan=Clark comparisons, noting that it seems to be based mostly on no-one having anything good to say about McClellan, a rarity for American generals. He must run in different circles than I do, because there are a good many McClellan apologists and contrarians in the Civil War newsgroups. Brad Meyer comes immediately to mind.

On the other hand, I have never encountered a Westmoreland apologist. Mostly, this is because Westmoreland was sent home halfway through his war, and his replacement, Creighton Abrams, is near-universally revered among the military. The anti-war factions of the Vietnam era, on the other hand, had absolutely no use for a "butcher" like Westmoreland, and Westmoreland had no obvious military ambitions, and no political base to speak of.

McClellan would be the appropriate parallel for Clark, because he was a "victorious" military technocrat with political ambitions who was willing to seize the anti-war banner in wartime. I've argued for Winfield Scott, in that he was a retired, victorious general who became the candidate of the party which opposed his war, but you could make a case for McClellan in that he ran during wartime, while Scott ran four years into a period of relative peace, at least as far as the national government was concerned.

McClellan and Clark both shared other characteristics. For one thing, they were both military technocrats - McClellan made his pre-war reputation with studies of cavalry tactics and an evaluation of the Crimean War. Clark has been busy writing books on transformative military issues, and is a genuine, if disliked, member of the Jedi Knights. Both Clark and McClellan share "victories" which are held in low esteem by observers, while still being, nevertheless, a species of victory. Clark's Kosovo campaign seems to be a sterling example of how to do everything wrong, and still win. McClellan, on the other hand, demonstrated how one might win all of one's battles, and still lose the campaign. On the other hand, McClellan has a well-earned reputation for being risk-adverse, while Clark apparently scared his superiors and some subordinates with wild ideas; McClellan was a slow and methodical turtle, while Clark plunged into the Kosovo campaign with a minimum of resources, and had to mark time after he blew through his initial resources, while waiting for reinforcements and resupply. Clark was very lucky that his enemy had no way to bring the war against Clark's vulnerable points. In a sense, he was in a position where he had absolute initiative. McClellan would have been absolutely green with envy, I imagine.

One final difference between Clark and McClellan - the regard in which their peers and subordinates held them. McClellan's men honestly loved him, and he made his army in his image. The rumor mills are full of just how much Clark is disliked by those who served with him. In order to be a Napoleonist, one must actually be able to claim the loyalties of the military. Clark seems to be more of a Blighist.
"I'm conservative in politics so that I can be radical in every other human activity."

I'm amused that Sullivan was willing to rap the interviewer on the teeth when s/he trotted out a David Horowitz political position as if it were from the pope ex cathera. Front Page is a strange magazine. It can be an interesting neocon issues forum, but every once in a while it turns at an odd angle and it gets all cult-of-personality about its editor, Horowitz. Reminds me a bit of the Washington Times - has that Moonie shiny sheen about it.

So Does This Mean Six More Months of John Kerry?

Fred Ramsey of Webster Books invited me over to his place for the Super Bowl, along with the Morrow clan, and a bunch of Fred's friends, some of whom I knew, and others, not so much. As usual with Fred occasions, I was the most conservative person in the bunch; this time I noticed that I was the only adult without glasses, as well. We got into a discussion of what selects for weak eyesight among book people; some held for an association of intelligence genes with nearsightedness genes. I, as the only representative of unassisted sight in the bunch, had to defend the tribe. I argued that it was due to the more-educated classes' willingness to use baby formula, which is missing a number of trace hormones necessary for the proper development of good eyesight.