Friday, August 29, 2008

Sexism, plain and simple

Senator McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his presidential running mate has unleashed a firestorm of blatant sexism from liberals. The sexist statements coming from her new political enemies is so disgusting that even we conservatives are offended. For example, Andrew Sullivan wrote this:
A reader writes:
Not knowing anything about the Republican field, I heard about the pick this morning and looked up the stories on her.

My first thought was: Trophy Candidate.
The visuals were strange. She looked like the promising student that an older professor admires (and has a bit of a crush on). When she called McCain her "partner," it sounded odder still. He comes off as her guardian or foster parent.
Why is it that any woman who gets in the way of the ambitions of powerful, Democratic men is automatically portrayed to be a slut, a prostitute, a stalker, trailer trash, an airhead, a trophy, or in this case, some kind of immature schoolgirl?

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Senator's Barack Obama's selection of Senator Joe Biden to be his vice-presidential running mate is already producing some handsome dividends for the Republicans. Andrew Sullivan's reaction is a case in point.

Sullivan is unashamedly of the opinion that the Dick Cheney vice-presidency has been a total disaster for the Republic over the last eight years. This is a criticism not just of Dick Cheney himself but of the "Dick Cheney model" of the White House in which a powerful, experienced, eminently well-connected vice-president acts as a "fixer" to compensate for a weak, inexperienced president. Today, Sullivan is making the case that Obama needed a "liberal Dick Cheney" all along:
The biggest emerging problem with the Obama campaign is Obama's reluctance, lack of talent and lack of will to get into lively, feisty, pissing matches with his opponent. This was brought home in the Saddleback forum. What he needs is a plucky, fun, free-wheeling attack machine, with the necessary gravitas to express adequate contempt for the Bush administration's fatally misguided foreign policy without in any way seeming defensive.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Senator McCain will be laughing all the way to the White House, starting tonight.

Conservatives across the country are going to be popping open bottles of champagne tonight because Senator Barack Obama picked Senator Joe Biden to be his vice-presidential running mate. If you still need proof that Barack Obama doesn't have the judgement or the intelligence to be president, this pick is it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why is the comic book film hitting it big now?

The amazing commerical success of this year's film "The Dark Knight" has certainly prompted many to pose the question. Personally, I see the answer within a generational shift from Baby Boomer nostalgia to Gen-X nostalgia.

The comic book films, so to speak, of the late 70s and early 80s were the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" franchises along with "Superman". In the case of "Star Wars", one might suspect an origin partly in the space adventure serials of the 40s and 50s, although it seems equally clear that George Lucas was drawing inspiration from the post-World War II golden age of science fiction (especially the novel "Dune"). Indiana Jones was deliberately modelled on the more conventional (perhaps boy's adventure) serials of that era. Superman, of course, was one of the stars of the Golden Age of comic books in the late 30s and early 40s.

In other words, Baby Boomers in their thirties were getting to see film versions of some of the pulp media that they would have been exposed to as children. Flash forward to the present decade and we see the same process happening again. This time, the comic book characters that are hitting it big are the comic book characters from the Silver Age of comics that Gen-Xers in their thirties would have read about as children. Marvel comics is hitting it big this time around because Marvel comics innovated its slate of Marvel Universe characters -- The Fantastic Four, the X-men, Iron Man, the Hulk, etc. -- in the 1960s. DC is also doing well by basing movies on the "gritty Batman" theme -- Ra's al Ghul, a psychotic Joker, and the dark, determined, vigilante Batman -- that emerged in the 1970s.

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell pose the question and attempt to answer it, but in their distrust of the zeitgeist explanation, they don't overtly point to a generational shift in Hollywood:
Not all genres are created equal, and they rise or fall in status. As the Western and the musical fell in the 1970s, the urban crime film, horror, and science-fiction rose. For a long time, it would be unthinkable for an A-list director to do a horror or science-fiction movie, but that changed after Polanski, Kubrick, Ridley Scott, et al. gave those genres a fresh luster just by their participation. More recently, I argue in The Way Hollywood Tells It, the fantasy film arrived as a respectable genre, as measured by box-office receipts, critical respect, and awards. It seems that the sword-and-sorcery movie reached its full rehabilitation when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King scored its eleven Academy Awards.

Welcome to August in America!

The summer of a presidential year is the typical time for the most utterly moronic political commentary to make it into the discussions of supposedly serious people. This year is turning out to be no exception (hyperlink in original):
A revealing bloggingheads exchange between Bob Wright and Ann Althouse. Both realize that McCain's vow to "defeat evil" at Saddleback was both asinine machismo - like we haven't had enough of that after eight years of Cheney - and deeply unChristian. There's no way a president of the United States or any country can "defeat evil." Evil is everywhere and always for Christians - until the Second Coming. Particular manifestations of evil can be defeated, but not evil itself. That endures, and is part of us too.
Dude, someone who believes that he or she can totally obliterate evil in the present is called a "liberal". McCain is a conservative. Hello, McFly?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Anti-intellectualism in a book about anti-intellectualism.

One of my pet peeves is when I buy a serious, non-fiction book on a serious, important topic and it turns out to have a stupid blunder within the first couple of pages. This has happened to me before.

The latest example is in "The Age of American Unreason" by Susan Jacoby. For a book about unreason, it has some really dumb statements in it. Consider the following excerpt from pp. 9-10 (reference to footnote in original):
[Current president] Bush, after all, called himself the "education president" with a straight face while simultaneously declaring, without a trace of self-consciousness or self-criticism, that he rarely read newspapers because that would expose him to "opinions."*
The footnote reads:
On September 22, 2003, the Associated Press reported that President Bush scans headlines but rarely reads entire newspaper stories, which would expose him to nonobjective "opinions." He prefers that White House staffers provide him with a more "objective" digest of the daily news.
The inference that we are presumably supposed to draw is that president Bush is an unreflective, anti-intellectual moron because he reads briefs prepared by his ideologically biased staffers instead of the objective public news media. That the author of a book criticizing American anti-intellectualism can write this without the slightest trace of self-consciousness or self-criticism is itself proof of such a book's premise.

In any event, the behavior that President Bush is displaying could very well be entirely rational for a president to adopt. First, it is actually quite common for newspaper readers to skim over all of the stories of a newspaper while reading only the headlines. The reason for this is that many newspapers are written with strict adherence to a style that is extremely efficient at conveying a propaganda message to the reader. The reason why newspaper readers skip over the articles and read only the headlines is because that actual articles are absolutely unnecessary for conveying the intended propaganda message. The headlines alone are enough to produce the intended propaganda effect in the reader; one might even suspect that the articles are written to deter people from reading them in order to concentrate attention on the headlines.

Second, one might suppose that the President of the United States has access to slightly better sources of information than the newspapers possess. If the President wants to find out about, say, recent political developments in China, he could read "The New York Times" or he could just call the United States Ambassador to China and ask for a briefing. Given a choice between reading about the CIA in "The L.A. Times" or having breakfast with the Director of Central Intelligence every morning, what would you choose to be well informed?

Finally, it is well known that the information flow to the President is of critical importance, especially in a crisis. While it is entirely possible that decisions are being made within an atmosphere of "groupthink", or some other form of compromised environment, it is also entirely possible that the system is proving the right information to the right decision makers at the right time. In the absence of evidence, the a priori assumption that President Bush is being fed daily lies by his political handlers is unwarranted. Of course, this also suggests that the White House could be correct to rewrite information from newspaper sources into some other written form. The information priorities of effective Presidential decisionmaking are not necessarily the priorities for presenting information to the public possessed by newspaper editors.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Has Russia gone completely insane or what?

Here is the latest diplomatic note from Russia to Poland:
Moscow lashed out at Washington and Warsaw on Friday, saying the plan to site a US anti-missile defence shield in Poland would undermine the global balance of power and put Poland at risk of nuclear attack.

Washington and Warsaw reached a preliminary agreement on Thursday to build part of the missile defence shield in Poland, station US Patriot missiles there and bolster the two countries’ military co-operation.

The US claims the shield in Poland, as well as a radar tracking base to be located in the Czech Republic, is designed to defend against “rogue states” such as Iran.
Russia is basically telling Poland, "Stop building your anti-nuclear defenses, or we'll nuke you." Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Who is to blame for the Russo-Georgian war?

Andrew Sullivan blames Bush:
The point here is not that the invasions [the Russian invasion of Georgia and the American invasion of Iraq] are obviously morally equivalent. The point is that the line between American actions in the world and Russia's are no longer as stark as they once were. Once you trash the international system, declare yourself above the law and even the most basic of international conventions against war crimes, you have forfeited the kind of moral authority that the US once had. Bush and his cronies speak as if none of this has happened. Their rigid, absolutist denial even of the bleeding obvious allows them to preach to the world about international norms that, when they would have constrained American actions, were derided as quaint and irrelevant. You really cannot have it both ways.

Americans - and Georgians - are now living with the consequences. And I'm angry about it.
It seems clear that Sullivan's "conservatism of doubt" is really just another form of liberalism. In this case, a liberalism that assumes that the one remaining barrier between mankind and heaven on earth is the Bush/Cheney/Rove axis of evil. On the other hand, Barack Obama, being omnipotent and omniscient*, obviously would never have allowed this situation to develop had he been president since 2001.

Vox Day is throwing some of the blame at the Jews:
At this point, the Georgian attack on South Ossetia appears to have been a terrible miscalculation by the Georgians and their US and Israeli advisors, who have been trying to solidify control over the oil pipeline in recent months. As some observers have noted, there's even some reason to believe that the foreign advisors may have been in the forefront of the attack, based on the appearance of the troops and their gear in pictures of the earliest action. (I don't have an opinion on this; I didn't see the pictures myself.) In overreacting to the obvious provocations from the Russian-backed South Ossetians, the Georgians handed Russia the excuse it was quite obviously waiting for.
* Some philosophers believe that this is conclusive proof that Barack Obama does not exist.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Thoughts about "The Dark Knight"

"The Dark Knight" is really good relative to the other comic book films that have been made. In absolute terms, it has a number of problems.
  • The most serious flaw in the film is well explained by James Bowman in his review of "Minority Report":
    This is the Spielbergian idea of entertainment — and, to be fair, one that an awful lot of people are willing to go along with — first you create some kind of preposterous scenario to do with aliens or time travel or real-seeming hallucinations or some combination of all three and then, when people have adjusted to it, you remind them at unpredictable moments that none of these things exists.
    In "The Dark Knight", the premise is that Batman's efforts to fight crime in collaboration with the Gotham City police are so staggeringly effective that the city's criminal gangs are on the verge of being checkmated when the film begins. The film then proceeds to reveal that this was actually a staggeringly ineffective way to fight crime. By exerting himself to the fullest in crusading against crime, Batman has done nothing more than drive the criminal gangs into a desperate last resort: unleashing the supercriminal terrorist mastermind "The Joker" against Gotham City.

  • A related problem with the film is that the Joker is given a Spielbergian level of resources -- multiple cubic meters of pure cash worth -- to devote to his terror crusade against Gotham City. For example, the Joker has access to infiltraters hidden within the police heirarchy to the point of absurdity. At one point in the film, a bomb is detonated within the police building while the Joker, having escaped his cell, is holding the police at bay by threatening a hostage. When the dust clears, all of the police -- hostage included -- have completely vanished, apparently leaving the Joker at liberty to escape.

    The bomb is not an accident, of course. The Joker also has a magical ability to instantly materialize a bomb of any size in any place at any time without anyone noticing until it is too late. Just get used to this if you watch the film.

  • The Spielbergian ethos doesn't end with the Joker. It turns out that the film essentially innovates an entirely new theory of Bruce Wayne's psyche to explain why he fights crime.

    The original motivation for Bruce Wayne's career of crime fighting is that his parents are murdered in front of his eyes when he is a child. We further postulate that Bruce Wayne possesses the resources of body, mind, and wealth to be an especially effective crime fighter in a city menaced by an especially intractable criminal element. It thus seems particularly plausible -- in fact, not even that unusual -- that Bruce Wayne would devote his life to crusading against the criminal element. Throw in the costume and you have a Batman.

    That might have worked in the 1930s, but today the mass audience expects Batman to be "one sick puppy" perhaps a step removed from the Joker himself. In "The Dark Knight", the implication of the story is that Batman fights crime out of a deep-seated sense of masochism. The Joker, as you might have expected, makes full use of this knowledge, since the Joker knows that his full-spectrum assault upon Gotham is perhaps the ultimate turn-on for Batman. Ultimately, this mars the ending of the film rather severely (unless film masochism appeals to you).

Friday, August 01, 2008

The single most disreputable economic proposal of campaign 2008 to date (or, Obama really f***ked up this time).

You might want to read about this plan while it still exists because it's only a matter of time before Barack Obama disavows all knowledge of it. In his current plan, Barack Obama endorses political confiscations on behalf of "the people" (embedded hyperlink removed):
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Friday announced an “Emergency Economic Plan” that would give families a stimulus check of $1,000 each, funded in part by what his presidential campaign calls “windfall profits from Big Oil.”
Barack Obama seems to think that high gas prices more than justifiy an economic plan that would make perfect sense for Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. I'd call Obama a Marxist if I didn't suspect that this comparison would be unfair to Karl Marx.