internecine squabbling

Too Big to Judge

One of the important turning points in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns comes as a citywide power outage — and the attendant escape from prison of scores of members of the violent “Mutants” gang — threatens to plunge Gotham into anarchy. The new police commissioner, Ellen Yindel, sees Batman and Robin ride on horseback into the middle of a crowd of Mutants.

Yindel has, up to this point, been a foe of Batman’s, a by-the-book cop infuriated by Jim Gordon’s willingness to turn a blind eye to vigilantism, whose first act as commissioner is to issue a warrant for Batman’s arrest. Gordon has tried to prepare her to understand the necessity of Batman by relating a story about evidence FDR had advance warning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but let took no action to stop it, in order to motivate the US to fight a necessary war. The idea is monstrous — but so was the Axis, and US involvement was key to the outcome of WWII. Gordon concludes, “It bounced back and forth in my head until I realized I couldn’t judge it. It was too big.”

So, then, into the middle of the crowd of Mutants escaping from the jail, Batman rides triumphantly on a giant horse, and commands all their attention with the sheer power of his will. Commissioner Yindel watches the scene with several cops by her side, and one asks whether they should arrest Batman. “No,” Yindel stammers: “he’s…too big.”

I started writing this post right after Steve Jobs died, and reactions mainly fell into two camps. Many mourned Jobs as a fallen hero, a world-changing visionary, an incalculable loss; on the other hand, many castigated the first group, decrying Jobs’s perceived megalomania and his history of not giving publicly to charities, Apple’s tight controls on its product ecosystem, and especially the terrible conditions under which Apple products (as well as many other companies’) are manufactured, at Foxconn and other Chinese suppliers.

If you think I’m leading up to comparing Steve Jobs to Batman, you’re not quite right, but you’re not quite wrong, either.



Et In Penny-Arcadia Ego

I was very happy to be able to attend PAX East in Boston this past weekend. I had a great time, despite missing Wil Wheaton’s keynote and some of the panels I hoped to see. Penny Arcade is a remarkable phenomenon, and one I don’t think could have been possible at any historical moment other than this, or more precisely other than 1998 to 2003: that first half-decade in which, with a combination of timing, talent and luck, Jerry “Tycho” Holkins and Mike “Gabe” Krahulik turned a hobby webcomic into a successful business venture and into a focal point for the nascent gaming community — until it had reached a sort of critical mass, and Gabe and Tycho were able to use it as a springboard for additional projects.  In 2003, they launched the Child’s Play charity, which to date has provided nearly $7 million worth of toys, books, movies and of course video games to children’s hospitals around the country; and a year later, when it was announced that E3 would no longer be open to the public, they decided to launch their own convention, the Penny Arcade Expo.  In 2005, after noted anti-video-game crackpot and public nuisance Jack Thompson (this was back before he was disbarred) offered $10,000 to a charity to be chosen by the head of the ESA, and reneged, claiming it was “satire,” Gabe and Tycho gave the $10,000 in his name.

What I’m saying is, they’ve built a hell of a thing, and they’ve done some real good in the world, in the process of doing it.  They have managed to become sort of a nucleus around which gamer culture, or at least a subculture of it, is starting to coalesce.  The first PAX, in 2004, had some 3300 attendees; PAX 2009 was over 60,000, and it’s my understanding that this first east-coast incarnation of the convention was of a similar size.  Watch Wheaton’s keynote, and the sense of love for and pride in gamer culture is palpable; watch exchanges like these two (from just a single panel I happened to attend) and also easy to understand.


Quick Hit: Health Care Reform

Well, it’s done.  The House has passed the Senate bill, and the package of reconciliation fixes.

There are a bunch of good things that kick in quickly, and that’s a big plus.  Some thirty-odd million more people are going to have health care coverage, and insurance companies will (at least in theory, though I expect they’ll find whatever ways around this they can) be prohibited from denying coverage to or retroactively rescinding coverage from sick people.

There’s no long-term solution to rising costs, and the Democrats’ — from the President on down — betrayal of their own party platform, which says “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right,” is craven, disgusting, and disheartening in the extreme.  And this is an absurdly industry-friendly bill, carefully tailored to maintain insurance company profits, and to not introduce any measures, such as genuine competition from a public option, optional earlier Medicare buy-in, removing their anti-trust exemption, or new, robust regulation, that would come close to bringing American per capita health care costs in line with the rest of the developed world, who spend much less for care as good or better than ours because single-payer systems are more efficient.

So in short, the Democrats remain a party largely under the influence of corporate money and the inbuilt misogyny of our social structure, while the Republicans are not only completely and happily under those influences but actively seeking at all times to expand them.  D. Aristophanes’ graph, thus, applies pretty well both to the HCR bill and to the parties themselves.

In other news, as Paul Krugman notes, Newt Gingrich is now attacking the HCR bill by comparing it to LBJ’s civil rights legislation.  Hey Newt, your mask is slipping.

No snappy title for this one.

The AP has called the race, and AG Martha Coakley has conceded.

The Democrats fielded a lackluster candidate against a background of growing dissatisfaction with a Democratic Congress and Presidency, and ran a weak, halfassed campaign.  That should have meant a close race — but it took a really spectacular failure of tactics and strategy to produce this outcome.

State Senator Scott Brown is an anti-choice, pro-torture, pro-war, teabagger and proto-Birther, who promised from the beginning of his campaign to be “the 41st vote” in the Senate, i.e. to march in lockstep with the Republican party leadership no matter what’s right, what’s good for the country, or what the voters of Massachusetts actually want, just like every Republican (excluding Arlen Specter and including Joe Lieberman) does.

And now he’s the next United States Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Now he holds the seat that Ted Kennedy held for nearly half a century.

I can only assume that Senator-Elect Brown’s first order of business, after delivering what I fear will be a smug, gloating victory speech tonight, will be to rush to DC, visit Arlington National Cemetery, and there, twice — once for himself, and once carrying out the will of the majority of Massachusetts voters as expressed at the polls — spit on Teddy’s grave.

I’m sorry, Senator Kennedy.  It’s a disgrace to your memory, and will inevitably redound to the misfortune of our state and our country.

Massachusetts Democrats, AG Coakley, assorted strategists — this was your race to lose, and lose it you did.  A wet paper bag should have been able to beat Scott Brown (Scott Brown of all people!) in this race by at least ten points, so long as that bag had a “D” after its name.  You are a disgrace.

To the rest of the country, I am sorry.  The Democratic supermajority in the Senate wasn’t really doing a lot of good, but I suspect Brown — new whizkid celebrity for the Republicans that he’s certain to be — will be able to do a lot of harm.

Mr. Brown, you’ve won the election: you’ll be my Senator.  I accept that, but I sure don’t have to like it, and I will fight like hell to see you ousted in 2012.  You do not deserve that seat.

And now, if you’ll all excuse me, I have an appointment with a gentleman from Knob Creek.

Quick Hit: The Dumb Rolls On

I am shocked — shocked! — to see that Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum have failed to take my sage advice, and are going ahead with an ill-fated attempt to rebut PZ Myers’s criticisms (which he’s, of course, continuing to make) of them and their book.  They give a list of reasons why they’re responding (and indicate that the series of response posts is already drafted, so I guess it’s too late for a final plea from my tiny little blog to stop them), but none of them are good reasons.  And no one old enough to no longer be getting into fights on the grade school playground should need it explained to them why those aren’t good reasons.

As Mooney and Kirshenbaum have already noted several times, there are lots of positive reviews out there.  If the book itself, plus all the positive reviews, aren’t sufficient to counter one negative review, maybe the book really isn’t all that good — now, I haven’t read it, so I don’t have any opinion on whether it’s actually good or not, but this dogged insistence on countering every point Myers makes makes Mooney and Kirshenbaum (I implicate both here because the latest was posted under both their names, although it has mostly seemed that Mooney has been leading the charge on this dumb-ass blogfight) look thin-skinned, petty, and severely lacking confidence in the quality of their own work.

Seriously, Chris and Sheril.  I like your blog, and I think you mostly do good work.  If PZ’s attacks are wrong, then anyone who reads your book and/or other reviews will know so — and anyone who only reads PZ’s review was never going to accept your arguments anyway.  Let it go!  “New Atheists” are not your enemy.

And PZ, I like your blog too, and I think you mostly do good work too.  “Accomodationists” are not your enemy.

Theocrats are the enemy.  Fight them, not each other.  Disband the circular firing squad.  I don’t know which one of you is the Judean People’s Front and which the People’s Front of Judea, but quit yelling “splitter!” at each other and fight the Romans.  It’s OK if you don’t both fight them the same way.

Could This Get Any Stupider?

I’ll save you the suspense: the answer is no.

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote this book called Unscientific America.  One of the things they argue is that public understanding of, and willingness to understand, science is impeded by the perception that scientists are intolerant of religion.  In particular, they criticize PZ Myers and other “New Atheists” (a ridiculous term, in my opinion) for their aggressive approach and their insistence that religion and science are incompatible.  Mooney is himself an atheist, but is the sort Myers and others deride as an “accommodationist,” and has been having an ongoing argument with Jerry Coyne on whether or not science and religion are necessarily incompatible (Coyne agrees with Myers and others that they are).

When review copies of the book went out, Myers didn’t receive his immediately, and some other people had already put up their own reviews, from which he learned that he came in for criticism.  He assumed this was why he hadn’t received a copy — which would be a breach of good etiquette if true, though one might equally consider his assumption of bad faith on Mooney’s and Kirshenbaum’s part to be such a breach — and Mooney and Kirshenbaum responded that the process of sending out review copies had just been disorganized, and that he had always been on the recipient list.

Myers then received his copy, and posted an extremely negative review.  Then Mooney responded, citing other, positive reviews, and promising to have “much more” to say about Myers’s review.  Up to this point, it was a pretty dumb blogfight, but far from the stupidest ever.  (more…)

Why I Am Not a Revolutionary

Many writers and thinkers I respect a great deal argue that the extant social order — which is in bell hooks’s terms white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy — is hopelessly morally corrupt and must be ended.  I agree with this, in fact.  The inhumanity of our system is evident; thus clearly it must be changed.  However, it’s common for these people with whom I agree (Twisty Faster is a good example) to hold that because this hopelessly morally corrupt social order is extant, and being hegemonic will not only fight to preserve itself, but has access to virtually limitless resources in order to do so1, it is functionally impossible to reform, and must instead be overthrown by revolution.  And there, I do disagree.

First, I want to emphasize that it’s the conclusion I disagree with: the idea that the solution is revolution.  It is certainly true that the extant social order is very, very difficult to change.  But I reject revolution, as I’ll explain, on the grounds that it’s a cure worse than the disease.