Monday, January 23, 2012

Further down the rabbit hole.

Gingrich wins!!!! The nightmare primary isn't quite over yet! And other such excitement.

Mostly, I think it's kind of awesome that Herman Cain and Stephen Colbert have found each other.I feel like this kind of cements my theory that Cain is, above and beyond all else, profoundly cynical about electoral politics. (Although apparently also kind of a naive idealist to think he'd be able to keep those sexual harassment accusations under wraps...but then again, I'm not sure anybody could have predicted he'd become enough of a front runner to get actual vetting). Most serious Republicans think that either Romney or Gingrich...or maybe both of them...would be disastrous for the party. Cain doesn't care which wins, and he is happy to give over his place on the ballot for a comedic stunt. Which actually makes he & Stephan Colbert a match made in heaven as far as I can tell. I haven't watched either the Daily Show or the Colbert Report on a regular basis for years, but back when I did the sense I got was always that Jon Stewart cared in a fundamental way that Stephen Colbert did not. Jon Stewart might not be a loyal party man, and he certainly has lots of complaints about the Democrats, but there are times when he stops being funny and gets earnest. Colbert, not so much. I still think it would have been interesting to see how far Cain could have gotten, if he hadn't been knocked out of contention by something so banal.

(Which isn't to say I don't think a history of sexual harassment is a disqualification for the presidency. I could probably actually make a whole argument for why Newt Gingrich's sins...extensive as they may be...exist in a different, and maybe less disqualifying, category than Bill Clinton's. But I'm not going to get into that now.)

Secondly, although this is getting to be old news by now, I find it intriguing watching the salience of the concept of class warfare in the Republican Party. Mitt Romney's whole "quiet rooms" thing kind of gave me this AHA! moment that this isn't just a talking point for them, but something they find genuinely scary. "Them" being some subset of the Republican party that clearly does not include all Republicans but appears to include Mitt Romney. And maybe doesn't include Newt Gingrich. Which I think says all kinds of interesting things about divisions within the Republican party. There's no obvious clues in Gingrich's wikipedia biography about his parents' political affiliations (his stepfather was in the military, he was raised Lutheran, and they lived in Pennsylvania and the South), but I think it's somewhat reasonable to think of him as the charismatic born-again political convert compared to Romney's old blood Republicanism. Or say, the populist vs. the anti-populist.

Nate Silver's latest article about the Republican primary seems to boil down to "who the hell knows anymore." Logically, it's hard to imagine anyone other than Romney becoming the nominee, but nothing that's happening seems to be particularly logical. I kind of think this primary season is going to end up being for the Republicans a lot like the 1924 convention was for the Democrats. In 1924, the incumbent Calvin Coolidge was supposed to be weak because of the scandals of the Harding administration, and the Democratic nominee was supposed to be a shoo-in. Except, the Democrats were divided between the big city machines and the anti-big city populists, the Klan-hating immigrants and the Klan-loving South, several of their major candidates were also touched by the scandals, and their national convention turned into a massive 103 ballot embarrassment. Which is to say, it is possible for a party to just spontaneously implode. Or at least, here's hoping. Kind of. I do believe that two coherent parties are necessary for the long term health of the country...but the Republican party has already shown up for 2012, and I think we'll all be a lot better off if its current incarnation implodes than if it's allowed to limp along passing for coherent just because we need a second party.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Who has two thumbs and has read three of the Twilight books?

So, yeah. Twilight. And I've got to say, it's not the worst book I've ever read. Angels and Demons continues to be the worst book I've ever read. If anyone wants to take a shot at a convincing argument for why I should still attempt to read The Da Vinci Code after almost losing the last shred of faith I had in humanity trying to wrap my head around the idea that so many people thought Dan Brown is a good author, be my guest. But seriously, there is nothing good about that book.

Twilight on the other hand...I thought Stephanie Meyers did a pretty good job with setting, making both Phoenix and the Pacific Northwest compelling places and the contrast between them an interesting component of the book. I thought her human characters were pretty decent. Bella's parents are pretty believable. Jacob is actually pretty likable, but then also flawed enough to be multi dimensional. Bella herself is not exactly someone I identify with or admire, but she makes an interesting case study of self sacrifice as a heroic virtue. I kind of wonder if that element of her personality isn't something we're more used to seeing in male characters. Harry goes to face Voldemort alone, Luke leaves Han & Leia on Endor to face his destiny with Vader, and I don't know how many boys I overheard in high school describe their attachment to one person or another as the willingness to take a bullet for them. The melodrama and self negation seems more shocking coming from a teenage girl, but I think we've just become used to female characters being stereotypically the practical ones. (Oh hi Hermione!).

I actually kind of feel bad about the number of people who have gone out of their way to say that Twilight is badly written, when the author clearly enjoys & respects literature herself. She doesn't just name check a few important authors to prove that Bella is brainy and smart, or throw in a Romeo & Juliet analogy because "OMG! It's like they're from two different worlds!" Actually, Bella's character is pretty reminiscent of Marianne Dashwood (the sensibility half of Sense & Sensibility), and I'm guessing a lot of other female heroines in other classic romances that I generally avoid reading because they aren't written with Jane Austen's humorous detachment from her characters.

On the other hand, lest you think this is getting too close to an actual endorsement of some kind....Edward is kind of a shockingly boring character to have an entire book about how amazing and wonderful and worth sacrificing everything for he is built around him. You hear repeatedly that he is devastatingly attractive...but his hair color is apparently bronze, which doesn't and shouldn't actually occur in nature as far as I can tell, and his defining features include dark circles under his eyes, which really isn't a turn on to most women. Also, basically every physical description of him dwells at length on the idea that his body feels exactly like cold marble...also not a turn on that I'm aware of. I'm sure most women just insert their own idea of the perfect man, or I guess now there's that actor from the movie to picture, but still, the series doesn't get any points here. Personality wise, he's kind of a dud too. He smiles a lot, or chuckles, which I guess is an attractive trait in a guy...but this is mostly related to us as "Edward smiled" or "Edward chuckled." He's apparently a musician, but compared to Bella's literature thing this does feel name checked and inserted to make his character artistic and sensitive without any really substance to it. He likes classical music. Like Debussy. And he composes too! Cause he's just that smart. He starts to kind of develop a real personality by the third book (yes, I read three of these things...and will probably read the fourth one) as an idealistic romantic, but it's still a real weak point in the series.

I think the fantasy of Edward is actually probably more the fantasy of Edward's family. He falls in love with Bella, and suddenly she becomes the primary focus of not just his life, but also his siblings' and his parents'. Edward & Bella's love is inevitably kind of static, since they jump to the "nothing else matters/I would die for you!!!!" stage immediately, but then she gets to be gradually accepted by all of the other vampires as one of the family, supplying her with a jovial and strong older brother, a sister who's bubbly and cool in all the ways Bella's not, another sister who's standoffish and reserved but ultimately sweet & caring, and a brother who's intimidating and brooding but ten kinds of badass. Add in parents who are sympathetic, attentive, wise and infallible, and contrast it with the way that Bella fits in to her own human family (she moves to Washington to live with her father to avoid being an impediment to her mom's new marriage), and you can see why it's a pretty compelling fantasy for some people.

I'm not sure it's a particularly healthy fantasy, once you add in that Bella's one and only super power seems to be self sacrifice, and I'd rather imagine that the primary audience for the books was middle aged women indulging in some escapism rather than impressionable teenagers, but that's true of a lot of things. (I'd also like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to come with a warning label for teenage boys that Spike is not actually meant to be a role model, and for Sex & the City to be edited so that Samantha Jones just comes with a caption "fictional character"). On the whole, I don't think the insistence I hear from a lot of people that the pop culture they like is noble & good but Twilight is pure trash holds a whole lot of water. And so yeah, there you have it. Me defending Twilight.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ron Paul, Nullification

I'm wasting a lot of my rage on Ron Paul these days. He's pretty inconsequential in the scheme of things, and not at all likely to become the fact that he would make a disastrous president while Mitt Romney would merely be a bad one is really neither here nor there. Except, you know, I don't really meet anyone who likes Mitt Romney. And I do meet people who seem to think Ron Paul's objections to indefinite detention and drone attacks and other foreign policy excesses that the Obama administration are guilty of mean that having him as president might actually be a good thing.

And that is where my head explodes.

Trying to be rational about it though, one of the arguments I hear in Ron Paul's favor a lot is that you have to consider what is within the President's power, and what's not. The president gets to order drone attacks these days, but he can't unilaterally ban abortion. And that's true. But there still is a whole lot of things that a president can do, that I don't want Ron Paul's ideology anywhere within a thousand miles of.

One of the big news items of the day is that Obama just made four recess appointments...putting himself in direct confrontation with the Republican house, which has been claiming that it can avoid taking recesses just by refusing to admit that they're in order to keep congressional stone walling of his appointments from leading to the shut down of entire government agencies. One of the things that you hear about Ron Paul is that it doesn't matter that he wants to dismantle the Department of Education, because that's not something he could do unilaterally as president. But if congress can essentially force the shut down of entire government agencies (admittedly not the Department of Education, but the National Labor Review Board, which I'd argue is also pretty important) by refusing to confirm appointments, then what exactly would happen if we had a president who completely refused to appoint people to agencies he didn't believe in? I'm not claiming that I know the answer to this's possible that there's some mechanism that forces a president to keep the federal government functioning, but it also seems possible to me that there's no mechanism, because thus far anyone who has wanted to be president has also thought that the federal government was an important and sometimes useful thing. Anyways, yeah. That is my question of the day. Now I'm off to go read some more in the third book of the Twilight series, because I'm well rounded like that.