Friday, December 21, 2012

Spike and the redefining of masculinity

Since the Newton shooting there has been some talk about masculinity. Much of it has been ridiculous; for instance, a gun add saying if you buy their gun you can have your "man card" back. Via Whedonesque, I came across this post trying to sort out what masculinity might mean. This reference to Buffy is why Whedonesque flagged it:

In the ’90s, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” fans could look to the black trench-coated Spike as an example of a man who could follow a woman as a leader. (The character is hardly a role model in all aspects, but he does that part well.)

As they say, Spike is a terrible role model for the vast majority of the time he is in Buffy. But there are some redeeming qualities there, even before he starts to break good around season 5.

Certainly Spike isn't the best male role model. But maybe because he is so flawed he could serve as a decent one. If we so choose, we could look at Spike as a reflection of the tension between what traditional masculinity has been and what modern society is changing it into. The traditional aspects of Spike's masculinity are his strength, toughness, bravado, and appetite for obtaining his goals (killing the Slayer). His battle with Buffy could serve as the battle between traditional and modern masculinity.

Buffy represents the rise of female power. Spike's history of killing two Slayers and his driven goal to kill Buffy represent a rebuttal of rising female power and the desire to maintain or retake the upper hand. I'm going off the top of my head here. So I won't go episode by episode in breaking this metaphor down. But to sum up, Spike is consistently beaten in this battle and ultimately concedes and joins Buffy's side.

Like Spike, traditional forms of masculinity need to accept the fact that they can no longer exist as the sole owner of all the world's power at the expense of everyone else. Not only that, men are better off with shared power. Or better yet, we are all better off doing away with these dividing concepts like masculinity all together. Like Buffy and all it's characters, we are stronger without them.

The NRA and GOP mentality

Ta-Nehisi Coates provides us with a fascinating analogy between the NRA and the pro-slavery proponents of the 19th century written by Tony Horwitz:

Emboldened by success, and imbued with a fanatical and paranoid world-view, they see enemies everywhere and regard any hint of compromise as betrayal. As New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley wrote in 1854, slavery "loves aggression, for when it ceases to be aggressive it stagnates and decays. It is the leper of modern civilization, but a leper whom no cry of 'unclean' will keep from intrusion into uninfected company." Much the same applies to the NRA and its insatiable appetite for new territory to allow arms in, and new ways to allow those guns to be used--such as putting armed guards in our elementary schools, as the NRA today suggested.

The policy goals are different now, obviously. But the way in which the GOP and NRA think about the world is similar. Someone is always ready to take all their guns away. The same is true of all important forms of liberty they value; taxes and unchecked capitalism being two main ones.

I think the kind of paranoia Horwitz describes is central to the modern GOP. I say it's central to the GOP because I don't think it's central to all conservatives. Many people are conservatives because of a skepticism towards centralized power. Many liberals, including myself, share that skepticism. We just disagree sometimes on where to place that skepticism (conservatives more towards the federal gov't, liberals more towards private enterprise) and what the solutions should look like. But the group of conservatives that have a paranoid worldview have taken over the GOP. And it's no coincidence that they did so following the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

In short, the NRA has become a neo-Confederate movement that sees Federals as foes, and that stokes the paranoia of its followers by claiming, as LaPierre did this year, that Obama's re-election marks "the end of our freedom forever." That's more or less what Fire-Eaters said about Lincoln in 1860.

The parallel that is most interesting to me is that the constant in both situations is white male privilege. They didn't want to give up slaves because the slaves were their property, literally a source of their wealth. The modern GOP doesn't want to give up guns or more taxes because the guns protect their wealth and the taxes take that wealth and give it to people who aren't privileged white men. The roots of the paranoia are self interest. Sadly, it seems that the recent events in Newton aren't even enough for some (or at least someone like the NRA leader LaPierre) to put that aside for the greater good.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Zero Dark Thirty" and democratic discourse

Most of the discussion about this film has been about how it depicts the effects of torture, and rightfully so based on many people's accounts who have seen the film. But I haven't. So I won't rehash what those people (Glenn Greenwald for example) have written. One thing that bugged me from the first time I heard about this film is the fact that they made a movie about the killing of bin Laden when we as the public have conflicting reports as to what happened. How the hell can they make what the filmmakers are calling a "journalistic" movie when there are conflicting accounts? Here's how:

The senators’ letter notes that “there has been significant media coverage of the CIA’s cooperation with the screenwriters.” It’s not bad that the filmmakers talked to the government; reporters do it all the time. What’s troubling is that the government hasn’t talked more. We are meant to understand that the filmmakers heard things we can’t, at a time when cases brought by torture victims are thrown out of court because the government has invoked the state-secrets privilege. That’s not how our political discourse should work, either. So much about our recent history as torturers has been left unexamined, with no accountability, with details of events marked secret and shoved away, and the lines between the parts we do know left open to the imagination. The next time we are asked to make a judgment about whether our country should engage in torture, we should be able to look at more than a single movie. That is the value in the senators’ statement. Feinstein and Levin have access to classified information, too, as part of a review of this history, and they cite it in their letter. The senators shouldn’t edit the movie; they can, and should, increase transparency about torture.

This is a movie, after all, that opens, as the letter notes, with the real, recorded voices of the victims of 9/11, trapped in the towers, about to die, followed by a note saying that what follows is “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.”

So as a public who wants to have important information about what our gov't does so that we can hold our elected officials accountable can't have access to that information. But if you want to make a movie about an event that the current administration finds flattering you can have access to this super-secret, too important to trust with us normal folk information. And then you can depict the effects of torture in a way that people with access to that classified information find inaccurate but still get signed off on using all this info for your "journalistic" movie.

I'm not one for hyperbole, but that is some Orwellian bullshit right there. I won't go to the other end of the spectrum and say that these filmmakers can't do what they did. That would be almost as ridiculous. But when they choose to not make a documentary (thus making it more art than journalism and leaving it open to interpretation) but then turn around and claim they took a "journalistic approach" to the movie while supposedly getting the effect of torture wrong, they open themselves up to the type of criticism they are getting. And if, as the people who have seen it are correct, it is wrong, those of us who know the facts regarding torture should criticize them loudly. Because sadly, popular entertainment is where many people might shape their stances on important issues such as torture.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tennessee legislature considering arming teachers

I'm not surprised in the least that someone from our crazy legislature is considering this:

School resource officers are paid jointly by the local sheriff’s department and the school district. Niceley’s bill would allow schools to pay for background checks and firearms training for teachers that woud allow them to be armed as well. Asked if the guns for the trained teachers would also be part of the taxpayer expense, Niceley laughed.

“Well, that’s a minor detail in Tennessee,” he said. “We hoped the teachers would have them already.”

The teachers that would be trained would be volunteers, he said, and would likely carry their own firearms to school.

This is a ridiculous overreaction to recent events. I understand wanting to keep kids safe. But all this really does is introduce more risk into the classroom. While terrible, events like Newton and Columbine are very rare. So what this policy would really do is subject people to an increased likelihood of an accident from teacher's gun rather than some potential murderer.

But putting aside that point, this just doesn't seem like a plausible way to avoid this sort of thing. The logic (I guess, who the hell knows with these people) is that having someone with a gun will either deter anything from happening in the first place or prevent/mitigate it if someone does attempt something.

The first assumption is ridiculous. The guy in Newton knew his own mother had guns and it didn't prevent anything. Every potential murderer with a gun knows other people might have guns. That's why they wear body armor. But even if it was assumed everyone everywhere had a gun there would still be motivation on the part of murderers. You can't change that aside from possibly going the mental health route, which this legislator doesn't seem to care about, or at least not as much as arming everyone first.

The second assumption is mistaken as well. Why would one plain clothed person make a difference? Schools are generally fairly large areas consisting of multiple buildings or areas within a large building. Presumably, you would need to have someone with a gun in every area of the facility in order to be fully protected. Having just one or even a few people armed would still leave most of the school very vulnerable, especially if the shooter has a high capacity gun/ammunition (but hey, let's not discuss this TN legislature and Governor Haslam). So even if we assume arming someone other than a trained police officer in a school is a good idea and could be effective, I don't see how you can't then say a significant amount of the faculty should be armed?

But I doubt even this legislator would go that far. Because even for people like him, that's a step too far. That's because at that point you no longer live in a civilized democracy. You live in a war zone, one in which violence rules over law and basic social contract. And as bad as that situation is for adults, it's insane to subject children to that type of environment. I don't doubt this legislator's desire to protect kids. But he is too wrapped up in the disastrous culture of guns we live in to look to any other alternative.

As I said, school shootings are so rare that I don't think this is a good idea even if it might work in practice, which I highly doubt it would. The better way to try and ensure safety is to look at the root causes of why these school shootings and homicides/suicides in general (this is the much more important aspect of gun violence) occur and try to solve the problem before these people get their hands on guns. The other way is to make it as difficult as possible for people to get guns in the first place. That's not something this legislator and probably many in TN's crazy legislature want to even contemplate. But that doesn't mean we have to go in the opposite direction and start arming everyone. Once you do that you basically give up and declare war on everyone.

Monday, December 17, 2012

How I Met Your Mother: The Final Page

Spoilers to follow for the episodes of December 17th.

I've been vocal about not being a fan of Robin and Barney together as a couple. These episodes finally addressed the big event they show us at the beginning of this season. But I'll get to that in a minute. First I want to discuss the other characters.

I predicted at the beginning of this season that it wouldn't go well, that the characters are all static and there just isn't much left to wring out of them. Thus far the season hasn't been that bad. I think that's mostly a testament to the outstanding cast and how well the handle anything they are given. One thing I thought I wouldn't like was Lilly and Marshall having a baby. That's been ok for the most part, but for a weird reason.

They barely ever show the baby. This kid must sleep 23 hours a day. That or Lilly's dad takes care of him 75% of the time. It's really weird. But I think that's why I haven't been disappointed with Lilly and Marshall this season. Ted has been Ted. He was good in the second part of tonight's episode. But given my problems with Robin and Barney, I was kind of hoping Ted would profess his love for Robin and she would come to her senses.

But given what they have already shown us about where this season ends, we know that Robin and Barney are going to end up together. I give the writers this, they handled the lead up and proposal pretty well. It was typical Barney. But despite most things going well, they still showed exactly why this relationship just doesn't work for me.

Robin reads the play and tells Barney this is yet another reason she can't trust him and thus why they can't work as a couple. And then, literally seconds after she says that, she agrees to get engaged to him. What the fuck? She knows she can't trust him and he just pulled a massive prank on her in which she was emotionally distraught and almost fired someone at work. But in the span of a few seconds she figures, eh, what the fuck?

Ugh. I just don't get it. They still have nothing in common aside from having the same friends and being good looking. Just as I feared, the writers have done nothing to bring me around on this. And now it's like they are actively trying to piss me off and ruin Robin for me. At least they used this to make Ted look good. And there's always Alyson Hannigan. I about fell out of my chair when she said she likes big wieners and wants one in her mouth.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gun norms

I won't spend much time talking about our gun culture. It's pretty clear that we are fanatical about guns, at least relative to the rest of the world. And in a way I understand it. I don't own any guns (except for a prop replica of Malcolm Reynolds' gun in Firefly/Serenity). But I get the appeal when looked at as kind of a toy or tool. I'm sure they can be fun. Though they are just too dangerous for me to embrace.

In light of my Twitter feed blowing up with news of a few terrible gun related killings (one here in Memphis and another in Newtown CT I think), the gun norms I want to talk about are the ones surrounding gun rights and the 2nd amendment. The anti-gun control crowd gets really defensive (and paranoid) really quick when we start to talk about regulating guns. But their opposition to any sort of gun control doesn't make sense in light of how we treat other rights.

Yes, as much as I don't think it's ideal, gun ownership is a right because of the 2nd amendment. The wording is confusing to me, as I can see how it can be read to only apply to militias. But getting moronic judges like Scalia to buy that one is about as likely right now as repealing the 2nd amendment through a constitutional amendment (would need huge majorities in Congress and I think 2/3 of states). I won't hold my breath on that. Though I would like to see Democrats propose it just as a symbolic measure and to get the issue on the broader legislative agenda.

What we can do, though, is regulate guns. The 2nd amendment gives you the right to own a gun, but not the right to do whatever you want with it. This concept gets drowned out by a very vocal anti-gun control group. But it's a pretty clear constitutional concept as I see it. Let's look at the 1st amendment as an example. The 1st amendment gives you many important rights such as free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom as assembly. But the freedom to do those things is not absolute. You can't say anything you want; see libel and inciting riot. You can't sacrifice virgins in the name of your religion. And you can't assemble anywhere you please, like say on a person's private property.

These exceptions to the rights we have are designed to protect people. The idea behind restricting rights is tied to the very idea of rights, which is protecting people from the gov't and other people. If we couldn't limit rights those rights would be useless in practice. Given that, there is no reason we can't regulate guns. We can argue about how to do so and how effective our policies can be. But I can't drum up a reason why the 2nd amendment should be treated differently than others.

Part of the reason this persists is that Democrats have basically given up on regulating guns. They never talk about it. Just now I read that the WH press secretary gave the typical "Now isn't time to talk about this" line, which is just a way to dodge the issue and not create controversy which they think will hurt them politically. That's just being cowardly. Democrats fought against anti-gay rights and are now winning that battle despite fairly recently being on the wrong side of public opinion. Until either we as citizens pressure political leaders to do something or until those leaders actually, you know, fucking lead; these norms will not change and we will continue to have obscene amounts of people die because of guns.

Update: I wanted to add something in light of this Conor Friedersdorf tweet:

Interesting that our reaction to this would be wildly different if perpetrator fit widespread notion of terrorist.

This is another glaring example in which people and politicians accept different constitutional norms when dealing with different issues. If this were a "terrorist" killing, the gov't would claim that it has/needs the ability to outright ignore constitutional rights like due process in order to protect us. But suggest that the gov't needs to regulate guns in order to protect us and Republicans scream tyranny and Democrats cower in a corner until the news cycle changes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Running into the "fiscal curb"

Noam Scheiber has me convinced that we should go over the so called "fiscal cliff":

That’s why going over the fiscal cliff is so critical this time. Here’s what happens if we head into 2013 without a deal: Taxes will rise on every American. Thanks to the PR offensive the administration has waged—month after month of accusing the GOP of holding middle-class tax cuts hostage to cuts for the wealthy—and to the president’s structural advantages during a showdown with Congress, the public will immediately and overwhelmingly blame the GOP. “If we go over the cliff,” Bill Kristol wrote Monday, “what Republicans will have done is to make Democrats the party of tax cuts and Obama a president fighting for economic growth.” (Polls currently show that Americans will blame Republicans by a 53 to 27 margin; it will surely get worse every hour of 2013 that the standoff lingers). Which is why, within a few days or weeks of January 1, the GOP will almost certainly throw in the towel—“Republicans will fold with lightning speed,” is how Kristol put it. Democrats will propose a bill allowing rates for the top 2 percent to return to their Clinton-era levels and restore the Bush tax cuts for everyone else.

And what of the economy? It will come through just fine. As others have pointed out, the “cliff” is a lousy metaphor. The effect of the tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to begin next year is more like a mildly uncomfortable slope, with the toll on the economy accumulating only gradually. A few weeks down this slope—which is likely to be the outer limit of how long the GOP can hold out—will do no damage to speak of. And while financial markets may get jittery, I’d caution against overstating even that. It turns out some savvy investors are treating the cliff as an attractive buying opportunity and hoarding cash accordingly.

But the real key here is the political upshot of going over the cliff: Republicans will see in defeat that it’s not Obama who has somehow pulled one over on their leadership or simply played his hand better. Instead, they will see that they have been completely repudiated by the public in a way that even the election didn’t impress on them. It will, in other words, be as close as you get in politics to a total victory for one side. It will highlight the perils of following one’s base too slavishly, a lesson that will come in handy not just on future fiscal policy fights (there will in all likelihood still be a debt ceiling to raise next year), but, one can imagine, also on an issue like immigration. Which is to say, it’s only by forcing the GOP off the cliff that Obama will find the space he needs to govern.

The bolded part is the key to getting what he describes in the last paragraph. I have a hard time seeing how Democrats wouldn't look better in that situation. And it's not a difficult argument to make. Even Democrats shouldn't have too much of a problem making it. They just have to take from the Republican playbook and make it loudly and often.

This would also serve to be a symbolic battle, pitting the rich and powerful on one side (the Republican side) and everyone else on the other (the Democratic side). Democrats should stoke that symbolism into a populist frenzy. You can bring other issues in on this aside from taxes. I'd throw in medicare and social security. Say Republicans want to make it harder to get those things, and make them less lucrative when you finally do get them. And they want to do that all so they can give more money to the rich and spend more money on unnecessary defense.

I said previously that Obama and Democrats should be willing to bargain away higher taxes on the rich. I still believe that. But I'm willing to go over the curb or cliff if we don't get a really good deal before that because of the scenario Scheiber lays out. And if that scenario plays out like he says and how I believe it would, I'd still be willing to bargain away tax cuts for more things, the big one I think being the debt ceiling.

If Republicans are as insanely devoted to rich people as they appear, maybe they would be willing to agree to raise the debt ceiling (or better yet, just get rid of it) in exchange for keeping the lower rate on taxes for the rich. I'd pull the trigger on that deal happily because I think it helps the economy and Democrats more than raising taxes. Also, being willing to budge on tax increases primes you for the unlikely scenario that Democrats lose the public in this battle and Republicans don't cave after we go over the curb. If that happens I think we can still save face by getting something like an extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises on BluRay

Politics is slow and boring right now. So I haven't had much to say. I'm also kind of back into my "depressing job search" mode in which I blog in spurts. So to get out of ruts I try to look beyond politics to find something to write about. And this was a big week for Batman fans like me. The Dark Knight Rises came out on BluRay. Obviously, I was ready to drop $40 on the special edition (picture here).

But the first two places I went informed me that none of their stores in the entire city had the special edition set. I was extremely annoyed that the first store didn't have it. I was on the brink of snapping and turning into the Joker when the second store didn't have it. Luckily, the third store had two left (in retrospect, I should have bought both). If they didn't have it I would have either fell to the floor weeping or snapped and destroyed the store. So, crisis averted. I had underestimated how few of these special editions they were making and how many Batman fans there are out there like me.

I haven't watched the movie on BluRay yet. I'll get to it either tonight or tomorrow night. I expect it to be incredible, which will likely eventually cause me to wear out the disk. But I have watched the special features and I wanted to say a word or two about that. I had seen some of the Batmobile documentary on tv before. But I watched all of it on the disk and it was fantastic. It gave a pretty in depth look at how each Batmobile was made and then looked at the cultural impact it has had. It was really cool to see that. And it was really touching when they drove the Tumbler to a children's hospital so that the kids could have some fun with it.

The other special features dealt with the making of Rises. There were quite a few of them and they were all interesting. As is typical with Nolan movies, no one sits there and explains the plot and themes. There are some instances where they touch on what they were trying to do, mainly in developing characters like Bane and Selina. But otherwise it's about how they made/shot the movie.

If you want a review of the movie itself, I'll direct you a compilation of what I've written about it here. I love this movie, the Nolan trilogy, and Batman a ton. And I'm thrilled to be able to enjoy it whenever I want. I strongly suggest you go buy it and do the same.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Iran and nuclear deterrence

I've written a lot about this before. So I won't spend much time rehashing the same old arguments because they are, in fact, the same arguments because nothing has or probably will change. I just want to reiterate same points that Steve Walt makes (via Andrew Sullivan):

[B]oth theory and history teach us that getting a nuclear weapon has less impact on a country's power and influence than many believe, and the slow spread of nuclear weapons has only modest effects on global and regional politics. Nuclear weapons are good for deterring direct attacks on one's homeland, and they induce greater caution in the minds of national leaders of all kinds. What they don't do is turn weak states into great powers, they are useless as tools of blackmail, and they cost a lot of money. They also lead other states to worry more about one's intentions and to band together for self-protection. For these reasons, most potential nuclear states have concluded that getting the bomb isn't worth it.

But a few states-and usually those who are worried about being attacked-decide to go ahead. The good news is that when they do, it has remarkably little impact on world affairs.

I'll add that I would prefer that Iran not develop/obtain nuclear weapons because a not-strongly financed nuclear program can be dangerous. I mean dangerous in a meltdown sense, not the bombing other countries sense. Better to not create that risk than to have to worry about it, however small that risk may be. But I don't support basically starving the people of Iran in order to achieve the goal of deterrence. We need to find a better way.