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March 12, 2010

cyriaque lamar on torturing superheroes

Here is an essay that I not only agree with in its entirety but reflects my thoughts exactly that occurred to me back when I was originally reading some of the works cited — "Superhero Tragedy Porn Is Bad For Comics".  Because as a long-life, long-lived comic book reader, I've noticed a disturbing recent trend of glib carnage that rivals the terribleness of the "Saw" series.  And while I don't want a return to the 70s stand-alone cookie-cutter stop-the-bad-guy storylines, I do not want a fictional funnybook world that relies on cheap-death/torture/rape pops to keep readers interested.  From the essay, by Cyriaque Lamar:
Superhero tragedy porn operates similarly [to actual "thwap-thwap-thwap" porn].  Tragedy rockets into our heroes' lives without warning.  The horrible event is often written simply to elicit shock or give the issue narrative significance. The misfortune usually falls on a little-known or underused character, so as not to derail the main plot about whatever space carnivore or phantom globule or cyborg zygote that the heroes happen to be fighting that issue.  It is contextless, disposable dolor that drives sales and keeps the interminable comic serial from becoming stale.

You may think that critical thinking about comic books is spurious, but there is spurious all around you!  In fact, spurious is pretty much the engine that drives the world these days.&nbps; And the toxic levels of spurious out there is certainly not helped by the porny murdering of fictional characters who fight crime in their underwear.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:58 PM

john yoo: living the gimmick

As you may have read, Liz Cheney's Liz Cheney-lobbying concern, Keep America Safe For American Americans, sponsored a bit of demagoguery accusing that some recent DoJ hires were bad people because they had formerly represented some enemy combatants that were being held in an extra-legal fashion down on Guantanamo Bay.

Now within the law industry that line of attack is considered dirty pool, as every party is entitled to competent counsel, even the children-murderers and the former Enron executives.  And as lawyers hold themselves to a very strict code of conduct, a lawyer's representation of a scum-bag does not make the lawyer necessarily scummy purely by reason of their representation.

So naturally, as you see in the story linked above, conservatives with careers in the law found Cheney's charges unconscionable, and even said so out loud.

And then there's conservative John Yoo, Bush Administration torture memo author and current UC Berkeley law professor:

“What’s the big whoop?” he asked.  “The Constitution makes the president the chief law enforcement officer.  We had an election.  President Obama has softer policies on terror than his predecessor.”  He said, “He can and should put people into office who share his views.”  Once the American people know who the policy makers are, he said, “they can decide whether they agree with him or not.”

Yoo accomplishes two things: first, totally whiffing on the chance to stand and say grown-up things about his own profession, and second, answering a entirely different question than the one asked.  He gives the impression that a lawyer's duty is somehow determined by whether or not the American people agree.  It is a shockingly shallow bit of nothing.

I'm not shocked because I have any respect for the dude, but you think that an attorney so clearly in danger of having his law license yanked would occasionally try to sound like a person practicing law and not like Micheal Steele after his third appletini.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

March 11, 2010

ackerman on romney

In light of this bit of news concerning Mitt Romney's hot new bestseller "I Am An American From America", I direct your attention to Spencer Ackerman, who actually read the thing so you wouldn't have to:
Trouble in paradise, according to Romney, comes from President Obama’s “presupposition” that “America is in a state of inevitable decline.”  As a result, Romney must warn the nation to continue to lead the world, lest one or more of these competitors overtake America.  “[T]here can be no rational denial of the reality that America is a decidedly good nation,” writes Romney, or perhaps a third grader.  “Therefore, it is good for America to be strong.”

And the rest of of the piece is as smartly constructed — stating Romney's assertions, rationally eviscerating them, and then zing!

High school students at model U.N. conferences have proposed less ludicrous ideas.

So please rush to your bookstore and purchase a book that is not Mitt Romney's "No Apology".

Posted by mrbrent at 11:08 AM

toyota operator error

There's an op-ed in the NYT today that is all about how all those unintended-acceleration cases that seem to be hounding Toyota into the very grave are actually probably a whole lot of cases of people stepping on the wrong pedal.  I found it fascinating, as it confirms my basic view of humanity — basically genetically incapable to accept a world in which error is self-committed.

Not to mention that the Toyota phenomenon is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as there seem to be an awful lot more front page stories on out of control Priuses than there were before any recall.  But that's an argument for another time.

Best thing about this op-ed is that it also confirms the objective superiority of the manual transmission over the automatic transmission:

(In a car with a manual transmission, a driver is naturally prevented from making a simple pedal error, because even if his right foot goes to the accelerator instead of the brake, the car still will not move unless he also intentionally lifts his left foot from the clutch.)

Driving stick equals not only better but also safer.  As I suspected.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:47 AM

March 10, 2010

peter straub on genre

I am an unabashed Peter Straub fan, so it's not shock that I would link this, which is a short essay Straub wrote for The Millions.  It is a consideration of genre, from an author considered a genre author (in the genre of "horrah") who I would argue shares more in common with the literary fiction types than a lot of the other horror dudes out there.  But I should be careful of my phrasing:
However… well, just for beginners, let’s admit that literary fiction is a genre, too, shall we?  Expectations guide its readers, that of respect for consensus reality and the poignancy of seemingly ordinary lives, of sensitive character-drawing and vivid scene-painting, of the reversals and conflicts characteristic of the several sub-genres of literary fiction: the academic novel, the comic novel, the adultery novel, the comic academic adultery-novel, the experimental novel, the novel of foreign travel or inward journey, of unexpected encounter, of breakdown, of alcoholism, of youth, of middle age, of a hundred different things so well-known and encoded that the fonts used for the titles and the authors’ names tell you as much as the flap copy.

Plus also thoughts on art, commerce and "The Long Goodbye".  I found it useful; maybe you will too.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:09 PM

eric massa

There is certainly an ocean of comedic possibility with regard to the travails of Eric Massa, a Republican who turned Democrat and then wouldn't vote for some stuff because he was having tickle-fights with his staff, just like he used to do in the Navy.  We know this because Massa will literally not shut up about it, Kanye-ing shows as different as Larry King and Glenn Beck's Father Coughlin Radio Television Hour.  Maybe on the Internet today you will stub your toe on some of this comedy.

Massa's district, NY's 29th, surrounds my hometown like a moat, so Massa was not my folk's representative (hello Gramma Louise), but the district does swallow some wealthy Rochester suburbs, flowing down through the western half of the Finger Lakes and then settling like a fog over the Southern Tier.  And there are many wonderful places in that district, and many wonderful things to do at these places!

Sadly, all of these wonderful places will have to bear being associated with Eric Massa, who is nothing but a goof, until his infamy dies down.

But keep making the good funny in the meantime.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:57 AM

yes, probably a paraphrase

Yesterday during a full night of listening to NPR while working in the kitchen (or, "Be Your Own Spinster Aunt Nite"), I finally listened to the tagline for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as announced in the openings of the myriad programs they sponsor:
...by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

All people deserve the chance to live healthy and productive lives.

If they did not lift that straight from a Charlton Heston scifi film from the early 70s, then the only other possibility is that the the Foundation has been infiltrated by fascist copywriters from outer space, sent here to soften us up for the day the earth is invaded.

I know there's nothing wrong on the face of it, but I do not want well-funded philanthropists worrying about the productivity of the less fortunate, or even the chance the less fortunate have to be so.

It is just creepy.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:21 AM

March 9, 2010

a jury of your 'peers'

Below is a brief quote from this interesting NYT piece on the jury selection for the Long Island trial of an alleged murderer of a 16 year-tenured illegal alien.  You see, they're having trouble finding jurors who are not either xenophobes or people distressed by xenophobes:
Several potential jurors were let go because they said they had strong views on illegal immigration and would be unable to be fair and impartial. Others were excused because they said they had Hispanic family members, or were Hispanic themselves, and would side with the victim and his family. And still others said they had followed the case in the news, and had already formed an opinion about Mr. Conroy’s guilt or innocence.

Sounds like a justification for a change of venue, though I can't think of what that venue should be (Canada?).  And do keep in mind that it's a murder trial, so the argument that one can't be impartial because one does not approve of the social class of the victim is not one that speaks well of one's character.

Though the piece could be improved by one small contextual fact: normal citizens, the upstandings that might shovel your walk or sign for your packages, will admit to just about anything to avoid jury duty.  After the first round of not being able to get off from work and needing to take medications, if there is some belief or proclivity that the judge signals would disqualify one from being selected, then the prospective juror will admit to that thing.  Hate children?  "If you mean beat children, sure."  Nazi?  "Seig heil I'm a Nazi."

So maybe the people of Suffolk County, NY, are not as racist as they seem, just cravenly shirking their civic duty.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:35 AM

frank rich: factoid

Going through a list of should've-reads, I see that Frank Rich thinks (from two Sundays ago) that the man who terrorized Austin by flying a plane into a building is the most historically significant event of February, 2010, which means that we will not get to have a last word on the Right's creepy romancing of the dead flier, as we will be arguing its place in Texas textbooks for years to come.

I was struck by this one factoid, and not because I was surprised to see a lone factoid in an op-ed:

In the heyday of 1960s left-wing radicalism, no liberal Democratic politicians in Washington could be found endorsing groups preaching violent revolution.  The right has a different history.  In the months before McVeigh’s mass murder, Helen Chenoweth and Steve Stockman, then representing Idaho and Texas in Congress, publicly empathized with the conspiracy theories of the far right that fueled his anti-government obsessions.

A couple more factoids like that and you have an argument, and one that I like to make all the time, that the history of invoking violence for political gain is one-sided.

But the premise of Rich's piece is still important: it is not glib or capricious to correlate wearing-teabags-on-your-ears hatred of government with flying-plane-into-building hatred of government, and it would happen more often is people weren't so afraid of Glenn Beck's chalkboard.

Also noteworthy: how contextually-dislocated a ten-day old sentiment feels.  Though if Eric Massa drives his car into something on the way to Beck's studio, then we're back to timely.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:30 AM

March 8, 2010


It's not that it's a novel event — troubled musicians have a strange habit of committing suicide.  "That stupid club" I think they call it.  But yeah, I was a fan of Sparklehorse/Mark Linkous, and in fact just dug up the first album in the last two weeks, so the news just fucking sucks.

But if any good can come of this, it is probably Choire Sicha's public comments concerning the same:

Fuck You, Mark Linkous.  (I have a policy that people who commit suicide need to be roundly rejected for their acts.)  So you, Mark Linkous, are an asshole.  Anyone who shoots themselves outside a friend's house are assholes, phenomenal, rude, self-centered assholes, and I'm sorry life was so painful for you but, on behalf of normally depressed and drug-taking young people everywhere, please go fuck yourself.

I don't know if I would advocate Sicha's position as forcefully, but I'm not gonna disagree with it, and it's good to have the sentiment given (loud) voice.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:52 PM

tom delay walks the earth

Hey now, Tom DeLay is just as sage and relevant now as he was fifteen years ago:
DeLay praised Bunning, and added that "there's some studies that have been done that shows that people stay on unemployment compensation and they don't look for a job until two or three weeks before they know the benefits are going to run out."

If only we could return to the days of debtor's prisons, like they have in the Constitution.

Of course I'm realizing that getting all snarky about To DeLay in 2010 is a lot like writing a really mean thing about Joseph McCarty in 1985.  But I am a sucker for nostalgia.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:15 AM