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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

America's catching Star Trek fever. And there's only one cure.

Star Trek / A-Team

Star Trek / Hawaii 5-0

Star Trek / Dallas

Star Trek / Love Boat

Star Trek / Family Guy

Tuesday Night Linkdump #2: College Edition.

* Via my friend Eric via The Believer, Donald Barthelme’s reading list. Joseph Campbell, Donald? Really?

* Facing fallen endowments and needier students, many colleges are looking more favorably on wealthier applicants as they make their admissions decisions this year. Meritocracy!

* A master's degree is social media is actually not as stupid as everybody is pretending, Twitter-twittering aside.

* Four college majors that will still get you a job, even in today’s economy. Science fiction studies snubbed again.

* Nobody panic: MLA citation style has changed.

Tuesday Night Linkdump #1.

* Republicans, no longer satisfied by stealing elections after the fact, are now filing election challenges before the polls even close.

Ordering the respondent New York State Board of Elections and the Commissioners thereof to certify the name of James Tedisco as elected to the public office of Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 20th Congressional District, in Dutchess, New York, at the Special Election held therefor on the 31st Day of March, 2009, or alternatively enjoining the improper issuance of a certificate of election for the said public office.
Can't argue with the fairness of that.

* And speaking of Republicans stealing elections: Coleman's kind of doing it wrong.

* Ken Jennings loves metafiction, which by the transitive property means I love Ken Jennings.

* Terminator timelines. On a whiteboard.

* Star Wars as Dallas. Cute, but both these references are so very old. Between this, Terminator, Star Trek, and Watchmen, has this country actually produced anything since the 1980s?



* Mapping 'the zone of sanity'. Away from the coasts things aren't that bad, precisely because the imaginary growth of the Bush years never really touched these places in the first place.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lorne has sung his last song. Andy Hallett was just 33.

Two: New Math and 1001 Rules for My Unborn Son.

German police have solved the mystery of the Phantom of Heilbronn, a female serial killer responsible for six murders as well as petty larcenies and break-ins. It was a cotton swab.

The Washington Independent has a great piece on how poorly sourced half-truths and outright lies are laundered through the British press before appearing on Drudge and right-wing cable news programs. Via Attackerman.

Three top blogsClimate Progress, Glenn Greenwald, and Duke's own American Stranger—separately highlight some inadvertently telling passages in the Newsweek profile on Paul Krugman.

By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking.
In American politics the establishment press is the problem, not the solution, which should mitigate all the late gnashing of teeth over "the death of newspapers." For a lot of reasons, blogs are not the ideal format for public discourse, but they'll have to do; the establishment press has blown the mission beyond all repair. Blogs are all we have left.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dollhouse may get better every week, but its ratings don't.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Raleigh is #1 and Durham #3 in Forbes's list of top cities for business and careers. Will Durham never climb out of Raleigh's terrible shadow?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Scott Eric Kaufman has the world's best post on the Republican Road to Recovery.



Steve Benen shoots fish in a barrel here and here, while Hilzoy has some more gems from the Fark thread.



The MLA has released the Midyear Report on the 2008–09 MLA Job Information List.

Through 20 February, the English edition of the MLA Job Information List (JIL) has carried 322 (21.9%) fewer ads this year (2008–09) than last; the foreign language edition is down 270 ads (21.2%). On the basis of the number of jobs announced in the JIL through the April print issue, we project that this year’s totals will drop by 26.1%, to about 1,350 jobs, in the JIL’s English edition and by 27.4%, to about 1,220 jobs, in the foreign language edition. The declines follow a period when the number of jobs advertised in both English and foreign languages increased from fewer than 1,100 in the mid-1990s to 1,826 in English and 1,680 in foreign languages this past year, 2007–08. We are projecting an estimated 480 fewer jobs in English in 2008–09 than a year ago and 460 fewer in foreign languages. These declines mark the biggest one-year drops in the thirty-four-year history of the JIL, both numerically and in percentage terms. Even so, this year’s projected totals are still higher than the historic low numbers to date—1,075 jobs in English and 1,047 jobs in foreign languages—recorded in 1993–94.
Take that, early '90s!

Those invested in my poor life choices may have particular interest in this chart:



It's our own literature! It's our own literature!

Thoughts on the newspaper apocalypse from Wire creator David Simon.

"Oh, to be a state or local official in America over the next 10 to 15 years, before somebody figures out the business model," says Simon, a former crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. "To gambol freely across the wastelands of an American city, as a local politician! It's got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption."
Like it or not—and Simon doesn't just dislike it, he thinks it can't work—this is what blogs are for now.

Another round of Battlestar endings you didn't see.

"There was a point in the development process where we discussed the idea of the Galactica not being destroyed, but having somehow landed on the surface more or less intact, but unable to ever get into orbit again (the particulars here were never worked out, so don't ask how she made it down without being torn apart). We talked about them basically abandoning the ship and moving out into the world.

"Cut to the present-day in Central America where there are these enormous mysterious mounds that archeologists have not been able to understand (it may have been South America, I can't recall the exact location, but these mounds really do exist). Someone is doing a new kind of survey of the mounds with some kind of ground-penetrating radar or something and lo and behold, we see the outlines of the Galactica still buried under the surface."
This version of the plot is pretty strongly suggested by what actually aired. When Galactica made its last jump and wound up crippled in orbit around the Moon, I thought this was exactly what we were going to get: Galactica crash-lands on primitive Earth while the rest of the fleet is just left out there, never to be heard from again. I was a little surprised when everyone else popped up.

Wound have made more sense, I think, than the version of the story where they just give up all technology voluntarily, with nary a dissenting voice...

Another round of Star Wars in classic art.



Sen. Jim Webb is tackling prison reform. I've very glad to see this, even if at this point the words "blue-ribbon commission" can trigger only an ironic response.

What I wish I'd known about tenure. I don't know why I read these articles at all; they're just not good for me.

American poetry is (still) dying.

The dismal poetry findings stand in sharp contrast not only to the rise in general fiction reading, but also to the efforts of the country's many poetry-advocacy organizations, which for the past dozen years have been creating programs to attract larger audiences. These programs are at least in part a response to the growing sense that poetry is being forgotten in the U.S. They include National Poetry Month (April); readings, lectures and contests held across the country; initiatives to get poems into mainstream publications such as newspapers; and various efforts to boost poetry's presence online (poets.org, the Web site of the Academy of American Poets, even launched a mobile version optimized for use on the iPhone). Yet according to the NEA report, in 2008, just 8.3 percent of adults had read any poetry in the preceding 12 months. That figure was 12.1 percent in 2002, and in 1992, it was 17.1 percent, meaning the number of people reading poetry has decreased by approximately half over the past 16 years.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kill Bill in one minute and one take. YouTube, is there no end to your treasures?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I don't want anyone to panic, but apparently there's a space storm alert. Stock up on guns and water and meet me under Lincoln's nose at Mt. Rushmore. If everyone listens to me we'll be fine.

If you thought the actual BSG finale was terrible, just take a look at the plotline they almost went with.

Wednesday links.

* Scandal at UConn! The Plank says the story is peanuts; this sort of corruption is endemic to the NCAA.

* Cover Stories From the Most-Requested Back Issues of The American Prognosticator (1853–1987).

* Duke University professor and civil rights icon John Hope Franklin has died.

* Upright Citizens Brigade parodies Wes Anderson. Bastards!

* A 93-year-old Japanese man has become the first person certified as a survivor of both U.S. atomic bombings at the end of the Second World War.

* The first unambiguous case of electronic voting machine fraud in the U.S.?

* Solitary confinement as torture.

* Roman engineers chipped an aqueduct through more than 100 kilometers of stone to connect water to cities in the ancient province of Syria. The monumental effort took more than a century, says the German researcher who discovered it. How could the Romans think in terms of centuries but we can't think past a single business cycle?

* Lots of people are linking to this letter from an AIG bonus recipient. The merits of the contracts aside—I've said before they should be enforced unless fraudulent or predicated on fraud—but I don't think he helps his case much when he puts a number on it. His one-time after-tax "bonus" is more than I would have made in thirty years of adjuncting.

* David Brin wants to "uplift" animals, i.e., make them sentient. This is exactly why people don't take science fiction seriously; it's totally crazy, pointless, and cruel and it wouldn't even work...

As things stand, I can only identify a few circumstances under which one might reasonably consider going to graduate school in the humanities:

* You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.

* You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.

* You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.

* You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.

Those are the only people who can safely undertake doctoral education in the humanities. Everyone else who does so is taking an enormous personal risk, the full consequences of which they cannot assess because they do not understand how the academic-labor system works and will not listen to people who try to tell them.
Graduate school in the humanities: just don't go. Part two is here. (h/t: Allen)

I'm seeing a marked uptick in lefty griping in my feeds, often with some variation on the phrase "washing my hands of the Democratic Party." I'd say this sort of proclamation was unfair, but I guess its time has come; Obama has been president, after all, for two whole months and yet puppies still die.

Confidential to my fellow travelers: What I wrote about pragmatism during the primaries (1, 2) still holds. I don't like the way the financial crisis is being handled either, but unless you foresee wholesale Constitutional reforms before 2012 you're going to have either a Democratic or Republican president. You have to pick one, and there's only one who will ever even listen to people like us. The happy feeling you get from not voting for a Democrat is worth exactly nothing.

Elections have consequences. To take just one example that passed across my newsreader yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency has now blocked mountaintop-removal coal-mining. That happened because the far-too-centrist, corporatist, hopelessly compromised Democratic Party is now in power. And not just in power, but more unabashedly progressive than it's been for forty years. Drag the country to the left with one hand, hold your nose with the other, but we're stuck with the Democrats if we ever want to get anything accomplished. You don't have to like it—but if you want to be a politically relevant actor in America you have to come to terms with it.

I would have thought the example of the last eight years would have proved this point well enough. Have our memories gotten so short?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday!

* Cold fusion is back. More here. We're saved!

* Radiology art. (Hat tip: Neil.)

* My pursuit of all Wes Anderson-flavored cultural ephemera has led me to this video from Company of Theives, as well as Tenenbaum Fail. Via Fimoculous.

* The first eleven episodes of Quantum Leap are up at NBC.com.

* Anarctica travel blog.

* Who was dead at your age?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Oink, oink, baby, in the most Orwellian and neo-Freudian senses.

* At McSweeney's: Saved by the Bell: The Grad School Years.

* The University of Michigan Press is announcing today that it will shift its scholarly publishing from being primarily a traditional print operation to one that is primarily digital.

* J.G. Ballard's Alien and Starsky and Hutch.

* Every time a bell rings a volcano erupts, Bobby Jindal doesn't become president.

* Life as a $100,000-a-year clown.

* Life as the world's hottest basketball prospect—in sixth grade.

As if you needed any other reason to switch to GMail, it now features an "Undo Send" option, something I have longed for ever since I stopped using AOL ten years ago. GMail! Catch the fever.

One of the better discussions of the failed Battlestar Galactica finale (at Tor.com) included a link to a decades-old piece from Ansible, "The Well-Tempered Plot Device," which gets at what went wrong with the show as well as any other commentary I've seen.

Sometimes, however, even the Universal Plot Generator breaks down. You may find, in the course of hacking forth your masterpiece from the living pulp, that none of the plot devices hitherto catalogued, none of these little enemas to the Muse, will keep the story flowing; that you can think of no earthly reason why the characters should have to go through with this absurd sequence of actions save that you want them to, and no earthly reason why they should succeed save that it's in the plot. Despair not. If you follow the handbook, you'll find there's a plot device even for this -- when the author has no choice but to intervene in person.

Obviously, this requires a disguise, unless you're terribly postmodernist. The disguise favoured by most writers, not unnaturally, tends to be God, since you get the omnipotence while reserving the right to move in mysterious ways and to remain invisible to mortal eyes. There aren't all that many deus ex machina scenes where the Deity actually rolls up in person to explain the plot to the bewildered characters, though Stephen Donaldson permits an extended interview at the end of The Power That Preserves. What tends to happen instead is the kind of coy allusiveness coupled with total transparency of motive you meet, for example, in The Black Star, where our heroes most improbably find a light aircraft in which to escape the overrun city:
It was by the most incredible stroke of fortune that Diodric and the Lady Niane should have stumbled upon so rare and priceless a memento of the eons. Or perhaps it was not Blind Fortune, but the inscrutable Will of the Gods.
One thinks irresistibly of Gandalf's famous words to Frodo when explaining the logic of The Lord of the Plot Devices: "I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker." Frodo, unfortunately, fails to respond with the obvious question, to which the answer is "by the author".

But actually, it's not always necessary for the author to put in an appearance himself, if only he can smuggle the Plot itself into the story disguised as one of the characters. Naturally, it tends not to look like most of the other characters, chiefly on account of its omnipresence and lack of physical body. It'll call itself something like the Visualization of the Cosmic All, or Seldon's Plan, or The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or the Law, or the Light, or the Will of the Gods; or, in perhaps its most famous avatar, the Force. Credit for this justly celebrated interpretation of Star Wars belongs to Phil Palmer; I'd only like to point out the way it makes sudden and perfect sense of everything that happens in the film. "The time has come, young man, for you to learn about the Plot." "Darth Vader is a servant of the dark side of the Plot." When Ben Kenobi gets written out, he becomes one with the Plot and can speak inside the hero's head. When a whole planet of good guys gets blown up, Ben senses "a great disturbance in the Plot."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The geography of the recession. Atrios's comment is, I think, perceptive:

I think the colors chosen for this map actually make things "look" a bit better from a national perspective. It's important to realize the second lightest color goes all the way up to 10% unemployment. And then realize a non-trivial numbers of counties are seriously into holy fuck levels of unemplomeny.
The map also demonstrates the extent to which the Northeast (and Durham and the Research Triangle, for that matter) have gotten off relatively light thus far. California and Michigan, in contrast, are looking like disaster areas.

Sunday linkdump #3.

* The local food movement gets a big boost with news of a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. More at MeFi.

* Visualizing the organic food industry in the U.S.

* The Washington Post finally gets around to kind of correcting George Will's dishonest columns on climate change. Sure, it's been a month, but it's not like the paper comes out every day.

* You may remember from Jon Stewart's well-placed mockery when Barack Obama gave Gordon Brown a gift of twenty-five DVDs during his visit that paled in comparison to Brown's gift of a pen-holder made from the timbers of the HMS Resolute. Well, it's a little worse than you think.

Alas, when the PM settled down to begin watching them the other night, he found there was a problem.

The films only worked in DVD players made in North America and the words “wrong region” came up on his screen.
I've told you before, information wants to be free...

Even the list of DVDs itself is fairly unimpressive. Star Wars? The Godfather? Really? I've got to be honest, I think Brown's probably seen some of these.

Sunday linkdump #2, our ruined economy edition.

* Matt Taibi has today's must-read AIG article in Rolling Stone, "The Big Takeover." Discussion at MeFi with more links.

* The article in this month's Harper's ("Infinite Debt") is good too, but unfortunately it's not available to non-subscribers online yet.

* Rachel Maddow on how deregulation helped get us into this mess.

* John Gray reviews Margaret Atwood's new book on debt for The New York Review of Books.

* And Paul Krugman is very unhappy about the Geithner toxic assets plan. He's not the only one.

Sunday linkdump #1.

* Spike and Angel debate the BSG finale.

* Neil sends along your yearly article on flying cars.

* "My career in academia has bankrupted me."

* MIT's faculty has adopted an Open Access ordinance. That's a pretty big deal.

* And then there's the question of blood, which is the reason I've gathered you all here tonight. Moore & Gibbons's Watchmen has some brutal violence in it, especially considering the context of mid-'80s superhero comics it emerged in. (Many more violent comics would eventually emerge, but that hadn't happened so much yet.) And when people are hurt badly in the original Watchmen, they do bleed. But watching Zack Snyder's Watchmen, I got convinced that he thinks the human body is a highly pressurized balloon full of blood and bones. It's an alarmingly gory movie, and many of the bloodiest moments are actually places where Snyder and his screenwriters depart from the text they're otherwise following so faithfully.

* Twins commit perfect crime. This gives me an idea, but to make it work I'm going to need an identical twin.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dollhouse, on the other hand, really was pretty decent. Definitely the best episode of the series so far. If I have complaints—which I do—it's with:

1) The Echo reprogramming / mole bit, which drew a little too bright a line around the silliness of the show's premise. How did the mole accomplish the insertion of such a detailed, uh, parameter, in the fifteen seconds Topher happened to be away from his desk? It reminded me of a classic bit from Family Guy:
Brian: Hola! Um...me, me llamo es Brian. Ahh, uh, um lets see, uh, nosotros queremos ir con ustedes.
Mexican: Hey that was pretty good. But actually when you said, "Me llamo es Brian," you don't need the "es." Just, "Me llamo Brian."
Brian: Oh, you speak English.
Mexican: No, just that first speech and this one explaining it.
Brian: You...you're kidding right?
Mexican: Que?
2) The attempted rape and murder of Mellie is an illustrative example of how hard it can be to separate commentary on misogyny from misogyny itself. (See Joss's interview at NPR for more on Joss's self-awareness about this problem.) The violence in the scene is exceptionally brutal, and the way it is shot is a deliberate quotation of the Jenny Calendar scene from Buffy Season 2. The audience is primed first to think of the usualness of this sort of filmic violence, in other words, so that the subversion of the woman-in-refrigerator trope has more salience.

On the other hand, the scene can only be described as pornographic in its composition, from the way the characters are dressed and blocked to the camera's fixation on Mellie's body. It's the same sort of problem that arises when Dollhouse (which is at its essence as show about misogyny and rape culture) uses Eliza Dushku in short skirts speaking in a breathy voice to promote itself. Joss has a lot of feminist cred and you certainly want to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I'm sure we're all cognizant of the realities of the television marketplace and corporate interference—but this remains a needle that Joss will have to be very careful in trying to thread.
On the more global level of mythology, Dollhouse 1.6 works very hard to expand the show past the tight hermeticism of the first few episodes. Through the Wolfram-and-Hartization of the Dollhouse and the urban legend trope this world has suddenly grown a lot larger and a lot more interesting. Now this is a show that's as much about global capitalism as it is about sexual violence, and really about the intersection of the two—which seems very promising. I'm excited to see where Joss takes these ideas now that he has a freer hand.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Has there ever been a show that misunderstood itself as badly as Battlestar Galactica? As regrettable as the last few seasons have been, I confess I was completely unprepared for the sheer awfulness of this finale. I think I pissed off a few people on Twitter with my up-to-the-minute spoiler-laden despair, so I don't want to repeat that mistake here—but suffice it to say I can't think of a television finale less successful than this one.

I wrote not that long ago that

All that said, I think it's too early to turn Battlestar into Star Wars; the reputation of the series will live or die in what happens in these next few episodes and it could still go either way. Melodrama aside—and yes there was a lot of it last night—I think there are reasons to believe.
Well, now we know. Frak it all.

Put its utter randomness, offensively easy a-wizard-did-it mysticism, and excess sentimentality aside. Battlestar Galactica in its final moments actually seems to view itself as some sort of prophetic warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence. Delivered by angels. It's actually that bad.

What a colossal disappointment. Bad, bad, bad.

I guess I'm doing some AIG blogging today. A few more links for people looking for background and commentary on this.

* Good background on the collapse of Wall Street and the shady and/or illegal practices that have characterized the behavior of these large firms over the last few years can be found in Michael Lewis's piece for Vanity Fair from December.

That’s when Eisman finally got it. Here he’d been making these side bets with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank on the fate of the BBB tranche without fully understanding why those firms were so eager to make the bets. Now he saw. There weren’t enough Americans with shitty credit taking out loans to satisfy investors’ appetite for the end product. The firms used Eisman’s bet to synthesize more of them. Here, then, was the difference between fantasy finance and fantasy football: When a fantasy player drafts Peyton Manning, he doesn’t create a second Peyton Manning to inflate the league’s stats. But when Eisman bought a credit-default swap, he enabled Deutsche Bank to create another bond identical in every respect but one to the original. The only difference was that there was no actual homebuyer or borrower. The only assets backing the bonds were the side bets Eisman and others made with firms like Goldman Sachs. Eisman, in effect, was paying to Goldman the interest on a subprime mortgage. In fact, there was no mortgage at all. “They weren’t satisfied getting lots of unqualified borrowers to borrow money to buy a house they couldn’t afford,” Eisman says. “They were creating them out of whole cloth. One hundred times over! That’s why the losses are so much greater than the loans. But that’s when I realized they needed us to keep the machine running. I was like, This is allowed?”
Here's an interview with Lewis.

* Eliot Spitzer, hilarious national joke though he may be, says the real scandal is "that AIG's counterparties are getting paid back in full."
But wait a moment, aren't we in the midst of reopening contracts all over the place to share the burden of this crisis? From raising taxes—income taxes to sales taxes—to properly reopening labor contracts, we are all being asked to pitch in and carry our share of the burden. Workers around the country are being asked to take pay cuts and accept shorter work weeks so that colleagues won't be laid off. Why can't Wall Street royalty shoulder some of the burden? Why did Goldman have to get back 100 cents on the dollar? Didn't we already give Goldman a $25 billion capital infusion, and aren't they sitting on more than $100 billion in cash? Haven't we been told recently that they are beginning to come back to fiscal stability? If that is so, couldn't they have accepted a discount, and couldn't they have agreed to certain conditions before the AIG dollars—that is, our dollars—flowed?

The appearance that this was all an inside job is overwhelming. AIG was nothing more than a conduit for huge capital flows to the same old suspects, with no reason or explanation.
(Via Vu.) Spitzer also speaks about the (misdirected) "populist rage that is metastasizing very quickly," which is a topic I just finished writing an email about. My interlocutor had a good line I'll just go ahead and quote:
Every problem we have is met with demands for a kind of vengeful series of recriminations instead of a focus on what public policy should focus on - the institutional framework that allows/encourages people to behave in a certain way and that leads to disastrous results.
Obama needs to channel this rage into a movement for systemic reform of capitalism, not just pump capital into institutions that have been broken for not years but decades. Otherwise, he and we will find ourselves in this same place soon enough, with all same players crying "Oops!" again.

* Dan Hind has a somewhat similar take, via Lenin's Tomb, though it must be said that both links are instructive examples of how difficult it can be to divide justice from vengeance in times like these. What I like about Hind in particular is the way he traces the crisis to what I agree is a major point of origin, the explosion of public and consumer debt beginning in the early 1970s, which didn't "just happen" but which was, again, the result of a system of incentives instituted by those in power. The credit crisis is a symptom of a much larger disease; Obama needs to think much bigger than he seems to be.

* Dr. Bluman has some thoughts about legality and fraudulent conveyance in the comments to a post I keep pushing down the page.

The company claims any failure by the government to [back all of AIG's obligations] would have catastrophic consequences. This claim is exaggerated. Serious consideration should be given to forcing AIG's partners in derivative transactions -- which are mainly buyers of credit default swaps from the company -- to take a substantial haircut.
More on AIG: "AIG Still Isn't Too Big to Fail," by Harvard Law's Lucian Bebchuck. Via Josh Marshall, who provocatively writes:
These are derivatives, in many cases high-stakes bets on underlying assets the purchasers did not themselves own. So, you insure your house for fire damage. And I insure it too, even though it's not my house. Your house burns down and you get the policy payout to rebuild your house. But I just want my money because a deal's a deal. I have no problem with old-fashioned gambling. And if people want to play with their money this way, I've got no problem with that. But if the casino itself goes bust, don't come to me and talk about having moral claim on your winnings that I need to cover.


Let's start off with xkcd's lesson in how numbers lie.

As I've been saying both up top and in the comments the significance of this AIG bonus outrage is being badly overblown. The bonuses are a nice red-meat issue for the media circus but they're basically a rounding error with regard to the scale of the bailout as a whole. Nate Silver is basically right here precisely because, as the cliche goes, "hard facts make bad law"—though his comparison to the Terry Schaivo case flounders at the fact that this silly thing the Congress is doing has wide popular support. (Nate and Josh Marshall both have more on the possible unintended consequences of this poorly thought-out new tax.)

As I've been trying to argue, the only relevant consideration regarding the bonuses is whether they were legal contracts, negotiated in the proper way and not predicated on fraudulent accounting or other illegal activity. Andrew Cuomo and Eric Holder should be investigating the bonuses, in other words, not Barney Frank. If they were legal, and their terms were met, pay them out; if they were fraudulent or predicated on fraud, arrest people.

What angers me about this situation is the widespread assumption that of course the bonuses are legal (just ill-advised), just like of course everything AIG did was legal but ill-advised. See, for instance, Ezra Klein on Madoff:

Madoff knew his investment scheme was a fraud. Wall Street should have known their investment schemes were a fraud.
Give me a break. Plenty of people on Wall Street knew their investment schemes were fraudulent. Those people are crooks, not dupes, and criminal prosecutions are the way we find out who they are.

(EDITED TO ADD: You can draw a distinction between AIG and Madoff, but it's the distinction between two separate categories of crime, not between the guilty and the innocent.)

Repeating what I wrote in answer to Shankar's question "Criminal Prosecution for what?" last night:
Well, that's the job of state and federal prosecutors to determine. But there's plenty of reason to think that (say) underwriting billions trillions of dollars in insurance obligations you know you have no capacity to pay out on is an abrogation of your fiduciary obligations -- just for starters. Fraud and dishonest account methods were rampant in the banking industry, which has strict rules about this sort of thing that plainly weren't followed. It's not *just* stupid -- in many cases it was stupid and illegal. Or so it seems to me.

...To add the obvious disclaimer, I'm not a lawyer, much less a prosecutor. But the treatment of the issue in the media tends to frustrate me on this point. Generally speaking the operative assumption seems to be "Oops, and they all got away with it" -- that what they did was obviously legal, just slimy, and so we're all just going to have to swallow our anger and move on. I don't know that it *was* legal in all cases, and if CEOs and CFOs broke the law in chasing these bogus returns then DOJ and state AGs absolutely need to get involved. It's a much higher priority for me than retributive taxation of contracts that are obscene (but probably legal) in an industry where the payment of obscene salaries is already (and still) an unchallenged norm. The bonuses are peanuts compared to the amount of money that's already vanished.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hex Empire: your timewaster for the weekend.

Misc.

* The claim that 'independent researcher' Dr. John Casson has discovered six new plays by William Shakespeare (alias Sir Henry Neville alias Christopher Marlowe alias "Tony Nuts" alias Queen Elizabeth alias Harvey the Rabbit) is all over the place today—but my proof that Shakespeare/Newfield is a time-traveling Lizard Person born 3000 A.D. remains completely ignored by the fools in the MSM.

* (South) Indian Superman. I love this video.

* Gynomite! has sitcom maps of New York City and the U.S. There's more from Dan Meth, who started it all off with the trilogy meter from not that long ago.

* WSJ.com has the latest bracketological research into the science of upsets. See also: Nate Silver crunches the numbers on Obama's shameless bias towards universities in swing states.

* Scenes from the recession, at the Big Picture.

* And a short piece at BBC News considers the science in science fiction. Of the four, Paul Cornell's gesture towards satire seems by far richest to me, especially with regard to its Darko Suvinian disdain for fantasy:

The mundane movement is challenging writers to drop ideas that once promised to be scientific ones, but are now considered as fantasy - faster than light travel, telepathy etc - and to concentrate on the problems of the human race being confined to an Earth it is using up.

But this is as much an artistic movement as an ethical one. The existence of such a movement, though, suggests that science fiction feels a sense of mission.

Unlike its cousin, fantasy, it wants to be talking about the real world in ways other than metaphorical.

One of the problems is that where once there was a consensus view, broadly, of what the future was going to be like - bases on the Moon, robots etc - post-Cold War chaos leaves everyone thrashing around, having to invent the future anew.

Artificial intelligence, aliens and easy space travel just haven't shown up. They may never do so.

It's an exciting moment, but the genre needs to be strong to survive it, and see off fantasy's vast land grabs of the territory of the stranded human heart.
UPDATE: Paul responds in the comments to this notion of disdain:
Just to be clear: I love fantasy as much as SF, but we asked to talk about some of the current issues facing, specifically, SF. I think fantasy's done really well lately, and that SF has to respond to match it. No anti-fantasy thing going on there with me at all.

Coach K and Obama get into it—what are you going to do now, Su?—while The New Republic traces the relationship between Duke hatred and homophobia.

Duke is probably the most despised team in college basketball. And proud Duke haters--like my colleague Jason Zengerle and Will Blythe, author of To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry--have often imbued their dislike of the Blue Devils with a political subtext. To many of its staunchest enemies, Duke is a malevolent Goliath--an elitist, corporate, conservative force out to crush more virtuous, liberal Davids. In the UNC-Duke rivalry, Blythe explains, "[i]ssues of identity--whether you see yourself as a populist or an elitist, as a local or an outsider, as public-minded or individually striving--get played out." He also notes that UNC's long-time coach Dean Smith, who retired in 1997, was a vocal Democrat while Duke's coach Mike Krzyzewski is an active Republican. This has only added to the sense that there is something fundamentally liberal about loathing the Blue Devils.

But there's one major problem with the neat morality play that left-leaning Duke haters have constructed for themselves: the jarring and disproportionate level of homophobia that routinely gets directed at the basketball players. There's the classic "This is Why Duke Sucks" YouTube video that has received more than 1.6 million hits--and boasts lyrics about one Duke player being a "bitch" and another having a "dude's face all on [his] balls." Or the more recent (and explicit) video, "Greg Paulus--'I Kissed a Boy,'" which mocks Duke's senior guard for, among other things, enjoying the taste of men's sweat. Or another video about Paulus ("Tea Bag: A Greg Paulus Tribute"), posted by user TarHeel32Blue, which shows several clips of the guard near or between the legs of other players.

Exhibit A, however, is the cascade of homophobia directed at superstar three-point shooter J.J. Redick during his years in Durham. In 2004, N.C. State guard Scooter Sherrill said publicly that, after Redick shot threes, he had "his hand up like he's gay or something." A quick perusal of Redick's Wikipedia history reveals dozens of now-deleted comments like, "J.J. Redick is a confirmed homo sexual" with whom it's rumored "coach K made sexual arrangements." A notorious photo snapped during a game shows a Duke fan with a "JJ is Redickulous" sign standing unsuspectingly next to a Maryland supporter who adds "-ly gay" with his own poster. The New York Times wrote about the cheers of "Brokeback Mountain" often shouted at him during games, and you can still find photos on Tarheeltimes.com that show Redick's face superimposed on images from the movie.

It's official: the Joss-Whedon-penned sixth episode of Dollhouse is being hyped to the stratosphere.

Cribbing from an email conversation that went out to some Poli-Sci-Fi Radio regulars early in the week, I must admit I still have some pretty serious reservations about Dollhouse. My enjoyment of the show rises each week, mostly because the much-more-interesting supplementary cast is getting more to do and some of the B plots are starting to take shape. (The less Eliza Dushku is on the screen, the better the show is, in other words.)

But some of the show's basic premises remain, frankly, poorly thought out. The economics of the Dollhouse don't make any real sense; the overhead involved and the stated price structure would make almost any of these missions cost-ineffective. (Echo as a midwife? Why? There are *already* midwives.) As Neil reminds me each week, nearly every episode contains several scenes in which characters laboriously sign contracts that would never in a million years be enforceable. Even the character of Topher is deeply problematic; if the Dollhouse were "real" he'd be one of the top executives of the company, because real companies start with a product/idea/whatever and then build a company around it, not the other around. (You wouldn't say "I want to start a company that uses brainwashed people for illegal purposes. Now I just need to find a guy who can brainwash people!" You'd start with the technology, which means you'd start with Topher. This is why I think Topher is a Doll, FYI, and Amy Acker too. And arguably the whole cast.)

But the biggest apparent flaw in the premise of the show is that the narrative structure of episodic television requires there to be major screw-ups every week, but the characters nonetheless have to believe the technology is trustworthy. So, every week they are shocked to discover the Dolls are broken, even though the Dolls are broken every single week. Not to mention that the very first one went on a huge killing spree they all witnessed.

When we combine these sorts of nitpicky logical problems with the fact that all of Eliza Dushku's characters reduce to Faith—even the blind biblethumper says "move your ass!"*—we have a series-rebooting sixth episode that Joss really needs to hit out of the park.

Unabashed Whedonite that I am, though, I think he may actually pull it off. The episode description for the eighth episode [photos] certainly sounds as if it will be actively good, as opposed to just passable...

--
* I am familiar with the fan-wank that these may be moments in which Caroline's original personality is shining through. And that's as fine a cover for Eliza Dushku's acting limitations as I'm likely to get, and it's good enough as far as it goes. But unfortunately it takes us right back to the far bigger problem of the Idiot Plot Device. It is completely implausible for these people to insist over and over that this technology is foolproof when on both macro- and micro-scales it's obvious to anyone it isn't. Unless there's a saboteur, or something else that accounts for the recent spate of serious systemic failures, the machine plainly doesn't work right.

(most links via the indispensible Whedonesque)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Term-limited governors do the strangest things: New Mexico has abolished the death penalty.

Who could have predicted that putting the people who caused the problem in charge of fixing the problem would go so wrong? Say goodnight, Timothy.

Meanwhile, the situation at AIG may be much, much worse than anyone is admitting, while Kos and Josh Marshall are making sense: the real issues remain immediate triage of the economy, long-term systemic reform, and criminal prosecution of the widespread malfeasance throughout the financial sector. The bonuses suck, but they're really secondary. Let's not lose focus.

The winners and judges of Independent Weekly's 2009 poetry contest will be reading tonight at the Pinhook in downtown Durham starting at 7 PM—and that includes Jaimee. Come around if you can make it...

Explains a lot: Despite a nominal belief in the afterlife, the very religious are much more likely to request aggressive medical care and heroic life-saving methods.

The patients who leaned the most heavily on their faith were nearly three times more likely to choose and receive more aggressive care near death, such as ventilators or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They were less likely to have advanced care planning in place, such as do-not-resuscitate orders, living wills, and healthcare proxies.

"These results suggest that relying upon religion to cope with terminal cancer may contribute to receiving aggressive medical care near death," the authors write in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. "Because aggressive end-of-life cancer care has been associated with poor quality of death . . . intensive end-of-life care might represent a negative outcome for religious copers."
Via Pharyngula.

Glenn Beck Watch: still an idiot.

BECK: The second thing is, is that -- you know, I was called -- who was it that called me today, "a populist"? I'm not a populist! I've been saying this stuff when it was unpopular! I've got news for you: It's still pretty unpopular!
But don't take my word for it; just ask Fox's own Shepard Smith.



Colbert's recent descent into his Beck-inspired "Doom Bunker" (1, 2) cannot go unremarked here. Jon Stewart zinged the guy last night, too, come to think of it. This is all really funny—but Steve Benen warns it's no laughing matter.

One of my favorite obscure writers is about to become a lost less obscure; Wells Tower's first collection of short stories is coming out after a too-long wait. I've taught Towers's Viking-flavored story "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" a few times and I appreciate it more each time I read it. Knowing nothing about the circumstances of its writing beyond its original publication date (2002), I see it as one of the great fictional commentaries on the psychic state of post-9/11 America. The ending, still, just kills me.

Purist that I am, I'll quote the original version here behind a [+/-], which I think is better than the book's slightly modified version. But don't read it until you've read the whole thing, or unless you're existentially certain you never will.

Where had the good times gone? I didn't know, but when Pila and me had our little twins and we put a family together, I got an understanding of how terrible love can be. You wish you hated those people, your wife and children, because you know what awful things the world will do to them, because you have done some of those things yourself. It's crazy-making, but you cling to them with everything and close your eyes against the rest of it. But still you wake up late at night and lie there listening for the creak and splash of oars, the clank of steel, the sound of men rowing toward your home.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Twitter has been perfected: @_Rorschach. (Via Matt Yglesias.)

As he did on the campaign trail last year, Obama is filling out a bracket.



The Presidential Seal is a nice touch.

As in years past, I've filled out a March Madness bracket on Facebook using my usual method:

Higher seeds always beat lower seeds unless
* I know someone who went to the lower-seeded school, or otherwise just sort of dig it;
* I have a beef with the city or state in which the higher-seeded school is located;
* I have a special feeling.
unless
* I have a special feeling the other way.
It never fails.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is apparently going after the AIG bonuses. He's already got some details on who got paid:

The highest bonus was $6.4 million, and six other employees received more than $4 million, according to Mr. Cuomo. Fifteen other people received bonuses of more than $2 million, and 51 people received bonuses between $1 million and $2 million, Mr. Cuomo said. Eleven of those who received “retention” bonuses of $1 million or more are no longer working at A.I.G., including one who received $4.6 million, he said.
Meanwhile, Josh Marshall has been looking into various claims that failure to pay the bonuses could constitute a "default event" under the ISDA Master Agreement that would trigger AIG's trillion-dollar liabilities immediately. Sounds as if that's not probably not the case, though Geithner may have been fooled. (Or "fooled.")

When are these people going to jail?

Offworld is not lying: The Ocarina of Rhyme is the greatest video-game/hip-hop mash-up of our age. [download link]

Canada ignores request to bar Bush.

Post-apocalyptic moves vs. post-apocalyptic reality.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Obama administration has rejected South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's bid to waste $700 million in stimulus spending on debt repayment, as derided previously.

"We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? No very long."
Ladies and gentlemen, the head of the Republican Party.

The Internet keeps distracting me.

* This is brazenly dishonest, even by Fox standards.

* When Reagan tried to convert Gorbachev to Christianity. You mean that's not the job he was elected to do?

* Great news, or greatest news? New Line pursuing a MacGyver movie. The opening to the MacGyver This American Life (free to stream) goes a long way towards explaining his continued appeal seventeen years after the show went off the air.

* David Chase's Sopranos follow-up has been announced: it's an epic history of the movie industry beginning in 1913.

* And get your "disrepecting the office" talking points ready: Barack Obama will be the first sitting president to go on The Tonight Show. If only Conan had already taken over...

Inside Higher Ed is back with its Annual Academic Performance Tournament, which as you might expect ranks NCAA teams on the basis of their players' academic performance. As you can see, Duke is bounced in the third round, but UNC wins it all. Via Edge of the American West.

Twipocalypse Now: What does it mean when hundreds of third party services (with questionable, if any, business models) are dependent upon a single service which itself has no business model? Via, of course, my Twitter feed.

Case study in what late capitalism does to language: The Sci-Fi Channel is changing its name to SyFy.

NBC Universal's Sci-Fi Channel is changing its name to the "SyFy channel," a name that is apparently easier for children to text to one another and will therefore increase the company's earnings dramatically.

"SyFy" sounds exactly like "Sci Fi" when you say it, but, as Richard noted in the Trade Roundup, NBC Universal will own it now. For years, NBC executives had longed to trademark the channel's own name, but legal kept telling them you can't trademark a genre of entertainment for lonely obsessives. So they spent years, and paid a branding company gobs of money, to come up with SyFy.
"SyFy" is actually a fairly appropriate neologism; it nicely captures the relationship between the Sci-Fi Channel's generally crummy output and actual SF.

The end of the Gawker piece twists the knife just right:
Accompanying the name will be the channel's new slogan, "Imagine Greater," which means nothing and is grammatically incoherent.

Monday links, mostly political.

* Thirty years of political misrule have eviscerated the social safety net in this country. These stories from Georgia are unbelievable, and they are not unique.

What Clark didn't know was that Georgia, like many other states, was in the midst of an aggressive push to get thousands of eligible mothers like her off TANF, often by duplicitous means, to use the savings elsewhere in the state budget. Fewer than 2,500 Georgia adults now receive benefits, down from 28,000 in 2004—a 90 percent decline. Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois have each dropped 80 percent of adult recipients since January 2001. Nationally, the number of TANF recipients fell more than 40 percent between then and June 2008, the most recent month for which data are available. In Georgia last year, only 18 percent of children living below 50 percent of the poverty line—that is, on less than $733 a month for a family of three—were receiving TANF.
* British academics telling us what we already know to be true: social problems stem from economic inequality. More at MeFi.

* 3% of DC is HIV positive. I know the disease remains a serious epidemic, especially in poorer communities, but I would have never put the number that high. That's astounding, and horrible.

* The nonreligious are now the third biggest grouping in the US, after Catholics and Baptists, according to the just-released American Religious Identification Survey. According to the article, the molestation scandal has hit the Catholic Church especially hard.

Given his background, I thought this from Sullivan was striking:
It is impossible to know where this is heading, but the latest survey is a reminder to exercise a little scepticism when you hear of America’s religious exceptionalism. Yes, America is far more devout than most of western Europe; but it is not immune to the broader crises facing established religion in the West. The days when America’s leading intellectuals contained a strong cadre of serious Christians are over. There is no Thomas Merton in our day; no Reinhold Niebuhr, Walker Percy or Flannery O’Connor. In the arguments spawned by the new atheist wave, the Christian respondents have been underwhelming. As one evangelical noted in The Christian Science Monitor last week, “being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence”.
* Language Log on the perverse career incentive not to write. I wonder often whether the blogging I began two years before entering graduate school killed me dead before I started.

* Science and public policy: a lecture on climate change, public misinformation, and actually existing media bias from Stanford's Stephen Schneider. Via MeFi.

How the Profzi scheme works.

An early contender for the best xkcd of 2009.

Alternative Energy Revolution

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saving the planet the American way: DARPA is beginning to research geoengineering. Via Talking Points Memo.

Mint-condition Action Comics #1 sells for just $317,200.

SoulPancake has a pretty wicked video of animate graffiti.


MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

They say time is the fire in which we burn: 'Old age begins at 27.'

27 Ways of Looking at the Financial Crisis. At FlowingData.

Estimates of the carrying capacity of Planet Earth in the climate situation we're creating are always terrifying.

Lots of pictures of Ozymandian Detroit around this weekend, from Time to Flickr. Lots of images to choose from, but the one I went with is a R. Crumb poster linked in the MeFi thread.



Sadly the picture's not big enough for the lettering to be read, so here's a closeup of the fourth to last panel.



Originally that's where the comic ended, but Crumb later went in and drew three possible answers: ecological collapse, technofuturism, and ecotopia. Right now we're still hovering over "What's next?"

My former students may appreciate the similarities between this static image and the Soylent Green opening titles...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Man, I hope you all watched The Daily Show tonight. I've never seen Stewart go after anyone like he went after Cramer. Video tomorrow, but real-time commentary on Twitter tonight.

UPDATE: Video now at dailyshow.com. Jon Stewart remains one of the only people in mass culture who holds elites accountable to reason, ethics, logic, or the truth. The man is a national treasure.

Miscellany.

* Republicans have successfully transitioned from passively rooting for Obama to fail to actively sabotaging the economy. Well done, fellows.

* Views from the other universe: Ricky Gervais v. Elmo.

* Lots of people are linking to "the fifteen strangest college courses in America." Maybe this just demonstrates how far out of the mainstream Duke Lit is, but most of these seem perfectly cromulent to me.

* The economics of March Madness: how excessive spending on sports is a money-loser for nearly every Division I school. Marc Bousquet was right!

The greatest thing you'll see today. Two minutes and twenty-eight seconds may seem like a long time, but stay till the end.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let this be our epitaph: "Number Of Americans Who Think Global Warming Is ‘Exaggerated’ Is Increasing." More at DotEarth.

Where to begin with this bizarre plea from Watchmen's screenwriter to see the movie again whether you liked it or not? The exuberant egotism? The naked commodification of nerd identity? The notion that huge corporate conglomerates deserve your charity and even, perhaps, your love?

Actually not a hard question. You've got to begin with this:

And yet... You'll be thinking about this film, down the road. It'll nag at you. How it was rough and beautiful. How it went where it wanted to go, and you just hung on. How it was thoughtful and hateful and bleak and hilarious. And for Jackie Earle Haley.

Trust me. You'll come back, eventually. Just like Sally.

Might as well make it count for something.
Ho-lee shit.

Time for a quick linkdump.

* Even Lex Luthor needs a bailout.

* Two for fans of last night's comics archetype times table: A Sketch Towards a Taxonomy of Meta-Desserts and Fun to Draw.

* Is this the end of capitalism? David Harvey and The Nation's Alexander Cockburn report. (This time for sure.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Computers are starting to challenge the best human players in Go.

Scott Eric Kaufman finally gets around to watching Watchmen. Special attention is paid to the absurd ubiquity of the Twin Towers throughout the film, something my viewing group mocked afterwards but which hasn't come up in discussions here thus far.

My review was also a focus of the discussion on the Poli-Sci-Fi Radio podcast this week, to which my rage-filled rebuttal is currently being shouted impotently into the void.

The official Creebobby comics archetype times table. Via MeFi.

The first book in Kim Stanley Robinson's indispensable Mars Trilogy, which I've had occasion to talk about once or twice before, is now available for free download as a PDF. Via io9.

When I say to my fellow academics “aim low” and stick to your academic knitting or counsel do your job and don’t try to do someone else’s or warn against the presumption of trying to fashion a democratic citizenry or save the world, I am encouraging (or so McLennen says) a hunkering down in the private spaces of an academic workplace detached from the world’s problems.

And when I define academic freedom as the freedom to do the academic job, not the freedom to expand it to the point where its goals are infinite, my stance “forecloses the possibility of civic engagement and democratic action.” (McClennen)
Somebody told Stanley Fish he's a neoliberal. He doesn't seem to like it much, but he presents no real argument that he isn't. I suppose he may be saving that for part two (about academic leftists boycotting Israeli academics, apparently, because that's the crucial site for neoliberal agon.) (Thanks, Russ!)

Behold the 125-page transcript of the conference between George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan brainstorming Raiders of the Lost Ark. Discussion at MetaFilter.

A little busy today, but here are a few links I've saved up.

* Watchmen link of the day: The Fate of Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis. Via the comments at the Candleblog review.



* Grant Morrison on the superhero genre.

I’m not even sure if there is a superhero genre or if the idea of the superhero is a special chilli pepper-like ingredient designed to energize other genres. The costumed superhero has survived since 1938, constantly shifting in tone from decade to decade to reflect the fears and the needs of the audience. The current mainstream popularity of the superhero has, I think, a lot to do with the fact that the Terror-stricken, environmentally-handicapped, overpopulated, paedophile-haunted world that’s being peddled by our news media is crying out for utopian role models and for any hopeful images of humankind’s future potential!
* Don't Look Back—a flash game based on the Orpheus myth.

* Top 10 myths about sustainability.

* Bad news for solipsists: the universe exists independently of our observation. Via Kottke.

* Also from Kottke: famous directors take on famous comedy bits. A little amateurish, but it made me smile.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Higher education and the recession: thirteen reasons colleges are in this mess. (Requires subscription or university IP.) My upcoming review of How the University Works for Polygraph 21 tackles some of these points as well, particularly "1. Took on Risky Investments." When it shows up online, I'll link to it.

As if you might ever get sick of hearing about Watchmen, Bill's review at Candleblog takes mine as a starting point but goes on to defend the movie against me/Moore/itself.

WebUrbanist has nine 'breathtaking and inspiring pieces of public art.' More at MeFi.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday night.

* Patton Oswalt says if you didn't like The Watchmen you should just shut up. Fair enough, but you know, that's not really the title... (via Bill, who promises via Twitter both a blog post and a Poli-Sci-Fi Radio podcast on this soon)

* We all want to flee to the Cleve: a new Bruce Springsteen exhibit opens at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 1. (Thanks, Brent!)

* Science fiction set in 2009. The Postman and Dark Angel are legit picks—but when your list needs three movies from the last two years, Family Matters, and an episode of Charmed to work, it's time to rethink.

* Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme, are we all Bernie Madoffs, and what comes next?

Two more posters for my "Comics as Literature" summer course in Duke's Term 1 this summer, which I've recently found out that UNC student can take for UNC tuition. Tell everyone.

LIT 151S Comics as Literature. Beginning with Batman and Superman, passing through R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar, and Maus, and moving into the contemporary era of Persepolis and Dykes to Watch Out For, this course will survey the history and reception of graphic narrative as the genre moves from a predominantly American, predominantly male fixation on the superhero towards an increasingly popular international art movement that crosses gender, class and ethnic lines. Likely texts will include Siegel and Shuster’s Superman, Frank Miller’s Batman, Stan Lee’s Iron Man, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang, Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha and Alan Moore’s Watchmen, as well as selected excerpts and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.



I've always secretly believed my cleverness and quick reflexes will protect me in any emergency, which is why I fear airplanes and sudden debilitating strokes far more than driving or muggings. At long last, science has confirmed this phobic hierarchy.

People's reaction times are a far better indicator of their chances of living a long life than their blood pressure, exercise levels or weight, researchers have discovered.

Men and women with the most sluggish response times are more than twice as likely to die prematurely.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Two more Watchmen links: the credit sequence—which is decent but which didn't thrill me quite like it did others, probably because I'd read exactly what it would be like in advance—and the real-life smiley face on Mars. Via io9 and AICN.

The review thread is still going strong, too, for those with more thoughts on the film.