The sheer number of patents in the U.S. is fueling frivolous litigation and drastic action is needed to make patents more difficult to obtain and easier to invalidate, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit said Tuesday. > more ... (0 comments)
This post seems to draw people to the site and generate comments even years after the fact, so I might as well follow it up by commenting on the series Hannibal. Also, yes, I am deliberately writing more on pop culture since politics is so damn boring at the moment.
I think the show’s great. I really do. I hope this is correct and it gets a full or at least another partial season. The show is more in the Manhunter/Silence of the Lambs tradition than the later and less successful films, where it’s a story about a person, rather than a story about Hannibal. I like Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham, he’s a little less internal than William Petersen’s, but projects the same kind of wounded vulnerability. And Mads Mikklesen’s Lecter is restrained and utterly top-notch. Certainly a more interesting Hannibal than Hopkins’s version, more in line with Bryan Cox’s interpretation. Really, it does feel a lot like Manhunter in the best ways, with an appropriately updated style and all.
What’s surprising about the series so far is that it’s actually succeeding in making Hannibal Lecter an interesting, deeper character than he ever has been (in the movies). They’ve actually made him capable of surprise again! The series has played coy with its advertisements and such, and it doles out information about the character only as necessary. I’m not entirely sure where along the line he is in his journey to cannibalism and complete alienation from humanity, but he’s not quite there yet, and quite often the show surprises me by having him do something, then you wonder why he did that, and then ultimately it’s revealed in a way that makes sense and defies expectations. It’s ever-so offbeat, and this is highly appreciated by me. Bryan Fuller’s accomplishment here is distinctive, but most impressive is that he’s actually made a version of Hannibal that could probably carry a show. I am happy though that it’s still Will Graham’s show, as I fear that a Hannibal-centric series would be inevitably soulless, and having a Graham or a Clarice figure really is essential to making the thing work.
Matt Yglesias’s wide-angle take on the Star Trek franchise is great, even if his rankings contain serious deficiencies. But I won’t get into that. I agree entirely with his belief that a new TV show is the best option for the future, and in terms of the economics and business approach, as well as the creative latitude. It’s sort of an ironic turnaround. The movies with the original cast allowed for a lot more variety in terms of the kinds of stories that were told. Just check out this home-made chart, comparing the first six movies with the original crew, and the second six (the four TNG films, and the two by JJ Abrams to date):
Admittedly, this chart is a little propagandistic. Simply having the same elements doesn’t mean you automatically tell the same stories. First Contact was also about revenge, and a threat to destroy earth, and had one main villain for the crew to defeat. However, that movie was redeemed by the ingenious twist of making the vengeance Picard’s, rather than the Borg Queen’s. This made it a movie about the psychological battle going on within Picard’s mind, rather than a pedestrian plot to stop an unambiguously evil supervillain bent on destruction (though, admittedly, every movie in the second sextet aside from First Contact has this very story, with the most modest of variations between them). And obviously there are quibbles: Chang from The Undiscovered Country could be counted as a main villain, though I see the cross-species conspiracy of hawks to be the villain of that film, and Chang is merely their muscle. Also, trying to accomplish specific political goals is different from the mad ambition of, say, a Khan, who is uninterested in doing anything other than indulging his own grief and anger at Kirk.
But nonetheless, I think this chart does say a lot. For one thing, it’s not fair to blame J.J. Abrams alone for the problems with Trek movies, those started even before his Felicity days. If anything, he’s found a better way of combining all those elements so that they’re more entertaining to watch, even if he can’t payoff anything to save his life, such that every movie he’s ever made has had a shitty climax. In the first six movies, pretty much every movie represented a change in tone, theme and content from what came before. The only two that really resemble each other are The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, i.e. II and VI, which happened to have the same writer-director and thus a lot of the same preoccupations, such as aging. But even in that case, the aging theme was updated and developed. Khan was a movie about adapting to middle age, while Country was about adapting to old age. That’s moving the ball forward, not stagnating. And it told a different kind of story: Country was all about politics, and Khan was not. But other than that, about half the movies kept the spirit of the show alive by often centering around dealing with different kinds of life from us, and all featured at least some sort of moral or ethical dilemma. Admittedly, some of those were more sophisticated than others. Also interesting to note that the two original cast movies with main villains and the two in which Earth was threatened were not the same movies. The more recent half-dozen, on the other hand, present the audience with a simple moral situation where it’s not even a question of who’s right or wrong, and then it’s all about taking out the bad guy. Really, it just makes a person appreciate First Contact more and more–problematic as the script to that movie was, it fundamentally told a human story, one that made some logical sense and was pretty compelling, and presented us with at least some kind of challenging questions about our characters. I doubt we’ll ever see its like again.
I continue to think that there’s no deeper scandal on Benghazi and that the IRS issue is not really something I’m inclined to worry about as it wasn’t national policy, the AP scandal is something that is very worrisome as it clearly was national policy and exposes one of the more disgraceful areas of the Administration’s national security policy. But it’s hardly inexplicable. Secrecy is an excellent way of cementing power, if people don’t know about it, then it can’t hurt you. Both LBJ and Nixon were well aware of this fact. Preventing leaks is the sort of thing you just expect powerful people to do, regardless of party, and that Obama used to strongly champion transparency (I remember that!) back when he was a Senator is hardly shocking since that’s what you’d expect someone outside the executive apparatus to do. However. My philosophy is that leaks are something we shouldn’t be worried about, since there’s no right to privacy when it comes to government activities, and if it’s going to look bad on the front page of the New York Times then you shouldn’t be doing it, Mr. President. This goes double for national security stuff. If it really is impossible to conduct a presidency in the modern age absent massive secrecy, prosecution of whistleblowers, imprisonment of leakers and so on, then we probably ought to rethink the role of the military-industrial complex and the GWOT so that it is possible to do so, as we have entered an area where democracy is threatened by the nature of our institutions. In 2009 I probably wouldn’t have believed in the premise of that statement, but increasingly I think I do.
Incidentally, I don’t entirely agree with this. It’s true that Watergate didn’t permanently damage the Republican Party, or even hurt it for a very long time. But it made permanent the notion that government is corrupt/hopelessly flawed/can’t do anything right that definitely helped the right wing gain ascendance. The thought experiment to use here is this: had Hubert Humphrey won in 1968 and served two terms as president, with an administration that ended Vietnam promptly and was reasonably transparent, honest and accountable (and signed large stacks of progressive legislation), would the public have regarded the abuses of Lyndon Johnson as an aberration? I strongly believe the answer to that is yes. Instead, with Nixon, it all became just part of the equation, to the extent the president is the most visible symbol of government, it became in the public mind a corrupt government. Nixon dwarfed LBJ in fact, since Nixon lied even more about Vietnam than Johnson had, executed Watergate and had to resign to avoid getting kicked out of office and maybe even criminally prosecuted (LBJ had merely declined to run for another term). Before Watergate, it was at least possible that the longstanding American idea of trusting the government might have survived. Watergate ensured it wouldn’t. Of course, none of this is particularly germane to the current moment, the stakes are very different. This isn’t a crisis moment for liberalism so far as I can tell. It could be a crisis moment for Barack Obama, I guess we’ll have to see.
I actually think this is wrong. The IRS scandal is probably not going to give much of an additional boost to the GOP in 2014. I just don’t see it. When you have nearly half of the Republican Party ready for armed revolution (should it be necessary, of course) and a similar percentage who sees Barack Obama as the antichrist, where can you really go? How much less esteem can they really have for the guy? How much more of a turnout factor can they get? Republicans have an automatic advantage for midterms anyway because their base is composed more of people who are inclined to vote/the ability to vote without hassle/can take off work to do so without losing a job. I can’t be certain of this, but I’m reasonably sure that any gain from any one scandal will be minimal–this “validates” rightwing paranoia inasmuch as everything does, and they’re always finding “proof” for their theories anyway. This one is a bit more dangerous because it’s real and because the MSM is likely to push it, but the result likely won’t be much different.
In fact, I’m convinced that we’re living in a post-scandal world for the most part, within and without politics (but especially when it comes to politics). The scandal fixation among the press is obsolete, frankly. Since the ’70s and ’80s, political polarization has become an immutable fact of life, one of the few areas left where Americans are allowed to be proudly, unrepentantly tribalistic (sports team rooting is another). In both of these areas, this tendency is taken to silly extremes, but if you basically assume that people are tribal creatures and that our society gives very little space for expression of this fact, it kind of makes sense. Back in the Good Old Days*, all manner of racial, religious, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation tribal hooks were considered more or less fair game. Now, none of that is acceptable in polite society, only in the realm of dog whistles. And let’s not act as though tribalism is entirely a right-wing phenomenon–though it does appear stronger there due to unending pseudopopulist appeal from talk radio and FOX News–in fact, a lot of liberal tribal identifiers from long ago have not really aged as poorly, as it’s still quite acceptable to reduce large parts of the country as being as ignorant and religiously fanatical as Republican politicians tend to be, while this is an exaggeration of a more complicated picture. In any event, my point is that if you accentuate these tribal instincts–and conservative attempts to do so will wind up working both ways–you come into a place where loyalty to parties and leaders essentially become cultural attitudes and aren’t really porous to things like scandals. Dubya held onto his base for his entire time in office, though he lost literally everyone outside of it due to utter incompetence in nearly every conceivable domain. Obama is not going to lose much from a scandal that doesn’t even go all the way to the top of the IRS, probably just some low-info types who aren’t likely to vote in a midterm anywhere. Really, short of a double-dip, there’s no reason to be especially worried.
*For White Men
This afternoon Senator Reid asked unanimous consent to go to conference on the concurrent resolution on the Budget. Senator Cruz was unavailable to be on the floor at this time to object. Out of respect for the long tradition of comity in the Senate, Senator Reid withdrew his request.Your eyes might drift to the “long tradition of comity” bit, and laugh at it in conjunction with Ted Cruz, but honestly I think the most bizarre bit is why Reid would even offer it in the first place.
Checking in with politics here in the Golden State, the basic situation for next year’s governor’s race is that Jerry Brown is going to ice whoever Republicans manage to scare up to oppose him. Not only has the state become impossible territory for a Republican (due to some extent to a variation of heighten-the-contradictions that the state GOP played with Ahnuld, which clearly worked out for them), but Brown has been a genuinely good manager and has a number of solid accomplishments to his name. Ideologically suspect as always, but damn if he hasn’t been effective. I don’t know if you could say he “fixed” the state, but he has engineered a pretty remarkable turnaround, and he’ll win in a landslide in 2014. And should wind up being the longest-serving governor ever in CA history, a record that can no longer even be challenged.
The GOP’s sacrificial lamb might well be one Abel Maldonado, former Lt. Governor, failed candidate for Congress and my state senator once upon a time. I’ve often called Marco Rubio an overrated commodity, someone without the brains to govern effectively and probably without the guts to do it either, and almost certainly lacking the mythical minority-converting Republican Jesus powers that his party desperately hopes he has. But Rubio, at least, is able to play politics at a national level, cultivating an image and taking on some responsibility for passing immigration reform. This is vastly more than one can say for another heavily hyped Hispanic GOP politician, who seems to think that the best way of winning California in 2013 is to play to white conservatives’ ancient fears:
Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the Republican running to challenge incumbent 3-term Democratic Gov.Jerry Brown in 2014, filed papers Wednesday to form a committee in support of a ballot measure to end prison realignment. [...]
The issue of realignment and early prison release has been a hot button for Brown since a federal court order was issued mandating the move to alleviate state prison overcrowding.
The order demanded California reduce its prison population to 110,000 inmates by the end of 2013. The order cited needed improvements in treatment of sick and mentally ill inmates in the state’s 33 prisons for adult inmates.
Putting aside the politics for a second, let’s get real about this. California has a huge prison problem. Too many prisons, which cost a lot of money, is the gist of it. And all those prisons are crowded to the max, to the extent that the state was sued in federal court over it and lost. That money has been siphoned off from schools to a large extent, godawful symbolism to be sure. Jerry Brown won my vote with his strong, perceptive attacks on this very trend, and if you read my prior posts on him, I’ve noted how he’s paid close attention to this problem, stopping a billion-dollar prison project in the state. He cares about education a lot, has identified this specific problem, and he’s taken steps to fix the problem.
So, essentially, it’s deeply irresponsible for Maldonado, often referred to as one of the brighter bulbs in the state’s GOP (heh), to attack Brown for trying to comply with a court order and fix a very real, costly problem. What’s especially interesting is the timing. Maldonado’s attack would have been par for the course in the 1980s or early 1990s, back when Deukmeijian and Pete Wilson (an alleged moderate) decided it would be just swell to lock up as many people as possible for as long as possible. (Shocking that another of California’s intractable problems is due to something the GOP did back in the day, huh?) But the state’s politics have changed since it voted for George H. W. Bush in 1988, and so have the politics of the GOP. One of the very few positive developments in the Republican Party in recent years has been a much deeper skepticism toward old “tough on crime” policies, reflecting a decreased crime rate and spending that is wasted by definition (if necessary to some extent). And in this state, the public has shown a greater understanding of the problems wrought by overincarceration. Last year the electorate defanged the Three Strikes Law here, and very nearly repealed capital punishment outright. The electorate in this state gets that this is a problem, as the media has covered the crisis well. There is little indication that Brown has jumped too far in front of the public on these issues, and it’s unlikely he will do so since it was exactly that which caused such problems for his 1982 Senate race, and allowed the GOP to take his seat in Sacramento as well. He’s cautious but deliberate on this. It’s not really a weakness.
Essentially, Maldonado is working against two trends here, both within his party and within the state’s electorate. And it makes Maldonado’s candidacy for governor ironic. I basically assumed that the idea was something concocted by GOP consultants so that way they could run another minority for high office, as the guy wasn’t even able to win an election for Lt. Governor against Gavin Newsom (and had severe difficulties fundraising in that race as well). He has no base, his ideology is too moderate for the state’s GOP, and the Marco Rubio argument seems utterly hilarious in light of this announcement. Minority voters are unlikely to be won over by a “tough on crime” politician regardless of a skin color, as they bear the brunt of these unsuccessful policies. It makes me think that he’s a very silly, unperceptive person with poor political instincts and little awareness of the state. Of course, this makes him pretty much like every candidate the GOP has run for governor since Pete Wilson, so it’s not a shocker.
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