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Travel photos

Top: Westminster Palace
Bottom: Glasgow Cathedral

This is a little different from my usual writing here, but I figured it might be interesting to offer some thoughts I had on my recent European trip (organized by place/chronological order):

  • London: Lots of war memorials. Buildings next to each other can often be from entirely different centuries, which made me think of all the times the city had to be largely rebuilt (the Blitz, the Great Fire, etc.), the choice to build on what was left rather than to give up or start all over. Significantly higher food quality than the US–I’m not the biggest fan of the traditional British dishes but everything was a cut above, even junk food and your Starbucks croissant (yes, we did go several times to Starbucks, because wi-fi). Buckingham Palace is more boring than Westminster Palace. My overall impression was that past and modern had found some kind of equilibrium there, if you can afford to enjoy it.
  • Manchester: Made my pilgrimages to the Alan Turing monument, who I have to thank for making a living, and the former site of the Hacienda, which I have to thank for a lot of really great music. I quite enjoyed it: a city probably about the geographic size of Sacramento (minus the suburbs, though with vastly more density) managed to have both a gay quarter and a Chinatown. Also, it’s home to the biggest mall I’ve ever seen, and while food in the UK is generally a cut above the equivalent here, they lag behind on mall food courts. I fully admit I’d taken those for granted but the one in this mall literally only had fast food of the McDonalds-Burger King-KFC variety. Disappointing. (In case you should wonder, I went there in search of some Kinks deluxe reissues, in hopes of avoiding having to order them imported. No luck.) Difficult to get a gauge on whether the old, forward-looking spirit of Manchester was still intact, though there were several seemingly spontaneous street fairs while we were there, so there’s still something going on.
  • Glasgow: To borrow a phrase, sadness made pretty. The official tour talked about how shipping and manufacturing used to drive the town’s economy until the ’80s when it went away–you only have to read between the lines and know some history to know why that was, and all the terrible stories of the people caught up in it–to be replaced by financial services and retail because of course. Still, a city determined to maintain its traditional character in architecture and feel, and quite charming of course. Excellent Cathedral, which has such a profound effect because it’s not at all manicured for massive tourist throughput.
  • Stirling: We did take a quick excursion to see the site of the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge, i.e. the first battle in Braveheart. The area now is somewhere between small town and suburb, and we arrived a bit too late to see the William Wallace memorial, but the bridge is still there. Walked across it, which is more than can be said for the army of Edward Longshanks (whose tomb I saw in Westminster Abbey in London, along with Elizabeth I and others).
  • Paris: This was our longest stop–nearly three days–and it was just enough time to realize it wasn’t enough time. Relentlessly scenic, ornate to the point of sublimity, so big and so many possible activities to do that we merely scratched the surface. The Louvre was of course on the agenda (no picture of the Mona Lisa though, as if the world needs any more of those, and it does look better in real life), as was Napoleon’s tomb (which was pretty amazing) and Versailles (Louis XIV got away with it, but it’s been inspiring tacky people for centuries). Also the best falafel I’m likely to have in my life.

Also, since I flew Virgin Atlantic I had the choice of about two dozen movies to watch on the plane. These were the ones I checked out:

  • Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut feature is good-but-flawed. The film presents Jon’s life as a series of carefully balanced elements (workouts, family dinners, hookups, porn, etc.) and rituals that provide him with stability but no longer with satisfaction, so he tries a “real” relationship with Scarlett Johansson and sees it all come crashing down, before finding a new, more satisfying equilibrium with Julianne Moore. It’s a film that clearly reflects intelligence (the way he connects Jon’s porn addiction/inability to connect with women to the cultural bombardment of sexualized images of women was done subtly enough that I didn’t roll my eyes, though still effectively) and convinces me that JGL will develop into a serious artist, though he’s not exactly there yet and there are still some growth areas. In particular he goes 0-for-3 in terms of creating plausible female characters–the Italian mom is a bit too stereotypical, ScarJo is unconvincing (Jon unluckily found the one woman in the world who isn’t thrilled to learn that her boyfriend likes to clean), and while Julianne Moore comes closest the work just isn’t done with respect to her character–there’s a moment near the end where she finally explains just what happened in her life, but the way it’s delivered and where it’s placed in the movie makes it felt like some out-of-nowhere character moment squeezed into some piece of schlock like you’d see in the new Red Dawn, it nearly made me laugh. Which is also a problem in terms of filmmaking, though for a first-timer he does a generally job of putting it all together visually and storywise. So, really, I did like the movie, and JGL is certainly someone to watch, but this really is a first movie with all that connotes. I’ll see his next one.
  • Dallas Buyers ClubAs a movie, this is a very strong effort. McConaughey and Jared Leto never strike a false note, and what I really appreciated was that this movie stays pretty minimalistic in certain ways: it only takes three scenes and about eight minutes before McConaughey gets diagnosed with HIV, rather than spending half an hour on it like most movies of this sort. There were times when I felt the movie lacked energy–they spend a lot of time on Jennifer Garner’s conflicted doctor even though she does nothing at all until the end, and she’s possibly miscast as she lacks the presence to make internal struggles interesting–but the characters’ journeys all rang true enough. Now, as a work of political art, I found the film rather annoying since it goes full-in on the alternative medicine bandwagon, no subtleties or shades of gray to be found there. While I agree that Ron Woodruf’s story is that of a man who learns to stop putting himself first and his ends were meritorious, and while the FDA is susceptible to corporate capture, the film’s utter cynicism toward the system went too far for me as many alt-medicine types are little more than hucksters, while the only real complaint against the FDA here was that they were taking too long to legalize AIDS drugs? That’s a bit much. Recommended with aforementioned caveats.
  • Nebraska: Incredible. Payne is a filmmaker that I’m ambivalent about, someone equally capable of fouling it off as hitting a home run. Nebraska is my favorite of his to date. The movie is fundamentally about the creation of a father-son relationship between a middle-aged man and an old drunk, and the best stuff is Will Forte slowly discovering things he never knew about his dad en route to a dubious payoff in Lincoln, though never from his father, who is hilariously nonintrospective. And curt, and angry, and kind of a jerk, but also a sensitive soul and one whose dignity Forte becomes committed to protecting as he learns all sorts of surprising things, both sad and impressive. The ending is one of the more emotionally satisfying I’ve seen in some time, almost as though Payne is trying to shut up all the people who insist he’s mean-spirited. It should complicate that conversation in the future.
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Larison’s discussion of the increased unpopularity of Pres. Obama’s foreign policy (parts one and two) is highly interesting, and got me thinking a bit. For example, why was the first-term Afghanistan “surge” something that did not hurt Obama, while the proposed Syrian bombing, which was about as wrongheaded but less destructive and dangerous, ultimately was? I can think of several reasons why this might be:

  1. The process was handled much better for the first case. In both cases Republicans attacked Obama for being irresolute, taking too long, and so forth, but those attacks didn’t stick because it was plain that there was a decision-making process in place, discussions were being had, different perspectives were being heard. I think the public understood this and the deliberative tone probably helped, especially since that debate was only a year removed from the brash impulsiveness of Bush. Last year, though, one saw a very different process, perhaps even a lack of one. We don’t have the benefit of the many, many books published about Obama’s Afghanistan decision in understanding how things worked with Syria, but there seemed to be no process at all, new principles were being developed on the fly, the Administration was clearly only listening to themselves and the hawkish pundits they choose to care about and the rhetorical overkill couldn’t mask the lack of an argument to use force. I do think Americans are a bit more willing to deploy military force than I would be, but you hardly need be a full-on dove to know the Administration’s case stunk.
  2. Republican critiques accomplishing an ironic resonance. Republicans have sought again and again to portray Obama as weak-kneed, irresolute, and weak from the start. Ironically, it might have been his attempts to avoid these labels that made them stick, as his apparent insistence on leaving his options open and not committing to any course of action has had the effect of forcing him into situations he didn’t want to be in, as happened with Syria. I’m reminded of the line from Ulee’s Gold to the effect that there are lots of different kinds of weakness, not all of which are evil. Of course, backing down from poorly chosen words is not necessarily a weakness, nor is flatly refusing to involve the country in the conflict in a military sense.
  3. In the same vein, while I welcome Obama’s joined opposition to bulk NSA data collection, this seems to be poorly timed to say the least. As with financial reform, it’s a reasonably good idea that ought to have been proposed much earlier to have much more political impact. Instead, Obama suffered months of backlash and spent political capital to defeat legislative measures that would have done this. The damage is done. Fairly reactive and slow-moving.

I suppose the differences are (a) an apparent decline in the professionalism/ability of the Admin.’s foreign policy team from the last term to this, and (b) this pushing perceptions of Obama’s similar conduct in both from positive to negative connotations. Any other ideas?

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I stopped bothering with Nate Silver for the same reason I stopped bothering with Ezra Klein, essentially because I’m unimpressed with the “I’m only about facts and where they lead me, sometimes left and sometimes not” type logic. It sounds fine but in practice it’s sort of a parallel to Ross Douthat, who went from readable to awful once he became a bigger player in the mainstream media. Silver lost me when he joined in the Republican attacks on the Dem-aligned but quite accurate pollster PPP because they held back some Colorado state legislature polls out of methodology concerns (that happened to have been right). The more local the race, the harder it is to poll, etc. There’s surely some valid criticism to be made of the decision, but when he went in on the full Republican criticism of PPP as being hopelessly biased I found it personal and emotive, and to me it undermined his own brand. So I suppose I’m on Team Krugman on this one. I see no real reason to subsidize climate denialism, particularly since there are other sites that do Silver’s core business of predicting elections just as well.

I’m old enough to remember when that first wave of progressive bloggers was getting started there was a lot of hope that they’d change the media. Finally, we’d see an Overton Window that didn’t begin at the far-right and end with the center-right! At this point it seems like the media changed them into something it was more comfortable selling, which was perhaps inevitable, at least with the ones that bothered with that hierarchy (with the occasional notable exception). I suppose it’s better in that Ezra Klein’s space could be taken by another Richard Cohen type, but that seems like a small victory.

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Had a blow-out not too long ago with a rando — which, I realize, was mistake number one, and my own damned fault, to boot, for getting sucked in, but the truth, sometimes it yearns to be free. Anyway, I mentioned that some religious groups (and, of course, at least one major US political party) had a vested interest in keeping the hoi polloi uneducated; replied the rando, and I’m paraphrasing here: I should be ashamed of myself, and she had never heard such balderdash and vile utterances in all her doo-dah days. Or something to that effect.

ORLY?

From MotherJones’ Science Deniers Are Freaking Out About “Cosmos” via TPM:

Some creationists, though, don’t like the Big Bang; at Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, a critique of Cosmos asserts that “the big bang model is unable to explain many scientific observations, but this is of course not mentioned.” [...]

…the [Discovery] institute’s Casey Luskin accuses [Neil deGrasse] Tyson and Cosmos of engaging in “attempts to persuade people of both evolutionary scientific views and larger materialistic evolutionary beliefs, not just by the force of the evidence, but by rhetoric and emotion, and especially by leaving out important contrary arguments and evidence.” [...]

it seems some conservatives are already bashing Tyson as a global warming proponent. Writing at the Media Research Center’s Newsbusters blog, Jeffrey Meyer critiques a recent Tyson appearance on Late Night With Seth Myers. “Meyers and deGrasse Tyson chose to take a cheap shot at religious people and claim they don’t believe in science i.e. liberal causes like global warming,” writes Meyer.

Nah, christianists and what-have-yous are veritable fonts of reliable information. Lo, the scales have fallen from my eyes; abject apologies all around, y’all.

Somewhat tangentially, about three weeks ago, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Confederacy) cracked wise at CPAC about the Obama administration’s foreign policy…lack of oomph:

“Without firing a single missile, President Reagan actually brought down the Soviet Union, and you’ve got right not a President who’s you know, John Kerry’s flying around and drinking merlot with people, and saying, ‘Let’s all be friends,’ and they’re laughing at us right now,” he said.

Oh, the world’s laughing at us, all right. Just not for wine-guzzling diplomatic junkets.

(“Drinking merlot” means pantywaist, by the way. In case you missed that. Also, “without firing a single missile” means “Reagan’s schlong was so, like, humongous, that he could fuck Russia without ever taking it out of his pants.”)

My low opinion of Scott Brown’s intellect is well known I guess, but passing up a winnable race for Kerry’s seat last year–as well as a slam-dunk race for Governor of Massachusetts–in order to fight a tough primary against a more conservative former senator who’s from the state as well as a popular general election incumbent surprises even me. There are three basic theories to explain this:

  1. Vanity – Brown felt so disgusted with being rejected by Massachusetts that he bolted the state in order to go to a state that would better appreciate his awesomeness. That it’s an early primary state that would ensure that Scott Brown gets more attention during the 2016 presidential race, whether he runs or not.
  2. Delusion – Brown lucked out in 2010 in an all-the-planets aligning kind of situation and thought it was because he was a political genius, and that he could do anything as a result.
  3. Stupidity – Kind of mean to suggest this, perhaps, but this is a guy who thought it was wise to tie his campaign to domestic terror attacks and got pranked by a chain email. He’s not shown much ability to ferret out the bullshit if you know what I mean. Regardless of whether he has a path to victory or not–and recent polls suggest not–if anyone would be more likely to trust in ephemerals rather than cold hard data, Brown would likely qualify.

These aren’t, of course, mutually exclusive. The other possibility is that the GOP hype machine has reached such a pitch over 2014 and Obamacare that Brown thinks this will be easy. I suppose we’ll see. My basic sense is that Brown is an idol not much worshiped by the Tea Party Republicans he briefly personified and that this bugs him, and that this is more a desperate bid to stay relevant than anything else. I just don’t see 2016 primary voters going for a socially-liberal former Massachusetts senator who failed to actually stop the Affordable Care Act from being passed and then got defeated by someone to the left of Teddy Kennedy.

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Pretty epic.

So Wednesday, accidental porn star and Idaho Governor Butch Otter “signed into law SB 1254, the bill to allow people with Idaho’s enhanced concealed carry permit to bring guns on Idaho public college and university campuses.”

This sounds like the perfect solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, but what the hell, because freedom. Any number of possible shootings, maimings, head wounds, paralyzed limbs, and bowel resections are worth making sure people know we’re not French, amirite? But I jest.

Or maybe the thinking was: campus shooting sprees, comma, what wouldn’t be happening if everybody was armed… All well and good, but I’d like to point out that Moscow Idaho, the home of the University of Idaho (and, oddly enough, one of Sarah Palin’s 5 or so alma maters) already had a shooting spree 15 minutes’ walk from campus a few years ago. Local student Pete Husmann had a gun, grabbed it, ran out to help, and accomplished getting shot three times — but not much else that I can recall. Which is not to denegrate his urge to help, but rather to point out that a gun isn’t, to borrow a Whedonism, a glow stick of destiny.

The problem no doubt was not that *he* grabbed his gun, but rather that everybody else *didn’t*. But I jest.

Anyway, more official-type information on Idaho’s gun carry laws here, and here, and here, and here. This from TPM is also worth a read, although now dated: Professor Asks Idaho Lawmakers For The Green Light To Shoot A Student.

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