2015/07/25

Second Clinton vs Third Bush


Jesse Ventura ran a list of how Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are two peas in a pod.
My responses:

1. is interesting. I ran a search on “hillary clinton entitled” and the first two pages of results are solidly hard line right-wingers. Not surprised to see that lefties don't see her that way, but interesting to see that middle-of-the-road people don't see her that way, either.

5. False equivalence. There's no evidence Clinton is hiding anything by having used a private email account. I didn't agree with her doing so once I heard about it, but her supervisor didn't object to it. Bush has not hid anything so much as he's made selective disclosures of his email. He's been completely silent on many very important subjects, but if his brother doesn't get subpoenaed then he won't either.

9. Good to hear they both believe that climate change is a real and serious thing.

10. Clinton has kept away from loudly and forcefully criticizing the TPP, but she certainly hasn't praised it either, so I wouldn't count her as a supporter.

13. Green groups are divided on how close she is to the oil industry. “Her environmental record as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 includes launching a global initiative to reduce emissions of soot and some greenhouse gases, though not targeting carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.”


Interesting piece, but I wouldn't regard it as the final word. Yes, there's some tension between her commitment to stop global warming and her oil industry ties. Certainly worth following to see how that plays out.

Update: This is a very hopeful sign. Clinton makes a strong bid to support renewable energy. A very good thing in any event, but especially good concerning her oil industry ties.

2015/07/18

Comics and popularity



So I was scanning an old comic (Spider-Woman 37, 1981), scanning allows me to save an electronic copy while passing on the paper copy, and I see that it has circulation figures. Back in those days, the shops ordered as many comics as they thought they could sell and returned the unsold comics to be pulped. Nowadays, they order as many as they think they can sell and how they deal with the extras, well, that's their business. As there's a healthy back issue business (A customer can purchase an issue printed years ago, sometimes an issue will be sold and re-sold a few times), the issues often sell long after their usual time on the shelf has expired.

So I see that for Spider-Woman (Her title was being written by the acclaimed X-Men writer Chris Claremont and drawn by Steve Leiloha*) the average number of an issue printed was a bit over 283,000, the average number of issues actually sold was over 127,000. So I figured, hey, with all of these superhero movies out and with Spider-Woman having been revived (The first series ran from 1978 to 1983 and she started off again in a new series in 2009), the sales for today's Spider-Woman must be pretty good.

I looked at the sales figure for May of this year and was surprised to see that it was a little under 30,000. Granted, it ranked at number 75 out of all the titles and the list had almost 400 titles on it (Knights of the Dinner Table was ranked at 396 with not even 2,500 issues sold, various zombie titles, Grimm Fairy Tales and God Hates Astronauts all sold in the plus-275 rank and all had below-5,000 sales) and the really big-selling titles selling over 500,000 in the case of Secret Wars and almost 150,000 in the case of Star Wars, with issues ranked from six to 16 selling from 120,000 to 80,000. A 1981 issue of the Comics Journal (number 64) shows 109 issues on sale for that month.
As they say, the lead actor is frequently just a handsomer version of the director. Hmm, the artist is half-Hawaiian.

Has the popularity of comics declined or have they stayed about the same? I think one could make a pretty good case that comics have remained roughly the same in popularity and that buyers have just spread out to purchasing many more titles, but as I was told when I tried to sell off some old issues, TV shows, video/computer games and other electronic amusements have bit very deeply into the popularity of printed comics. So I think, overall, superheroes are much more popular, but the actual printed comics are at about the same level of popularity.

Update: It makes sense that price would have an effect. Marvel Comics went for $0.50 in 1981 and go for $3.99 today. The InflationCalculator says $0.50 in today's dollars would be $1.31 now. So Marvel makes an extra $2.68 today, over and above inflation. Is that a good deal for the consumer? Actually it is, as it means both better paper and better printing, but it also probably more than enough to push a comic out of the price range of more casual buyers and thereby lowers the number of issues sold. 

*Comics are drawn first by a penciller, who often collaborates closely with the writer, and is then inked so that the lines will show up for the printing plates. The inker can have a serious effect on the finished artwork. Leiloha had been an inker for many years before taking up the pencilling job on Spider-Woman. So although he was new to the job of pencilling, his work was well-known to comics fans

2015/07/17

Ted & Ted 2


Saw that Ted 2 was playing in the theater and regretted that I never saw Ted. Finally caught Ted on cable and just saw Ted 2 tonight. There are rules for fantasy films. The characters can exhibit fantastical, amazing abilities and characteristics, but the rules have to be applied consistently and the story has to ring emotionally true. The dialogue has to sound like what people would actually say. In this regard, the Ted films pass with flying colors.

2015/06/05

Mad Max: Fury Road


Very cool! Takes place entirely in a desert except for a few spots here and there. No real buildings anywhere and the one tree we see in the whole film doesn't survive (not that anyone wanted to destroy it, but hey, y'know?). Lots and lots of specialized vehicles and as no one wanted to fall off or get left behind, it was kind of like it was taking place at sea, with a few islands every now and then. And yes, I've seen all three of the earlier episodes.

2015/05/20

Between rock and hard place


Senator John McCain (R-AZ) complains about Obama's approach to ISIS. Problem is, McCain is in kind of a bind. On the one hand, Iran is acting against ISIS on the ground in Iraq. ISIS is a truly awful, terrible outfit that commits atrocities. We're conducting active hostilities against them, bombing them very frequently. Iran is the entity we're negotiating with about their not-yet-built nuclear weapon and is supporting many not-friends in the Middle East. Iran is also actively conducting hostilities against ISIS (A point that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) appeared to be very confused on a while ago). McCain wishes to replace Iran in Iraq with American “boots on the ground,” but Americans are very unenthusiastic about getting back into a war in Iraq. A Quinnipiac University poll (18-22 Nov 2014) asked respondents: "Do you think the United States military should have combat troops on the ground in Iraq or not?" The response was that only 37% of the public is in favor of that, 55% said no. 
 
Speaker of the House John Boehner is also very unhappy and is also in a bind. He's very unhappy with the draft AUMF that President Obama has proposed for authorizing a war against ISIS. Also, “For years, Boehner and other GOP leaders have complained that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant, hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and amassing excessive power in the executive.” So, Boehner's statement on the situation is: “President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.”

But why is the President the one who has to “go back to the drawing board”? Why can't Congress draft and pass its own AUMF? There's no obvious reason that anyone is able to see for Congress to delegate this job to the President. Yes, it's a difficult process, with lots of clashing priorities. That doesn't get Congress off the hook. Boehner is a Speaker “with a large majority in the House at his back and a longing for historical significance in his heart, Boehner is determined to be remembered by history as someone who did something.” But in order for a legislator to be remembered as a significant figure, that means doing the hard work of governing, not just slacking off and expecting others to do your work for you.

ISIS and Iran and the unwillingness of the American people to re-engage in Iraq makes for a tough, hard-to-resolve situation. It's not difficult to see that there are no quick and easy and simple, expedient answers. It appears that the Republican Congress and Senate are both so used to simply saying “No” to everything, they've forgotten how to do the hard work of governing.

2015/05/02

Avengers – Age of Ultron


Very cool! In the first Avengers movie, someone ran a property insurance program to see how much money would be needed to reconstruct New York City after all the events in the movie occurred. They figured about $160 billion would do it. Later, for Man of Steel (Superman), they ran it again and figured it would take about $700 billion. For Avengers – Age of Ultron? Whooo-weeee!!!!! Dunno, but it would add up to WAY more! Civilian casualties? There would have been some, but the heroes make very determined attempts to see to it that casualties would be minimal. 


I described how an old comic series featured an Iron Man who assumes the role of the villain (Machine Man takes place in what was then the far, far future of 2020) and someone asked if the comics featured anyone going the other way, from villain to hero. As a matter of fact, this second Avengers movie features just such a transformation.


Interesting changes in some of the characters from the way they are in the comics. The changes to their powers and origins are minor, but make good dramatic sense.

2015/04/28

Bush speaks on Obama's Mideast policy


G.W. Bush “at first remarked that the idea of re-entering the political arena was something he didn’t want to do.” His first impulse was the correct one. He really should have stayed quiet.

Bush relied on an old friend, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for advice on how Obama should have dealt with the Iraqi insistence that the US should have stuck to the originally schedule of withdrawal by the end of 2011, as the agreement Bush and the President of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, specified back in 2008. Bush suggests that Obama could have renegotiated that agreement to allow a least a substantial contingent of US troops to remain. But Global Policy cited three works, all from 2006, showing that Iraqis in general had a very negative opinion of seeing permanent US bases in Iraq. It's highly unlikely that Iraqis would have changed their minds by 2011 as US troops had made themselves very unpopular during their stay there and the Iraqi people were given no reason to want to see them staying on. Did the surge have a dramatic effect on convincing Iraqis that Americans were good guys? No, the surge temporarily quited things there, but there were no serious political changes afterwards.

Also, reconstruction was a complete and utter bust. Just a few months after the war of 1991 with the US and a coalition of nations, the evil dictator Saddam Hussein completed “bubble-gum and scotch-tape” repairs to his country's infrastructure, but the American reconstruction effort after the invasion of 2003 was a complete waste.

Virtually every senior Iraqi, in sharp contrast, said the decade-long U.S. occupation was beset by huge misspending and waste and had accomplished little. The biggest footprint Americans left behind, most of these Iraqi officials said, was more corruption and widespread money-laundering. Such a huge investment "could have brought great change in Iraq," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said, but the gains were often "lost."

How reliable is Graham for policy analysis? Well, in November 2014, CNN asked him to respond to the report on Benghazi put out by the Republican House Intelligence Committee. Basically, the report said he was completely wrong on everything he had said about the case. He got very heated about a very secondary issue concerning talking points that were put out later and made stern and angry pronouncements based on that. This is hardly unusual for Graham, as in his public career, Graham has rarely been correct on any matter of substance.

Bush said he views the rise of the Islamic State [IS, ISIL or ISIS] as al-Qaeda’s 'second act' and that they may have changed the name but that murdering innocents is still the favored tactic.

First off, “murdering innocents” is hardly a tactic unique to al Qaeda. That alone does nothing to connect the two groups. As a blogger points out in Informed Comment:

Like Al-Qaeda and other militants, ISIS offers a militant warped and distorted Salafi ideology/religious rationale or rationalization to justify, recruit, legitimate and motivate many of its fighters. Much of what they do violates Islamic law, its unabashed acts of terrorism: slaughter of civilians, savage use of beheadings, killing of innocent Muslims and Christians. While there are similarities between ISIS and other terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in their ideological worldview and tactics, there is also distinctive difference. ISIS seeks to create a state, to occupy and control areas, to govern, not just to dream of or speak of but to create and impose their version of a transnational caliphate, with its harsh version of law and order. At the same time, they are far more ruthless in driving out, suppressing and executing Shiah and Kurds, Sunni imams/religious leaders and others who disagree, as well as minorities such as Christians and Yazidis, demanding conversion to their warped and extraordinarily violent brand of Islam. Having populations forced to publicly pledge their allegiance (baya) to the caliphate in exchange for which they are offered security, a mafia like version of “protection” and social services.

So no, ISIS is a very distinct and separate group from al Qaeda.

Yes, under Bush, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was captured. But,

...where Bush officials brazenly dismissed law as an inconvenient obstacle and sought to deal with suspects outside the law, Obama has said that the struggle with Al Qaeda must adhere to our nation’s first principles. He argues that the rule of law lends our struggle legitimacy and helps to isolate and defeat our enemies.

Obama has fallen short on applying these principles, but he has adhered to them far better than Bush ever even tried to.

Did Bush's policies decrease terrorism around the world? Actually, according to the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law, terrorism increased under Bush sevenfold. Plus, if one is interested in holding back Iran and keeping Iran from territorial expansion, taking out Saddam Hussein of Iraq was a pretty terrible move. For all of Saddam's faults, and he had many, Iraq was a stable state that stood fast against Iran. Now, of course, the need to combat ISIS has opened up room for Iran to operate in Iraq. In a piece about a proposed bill to aid forces in Iraq that are friendly to the US, The Guardian points out that

Those Shia militias, many of which are sponsored by Iran, have played key roles in fighting Isis, to include spearheading the recent monthlong battle to retake the Sunni city of Tikrit.

Here's an interesting comment:

[Bush] said that if you have a military goal and you mean it, “you call in your military and say ‘What’s your plan?’ ” He indirectly touted his own decision to surge troops to Iraq in 2007, by saying, “When the plan wasn’t working in Iraq, we changed.”

So Bush says that leaders should listen to the military, which is all very fine and well, but Bush's military leaders actually disagreed with the surge. As Commander in Chief, Bush insisted on it anyway, as was his right, but this is a case where Bush very clearly departed from his own advice. Reporter Bob Woodward reported that, on “60 Minutes” in September 2008, "The records of the joint chiefs show that the idea of five brigades came from the White House, not from anybody except the White House."

In the same month, presidential candidate Barack Obama admitted that the surge was indeed succeeding. What was clear was that a reduction in violence was occurring. But why that reduction was occurring had to do with the Sunni Awakening (Al Qaeda was overdoing the violence and alienating Sunni Iraqis), Muqtada al-Sadr decided that his Mahdi army should cease operations and the US was paying many groups of guerrillas to fight on the side of the US. Unfortunately, the whole political purpose of the surge was never carried out and no political transformation ever took place during the “breathing room” that the addition of five brigades were supposed to have secured for Iraq's leadership. Thus was set the stage for the rise of ISIS.

Putin’s domestic popularity comes from his control of Russian media, according to Bush. "Hell, I'd be popular, too, if I owned NBC news," he said.

Actually, Bush claimed in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had kicked out UN arms inspectors in 1998. What actually happened was that Clinton wanted to bomb Iraq, told the UN inspectors to leave for their own safety and, when the bombing was over, Saddam refused to let inspectors back in. Pretty much the entire US media dutifully repeated Bush's lie that Saddam had kicked out the inspectors, which of course, had the added advantage of making Clinton look weak and helpless in retrospect. Bush may not have formally controlled the media, but he had virtual, de facto control anyway.

After it became clear that Iraq didn't have any weapons of mass destruction, Bush claimed several times that Saddam Hussein was given a choice prior to the invasion of 2003, to let in weapons inspectors or to be invaded. Bush maintained several times that Saddam refused to let the inspectors in and so sealed his fate. But everyone knew that wasn't true. Inspectors came into Iraq and inspected everything they wanted to. But the press corps permitted Bush to lie unchallenged.

So I'm really not sure what Bush's problem with the press corps is. They permitted many lies to go unchallenged. Their discipline did break a few times, notably in the case of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, but by and large, they maintained a rigid, lock-step discipline and didn't permit themselves too much independence.

No, if Bush became unpopular, that was due to his staggering ineptitude and horrible policies, not because the press was biased against him. I remember reading back in early 2009 that several Bush Administration members got together and talked over old times. They identified four disasters, 9-11, the invasion of Iraq, New Orleans/Katrina and the collapse of the housing bubble that resulted in the Great Recession. Problem is, in all four cases, Bush and his people had a great deal to do with either initiating the disaster or in not responding properly. In none of the cases could they plausibly claim to have been innocently taken by surprise. No, if Bush is regarded today as something you'd scrape off of the bottom of your shoes, his own actions had everything to do with that.