Archive for January, 2010


January 24, 2010

[Mild spoilers, but probably nothing you don’t already know if you’re bothering to read this…]

Mother of the Cylons

Finally saw the pilot of Caprica today (huzzah for HD TiVo!), and I have to say, it was pretty frakkin’ great. I’m really not sure what I expected, apart from “Battlestar Galactica prequel, with proto-Cylons,” but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t what it turns out to be. (Well, OK, it did have proto-Cylons, which I admit brought a nostalgic tear to my eye. Kind of like the half-finished Death Star at the end of Revenge of the Sith.)

Apparently the story was originally nothing to do with BSG, but the good people of SyFy have done a surprisingly good job shoehorning it in to the pre-existing framework—(ur-)Cylons! Gods! Retro-hip clothing! “Frakkin’!”—and more importantly of continuing the BSG tradition of moral ambiguities and inversions.

The techo-babble doesn’t bear too much thinking about, but you didn’t really expect it to, did you? And it all goes down pretty easily thanks to some excellent production design (I suppose I should be pretentious and refer to mise-en-scène here). As in BSG the design is all “earthlike”; no wild Star Trekky aliens and costumes on Caprica. It reminds me a bit of a great line from Babe: Pig In the City: it’s set “a little to the left of the twentieth century.” The Caprica City backgrounds reminded me a little of old matte paintings from movies set in the not-too-distant future Year 2000, except of course in nice sparkly HD; I’ve always been a sucker for matte paintings. The actors were reasonably good, especially Alessandra Torresani, in what I imagine is the most fun role in the series. That’s her in the picture, being Eve, in case you missed the Gnostic relevance of her character’s name.1

I’ve no idea how long it will take Caprica to run out of steam, as I’m sure it will. It took BSG about a season and a half before it started becoming obvious that the writers were starting to flounder. I’ll take a season and a half of this.

1.  See also Genesis 3:20 in the Septuagint.

Corporations are Persons, Money is Speech, Ignorance is Strength

January 24, 2010

I haven’t actually tried to read the decision in Citizens United v. FEC—it’s long (looong) and written by the odious Anthony Kennedy, whose pompous arrogance, untempered by Scalia’s savage and entertaining wit or by Thomas’s clarity and brevity, pisses me off—and if I did it’s not like I’d really be a reliable interpreter, not being a lawyer and all. But, well, jeez.

I’m trying to buck up by telling myself that

  1. This will merely make advertising more honest; corporation already contribute pretty much whatever they want to political campaigns, they just have to weasel through loopholes;
  2. Political advertising makes less difference than people think, and we’re pretty much saturated as is; and
  3. Let’s face it, existing restrictions on campaign finance do suppress speech.

But no, I’m not buying any of that either.

From what I’ve read about the decision (from which I may admittedly have drawn wildly inaccurate conclusions, see above) I think the real problem with it is that it doesn’t acknowledge the principal-agent problem. Owners of large corporations—that’s all of us who own stock—do not have any input into those corporations’ political advertising. It’s our agents—the officers and boards—who decide that, and their incentives are wildly different from ours. I certainly don’t want corporations I own stock in to be spending anything at all on political ads, but my wish makes not one whit of difference.

If the world were otherwise ordered, then maybe shareholders would control in some meaningful sense how corporations behave. The fact that such is not the case, and really can’t be, is exactly the sort of real-world inconvenience that Anthony Kennedy can’t be bothered with. How I miss Sandra Day O’Connor.

On the Bright Side

January 21, 2010

Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson are completely irrelevant now, right? The Democrats can get just as much nothing done with 57 votes as with 59.

And maybe, just maybe, Harry Reid will grow a pair. Or, since that’s not going to happen, step down in favor of Schumer, who already has one.

I hope the Democratic “leadership” is watching Jon Stewart; watch the whole thing, or start at about 6:30.

Martha Oh Dear

January 19, 2010

I’m trying not to get depressed about today’s election until it actually happens, but it’s difficult. The hope I’m clinging to is that the polls are basically worthless because of wild self-selection bias. Those of you not in MA have no idea how annoying this last week has been, with constant calls from both sides. Any reasonable person’s first response to any poll at this point would be a string of obscenities. I don’t know how I’ve managed not to rip the phone out of the wall yet. God knows what that does to the responses.

My pre-post-mortem is pretty conventional. After a reasonably good campaign in the primary, Coakley (and her handlers, who deserve a lot of blame here) assumed she’d coast in the general, and effectively shut down her campaign. That allowed Brown to get out his base—MA may be the Bluest of Blue states, but all states are really Purple, and we do have a big Republican base here, ready to have its blood angried up (see also this). When a couple of polls showed the race getting close, the Republicans smelled blood and the Democrats panicked. Panicked Democrats are even less competent than calm Democrats, and Coakley’s ads over the last week are starting to turn even me against her. She can’t seem to decide whether to campaign against Bush and Cheney or against Operation Rescue, and neither makes a particularly good target. Yeah, we all hate W and Dick, but we’ve all noticed that they’ve been out of office for a year now; and the abortion thing is based on obvious exaggeration to the point of, well, lies. So, feh.

UPDATE: Apparently turnout is heavy, which (i) is likely good for the Coakley, since she’s a Democrat in a Democratic state, and (ii) means the polls are probably crap, since they assumed the low turnout appropriate for an off-election in January. Say what you (and I) will about all those vile robocalls, at least every last person in the state knows there’s an election today.

Goodbye, Naughts

January 2, 2010

I’ve enjoyed the little spate of articles about what to call the decade that’s just ended now that it has, well, ended. I’m also impressed that apparently we mostly haven’t needed to call it much of anything at all (although a reliable expat friend assures me that in England they really do call it “the noughties.”)

Insofar as I called it anything myself, it was “the aughts.” I think that’s mostly because of fond but dim memories of Jethro Bodine as a double-aught spy. Very dim, as it turns out. Jethro was actually a double-naught spy.

For higher culture, here’s a Language Log piece on how we might pronounce the coming year. I think I had planned to alternate between “twenty-ten” and “two thousand ten.” It would not have occurred to me that anyone would have thought there was and Official Way. So thank you for setting us straight, National Association of Good Grammar!

My New Year’s Resolution

January 2, 2010

Which I’m making public in hopes of shaming myself into keeping it: Get some exercise, you great walrus.

One of the few things I learned in Elementary School that really stuck was that Exercise Is Evil. Turns out that’s not true.

Lazing Into The New Year

January 2, 2010

Happy New Year! I broke with tradition by staying up ’til 10 on New Year’s Eve, rather than sacking out at the usual 9.

As a family Christmas present—well, mostly for me—I second TiVo. It being an HD DVR, I could no longer live with the ancient non-HD TV, so I got a new one of those too (an LCD/LED, selected in part for the high contrast and brightness the LED backlights get relative to CCFD, but really more for the techno-coolness). That being in place, I am finding it difficult to live with the old DVD player and its pathetic low resolution and sorry black level, so Blu-Ray is next.

How long ’til all these things are obsolete?

A disadvantage of getting a super-thin closer-to-the-bleeding-edge-than-usual-for-me television is that it makes few concessions to old technology. The thing has only one component/composite video input; it expects you to use HDMI. So I had to run out and overpay hideously for an HDMI cable, not wanting to wait a week for a reasonably-priced one through the mail. Why are cables such a racket, anyway? Is it not obvious that they’re just pieces of wire and plastic, and are usually overpriced by a factor of 10?

The neatest thing about the TiVo (at least until I get a cable guy to come and install the card(s?) for the digital channels) is the streaming Netflix. I’ve been watching Netflix streaming stuff for a while on the laptop, which was just good enough to keep me from overcoming my natural laziness and cheapness and getting a TiVo/Roku/whatever. Which was of course stupid of me. The Netflix/TiVo thing turns out to mostly work pretty well, and the picture quality is much better than I had expected. The only glitch I’ve run across is that there is no way to control the aspect ratio—it is whatever it is (mostly 16:9 in what I’ve seen, but some 4:3), and the TiVo box makes no effort to convert it, as it will for plain old cable. That means you can’t really use it with an old TV that doesn’t have a settable aspect ratio. Unless you don’t mind stretched or squashed pictures.1

The TV/TiVo are in probably the worst wireless reception area in the house, so I ran an ethernet cable under the house, through the basement and the scary crawlspace (seriously; that part was like being in a horror movie). I also learned to crimp my own RJ45 cables, so I’m feeling pretty manly. In the nerdliest possible way.


1 Which apparently many people don’t. Widescreen televisions in public places are invariably set to 16:9, even though they’re often getting 4:3 signals. Does that not make anyone else crazy?