30 October 2006

How To Fix Iraq In One Day (BR)
I take the rare step of offering the Republicans useful advice

It's so simple. I can't believe I didn't think of it before. I can't believe the United States government, which yearly confiscates from its citizens some figure in the tens of trillions of dollars in taxes, couldn't think of it.

We in the U.S. love democracy. We hold it so sacred and dear that we're willing to kill any number of foreigners -- and stand by while still more kill each other -- in order to witness its proliferation. Now, obviously, the ongoing Iraq conflict is a political albatross for most of our elected officials, but primarily for the Republicans.

Complicating matters further is the creative spin that some in the Muslim world have rubbed upon the democratic spirit, having in the past two years elected avowed terrorists (Hamas, Hezbollah) and a genuinely insane theocrat with designs on nukes (Iran's Ahmadinejad) to positions of power. All this has scared the Bush administration off of its seventh -- or was it the ninth? -- rationale for invading and occupying Iraq, that being the democratization of the Middle East.

And that's really a shame. Because President Bush and company are missing an opportunity to advance the democratic agenda, one that would also allow it to cut and run from Iraq under cover of declaring victory, and probably preserve GOP control of the Senate and House in a week.

The answer to all of our troubles is a national referendum in Iraq. One question. To our Iraqi readers -- ha! -- I would ask that you read and consider carefully. The future of your country rests (or fidgets nervously) upon your answer.

1. Should the US military:
  • a) maintain its current troop presence in Iraq;
  • b) increase its troop presence;
  • c) draw down its presence to a small force positioned near the Iraqi border to assist in emergency;
  • d) gradually but completely withdraw based on a predetermined timetable, or
  • e) withdraw immediately?

It's no secret that we here are against the war. I support the substance of the Kerry-Feingold Amendment in the Senate which calls for a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq over the course of 18 months, while maintaining a rapid-response team of special forces along the border to deal with flare-ups in violence and to cow Iran out of any thoughts of mischief.

My infinitely esteemed colleague Craig reminded me to include the above paragraph so as not to muddy the waters about where I sit. It's been reported in informal polls of Iraqis that an overwhelming majority want the American military out of their country immediately, and of course I'm just the type of tree-hugging lefty peacenik who'd like to oblige them.

The point is that no matter how I or the Iraqi street or the Democratic Party felt about the war, I would still support an Iraqi plebiscite regarding their sentiment toward our presence and abide by the result. Why? Because unlike George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Bill Frist, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Hastert, John Boehner, Jean Schmidt and all the rest, I believe in democracy. Not as a campaign slogan or as a cynical appeal to emotion, but as a transformative force, which, by its very nature, creates civil and prosperous societies, marginalizes radicalism and authoritarianism, and gives voice to all women and men that cannot be ignored by their government.

And if a poll of the Iraqis indicated a popular desire for the U.S. to remain in Iraq, I would be the first to drop my demand for a withdrawal. It is the right wing in the United States who are actually afraid of democracy, which is why our leaders have not asked and will not ask the occupied nation its opinion on this matter.

But if any of us believed a word of the highfalutin rhetoric we've heard and repeated ad nauseam these last long three and a half years, we'd demand it.

27 October 2006

Judging A Book By Its Illustrations (CS)

I'm a fairly big fan of Wired magazine. I love to devour tech and science news and Wired provides this and more with particular insights into art, design, culture, and even literature. I was particularly delighted this past week by their 6-Word Short Story compilation. But if they're going to publish mini-rants like the recent one by Tony Long disparaging Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese (second half of article), then I am going to have to question their capability of truly commenting on literature.

Long wants to criticize the selection of American Born Chinese (ABC) as a candidate for the National Book Award but immediately removes himself from being qualified to talk about the book from the get go, saying he has not read this particular "novel" (quotations his and not mine). He decides to attack the decision not based on the content of the book, nor even on its quality, but rather purely on its form. According to him, by the very fact that it has illustrations, ABC is a lesser work than anything that has strictly words inside it. It's difficult for me to deal with this criticism because it seems, on its very face, absolutely ridiculous, but I'll try.

Speaking at least from the standpoint of the National Book Award itself, there is no criteria for the award that explicitly says the work must be without illustrations or even outside the realm of being a graphic novel. Even the definition of a novel (at the very least, the one used by the National Book Award people) is not confined to books with only words in them.

Long says that, though it qualifies as an art form, "As literature, the comic book does not deserve equal status with real novels, or short stories." But why? His gripe rests primarly on what he defines as an issue of difficulty as he says:
If you've ever tried writing a real novel, you'll know where I'm coming from. To do it, and especially to do it well enough to be nominated for this award, the American equivalent of France's Prix Goncourt or Britain's Booker Prize, is exceedingly difficult.

But has Long ever tried writing a graphic novel? Is he aware of the particular challenges that the graphic novel presents, not only in providing a narrative, but also in the hopeful marriage between art, design, layout, and text? It seems to me that both methods of presenting a story have their particular as well as shared challenges, with neither medium edging out the other. Even accepting "difficulty of medium" as a criteria for judging a book for this award (which I do not), traditional novels are no more or less qualified than their illustrated cousin.

If you want to talk about "The Age of Mediocrity" when it comes to literature, I'd think that you would want to actually stay away from the realm of graphic literature. It is graphic literature and its publishers which have grown by leaps and bounds, not only in market size but in ambition, quality, and artistic achievement over the past decade. Meanwhile, it is the world of "books that are, well, all words" that has seemed to leave people wanting. Rarely, if ever, do I read contemporary literature and find myself moved truly viscerally.

Finally, I'd like to point out First Second as a particularly fine representative of the potential of graphic literature, ABC being just its latest pleasant product. The direspect Long shows for comics as a medium is one that is almost expected at this point. For those out there agreeing with Long, I would ask you to challenge yourself, and the First Second catalog has not only quickly become a great place to start, but promises to be a great place to continue.

24 October 2006

Holy Joe channels Tricky Dick (BR)
Mealy-mouthed megalomaniacs, both

Insanity, so goes the maxim, is the condition of repeating the same action and expecting a different result.

Sen. Joe Lieberman's (CfL-CT) doublespeak and hypocritical posturing on the Iraq War has bordered on intolerable for a couple of years now. But a new ad from the Lamont campaign ingeniously demonstrates the lunatic folly of Joe's latest rhetorical tack, that of reluctant warrior, by comparison with the second-worst president of the last 70 years:

If the Lamonties are reading this, listen up: Shorten this to a minute -- make sure to keep the Dick-to-Joe morph -- and spread this thick on TV from now 'til Election Day. Buy billboard space on I-91 and 95 and sandwich Joe's smug mug between Bush and Nixon, and tar him with their words. The only thing worse than a Richard Nixon or a George Bush is the kind of troll who would suck up to and thereby enable them, like Lieberman.

Vietnam was a monumental failure. It was a war America had no business involving itself in, and in which it sacrificed a great deal of its prestige and dignity in order to fend off a retreat that was inevitable anyway. The Commander-in-Chief has himself likened our morass in Iraq to Vietnam, but still, incredibly, fails to make the logical leap to considering withdrawal. And Joe is stupid enough to support this directionless meandering.

Whippersnapp supports Ned Lamont for U.S. Senate, in word and deed. You should, too. Click here to donate to him and other reality-based Democrats.

18 October 2006

A short rebuke to a former hero (BR)

I have had enough of Senator John McCain.

In the past year, he's capitulated to the loons in the Religious Right who, during his 2000 run for President, he correctly identified as hate-filled theocrats; he's taken a strong rhetorical stance against torture of detainees in U.S. custody just before endorsing the Bush-gutted bill that legalizes just the disgusting practice; he's espoused the fundamentally insane notion that negligence on President Bill Clinton's part led directly to North Korea's acquisition of nukes, and now this:

"I think I'd just commit suicide."

-- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), quote by Radio Iowa, on what he would do if Democrats take control of the U.S. Senate. (Radio Iowa via Taegan Goddard's Political Wire)

So without blowing the proverbial gasket here on the blog, I'll share the e-mail I shot off to the "Honorable" Senator from Arizona, adding only a gentle prod to write him something similar if you're as incensed as I am:

"I think I'd just commit suicide."

Perhaps you should do so anyway, Senator, because in just a matter of months you've gone from a true hero and patriot to a scummy, partisan appeaser of crooks and fanatics.

I am a New York Democrat who about a year ago would have enthusiastically supported you in a run for national office. Now I don't care at all about anything you have to say, on any topic. You should be ashamed of yourself.

In the increasingly likely event that Senate control does in fact switch hands in November, we can't let Sen. McCain renege on his initial promise.