Saturday, March 31, 2007

Tonight, we dine in heck

A few readers have asked what I thought of 300, which I only had a chance today. A few things:

It was really, thoroughly, exactly what I expected. On the one hand, that's praise-- I had high expectations, partly on the basis of one of the best trailers I've seen in years. On the other hand, it's a little disappointing. Sin City was this astonishing, amazing, novel thing-- it would never have occured to me that a movie could look like that before. Now, well, I do know that a movie could look like that. And 300, unlike Sin City, is a story in which the beats just are what they are, have to be what they have to be-- all archetypes and stereotypes and the basic founding myth of the west and so on and so on. It's not a movie for surprises in the first place, and the fact that the stunning aesthetic itself was itself not so stunning meant that there was something boring even about the excitement.

Add to that the fact that, while I've never read 300, I've been seeing Frank Miller pictures (and Miller-Varley pictures) on the page for some 20 years now. When a waterfall of Persian soldiers fall over the cliff in slow motion, it's hard to think anything other than: "I've seen this frame dozens of times with the Hand; I even think I've seen this panel on Daredevil covers four or five times." I know Sin City had lots of standard Miller visual tropes as well, but somehow they didn't distract me the same way.

The mixture of accents was a bit goofy. The lighting was pretty visually impressive, and the most visually novel part.

Like I said, I had high expectations, and they were met. But they were met so perfectly (even without having read the comic) that it was, paradoxically,a bit of a letdown.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Here & Away

It's that time of year. Selected coming activities:

Next weekend, APA Pacific, San Francisco

April 13, Hume and Smith conference, Montreal

April 27, Works in Progress Workshop, University of Chicago Law School

May 3, Political Science Graduate Students' Conference, McGill

May 4-5, workshop on Deliberative Politics and Institutional Design in Multicultural Democracies, Queen's University

And not a bit of work that can be duplicated among them...
Now online...

My old college friend Todd Seavey has been sending out regular e-mails of links, commentaries, jokes, announcements, and indicators of our robotic future to a vast list of people for years now; they were the bloggiest non-blog material I know of. His website and blog is finally up and running. It's characteristically wildly (and, to me, charmingly) idiosyncratic, though oddly less bloggish and more essayish than the e-mails have traditionally been. (He says, among other things, that now that he's blogging he has less time to read other people's stuff online and link to it.)
Herouxville redux

I received this e-mail last night.

Hello Mr. Levy, The Citizens of Herouxville thank you for discussing
our story on your blog. We would like to invite you to our new
Official English Language weblog, very different that the one the
Media have issued. We would also be pleased if your readers left a
comment, whether for or against as that is their democratic right as
Canadians, please feel free to pass along our weblog address and link
to your readers. We think it important your readers read what we have
to say from our mouths instead of second hand through other less
reliable outlets. My own feelings on the little lady regarding her
Hijab is "Has anyone not heard of velcro and making one with Velcro
tearaways ? " To embarrass a Quebec child emotionally and eject her
from her sport and putting this young lady into the media forefront,
brought on by media "Must be a slow News Day today" Smacks of
opportunism and political posturing by some looking to make headlines
for themselves. Good thing Hedy Fry (Her cross burning Story in Prince
George) and her life partner in comfortable shoes and plaid outerwear
Sheila Copps (Toronto Star, March 07, story on Herouxville) or as
Jerry Seinfield once stated about life partners "Not that there is
anything wrong with that". Thankfully Hedy and Sheila were not there,
My God, then these two Goddesses of Diatribes would have the
opportunistic political posturing of stating to the world that there
were Cross burnings galore at the sporting event, complete with crazed
tractors pull afficenados and somehow finding a reason to place blame
on the Citizens of Herouxville for this little ladies misfortune. The
child should have been able to play regardless, with a warning to
players, not to grab each other, until the velco hijab solution for
the next game would have ended the debate period. Simple dialogue with
a solution from even simpler rural folk in Herouxville.

Warmest Regards
Barry O'Regan (Authour) written with permission on behalf of Mr. Andre
Drouin (Herouxville Town Councillor)the Mayor Mr. Martin Perigny and
the Citizens of Herouxville, Quebec, Canada

I note that Copps and Fry have both been outspoken women MPs and that Fry once gave an entirely fictive moral-panic account of the crisis of Klan cross-burnings going on in Prince George, BC. I'm pretty sure that my correspondent wasn't actually suggesting that the two are lesbians or romantically involved, just indulging in the familiar move (simultaneously homophobic and sexist) of discrediting feminists by joking about their being lesbians. (See also: Ann Coulter on John Edwards.)

On to the Herouxville blog:

Granted our Town Charter drafted with the assistance of our townsfolk has been portrayed by some as racist. The Citizens of Herouxville are extremely upset by this comment as it is contrary to our Christian values and would like to emphatically state nothing could be further from the truth.

(Sorry to stress the obvious, but the charge isn't simply one of racism. The Herouxville norms seem determined to announce that non-Christians, not non-whites, are unwelcome intrusions. The reference to "our Christian values" doesn't do much to alleviate that concern.)

As Quebecois Canadians we are only stating to the world informing them of our way of life is vitally important to us, much like the way of life amongst other cultures is important to them. For us to change our ways and tradition to accommodate others who wish to live here is like asking our country’s respected founding First Nation’s Culture to incorporate Dutch traditions and wear wooden shoes and erect Windmills in their community. Our requests we feel are quite reasonable for anyone who wishes to live amongst us and no more unreasonable than if we were to live in another country and insist a Catholic Church, Saint Jean Baptiste, Wine Harvest celebrations are to be included in their customs and beliefs. A wise Huron elder once stated; A starving Family does not complain about the bounty of the hunt if they chose not to contribute to the hunt. Wise words spoken by our First Nations about community and an analogy similar to our beliefs.

Herouxville would like to reiterate that all are welcome to live here, just know who we are, assimilate, respect and not change our way of life, traditions and values and live amongst us as a welcomed and valued member of our community. If we were in your country we would strive to do the same. In ending we offer a wonderful rural way of life to all those who live here. So when in Rome…… [...]

[an open letter to Jean Charest follows:]

Proposed Solution

Objectives: Insure the conservation of the culture of our nation.
Democratic realignment to insure its survival.

Actions: Declare state of emergency.

Application: Immediate.

Elements: Annul the possibility of obtaining accommodations. (Religious)
Retroactively annul any already obtained.
Advise Immigration Canada & Quebec to comply.

Results [of the state of emergency]: Women, all women, in Quebec will be equal to men.
Satisfied population.
Social peace maintained.
Our children could eat pork at school in the future.
Our municipal councils could work at night.
Hardhats could be worn when needed.
We could wish Merry Christmas.
We could conserve the crucifix in our National Assembly.
We could swear and our God will forgive us.
You could stay in power for another 20 years.

While I don't understand any of the posts entirely-- translation issues and also implied references to events with which I'm unfamiliar-- I am... unconvinced that Herouxville-in-its-own-words look svery different from Herouxville-in-the-media. Indeed, the idea of a state of emergency to prevent and retroactively annul all 'reasonable accommodations' of religious minorities is considerably more extreme than any view I'd heard attributed to Herouxville before. But the link is duly posted; go have a look and see whether you think the press (or I) have been unfair.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More on the Quebec election

at LGM from Scott Lemieux here and here, from Matt Yglesias, from John at his home blog and chez Ezra.

Update: and still more from pithlord. For what it's worth, I'm not and never have been in any sympathy with the Rosa Luxemburg's view of cultural particularism. (See, well, nearly every scholarly thing I've ever written.) The ties of cultural particularism are among the strongest in modern politics, and any political analysis that fails to understand this, or any political movement that's committed to ignoring it, will fail. And that's... ok. It's not something I have any urge to celebrate, but it's part of the crooked timber and all that; it's what we're like.

I share pithlord's hunch that the PQ is in real trouble. Even though the margins were small, third place is a bad place to be in a FPP system; and the PQ was greying anyway. Now PQ voters can be told the "don't waste your vote on something that's not going to happen, you have to choose between the two parties that are concerned with governing here and now" story, and it's going to have pull. The PQ has gotten a lot of traction out of its ability to be the only opposition to the Liberals; they've lost that, and will increasingly become the electoral home of the die-hard bitter-ender secessionists only. That's not a tiny group; but it's not a plurality either.

And I also want to echo pithlord's and Scott's comments that my American progressive friends shouldn't be quick to project their homegrown views about left-right economics onto Quebec. I suspect that most of my American progressive friends, if they were to pick out their ideal policy mix of taxation, spending, regulation, market flexibility, elite control, and openness would pick a spot that is so pro-market and low-tax compared to the Quebec status quo as to be off the political radar screen here. (See the critique of the Quebec model in the Quebec lucide manifesto, by a group that most prominently includes the longtime naionalist leader Lucien Bouchard.)

One more update: A few times before the election I blogged about the ADQ and Dumont as representatives of a pretty standard democratic phenomenon: the rural and/or working class populist rejection of elite urban consensus between the extant parties. I mentioned that this basically predictable phenomenon always seems to shock the elites. I'm typically on the side of the urban elites (pro-gay, pro-immigrant, multiculturalist, free trade, etc) in these disputes, but I think I've learned not to be surprised by the phenomenon. (I could hardly be a faithful reader of Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat or Russell Arben Fox and not have learned that by now.)

One thing I forgot to mention, and that we're now seeing in the French Montreal press, is that the voters get psychopathologized for their action. The question "what political preferences of large voter constituencies weren't getting met in the status quo?" gets turned into "why are the voters such scary crazy people?" One famous, and infamous, instance was Peter Jennings' on-air commentary about the 1994 American election that brought Republican majorities to the House and Senate:

"Some thoughts on those angry voters. Ask parents of any two-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums: the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming. It's clear that the anger controls the child and not the other way around. It's the job of the parent to teach the child to control the anger and channel it in a positive way. Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week....Parenting and governing don't have to be dirty words: the nation can't be run by an angry two-year-old."

Another variant of this is the "cynicism" story: voters who opt for change are characterized as cynical, nihilistic, insufficiently idealistic, because they seemed to believe the worst about us and people like us in whom they should have faith. Both the crazy-angry and the cynical tropes are starting to show up in post-mortems now.

As I think I've made clear in my Herouxville blogging, I think some of the policy prferences of the ADQ's rural base are extremely undesirable. But, given those preferences, there was nothing crazy or cynical or temper-tantrumish about them seeking out a party that would reflect them, and rejecting the partisan status quo.
Now available

"Distribution and Emergency," by Jennifer Rubenstein, Journal of Political Philosophy Online Early Edition.
Highly recommended.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Well, that was fun.

Let's not do it again real soon now.

I note that the two parties of the extreme-marginal left, Quebec Solidaire and the Greens, had a combined vote greater than the PQ winner in my riding-- which is the PQ's core heartland. (The PQ gets dismissed as "Plateau elites"-- the Plateau is my neighborhood.)

Once it was clear there'd be no PQ government, this was a night of serious political junkie fun-- a wild and weird election. As a Montreal multiculturalist I can't like the ADQ, an dI expect to spend a lot of time denouncing their positions on the reasonable accommodation of religious minorities, but I won't mind if they force the liberals to the right on fiscal questions, and really won't mind if they replace the PQ as the Liberals' primary rivals in the province. And there is something kind of fun about seeing a populist revolt in action, a promise-breaking premier lose his own seat, and so on.

Update: False alarm on that last point. After I went to bed the vote totals changed and Charest kept his own seat after all-- just barely.
Election blogging when there's no news yet

It's certainly surprising to listen to/ read/ watch electionnight coverage in someone else's electoral culture. There are terminological differences that, however well I know them, constantly jar my ear-- "ridings" not "seats" or "districts," for example. The CBC uses "elected" in a very formal way; when American reporters would say that a race "has been called" or "is confirmed" or "is official" or any number of other terms, the CBC always says "no one has yet been elected in that riding," "only one MNA has been elected yet," etc.

Then there are weird terminological similarities. Even though the main race is a tight, complicated three-way race, and even though Canada generally has had man, many more than two important parties for a long time (Liberals, PC, NDP, Bloc, PQ, PLQ) the marginal parties (Greens, Quebec Solidaire) are still referred to as "third" parties.
Weirdest referral log entry in a while

"Adrian Vermeule jew," from what appeared to be google in Russian. (By the way, the answer is no.)

Reagan Budget Chief Charged With Fraud
David A. Stockman, the former budget director for President Reagan, was indicted today on charges that he covered up the dire financial state of his company as it was headed into bankruptcy.

I was a Stockman fan, way back when. His "weak claims, not weak clients" motto for spending cuts represented something honorable and important. His commitment to cutting the size of government along with taxes seemed both sincere and all-to--rare in the Reagan White House. he was fighting all the right fights, even if he also lost them all.

That said, when you've gone down in history as the creator of the Rosy Scenario that, more or less, disguised the true forecasts of deficit sizes under a deceptive fog of "we'll probably fix this stuff later" you should probably be more careful than the average bear about getting back into the headlines under suspicion of financial fraud. Y'know, Bill Clinton should make extra sure not to get caught with a prostitute, Bernie Goetz should make extra sure not to carry around an unlicensed gun, David Stockman should make extra sure not to commit financial fraud. That kind of thing. If you're not sure which way the headline-writers on your obituary are going to go, don't resolve the ambiguity decisively in favor of your now-reinforced misdeeds...