Archive for March, 2008

States’ Rights

I have a friend who has a violent reaction any time somebody makes the simple statement that the Civil War was fought over slavery. And when I write, “a violent reaction,” I don’t mean raising his voice, I don’t mean eyes bulging – I mean jumping up and down, clenching of fists, and screaming. His reaction usually consists of this statement repeated frequently and loudly: “Saying the Civil War was about slavery is stupid! It wasn’t about slavery! It was about states’ rights!

Well, yes. And the right being argued in particular was the right to own slaves. So what’s your point?

As a matter of fact, the Civil War is a perfect example of how those who claim states’ rights the loudest are usually the fastest to take them away. A violent conflict in Kansas was the result of Southern states sponsoring “border ruffians” to cross into the predominantly-abolitionist Kansas territory and steal the elections, ensuring Kansas would enter the union as a slave state. In a territory with only 2,900 registered voters – not all of whom voted – over 6,000 votes were cast in the election, the vast majority coming from people who were not legal residents and whose pilgrimage had been sponsored by the pro-slavery South.

At the height of the conflict, conservative President James Buchanan urged ratification of the Lecompton Constitution, which would have made Kansas a slave state against the wishes of the majority of its citizens. Congress, however, voted down statehood and called for another election. Through it all, it should be noted, the “states’ rights” champions of the South who would later go on to justify secession from the union as a revolt against an unfair federal system that restricted their self-governance were the same people who sponsored the efforts to subvert the will of the Kansas territory residents.

In the modern day, we see the so-called “states’ rights” conservatives declaring that medical marijuana bills – though popular in the states and popular with the voters – do not, in fact, legalize medical marijuana, because it’s still a crime under federal law. Which doesn’t sound much like states’ rights to me. Then again, this is the same group of conservatives that paints pictures of “jack-booted thugs” kicking down doors to rifle through your dirty laundry, but feels that the medical treatment of Terry Schiavo is too important to be left in the hands of her own husband.

Or, more recently, that states have no rights to protect their own citizens when they fly on national airlines.

Under the New York law, the only of its kind in the country, airlines could be fined up to $1,000 per passenger if they failed to supply water, fresh air, electric power and working restrooms during lengthy delays. A federal judge in Albany upheld the law in December, only to be reversed on Tuesday by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The appellate judges agreed with the Air Transport Association of America, an airline industry group, that New York’s law was pre-empted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and hindered the Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to maintain uniform standards for air travel.

In other words – the rights of the corporations that own the planes supercede the rights of the people, or the states’ attempts to protect those rights. But those corporations contributed roughly $25,000 directly to George W. Bush in the 2004 election through their corporate PACs, not to mention the money that was slipped to the President by airline executives through donations to other funds and PACs. In the 2008 election cycle, the airline corporate PACs have contributed over $522,000 to both Democratic and Republican politicians, with $193,500 of that coming from the American Airlines Political Action Committee alone. (figures from campaignmoney.com)

People standing in line for canceled flights have been interviewed on the news, and by and large they’re angry because “I’m not getting out of here tonight.” But, honestly, they should be angry – and we should be angry – on a much larger scale. The abuse of customers by the airlines is on a systemic level, and now we learn that the airlines aren’t even taking measures to ensure the basic safety of the people who fly with them. The air transit system in America is broken at its very foundation, and the problem starts with the exploitation of the very people who purchase the product. And, to top it all off, we now learn that the states have rights – but not when those rights involve protecting the environment, civil liberties, access to health care, or consumers.

Friday, March 28th, 2008

30 Years of Pointed Ears

ElfQuest Thanks to Boing Boing, I find my way back to ElfQuest.com – where WaRP Graphics has started the long process of posting every page of ElfQuest online for free reading. The second wave is about to go up, but the first wave contains – among other things – the first full story arc of the original series, Journey to Sorrow’s End.

It’s ElfQuest’s 30th anniversary this year, and last year DC Comics let go of them. They’re one of the longest-running indie comics on the scene, and I discovered they’re selling merchandise through CafePress.

I had problems with how DC handled their property. The “manga” reprints hacked the original art apart and re-ordered it, slathering it with a liberal dose of digital screen tones, and the only way to get the comic as it originally appeared was in overpriced “Archive” editions. Add to that the lack of promotion and the fact that the movie adaptation fizzled shortly afterward, and it seems like DC just didn’t quite bring its A-game.

There’s nothing wrong with CafePress. I still have a store with them, myself. But it still feels odd to see an indie comics institution of 30 years using what is usually thought of as a beginners’ merchandising outlet.

ElfQuest was a big part of my artistic development. It was the first outlet that made me realize that character design was more than just how people looked, but could also be used to reveal the inner life and monologue of a character. It was the comic that kept me interested in comics as a storytelling medium at times when the mainstream output failed to engage me. A lot of my sense of visual storytelling still comes from tricks I learned from Wendy Pini’s sequential art, with its use of cinematic angles and animated frame layouts that mimicked the time-flexibility of film.

And to top it all off, my first actual audience for any one of my short stories was an ElfQuest fan club (or “holt”).

I’m happy to see ElfQuest going online, and hoping that now WaRP will be able to bring back an audience for the comic. I know I’ll be tuning in every week and re-acquainting myself with what still remains my favorite comic.

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Stitch not bad. Stitch over-exposed.

The saga of “It’s a Small World” is continuing over at Re-Imagineering. There, you’ll find a point-by-point breakdown of why rehabbing the ride to be just like the rest of Disney’s park is a bad idea. And, lest there be any confusion over what the Blair family would want for Mary Blair’s legacy, there’s a letter from Kevin Blair on behalf of the family. The whole thing is worth a read – but just to give you a taste:

My Mother and I have always had a strong sense of patriotism for America and I DO support a tribute to America. Disneyland has several venues, which are perfect places for this tribute including “Main Street USA” or “New Orleans Square”; unfortunately the “It’s a Small World” ride is NOT one of them. Once again this will marginalize the children of the world theme and bastardize my Mother’s original art. Furthermore ripping out a rainforest (Imaginary or otherwise) and replacing it with misplaced patriotism is a public relations blunder so big you could run a Monorail through it.

As a former WED employee I am saddened to realize the degradation of the company’s talent and focus and the subsequent decline at the Disneyland Park itself. I cannot believe someone from WDI was paid to come up with such an idiotic plan as this.

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Big States

For those of you not particularly eager for a political discussion right now, might I suggest you pop on over to First Look and take a look at the first pictures of costumes from the upcoming film adaptation of Watchmen? The sprawling anti-superhero graphic novel is coming to the big screen, and the costumes have gotten the Batman Returns treatment, it seems.

And now on to political news.

Following the Texas and Ohio primaries, Hillary’s supporters are back and screaming for blood. A strong showing in Ohio and a razor-thin win in Texas seem to have trumped the fact that she made minimal gains on Obama in terms of delegate count, and it’s time for Obama supporters to gird their loins as they get attacked for yet another few weeks as idiots and cultists by the same people who will be begging for their vote should their candidate actually take the nomination.

At the heart of Clinton’s strategy is a simple notion that I honestly find offensive – that it doesn’t matter how many states you lose, as long as you win the “big” states.

Of course, the strategy has its proponents. It helped put Bill Clinton in office, after all. It also lost both Gore and Kerry their elections. But the fact of the matter is that when you decide to focus on “big” or “important” states, you alienate the other states. Your message doesn’t get played in them, and the voters wonder why they should care about you. In the last Presidential election, Virginia – my home state – was considered a “swing state” for once. The DNC made the decision not to campaign there because it’s a traditional Republican stronghold. Almost immediately the state went red.

I find I side more with the people who push the 50-state strategy – which happens to include Senator Obama. The notion is that all states are important, and all states should be campaigned in. As for the big state strategy, Robert Creamer has a better criticism of that at Huffington Post than I could ever hope to write. I will, however, say this – pronouncing your candidate the most “electable” of the potential nominees loses some of its effect when between the Chesapeake primaries and the latest batch, Senator Clinton went from a 10 point lead in the polls to a 2 point victory. Losing 8 points after practically living in the state for a few weeks does not bode well for electability.

As to why Texas and Ohio went the way they did, there are a number of theories. Some people suggest that the photo of Obama in a turban turned people off. Hillary flogs are particularly fond of what they’re calling “NAFTA-gate” as a reason. And over at The World According to AmericanGoy, he’s got his own theories.

What’s a republican voter to do? It’s simple – the republican voter will vote in the democratic primary for his state, and vote for the WEAKEST democrat nominee, that McCain could beat, to help his republican party.

It’s an interesting theory, and it’s made even more interesting by the fact that Rush Limbaugh has been encouraging his listeners to do exactly that – to vote for Clinton in open primaries because McCain is already the Republican nominee, and if they can’t have Clinton to campaign against then they can at least keep her in the race to make Obama “bloodied” by the time he hits general elections. So, tell me – does anybody have the numbers on how many Republicans voted in the Democratic primaries in Ohio and Texas, both of which are open primary states?

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

Now ye’ve done it! Ye went too far!

Photobucket

Over at Re-Imagineering, it’s a world of tears, indeed. Disney is apparently preparing to rehab the Small World ride.

I’m going to give people a moment to get the snickers out of their system. Usually, any mention of “small world” in my circle of friends prompts a chorus of people proudly proclaiming, “You know the people who wrote that song apologized for having released it?”

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the thing – the Disneyland Small World ride is pretty much as it was when it premiered at the World’s Fair. It has been closed to be furnished with deeper boat flumes to handle the modern era’s “heavier boatloads.” While that technical issue was being cleared up, however, some people apparently got the idea that it was time to wipe out the last vestiges of Mary Blair’s legacy.

Unfortunately W.D.I. has taken ill advantage of the downtime by staking out areas throughout the attraction to place a selection of smiling Disney characters to spice up the proceedings. Imagine a grinning Stitch in Hawaii, a demure Belle in Paris, a Peter Pan in London.

Beyond the crass commercialization of a long-cherished work of art (yeah, I called an amusement park ride a work of art – I went there) which is par for the course when it comes to Disney, they’ve decided to make one other big change.

And in one of the most egregious and downright disgusting decisions in Disney theme park history, the gorgeous New Guinea rainforest scene, replete with some of Mary Blair’s most whimsical character creations (a crocodile with an umbrella, colorful birds hatching from eggs) and her drummer children with Tiki Masks on the opposite shore will be replaced with a Hooray for U.S.A sequence.

Hooray for the U.S.A.

Hm.

Let me explain a little something about the Small World ride for the people who might have come in late.

Mary Blair specifically designed the Small World ride that American audiences would see without a representation of America. Famously, the only mention of America in the ride is a cowboy and Indian at the very end of the ride. You travel all over the world, but you never see America.

Why?

Because you’re an American audience, and the ride is about the world. Mary Blair wanted American audiences to step away from self-congratulation for a moment and consider the rest of the world. What it meant to truly understand other lands and people.

Slapping a “Hooray for the U.S.A.” segment right in the middle of the ride given its original concept is more than just an annoying commercial decision – it’s a giant finger flipped in the direction of, well, everybody. It’s contrary to the message of the original.

And don’t get me started about the significance of destroying the rainforest segment to do that.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

I’m a fighter, ya heard? A fighter!

Back when Obama made a comeback after Hillary supposedly beat him down, I received a rambling e-mail in my inbox. It had misspelled words, no paragraph breaks, and a line of logic that made no sense to my poor Earth-bound, reality-based brain. Basically, it said that Obama should bow out of the race following his wins because his campagin was a “distraction.” From what, I really couldn’t tell. But since that time as Obama has gained more and more momentum, I’ve seen Hillary supporters screaming that asking Hillary to bow out of the race is unfair.

The fact is, however, that the longer Hillary has stayed in this race, the less I have liked her. It was hard enough back when she was part of the pro-censorship lobby in the Senate, but her campaign practices at first made her seem slightly spoilt, then un-democratic (either big “D” or little “d” democracy – take your pick), and now she seems to be bordering on full-blown megalomania.

For starters, the argument of “experience” has never washed with me. One: She is unwilling to speak up and name her experience for what it truly is – wife of a governor and First Lady. Frankly, I think she should be proclaiming it loudly and proudly, and explaining to the American people how, exactly, that prepared her for office. It would make for a compelling argument and a stirring debate. However, time and again she has shown that she desperately wants to claim the experience without actually having to talk about how she got it. This is moot, however, since it’s not experience that equals leadership, it’s judgment. If experience equaled leadership, then Dick Cheney would have ensured that the last seven years would have gone smoothly.

Second, she campaigned in Florida. I know, I know – she didn’t land in Florida until after the polls had closed. The fact remains, however, that both Edward and Obama signed pledges along with Hillary not to campaign in Florida, and she was the only one who promised to show up for a victory party at the close of voting. Making that promise is campaigning.

Third, she has downplayed the power of the written and spoken word. Her constant refrain against Obama has been that he makes “pretty speeches.” It’s not an implication – she outright states that Obama talks pretty while she acts. However, Obama has acted, has a plan, and can make the speeches that get people rallying behind his plans. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a President who can both talk and play a good game?

Fourth, she has demonised hope. ‘Nuff said, really, but honestly – whose bright idea is it for the wife of Bill “Keep Hope Alive” Clinton to go out on the stage and proclaim that it’s ridiculous to hope for things to change in Washington?

Fifth, she wants to count Michigan and Florida after the DNC decided not to seat them, and has suggested that she will be at the convention not only schmoozing superdelegates, but Obama’s pledged delegates, as well. In other words – screw what the people actually want. Nominate me anyway!

Sixth and finally – CBS News reports that Clinton has endorsed McCain.

Hillary Clinton told reporters that both she and the presumtive Republican nominee John McCain offer the experience to be ready to tackle any crisis facing the country under their watch, but Barack Obama simply offers more rhetoric. “I think you’ll be able to imagine many things Senator McCain will be able to say,” she said. “He’s never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.”

Of course, the quotes don’t explicitly endorse McCain, and CBS News doesn’t proclaim it to be an endorsement. However, Clinton’s statement clearly suggests she is saying, “If I’m not the Democratic nominee, you should vote for McCain.” After all, she says McCain has the experience – but Obama just has speeches.

The Democratic party needs to recognize that at this point, the Clinton campaign is out of control. Her rhetoric is unhinged, and her statements are damaging the party in what should honestly be a “gimme” of an election. After eight years of Bush, people want a change in our leadership – but Hillary is ready to make sure that the White House remains in Conservative control if she can’t be the one running for it.

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Sugar? Real sugar?

Divine Caroline reports that Pepsi is dipping its toe into the natural products market in the UK. The product is Pepsi RAW, and the ad campaigns – of course – feature naked people. What else would you expect from a product called “raw”?

Best of all: no high fructose corn syrup! HFCS has been plaguing sodas for decades. It’s time American soda makers stop using this cheap, highly available, and terribly unhealthy sugar source.

In America, you can find cane sugar in some of the sodas released by smaller, indie companies like Jones. I’m not a big Pepsi fan, but I’m happy to see them at least dabbling in returning to using cane sugar in their sodas. The more I learn about HFCS, the more I’m convinced that it’s not really something that anybody should ingest. And definitely not in the quantities Pepsi and Coca-Cola say you should.

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

But… but… it’s been filtered…

Much like Thudfactor, I already thought we were doing this everywhere, too.

The program takes treated sewer water, runs it through the same reverse osmosis process that bottled water companies use to purify their artesian (or tap) water, and then injects it into a deep aquifer that provides water for Orange County. The idea is to recycle as much of the water as possible and, in the process, reduce the water needs of a very arid and highly populated region of the country, southern California.

The article says that many people are “squicking out” about the fact that their water supply may contain water that came from someone’s toilet, but – as they also point out – pretty much all water came from someone or something’s toilet at some point in history. Heck, it’s only relatively recently that we’ve managed to find ways to ensure that water is safe to drink. Prior to that, people depended on the anti-microbial properties of alcohol in weak wine and beer to get safe hydration. Well, that is to say, they depended on it without realizing what “anti-microbial” meant. Let alone “microbe.”

Just like land, they’re not makin’ any more of water. The more we can process and reclaim it, the better off we’re all going to be.

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

I Really Think So

Sci-fi blog io9 links to this article on the official Star Wars site comparing the Japanese manga of Star Wars to the Marvel Comics adaptations.

it’s truly an unfair comparison to gauge how well Marvel Comics originally adapted the classic trilogy films against how Japanese artists did the same. The deck is definitely stacked in manga’s favor. For the Marvel adaptations, produced during each film’s post-production period, the artists had not seen the films—they were working merely from the script, with some key photography and maybe some concept art. Also, they had to conform to the page and printing standards of newsstand comics from 1977-1983. This meant that all the action of a Star Wars film had to be crammed into six issues (or, in the case of Return of the Jedi, a mere four).

What quickly becomes apparent, however, is that the manga adaptation had far more going for it than just a long, long lead time and flexible format. The manga also didn’t have to deal with the Comics Code Authority, resulting in a much freer style with some of the more violent moments of the Star Wars saga. Where a piece of machinery conveniently covers the action in the Code-approved American adaptation, the manga depicts Luke’s hand being cut off with brutality and finality. Where Luke and Vader’s cave confrontation is toned down severely in the American adaptation, the manga version depicts it perhaps even better than the original film.

The open manga style also lends itself better to capturing the spirit of the film in general. While the Marvel adaptations feature painstakingly detailed artwork, the cartoon style of the manga allows it to better capture the comic relief of the series, while also lending itself to true hardcore pulp moments like Leia’s revenge on Jabba the Hutt.

So perhaps it is truly unfair to compare the two adaptations – as is usually the case with Japanese and American comics, it’s a case of apples to oranges. But it certainly is interesting to compare them. And it’s even more interesting to me to see this kind of side-by-side comparison published by the licensing company itself.

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008