Stuff I think about.

Keeping a republic is hard sometimes

Egypt rally

For the past few years, I’ve tended to commemorate Independence day by watching an episode of the HBO miniseries John Adams, since it combines two things I generally like doing: Fairly superficial intellectual exercises and watching TV. Normally, I go with the obvious episode — “Independence,” the one about the Continental Congress — but this year I had something else in mind.

A major thread in the show’s later episodes is the impact of the French Revolution on the new United States. It’s an especially timely look now, since just yesterday Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected leader was forced out in a military coup, and there’s a lot of mixed feelings about whether it’s a good thing or not.


The war on buses

A bus.

The Washington state legislature doesn’t exactly make Congress look good, but sensible governance isn’t exactly a thing here either. To wit: the state Senate chose to ignore the transportation bill that passed the state House of Representatives last week, threatening huge cuts to local transit services and making the case against bicameralism in one stroke of inaction.

Here’s where it gets really silly: The part of the now-dead transportation bill that might have held off those giant cuts would have given King County the authority to submit a ballot measure asking voters to raise the vehicle registration fee in order to fund Metro transit service, as well as county and city roads.

In other words, the county needs the state legislature’s permission to ask local voters to approve a local tax. And the state legislature won’t give it.


Star Trek’s Khan Problem


I maintain that if the producers of Star Trek Into Darkness truly wanted to recycle an adversary from the original series, they should have gone with the Doomsday Machine. Not only would the thing have been VFX gold, but it would have helped them avoid what’s become one of the most common traps in the franchise.

Most of the Star Trek movies that came after Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan tried to replicate its success. It’s not hard to see why, since TWOK is arguably the best movie in the franchise. (The Undiscovered Country is my personal favorite, but whichever.) What’s frustrating is that none of the people who’ve tried to replicate it over the years have demonstrated a clear understanding of why it was so good in the first place.


Joss Whedon’s death problem

Maximum tragedy

I think it’s great that Agent Coulson will be a major part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and isn’t actually dead despite all the evidence from The Avengers (spoiler! …double spoiler?), but something struck me while I was reading Joss Whedon’s rationale:

The idea of the Little Guy is something that I am very fierce about, and there has never been a better Little Guy than Clark Gregg. That intrigued me, this world around the superhero community. It’s the people whose shop windows get blown up when the Destroyer shows up.

My immediate, cynical response was that he might have thought of that before he killed the guy in the first place. And that’s actually a problem I have with almost everything Whedon’s done, because an important corollary to his penchant for killing off characters is that it’s almost always the little guys who take the fall.


Realism is hardest with the fake stuff

This YouTube video is actually a really clever idea. Obviously the alien spaceships are fake, but that just serves to distract you from the fact that the entire video is CGI — everything else is fake, too.

It’s impressive work, but I’m not actually surprised to read that, “making the photorealistic car and desert environment was even more difficult than crafting the alien crafts.” Because, honestly, the photorealistic car looks more photorealistic than the UFOs.


Gerrymandering is still a problem

The original Gerry-manderI generally think Wonkblog is an excellent public service, especially compared to most of what passes for political coverage, and the fact that they feature perspectives from actual political scientists is excellent. That said, John Sides’ piece on why “Gerrymandering is not what’s wrong with American politics” feels a bit like it’s missing the forest for the trees.

Sides’ thesis, that the polarization of elected representatives in both the House and Senate seems to have very little to do with the ideology of their electorate and a lot to do with their political party, is a bit surprising, but I wouldn’t dream of criticizing an argument with so many graphs to back it up. But even if you accept the premise, that doesn’t necessarily mean that gerrymandering isn’t a factor.


Seattle’s pro-transit mess


I’m still trying to get a handle on the mess of disjointed reasoning that stands in for transportation policy in Seattle, so Knute Berger’s paean to some unused offramps for an expressway that never got built is actually really instructive. It’s also kind of nuts.

My first reaction to the piece, which describes the “Ramps to Nowhere” as a symbolic reminder of a time when Seattlites came together and blocked a massive ring road, was that it’s kind of telling when you measure your city’s history of urbanism by the infrastructure projects you’ve blocked instead of the ones you’ve built. My second was that if you’re looking for monuments to Seattle’s urbanist heyday, you really don’t need to go all the way up to 520; there’s a much better one cutting straight through downtown. And you can even ride on it!


The expectations trap

I'm not even sorry.

So I was minding my own business, checking my news feed, when I realized that I’d just come up with a way to link HBO’s Girls and the debt ceiling. This was not part of my plan for today.

It all began this morning, when I came across this article about how Girls’ second season dealt with all that controversy over the show’s treatment of minority characters (or lack thereof) by adding Donald Glover and an arc about interracial dating. After that came several different stories about the debt ceiling and a previously obscure idea to get around it by minting a huge-denomination platinum coin. And I started to think that both cases demonstrate a similar failure of our collective ability to figure out where the real problem is.