Wednesday, 22 October 2003

That's one question answered, at least

Warning for those offended by “France-bashing”: the extension of this post contains some.

Two months ago, Daniel Drezner noted the split over whether the European Union is an international organization or a supranational authority among IR scholars (my answer, when asked to provide one when I took an International Organizations course in the Spring of 1999, was “Yes and Yes“), and that upcoming events in France and Germany would help settle that question—in particular, whether those countries would be punished for violating E.U. treaty commitments.

Today, Glenn Reynolds notes that France is getting a free pass for violating the “growth and stability pact” that members of the single European currency agreed to; as Pieter Dorsman at Peaktalk noted yesterday, this isn’t exactly popular with smaller countries like the Netherlands who actually abided by their commitments to the pact.

The new electoral math

Colby Cosh plays Excel number-cruncher and takes a look at the likely electoral impact of the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Alliance north of the border. The raw math suggests the new party be able might deprive the Liberals of an overall majority in Parliament (though probably not by enough for the Conservatives to form a government), on the basis of the support for its candidates in past elections when they ran as members of separate parties. Of course, there’s still a campaign to be run, which no doubt will affect the numbers substantially.

Trek blogging

Randy Barnett and Jacob Levy get into an admittedly “Cornerish” discussion of Star Trek in its various forms. My general reactions:

  1. As episodic science-fiction, TNG generally surpasses the original series (TOS), particularly in later seasons as Roddenberry’s obsession with T&A and perfect characters recedes in favor of “modern Trek.”
  2. However, as characters, the TOS cast is more well-rounded than TNG, perhaps in part because the roles were less balanced (the Kirk-Spock-McCoy axis was more prominent, whereas in TNG you have Picard and then everyone else at just a half-step below that level). Worf is really the only character other than Picard who you have a good handle on.
  3. As a series, DS9 wins hands-down, particularly in later seasons, because of the continuous storyline.
  4. Voyager works occasionally at some levels as episodic Trek, but the inevitable “reset button” device often detracts from attempts to take risks, and attempts to assemble a coherent narrative over time are lackluster. On the plus side, Jeri Ryan rises above her puerile skin-tight outfit to create a well-defined character as Seven, and some of the supporting cast create a well-defined set of characters (the Doctor, B‘Elanna, and Tom Paris in particular).
  5. Much of the Voyager critique applies equally to the first two seasons of Enterprise. Arguably, Season 3 Enterprise is closer to what Voyager should have been, but even then there are parts that don’t work. The “Xindi arc” does, in its defense, seem to be better constructed so far than other arc attempts on Trek (other than DS9).

So what would I like to see from Trek? Obviously, more attempts at continuous storylines. They work elsewhere in episodic television, so why not in science fiction? Part of that may just simply be the fault of early TV sci-fi in the U.S.: fare like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, which was inherently episodic. Roddenberry’s innovation in the original series was to bolt this episodic format onto use of the same cast and backstory from week to week, and essentially the same formula has persisted in modern Trek (except on DS9).

The obvious counterpoint in American sci-fi is J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, which took the “arc” concept to its ultimate end: a planned-out, epic storyline spanning the life of the series (a recent attempt to do something similar, although perhaps less structured, was Joss Whedon’s Firefly). However, I don’t see Trek going in this direction either.

One place where Trek might learn from is Stargate SG-1. Like Trek, it essentially eschews preplanned storylines. Unlike Trek, however, its episodic format often leaves open ends that can be picked up later, that in retrospect create a continuous storyline. The producers and writers can go back in new episodes and continue any of a dozen storylines from older ones, creating stories that both stand alone and stand together. With relatively few exceptions, Trek hasn’t done this, but it’s something that might work well in the context of Enterprise once they deal with the Xindi threat.

Facts 1, Krugman 0 (by forfeit)

Tom Maguire , Robert Musil, and Dan Drezner are not particularly impressed with Paul Krugman’s latest missive to the readers of The New York Times, in which he defends explains blames George W. Bush for Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s anti-Semitic diatribe in front of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s recent summit.

Dan points out that Mahathir has basically made a career of using anti-Semitic rhetoric to bolster his reign as head of Malaysia’s one-party state*, a career that well-precedes George Bush’s presidency, has generally been chummy with the Bush administration (as Mark Kleiman pointed out a few days ago, rather unhelpfully if you’re trying to defend Krugman’s ignorance of contemporary U.S. foreign policy), and has “no domestic flank to protect” seeing as he’s leaving office in November—although it’s unclear whether Mahathir will continue to pull the strings in Malaysia, as his neighbor Lee Kuan Yew continues to do in Singapore.

Tom, on the other hand, engages in full-scale fisking of Krugman, wondering if Krugman actually read the speech in question. Robert Musil does some fisking of his own, suggesting we could find quite a few alternatives to Mahathir as a “forward-looking” Muslim leader, and isn’t all that impressed by Krugman’s attempt to whitewash Malaysia’s brutal policies imposed on its ethnic Chinese minority as some sort of high-minded affirmative action program.

Boeing ending production of the 757

I’m not a huge aviation buff, but growing up around the Air Force it’s hard not to at least have some passing interest in the topic. Apropos of that, Michael Jennings has a long, informative post about the Boeing 757, which will no longer be produced after 2004.

Also at TransportBlog, Patrick Crozier has a post that attempts to compare the safety records of various jet aircraft. As he notes, the figures are “a bit dodgy because there will be quite a few of the more modern planes that haven't crashed yet.” Or, in econometrician-speak, there’s right-censoring of the survival data. Nonetheless the figures suggest aircraft are getting safer over time, as we’d probably expect (due in part to better materials, more rigorous safety inspections, and improved automation of aircraft).

Movie debate

Daniel Drezner and Roger Simon have been mixing it up over their favorite films.

I’ve had a list of 10 movies sitting on my personal home page for a few years; for sake of comparison, here they are (in semi-random order); all of them made in the past 20 years:

  1. Lone Star (John Sayles) – Examining the secrets of a small Texas town on the Rio Grande.
  2. Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh) – Examining the secrets of some really messed up people in London.
  3. Fargo (Coen Brothers) – A kidnapping gone bad with a very pregnant cop investigating it.
  4. A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton and John Cleese) – British lawyer gets involved with a band of jewel thieves.
  5. Blood Simple (Coen Brothers) – Woman gets caught cheating on her goofy husband with an almost-equally goofy guy by a psychotic private investigator.
  6. Exotica (Atom Egoyan) – Canadian tax inspector hangs out at a strip club.
  7. Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell) – English guy with eccentric friends falls in love with gorgeous American woman.
  8. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarentino) – Airline stewardess gets busted for running drug money for Samuel L. Jackson with a goofy beard.
  9. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan) – Canadian lawyer investigates the aftermath of a horrific bus accident, while he deals with demons of his own.
  10. Zero Effect (Jake Kasdan) – World’s weirdest detective (with sidekick who does most of the real work) investigates what happened to a CEO’s keys.

Not a lot of overlap (just one movie) with Dan’s list. If I made a “top 20,” though, I’d probably have Say Anything, Courage Under Fire (which Denzel Washington deserved an Oscar for), Groundhog Day, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan on my list too. Rounding out the 20, I’d have to add Pulp Fiction, Hoop Dreams, Insomina (the original version with Stellan Skaarsgard), The Spanish Prisoner, Out of Sight, and Gattaca. And probably 50 other movies too that should have made the cut. And if I took off the 20-year restriction…