söndag 29 maj 2011

My t-shirts, part 37: Oliver

If it's Bloom County, it can't be bad. And the Banana… what, 2000? is a classical computer if there ever was one.

Thanks to Lisa Petersen for introducing me to this great strip, lo those many years ago!

lördag 28 maj 2011

Hans Lindström: Feminister ("Feminists")

I don't think Swedish cartoonist Hans Lindström really hates women, and maybe he doesn't even hate feminists. Maybe he's just angry at the particular variety of feminists who make unfair generalizations about men, and who don't back up their arguments with facts and logic. I can understand that; heck, I get angry at that sort of thing from time to time as well. But just as anger can be a good source of energy while a lousy choice for controlling the steering wheel, putting out a collection of cartoons that are all about your anger doesn't make for a good read. That rule applies to feministic cartoonists as well as to Lindström, and Lindström's Feminister collection fails because he can't get over his anger at feminists in general and former Minister of Gender Equality Margareta Winberg in particular.


And it's a shame, because those cartoons that aren't about that – which would be about half of them, the rest could be given the heading "Women" or somesuch, making this largely a misnamed collection – are sometimes quite good, like the woman who runs over her husbands legs with the lawn mower, severing them, and then apologizes profusely: "Just like you said yesterday when you beat me: 'I'll never do it again'!" Or two hefty, middle-aged women walking down the street, one of them with a torn-off forearm clutching her purse strap: "Today's purse-snatchers just aren't up to scratch."

But such gems are too few and to far in between. Instead, the reader gets way too much "feminists hate men", "feminists are flat-chested and ugly", and "Margareta Winberg's an idiot". Mind you, I don't necessarily disagree with the last one, but it's just not very funny – especially the third time you read it.

And that's the second problem with this collection: in several cases, Lindström just repeats a joke he's used in a cartoon a couple of pages ago. While he's perfectly entitled to disparage feminists all day long if he wants to – we do have freedom of speech, you know – this is just unprofessional, and ripping the buyer off.

So, I can't really recommend this. Though I will note that I've seen people react to Lindström's cartoons with pretty much outright hate, sometimes even people who themselves seem to have aspirations to be "provocative" but who really just seem to be sticking with rather bland assertions about how racism, sexism and oppression is bad, and how superficial mass media are bad for democracy, etc., so I will give Lindström some credit for having more personal and artistic courage than those who'll stick with what is entirely politically correct for the editors of the magazines and newspapers they cater to. Unfortunately, being angry and at least sort of gutsy doesn't make for a good cartoon collection. You need a whole bunch of actually good cartoons for that, as well.

I'll expand that to a general observation: I've seen quite a few cartoonists from the other side of the spectrum here in Sweden – let's face it, Lindström's pretty much alone on his side – and one problem that is pretty much general is that they frequently fail when they try to make political, ideological and/or sweeping generalization, and succeed when they get into the specifics of their own – or ordinary people's – everyday lives. Often, they'll resort to what is rather simplistic rhetoric (like Lindström mostly does in this book), stroking the prejudices and/or egos of their chosen audience or cause (or themselves), which makes for quite boring reading if you want something intellectually stimulating. But when they can get to the level of "this happened to me, and this is how I feel about it", that brings an intensity and authenticity to their work that'll grab me as a reader even if I don't agree with their ideological interpretation of it.

Anyway, not recommended.

fredag 27 maj 2011

Jean Erik Rehn: Bellingasamlingen ("The Bellinga collection")

I mentioned this collection of architect and interior decorator Jean Erik Rehn's beautiful ink and wash drawings last month. It's a a 250-page catalogue for a grand auction of a collection of 800+ of Rehn's drawings, most of them unfortunately printed in stamp size. Still, you can discern his drawing skill in plenty of them anyway, and a few are printed in somewhat larger format. (The collection was housed at the palace Bellinga for many years; hence the name.)

The collection is organized thematically, so there's a chapter with architectural details, one on drawings from Rome, one on drawings of people, one with Swedish land- and townscapes, etc.

Visiting Rome to look at antiques and ruins was almost de rigueur for an architect/artist in those days, but your drawings from the place didn't have to be done on the spot; you could just as well copy somebody else's drawings from the place. I guess the important thing was to document the various form elements so you could use them in your own work later on. Ruins were also considered rather romantic. This is a church, S. Maria del Sole:

Still, even that which isn't Rehn doing original work displays his magnificent drawing skill. This is a memorial over a Cardinal by the French architect Bouchardon:

Most interesting to me is still the chapter with Swedish milieus, and it's a real shame that these pictures aren't available on the web in larger format, as they are very interesting depictions of what various parts of our country looked like in the 1700s, beautifully executed. This one is from my home town of Uppsala, with the so-called "peasants' church" in the foreground:

If all the pictures had been of larger size, I would have recommended this to just about everybody. As it is, I guess it's only if you have a special interest in Rehn, 1700s interior decorating, or an extraordinarily skilled draughtsman of olden times that this is a book for you.

But man, that guy could draw!

onsdag 25 maj 2011

...And back from the alcohol store, as well

In Sweden, the sale of alcohol is restricted to a) bars and restaurants etc. with a special permit to serve alcohol, much like in other countries, b) Systembolaget, the government monopoly for the retail sale of beer, wine and booze to the public. To shop there you have to be at least 20 years old and sober, and prices are kept high through alcohol taxes. The objective is of course to limit alcohol consumption, and it has had some success with that, but we Swedes still drink far too much alcohol. We're part of the northern vodka belt, with beer with one's food and the habit of boozing it up and getting really drunk for the weekend, but we've also imported the more Mediterranean/continental habit of winesipping and having a couple of glasses of wine with our food. Combined, these two patterns of behavior spell "Way too much alcohol", and it's a genuine problem.

Personally, I like big helpings of the things I like – like candy, soda pop, ice cream, comics and... well, uh, never mind. Anyway, that's a pattern of consumption that doesn't lend itself well to alcohol, so I drink practically no booze at all, and since I don't particularly like beer, beer's not a problem. I like the occasional glass of wine with my food, though, so when comics creator Lars Mortimer launched a wine label featuring his creation, the somewhat depressive (especially during hunting season) moose Hälge, I decided to try it.

Since I don't have any red wine-suitable food at home for the moment, I'll have to put off actually tasting the wine, but in the meantime, I'll just savor the beautiful label. Tomorrow, however, I expect to enjoy a nice glass of Hälge with my lunch pasta.

Thomas Ott: The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8

Swiss comics creator Thomas Ott does his comics on scratchboard (you can see video of his work process here), and does so very well; the medium isn't just a gimmick, he not only does very good graphic work with it, he also uses it to tell good stories – in pictures only; the narrative is wordless.

The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 (or, in Swedish, Numret 73304-23-4153-6-96-8) is a graphic novel about an executioner who at the start of the book finds a strip of paper that belonged to the he just executed. On that strip of paper is a number: 73304-23-4153-6-96-8.

…Hold on, that's not exactly right. In fact, it's probably more wrong than right. Instead, The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 is a graphic novel about a number on a strip of paper. At the start of the book, it is used as a bookmark by a condemned man in his Bible. He sometimes takes out the strip of paper and looks at it. When he's been executed, the executioner finds the strip of paper lying next to the electric chair and for some reason puts it in his pocket before he goes home.

The next day, a series of remarkable coincidences occur, all of them having to do with the number on that scrap of paper... A stray dog has part of the number tattooed on his ear, the winner of a marathon race on a picture in the newspaper is wearing another part of the number, and the phone number on a poster from somebody looking for the stray dog provides the next part, etc.

The man follows these randomly occurring numbers, which results in his life markedly improving, in terms of both money and relations. But then, something happens, and his life takes an increasingly bizarre downwards turn...

I won't reveal the ending, which is quite logical but only if you accept the somewhat absurd universe Ott's story takes place in. There is no particular reason why his life should suddenly improve so radically, nor why it should then so suddenly take a turn for the worse. One might think of it as punishment for killing people as an executioner, but there is noting in Ott's wordless narrative signaling that. Instead, it seems just the random cruelty of a capricious universe – which may of course be more frightening than if things happened for a reason.

This graphic novel works very well; Ott is a master of his craft and creates interesting graphic images that also work very well to tell the story. The story is logical, engaging, and frightening – although, like so many other "graphic novels", it contains roughly the story material of a short story, rather than a novel. (In fact, I kept thinking of a thematically somewhat-similar science fiction short story while I read it – but Ott's story is of course original and stands quite strongly on its own.)

Ott tells his story in a four-panel-per-page grid, which makes for a steady, very readable pacing, and uses larger panels comprising the space of two panels or a full page, when it suits the storytelling. The storytelling flows nicely without getting static, and at not-quite 140 wordless pages, it's a quick but not superficial read.

Recommended. This is well worth your time.

tisdag 24 maj 2011

Oh, and back from the bookstore, too.

No more time for blogging tonight, The Mentalist is on; but I caught these off a books–and-used-books vendor: art books, a couple of books on hunting and some classics – Wodehouse, Prøysen and Fenimore Cooper.

Back from the comics store, part II

Thank you, Prisfyndet of Uppsala!

söndag 22 maj 2011

Mark Schultz, David Hine & Moritat: The Spirit vol 1 – Angel Smerti

Will Eisner's The Spirit stands out as one of the truly great comics of the forties. There is a lot of talk about comics' "Golden Age" this and "Silver Age" that, but, but the harsh reality is that most of the comics put out during those eras weren't very good (though in fairness, in the "Silver Age" plenty enough were). You had a lot of sales in the "Golden Age", so it certainly were a "golden" age in that sense of the word, but the art usually wasn't particularly great, and nor was the writing. However, they did establish a lot of exciting concepts that were to be put to better use in later, more sophisticated times, so let's give them credit for that. Also, artists like Jack KirbyJoe Kubert and Gil Kane debuted during the "Golden Age", and they would go on to become major pillars of the comic book industry.

And, of course, Will Eisner. The giant who not only created The Spirit, but who also pioneered the "graphic novel" format in the US. Kitchen Sink published a lot of his work in the eighties and nineties, and it's well worth seeking out, if you can find it. It was later republished in the DC Archives format, which, if you haven't encountered it, is mainly characterized by being in color, hardcover, and horribly expensive.

Well, now that DC had their hands on the Spirit, they thought it would be a good idea to publish new stories about him. A previous series, by creators like Darwyn Cooke and Sergio Aragonés & Mark Evanier, lasted 32 issues, and made the impression on me of trying to stick rather close to what Eisner had created. This new series, well, not so much.

The first story arc is written by Mark Schultz of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs fame, and sets up the new Spirit universe. The Spirit narrates a short intro to the book, informing the reader that "Central City destroys all that lives within its rotten borders. It was once a booming frontier town, then a hub of lake and rail transport. But prosperity never filtered down from the wealthy few to the workers, the average Joes and Janes".

Now, I don't mind a bit of economic populism, but Schultz lays it on so thick that it becomes rather cartoony in character – and hence, annoying. If this were the only problem with his tale, Angel Smerti, this wouldn't matter much. But it isn't.

First, this bit of economic populism stands alone. It is not mirrored in the tale itself, which says practically nothing about average Joes and Janes but is an attempt to tell an essentially Eisneresque story about the Spirit being targeted for a hit by the crime lords of the city, hiring an expert assassin from Europe. It also tells us that Commissioner Dolan is so undermined by corruption in the police department and pressure from above to be practically useless at his post, and that he has a somewhat naïve, activist daughter. There's also a young black street urchin, Imani, helping the Spirit with intel on what goes on in the city. Finally, this story introduces thr new villain, Angel Smerti, who lived through the wars on the Balkans and came out with a talent and propensity for murder, and was further trained in military special forces to become something of a super-sniper. Naturally, Angel Smerti turns out to be an extremely hot young woman.

Well, I can live with that; it's not like Eisner himself wouldn't have been capable of creating the same sort of character. Unfortunately, Schultz also turns her into something of a female super-soldier who easily beats up The Spirit and hefts his unconscious body about, and that goes beyond the boundaries of credibility, as does a psychological/moral conversion that Angel Smerti undergoes towards the end of the book. In his stories, maybe Eisner could have pulled something like it off, because he had only seven pages to work with and had to deliver stories with breakneck pacing – that way, Smerti beating up the Spirit would probably have been dealt with in two panels, and a swift kick to the shin followed by cracking the Spirit's skull with the butt of an assault rifle would have been something I could live with. But here, the story is three chapters, each of standard comic book length, and Smerti beating up the Spirit for several pages practically necessitates that she's a female Captain America (physically if not morally), and undermines the believability of the rest of the narrative.

So no, this collection's titular story doesn't really work. The second offering is the Frost Bite four-issue story arc about a killer new drug making the rounds in Central City. It is also a bit on the naïve side – Ebony is now a tough, pretty young black woman with more guts and compassion than common sense, and like Ellen and Imani, she's not much more than a stereotype – not the same stereotype that the original Ebony stereotype was (and Eisner, whose sensitivities evolved along with the society he lived in, was well aware of that when he looked back on the character), but more of "spunky young gal does stupid things but we're supposed to admire her for her guts even if she chooses to disconnect her brain" one; not "insensitive for a modern reader", just "boring".

Anyway, Hine tells a solid story, keeping it well-paced and exciting, but with a tad too many standard plot elements to be a great story. Also, I'm a bit annoyed at the relationship between the Spirit and commissioner Dolan – Dolan' a bit to on the scared side, and the Spirit's a bit too antagonistic towards him. That is of course colored by me having read the original stories with a warmer relationship between the two, and a Dolan who wouldn't be as prepared to compromise with his duty as this one, so I don't know how somebody new to the characters would feel about it.

Finally, the art by Moritat is good, and suits the stories well. He's also good at drawing female characters, which is sort of obligatory for a Spirit artist. (Another plus is that the creators use an Eisner-inspired style of splash pages.) Moritat's drawing style isn't entirely consistent, though. Sometimes it looks like it's inked by Denys Cowan, on other occasions it might look Joe Kubert-inspired. And while I wouldn't say that the first of these two pictures an outright swipe, it does look Dark Knight-inspired – so let's call it a homage. The second one, I have somewhere in the back of my head that I've seen it somewhere in an old House of Mystery (or somesuch) story drawn by… Jack Abel? Dan Spiegle?

The Spirit: Angel Smerty is worth reading – at least the Hines half of it – but it still has some ways to go if it wants to be a worthy successor to the great, great original, the post-WWII stories of which are still highly recommended.

Here's another review of the book.

fredag 20 maj 2011

Back from the comics store, part I

Catching up a bit.

My t-shirts, part 36: NAFS(k)

NAFS(k) or Nationella Ankistförbundet i Sverige (kvack) – "The National Duckist Society of Sweden (quack)" – is a wonderful collection of Disney fans, mainly of the Carl Barks and Don Rosa stories, I'd say, but also of Disney work by other comics creators, as well as the movies. They're heaps of friendly, nerdy fun, and I love them all.

torsdag 19 maj 2011

Michael Löwy: La pensée de Che Guevara – un humanisme révolutionaire ("Che Guevara's thinking – a revolutionary humanism")

How do you know that a biography's going to suck? Well, you can't be certain, of course, but a pretty good indicator is if it starts out by claiming that its subject lived a dazzling, meteoric, exemplary life and is easily compared to the giants of the Renaissance thanks to his multifaceted, unique personality as doctor and economist, revolutionary and banker, deep political thinker and populist agitator, a secular Christ who used the pen and the machine gun with the same ease, etc, etc, ad nauseam.

In other words, Che Guevara – en revolutionär humanist (the Swedish title) is a distasteful hagiography jam-packed with the sort of ridiculous superlatives that graced the more dogmatic "Marxist" (or, if you prefer, far left-wing) writing that was so common during the seventies. Unsurprisingly, this book was originally published in 1969; it is more surprising that anybody would have considered it worthy of republishing in the nineties – yes, it is that bad, and the Röda Rummet publishing company ought to be ashamed of themselves for publishing this drivel.

Anyway, Löwy works very hard to paper over some very basic facts about Guevara:
a) he had a fondness for killing;
b) he pretty much sucked at organizing the "new society" (except for the "killing one's predecessors as the ruling elite" part, that is); and
c) he failed rather miserably as a revolutionary, because he didn't think through what he did, and because his so-called brilliant revolutionary thought was, basically, a shambles and totally useless as analysis of the situation.

For this papering-over, however, he unfortunately has to resort to logical and linguistic contortions of a rather bizarre variety. Now, that's not much of a problem for a 70s far-left-wing intellectual, because they engaged in it all the time – they had to, in order to keep up the pretense that communist dictatorships were the true democracies and the Western democracies horribly oppressive hellholes – but for a more modern or less ideologically pure reader, it makes for pretty awful reading.

Che's analysis told him that the bourgeoisie was to timid and treacherous for the "people" to work together with them. Thus, the true Latin American revolution could only come about through the cooperation between workers and peasants. They would work together to accomplish the important democratic reforms: land reform, national liberation and bringing the country out of underdevelopment. Exactly how he intended that to be done without resorting to the tried-and-true methods of democratic capitalism remains a bit unclear, partly because Che – and Löwy – remains pretty much silent on the actual details (preferring to pepper their theorizing with empirically meaningless catchphrases like "revolutionary consciousness" and "revolutionary praxis" instead), and partly because, hey, Che had the opportunity to show the superiority of his methods when he ran Cuba's economy, and that supposed superiority failed to result in the successes it had promised.

So what did Che do then? Did he take in the empirical information of that lack of success, process it, and adjust the policies to achieve the results he envisioned?

Nope. He quit, and started gallivanting around the globe in search for new revolutionary wars to participate in, found one in Congo and threw himself into it without much in the way of success to show for his troubles. Then he went back to Latin America, and failed there as well. He got himself – and a bunch of others – killed for his troubles. The end.

Well, not quite. He also became an icon for disaffected youths in the Western world (you all know the famous picture on all those posters and t-shirts, I trust) and actually still works pretty well as a symbol for quite a lot of "radicals" in the Western capitalist world today – on two levels, even: First, they seem to like to think of themselves as Che supporters; it seems to give them a sense of connection with the revolution they're never going to take part in. Second, and from a more outside perspective: like Che, they're never going to accomplish much to improve the lives of poor people in the Third World – post-the literacy campaign in Cuba, that is; even if it would most likely have been very successful under any leader who implemented it thanks to the enthusiasm of the Cuban people, Che did head it if I'm not misinformed, so give him credit for that. But don't read his "philosophy", it isn't actually philosophy but an attempt to justify the violent methods he chose to use for regime change, methods that turned out to be pretty much useless for actually improving the world.

In closing, apart from the recommendation to not waste your time reading this wretched book, I have a small suggestion for the fashionably revolutionary, safe-in-their-snug-jobs-paid-for-by-capitalism bourgeois and the (in their own eyes) heroic outside-society-and-proud-of-it-while-demanding-that-the-welfare-state-pay-for-their-upkeep revolutionary romantics (frequently idolizing "direct action" as somehow acts of revolution): why don't you first of all have a

– and then go to the Third World country of your choice as a volunteer to help people learn to read, get safe water, get functioning infrastructure like roads and electricity, and set up democratic grassroots movements that'll actually help them improve their lot? Because strutting around in comfortable Western democracies pretending that you're making a difference for the poor people in the world by idolizing murderers and incompetents like Guevara and his ilk is pretty darn transparent.

tisdag 17 maj 2011

Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch: The New Avengers 1: Breakout

Brian Michael Bendis is apparently somewhat of a superstar these days. For the last decade, I haven't had the money to follow the US comics scene as I used to do, and I'm still sufficiently unhappy with Marvel's pricing policy that I don't care to follow their stuff particularly closely, but with my incomes going up again (unfortunately at the cost of working more), I've been filling out some holes in my collection. Initially concentrating on Essentials, I've also been getting a bunch of regular TPBs – and one of those has been the first New Avengers collection, happily for me.

I've mainly good things to say about the book. Finch is a good artist, and the inkers have generally done a good job over his pencils. It's strong in composition and anatomy, and the line art looks great; in one chapter, the line looks somewhat like good younger-generation Kubert inked with just a hint of Gerry Talaoc elegance – not too much, to give it that sort of "oily" look that I think a lot of the Filipino inkers of the seventies brought to the page, but just a hint. (Sadly, I don't know which inker is responsible for which pages.) Unfortunately, the colors sometimes overpower the line art (as happens so frequently with computer coloring), and when they go for "dark & moody", the result is just "murky & hard-to-read". Mostly, though, the colors are good, and overall the art is very good.

The writing is good, too. The story is as follows: Attorney Matt Murdock is at a prison for super-powered beings (chaperoned by Spider-Woman and bodyguarded by Luke Cage) to talk with Sentry when a prison break occurs. By chance, Captain America and Spiderman happen upon the the scene as well, and Iron Man also arrives to lend a hand. Together, they manage to keep the prison break down to just a minor disaster instead of a full-blown one, but there are still 40+ super-criminals on the loose. The next day, Cap makes Iron Man a suggestion: Why not restart the Avengers? They did good together, and they are sorely needed to stop those super-baddies on the loose. Tony Stark doesn't quite have the money to bankroll the Avengers these days, but Cap, who is very hard to say no to, persuades him that they can do it on the cheap. Cap then proceeds to persuade Spider-Woman, Cage, and Spider-Man to join as well. As (IIRC) Tony Stark puts it, Cap is a very hard person to say no to... (Although Daredevil and Sentry manage to, at least initially.)

So the team reassembles, and under the leadership of Cap and Iron Man manage to negotiate the hot waters of government bureaucracy as well as kick some serious do-badder butt... But will it be enough to counter the danger that is building in the Forgotten Land?

I won't go into the plot more than that; you deserve to read it yourself. The good thing about Bendis' writing is that it flows very well and that he manages to do a lot of characterization in the dialogue without it coming off as contrived. Also, a lot of what Bendis does with the characters is really good: Luke Cage learns what it means to be in the really big leagues; Cap and Iron Man put snotty S.H.I.E.L.D. directors in their place without being rude about it, just very firm and confident in their status as top-line government-endorsed superheroes; Cap is impressed by Peter Parker's dedication and guts; practically everybody is (justly) impressed by Cap – I love the line about how it's nearly impossible to say no to Cap when he asks something of you, not just because he's a living legend but also because he's so totally honest, true-blue and earnest. Etc.

I do have some quibbles with Bendis' writing, though. Apparently, he lists Aaron Sorkin as one of his favorite writers, and there is indeed a certain TV-ish quality, something of a Sorkinesque glibness to some of the dialogue – as if it tries to press just a little bit too much info and cleverness into too-short pieces of dialogue, where taking a couple of panels more to let it develop more naturally would have worked better. He also occasionally tries to have his characters and the situations they're be more adult than the writing can really support, which leads to it looking a bit silly instead – which is of course also something you can see on TV shows occasionally. But overall, Bendis does good here, and this is a good, strong superhero book. Recommended.

The views of another reviewer here.

måndag 16 maj 2011

Mark Steyn: America Alone

In our popular "We Read Terrible Books So You Don't Have To" department, we have Mark Steyn's America Alone, unfortunately not an atypical offering from Regnery Publishing.

After the 9/11 tragedy, you saw quite a bit of something approaching insanity on both sides of the political spectrum. On the (often vaguely- and/or undemocratic) left, you could see cheering because finally it was the US on the receiving end. Alternatively, or coupled with this first, sick sentiment, you could see conspiracy theories about how this was all a big US (and/or Israeli) plot to get an excuse to invade the Middle East. On the right-wing side of the spectrum, the unhingement was instead usually about how the US needed to get tough, and throw its military weight around – and, bizarrely, also cut taxes or the terrorists would have won. (Frequently, those most enamored with that sort of military adventurism were people who'd preferred to pursue a life of wealth and comfort rather than actually jeopardize their own bodies doing military service. See Roy Zimmerman's Chickenhawk for a biting satire of that attitude.)

Anyway, Steyn is an example of the "Happy Warriors" who are happy to exhort others to go fight the battles they consider so important that others do have to go fight them, but not quite so important that they actually need to pitch in themselves and risk their own hides. In his America Alone, Steyn puts forward some propositions that I'll take a look at. Unfortunately, there's not really space to take on the whole boook, which is so full of vicious attacks that I'd need more time than I have to go through them all, and which is also unfortunately not written in a particularly analytical style. Instead, Steyn seems to be using vitriol and insinuations to cover up the fact that he deals mainly in assertions and anecdotes, and very little in actual data. Instead, he tends to back up or support his assertions with, well, more assertions.

Basically, this is Steyn's thesis: Demographics is really the only important issue facing us today, and demographically, Muslims are out-breeding Europeans to the point that it's a slo-mo genocide taking place, leading to the extinction of Europeans and Muslims taking over the continent. (Let's leave aside, for the moment, the somewhat racist – or bigoted, if one of those people who like to use the rather transparent "How can it be racist when Islam's a religion?" counter-"argument" is reading this – belief implicit in his argument, that Muslims somehow can't be Europeans. Let's also leave aside the debunking the "Eurabia" myth has received, and instead look at Steyn's own arguments.)

In his eagerness to vilify people who've supposedly made the West "weaker" by, for instance, arguing that we need to be careful with the Earth's resources, Steyn mocks people like the Club of Rome because their worst-case scenarios haven't come to pass – though my own recollection of the Club of Rome (caution: which it is a couple of decades since I read) is that they conditioned their predictions with "if we keep increasing our consumption of resources and don't find new ones". Meanwhile, Steyn's own demographic disaster scenarios are – even if we ignore the above-mentioned debunking his numbers have received – dependent on him drawing out alleged trends into the future without any concern for the fact that they, like the Club of Rome predictions, are quite sensitive to outer factors that Steyn prefers to pretend won't influence events.

So, even within his own arguments, he's not being logical. Or, if you like, he's being either intellectually dishonest or incompetent. (Or both, which is certainly my bet.) He also occasionally pays lip service to the fact that the existence of violent Islamists – which it would unwise to deny – doesn't in any way mean that all or even a significant amount of Muslims are dangerous fanatics, and then proceeds to basically treat if not all so at least a majority of Muslims as if they're dangerous fanatics. Again, intellectual dishonesty or incompetence, or a combination (which is, again, my bet).

Steyn also blames "social democracy" – which to him seems to include social liberalism and any liberalism and conservatism that doesn't say "screw you" to people who need temporary or continuous assistance from society to get by and/or prosper. Apparently, in Mr. Steyn's world, not starving when you have a temporary or chronic lack of funds makes you weak and reduces your will to have children. Of course, the nations in Europe having the lowest birth rates are generally the ones who haven't gone as far in the so-called "nanny state" direction as the Scandinavian ones... In short, Steyn doesn't care to do any actual analysis when it's so much easier to just throw out assertions and vitriol. Again: intellectual dishonesty, incompetence, or both (and my bet remains the same as before).

In short, this book really sucks. It's a distasteful piece of bigotry and viciousness, "supported" by rich helpings of specious reasoning and unvalidated assertions, and it's a perfect example of why the American Right badly needs to sober up before it can be any sort of positive political force in the future. Unfortunately, with it being so delightedly drunk on oodles of money from thinktanks, billionaire cranks, and corporations looking to influence elections and policy, I don't expect that to happen in the forseeable future.


Anyway, at the end of the book, Steyn offers his solutions for the problem with violent political Islamicists and Middle East dictatorships supporting its spread. They're of two kinds: the surprisingly reasonable ones, which also happen to be what liberals and most democratic socialists believe in – like supporting women's movements, liberalization, standing up for liberal values at home and abroad, marginalization of human rights violators, decreasing dependence on oil dictatorships – and characteristically ethnocentric American exceptionalism stuff like killing off international organizations that aren't sufficiently US-dominated and using military power whenever the opportunity to do so presents itself.

Again, bleah.

Update: I went back and looked at this post after the massacre in Norway by the right-wing, Islamophobic nut whose rhetoric in his "manifesto" closely mirrors that of various hate-mongers like Steyn and his extreme-right-wing colleagues. Mr. Steyn and his Islamophobia-pandering and -profiteering colleagues are of course not directly responsible for the actions of any sicko who happens to share their views, and who seems to have read and admired the writings of many of them. However, Steyn et al are definitely directly responsible for their own writings with all those half-truths, lies and exaggerations – as well as all the hate, venom and insults they regularly spew out against what they see as their enemies.

That is enough to condemn them.

(I also encourage you to examine the intellectual content of the comments made here defending Steyn's book.)

söndag 15 maj 2011

Ursula Larsson: Landshövdingehusens Göteborg ("The Gothenburg of the Governor's houses")

During the 1800s, fire hazard was an ever-present specter, and to reduce the risk of having its city devastated by fire, Gothenburg ruled that houses made of wood may only be two stories high. Now, it was hard to build houses profitably in only two stories, and very, very expensive to build higher houses in stone or brick – especially considering that the wight would be problematic with the bad ground conditions of mainly clay. In 1875, Arbetarnas Byggnadsförening ("The workers' building co-op") requested permission to build three-story houses with the ground floor in stone and the top two floors in wood – essentially elevating the cellar above ground, one might say.

The city rejected their application, but on appeal to the County Administrative Board, that decision was repealed, and quite the number of houses were to be built according to this basic schema. From 1875, you didn't even need a special exception permit to build them, because by then they were declared OK in the city ordinance. In 1945, they were once again prohibited, since WWII had taught a horrifying lesson about the fires that could result from cities being bombed. Unfortunately, a number of them were torn down in the modernization mania of the 60s and 70s, but quite a few are fortunately still around.

Since they were built over a pretty long period of time – from the 1870s to the 1940s – the Governor's houses exhibit quite the variety of styles, from rather simple façades to the quite elaborated and decorated ones, depending on the era and the relative wealth of the area where they were built. Of course, in the end, Functionalism came and ruined everything as usual:

The book also includes a look at the relevant history of worker's housing in the era (if you're allergic to slight bias in favor of the Social Democrats, you might detect some of that, but I think if I could handle it so can you). It's worth a read.

lördag 14 maj 2011

I did this!

You have to be careful with what you tell Zero, as he's liable to take everything very literally...

Blogger ate my homework!

...so I have to repost my wonkish links collection. (This is an archive for my own benefit, so if your interests don't include American politics and economic/social policy, odds are you're better off skipping these links.)

 Tax cuts lose revenue.
No free lunch.

 DeLong's economic blogs.

 The effects of Bushonomics for the top 1 and 10 %, and the bottom 90%.

 Obama's house.


Comparing candidates' level of specificity.


Employee Free Choice: Democracy at Work.


 Krugman on Supply-side economics.

 Agencies that didn't believe SH had WMD.

 On Palin.

 The cleverness of Donald Luskin.

 Deficit causes: 42% tax cuts, 40% defense and security increases.

 Who went under and who survived vs regulation levels -- Dean Baker.

 Housing loans mainly for refinancing.

 Rove, Bush, & the minority mortgage meltdown.

 CRA not responsible for the financial meltdown.  See also. And.  And Westrich. And McClatchy. And Robert Gordon. And  here.

 Iraq war's costs in lives and money so not worth it.

 Führer Dönitz.

 Domestic, anti-abortion terrorism.

 Fannie & Freddie didn't cause the crisis.  Nor did CRA.

 Recession didn't start under Clinton.

 Card check and employee intimidation.

 Nordic countries, Canada & Japan also record very early births as live ones.

 Health care reform saves money.

 Delong on nonsense about Christina Romer.

 Amity Shlaes slapdown.

 Card check and union busting.

 Drudge falsehoods.

 Barney Frank and regulating FM & FM.

 Obama "getting his opponent thrown off the ballot".

 Actual New Deal unemployment numbers.

 Not Reagan's tax cuts but the interest rate cuts.

 Barney Frank supported stricter FM/FM regulation.  Also here.

 The myth about 70s scientists predicting global cooling.  Plus, George Will's an idiot.  TRULY an idiot.

 Phil Gramm doesn't deserve rehabilitation.

Barney Frank not opposing housing reform in 2004 and 2005.

 The NYT was right about the scientific debate on warming in the seventies.

 Secret ballot nonsense.

 Reagan's terrible environmental record.

Social upwards mobility among the poor in the US half of that in Germany or France, and one third of that in Sweden. Business Week, February 26, 1996, page 90.

 Cole & Ohanian nonsense about the New Deal.

 John Lott's hidden handgun & violent crime studies.  Mary Rosh.

What Barney Frank did.

 Joe Biden didn't plagiarize Neil Kinnock.

Federal revenue didn't double under Reagan, it increased 15%.

DHS document on Rightwing extremism, 2009. And  leftwing extremism, 2001. Also, Leftwing extremism, 2009.

US vs Europe productivity growth.

 Stiglitz: Iraq war will cost 3-5 trillion dollars.

Eric Alterman: Bush's war on the press.

 Mobility US vs Europe.

Why the Austrian Business Cycle theory is wrong.

Reagan and Kennedy tax cuts didn't pay for themselves.

March to Iraq war timeline.

 Tribute Swedish soldiers.

 HSI Network as GPO health care experts.

 Torture deaths.

Right-wing terrorist plots.

 Stimulus at work links.

 Krugman on weak economy, Japan and housing bubble in Aug. 2002.

Why warming lags CO2.

The US can grow itself out of debt.

Factcheck on the swiftboaters.

California taxes not all that high.

 Chait crushes Berkowitz on Obama's promises, health care and the economy.

 Brad DeLong on the recession size and stimulus effects.

Running some realistic numbers on high speed rail.

 Inheritance of inequality: wealth, race and schooling are important to the inheritance of economic status, but IQ is not a major contributor and, as we have seen above, the genetic transmission of IQ is even less important.

 Bush policies projected to lead to $1.2 trillion deficit.

 Krugman vs. Okrent.


 Visual rhetoric course.

Rush Limbaugh's racially charged remarks.

Superfreakonomics don't understand climate science.

Debunking the Eurabia myth.

US Iraq War Resolution.

 Econometrics problems -- abortion legalization & murder rates, concealed carry & violent crime, etc.

 Johnson decreased poverty.

 Harald Edelstam.

 Republican obstructionism on jobless money: three filibusters unless anti-ACORN amendment.

 Myths about the stimulus bill.

 Fact-checking Sarah Palin.

Hate crimes increase.

Origins of California's  budget problems, and of the  anti-immigrant Republican strategy.

Al Gore not guilty of inaccuracies and exaggerations.

President Obama isn't teleprompter-dependent.

Much of FY 2009 spending increases a result from legislation enacted in calendar year 2008.

Ronald Reagan raised taxes.

The only way to travel.

 Karl Rove’s Factually Challenged Housing Revisionism -- excellent.

No, it wasn't just, or perhaps even mainly, the surge.

Dean Baker eviscerates David Brooks. It's beautiful.

Evidence of manmade global warming.

Army suicide rate increases 2004-2008.

A debt reduction plan.

On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush’s two terms.

Robert Samuelson's an idiot.

Sources of the projected deficits.

 Peanuts as manga teens.

Tora Bora was a failure.

Progressive legislation dooming America throughout history.

1 000 000 Iraqi dead?

Republicans refused to negotiate on health-care reform.

Making German 9/11 victim look bad.

 Yemen brief: Instability = threat.

inheriting the recession that started in March.

Jobs, income and poverty during the Bush presidency.

Climate change om Mars?

Since commercial real estate was also in a bubble, blaming Freddie/Fannie/Community Reinvestment Act or predatory lending is false.

 Carter's speech established the strategic petroleum reserve, birthed the modern solar power industry, led to the insulation of millions of American homes, and established America's first national energy policy.

The Eurabia genre.

Rightwing myths and falsehoods about the Underwear Bomber.

 U.S. crime rates.

 Committee to save Social Security.
Brad DeLong  slays the Washington Post and the Fiscal TImes.

US contribution to defense not enough to explain how the Europeans can afford a welfare state.

The interactive map of Simpsons' Springfield.

WorldNetDaily's conspiracy theories.

Bush signed the American Dream Downpayment Act.

Scholars eviscerating "Liberal Fascism".

Case against New Black Panther wielding nightstick not dropped.

 Republican amendments to the Senate Health Care bill -- bipartisanship?
They had their chance.

O'Keefe's dishonest claims about ACORN.

Coward David Brooks held back his low opinion on  Sarah Palin.

Breitbart falsehoods about  ACORN videos. More such.

 Health care legislation not so  non-bipartisan.

Jonah Goldberg  eviscerated.

 Counting stimulus jobs proper and correct.

Obama's  excellent Harvard record.

Torture advocate Marc Thiessen  wrong about Abdulmuttalab, the Christmas/underwear bomber.
So are a lot of other  right-wing media creeps. And  again.

 Anti-abortion extremists and racists.

 Brad DeLong destroys the National Review.

Obama  didn't say that stimulus would end net job loss.

Bush reconciliation:  2.3 trillion in debt over ten years.

Donald Luskin is a  liar and an idiot. But  we knew that. More here.

Why  Lowry & Ponuru fail in their attempt to offer a comprehensive conservative manifesto.

 Glenn Greenwald slaughters the torture fans.

Right-wing attacks on  detainee attorneys.

 Predatory lending and the finance meltdown.

 More intelligent: Atheists, organized religion, non-literalists.

 Bush Admin Iraq lies.

Mitt Romney,  foreign policy genius.

Rove lies in his  memoirs.

Prisoners not waterboarded in the way  SERE training did it. No mere dunk in the water.

 Rep. Ryan's "budget fix" more wealth to the wealthy, no budget balancing.

 No consensus that Saddam had WMD -- see Jean Chrétien of Canada, Jacques Chirac of France, and Gerhard Schröder of Germany, for example.

 Hans Rosling's blog.

 Lew Rockwell and racially charged talking points.

Nothing in emails supporting Fox claim that  NASA's data "in worse shape".

 Reagan falsehoods.

 Veronique de Rugy's "study" that claimed that stimulus money went to Democratic districts is bogus.

Climate change skeptics' arguments  demolished.

Thiessen's  falsehoods.

DeLong slaughters  Austrian economics.

 DDT ban myth.

 Eric Cantor lies about Obama.

 Jim Gilchrist and the first amendment.

 Cold, detached president vs angry people.

 Keeping America White.

 Friends of Science.
More on Friends of Science.

Voter intimidation – Minutemen vs Hispanic voters.

Ronald Reagan quotes.

Modern racism, with  researched cases.

Effect of unemployment benefits on  unemployment.

European vs American  economic growth.

CIA, 2002: Iraq does not have  WMD.

 Stimulus effects.

Everything  Lord Monckton.

Energy subsidies  2002-2008 went to fossil fuels.

Reagan  raised taxes.

How to talk to a  climate skeptic.

Yes, it  is Bush's deficit.

Tim Wise on  conservative racism.

Saddam  not a threat.

Sherrod's audience's reactions  analyzed.

The truth about  Reagan's tax cuts.

Analyses and prognoses of the  Swedish economy. (Nordea)

 CBO: 3.7 million jobs from stimulus.

TARP and stimulus saved or created  8.5 million jobs.

Gore case  dropped.

 Anti-lynching bill.

 Nyamko Sabuni.

No, Mr. Beck, Jefferson  didn't sign documents "in the year of our Lord Christ".

The Laffer curve bends  where?

When government industrial policy  works: the more it is in step with a national or local economy’s comparative advantage, when it follows rather than tries to lead the market, when a government is dealing with areas where it has natural interest and competence, such as military technology or energy supply. The worst problems unfold when politicians intervene in purely private domains with short-term goals, bailing out old firms to save jobs or spending lavishly on white elephants.

Official development assistance, or  ODA, numbers. (Two ODA charts on file.)


9/11 books.

10 Republican lies about  the Bush tax cuts.

The Bush administration's responsibility for  the financial crisis.

Paul Begala calls out Ari Fleischer for his  lies.

For people needing sources of data:




Putting actual numbers into  the Laffer curve.

SD-kandidat  homohetsar.

 SD:s nazianstrukna kandidater och  religionsförbjudare.


"Many in the GOP  are racists".

 Hurricane tracking.

 Sverigedemokraterna unmasked.  Och här.  Rasistiska uttalanden  här.

It wasn't  Fannie and Freddie.

Disproving Barro on  stimulus efficacy.

The stupidity of Hayek's  The Road to Serfdom.

Stimulus money were  well spent.

 David Leonhardt: It's a good thing that bad insurers are driven out of business.

 Violence against women.

The Bush admin's  poverty record.

USA life expectancy low even when you take out infant mortality,  homicides, etc.

Tea Party  nationalism.

 Falsehoods basis for demands for investigations.

Tax cuts  don't pay for themselves.

No, they just don't.

Historical  budget data.

 Guns, God & Incitement

 Insurrection timeline.  Boehner's incitement.
Differences between  conservatives and liberals.

Jonathan Wells and  Darwinism.

The  Jack Cole blog.

 Ljungqvist 2010.

"Peaceful"  tea party member.

Where are the  thugs?

Conservatism is  bad for you.

Causes of the fiscal downturn  2009-2010.

Internal investigation  clears the DOJ Attorneys Of Wrongdoing In Handling Of NBPP Case.

No, no, no: Tax cuts  don't pay for themselves.

Lindzen, statistical significance, and  climate change.

Lies about  Social Security.

The Reagan tax cuts  didn't pay for themselves.

 Sharia bills.

Who is  Alex Jones.

Bush tax cuts analyzed.  Again.

Books about  Comics & Culture. Previous  report.

Paul Krugman on  surpluses.

 False equivalencies right-wing vs liberal vitriol.

Bush's lackluster hunt for  bin Laden.

 The real origins of the crisis.

 Heritage: Tax cuts magically creating growth retroactively.


 Tax cuts don't pay for themselves.
No, they don't, and economists agree.
They just didn't.

Fallacies II.

 No, Fanny & Freddie didn't cause the housing crash. Why do you ask?

 Reaganite delusions about "best growth".

Plus, old pics.

onsdag 11 maj 2011

Jim Shooter: "Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom: Troublemaker"

Jim Shooter is back. Now he's writing "Doctor Solar" for Dark Horse, and he's doing a very good job of it.

Physicist Phil Solar finds himself in the middle of a singularity when an experiment with a supercollider-generated micro black hole used to generate fusion power. In his last nanosecond of consciousness when shredded to quarks, he somehow took control of the energies swirling around him and remade himself – only younger and fitter, and with control over the energies that had threatened to destroy not just himself, but the world itself.

Or something like that.

Anyway, reshaping himself, and to some extent the time-space continuum, Doctor Solar damaged reality as we know it, generating anomalies that will come to haunt him. The first major threat created by this is the problem he needs to solve in Troublemaker. A writer of shoddy fantasy adventure stories gains the power to make his creations come alive. The first, a huge brawler named Leviathan, is an accident, but when he realizes what has happened seeing Leviathan on television wreaking havoc, the writer decides to make another of his characters, the impossibly curvy sexpot named Glow, come to life. She's a disappointment, though, because the "musky scent" he's equipped her with in the novels turns out to be so strong as to be a major turn-off.

So Doctor Solar not only has to deal with the major disruption of his own life that the accident (actually caused by sabotage) has caused – everybody thinks he's dead, and even apart from that, he's got issues to work through – he also has to track down the fantasy writer, Whitmore Pickerel, and tell him to can it. No more creature creation. Pickerel promises not to, and then, after Leviathan and Glow get together and have noisy sex in his apartment, creates a woman more to his own tastes – beautiful, kind and caring Susan. Then, he creates a protector to protect them against both Leviathan and Doctor Solar.

Only problem is, the protector turns out to be anything but. Instead, he's Mesopotamian god Moloch, come here to Earth to rule it and eat its children. He forces Pickerel to use his imagination to create an army for him with which to defeat Doctor Solar and take over the world, and also takes over Pickerel's newly-created ideal woman Susan as his own. And then he launches his war on Earth and Doctor Solar, and unfortunately, the latter is somewhat busy trying to sort out his feelings for a beautiful young co-worker to give the fight against Moloch his full attention...

In this book, Shooter shows his talent for creating complicated, interesting characters – both Phil Solar and Whitmore Pickerel are more than just cardboard stereotypes – and putting them in situations ripe with moral and other dilemmas. Shooter had a maxim that a character's conflicts was what revealed his/her character to the reader, and it's still a sound principle for storytelling.

He also – like he did very well in "Star Brand", in Marvel's abortive "New Universe" – explores the situation of suddenly gaining tremendous power, and does so in an interesting manner, revealing more and more about Phil Solar and his situation in the process. The trials and tribulations of Glow and Leviathan, trying to make their way in a world they didn't create, and didn't even really know about two days ago, is also interestingly depicted.

So all in all, this is very much worth your while. I have only two reservations. The first has to do with the artist of the first quarter of the book, whose artwork is unfortunately rather weak, consisting to a too-large extent of uninteresting talking heads. Then, Roger Robinson takes over the art chores with a Howard Chaykin-influenced style that works quite OK. The second is the casual raping of Susan by Moloch. It is not shown in pictures, but it's obvious that is what it is, and it does leave a sour taste in my mouth. I know very well that Moloch is supposed to be the ultimate evil and all that, but it is all too common for writers of fiction to throw in a casual killing or rape in order to establish what an evil character they're depicting – see Gladiator, Tombstone and a host of other films for examples of that – and I may be a bit too sensitive on the behalf of the fictional characters being fictionally killed, raped etc, but I simply don't like it. (See Women in Refrigerators for some of the consequences of this stereotypical method of writing. I don't think it has anything to do with misogyny; it's just that the majority of superheroes are men, so it's their girlfriends who take the heat when people around them get hurt by the inherent dangers of their trade – you tend to keep the main character, the superhero, alive for as long as possible, so if anybody'll die that'll have a tremendous negative impact on him, it's more likely to be his girlfriend than him.)

Anyway, recommended. Shooter is an excellent writer, and this does look like a promising series.