Monday, July 10, 2017

Yes, I Am Still Behind

Sadly, I'm still bogged down with work and with some health issues, but I'm going to try to get back to blogging - starting with my Liberty Con XXX report - as soon as I'm able. Please don't go away!

Friday, June 23, 2017

RIP, Stephen Furst: To Absent Friends...

Vir's moment in Sleeping in Light still destroys me every time -- thanks to Furst and his quiet yet heartfelt performance.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

RIP, Stephen Furst: A Blast-from-the-Past Analysis of Vir's Character Arc on B5

I originally wrote this analysis of Vir as a character more than a decade ago.

Coming of Age: The Growth of Vir Cotto

Beginnings: Capable of a “Well-Deserved” Humility

In the second season episode There All the Honor Lies, Vir reveals that his family sent him to Babylon 5 to be rid of him, and that previous to his assignment as Londo Mollari’s attaché, he had held a number of positions that were ultimately personally isolating or disastrous. Vir is, at the start, a failure by noble Centauri standards, fundamentally lacking the ruthlessness and ambition required for advancement in the royal court. Held in contempt by his family and ignored by his countrymen, Vir is also, I believe, a deeply lonely figure desperately seeking some place where he can fit in.

It is true that when Vir first arrives on Babylon 5 a fat, meek, clumsy, stammering young man in a seemingly perpetual terror of Londo, he is not much to look at. Still, even as early as The War Prayer, we see that there may be something more to Vir than his outer childishness- that he’s not beyond quietly holding a subversive notion or two. In a later episode, he is pegged as a radical for his beliefs on romantic love in particular, but the term “radical” is, in my opinion, inaccurate. Vir is too mindful of authority to wear that label.

A Reformer, Not a Radical

No where is Vir’s lack of radicalism more clear than in the second season, when he is faced with the central moral dilemma of his arc. Presented with the choice of rebelling against Londo outright versus seeking a change from within, he chooses the later. At every opportunity, Vir strenuously dissents from Londo’s course of action against the Narn, pleading with his superior to make a different choice. Yet still, while on Babylon 5, he obeys.

Many may understandably find this early caution frustrating. I, however, see it as a correct decision given the circumstance. All through the second season, Vir is negotiating from a position of powerlessness. Frank rebellion would’ve resulted in Vir being turned out into the wilds of obscurity or worse, leaving him subsequently unable to influence future events.

To be sure, there is little evidence to show that Vir is consciously influenced by these political considerations. Hands down, Vir’s principle motivations for staying the course are personal and emotional. Extremely uncertain of his own talents and capabilities, he hangs back. But even more importantly, he loves Londo and cannot bring himself to leave him behind.

(Jump cut for length.)

Monday, June 19, 2017

RIP, Stephen Furst: My Old Vir Fanfiction

Over the weekend, I was deeply saddened to learn that Stephen Furst passed away Friday due to complications from his diabetes.

Now hopefully, everyone who's reading this knows who this guy is. The news has generally referred to him as one of the stars of Animal House, but I will always remember him as Vir Cotto on Babylon 5 (and also as Elliot Axelrod on St. Elsewhere).

As I've mentioned in at least one earlier post, I was (and am) mad for Vir -- and Furst was the perfect actor to bring that character to life. Seriously: Who else would've been able to hold his own opposite Peter freakin' Jurasik, who was nothing if not larger than life?

For the next week, I'm dedicating this blog to Furst's memory. I'm not exacty sure what I'm going to do for each post just yet -- but in the meantime, allow me to share a link to some of the B5 fanfiction I wrote a decade ago that focused on Vir, Londo's stammering conscience:

AO3: The Works of "Hobsonphile"

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Podcast #4: Matt and I Talk DS9!

With this podcast, I'm starting a two-week moratorium on all things political. Because sometimes, you just have to have fun for once!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Rant: Stop with the False Equivalencies

No, "everyone" does not need to simmer down.

No, the right does not "do it too." Not as extensively and not with the same viciousness.

No, Sarah Palin's crosshairs map was not an invitation to shoot Gabby Giffords.  Everyone who is not an imbecile understands that it was a call to vote Giffords out of her office using a metaphor that was and is thoroughly typical of American political parlance. And while we're at it, cease the autistic screeching about the occasional Obama effigy. Though that is indeed an example of violent imagery targeted at a sitting president, such effigies were never hoisted by conservatives of note and were never condoned by the same.

The right was intemperate at times in its opposition to Obama. There was a lot of nonsense floating around that suggested he was not born in the U.S. and was secretly a Muslim. (Personally, I think he's just a practical atheist wearing a Christian skin suit, but that's neither here nor there.) There was talk of his being a tyrant -- and a traitor to boot. (Whereas I think he's just a hideously misguided red diaper baby who, yes, abused his power on several occasions through a lack of understanding of our Constitution.) And yes, in certain dark corners of the internet, there were trolls wishing for his assassination.

But overall, the Tea Party Movement and its offshoots, for all their flaws, were peaceful. I don't recall any incident in which a Tea Party protest devolved into a destructive riot. On the contrary, when Tea Partiers demonstrated against Obamacare and excessive taxation in general, they left their rally grounds cleaner than they found them. The vast, vast majority of these folks didn't seek out Obama supporters to harass or cudgel for disagreeing with the Tea Party's aims, and they didn't make excuses for anyone who did misbehave.

The same cannot be said about the left. While there are many on that side of the aisle (like the center-left liberals I follow on YouTube) who absolutely abhor political violence, there are also many who don't -- and the members of that faction are not as marginalized as their analogs on the right. In fact, the thuggery of Antifa and BLM protestors has been repeatedly rationalized by leftwing writers with sizable audiences.

The rightwing blogosphere has never seriously entertained the idea that it's okay to punch commies who've done nothing but espouse their lunatic views.

I have never seen a rightwing group flood a college lecture hall to shout down a speaker the right doesn't like. I've certainly never seen a rightwing group set a campus on fire to prevent a leftwing speech or teach-in from going forward.

I've never seen a rightwing celebrity pose in a photo shoot with a mock-up of a leftwing politician's severed head.

I've never seen conservatives endorse the harassment of ordinary leftwing Americans who are just trying to go about their business. No rightwinger has ever videoed himself screaming and hollering at a total stranger for displaying a Clinton campaign sign on a front lawn - or selling an LGBT flag in a discount shop - because he was confident his fellow rightwingers would think his tantrum was "awesome."

Rightwingers don't hit leftwingers first. They respond.

There is a difference between the left and the right -- a very real difference. The two sides are not equally at fault for our (currently) cold civil war, and to claim otherwise is utter foolishness.

Update: It's just come over the wire now that two Trump supporters have rushed the stage at the Shakespeare in the Park rendition of Julius Caesar in New York City. So, okay -- rightwingers now have one attempt to use the heckler's veto on their record. I think my general argument still stands, however. We're still looking at a difference in degree large enough to be considered a difference in kind.

Further Update: Please don't make a liar out of me, conservatives. I understand that you are frustrated by the asymmetry I described in the original post above. I understand that you're sick of being held to high standards while the left is getting away with bloody murder. I am too! But it's still wrong to try to silence the other side to "give them a taste of their own medicine." Surely we can think of a more creative way to inflict pain for bad behavior that does not involve jettisoning our principles. Please, for the love of God and free speech, use your imagination.

Update III: Yeah, what Nicki said.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Lower Standards Don't Help

I simply don't understand the left's craze for softening expectations in the name of so-called "equality." I don't see how this does anything other than heighten resentments between groups and discourage self-improvement.

Early yesterday morning, Sarah Hoyt linked to an article reporting Oxford's decision to let female history students sit exams at home to "close the gender gap." Like Sarah, I spit when I read nonsense like this. If there are gender-based achievement gaps, perhaps we should seek out the true source of those gaps and not simply devalue girls' first class degrees by rigging the final game in their favor. Seriously: What employer is going to look at a young woman's credential from Oxford now and not doubt that she's as capable as a similarly-credentialed young man?

In discussions of "privilege," I often hear feminists and minority leftists complain that their co-workers question their competence just because they are women or people of color. But why do you suppose that is? Could it be that affirmative action and other accommodations send an implicit message to the wider populace that "disadvantaged" populations can't hack it without special treatment and set-asides? The data paint a pretty clear picture: Affirmative action is not merely a tie-breaker. Some groups are being held to objectively lower standards. Did you really think people would fail to notice?

There are better ways to address different outcomes between groups than to abandon fairness and jigger the end results.

You can start, first of all, by forgetting about "learning styles" and "personal relevance" and actually teach - to every student - rigorous courses in literacy, history, mathematics, and science in the primary and secondary grades. Yes, black students can learn something from Shakespeare; W.E.B. Dubois certainly thought so, and nothing's changed in human nature since his age.

While you're at it, you can restore teachers' authority in the classroom by backing up their disciplinary decisions instead of questioning them at every turn. Don't assume without proof that imbalances in school suspensions and expulsions are the result of teacher and administrator bias, and don't ease up on the rules as a consequence of such an assumption. Every child, no matter his socioeconomic status, deserves to learn in a classroom free of disruption. Letting some disobedient minority kids off the hook to massage the numbers screws every other minority student who's actually trying to study.

Third, we have to stop pretending that all household structures are equally healthy. In reality, a lot of the "privilege" that leftist activists vociferously decry is the merely result of growing up in a two-parent family. If you have two involved parents around to check over your homework, monitor your grades, and read out loud to you before bed, you tend to do better in school. And when you do better in school -- well, the later dividends are obvious. Overall, we absolutely must tell the truth and start promoting marriage as a national ideal. Just as every child deserves an opportunity to learn in a quiet and safe environment, every child also deserves to have an intact family to lean on for emotional, financial, and intellectual support.

Fourth, we shouldn't tell kids that the cards are stacked against them. We should inspire them instead. Tell them how others in their particular situation sought out opportunity and rose above. Don't dwell on the "patriarchy" or "white supremacy." That only fosters learned helplessness instead of empowerment.

Fifth, don't reward young people for anything other than their actual achievements. Dispense with all prizes for good little girls and other favored "victims" and be honest for a change. No one can improve his skills without accurate and suitably critical feedback, so don't soft-pedal. If a novice writer's story is poorly conceived, tell him so. Don't shower him with trophies just because he happens to be black/gay/trans/whatever. Give him a chance to grow; don't nurture a complacent mediocrity.

For God's sake, people, look around. The left's program is clearly not working. Isn't it time we try something different?