Lazarus, Supreme Blue Rose, Women in Comics
October 1st, 2014

On my last trip to the comic shop I picked up the last few issues of Hawkeye and Lazarus and the first couple issues of a new Image title, Supreme: Blue Rose.

Hawkeye continues to underperform its magical first 12 issues. I suspect that writer Matt Fraction is a victim of his own success here. Hawkeye was so good that its success allowed him to start up three other books, so he’s now writing four series, simultaneously, and it shows.

Lazarus is, easily, my favorite ongoing title at the moment. Writer Greg Rucka has built what is, for my money, the novel and fully-realized post-apocalyptic world in decades. Lazarus takes place in a future where sovereign nation states have replaced by family dynasties. These dynasties are the outgrowth of corporations, which harnessed advanced technologies (in, for instance, genetics and pharmaceuticals) to displace traditional governments.

Anyhoo, these families became entangled in a world war, the end of which resulted in a partitioning of the globe under new borders–as well as a new, feudalistic social order. The title–“Lazarus”–refers to a kind of soldier that most of the families seem to have just one of: a Lazarus is a nearly-unkillable super soldier. And Rucka’s series centers on one of these creatures, a Lazarus named Forever, who begins the series by realizing that she might villain.

The level of detail Rucka has imagined here is awe-inspiring: He’s created a hundred years of history, detailed maps, and back stories for more than a score of the family dynasties. And these backstories are exhaustive. Each issue concludes with an encyclopedia entry’s worth of history on one of the families. The back cover then carries an advertisement for the fictional corporation that was the forerunner of the family dynasty. He’s even designed family crests for them all.

It all kind of boggles the mind and Lazarus is, I think, destined to be a land-mark HBO series at some point. I really can’t recommend it enough.

The final title I picked up was Supreme: Blue Rose, written by Warren Ellis. There’s good Ellis and there’s bad Ellis; after two issues I’m inclined to place this in the latter category. (Psychadelic tech daydreams tend not to work for me.) Yet it’s hard to put the books down because the art is so strikingly beautiful. It’s drawn by Tula Lotay and everything about it–from the pencils to the page compositions–is beautiful and fresh. I hadn’t heard of Lotay before (that’s just her pen name) and after looking around for her I came across a story about her in USA Today. In it was the following passage: “One of the appeals of the project for Lotay is that the women shine through in Blue Rose — a rarity in sci-fi.”

Which brings us to the final panel of the triptych: Can we please retire the idea that there are so few interesting female characters in comics? (Yes, I realize the USA Today story says “sci-fi,” but I think he’s being imprecise here and conflating a genre and a medium.)

All three of the books I just mentioned have female protagonists. (Hawkeye alternates issues centering on Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, the two titular Hawkeyes.) Most of the best comics of the last several years have had female protagonists: Queen and Country, Whiteout, Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men (which centers on Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde). Comic books are stuffed full of interesting female characters. Which is great! So how about we retire the idea of the “rare interesting female character”? It’s not descriptive in any meaningful way. It’s just a false trope that people reflexively reach for in order to underline how much they like something.

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Bryan Singer, Fox, Double and Triple Standards
April 18th, 2014

You may have heard that after years of whispered rumors concerning Bryan Singer’s unpleasant behavior toward young fellows, he’s now being sued for abusing a teenage boy who says that contemporaneous reports were made to the LAPD, but were dismissed without investigation. This is pretty serious stuff! If a priest were accused of this sort of thing, we would hope the Church would rush in and DO SOMETHING! Though of course we would all presume that the priest was innocent the way we presume that Singer is innocent. (After all, if Singer wasn’t innocent, surely he wouldn’t be filing a countersuit.)

Fortunately for Singer, the studio handling his latest film, has declared that whatever did or did not happen is really just a “personal matter” that they have no intention of addressing.

Which is absolutely the right thing to do. Singer’s personal behavior in this case has no bearing on his ability to serve Fox’s business interests or work within the community.

We should hope, however, that Singer has been put on on warning. Because if the discovery process finds that he gave money to Proposition 8, there’s going to be hell to pay. You can only expect society to tolerate so much.


Obamacare: An Elseworld’s View
November 20th, 2013

In this week’s edition of the Standard’s newsletter, I open by joking that now that Obamacare is imploding, Democrats have Republicans right where they want them. 

This morning, Salon’s Brian Buetler writes: “The Right’s in a Box: Here’s how the GOP loses the Obamacare fight.”


A Damning Assessment of the American Left
October 29th, 2013

From Ian Welsh, a progressive writer, in the course of explaining why the liberal blog movement failed:

Unlike the Tea Party, most left wingers don’t really believe their own ideology.  They put partisanship first, or they put the color of a candidate’s skin or the shape of their genitals over the candidate’s policy.  Identity is more important to them than how many brown children that politician is killing.

So progressives have no power, because they have no principles: they cannot be expected to actually vote for the most progressive candidate, to successfully primary candidates, to care about policy first and identity second, to not take scraps from the table and sell out other progressive’s interests.

Yowza. You could make lots of counter-arguments–starting with the fact that the Dean movement eventually elected the most liberal American president in modern history. Obama might not be as liberal as the progressive base would like–and certainly on issue such as Guantanamo, the NSA, and foreign policy in general, he duped them entirely. But even so; he brought gifts, too.

But what’s really interesting here is that this sounds like the kind of revisionist dissatisfaction which conservatives eventually settled on in regards to George W. Bush. (And you could make nearly all the same arguments about the conservative blogosphere too, I think.)

I’ve long suspected that the aftermath of Obama’s tenure will be a deep sense of ennui in American politics–and especially in the American left. I wonder if the Obamacare debacle isn’t the beginning of that.

(Jerome Armstrong responds with similar thoughts.)


The New Yorker and ‘What to Expect’
October 16th, 2013

Over the years, I’ve been pretty worshipful of the New Yorker. David Grann, who’s one of my favorite writers on the planet, hangs his hat there. Plenty of other good writers, too. David Remnick’s politics are not my politics, but I am very much a fan of his writing and have always thought that the book he puts together is, on the whole, as good as you could want for a middle-brow, general-interest magazine.

Well. In the latest issue, Elizabeth Kolbert does a roundup review of books on demographics, including What to Expect. Here are the two paragraphs she devotes to my book:

In the United States, the fertility rate is currently estimated at 2.06. This figure puts the U.S. ahead of all European nations except France, and right about at replacement level. Nevertheless, according to Jonathan Last, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, the country is facing doom by depopulation. At the start of “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster” (Encounter), he breaks the number down by race, income, and education. Black women have what Last terms a “healthy” fertility rate of 1.96. Hispanic women are “doing most of the heavy lifting,” with a rate of 2.35. White women, by contrast, are slackers. Their rate is 1.79, which makes them about as productive or, if you prefer, unproductive as the Dutch and the Norwegians. Poor women generally have more kids than middle-class women, while women who drop out of high school have more than those who graduate, and way more than those who earn advanced degrees. All this adds up, Last writes, to a “kind of reverse Darwinism where the traditional markers of success make one less likely to reproduce.”

Last has aimed his book at the same sort of readers who subscribe to The Weekly Standard. He describes himself as an “anti-abortion nut job,” lampoons the “feminist-industrial complex,” and laments a decline in marriage rates among the “lower classes.” Those who find Last’s politics less than congenial are likely to be less than convinced by his arguments. Among the problems he attributes to low fertility rates is that they tend to make countries reluctant to fight wars. Among the solutions he advocates is cutting back on higher education, thereby reducing its depressing influence on American fertility.

This is like one of those moments in the movies when the masked slasher taunts his victim: “Go ahead and pray to the New Yorker! Where is your god now?”

It’s hard to know quite where to start because in the space of 281 words, Kolbert moves briskly from being confused, to uncharitable, to dishonest. For example, I wrote an entire book about the challenges low fertility rates pose for societies and what does Kolbert take away? That I think one of the “problems” with low fertility rates are that they makes countries “reluctant to fight wars.”

How could Kolbert possibly come away with that interpretation? I suspect she’s looking at this paragraph, from page 28 of WTE:

[A]n older society with fewer children will find it difficult to project power in the wider world. America’s military spending is already loaded down by retirement benefits. The Pentagon now spends 84 cents on pensions for every dollar it spends on basic pay. And whatever form our future military does take, families with just one child will be less willing to accept military casualties. The loss of a child will represent not just a tragedy, but in most cases, the end of the family line. As David Goldman ruefully notes, “A people without progeny will not accept a single military casualty.”

This paragraph, however, is about the specific problem for global stability caused by America’s inability to project power. Or, if you’d rather Kolbert’s formulation, America’s reluctance to fight wars.

However, in the next two paragraphs, I explain how we might also see the possibility of a geriatric peace as one of the benefits of low fertility. Here they are:

There is reason to believe that low fertility has had a pacifying effect on Europe, and although it is a complicated question, the general pattern holds when one glances across the globe. Countries frequently at war tend to have high fertility rates. Perpetually war-torn Rwanda, for instance, has a fertility rate of 5.43, one of the highest in Africa. Afghanistan, home to three generations of near-continuous conflict, has a fertility rate of 6.8, the highest in Asia. The Palestinian territories, a hotbed of violence, have a fertility rate of 4.7, one of the highest in the Middle East.

By contrast, even in unstable regions, the countries with relatively low fertility rates tend to be more peaceable. Mauritius, South Africa, and Gabon have the lowest fertility rates in Africa, and are among the continent’s most stable nations. Israel and Qatar have the lowest fertility rates in the Middle East and are two of the least belligerent states in the neighborhood. In volatile South Central Asia, the lowest fertility rate is claimed by Kazakhstan, a stable, modernizing country.

I’ll let readers decide if they think Kolbert’s characterization of my view of fertility rates, war, and peace is either accurate or fair.

To pick another example, Kolbert writes that “Last has aimed his book at the same sort of readers who subscribe to The Weekly Standard. He describes himself as an ‘anti-abortion nut job’ . . .” Again, the context here suggests something very different from what Kolbert is presenting to readers. Here’s the actual passage from page 59:

Before you start flipping ahead, let me make a promise. Yes, I’m one of those anti-abortion nut jobs who thinks that every embryo is sacred life and abortion is killing an innocent and blah-blah-blah. But when it comes to abortion, most Americans aren’t crazies like me—they think abortion should be, in essence, legal, but somewhat restricted, and rare. So without my pushing judgments of any kind, let me just give you the brief demographic tour as to how abortion has affected American fertility. . . .

Then there’s Kolbert’s use of “scare quotes” in the passage on how I  lament “a decline in marriage rates among the ‘lower classes.’” As if the implosion of the marriage culture among the less-educated and less-wealthy isn’t true because a conservative is saying it. Perhaps she wouldn’t have felt the need for scare quotes if the information was coming from a fellow liberal, such as Isabel Sawhill at Brookings. So here’s Sawhill on the subject, just in case it makes Kolbert feel more comfortable: “marriage is displacing both income and race as the great class divide in America.”

One gets the sense that for Kolbert the only part of What to Expect that actually registered with her was the information that I work at The Weekly Standard. That was the cue she needed to know what to think.


Weiner Night at the Improv
August 9th, 2013

Call me crazy, but Anthony Weiner may have just won my vote.

Seriously–he’s really good here. I don’t quite get what’s supposed to be scandalous about this.


Meanwhile, over at First Things . . .
July 25th, 2013

Rusty Reno has an . . . extraordinary essay about the magazine’s future.

And Eric Cohen has an equally extraordinary response.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an exchange like this in a magazine of letters. And I’m not quite sure what to make of it.


Conservative Concern-Trolling at the Atlantic
June 16th, 2013

I enjoy Molly Ball’s work normally, but this piece from her about how social conservatives need to get with the times is uncharacteristically naive.

Ever since Republicans got clobbered in the last election, some have suggested they dial back some of their hard stances in the culture war. The College Republicans, for example, commissioned a study that concluded that young voters see the party as fusty and old-fashioned, and urged it to get with the times on issues such as gay marriage. America may not be keen on free love and abortion on demand, but neither are voters clamoring for a party that wants to restrict access to contraception and keep women out of the work force.

And yet Republican politicians do not seem to have gotten the message.

I’m pretty sure that no one who actually understands politics finished watching Mitt Romney job-jobs-jobs–we’re talking about jobs!–campaign and came away thinking, Yup; Republicans lost because they wouldn’t stop with their crazy Bible thumpin’ again. But don’t take Romney’s word for it–look back at the contemporaneous reporting from the Obama campaign. Obama made a couple tactical war-on-women stands, but for the most part his campaign consisted of hammering Romney over income inequality. In fact, you might remember 2012 as the least culture-war presidential campaign of modern times.

Except, perhaps, for 2008. When Republicans nominated another candidate who had absolutely nothing to say on social issues and intentionally stayed away from them for the duration of the entire race. Which, by the way, turned on the collapse of Lehmann Brothers. Not gay marriage. I know, I know–it’s hard to remember that just five years ago gay marriage wasn’t the single most important issue in the history of the Republic. Weird, huh?

Also weird–if social conservatives are so dominant, why did the GOP nominate Mitt Romney and John McCain to be their standard bearers? And why is everyone so hot for Chris Christie in 2016? And why . . . oh, nevermind.

Look, this isn’t to say that double-barreled conservatives would have fared better in 2008 and 2012. Would Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum have beaten Obama? I wouldn’t have taken either of those guys without getting odds.

But the foundation of Ball’s argument–that the GOP is in thrall to the women-hating mouth-breathers–is such obvious silly, progressive CW, that I’m kind of disappointed to see her falling for it.



Blast from the Past
May 16th, 2013

Just a reminder: This was the high-water mark of the Romney campaign.

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Trick Question
May 3rd, 2013

Byron York goes and plays with the numbers and makes a case that relatively few people have said out loud since November. Here’s the question:

You’re Mitt Romney and it’s October 31, 2012 and a witch comes to you and says, “I can help you win 72 percent of the Hispanic vote or give you an extra 4 points of the white vote.” Which one do you pick?

Looking at the raw politics of the immigration debate, it’s amazing to me that more GOP pros haven’t asked themselves some version of this and then bothered to run the numbers to find out which is best for them.


Tagg for Senate!
February 4th, 2013

You know, after thinking it through for 10 minutes, I kind of welcome the idea of Tagg Romney running for Kerry’s Massachusetts Senate seat. I mean, why not?

It looks like this Tagg thing is going to happen sooner or later, so why not just get it out of the way now? I mean, it’s not like anyone ever turned a blow-out Senate loss in Massachusetts into the springboard for a national political profile just because they had barrels of money.

(Get it? “Tagged as”?)


The Bright Side of 2013
December 24th, 2012

Courtesy of Galley Friend J.T., comes Tagg Romney explaining why Mitt Romney spent the last six years running for president:

“He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run,” said Tagg, who worked with his mother, Ann, to persuade his father to seek the presidency. “If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside. He is a very private person who loves his family deeply and wants to be with them, but he has deep faith in God and he loves his country, but he doesn’t love the attention.”

Yup, all those shots across the bow of Mitch Daniels in the newspapers where reporters somehow tracked down Jason Horowitz–who knows where they came from. Ben Smith said it was from a “rival campaign aide.” Probably from the Santorum or Pawlenty oppo shop. Goodness knows how much money those guys were spending on oppo. Not good ol’ Mitt.

Sure, Barack Obama’s reelection means higher taxes, continued unseriousness about debts and deficits, further expansion of an already unsustainable welfare state, and further war against religious liberty and the role of religion in the public square.

But on the other hand, imagine how insufferable it would be if we had to listen to stuff like that every day for the next four years. And pretend that Tagg-2024 was a real possibility.

So Happy New Year.