Morning Ed: Arts & Entertainment {2017.09.25.M}

[AE1] I saw a Scooby Doo movie and was really disappointed when the ghosts turned out to be real. They missed the point of Scooby Doo, which is that ghosts aren’t real and aliens aren’t aliens!

[AE2] Who says that right-wing libertarian art doesn’t sell? It sells, baby!

[AE3] This makes me sad, in more ways than one.

[AE4] Comrade Detective is still pretty high on my to-watch list.

[AE5] This is a fairly compelling argument. (The Philadelphia thing was really, really bad.)

[AE6] On the question of whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not, we can see where the comic book comes down.

[AE7] Rich Cromwell argues that Rachel and Joey should have ended up together on Friends. I never felt that. Ross and Rachel were both not very good people who were probably best being not very good people together.

[AE8] The case for the villain (Billy Zane as Cal) in Titanic.

[AE9] Alex Knapp writes about how Doctor Who has so much staying power. I watched it with rapt attention when I was young, but can’t remember anything about it and haven’t watched any of the new series.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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98 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Arts & Entertainment {2017.09.25.M}

  1. AE2: YA dystopian fiction only counts as right-wing libertarianism if you’re really far left. The moral message here is so anodyne that either right wing capitalism really follows from anodyne premises (which isn’t necessarily a conclusion that I would want to reject) or the people who so vehemently object to those messages are batshit crazy.

    Let me get a bit platonic here and make the following observation. Suppose we take the author’s worry seriously and that YA dystopian fiction could influence minds towards accepting some ideology. If I could just as easily write dystopian fiction which leans left as fiction which leans right, it seems that whether a fictional dystopia is a result of out of control social planners or out of control capitalism is purely up to the will of the author and not whether we have good reason to believe that one or the other is more likely to create dystopia. But if such fiction can influence young minds and since we have good evidence that later empirical information only serves to reinforce pre-existing ideological biases, the ability of these authors to permanently ideologically influence people is more than a bit worrying.

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    • This habit of liberals writing dire warnings regarding the right-libertarian sci-fi works is lame. I mean, really lame. Right up there with evangelicals issuing dire warnings about Harry Potter, although without the calls for book bans at school libraries (so far).

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        • Open up with a No True Scotsman?

          I know what Vikram said, but the pieces I’ve been seeing are not being written by folks who I would consider “far left”. They might be farther left than you are, but that doesn’t make them far left.

          PS How does it feel to get lumped in with political ideologies you find non-congruent. Annoying as hell, isn’t it? Remember that feeling the next time I take you to task for that.

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      • On the one hand, there have been quite a few right-libertarian sci-fi works of varying degrees of ridiculosity[1,2], and science fiction is (or at least was) something of a gateway drug for the ideology. Not that it’s ever been that effective, since I read quite a bit of it growing up and never really caught the bug.

        On the other hand, if I were an advocate of libertarianism, I can’t think of a better rhetorical gift than some nincompoop writing a column for the Guardian that equates any dystopia that isn’t explicitly capitalist as “libertarian propaganda”. The left has an amazing talent for coming up with astonishingly self-defeating arguments.

        [1] And there’s even a science fiction award just for libertarian SF! Still, they seem to give the award to authors who are all over the ideological spectrum, which I think is kind of neat even as I think the basic idea is pretty silly.

        [2] My go-to example is Fallen Angels, by the late, great Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Michael Flynn. Its politics are so over the top it’s almost offensive, but it’s also weirdly good natured and goofy, to the point of being a rather endearing self-parody.

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        • The problem is that most dystopias are dystopias because they take place in ordered societies that are very good at running things and the only exception is 5% or so of the misfits.

          And, of course, the story’s protagonist is one of the misfits.

          While it might be possible to make a right-wing dystopia, the focus of the story on the misfit who wants to fight for a society where *EVERYBODY* can fit in… well, that’s going to come across as libertarian crap.

          The problem is that if you want to make the society *REALLY* dystopic, you’ll have the government focus a chunk of its propaganda efforts on how much everybody in charge loves the people they rule over and how hard they work to make everybody feel like they belong and, hell, at that point, it’s obviously a left-wing dystopia.

          If you want a story that isn’t libertarian, you need it to be about societies instead of individuals. The second you make it an individual fighting against a society… congrats. Libertarian propaganda and the guy who yells “GET BACK IN LINE, WEIRDO!” is going to be either a bad guy who has to be converted to seeing the merits of libertarian individualism or, worse, a bad guy who never could be converted to see the merits of libertarian individualism.

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          • There are a couple ways of making libertarian dystopias. One, of course, is to basically project the, “Have fun in Somalia!” argument into the future and recasts it as, “Have fun as one of Immortan Thiel’s bloodbags!”

            The other, of course, is to embrace the idea that corporations will run everything even more than they do, and that will suck even more than it does now. The author of the column ties that to Neuromancer, and fair enough, but The Running Man, which is one of the clearest predecessors of The Hunger Games, did the same thing.

            It was kind of an ’80s thing. Privatization-as-futuristic-nightmare was a major element in Robocop, too. Maybe it was a natural reaction to the rise of Thatcher and Reagan, or a sort of cultural premonition that Communism as a global threat was not long for the world.

            If you want more generally right-wing dystopias, there are quite a few out there.

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            • The world run by corporations is generally how you write a libertarian dystopia. Rather than making us free to live life as we please, you have a society where a society where business people and corporations dominate everything and there is no escape. The other way is the Mad Max/Fist of the North Star scenario where absent a strong government, real anarchy is just the strong dominating the weak.

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              • Yep, although you still get the libertarian-ish hero, because at it’s core, libertarian is about deconstructing abusive/oppressive power structures (power that restricts liberty for it’s own purposes – even though some ‘libertarians’ seem to forget that part of it).

                So no matter what you do, you have to have a power structure that is abusive or oppressive in some obvious (to the reader) way. The desperate struggle of an individual against the Theocracy That is Generally Pretty Chill About Nearly Everything is gonna require someone to resurrect Sir Terry to pull it off.

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                  • Sure, but my point is that if you want to write an anti-libertarian piece from a right or left perspective, all you need is a plucky individual(s) fighting against your big bad of choice, and if you squint hard enough, you can call them a libertarian.

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                    • Hmm. In a corporate or warlord dystopia, you can have a group of heroes trying to reestablish civil society and government so that obscenely wealthy or powerful individuals do not dominate the weak and the poor. That wouldn’t be libertarian unless you squint very hard. A story about a collective or cooperative agricultural village like a kibbutz holding out asking marauding barbarians isn’t libertarian.

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                      • That depends a lot on how you view libertarians, doesn’t it? I guess if you associate libertarian with anarchists or free market absolutists, then yeah, but then you get to paint a picture of the big bad being libertarian.

                        Win-Win! Either way you get an anti-libertarian piece out of it!

                        Again, these kinds of analysis are incredibly lame. Just pick your target and set your framing and viola’, hit piece ready to go. “This incredibly popular bit of fiction is actually X propaganda! Click here to have all your priors confirmed!”

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            • Sure. Just cast the whole “Warlordism is Libertarianism” thing and hope that nobody takes a deep breath and gives a nasally “WELL ACKTUALLY”.

              It’s not that I’m looking for a right-wing dystopia, it’s more that I’m looking for a dystopia that doesn’t have a libertarian protagonist.

              You can have right-wing dystopias (good call on Cyberpunk being a right-wing dystopia), you can have left-wing dystopias (or you could if they weren’t all actually right-wing dystopias where the leaders were just *PRETENDING* to be left-wing), but you can’t have a dystopia where the heroic individual standing up to the society isn’t a rugged individualist standing up to a society.

              Because that will come across as just so much libertarian crap.

              What you need is something like a story about societies absorbing other societies with the help of a few plucky intellectuals who floated to the top because the society is a meritocracy and I mean a *REAL* meritocracy. None of this “we overlooked this bunch of virtues” crap that would let a plucky individualist fight against a totalitarian society’s hidden weakness.

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              • I think an example where the protagonist isn’t clearly a plucky individualist is Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which also has a pretty strong claim on being my favorite dystopia.

                There’s also Gateway, which is something of a standard ’60s/’70s overpopulated dystopia, and the protagonist is a whiny dipshit complaining to his computerized therapist. Great book despite (or because?) of that.

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                • I’m sure we can go back in time and find plenty of black and white books on 8-track that would make good examples of what we’re looking for. They’d have to have been written when “right-wing” and “left-wing” meant completely different things (“freedom of speech!”, for example) but I’m sure they’re back there.

                  They should republish those. Maybe they’ll resonate with the kidz today.

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                  • Did you know that Neuromancer is over thirty years old?

                    In that time, “The sky over the port was the color of a television, tuned to a dead channel,” has gone from meaning it was a flickering, staticky gray, to a lovely deep blue, to absolute pitch black.

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                    • “absolute pitch black” with a giant 404 error writ large in the heavens.

                      No wonder they are so confused. But, that’s actually a good point about reading literature… sometimes we lose our way for the most innocent reasons.

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                  • Parable of the Sower is reprinted and selling like crazy these days actually (I mean, like crazy for ancient backlist). A number of kidz these days have been checking it at my library too.. even ordering it through the consortial system.

                    I know you were snarking, but Octavia Butler is both amazing and relevant. You might want to read it ….

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                  • I think I have an 8-track of David Eddings’ Belgariad series.

                    There’s something different there, but I’m not quite sure what; maybe Mass Society and The Singularity (TM).

                    I din’t read the Katniss books (saw one, maybe two of the movies) was there any sort of revival of the Districts as cultures/ways of life? Or was it just topple the head and let the pieces fall as they may?

                    Seems that a “conservative” story could be told about why District 12 was worth fighting for… and how District 12 eventually came to appreciate the virtues of District 6, and so on.

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              • Sure. Just cast the whole “Warlordism is Libertarianism” thing and hope that nobody takes a deep breath and gives a nasally “WELL ACKTUALLY”.

                A bit of a tangent, but isn’t it interesting that a certain ideological camp has negative stereotypes about people who correct misconceptions?

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        • Exactly. Most ‘libertarian’ pieces are kinda over the top because, as gets at below, you need a big bad and a plucky hero, and that plucky hero is going to seem libertarian-ish (if you squint a bit, or look through your fingers, or wear libertarian colored glasses, or something) when viewed against the big bad.

          I mean, if the big bad is left dystopia, the plucky hero won’t be looking to establish a Westboro compound; and if it’s right-dystopia, the socially conscious aware commune is quite a ways down the road from getting out from under the rule of the big bad. Strike the middle (no dystopian society) and the plucky hero will be some variant of an individualist, or part of a small team working together, because those are the kinds of stories that sell well[1].

          [1] Exceptions abound, of course, because a good author can go off-formula and still sell books.

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        • I suspect the issue with dystopia is who do you distrust more: corporations or government? Cyberpunk always seemed left leaning to me because the bad guys were usually multi-national corporations and government seemed non-existent.

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        • [1] And there’s even a science fiction award just for libertarian SF! Still, they seem to give the award to authors who are all over the ideological spectrum, which I think is kind of neat even as I think the basic idea is pretty silly.

          Charles Stross, Scottish Socialist, has won that one. :)

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    • Entirely missed by [AE2]:

      It’s usually a category error to treat a fictional dystopian state in YA fiction as representing the actual state when interpreting the themes of the book.

      Metaphor exists. Plot devices and narrative tropes are a thing. A work of science fiction typically speaks to its audience by reflecting the present, not some distant future. And that’s especially true for YA science fiction, given that youth aren’t exactly know for their long-term outlook.

      So a powerful state in a YA book might represent the power of the state, but more likely the book is about some other worry and the state is just used as a narrative element to empower that other worry. I think The Hunger Games is a great example. It’s a story about our media culture, class, and the way the they interact. The state exists in the book only to justify and support a story about a televised blood sport. An interpretation of Hunger Games as libertarian because the state is an enemy ignores that.

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      • Especially given that such states are often so shallowly constructed and represent caricatures of government and government officials.

        I mean, if you even scratch the surface of the government in The Hunger Games, you have to really start wondering how it managed to not utterly implode long before 70 years rolled around.

        The books that are true critiques of government have thought long and hard about how such a government would persist.

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  2. AE1: Scooby Doo ventured into the supernatural is real in the 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo from the 1980s. The skepticism of the original was probably do to some assumption on children’s entertainment at the time of its creation. The original Scooby Doo also appeared when the belief that science could solve all of humanity’s problems was relatively widespread. Part of this pro-science outlook was a skepticism towards the irrational.

    An interesting side note, before Universal released its version of Dracula during the 1930s, all American horror movies ended up with Scooby Doo ending and the monsters were ordinary human criminals pretending to be supernatural beings for their own gain.

    AE2: Murali is right. The protagonists in YA dystopia might fight against government but they aren’t doing so for the free market. Their motivations seem more anarchist or simply rebellious. The dystopian governments aren’t populated by well-meaning but misguided liberal social engineers. This article was dumb.

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    • AE1: I think there is an alternative explanation for Scooby Doo in that the Comics Code Authority precluded depictions of vampires, werewolves and zombies, and while the CCA didn’t apply to TV, a comic series was published in conjunction with the TV show. Not that I would reduce it solely to a matter of the Code, the genre of occult detective has always included those who find natural explanations for apparent supernatural mysteries.

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  3. [AE3] Why doesit make you sad? He wanted it. He called out for it in his will. He desire was granted by his executor. RIP Terry.

    [AE9] I grew up watching Doctor Who. That was during the Tom Baker years. Following doctors have been a bit boring. I got away from it for a while when there wasn’t any new shows on, back when it was on PBS, but now, the stories seem less compelling. Maybe they lacked the “camp” that Tom provided. Anyway…..

    ATTENTION ATTENTION ATTENTION: I’m interested in obtaining the complete Tom Baker Doctor Who episodes on DVD. I’d love to get them all in one package rather than try to buy each and every episode. I cannot find anything other than the individual episodes and some combos. If you “know a guy”, let me know. Any help much appreciated.

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    • Btw everyone should read the original tweetstorm re Rachel & Joey (from a different author, but linked) that serves as the backbone of this piece.

      But everyone should watch the video about how Johnny was the good guy and Danielsan instead of this poor attempt on Cal from Tiantic. (Choice comment – “the direction to sweep the leg was because the Cobra Kai dojo sensei wanted to avoid CTE injuries”)

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      • Shipping and going against the creator’s romantic choices for characters is something about fandom I really don’t understand. People seem to invest a lot of emotions in these couples and it kind of seems really unhealthy psychologically speaking. Based on the amount of heat in shipping debates, more than a few people are treating it as something more than light-hearted fun. It makes me wonder if the Frankfurt school was onto something when they denounced mass media.

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        • I wouldn’t call Joey/Rachel ‘shipping’ as Joey and Rachel did actually go on a date or two, and Joey did actually start to have romantic feelings for Rachel.

          But since this all occurred near the show’s endgame the Friends people didn’t really lean into as much as they could have, and everything wraps up with Ross and Rachel together more or less seamlessly, as everyone expected. In the moment, very few people were thinking ‘oh, Rachel and Joey should have ended up together’.

          Now, if you want a fandom that is correct, and showrunners that are wrong, look at How I Met Your Mother. In that one, the show leaned way way into Robin and Barney – all the way, in fact – but wound up blowing it all up in the very end just to get their desired resolution of Ted and Robin.

          Friends you can almost make the excuse that it was a product of its time, but with HIMYM, almost exactly 10 years later, there was really no excuse to make Robin a crazy cat lady (excpet with dogs) for 15 to 20 years waiting for Cristin Milioti to die.

          (the problem with HIMYM is that they wound up having to write for about 3 more seasons than they had planned or had material for, given their desired endstate)

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  4. [AE5] This is a fairly compelling argument: One had better hope this is not how heaven works… otherwise maybe 144,000 is the right number after all.

    [Ae2] They support one of the key ideologies that the left has been battling against for a century: the idea that human nature, rather than nurture, determines how we act and live. These books propose a laissez-faire existence, with heroic individuals who are guided by the innate forces of human nature against evil social planners.

    Is the framing of premise correct?

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  5. AE9: This piece is largely blather. Yes, the ability to switch lead actors is a strength. The show would be considerably weakened had it spent the past forty-some years starring the increasingly decayed corpse of William Hartnell. A more serious examination of the show’s longevity would give prominence to how it succeeded with a minimal budget. This reduced the pressure for cancellation, and the producers managed to make a virtue of it. I was deeply skeptical of New Who largely because of its having a budget. I feared it would be like the indie director who is hired to make a big-budget Hollywood film with predictably uninteresting results. Which leads to my second point about Dr. Who’s longevity: how it managed this transition.

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  6. AE4: The American Conservative writer was really hurt that people decided to go aganist the jingonism of 1980s Hollywood. I don’t think Comrade Detectives creators were serious about the no crime lines, of course they knew Romania had crime. That’s the point! The series is meant to be about the dangers of propaganda including our own.

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    • I think that Comrade Detective’s point was merely having a fun thought experiment in what Cold War propaganda-entertainment would look like from the Communist side rather than the dangers of propaganda in itself. They feel flat in some ways because they imagined that the average true believer in Romanian would more or less be like the average true believing American with a different ideology but it was partially funny.

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  7. [Ae2] This line stood out for me:

    My friend thought teenage dystopian fiction to be a great improvement on the Harry Potter cult that had been filling children’s heads with right-wing dreams of public schools and supernatural powers.

    Eh? Right wing? I thought right-wingers hated HP?

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    • Public School in the UK equals our private school. I also suspect that the fundie wing in the UK is a lot weaker than in the US. The author seems primarily concerned about teaching children that some people are just part of a natural elite and those most be shown deference.

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    • The Evangelicals do but at the height of Harry Potter popularity, there were a few liberal articles about how Harry Potter installs bad aristocratic values in today’s kids because of its boarding school setting among other things. The Far Left, and by this I mean real radicals like Marxists and anarchists, also have a long tradition of not liking fiction with magical or supernatural elements because they believe it leads people astray from the truth of materialism. The Frankfurt school scholar Theodore Adorno even wrote a short paper called Theses Against Occultism to elaborate on this. While China isn’t really Communist any more, many of the censorship rules that govern movies in China have rules against too much supernatural things on film.

      Its remarkable how many people on the Far Left and Far Right believe that people generally can’t be trusted to distinguish between fact and fiction and need to be guided in what is right and true. It shows remarkably little faith in people.

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      • many of the censorship rules that govern movies in China have rules against too much supernatural things on film.

        They must be very inconsistent with that, because tons of their action movies have supernatural elements in them. Perhaps they just censor non-Chinese supernatural elements?

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            • Chinese political theory had a strong paternal element since the Han Dynasty decided to put Confucianism into practice as a governing ideology. The Communists didn’t really change that. Confucianists can get very secular and have little use for supernaturalism just like Communists. By censoring out certain types of supernaturalism along with crime and sex, the CCP is just following a Chinese tradition.

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          • When a PC dies on a non-Chinese World of Warcraft server, the location is marked by a skeleton. On Chinese servers, it’s a headstone.

            They also cleaned up the undead – no exposed bone, that sort of thing. I’m drawing a blank on actual ghosts in WoW – they mostly deal with it via flashbacks, memories, mental projection, or the like.

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      • There is a Left tradition of critiquing Tolkien as supporting classes in society. The Shire is an idealized English countryside, with the Bagginses as country squires and the Gamgees as their loyal tenants. That both sides accept the relationship and take their mutual obligations seriously is beside the point, or if anything makes the critique more pointed. I would have been surprised had there not been similar critiques of Harry Potter.

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        • I think the portrayal of House Elves may soften that a little bit, but in general there’s a lot of frustration on the left with J. K. Rowling [1], so I’m sure it’s come up somewhere.

          [1] They question her commitment to Corbynmotion, among other things.

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        • The critique is roughly the same but aimed at the British boarding school system and what the Left sees as the inherently hereditary aristocratic nature of the wizard world in Harry Potter because you have to be born a wizard or witch. You can’t train for it like being a lawyer, doctor, or engineer.

          The anti-fantasy part of the English speaking Left is kind of fascinating. As far as I can tell, and this might be only because of my language limitations, you don’t have a bunch of Japanese leftists/nerds damning manga and anime to hell for supporting reactionary values. Nerd culture seems basically irrelevant to Leftists in the European continent or Latin America. In the English speaking world, there seems to be a small but vocal segment of leftist nerds that utterly despise things they see as reactionary and argue against them voraciously.

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      • Anything sufficiently popular is going to generate articles trying to claim it as an ally or denounce it as a great evil. And it it’s got hundreds of pages and multiple layers, then those articles may even feature legitimate points.

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  8. “He was a little bit misunderstood. I wasn’t the iceberg. I didn’t drown 2,000 people,” Zane himself said last year,….

    Jack pursues Rose with reckless abandon and seems most interested in recalling all the French girls he’s drawn before.

    OK, I’m confused, who’s the villain? The iceberg, or Jack? Who’s drown more girls?

    Oh, He has drwn more girls. Got it.

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    • The important thing to notice is that the window of the debate has shifted.

      “Is health care something that the Federal Gummint ought to be in charge of?”

      The answer is now an unequivocal “Yes”.

      The only debate is over *HOW* the Federal Gummint ought to be in charge of it.

      The debate over “whether” has been settled.

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      • I don’t think that’s been the debate, to be honest. Almost everyone other than Paul Ryan and Rand Paul believe that government should be part of healthcare. Almost everyone believes that medicaid and medicare and the CHIP program ought to be preserved. So the current “debate” wasn’t about policy. It was about politics, and in fact that politics mattered more to GOP politicians than policy regardless of the policy implications. (Which is why conservatives rejected the GOP in the presidential primary.)

        The failure of Republican R/R doesn’t entail single payer, tho, which literally has no chance in hell of passing, and Dems are making a big mistake following Bernie’s lead on it, imo. Two tiers – like what we already have – is what we’re going to continue to have.

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        • I think it was the debate prior to Obamacare and, since then, the debate has shifted from “REPEAL!” to “REPEAL AND REPLACE!”

          We know that there should be *SOMETHING* different from what we had.

          We just now also know that what we had before is unthinkable.

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          • “Keep government out of my medicare!” Ah, the good old days. So, of course, in some sense, you’re right about the pre-ACA debate. Personally, I think the GOP got off on the wrong foot by shooting for the moon rather than pursuing Cassidy-Collins in regular order. ‘Course, C-C didn’t accord massive tax cuts to the wealthy, so it never really had a chance.

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