The best things I’ve read lately (22/05/15)

This week: Simon Pegg, Bernie Sanders and Vince Cable.

Simon Pegg’s Comic Book and Sci-Fi Movie Comments Aren’t Entirely Wrong by Kyle Anderson (Nerdist)

There are also many examples recently of science fiction movies being both smart and spectacular. Last year was what I considered the Summer of Good Sci-fi and it contained movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Snowpiercer which were big, spectacle movies–a comic book movie in the first case–that also engaged with societal issues like racism, segregation, rights for “others,” fear of “others,” and classism.

Will Star Wars deal with these heady issues? Probably not, but many others do. If anything, it gets some people who wouldn’t normally think about the world in these terms to think about the issues and ingest the knowledge because they think they’re just going to see Magneto move a baseball stadium with his magnet powers. In the 1950s, science fiction was used to comment on everything from McCarthyism and the Red Scare to overpopulation and nuclear annihilation. Films are doing much the same today, even if they have a huge behemoth like Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm, or DC Comics as their backdrops.

To be fair, and probably because of all the negative reactions he received, Pegg wrote a rebuttal to himself on his own site this morning, wherein he clarified a lot of the statements and take out much of the pull-quote harshness. It’s a very good piece you should certainly read, but some of the takeaways are things like Travis Bickle was real-person-dark as opposed to Bruce Wayne’s kind-of-dark, that more people were talking about the Star Wars and Batman V Superman trailers than they were the Nepalese earthquake or the British general election, and “the more spectacle becomes the driving creative priority, the less thoughtful or challenging the films can become.”

People want an escape; they want to be entertained, and studios are banking on 15-50 year-olds wanting to be bombarded with awesome, recognizable characters and properties. While Pegg’s initial statements seemed blanketed and dismissive, he didn’t mean them that way, and whether or not the tone was dismissive and haughty, the statements aren’t entirely false. But within that cynicism, there’s still plenty of room for science fiction and comic book movies to make us ponder our own world even as we’re watching a galaxy far, far away.

Bernie Sanders has picked a terrible argument against the TPP by Dylan Matthews (Vox)

Sanders is suggesting that TPP would be bad because it would force US workers to compete with workers in Vietnam — implicitly, that it’s bad because it expands economic opportunity for poor workers in Vietnam at the expense of significantly richer workers in the United States.

The factual basis for this claim is pretty dubious. Even economists who think trade has significantly hurt US manufacturing workers tend to think the damage is already done, and that future trade deals will involve sectors of the economy in which the US does more exporting than importing (namely, services and agriculture). Moreover, insofar as the deal would advantage imports, that would lower prices for US consumers, particularly poor and middle-class consumers for whom spending on manufactured goods and clothes eats up a bigger share of income. And how much it expands opportunity in Vietnam depends a lot on the specific “rules of origin” in the deal.

But even if the deal did, on net, hurt American workers, Sanders is implicitly arguing that it’s worth impoverishing desperately poor people abroad so that far richer people in the United States can be slightly better off. I don’t think Sanders bears any ill will toward developing-world workers; he’s consistently supported raising labor standards abroad, and during the debate over CAFTA he explicitly stated that he thought the deal would be a “disaster for the people of Central America,” as well as for the US.

But he’s simply mistaken about what’s best for the developing world. “Forc[ing] American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage workers around the world” is not just good for those “desperate and low-wage workers”; it’s actually a demand placed on developed countries by the UN Millennium Development Goals, which call for “tariff- and quota-free access for Least Developed Countries’ exports.” No members of theofficial least developed countries list are actually part of TPP — they’re even poorer, and thus, on Sanders’s logic, more dangerous as trading competition to the US………………….. A true anti-poverty trade agenda would be the exact opposite of what Sanders wants. It would directly put US workers in competition with more — and poorer — workers abroad. The effects on US workers would likely be small, but even if they weren’t, that trade is worth making. Fighting desperate poverty in the developing world is more important than marginally boosting the US middle class. And there are many, many ways to help the American middle class that don’t involve keeping the world’s poorest people in a state of total immiseration.

Vince Cable on the Lib Dem collapse: the Tories won because fear triumphed over hope by Vincent Cable (The New Statesman)

The politics of fear may come back to haunt the Tories. It has unleashed English – alongside Scottish – nationalism. Ultimately this may prove more dangerous to them than the traditional enemies of Conservatism. They have started a fire and clever Lynton Crosby will no longer be around to advise them on how to put it out.

Whether the fire can be contained at all will depend in large measure on whether the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats can recover and offer plausible alternatives. Both for now are in a very bad way politically, and it is possible that the Labour Party’s advantage over the Lib Dems is merely that it is bigger, and that it has more to lose and further to fall.

My own party, I hope, will progress soon from shock and gallows humour to rebuilding from the rubble. Our stock price is so low that it offers a buying opportunity and we have had a flood of 10,000 enthusiastic new members within days of defeat. My own team is back on the doorstep recruiting and is finding it difficult to find anyone who will own up to voting Conservative, though many claim to agree with us while looking at the floor. We already know that many of those who were frightened into voting Conservative are suffering buyers’ remorse, or soon will be, and will be less easily intimidated next time. We know that many of our basic values and messages have enduring value.
And my video of the week:

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