The post time on this post is on Tuesday PT, just before midnight. I say that counts. Even if it actually goes up at 2 AM.

So I don’t have the results of the Golden Bowl, or the final college football rankings, and the NFL Lineal Title hasn’t been updated, neither has the college title really, and the webcomic post is going to be delayed until at LEAST tomorrow (Wednesday), and I should come clean and figure out the reason all these things, plus myriad schoolwork and my job hunting, are late.

I’ve long figured, in my own mind, that checking all my myriad RSS feeds shouldn’t take too long. I mention my RSS reader from time to time on my webcomic posts, and I am of the position that having an RSS feed will greatly accelerate the day I review your comic. I may well be reviewing Sluggy Freelance this week if it had an RSS feed; instead it could take a month or more.

Well, webcomics aren’t the only thing on my RSS feed – I have eight or nine feeds on sports alone and those are just the ones still updating. (One of them has an odd little problem; it seems IE7 can detect the items on there, but isn’t detecting new items, not even slotting them in the old items’ slots.) I have plenty of other feeds as well, covering more topics than you can shake a stick at, and many of them are blogs. Ideally not only would most of them be short, I could read at least some of them at home, and not waste time I could be spending doing stuff that actually requires an Internet connection.

Commonly, however, they often link to longer articles. Or I could get stuck reading a bunch of stuff I’m not interested in, or doing a lot of scrolling through the feed. And on both the posts and the longer articles, I’m often moved to comment, or at least look at the comments, and that can involve as much effort as writing a blog post.

One thing I like about Irregular Webcomic! that’s almost as novel – maybe more, for its impact outside webcomics – as its structure is its RSS feeds. Yes, I said feeds, plural. One feed contains just a link to the comic, with a list of themes it’s in. Another feed contains the comic itself, and a third feed contains the comic and its complete annotation. I don’t have much use of the lesser feeds for a webcomic, but imagine if Blogger allowed readers all these options.

Blogger allows you two choices of feed, “short” (first paragraph or 255 characters, though I suspect strictly the latter, with no paragraph breaks or images) and “full” (entire posts). The choice of feed is a philosophical choice: you could be on the side of making sure people trigger your hit counters and see your ads, or you could make it more convenient for them to read your blog as long as you’re giving them a feed. But believe it or not, some people may prefer a short feed, if they have less interest in the topic and don’t want to commit too much time to reading a bunch of crap they’re not terribly interested in, and scrolling past all of it.

If I had to quibble with any feed’s decision on how much info to put in their feed, it would probably be Sports Media Watch‘s short feeds. I always click on anything SMW puts up, even if it’s something I read already in a place like Awful Announcing and I don’t need to know anything more. But I can imagine how the topic might be just a little too geeky for other people and they don’t want to dwell on it too much. If something doesn’t interest them in the title and first sentence, skip it. (And Paulsen has pretty short posts. AA would benefit from a short feed, for that matter, even though I wouldn’t use it.) Conversely, there are some things I’d rather see in short-feed form that publish as long feeds, yet I can see how people would be interested enough in the topic to want a long feed.

So anyway, that’s been my chief distraction: too many feeds to check. I haven’t been able to follow webcomics without feeds, and I haven’t bothered to fix feeds that aren’t working, and I dread it when I add a new feed, which I do sparingly. And it all monopolizes time from other stuff. Even the semi-frivolous business of Da Blog has fallen by the wayside to the almost completely frivolous business of checking stuff.

I may re-prioritize some of my feeds and re-organize my folders to clear out some of the cruft and most frustrating stuff, and I’m going to try to focus more on more important stuff… but I’ve told myself that before. The problem is that checking feeds is relatively low-intensity, so it marks good rest time, but I just need to reduce the time it takes somehow.

So. If you want to stick it to Microsoft with the exception of your operating system, click here for the Random Internet Discovery, which I may have more to say about later. And I guarantee at least two posts on Wednesday. Of course, that’s contingent on me getting enough sleep now…

(And I have a serious beef with Buzzcomix. It’s one thing to have your site suspended twice in a little over two weeks, but to not even have a channel to let people know what’s going on, especially when the old site had a forum…)

Examining the Democratic Platform Part VIII: “Renewing the American Community” Part II: Micro-Level Issues

This is continued from Parts I-VII of my examination of the Democratic Platform.

“Firearms”: Ah, now this is a touchstone issue: is the Second Amendment unassailable, or can we restrict firearm purchases to help keep them out of the hands of criminals and children?

We recognize that the right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans’ Second Amendment right to own and use firearms. We believe that the right to own firearms is subject to reasonable regulation, but we know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact and enforce common-sense laws and improvements – like closing the gun show loophole, improving our background check system, and reinstating the assault weapons ban, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Acting responsibly and with respect for differing views on this issue, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe.

The platform may have been written (in August) before a Supreme Court ruling that was a big victory for the “unassailable” position. Being a city slicker, I’ve never quite understood why some people cling so tightly to their guns, bitterly or otherwise. It’s not like you’re likely to be in a situation where you’ll both need to and be able to shoot someone trying to break in or something. That, combined with my exposure to the “militia-only” interpretation of the Second Amendment, makes me think I might not be in the best position to comment on this, pending more clarification of what I think about the Second Amendment. More on this when we return to the Republicans.

“Faith”: Is it a coincidence that both halves of the infamous “bitter” comment come back to back here? “We honor the central place of faith in our lives. Like our Founders, we believe that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires.” Some people might be a bit confused at the depiction of the Founders as faith freaks.

We believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and that few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. To face today’s challenges–from saving our planet to ending poverty—we need all hands on deck. Faith-based groups are not a replacement for government or secular non-profit programs; rather, they are yet another sector working to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

So… would you attempt to influence the direction the churches would attempt to lead the flock? To say that “faith-based groups are not a replacement for government” might outrage some on the Right who think we should dial down on government as much as possible, and “that which governs best governs least”, but it also works the other way around, and it’s saying we need everything and can’t just dial down government to zero.

We will empower grassroots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy. At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections – because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate. We will also ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work.

The line about how “there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and…our Constitution” sounds like the Democrats taking a stand; if you just parachuted in from a distant planet you might be surprised to learn that this is actually a concession to the Republicans. It only violates the First Amendment if those groups use public funds to only serve their own faith or try to convert others, which begs the question of how you ensure that doesn’t happen, especially considering they probably don’t want to be interfered with. And how can we trust the Democrats to “ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work”? The Republicans have lambasted the Democrats left and right for wasting money on programs that don’t work.

“The Arts”:

Investment in the arts is an investment in our creativity and cultural heritage, in our diversity, in our communities, and in our humanity. We support art in schools and increased public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We support the cultural exchange of artists around the world, spreading democracy and renewing America’s status as a cultural and artistic center.

So you do assure us you won’t reduce school to preparing for the test with nothing but rote learning, but how will art fit in? Is more funding for the arts throwing money away? The “cultural exchange of artists” certainly sounds… okay.

“Americans with Disabilities”: “We will once again reclaim our role as world leaders in protecting the rights of people with disabilities” and will sign the UN convention on the topic. “We will ensure there is sufficient funding to empower Americans with disabilities to succeed in school and beyond.” Sounds good. “We will fully fund and increase staffing for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” Better make sure it works. “We will restore dignity for Americans with disabilities by signing the Community Choice Act into law, which will allow them the choice of living in their communities rather than being warehoused in nursing homes or other institutions.” This certainly sounds like a good idea, but what’s keeping them from “living in their communities” now, and would that mean an unfair burden being placed on those communities?

“Children and Families”: “If we are to renew America, we must do a better job of investing in the next generation of Americans. For parents, the first and most sacred responsibility is to support our children: setting an example of excellence, turning off the TV, and helping with the homework.” Once again, trying to tell parents how to raise their families; I’ve still yet to hear much of an assurance one way or the other on whether the Democrats would actually meddle in home life. “But we must also support parents as they strive to raise their children in a new era. We must make it easier for working parents to spend time with their families when they need to.” The phrase “must also support” seems to imply the previous sentence is somewhat antagonistic to parents… How do you intend to help working parents in this way? “We will make an unprecedented national investment to guarantee that every child has access to high-quality early education, including investments in Pre-K, Head Start, and Early Head Start, and we will help pay for child care.” Covered already.

“We will ensure that every child has health insurance, invest in playgrounds to promote healthy and active lifestyles, and protect children from lead poisoning in their homes and toys.” The investment in playgrounds is the only thing new here. “Improving maternal health also improves children’s health, so we will provide access to home visits by medical professionals to low-income expectant first-time mothers.” Certainly sounds good, but how good will the pros be? “We must protect our most vulnerable children, by supporting and supplementing our struggling foster care system, enhancing adoption programs for all caring parents, and protecting children from violence and neglect.” Sounds good but short on details – of what the problems are. “Online and on TV, we will give parents tools to block content they find objectionable.” Parents already have quite a few tools of this nature, but no one uses the V-chip and successor technologies. Besides, it can breed what seems to be a wild goose chase, especially online. “We also must recognize that caring for family members and managing a household is real and valuable work.” That’s it. Nothing on what follows from that. Perhaps some sort of tax credit for stay-at-home parents? Certainly no mention of that or any other possible reward or load-lightening.

Fatherhood Too many fathers are missing–missing from too many lives and too many homes. Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs, and end up in prison.” Um, maybe that’s because they’re more likely to be in poverty? “We need more fathers to
realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to understand that what
makes a man is not the ability to have a child–it’s the courage to raise one.” Sounds like more meddling in people’s lives. “You’ll believe what we want you to believe!”

We will support fathers by providing transitional training to get jobs, removing tax penalties on married families, and expanding maternity and paternity leave. We will reward those who are responsibly supporting their children by giving them a tax credit and we will crack down on men who avoid child support payments and ensure those payments go directly to families instead of bureaucracies.

“Removing tax penalties on married families”? That serves as reassurance to people who read the part of the Republican platform in my Part III that warned that rolling back the Bush tax cuts would mean “[t]he ‘marriage penalty’ would return for two-earner couples” – but it may be false reassurance. Expanding paternity leave is reasonable, but I’d like to make sure you aren’t just expanding maternity leave to allow more people to escape work. I’m not sure lack of a job is entirely the problem for fathers who leave their kids, but maybe it’s part of it (and covered earlier I believe). What form would the tax credit for “those who are responsibly supporting their children” take? Would it put more money in the pockets of the rich who are more likely to be able to be responsible fathers? Keeping bureaucracies out seems like a paean to people who’ve been reading the Republican platform.

“Seniors”: Compare this to a section late in Part VI of my examination of the Republican platform. “We will protect and strengthen Medicare by cutting costs, protecting seniors from fraud, and fixing Medicare’s prescription drug program.” The Republicans expand on Medicare’s susceptibility to fraud, but neither party provides specifics of their respective plans to fix it. The Democrats described one way they would cut costs in their Part I.

“We will repeal the prohibition on negotiating prescription drug prices, ban drug companies from paying generic producers to refrain from entering drug markets, and eliminate drug company interference with generic competition–and we will dedicate all of the savings from these measures towards closing the donut hole.” Many of these things were covered earlier in the Democrats’ discussion of health care, way back in Part I, although I’m not sure what the “donut hole” is. I presume it probably has something to do with being “in the center”… Other than “the benefits of competition” the Republicans don’t talk about this.

“We will end special preferences for insurance companies and private plans like Medicare Advantage to force them to compete on a level playing field.” Awkward grammar in this sentence. It almost suggests an ulterior motive for the Democrats’ health care reform proposal, perhaps accidentally suggesting a move to get rid of private insurance. Speaking of which, the paragraph ends by calling back to the health care reform plan in relation to “older Americans who are not yet eligible for Medicare”.

The parties have different priorities with regard to Medicare. The Democrats talk about lowering prescription drug prices for seniors and creating “a level playing field” for insurance. The Republicans want to encourage doctors to “coordinate care”, increasing “choice” in doctors, and allowing people in Medicare to add their own funds. Although I’m skeptical of that last one, I think it’s worthy to pick some from column A and some from column B.

“We will take steps to ensure that our seniors have meaningful long-term care options that are consistent with their individual needs, including the option of home care.” Sounds good; might have been mentioned already. “We believe that we must pay caregivers a fair wage and train more nurses and health care workers so as to improve the availability and quality of long-term care.” SGWTM. What wages are caregivers being paid now? “We must reform the financing of long-term care to ease the burden on seniors and their families.” Sounds reasonable… The Republicans don’t seem to have touched on this so far at all. “We will safeguard Social Security. We will develop new retirement plans and pension protections that will give Americans a secure, portable way to save for retirement. We will ensure a safe and dignified retirement.” The Democrats discussed Social Security in my Part II, which this refers to. “We will work to end abuse of the elderly.” But you give that cause a single sentence that’s shorter than this one. “We will safeguard from discrimination those who choose to work past the age of 65.” Good thinking, both to help save Social Security from bankrupting the government as the baby boomers retire and to help keep our economy moving, but will that mean companies won’t be able to kick out employees who legitimately aren’t able to work anymore?

“Choice”: The Republicans will cover this in their section on “values”, which I’m no longer sure I’m going to get to; the Democrats touched on it in (surprise!) their discussion of health care. “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” This is such a strong position it suggests you support it in all circumstances regardless of moral sketchiness. I generally don’t like abortion except in the first three months, in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

“The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives.” The Republicans earlier called for ending “‘family planning’ programs for teens” in order to back abstinence-only sex ed. The Democrats claim that “such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” “The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.” Mostly covered already. I’d be interested in seeing what forms the “programs for… parenting skills [and] income support” take.

This is about where the work I did before dropping off right before the election ends, and the work I ended up doing right before posting this begins. So if my positions start evolving, now you know.

“Criminal Justice”: The Republican position on this will be examined in my Republican Part VIII (which I’ve done no work on, and assuming I get to that), so for now, we’re covering the Democrats alone. “As Democrats, we are committed to being smart on crime. That means being tough on violent crime, funding strategic, and effective community policing, and holding offenders accountable, and it means getting tough on the root causes of crime by investing in successful crime prevention, including proven initiatives that get youth and nonviolent offenders back on track. ” Let’s see if the rest of the section tells us what all this is.

We will reverse the policy of cutting resources for the brave men and women who protect our communities every day. At a time when our nation’s officers are being asked both to provide traditional law enforcement services and to help protect the homeland, taking police off of the street is neither tough nor smart; we reject this disastrous approach. We support and will restore funding to our courageous police officers and will ensure that they are equipped with the best technology, equipment, and innovative strategies to prevent and fight crimes.

This all sounds good, but the way the Democrats so vigorously defend this position, I’m curious to find out how the Republicans could possibly justify the position it implies. With their get-tough stance to everything, how do they not properly fund the “First Responders”? What’s really going on here? On the flip side, this is also a SGWTM situation. Really, how do the Democrats intend to be fiscally responsible with all the stuff they want to “increase funding” to?

“We will end the dangerous cycle of violence, especially youth violence, with proven community-based law enforcement programs such as the Community Oriented Policing Services.” You mentioned COPS already. When I saw “the cycle of violence” I thought it had something to do with poverty, and wondering how “community-based law enforcement”, no matter how laudable, had anything to do with that other than providing jobs, but this certainly sounds good. “We will reduce recidivism in our neighborhoods by supporting local prison-to-work programs.” Do those work, or do they just increase joblessness among the law-abiding citizens? “We believe that the death penalty must not be arbitrary. DNA testing should be used in all appropriate circumstances, defendants should have effective assistance of counsel. In all death row cases, and thorough post-conviction reviews should be available.” Some people would argue the death penalty itself is immoral, and certainly we’re on a shrinking list with some bad company of countries that still use it, and while all of these are good and add up to something formidable I’m not completely certain they’re going to be enough.

“We must help state, local, and tribal law enforcement work together to combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse, which are a blight on our communities. We will restore funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and expand the use of drug courts and rehabilitation programs for first-time, non-violent drug offenders.” Some people would say “drug crime” isn’t really crime and we should stop treating it like one. But the second half of the second sentence sounds good, though I don’t know what the BJAG program is. “We support the rights of victims to be respected, to be heard, and to be compensated.” Sounds good, but who would disagree with it, and why a single-sentence paragraph on that? Truth be told, the Democrats’ education program will have as much of an effect on crime as anything in this section.

“Ending violence against women must be a top priority. We will create a special advisor to the president regarding violence against women.” Really? You’re going that far? “We will increase funding to domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs.” SGWTM. “We will strengthen sexual assault and domestic violence laws, support the Violence Against Women Act, and provide job security to survivors.” This is more no-brainer stuff. On the flip side, you can’t keep strengthening the laws forever, because you reach a point where the remaining abusers are driven by things more powerful than concern for the law. No, I do not know this from personal experience. “Our foreign policy will be sensitive to issues of aggression against women around the world.” No details, of course.

“A More Perfect Union”: This is part summation of the entire part, part miscellaneous section, part section on discrimination in general.

We believe in the essential American ideal that we are not constrained by the circumstances of birth but can make of our lives what we will. Unfortunately, for too many, that ideal is not a reality. We have more work to do. Democrats will fight to end discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and disability in every corner of our country, because that’s the America we believe in.

All an agreeable sentiment, although the forces discriminating on the basis of “sexual orientation [or] gender identity” remain disturbingly strong. “We all have to do our part to lift up this country, and that means changing hearts and changing minds, and making sure that every American is treated equally under the law.” “Changing hearts and changing minds” sounds disturbingly like something the Republicans would say, not to mention something people in an Orwellian government would say. “We will restore professionalism over partisanship at the Department of Justice, and staff the civil rights division with civil rights lawyers, not ideologues.” Some people may have heard the stories about DoJ being used for political purposes under Bush. I’m wondering what the Democrats are talking about regarding the civil rights division, however. Will they be fair, or will they give alleged victims the benefit of the doubt too much? “We will restore vigorous federal enforcement of civil rights laws in order to provide every American an equal chance at employment, housing, health, contracts, and pay. We are committed to banning racial, ethnic, and religious profiling and requiring federal, state, and local enforcement agencies to take steps to eliminate the practice.” All sounds good, though money may be a concern.

“We are committed to ensuring full equality for women: we reaffirm our support for the Equal Rights Amendment, recommit to enforcing Title IX, and will urge passage of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” The ERA is still around??? The Republicans objected to the convention because it dared to mention abortion, as I talked about in my Republican Part II. I’m ambivalent about most of this pending knowing some of what they contain; I know at least a little about Title IX and I am concerned that it may have some negative side effects that no one really sees as necessary or desirable. “We will pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.” What does that involve?

We will restore and support the White House Initiative on Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, including enforcement on disaggregation of Census data. We will make the Census more culturally sensitive, including outreach, language assistance, and increased confidentiality protections to ensure accurate counting of the growing Latino and Asian American, and Pacific Islander populations, and continue working on efforts to be more inclusive.

I have no idea what the Initiative involves. Why do these ethnic groups in particular need more “confidentiality protections”? What’s the problem with how the Census deals with them now? “We will sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That is the America we believe in.” I’m very curious how the Democrats would “restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Has it been strengthened to the point of absurdity, or weakened too much? The former would be something you’d expect the Democrats to carry out, and the Republicans to fix, yet that’s the one I’ve actually heard a little about…

“We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us.” No mention of gay marriage, however. Incidentally, why all the outrage over Prop 8 now, after the election? Where was the outrage when it could have actually influenced the outcome?

“But it is no good to be able to ride the bus when you can’t afford the bus fare. We will work to provide real opportunities for all Americans suffering from disadvantage; we will pioneer new policies and remedies against poverty and violence that address real human needs and we will close the achievement gap in education and provide every child a world-class education.” This all sounds good, if begging for details, especially in the middle part of the second sentence. But: “We support affirmative action, including in federal contracting and higher education, to make sure that those locked out of the doors of opportunity will be able to walk through those doors in the future.” If there’s one thing I unequivocally disagree with the Democrats over, it’s affirmative action, AKA “reverse racism”. I have grown convinced it may be useful if applied solely to the basis of economic standing (poor over rich), because really, all the self-perpetuating differences caused by past discrimination really come down to the advantages rich people have over poor people. Otherwise discriminating on the basis of ethnicity is wrong one way or the other.

We’ve cleared out Part III, and if we get around to Part IV, it could well close out the series for the Dems in one part!

Examining the Democratic Platform Part VII: “Renewing the American Community” Part I: Macro-Level Issues

This is continued from Parts I-VI of my examination of the Democratic Platform. It’s been a long time since the last part in this series, hasn’t it?

For anyone wondering what to expect from the new Administration, on the eve of the Inauguration. To see the rest of the series, click on the Democratic Platform Review label. Part VIII tomorrow, which combine to knock out the Democrats’ Part III. My heading for each part is somewhat arbitrary and a generalization, especially this one, but I think it works.

The platform itself – not just my rendering of the headings – changes format for Part III, “Renewing the American Community”. The section headings I had placed in bold earlier in the platform? They’re gone. Part III cuts straight down two levels of headings to the individual topics without grouping them. The introductory paragraph talks “of the need for compassion, empathy, a commitment to our values, and the importance of being united in order to take on the challenges and opportunities of the new century.”

They said that they valued Barack Obama’s message that alongside Americans’ famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected to each other. We could all choose to focus on our own concerns and live our lives in a way that tries to keep our individual stories separate from the larger story of America. But that is not who we are. That is not our American story. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to us, even if it’s not our child. Similarly, if there’s a senior citizen in Elko, Nevada who has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes our lives poorer, even if it’s not our grandmother. Because it is only when we join together in something larger than ourselves that we can write the next great chapter in America’s story.

Those examples don’t appear, at least, to give this part much of a distinction from Part I. It expresses an agreeable attitude rather than a policy position: “we’re all in this together”. But we’ll press on anyway. “Service”:

The future of our country will be determined not only by our government and our policies but through the efforts of the American people. That is why we will ask all Americans to be actively involved in meeting the challenges of the new century. In this young century, our military has answered the call to serve, even as that call has come too often. We must now make it possible for all citizens to serve. We will expand AmeriCorps, double the size of the Peace Corps, enable more to serve in the military, create new opportunities for international service, integrate service into primary education, and create new opportunities for experienced and retired persons to serve.

Expanding AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and “opportunities for experienced and retired persons” sounds good; hopefully it’s not burning money. By “enable more to serve in the military”, are you referring to increasing the military’s size or just loosening requirements for people to serve? What are these “opportunities for international service” and are they welcomed in those countries or seen as unneeded meddling? Are you really trying to get children to serve their communities somehow?

“And if you invest in America, America will invest in you: we will increase support for service-learning, establish tax incentives for college students who serve, and create scholarships for students who pledge to become teachers.” Some of this you mentioned already. “We will use the Internet to better match volunteers to service opportunities.” What form will this take, a search engine, or would you ask people who want to serve to join a service and be matched? All this will “meet America’s challenges in a uniquely American way.”

“Immigration”: This touches on a topic the Republicans covered all the way back in Part I. It starts with some expected platitudes: we’re a nation of immigrants, you can make it here, immigrants contribute to who we are, and so on. “Like the immigrants that came before them, today’s immigrants will shape their own destinies and enrich our country.”

Nonetheless, our current immigration system has been broken for far too long. We need comprehensive immigration reform, not just piecemeal efforts. We must work together to pass immigration reform in a way that unites this country, not in a way that divides us by playing on our worst instincts and fears. We are committed to pursuing tough, practical, and humane immigration reform in the first year of the next administration.

We cannot continue to allow people to enter the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked. The American people are a welcoming and generous people, but those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law. We need to secure our borders, and support additional personnel, infrastructure, and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.

I’m a bit surprised to see the Democrats be as high on trying to secure the border as the Republicans were, albeit much later in the platform in a way that makes this seem like a “miscellaneous” part. Still, if I gave you the above last three sentences, you might think they came from the Republican platform. They even say that “those who employ [illegal immigrants] disrespect the rule of the law”, which I was concerned about when it came up in the Republican platform. Compare the Republicans’ call for “more effective enforcement, giving our agents the tools and resources they need to protect our sovereignty, completing the border fence quickly and securing the borders, and employing complementary strategies to secure our ports of entry.” No call to add “personnel”, but the Democrats don’t directly say what “infrastructure[] and technology” are referring to. Yet. Of course, that’s arguably more specific than “tools and resources”.

“We need additional Customs and Border Protection agents equipped with better technology and real-time intelligence.” That’s basically a slightly more specific version of the last sentence replacing “infrastructure” with “intelligence”. “We need to dismantle human smuggling organizations, combating the crime associated with this trade.” The Republicans want to “impos[e] maximum penalties on those who smuggle illegal aliens into the U.S., both for their lawbreaking and for their cruel exploitation.” But now comes something that looks to be a bit of a break with the Republicans: “We also need to do more to promote economic development in migrant-sending nations, to reduce incentives to come to the United States illegally.” That pretty much took the words right out of my mouth – from my Republican platform examination, when I suggested that perhaps the best long-term solution to illegal immigration was to help rise Mexico out of abject poverty.

And we need to crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. It’s a problem when we only enforce our laws against the immigrants themselves, with raids that are ineffective, tear apart families, and leave people detained without adequate access to counsel. We realize that employers need a method to verify whether their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States, and we will ensure that our system is accurate, fair to legal workers, safeguards people’s privacy, and cannot be used to discriminate against workers.

“[E]mployers need a method to verify whether their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States” could be considered a backing of the Republicans’ E-Verify system or could be saying that system is flawed enough not to count. Possibly pointing to the latter, the Democrats naturally proceed to throw in a bunch of caveats: it needs to be “fair to legal workers, safeguard[] people’s privacy, and cannot be used to discriminate against workers.” Would that result in making the system ineffective, especially the last two parts? I’m all for privacy and ending discrimination, but…

We must also improve the legal immigration system, and make our nation’s naturalization process fair and accessible to the thousands of legal permanent residents who are eager to become full Americans. We should fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy that hampers family reunification, the cornerstone of our immigration policy for years. Given the importance of both keeping families together and supporting American businesses, we will increase the number of immigration visas for family members of people living here and for immigrants who meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill, as long as appropriate labor market protections and standards are in place. We will fight discrimination against Americans who have always played by our immigration rules but are sometimes treated as if they had not.

The idea of easing access for the many people who become illegal immigrants despite not flouting the law otherwise is one of my touchstones on this issue. Both parties use the exact phrase “dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy”, which by this point is, in the case of the Republicans, part of a larger campaign against Big Bad Gov’ment Bur’cracy that needs to be “simplified”, but the Republicans don’t seem to put much of an emphasis on “family reunification”. Hopefully the Democrats won’t allow family members to be used as a Trojan horse to sneak in lawbreakers.

For the millions living here illegally but otherwise playing by the rules, we must require them to come out of the shadows and get right with the law. We support a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens. They are our neighbors, and we can help them become full tax-paying, law-abiding, productive members of society.

What’s the size of the fine? Is this enough penalty for breaking the law (a sore point for Republicans)? If not, is this a one-time deal to deal with the current crisis (similar to the bailout)? How will you make sure those people that aren’t “otherwise playing by the rules” (or trying to avoid crimes committed in Mexico) don’t sneak into the legal immigration system this way? (Actually, the “back of the line to become citizens” part may be crucial here, because presumably anyone who continued to break the law here could still be deported if they’re still not citizens, and if they stayed law-abiding in this country for long enough they’re probably reformed anyway.) On the plus side, this is the biggest assurance the Democrats have yet given that they won’t let America turn into Quebec, and it’s not quite “en masse legalizations” like the Republicans tried to paint it. I have a number of concerns with both sides’ policies here.

“Hurricane Katrina”: I don’t think the Republicans have touched on Katrina, but I’m not sure what section it would be in – possibly the “Values” section I haven’t gotten to yet. I’m going to cover this paragraph from the perspective of thinking we need to stand by Americans in times of need, and make sure New Orleans can thrive again, and then offer my actual, alternative, opinions.

“The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are heroes for returning and rebuilding, and they shouldn’t face these challenges alone. We will partner with the people of the Gulf Coast to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina and restore the region economically.” Sounds good. “We will create jobs and training opportunities for returning and displaced workers as well as contracting opportunities for local businesses to help create stronger, safer, and more equitable communities.” That’s especially important, that part about offering “opportunities for local businesses”. Hopefully it won’t be Iraq 2.0.

“We will increase funding for affordable housing and home ownership opportunities for returning families, workers, and residents moving out of unsafe trailers.” On top of everything else you want to fund? “We will reinvest in infrastructure in New Orleans: we will construct levees that work, fight crime by rebuilding local police departments and courthouses, invest in hospitals, and rebuild the public school system.” That’s important and it can help create jobs, which also helps with the recovery. The matter of levees will be covered in my alternative opinion below. “We also commit to the rebuilding and restoration of the Iowa communities affected by the floods of 2008.” Kind of a token gesture sentence.

But honestly, I think this is a case where it is possible that the best approach may well be something that no politician – no one, period – in a million years would ever get away with. It would seem too cold, too inhumane. But practically, when you consider how much of New Orleans sits below sea level, and especially global warming potentially melting the ice caps and raising sea levels, it may well be that keeping building bigger and bigger levees is a waste of money and it’s an open question whether or not the city is much worth saving. In the same vein, we need to assess how much our levees on our rivers are helping or hurting. Levees don’t lower the amount of water flowing, just hold it back, and eventually all that water has to go somewhere and it results in megafloods instead of just plain floods. Certainly we need to reconsider using levees to protect agricultural lands, where floodwaters could actually help in some ways, as long as the farmhouses are properly protected and the rivers aren’t being used to dump waste that’s toxic to crops.

“Preventing and Responding to Future Catastrophes”:

We will also work to prevent future catastrophic response failures, whether the emergency comes from hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, wild fires, drought, bridge collapses, or any other natural or man-made disaster. Maintaining our levees and dams is not pork barrel spending—it is an urgent priority. We will fix governmental agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ensure that they are staffed with professionals, and create integrated communication and response plans. We will reform the Small Business Administration bureaucracy, and develop a real National Response Plan.

All important points; “levees and dams” are only “pork barrel spending” if the money is being spent inequitably, so the levees are being maintained in places where powerful politicians come from and not in places where they aren’t. I notice the Democrats are again saying a “bureaucracy” needs to be fixed, and are returning to gimmicks like a “National Response Plan”. “We will develop a National Catastrophic Insurance Fund to offer an affordable insurance mechanism for high-risk catastrophes that no single private insurer can cover by itself for fear of bankruptcy. This will allow states and territories to deal comprehensively with the economic dislocation of natural disasters.” Sounds reasonable and important enough, but where will the money for it come from?

“Stewardship of Our Planet and Natural Resources”: Ah, it’s back to the well of global warming again, back in my wheelhouse! “Global climate change is the planet’s greatest threat, and our response will determine the very future of life on this earth. Despite the efforts of our current Administration to deny the science of climate change and the need to act, we still believe that America can be earth’s best hope.” Once again, the sentiment I like to hear!

“We will implement a market-based cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic change and we will set interim targets along the way to ensure that we meet our goal.” I mentioned last time we talked about climate change that I was a little less skeptical about cap-and-trade than the time before. Why “the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid climate change”? I know you might want to hide from businesses how much you expect them to reduce their carbon emissions, but you could just as easily be hiding from me that you’re not really going to be as aggressive as “scientists say”. Hey, when you consider the lack of aggressiveness in the targets you actually have given, you can’t blame me for feeling this is a bit uncharacteristic.

“We will invest in advanced energy technologies, to build the clean energy economy and create millions of new, good “Green Collar” American jobs. Because the environment is a truly global concern, the United States must be a leader in combating climate change around the world, including exporting climate-friendly technologies to developing countries.” This all repeats stuff talked about in previous global-warming sections. “We will use innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of buildings, including establishing a grant program for early adopters and providing incentives for energy conservation.” Those certainly sound like more good ideas. “We will encourage local initiatives, sustainable communities, personal responsibility, and environmental stewardship and education nationwide.” More good ideas, especially for the long term.

The rest of the section deals mostly with non-global warming environmental issues, by and large not touched on by the Republicans. “We will help local communities in the American West preserve water to meet their fast growing needs.” Some of those are pretty big “communities”, and how are you going to do that? “We support a comprehensive solution for restoring our national treasures—such as the Great Lakes, Everglades, and Chesapeake Bay—including expanded scientific research and protections for species and habitats there.” Not quite sure what the problems are in those places, what those “protections” would involve, or what.

“We will reinvigorate the Environmental Protection Agency so that we can work with communities to reduce air and water pollution and protect our children from environmental toxins, and never sacrifice science to politics.” All sounds good; have you noticed how often the Democrats harp on focusing on “sound science” or the like? “We will protect Nevada and its communities from the high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, which has not been proven to be safe by sound science.” Normally I’d be all over this statement, loving every minute of it, but since you already backed nuclear power earlier in the platform as a way of combating global warming, how do you intend to deal with the waste instead? “We will restore the “polluter pays” principle to fund the cleanup of the most polluted sites, so that those who cause environmental problems pay to fix them.” Certainly a reasonable way to do things – you broke it, you clean it up.

Federal Lands
We will create a new vision for conservation that works with local communities to conserve our existing publicly-owned lands while dramatically expanding investments in conserving and restoring forests, grasslands, and wetlands across America for generations to come. Unlike the current Administration, we will reinvest in our nation’s forests by providing federal agencies with resources to reduce the threat of wildland fires, promote sustainable forest product industries for rural economic development and ensure that national resources are in place to respond to catastrophic wildland fires.

Do you intend to put more lands under federal control? Is this a SGWTM situation? And while the second sentence sounds good, it’s important to remember that wildfires are often natural and should be let burn to reduce the impact of future wildfires and improve the overall ecosystem. Federal authorities should only protect humans living in or near the wilderness and any other important investments. “We will treat our national parks with the same respect that millions of families show each year when they visit. We will recognize that our parks are national treasures, and will ensure that they are protected as part of the overall natural system so they are here for generations to come.” Certainly sounds reasonable. “We are committed to conserving the lands used by hunters and anglers, and we will open millions of new acres of land to public hunting and fishing.” I wouldn’t have expected the Democrats to expand hunting and fishing, which would put them at odds with environmentalists – certainly vegetarians.

“Metropolitan and Urban Policy”: “We believe that strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America.” The Democrats want “equitable development strategies that create opportunities for those traditionally left behind by economic development efforts.” As long as it doesn’t take away most of the motivation to work. “For the past eight years, the current Administration has ignored urban areas. We look forward to greater partnership with urban America. We will strengthen federal commitment to cities, including by creating a new White House Office on Urban Policy and fully funding the Community Development Block Grant.” You notice I haven’t even been pointing out the shots at the Bush Administration. What sort of role will the “Office of Urban Policy” take? Will it be a Cabinet-level position, or more similar to the federal drug commission? Would this mean more bureaucracy? Funding the CDBG was mentioned much earlier, in my Part III.

“We support community-based initiatives, such as micro-loans, business assistance centers, community economic development corporations, and community development financial institutions.” All sound nice, but are they more government meddling? Ideally, when the lower classes start investing in themselves it can help the whole economy, but hopefully these really are “community-based”. “To help regional business development we will double federal funding for basic research, expand the deployment of broadband technology, increase access to capital for businesses in underserved areas, create a national network of public-private business incubators, and provide grants to support regional innovation clusters.” Many of these were mentioned earlier – more broadband and “incubators”, for example. Pretty much all of these are SGWTM, but ideally they can all result in more money for the government as a result of economic advancement. Expanding research, especially, helps all levels of the economy. Not sure what “regional innovation clusters” would be.

“Since businesses can only function when workers can get to their place of employment, we will invest in public transportation including rail, expand transportation options for low-income communities, and strengthen core infrastructure like our roads and bridges.” Ding ding ding! The Democrats just mentioned the “p-t” word! Once again, though, it’s part of a larger clause that also includes “roads and bridges”. Between the first and last items, especially the first, the middle item seems somewhat superfluous, and what does it actually mean? “We will provide cities the support they need to perform public safety and national security functions, reinvest in Community Oriented Policing Services, and keep children off the streets by supporting expanded after-school and summer opportunities.” Helping cities perform vital functions certainly seems important, and for all their “national security” emphasis the Republicans didn’t really hint at anything like helping cities invest in national security. (They probably would have wanted to privatize it.) Everything sounds good from here, as long as it doesn’t invite more government waste and throwing money away.

“Finally, we will work to make cities greener and more livable by training employees to work in skilled clean technologies industries, improving the environmental efficiency of city buildings, and taking smart growth principles into account when designing transportation.” And tying this all back into my own personal big issue! This all sounds good – I wouldn’t quite consider myself a “smart growth” backer but it’s possible I am without knowing it. I hinted at it with my discussion of “transit-oriented development” back when I was on a mass transit kick. There are a couple other things that are rolled up into “smart growth” but one of the things most of them have in common is the idea that the car has ruined things, so this may well be hinting at more emphasis on “public transportation” over “roads and bridges” than the Democrats have so far let on. More on this in a later post (maybe).

Yes, we are splitting the Democrats’ Part III into two parts even though both parts barely top 4,000 words, and this part requires me to write a long concluding paragraph (this one) to carry it over 4,000, but the combined examination topped 8,000 and the split is in an odd place, almost smack-dab in the middle of the discussion of “Firearms”. Be sure to come back tomorrow!

And don’t forget, Sandsday Mail Call next week!

There’s a story behind today’s strip, and it has nothing to do with Patrick McGoohan.

When I did a Gary Gygax tribute last year, I told myself that when other sufficiently geeky notable figures (or sufficiently notable figures period) died, I would do similar tributes to them. I did that to reassure myself, because even though numerous other webcomics, including such highlights as Penny Arcade and xkcd, did similar tributes, the fact remained that the only reason I was doing a Gary Gygax tribute was because Order of the Stick did one. Order of the Stick never does topical strips; the closest it comes tends to be throwaway references in early panels. Still, the fact remained that I was effectively letting OOTS write my strip, and I was able to live with myself better if I told myself that was not going to be the only time, that I had more in store.

I did not. By all rights I should have done strips on the passing of George Carlin or even Eartha Kitt. Nonetheless, I still let that Gary Gygax strip stand alone as my only tribute to a dead figure, one created solely to mimic another webcomic, and I decided not to let that stand by the time one year had passed since it was published, and before the one-year anniversary of the strip itself if possible.

Not to sound flip, but I debated about doing a strip about Ricardo Montalban and was starting to regretfully lean towards no before McGoohan died – saved me, you might say – and while he was still a marginal case for having the right combination of geekiness and notability, I decided that “The Prisoner” was close enough. It helped that I had a strip I was unhappy about (it’s really incredibly disgusting and I need to take a hatchet to it before before I’m comfortable posting it) that I was hoping to bump out of the rotation. Besides, he passes the xkcd test, in that I’d be shocked if xkcd doesn’t have its own tribute up by Monday. It’s right up Randall Munroe’s alley!

Also, while I’m here, I do not condone anyone using this strip to start wild McGoohan/Elvis/Hoffa theories. Or even getting the idea from this post.

Part of the reason I’m making this post is for the same reason as yesterday’s IWC post.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized crash landing.)

So the latest “Ethan McManus: Space Archaeologist” storyline is finally over, and I’ve gone back and read through the whole thing.

In light of recent events in the main story line, Ethan’s characterization in this story is rather interesting.

First of all, the decisions made by the CAD fans are themselves rather interesting; the first decision was between skipping out on a bill for destroying another clone when coming out of his own clone vat, and simply negotiating for a solution. Now, the Ethan I know, at least from the first story, would probably skip out on the bill, but the fans voted for him to try and negotiate on a solution (which led to him hitting on a robot), and I can’t help but wonder if that affected his characterization for the rest of the story.

First, Ethan is far more talkative than I would normally perceive him to be. Of course, one of the knocks against CAD is Buckley’s penchant for loading up his panels with dialogue, but even when the real Ethan talks a lot it tends to be in relatively simple terms. Here he lays on the exposition with the best of them. And when he needs to, he’s rather combative and can lay on the bad puns. For once I could actually see how Ethan could have wound up in the job of an Indiana Jones ripoff. (IN SPACE!)

In the latest news post, Buckley notes he was shocked that, “given Ethan’s broken arm and general ineptitude,” the fans would (in the last choice) vote for him to sneak out of the mercenary ship on his own rather than wait for his helper robot. I suspect two factors went into the decision that Buckley didn’t plan for: the fact that, with his “general ineptitude”, Ethan himself would probably fight it out… and paradoxically, the fact that Ethan didn’t really show much of that “ineptitude” over the course of this story.

Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any other version of Ethan, and negotiating with people who want to kill you and engaging in an expository conversation in a sci-fi setting don’t necessarily translate to playing video games and dealing with customers, but it’ll be interesting to see if this presages the arrival of a more “responsible” Ethan when we return to the main plot, perhaps one cooked up in response to some of the CAD haters’ complaints.

Though depending on the execution, that could move the Angst-O-Meter up or down…

No comment on Darths and Droids finishing Episode One.

(From Irregular Webcomic! Click for full-sized better things to do.)
Getting this out of the way so I don’t have to worry about making sure I get a post out for the rest of the day…

So after about a week of whiteness fading to blueness fading to redness fading to blackness, the entire sequence led to the blackness turning out to be the Head Death’s eye. Despite what most people probably expected, it wasn’t the birth pangs of a new universe; instead, everyone is hanging out on the Not-So-Infinite and Not-So-Featureless Infinite Featureless Plane of Death, which survived the death of the universe.

This helps explain the themes that were and were not part of this crossover… as Supers is hand-drawn, even if it had crossed over with anything it’d be impossible for it to mesh with all the LEGO figures in this sequence. But Espionage has been seen to use the IFPoD as well, even if it’s interacted with no other themes and even if getting roped into this crossover would delay the main plot too much.

There’s still some question as to what will happen next… will everyone ultimately get returned to some revival of their universe? Is the rest of the strip just going to be various misadventures in whatever comes after the IFPoD? Wait… what if what comes after the IFPoD is just a carbon copy of the previous universe and everything proceeds as if nothing happened, yet something happened?

My head hurts…

A note on webcomics popularity as it relates to Da Blog

Extracted from today’s Fey Winds review, as the review was maybe twice the size of any of my other reviews, half of it was about Buzzcomix, and this part in particular was off-point.

I have started to develop a theory that there are three basic tiers of webcomic popularity. Tier 1 comics are generally the comics you rattle off when prompted with the word “webcomic”. Penny Arcade. Something Positive. Sluggy Freelance. Order of the Stick. xkcd. Dinosaur Comics. Megatokyo. Even relatively smaller comics like Gunnerkrigg Court and Irregular Webcomic! Tier 1 is very wide – no one would compare, say, The Wotch with Penny Arcade by any measure, but I put it in Tier 1 anyway because it doesn’t need to advertise on sites like Buzzcomix and If it’s selling T-shirts and people are actually buying them, it’s probably pretty safely a Tier 1 comic.

Tier 2 comics are those comics that regularly populate the top of sites like Buzzcomix and TopWebComics. They’re not popular enough to stop pressuring people to vote for them, but they are popular enough that they get a lot of votes. While it would be nice to get a nice, orderly ranking of the top webcomics in all of webcomicdom from these sites, practically speaking there’s little motivating Gabe and Tycho to ask that much work from their fans, even for the bragging rights. Instead Buzzcomix and the like are actually far more useful to people not in my unique situation (needing ideas for webcomic reviews), pointing people towards good webcomics that have attracted a small, but devoted following, but which have not yet achieved the popularity to go beyond that but are well on the road to doing so. This group is very small; I don’t define it as going beyond even the top 50 of these sites, if even that (probably top 25 should be the cutoff, at most), but Fey Winds pretty clearly belongs to it.

(Rather anomolously, Girl Genius is a Tier 1 comic that still receives Buzzcomix and TopWebComics votes. Goblins‘ recent success against it on Buzzcomix suggests it too may be moving into Tier 1.)

Tier 3 comics are everything else; these include, but are not limited to, the comics that feel the need to regularly change their status lines. It too is very large, including everything from comics seen only by their creators and some friends to comics with a close-knit group of people backing it. In some instances, the only thing keeping a Tier 3 comic from being Tier 2 is just not putting themselves on Buzzcomix (to the extent that some strips could easily blur the line between Tier 3 and Tier 1). In fact, the size of Tiers 1 and 3 compared to Tier 2 is such that I should and probably could divide both 1 and 3 into one or more pieces, and there probably is some “Hall of Fame” subclass within Tier 1. (And it’s very subjective; I consider Misfile a Tier 1 comic because of when I was introduced to it, but it might belong better in Tier 2.)

But this is a distinction that works for my purposes, and it’s clear that Buzzcomix popularity is a stop along the continuum to becoming a truly great and popular webcomic. I review Tiers 1 and 2 comics for Da Blog because they meet a certain popularity threshhold (though to be in Tier 2 for that purpose Top 10 on either list might be needed), and Tier 3 tends to be taken more on a case-by-case basis, with a Tier 3 comic generally needing to be good to get the “fat envelope”.

Seriously, why do so many comics I encounter have no RSS feeds? Even the venerable User Friendly and Sluggy Freelance have no RSS feeds!

(From Fey Winds. Click for full-sized tree hex of knowledge, apparently.)

I have said in the past that I do not review comics that are neither popular nor good, because they do not deserve the attention. So I’m willing to savage a webcomic if I deem it popular enough that people need to be warded away from it, but bad webcomics with no readers should be allowed to wither like they should do naturally.

The flip side is that I am willing to review a webcomic no one’s heard of if I think it’s fantastic. So if you want me to expose your webcomic to the masses, you can e-mail me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com. If I don’t like it, you’ll get a “thin envelope”: an e-mail with my suggestions for you. If I do like it, or at least think it has a lot of potential, you’ll get a “fat envelope”: a full-sized review on Da Blog.

The thing is, Fey Winds – despite a ridiculously bare-bones site layout with nothing except a news post, some fan art, and the comic itself (no cast page, no RSS feed, no “world” page despite a promise of it on one page that required a brief description of an aspect of the world), despite having next to no exposure in the broader webcomics community that would convey that mystical quality we call “notability” – is a comic I’m reviewing because it falls in the “popular” category.

That’s because I discovered Fey Winds by way of Buzzcomix.

I’ve talked about Buzzcomix in the past – the vote-powered webcomic ranking site (well, one of at least two), once thought completely abandoned but recently revamped back in August with a whole mess of new features. One of these was a “status” line that would appear below your comic’s entry – similar to previous description lines, but with the important changes that a) you could change it without entering your profile, and more importantly, b) when you changed it, your new “status” would appear at the bottom of the screen in a running ticker alongside other webcomics that had recently changed their statuses. Which meant just by changing your status, you’d be guaranteed at least a shot at exposure for anyone who dropped by Buzzcomix for the next twenty-four hours or so. Needless to say, constantly changing statuses became a favorite fallback for several wannabe webcomiceers desperate for the sliver of exposure the line promised, and complete no-names littered the ticker, because no webcomic that already had the exposure, that was anywhere near the top of the list, would stoop to such shameless tactics. (You probably haven’t noticed, but I’ve been changing Sandsday’s status line with each new strip. 🙂

Word of the new Buzzcomix has spread in fits and starts, with the result that early on, there was some bumpiness in who was on top – after being fairly consistently in the upper eschelon on the old Buzzcomix, Girl Genius, to take one example, was completely missing for the first month or so – although once the Foglios and their fans got their act together, GG went right to the top and stayed there for a while. It’s since been dethroned by Goblins, which at least has warranted a TV Tropes page – of course all you need for a TV Tropes page is a fan or even creator who happens to frequent the site. (Unless said creator isn’t a complete self-promoting jerk.)

(I hope I haven’t just made Fey Winds jump the shark by introducing Nicole Chartrand to TV Tropes.)

So, for some time, I would visit Buzzcomix to change Sandsday‘s status line, and on my monitor, I would always see the top three comics, and because of the vote quantities involved and how long they stick around (early in the new Buzzcomix the top of the rankings would completely shuffle around every month when the last round of votes expired, though that’s already tapered off) the top three comics would stay fairly consistent: Goblins, Girl Genius… and Fey Winds.

Now, by the time I started writing this post Fey Winds had already been knocked out of the #3 spot by Misfile, Buzzcomix itself got suspended by its host a week ago and lost all the votes when it returned and FW was slow to recover, sinking all the way to #24 or so for the past week, and Fey Winds owes a lot of its Buzzcomix popularity to the use of incentives (the instant a new incentive and comic was posted Fey Winds shot back into the top 20, and my guess is it’ll be back in the top 10 by the time you read this). Still, lots of webcomics use incentives to prop up voting, and they can’t crack the top three. But what attracted me to Fey Winds enough to tell myself to check it out some time was not its high ranking, but its status line: “Fantasy adventure with 100% of your weekly dose of snark. Now with 50% more story!” (The second sentence has since changed to “Now on Chapter 4!”)

Well this is interesting, I thought. “Fantasy adventure” with a good dose of “snark” and humor? Pray tell, had I found the new Order of the Stick (only with actual art)?

Erm… no.

First of all, the “snark” is a lie, and I accuse Nicole Chartrand of false advertising. There’s some snarkiness and even pointing out of tropes in some of the very earliest strips, like in Chapter 1, but very little. As the “Now with 50% more story” line implies, Chartrand has dipped her comic headlong into Cerebus Syndrome (even though her world already had some quantity of story arc running through it, I use it here to denote that the strip has become much more serious and the stakes raised as we learn boatloads more about the characters). But that, in turn, hints at my real problem with the strip:

Fey Winds is moving its plot along way too fast.

If you intend on reading the strip for yourself later, turn away now, because I’m about to summarize the entire “intro” chapter, which explains much of the concept: Once upon a time, a sorcerer introduced… something… into a long-running, devastating war. It’s unknown whether the Sylphe is “a spirit, or a construct, or the child of a god,” or something else, it’s just known that “armies, towns, cities, lives” fell before her, until she unexpectedly turned against her master – going against anything anyone had thought her capable of doing – and helping restore the countries she helped destroy, then disappearing, leaving only a series of powerful MacGuffins for her to be remembered by, “sought out by thieves, kings, and wholesome adventure-type folk… like us!”. (Emphasis in original.)

We’re then introduced to the cast: Larina, some sort of runaway from “a big elven sanctuary in the mountains” (“she never told me why she left, but then, I never asked”), who has a Stone of Possession on her forehead she picked up while investigating some sort of magical spring, which occasionally “shunts her spirit out of the way and possesses her with the soul of a random wandering ghost”; Nigel, whose story is that he’s a “Kaderrian mercenary” who encountered an “ugly witch and ugly daughter on his way home from a mission”, had the latter fall for him, he rejected her, and the witch cursed him to follow “someone who was a girl, but not a girl, and neither human, dwarf or elf.”

That happens to describe our narrator and main character, called “Kit” by the other characters, who was (stay with me here) a fox until she attempted to raid a chicken coop belonging to a witch, who “tried to turn me into a warty were-toad. Lucky for me she was completely senile” and turned her into a humanoid instead. Larina taught her speech, gave her clothes, and told her the story of the Sylphe; Nigel (who’s “a little creepy, and always seems to know what [Kit’s] thinking”) “taught [her] about swords and fighting – and the three of us have been traveling together for a few years since.”

Did you catch all that? Good, because practically none of it (especially the mysterious parts) is still extant for the current strips. Some of it was abandoned almost immediately (for example, Larina’s “possessed” self is a “fangirl” calling herself Belinda who takes over more predictably, when Larina takes some sort of blow to the head), but in order: the Sylphe is/was pretty firmly a golem; so far as I can tell, Larina has lost her gem to one of the Sylphe’s makers; Nigel is actually a golem himself; and Kit somehow had the spirit of the Sylphe inside her, and her actual origin has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what we were told back in the “intro” chapter.

There are still a few lingering mysteries (why was the Sylphe able to rebel against her masters? Why did Larina flee her home in the first place?), but the general feeling is that most of the questions are resolving themselves, barely 100 comics into the strip’s existence and while it’s only in its fourth full chapter – as though Chartrand is losing interest and rushing to the meat of the story she wanted to get to all along. Now, it’s possible – nay, likely – that what’s going on here is closer to how Order of the Stick overthrew virtually its entire premise about a hundred comics into its run, and what we’re seeing is only the beginning of what Fey Winds will become, not the end. It’s also possible that part of the problem I’m having has to do with Fey Winds’ weekly update schedule (and closer to biweekly earlier in its run), and that I need to keep in mind that Fey Winds is, after all, already over two years old. OOTS wrapped up its first book, and resulting overturning of the premise, only one year into its run!

Still, there’s the pacing a strip has to consider on its own update schedule… and then there’s the pacing the way a significant portion of your audience is going to read it. I’m willing to accept that for someone reading the strip as it’s come out, the current events have completely shaken them out of their comfort zone and have turned Fey Winds into something completely different than they were used to. Still, I can’t help but wonder (as someone who, like what could turn out to be a majority of the audience Fey Winds could still have, read the story to this point in an archive binge): couldn’t Chartrand have waited just one more chapter before shaking things up? Even the start of Chapter 3, before they reach the tomb, contains a number of hints of various things that get at least partially resolved in that very chapter.

Fey Winds proper (outside the “intro” chapter) only turned two years old this November, as Chapter 4 started, and was only a year and a half old when the part of Chapter 3 that engaged in the shaking-up started. Would two years of the strip introduced in the “intro” chapter really have been too much? (This is especially important as, like Girl Genius, Fey Winds releases a page at a time no matter how trivial the page may be, and coupled with its start-of-chapter splash pages, this suggests that Chartrand has plans to release her comics in a book later, meaning even more of her audience will be reading her strip all at once.)

Besides, having read the comic since its return from holiday hiatus, I’m thinking a weekly schedule may be too slow for most people given the content-per-comic ratio. For a comic with this much plot to release at the rate it does, when some comics (even now) are little more than one-shot jokes, is almost excruciating. At least most of the time, Girl Genius has more story per page and releases on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. Order of the Stick also tends to have more story per page than at least some Fey Winds comics (until recently, updating “three times a week without warning”) and people complain about it going too slow! (If Chartrand is going for the pacing of Gunnerkrigg Court, which she links on her “Links” page, it’s worth noting that comic also releases on a M-W-F schedule.)

No wonder Chartrand has started moving the plot forward faster! Had she started with a decent buffer and released just two pages per week, she could have spent longer with a funnier comic, still might be further along with the plot here in early 2009 (or at least two years-plus into its run), and the ensuing story would be richer for it. And I wouldn’t wonder if the “intro” chapter was completely superfluous. (Considering the changes she makes when the story begins, the “intro” chapter could have been more consistent on its own merits as well.) As it is, the weekly schedule is a hard habit to maintain without an RSS feed.

Since I’ve been babbling on for some time, I’ll make some general comments on the strip itself to close things out quickly. First, a quick note on the content-per-comic ratio; it is certainly tempting for some beginning webcomic-makers to put as little as possible in each strip to entice repeat visitors, but it tends to be more maddening than anything else. I criticize the strip’s descent into Cerebus Syndrome, but the “wacky hijinks” stage of the first two chapters wouldn’t even have a chance at my RSS reader (assuming, you know, it even had an RSS feed), and the ramping into gear of the plot is really a help in that context, to the extent I’m probably going to keep following it for just the near future, if only through the very beginning of Chapter 5 to pick up on the loose threads of the end of Chapter 3. So far the plot isn’t compelling enough for me to stick around longer, and more importantly the pace of updates may mean I just decide to catch up when the mood strikes me, rather than following it all along week-to-week. The brief forays into anime-inspired art for certain moments are something of a turn-off – generally, no matter what your art style is, you shouldn’t shift it too often (or too much) and you should have a good reason when you do.

Fey Winds isn’t bad, but once again it is crushingly mediocre. It comes off as, well, as some wannabe artist (who gives off a “valley girl” vibe in her news posts – and yes, especially considering the rest of her site, Chartrand is definitely an artist first and writer second, and we all know what that means) deciding to jump on this here “webcomics” bandwagon. I’m not saying it needs to be Order of the Stick, but there’s a lot that’s unpolished and somewhat amateur about it; in more refined hands, the plot could be somewhat compelling, even if the brief flashes of humor (which, especially lately, come off as unintentional and more “oh, that’s kinda funny” than actually laugh-inducing) were still retained. In addition to pacing, Chartrand could stand to learn more about what comic artists call storytelling, something she seems to have gotten better at since some excruciating and confusing moments in the first two chapters. (Moments that, as with Dresden Codak, suggest that sometimes in webcomic art, less really is more.)

There’s a lot of potential in Fey Winds so far; if I were judging it solely on the basis of its art it might be one of the prettiest webcomics on the Internet (and perhaps the need to make art of that quality is why FW runs on a weekly schedule when the pace of the story would seem to dictate updating more often), but then again if that were the only basis xkcd and Order of the Stick wouldn’t even be in the conversation. Still, the story that’s been told so far is actually pretty decent, if not yet must-see, even though those spurts of humor come off as more of a sales gimmick than as something Chartrand would do just as part of the process of writing the story (though that may be a misconception). Certainly I’m seeing no structural problems with the dialogue or anything clunky or excruciating like expospeak (this being a possible exception). But for as decent as the story is, it still falls into some beginners’ traps, not the least of which is the sense I get that the eventual story was still very much a work in progress when the “intro” was posted, even besides the parts that were intended to be discarded later all along.

Fey Winds has a lot going for it, but right now it’s hardly the best webcomic you’re not reading (despite what some fans may claim), and it sure as hell isn’t the new Order of the Stick. Or even the poor man’s version.

A more optimistic view of Obama’s term and our future

I think I depressed myself with my predictions for Obama’s future and the future of the nation. So I want to use this space to present a more optimistic vision – a realistic optimistic vision, mind you.

Obama pulls the military out of Iraq before a year’s time expires… and into Iran, which swiftly becomes a replay of Iraq. Obama compromises virtually everything the Left stands for in the stimulus package, including steps to repair the environment but not in the way Democrats would like. Obama does nothing to repair the damage done to the Constitution by the Bush Administration.

America slowly but surely pulls out of its economic funk, but very little actual “change” happens, even from the policies of the last eight years. Democrats gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2010 but lose some seats in the House. Many in the “netroots” decide to form their own nascent political movement for 2012, which attracts attention from both parties. The Republicans start to attract new attention as well, creating a climactic three-way showdown for the Presidency.

Who comes out on top… is anyone’s guess.

Wait. That’s still too depressing no matter what happens. Even if the new political movement wins, it will have less real experience in all its leaders combined than Obama alone, and it’ll have fallen behind in the past four years. Let’s try that again.

Obama enters office aware as few are of the many critical problems facing America and just how much we stand at a critical moment in American history.

Obama swiftly pulls the military out of Iraq before a year’s time expires, and the country becomes relatively stable, though hardly the stablest in the region. Recognizing the immense magnitude of the problem of the environment, Obama loads over half the stimulus package with programs intended to help correct American greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of lowering those emissions as much as humanly possible by the end of his first term. The rest of the package, including new education programs, is essentially Obama’s own version of the New Deal.

By 2010, America is already – slowly but surely – pulling out of its economic funk. Republicans claim it was never going to be as bad as a second Great Depression unless Obama screwed it up, but that falls on deaf ears. Many are disappointed at how little actual “change” has occured so far, as Obama has been preoccupied by the economic meltdown and tension in various foreign nations, not to mention growing into the job of President, as well as balancing economic stimulus with not becoming a vassal of China. Nonetheless the Democrats once again increase their lead in both houses of Congress.

By 2012, Obama has probably been a B president, maybe slightly worse than Clinton, which isn’t really a knock on Obama. The main knock on his record is that foreign leaders seem to respect Obama the person more than America the country, but the anti-America rallies have greatly subsided, and things have mostly returned to a Clinton-era status quo, as though the years 2001-2008 never happened, although America is still aggressively pursuing terrorists, this time with greater cooperation with foreign governments and greater success. After taking greater control of Congress in 2010, Obama starts to make far greater headway on his various proposals, previously stonewalled by Republicans. With America peaceful and prosperous, and much of the damage done to the Constitution and the environment either repaired or in the process of being repaired, Obama and the Democrats win a resounding victory and the Republicans fall into disarray.

By 2014, the Republicans are no longer in the top two largest third parties in America.

How much did you like that assessment? How much did you like it compared to the other two?

Here’s the important part: From the present vantage point, all three of those predictions could be equally likely to happen.

Obama could be so grossly incompetent as to fracture the country, lead to the rise of a modern Hitler, and combined with the ravages to the environment, end modern civilization as we know it. He could turn out to be a Trojan horse, Bush 2.0, who forces the Left to break with the Democrats to get their agenda moving. He could turn out to be a modern FDR who effectively kills the Republican party by contrasting his Presidency with George W. Bush’s.

Any or all of those things may happen.

Republicans would probably prefer the second of these scenarios happened, maybe the first in some radical sectors (quasi-fascist areas, religious righters who think the first scenario would trigger the Second Coming). Democrats would probably prefer the third. We don’t know enough about Obama to know which direction things would take if left to their own devices.

But the rest of you would not like it to be the first scenario.

Politics, much as we hate to admit it, matters. It matters in our own daily lives and those of countless others. If we don’t pay attention to politics and what’s happening in our world, we can be blindsided by the consequences – and we won’t even know why they’re happening.

But if it turns out to be the first scenario, what can be done to stop it?

The power lies with you.

You have the power to vote for the people you agree with, the people who will best represent your own interests and those of the country.

You have the power to keep yourself informed and see what’s coming before it happens.

You have the power to educate yourself and make sure you’re confident in the direction you think the country should take.

You have the power not to stand for it if things start to go to hell in a handbasket. Stage protests, circulate petitions, gin up opposition, do whatever you need to to stand for what you believe in.

In ten years, America could be fighting in Armageddon… or it could be in the middle of one of its biggest Golden Ages.

Your vote matters. What happens over the next 4-8 years matters.

And some fairly small differences could determine which path America takes.

The ball, right now, is in Barack Obama’s court. But however he serves it back, it’s far more important to determine what happens after that.

The ultimate power lies with you.