Meaningful assessment & avoiding black holes

Working off of a couple of other blog posts, notably this one by Historiann, Dr. Crazy argues for a view of assessment in higher education that gets out from under the usual pitched battles between those who see a need for “accountability” and those who want faculty to retain/reclaim control over curriculum. Both sides agree that students are not learning as well as they should be, but disagree over the nature of the problem and the role that external constituencies should have in shaping the direction of higher education and how you assess or determine whether learning is happening or not. For the former group, appeasing external constituencies, boards, legislators, accreditors, taxpayers is paramount, and for the latter, it is an unwanted interference, at least at the level of determining what students should be learning.

Historiann counters in the first comment to Crazy’s piece that assessment in many places is already happening, but that the data is generally ignored, especially when it is inconvenient, i.e., when it suggests that students would be better served by additional faculty hires, smaller class sizes, etc., or when the only function it serves is to show external constituencies that an institution is “serious” about holding faculty accountable. In that case, all you really need is a file cabinet, in an office or on a server, that you can point to when someone starts asking questions. With so many institutions understaffed, and looking at increasing enrollments, there are more serious things to worry about than “accountability” and “assessment”.

While I admire Dr. Crazy’s will to find ways to make assessment work for faculty, and most importantly, students, I am more in agreement with Historiann, at least in the sense that I think that, in too many cases, the whole process has been corrupted by having been associated with satisfying external constituencies, and from a faculty perspective, administrative imperatives tied to those constituencies, and not with actually improving student learning.

That point, that assessment needs to be about students, both in the sense of seeing them as active agents in their own learning and in making their learning the point of the process, is Dr. Crazy’s strongest argument for faculty taking a constructive role in crafting assessment regimes, and not just chafing under the pressure to take part so that administrators can look shiny for boards, accreditors, legislators, and the public.

As far as I can tell, in situations where faculty have initiated programs to assess study learning within their courses, majors, and minors, there is value for students in terms of curriculum reforms that help to address deficiencies and student needs in relationship to what faculty think students should be learning in their fields. I’ve seen this on my own campus where certain departments, for whatever reason, were out in front of the current mania for assessment.

The problem is that for other departments the assessment discussion has been started not as a faculty-student issue, but as a administration to faculty matter. What you end up with in terms of instruments, ends, and what counts as data looks very different when the conversation begins that way. Even more problematic are those circumstances where a faculty have tools for assessment in place, but is dismissed because it doesn’t fit into the right kinds of boxes for administrative review. In our last round of accreditation, every department in Social Science, even those with theses and senior capstones, and where faculty could document how those experiences had been used to improve curriculum for students, was told that they lacked adequate mechanisms for assessing student learning.

This is where Historiann is right: many faculty already do assessments of student learning. Where assessment becomes “makework” is where we have to turn that into some kind of report or document that serves administrative goals related to “accountability”. I have my own experiences with the Black Hole of Information, sometimes never even getting to the point of reporting the results of an assessment activity, but simply submitting the instrument used without ever being asked for the data.

(And one side issue here is how the terms of assessment are constantly changing. I can look at my syllabi and track the shift from “objectives” to “outcomes” and now accreditors in our region want every institution to have “core themes”, and have changed both the accrediting standards and the schedule for visits. As a consequence, as faculty, we get an ever evolving, and not entirely rational, set of requests from our Dean for this or that kind of assessment using this or that kind of form, most frequently, with great desperation near the end Spring term.

Which just goes to Crazy’s point that this should be about students, and it isn’t).

I was thinking the other day how my class blogs, especially the one I have for my intro classes, are treasure troves for assessment of student learning. I mine a lot of information out of those discussions regarding what my students are and are not getting out of the course, what is working for them and what is not, and combined with in-class assessment I do on a weekly basis, I am continually generating notes on how to change or improve the course.

To the best of my knowledge, though, I cannot satisfy administrative requests for data by pointing them to the blogs. And I don’t have the time or energy to digest the useful stuff for others, let alone in some kind of format or medium that is bureaucratically useful. Does my university have a person or department who could or would do that kind of work? Of course not.

What we do have is a software service that will pull together all manner of standardized and quantitative data for interested constituencies to peer at. The extent to which assessment has become an industry also plays a role in the corruption that has infected this issue, perhaps irreparably, at least when it comes to getting us to where Crazy would like everyone to be.

One of the other commenters at Reassigned Time 2.0, Susan, remarks that one area where formalized assessment activities of the kind currently required of faculty has been useful is in thinking about curriculum in a programmatic way – what do we want our students to be learning and what role do different courses play in achieving those outcomes? That’s a useful conversation to have.

But I also agree with Earnest English that, while statements of learning outcomes, the usual first step towards assessment in the current parlance, is useful on a macro level for programs, and for individual courses, on a day-to-day, student-to-student basis, I don’t know how much this process matters, or the extent to which it obscures more than it reveals. As this commenter notes, what any individual “gets” out of a class is going to be highly variable, maybe it corresponds neatly with the predetermined outcome and maybe it does not. What I do know is that I rarely think about these outcomes after I’ve finished writing a syallbus, and am in the thick of actually teaching actual students.

Of course, I can always take what happens in the course of actual teaching and make it conform to statements of outcomes if I want or need to. I can make this easier by seeding my assignments and class materials with keywords taken from the outcomes, but, at a basic level, what does that provide evidence of except my ability to manipulate language? I think what Earnest English is getting at is that it is very difficult to account for what kinds of knowledge students will take and make from their classes, and, however useful it might be to set a few marks to meet as far as what we think our students ought to be learning, it would be a mistake to treat learning as a simple matter of hitting those marks. More to the point, it is a mistake for faculty to give into a system of assessment that rests on holding faculty “accountable” to the kinds of simple statements of outcomes with which we litter our catalogs and syllabi.

In the spirit of Dr. Crazy’s appeal to get out of the morass of faculty vs. admin vs. everyone else, to me the only helpful thing would be for a time out on all official demands for assessment so that faculty, who need to catch up to bureaucratic curve, can do so in a way where we get to think about students first and admin and everyone else second, or even as afterthoughts. And then admin and everyone else can come up with the means by which that work is translated into something that meets their needs.

My university is in the same situation as Historiann’s right now. We have skyrocketing enrollment, but with a tenure track faculty that hasn’t grown significantly in a decade or more. In my division, at least, adjunct hires have contracted over time, even to replace faculty on sabbatical or with course releases. We have administrators scrutinizing registration for low enrolling upper division courses to cancel so that faculty can be reassigned to teach higher enrolling lower division offerings. This is how we are trying to deal with our increased enrollments instead of hiring new faculty, a solution that undercuts one of the university’s other goals, which is to have students complete their degrees in four years.

That software service I mentioned costs money. Doing all of the “makework” to fulfill system and accreditor demands for data costs money or faculty time that, as above, we don’t have. Like Historiann, I think that most faculty have more to worry about than doing assessment in the properly bureaucratic manner, or to generate data and instruments that simply disappear into a black hole in the Dean’s office.

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On finishing BUFFY SEASON EIGHT

I had been thinking about what I might want to write about Buffy Season Eight even before reading issue number forty and Joss Whedon’s letter at the end of the “episode”, as well his EW interview, which I had stored away in my “read later” section on Pinboard.

And what I had been thinking about runs parallel to Whedon’s remarks on the end of this first comics season for Buffy. In particular, I think that these comments from the EW interview, and also represented in the letter, identify what made Season Eight both exciting and frustrating:

I got very excited when I had a comic book with the idea that I could do absolutely anything. We hit a lot of beautiful notes and I’ve got a lot of great writers working [on the comics], and I’m very proud of it. But at the same time, it’s like, yeah, “You can do anything” is not really the Buffy mission statement. The Buffy mission statement is, “What does this feel like?”

With the comic, we just sort of said, “Wheee!” Ultimately, “Wheee!” caught up with us in a cavalcade of mythology. It became clear, as it did with the show, that people really liked when Buffy’s adventures reflect what she’s going through in her life [and] what we’re going through in our lives at that age. That was the thing in season 8 that we didn’t tap into as much as I think we ultimately should have.

As I remarked in this column on PopMatters, the scale and scope of the storytelling in Season Eight is much greater than it ever was, or could be, on television. While this undoubtedly took advantage of the new medium, sometimes bigger is just bigger, not better. That the creative team recognizes this is not only apparent in paratexts like the letter and the interview, but also in the text of issue number forty.

One of the strengths of Buffy on TV is how consistently the series deals with the consequences of big events and character choices. And that’s what the final issue of Season Eight is about – the aftermath of what Buffy did to conclude “Last Gleaming” (#36-#39). While destroying the seed of magic creates a break in the storyworld it also constitutes a beginning, one where the effects of Buffy’s action have to be dealt with, both on a personal level for the characters and also in terms of how the universe works. This is strong storytelling, and looks to be the jumping off point for Season Nine, for which Whedon seems to be promising less grand theatrics and more character-driven narratives.

For me, I think the apex of the “wheee” thinking is in the Brad Meltzer written “Twilight” issues (#32-#35), where Buffy and Angel have explicit, epic, universe creating sex. For one constraint or another – censors, budgets – this storyline would have been impossible to work into the TV series, and likely so even if it had not been on a broadcast network.

And I’m still not sure what I think about this particular piece of the Season Eight story, or what it added to the mythology of the Buffyverse, or to our understanding of Buffy’s relationship with Angel. It still feels to me as if it was done more because it could be done, and not as much because it was an entirely good or compelling idea.

A more minor “we did it because we could” moment in Season Eight is the reappearance of Warren. In terms of technique, aesthetics, and budgets, a drawn character who has no skin is a much better proposition than a live action version, but the narrative reasons for bringing Warren back, really skin or no, still elude me. There is also the question of what his appearance in the comics implies for season seven and how the First Evil works. I’ve done some research, and know that a rationale has been given (wanked) for how Warren could both be used by the First Evil and come back in uncovered flesh and blood for Season Eight, but I don’t find the explanation compelling in light of the limited pay off for needing to rationalize the choice at all.

To be honest, I’m not sure Amy needed to be brought into the new comics either, but with her there might be future uses that could still result in something interesting. More importantly, her introduction into Season Eight did not create meta-narrative level problems requiring readers to either forget what they had been told previously and/or some kind of patch for the mythology to remain consistent at a pretty fundamental level.

On the other hand, I agree with Whedon that Giant Dawn is maybe the best example of how the writers and artists took advantage of the medium in Season Eight. All of Dawn’s transmogrifications worked for both humor and character development, giving Dawn adversity to overcome, and helping her to mature as her feelings of being different take on literal form.

“Wolves at the Gate” (#12-#15) stands as one of my favorite mini-arcs of the season. Giant Dawn, of course, plays a major role in that story, but I also like how Drew Goddard writes Dracula as both a powerful and a vulnerable character, and the shift of the action to Tokyo is another good example of using comics to good effect (I did not particularly care for the killing off of Renee, but was not surprised by it either).

“No Future for You” (#6-#9) and “Time of Your Life” (#16-#19) are my two other favorite series within the series. The latter, like “Wolves at the Gate”, takes Buffy into a high concept world that would have been impossible to render in an effective way on TV, but also gave fans a much anticipated crossover with Fray, drew out some very long term implications of the present-day story, and brought Karl Moline back to the Buffyverse. I think that Whedon’s rendering of an even thicker version of future slang for this mini is a good use of bringing Buffy into Fray’s New York, giving readers what they don’t have in Fray, which is someone in the story who has to navigate that time and place from an unfamiliar position.

The Drew Goddard written “No Future for You” knows its core characters well, and provides a superb reintroduction of Faith, but is also the first point in the series where Georges Jeanty and Andy Owens showed me a real weakness in their art. For the most part, the comics versions of the characters took on effective lives of their own, different from, but related to, their live action counterparts, but the early attempts at drawing Faith did not work well for me at all, making her seem, of all things, dumpy. By the end of the whole series, she starts looking sharper and more Faith-like, but initially, not a high point for the art in Season Eight.

Looking back on the single issue stories from Season Eight:

  • In “The Chain” (#5), Joss Whedon writes a story that ably explores the tougher side of running a Slayer army.
  • Also written by Whedon and appearing in succession are “Anywhere But Here” (#10) and “A Beautiful Sunset” (#11). The former is notable to me for Cliff Richards’s art, which, as always, provides effective comic book likenesses of the characters. The latter reveals Satsu’s love for Buffy and also brings the series around to questions of love and sexuality that it kind of punted with Willow by making her a fully committed Lesbian. Anne-Marie and I have always talked about how it would be more interesting if Willow simply loved who she loved, male or female, than it is for her to have not only discovered an attraction to women, but also that she is, in some sense, exclusive in her attractions. Buffy’s sexuality seems to have become more fluid with time, and that is interesting, and well worth the static this revelation earned the creators on the letters page.
  • “After these Message … We’ll be Right Back!” (#20), by Jeph Loeb, “Harmonic Divergence” (#21), by Jane Espenson, and “Swell” (#22), by Steven S. DeKnight all provided fun diversions from the main story, playing with cultural trends and keeping the series grounded in everyday life.
  • Whedon’s “Turbulence” (#31) is strong bridge between “Retreat” (#26-#30) and “Twilight”, and introduces one of the most interesting aspects of Season Eight for me: Buffy’s superpowers, a development made even more intriguing given their source. This story poses interesting issues about power and the costs of using it that are well within the scope of both the series itself and superhero comics in general. Granting Buffy new powers, even for a few moments, serves to ground her in that larger tradition, but in a way that seems very organic, and not forced.

In considering my review, clearly I have more doubts about the latter third of the series than the remainder, but there are, of course, moments I liked. Spike leading a pack of spacefaring bugs, for example, is crazy fun, and the character wears that kind of thing well. I also am impressed that, in issue forty, Whedon manages to make Kennedy interesting, albeit at Willow’s expense.

However, I do not know what to write about Giles’s death at the hands of Angel. On the one hand, this death is less cheap than Anya’s is in season seven. On the other hand, I am not sure what to make of the how it happened, or whether this is, in fact, the time to actually take Giles out of the storyworld (the previous time this happened did not work out so well, but everyone was younger then, too). I hope that this a thread that gets woven into Season Nine and/or the new Angel books from Dark Horse.

Mostly, I am interested to see if the new series does, in fact, follow the lines outlined by Whedon so far. If it does, that will be for the better, and will also, I think, keep giving Buffy (and Buffy) a meaningful life in comics. What I hope does not change is Jo Chen as the primary cover artist. Virually every cover she made for Season Eight is a frameable work of art. Still, I am open to change and surprise even here.

January comics

From tfaw:

Monthly comics:

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #2 (IDW)

Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner have a good idea for a story started. Given how few episodes Illyria appeared in, I imagine that she is a good character to write. Getting the voice right remains hard.

Birds of Prey #8 (DC)

“The Death of Oracle” story continues and the title seems to have found some stability in the art. Gail Simone writes strong stories about the human/meta-human divide and this looks to be one of those, at least in part.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #1 (Dark Horse)

The new story starts fast with a cast of unfamiliar characters, but ends with an awesomely rendered final page. Guy Davis also designs a great-looking, though enigmatic, cover.

Casanova: Gula #1 (Marvel Icon)

Another new story starts. Lots going on, people intersecting from different timelines, and Casanova missing in one of them. Full of the kind of action and geekry I have come to expect from this title.

Generation Hope #3 (Marvel)

I am wondering where this title goes after all of the new mutants have been found and pacified by Hope. I suppose this issue is an indication, with them coming together as a team somehow, but that Kieron Gillen’s next story arc should be even more of an indication of this.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1 (Dark Horse)

Scott Hampton’s style is slicker than I am used to seeing on this title, but Mike Mignola’s story seems like creepy fun. Short mini.

I, Zombie #9 (DC/Vertigo)

Gwen and Horatio finally have a date, while the vampires scheme, Ellie gets jealous, and maybe rash, and Scott deals with his life. This is turning into quite the ensemble title.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 (Marvel)

Settles into kind of a conventional action thriller mode, unless you count all of the zipping around in time and space. This title is so strange, that I wonder that Marvel allows Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver make it at all, especially since they are radically shaping the history of one of the Marvel Universe’s key institutions. And, yet, here it is.

Spider-Girl #2 (Marvel)

Quick, dramatic, and maybe not so positive turn in the story. I am guessing it will take a few issues to work through the implication sof what happens to Anya here. Less encouraging is the splitting of the art.

Spike #4 (IDW)

The point of this issue is pretty well revealed at the end. Drusilla remains a work in progress. I think that Nicola Zanni’s Dru can grown on me, but there is a lot of variation in how she looks here, with face and body not quite settled yet.

Uncanny X-Men #531 (Marvel)

I will say this about this title right now: as per my prior comments, I do not like Greg Land’s style. But it does work for Lobe’s alternate X-Men. The panel where they gather to go be heroes is well drawn, and the plastic-y, beautiful look works well for these wannabes. It still remains a problem for many in the main cast; I even think he manages to make Emma boring, despite the fact that she is a character who can also wear his style well.

X-23 #4 (Marvel)

So, Laura gets her own story after all. Maybe Marjorie Liu is finally getting some ownership now that “Wolverine Goes to Hell” is behind her. One thing I have noticed about this title is that covers are often oddly inappropriate. This month, we see X-23 in X-Force mode, but most of the time she is drawn as some kind of sexy fashion plate. None of these looks has had much to do with the stories.

TPBs:

Batman: Joker’s Asylum Volume 2 (DC)

Ordered this to scree for A, who loves Harley Quinn and likes the Batverse. On the whole, a reminder of how depraved Gotham is, but I also found Mike Raicht’s (writer), David Yardin’s & Cliff Richards’ (art) and Jose Villarrubia (colors) Killer Croc story to be strangely affecting, especially the by the time the next to last panel shows.

Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Volume 3 (Marvel)

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 1: Back in Action (Marvel)

Fun-ish sideshow with Rogue and Spider-Man, and the reemergence of the Morlocks. Mystique. High soap opera. Pretty much what you expect from this series.

Digital comics (from comiXology):

Suburban Glamour #1-4 (Image)

Probably the best thing I read this month. Beautiful, pop-y art from Jamie McKelvie and a story that nicely intertwines classic genre elements and fantasy with contemporary suburban ennui. Maybe moves too quick and crams too much in, and points towards sequels a little too broadly, especially if they never happen. What I like most about McKelvie’s art is how real it looks despite the simplicity. Renders well on my iPhone, except for the letters pages, which are next to impossible to read that way.

DVD Review: FREAKONOMICS

Yesterday, my review of the DVD for the film adaptation of Steven Levitt’s and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics posted at PopMatters. While entertaining enough, as social science, the film leaves something to be desired.

There is one sense in which it does not seem to matter much if one refers to the book or to the film. In both cases, freakonomics, however unconventional in other respects, shares at least one limitation with mainstream economics: a refusal to engage with the underlying values or politics of its claims about the world.

Read the review

Recommended daily reading – 9 February

Despite the time that has passed, only a few items here.

Fun item linked from the Torontoist about a program to tap maple trees outside of people’s homes in the city.

Staying in Toronto, here is another of the “Street Scenes” being posted at Spacing’s Toronto blog.

At Newsrama, Jill Potzzi has a smart discussion of what Dave E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman series for NBC needs to do. I think that this passage is particularly on-target:

Wonder Woman is just as much, if not more ferocious than Superman and Batman yet they won’t let her act that way in live-action. I understand having to have a balance between her feminine side or a secret identity but I can all-but-guarantee you she is going to spend way too much time in the “office” on this show. NBC and Kelley would do themselves a big favor by following what the Wonder Woman animated film by Lauren Montgomery, Michael Jelenic and Gail Simone presented to audiences as far as tone.

And, via Project:Rooftop, yes, please, to this.

Adapting B.P.R.D. to film, or for television?

At the end of last month, MTV’s Splash Page posted highlights from an interview with Dark Horse Comics and Entertainment president, Mike Richardson, in which Richardson broadly hints that the next movie out of the Hellboy-universe might not be a third Hellboy, but a BPRD adaptation (the article is vague as to whether this project is being looked at or worked on by Guillermo del Toro or not).

I would be happy to see either a Hellboy III or a BPRD movie, so long as it is made with the same care and affection for the characters that mark the first two Hellboys, and I can see the logic in shifting the franchise to BPRD, but, as I have noted previously, what I would really like to see is for the team title to be made into a TV series.

Making the next movie about the Bureau instead of Hellboy would follow logically from the end of Golden Army, where Hellboy quits the organization, much as he does at the end Seed of Destruction in the comics. Moving Hellboy along would do for the movies what it has done for the books, which is to give the other characters more room for growth and development and for extending the storyworld beyond the horizons of a single, titanic figure.

One crucial difference between the comics and the movies, though, is that in the former, Hellboy quits on his own, while in the latter, Abe and Liz also quit. I think that any BPRD movie would need to reintegrate at least one of those characters to be viable. In terms of their cultural resonance, Hellboy isn’t Batman and the BPRD is not the X-Men, which means that the next film, whatever it is, and if it is, can hardly afford to lose all of the characters that have anchored the movies to this point.

It is easy to think of ways to bring Abe back into the fold, but, due to her pregnancy, it is difficult to see how Liz could be part of a BPRD movie without also including Hellboy. You could write a big break-up between the two, or have Liz’s power threatening to leave her control again, maybe leaving Hellboy as a single dad (wouldn’t that be interesting), but that seems a strange turn to take once you’ve decided to essentially marry Liz and Hellboy and give them a child. Can Abe provide enough continuity to make the average moviegoer or comics fan excited about seeing the film? Probably no way to answer that question in advance.

One way to short circuit this problem is to look at a BPRD movie as a reboot, but I’m not sure what that would look like, or if it would be smart given that much of the potential audience will only have the Hellboy movies for reference. Most importantly, Hellboy needs to be part of the background for the Bureau and if you don’t pick up where Golden Army leaves off, how do you effectively do that while also making a BPRD adaptation and not another Hellboy? Clearly you need to be more clever than me to figure these questions out.

This is one place where I think adapting the series for television makes more sense than a film. I think that a change in medium would offer more of an opportunity to restructure the storyworld in the adaptation process, if for no other reason than you don’t have to deal with the legacy of prior works on TV. I can easily see how a BPRD television series could be made without Hellboy as a primary character, as a recurring character, maybe popping up in flashback, or as someone who crosses paths with the Bureau on occasion, but I think you can make his presence felt without needing to build the show around him, given that you would be starting from a unique beginning on TV.

However, in a more general sense, I think that BPRD is simply better material for television than it is for film.

Movies adapted from serialized fiction, especially genres like science fiction, fantasy, or superhero, are a chance to see the spectacular aspects of stories rendered in a spectacular way, but inevitably, this comes at the expense of character and narrative development.

Yes, BPRD has its epic qualities, but you also have years of complex character interactions and stories that have been unfolding through multiple-interlocking layers of narrative for essentially the entire run of the series, and even back to Hellboy. BPRD, to me, suggests The Wire or Lost more than it does Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars.

Hellboy, by contrast, is, on his own, a bigger than life character and, maybe for that reason, in the comics, is used for more episodic storytelling than is the whole, evolving crew at the BPRD. Generally, I think that it is probably easier to take a single character and use him or her in different contexts because you have less to manage in terms of relationships and character development than you do when trying to focus on a group of people. In short, I think that movies play well to the strengths and qualities of Hellboy, both book and character, and in the same way, I think that television is a better medium for adapting BPRD.

Where would such a series find a home? That’s a hard question to answer, but I am thinking more SyFy or AMC than Fox or NBC.  Done right, this would clearly be a cult-y niche show, and a channel or network that has a business model that works with showcasing interesting, alternative type programming without requiring some sort of buy-in from a wider audience would be best. I also think that it would be helpful for the series to be programmed on a more intensive basis, ten or twelve episodes a season instead of twenty-two or twenty-four, and, with scripted programs at least, that is still more common with off network shows than it is for those on the big four.

Of course, all of this is from a fan’s perspective and what I’d like to see happen. Richardson may have been cagey in the MTV interview because nothing may get made. And that would be ok, too, at least so long as the books are still going strong.

Recommended daily reading – 1 February (nice quotes edition)

I have a series of pointers to pieces with individual quotations that I find to be particularly perceptive, or that articulate views I have in a perfect way. Emphasis is mine.

At CBR’s “She has no Head”, Kelly Thompson presents the Ladies Comics Project, and one of her readers, Nora, has this wonderful comment on women’s bodies in comics:

Not going to lie, I’m always a little disappointed in the insane bust-to-waist-to-hip ratio of comic book ladies (or at least the ones I have seen).  I recognize it as a style, I know it’s fantasy, but, you know, not mine.

Originally linked from Thompson’s 1979 Semi-Finalist.

At the Spacing Toronto blog, economist Hugh McKenzie has this pitch perfect discussion of government revenues and spending. What he says in the interview seems so simple and rational, you would think that we could proceed from this premise in all discussions of public budgets. Sadly, not true.

A city’s means aren’t fixed. A government’s means are determined politically, just as government expenses are determined politically. To say that the City should “live within its means” is to say nothing whatsoever. It only masks an argument for less services. When people make that suggestion, it’s undisclosed code for, “We know the cost of what we’re currently doing is going up and we’re not prepared to see taxes go up every year to pay for it. Therefore, every year we’re going to have to reduce the amount of services being provided.”

Finally, on Crooked Timber, John Quiggin has this insightful comment at the close of a piece on “U.S. decline”:

The main implication of all this, for me, is that Americans should stop worrying about relative “decline”, “competitiveness” and so on, and start focusing on making the US a better place to live.

In other political items, Carla Wise has a piece at High Country News on the lack of USDA approved slaughterhouses and the implications of that lack for small and local farmers, including one of our favorites, Afton Field Farm. And on Mother Jones, Kevin Drum reblogs three questions about events in Egypt and how American neocons are likely to respond to those events.

In comics and art:

  • On Techland, Douglas Wolk has some good advice to owners, or would-be owners of comics shops. I particularly am in favor of promoting points 2 and 3, and would second his statement about the quality of the stores in Portland.
  • At Written World, Ragnell has an interesting take on DC’s announcement of a Wonder Woman-themed cosmetic line.
  • Haven’t linked to Renee French in awhile, but the other day she posted this wonderfully goofy dog. And back on the Spacing Toronto blog is the latest of their lovely “Street Scenes” from Jerry Waese.