Lost. Woah.

Given that I’ve been an absentee blogger for, oh, probably six months (maybe more), it’s fitting that the end of Lost would be just what I needed to hop back on the saddle.  The truth is, I’ve contemplated putting reviews up here for episodes all season, but I’ve found myself far more intrigued by what other folks have to say.  There are tens of people out there, many of whom write more elegantly — and think more complexly — than I.

But with all of the talk these days about what Lost means, and whether the finale will deliver some cosmically awesome wrap-up of answers to fans, it seems only appropriate to weigh in. Not on the whole season. Not on all the meaning.  Just to say a word about what the writers do or do not “owe” us.

I think Jason Mittel gets the closest to expressing how I feel about answers on Lost, in dividing his questions into Outriggers, Mechanicals,  Mythologies, and Plots.  The first we can fill in the gaps for ourselves. The second are really, at the end of the day, not important to our fundamental understanding of the narrative, particularly given that this is a SciFi/Fantasy gambit.  The third and the fourth are more “important,” but only in so far as they explain why things happened on the show the way they did.  He points to what are probably my most hankering questions: what on earth happened with the original Incident in 1977?  And how did Jughead blowing up create the Sideways world? And what about the Island being underwater? I’m paraphrasing here, and imbuing some of my own questions into Mittel’s, but ultimately I feel that without giving us some form of an answer to these questions we are being denied crucial plot points.

However…when I think about the outrigger mystery that inspired the “Outrigger” category of questions, I wonder if I’m barking up the wrong tree.  The reason the outrigger mystery (reminder: while traveling through time in Season 4, Sawyer, Juliet, and co. hopped into an outrigger at the Losties deteriorating beach camp; as they paddled on the sea, a second outrigger, that had been parked at the Losties’ beach camp as well, approached and a gunfight ensued; Juliet shot someone on the second outrigger, and then time shifted; we were never shown who was in that second outrigger, though we determined that the gunfight had taken place in 2007) was so important to fans was because we felt that someone of importance to our narrative on the second outrigger was shot by Juliet.  Damon and Carlton have made clear that they did not feel it was necessary to “close the loop” on this, even though they know who was on the second outrigger. Though irritated at first, I recognize that if the writers and producers of the show don’t feel it’s important to reveal something to us, than it is simply not important.  It doesn’t matter at all who was on that second boat, even if someone was shot, because it has no relevance to our narrative.

Similarly, while at this moment in time I feel it is extremely important that we receive an explanation of how the original Incident played out versus the Jughead Incident (and what happened to the Island in the aftermath of both versions), if, by the end of the series on Sunday night, this isn’t revealed to me, I’ve, in a sense, received an answer: it has no relevance to our narrative.

In the same vein, if we receive no more information about Eloise Hawking and Charles Widmore and their motives, how can I be mad? It’s not as if these characters did anything that our writers and producers cannot account for — they exist in the heads of our writers and producers! Their motivations and desires and storylines were laid out for us as much as necessary in order to understand their part in this particular story, as told by our writers and producers.

Which is all to say: I guess I’m beginning to understand why I am satisfied by the answers we’ve gotten when others are not. I’m not here for every bit of the narrative to be fleshed out — only so far as the story is told.  I may wish we knew more about this or that, but I care much, much more about how this all boils down to a satisfying ending for our characters. I have watched this for all these years to see if Damon and Carlton could tell me something about the meaning of the universe, through the allegory of the Island. I’ve watched so they could tell me a story. About people.

I think James Poniewozik has it pretty right, when he defends the right of TPTB to tell the story they want to tell, even if some fans think they are being “arrogant.”  They aren’t telling us the story we want; and if we want to try our hand out writing a “better” story, we’re certainly welcome to. Lord knows there are scary places on the internet where fan fiction flourishes.

But I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve decided we won’t get any answers.  While I don’t think I’ll be mad if answers don’t come in the form I am hoping for, I also think it’s premature — and sad — to lose faith that our writers and producers won’t produce answers.  TPTB have, at times, done a masterful job of closing loops and answering questions.  Remember how bewildered we all were by Richard’s visiting a time-shifting Locke and giving him the instructions about having to die?  That mystery was solved, in a terribly satisfying way.  How we didn’t understand Richard’s visit to Locke as a child? Again, solved beautifully — and not for another two seasons!

In the same way, I expect that we will get more information about what sort of game Eloise was playing throughout the series, and whether she was working with the MIB (or merely being utilized unknowingly).  And whatever happens, I believe we will feel satisfied.  Because we are only being told what we need to be told by those doing the telling. Not more, not less.

All of this said, though, I reserve the right to be disappointed on Sunday night. But I don’t expect that will be the case.

Contemporary Decency

Kevin Drum is traveling at the moment and as so been temporarily replaced on his blog by Mother Jones writer Nick Baumann. I really do love Drum’s writing, but how nice to have Baumann to read in his place for a few days. He’s discussing subjects that Drum wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

Like this theoconservative take on why the proposed Ugandan law to execute gay people is horrible and indefensible, from a Catholic perspective.  The author of the piece later responded to one of the many commenters who said he has a friend that defends slavery because the Bible says slavery is okay. Woah. Who knew, as Baumann points out, there were still people trying to make such arguments?  Haven’t we gotten to a point in time when polite company doesn’t question the idea that slavery is horrible?

The passage where Baumann really struck me is this:

It’s all well and good, I suppose, to offer lengthy attacks on the Ugandan law. But at this point in human history, given the experience of the twentieth century, some things should really be part of a broad moral consensus. The immorality of slavery or of executing minorities shouldn’t really require long arguments.

I suspect this is why it’s been hard for Sullivan to find examples of the National Review or the Weekly Standard or the American Conservative or Commentary denouncing the Ugandan law. The writers at those magazines may disagree with Sullivan on a lot of things, but I suspect they think it’s pretty obvious to most Americans that executing gay people is wrong. The problem for conservatives is that it’s inconvenient for them to defend any sort of gay rights—even the right not to be executed—because doing so brings up awkward questions about why conservatives want to deny other rights to gay people.

I don’t think I’d thought of it in those terms before, but of course that’s write. And that’s why, on the one hand, we owe our intellectual and political opponents deference when it comes to issues of this kind, but on the other, we should continue to press them in the direction of letting of their false logic when it comes to the rights of, among others, gay people.  Just as that justice of the peace in Louisiana (who didn’t want to marry a black and a white person) was roundly denounced for his antiquated views, perhaps one day some of these same conservative writers will no longer feel comfortable, or believe in the necessity of, writing about why gay people shouldn’t get married.

Michael Cera, Assassin

This is hilarious.

[Via.]

The “Mystery” of Sarah Palin’s Unpopularity

I could sit here and explain to you all of the things I disagree with about Jennifer Rubin’s assessment in Commentary of why Jews don’t like Sarah Palin. But that would be repetitive, since both David Frum and Matt Yglesias do a fine job of refuting Rubin’s arguments both substantively and superficially, respectively.

However, I will point out the bizarre obsession many conservative pundits have with trying to analyze why Republican politicians are hated or merely disliked by large swaths of the population.  There seems to be a trend in which someone will finally, finally!, pull back the curtain on why Sarah Palin, for example, remains deeply unpopular with a large portion of the American people. And as if one might be able to use the force to change those minds.

I know it’s hard sometimes to understand how other people don’t feel the same way you do about something, as when Dave and I and our friends in DC were certain that Obama should win the Democratic nomination, and yet 17 million plus people had their hopes hung on Hillary. That was frustrating.  But I also understood that there are natural impulses and beliefs that folks have, and sometimes those just have to play out.

So, why do so many people dislike Sarah Palin? Jews or otherwise? Because she’s a conservative, and no more than 50% + 1 of the country’s citizens are conservatives too.  And because after eight years of George W. Bush appealing to the uneducated masses, it seems more folks have gotten wise to the idea that we might want our president to be more than an average person (even if she has the unique (!) qualification of also having raised children) but the smartest most analytical person available for the job.

There’s no mystery there at all.

Not Especially Surprising

That Visa and other credit card companies found another way to squeeze fees out of consumers and businesses shouldn’t shock anyone.  According to the New York Times, in an article published yesterday, businesses pay a higher fee to banks, and thereby to credit card companies, each time you sign for a Debit card purchase rather than using your pin. Thank you Visa for pioneering this lovely scheme.

The whole piece is worth a read.  I had always wondered why Chase (my bank) only gives you reward points when you sign for a purchase made on your debit card.  It’s so much easier to use your PIN, and, after all, isn’t the point of debit to “debit” your account rather than use “credit”?  Now I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place — on the one hand I like getting those points (they really do add up) but on the other I didn’t like knowing, when I went to the grocery store yesterday, that Kroger was going to pay more for that purchase because I signed for it.

The Times article suggests that the Justice Department (i.e. the Antitrust Division) is looking into the matter.  My sense is that something will happen, not least of all because the Division leaned pretty heavily on credit card companies for schemes like this even during the Bush years.  In 2008, for example, even before the case got to any kind of settlement phase, the Division got the major credit card companies to stop making stores treat debit cards differently from credit cards.  There was simply talk of going after them for that transgression (obviously some extensive talk) and the companies chose to ease their restrictions.

This seems like a similar case, treating one kind of transaction differently than another, even though they are essentially doing the same thing.  Particularly now that the Times has shed light on the practice, I assume the credit card companies will either change their practices or enter into a settlement agreement with the DOJ about how to change them.

Just assumptions.  But I hope I’m right. This really is an abhorrent practice.

Jonah Goldberg. Need I Say More?

There isn’t anything to quibble with in this excellent (really, as always) post from Conor Friedersdorf, who is guest blogging at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish this week, and that’s not just because he takes down Jonah Goldberg.  I suppose the one thing that I consistently disagree with in Friedersdorf’s writing is that he’s a conservative — but that’s okay! I would love to have more sane conservative pundits to read and write about.

We should expect — and in fact need — those of opposing view points in the world.  The problem is, the vast majority of conservatives airing their thoughts today are hardly worthy of the term.  Their airheads. They’re not part of a loyal opposition. Like Jonah Goldberg.  Who is so confused that he thinks Bob Shrum is a great liberal pundit.

Bob Shrum has been around the Democratic block. That much is true.   But come on.  The guy is the least successful prime-time Dem in the country! He’s literally helped to run the campaigns of all of the Democratic Party’s greatest losers! I wouldn’t go to Bob Shrum if I needed advice on what to buy for my cat this Christmas.  As Friedersdorf says in rebuttal (not to this point, but to Goldberg’s assertion that the Week publishes “weak” — read not crazy tea partiers/Sarah Palin fans — conservatives next to “strong” liberals, but on point nonetheless):

Perhaps Mr. Goldberg’s post was actually a call for The Week to keep on David Frum, Will Wilkinson, and Daniel Larison, and to pair them with more intellectually honest folks from the left — let them square off against Kevin Drum, Brad Plumber and Kerry Howley. I’d certainly welcome the change, since I am ultimately interested in good journalism and a robust public discourse than short term partisan advantages, but it sure seems like Mr. Goldberg was bemoaning the absence of a right-wing version of Bob Shrum.

Which is precisely the idea that is frequently discussed in the liberal blogosphere.  There are so many great liberal minds out there — Bob Shrum is not one of them.  If there is to be a good political conversation going on in this country, it should be one between the likes of David Frum and Kevin Drum*, not between Bill Kristol and Tom Friedman.

*Wow. Shrum, Frum, and Drum. How weird.

Dick Armey, Everyman

Buried deep in the Washington Post’s saga of how Republican Dede Scozzafava came to endorse Democrat Bill Owens in New York’s 23rd, an extremely peculiar image:

“There is a great song called ‘Coca Cola Cowboy’ and I believe that’s what we have here. She was a Republican as long as it enhanced her electability,” said Armey, reached while petting a goat at his Texas ranch. “My guess is she made a deal with Chuck Schumer or the White House that will eventually show itself to us.”

Petting a goat? Did he tell the reporter that? “I’m petting a goat on my ranch right now, but sure, I’ll chat.”