This is a pretty excellent Jonathan Bernstein article on the politics of taking down Confederate monuments. This gets to a gripe I have with the Democratic Party from the Clinton era onward, which is that it is palpably uncomfortable advancing issues that don’t focus group well/don’t have well over majority public support. Obviously this is a tradeoff and there’s a balance to be struck between keeping activists happy and appealing to a broader electorate, but Democrats act like The Economist readers are their only audience and just expect marginal voters to always turn out and activists to always be fired up to promote stuff that doesn’t get anybody’s blood pumping. You’d think that 2016 would finally be the breaking point for this outmoded, inflexible model of centrist politics but I think they’ll still be going until the Bernie movement finally storms the citadel and takes over the party completely.

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I take umbrage at this as both a rational liberal and a persnickety nerd:

The monster HBO hit Game of Thrones has long been seen as a climate change metaphor or parable, albeit one filled with nudity and violence. After all, a major theme from the start has been the fact that the climate is about to change for the worse in a way that endangers everyone.

Um, what?  Climate change in our modern world is an ongoing event caused by human industry that we’ve created for the first time in human history.  It won’t be cyclic.

In Westeros*, however, winter is a season of indeterminate length caused by some kind of opaque variable natural process (perhaps a weird wobbly planet tilt).  Winter is a season just like summer, which is ending.  After winter comes summer (do they have spring?  no idea).  After summer comes winter.

Oh, and the “danger” in Game of Thrones is an army of the undead, which prefers to appear in winter.  In our world, it’s the climate itself that’s the danger (e.g., hotter temperatures, superstorms, etc.).

Aside from the temperature getting hotter and colder, it’s quite a stretch to use that as a link between our world and Game of Thrones.

Might this post be click-bait?  Hmm…

(* I know, I don’t know the name of the planet.)

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Forever, of course! David Duke’s much more recent KKK affiliation/party registration, though, will continue to be irrelevant to that conversation.

It is not unique to religious conservatives, of course, to believe your tribe to be uniquely good and others to be uniquely bad, and that this means that you don’t have to actually follow any of your own rules or principles because the other side is as bad or worse. This is, in other words, “God Knows I’m Good” syndrome, though I think it’s a pretty common attitude among humans all over. Having said that, the actual texts of Christianity anticipate this problem, but a text is only as good as the person interpreting it, which is related to the influence of culture and other factors. “We’re all as bad as the worst racist, therefore we should just try to treat everybody with respect” would be a pretty authoritative Christian sentiment on the subject, though not one heeded by very many American Christians…

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I can remember back when people excused George W. Bush’s lack of experience by saying that he’d surround himself with experienced advisers. That didn’t work. Some of the advisers (Cheney, Rumsfeld) were actually nutty. Colin Powell destroyed himself at the U.N. “Too-moderate” people like Paul O’Neill and Christine Todd Whitman were essentially ignored (and disposed of at the first opportunity). And so on. It didn’t work because you can’t adviser-away profound ignorance of policy. There are going to be smart people convincingly arguing for every course of action, the job is to be able to evaluate all that. Bush couldn’t do it, so the winners were people who could best manipulate his insecurities.

I remembered this when people felt relief that “the grown-ups” were running foreign policy and national security under Trump, and H.R. McMaster is better than Michael Flynn. But McMaster sucks, Mattis sucks, and the Afghanistan policy about to be announced is also going to suck. If anyone actually thinks that Afghanistan can be turned into a centralized, reasonably liberal state with full control over its territory and borders, I mean, why? It’s never been the case before, why should America in 2017 be able to sprinkle some gold dust and make it happen now? I get that we’re Not Supposed To Look At The Past and that we need to Focus On The Current Problems, but it’s not as if the past fifteen years have really bred much confidence in our ability to do that either.

Even most Democrats revere the military, but the military is just another institution that is capable of derpy rationalization and an inability to accept failure, which is essentially what re-escalating in Afghanistan is. It’s lost. The Taliban is absolutely going to take over again, and indeed it is well advanced toward doing so. This is really bad. But I guess this time we’re going to stick it out until Saigon finally falls? The difference between the military and a domestic institution is that people will actually challenge a domestic institution that is failing. Because Americans (incl. most Democrats) see the military as this pure, above ideology, pragmatic institution, they let it do whatever it wants. Ain’t nothing pragmatic about this though.

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The Usual Suspects is a movie built around a big final twist. That film presents us with Kevin Spacey, whose character is invariably described as “weak” and “stupid” throughout the film, characterizations he doesn’t protest and even uses himself. In addition to his physical and mental shortcomings, he spends much of the film being pushed around by other men, both physically and rhetorically. The cat-and-mouse game between Spacey and Chazz Palmintieri’s federal agent seems more a David-and-Goliath struggle, in which Spacey becomes sort of an underdog, earning sympathy from the audience and even a sort of trust–he doesn’t even seem capable of putting one over on wily old Chazz. Of course, he does [spoiler alert for a 22 year old movie that has already been spoiled and parodied a million times already], and it’s precisely those biases and sympathies which make Spacey’s carefully calculated performance work, both on Palmintieri and the audience. The essential ingredient, though, is that the character is so convincingly implied to be exactly what he appears that the rug can be pulled out from under us.

Basic is a movie that would not only unhesitatingly give its left nut to be The Usual Suspects, it would seriously consider giving the right one as well. That it fails in trying to top Bryan Singer’s film is far from a shock, but just how badly it fails, and how funny that failure becomes, very much is. The main reason it doesn’t work is that it never really gives us anyone or anything to really lock onto enough before it starts pulling the rug out from under us, which it does constantly. There’s no confidence game without confidence, but almost every character is carefully established as being not at all what they appear to be. The movie involves an Army training mission that resulted in tragedy and characters trying to reconstruct what happened, Rashomon-style, but the survivors are from the start shown to be obvious, cagey liars whose stories cannot be believed. John Travolta’s character is Tom Hardy, a DEA Agent under suspicion of accepting bribes, something that hangs over him the whole movie. And then you have Colonel Tim Daly, whose hasty and nonsensical plan to bring in someone outside the military (and under suspicion) to investigate the crime is so bonkers that it’s also obvious he’s not what he seems, either. (“Look, we’ll just credit anything he comes up with to you and we won’t say he’s been here.” Yeah, that sounds like it’s going to hold up in a court of law!) Really, the only person who is mostly what she seems to be is Connie Nielsen’s protagonist, who would be the character around which to build a rug-pulling finale of some sort or other. But the movie doesn’t do that, because it is entirely backward about how you create surprise and tension. Having so many characters up in the air doesn’t make for a suspenseful thriller, it just makes the entire thing unhinged and sort of tedious. For all the trappings and forms of the thriller at play in Basic, it’s fundamentally a cops-and-robbers story with an unflappable lead. Columbo or Kojak on a military base (or, to be completely accurate, movie production offices intended to look like a military base). So if you imagine an episode of CSI: New York with a bunch of actors turning in batshit performances and some overblown Big Twist every fifteen minutes or so, you get the picture.

He’s a collar away from being Sterling Archer.

Basic isn’t necessarily an entry-level bad movie. It’s not wall-to-wall epic badness like The Room–far too much of the movie consists of flashbacks onto the same action, which are kind of unremarkable aside from how cheap the sets look and how bad Taye Diggs’s central performance in those scenes is (which is hilarious). But there is a considerable amount of pleasure to be gotten from everything else in the film. For starters, there’s the top-billed performance of John Travolta. Travolta is in the Nicolas Cage category of actors who have proven that they have talent, and yet are so often willing to just push it aside and deliver nutty, manic, hammy performances when they feel like it. It’s not at all hard to imagine Cage in the role of Tom Hardy (which is not the name of either of The Hardy Boys, I checked), which Travolta plays with manic energy and a constant smirk. Like a lot of Travolta’s worst work, Hardy doesn’t much feel like a real person, so much as a collection of actorly tics and bizarre, attention-grabbing choices, such as the weirdly sexually suggestive body language he employs while conducting the movie’s central interview. Hardy is the sort of detective who blows up at a suspect and storms out of a room, then waits right outside looking at his watch, counting the seconds before he’s asked to come back in. (Actually, he’s more than that sort of detective: this highly cliched scene actually occurs in the film.) The real pleasure of a detective story is to see a superior mind figure out a crime that makes no sense at all. There’s not much of that to Hardy, who just jumps to conclusions that are either right or wrong depending where we are in the running time. However, he does nearly murder someone outright in front of a whole armed military guard of witnesses at one point, so there is that:

But ultimately, Travolta must give way to the king of camp in this movie, fellow Scientologist Giovanni Ribisi. Ribisi plays an injured Army Ranger and his choices for the role are completely insane–he does the whole thing in a Lorne Michaels-esque voice, but thicker and harder to understand even when in the flashbacks where he isn’t injured. Ribisi just lets it rip: the voice, bizarre gestures, and weird jumps in energy level are only part of the over-the-topness he brings to the material. It really does have to be seen to be believed:

Also, the movie stars both Tim Daly and crooner Harry Connick Jr., both of whom are fairly egregiously miscast. Daly never really convinces as a military man: a CEO would be a much more plausible choice for him. It’s like putting Rob Lowe in a colonel’s uniform: would I ever believe that Rob Lowe killed a man? Hardly. And Connick Jr. is in way over his head as a drug-dealing Army doctor, truly one of the least scary movie villains I’ve ever seen. He reminded me of Hank Azaria’s scumbag character from Heat, but almost as if you took out any of the smarm and nastiness of that character. He does kind of sing at one point, I guess, if that does anything for you. Also, Sam Jackson is in it. Sam Jackson makes anything better, right! Well…he actually gives a pretty measured performance as the sadistic Drill Sergeant West, though not a hugely inspired one: it’s well within the usual parameters of a performance of this sort, part Lou Gossett Jr., part R. Lee Ermey, part Al Matthews from Aliens. Jackson is someone who can ham it up and play to the ridiculousness, but he alone among the leads seems to think he’s actually making a good movie and does the work. (This might have to do with his not having scenes with the main cast.) There’s not much else to say besides that: Connie Nielsen plays the protagonist in maybe the most thankless role of all time, though with no small amount of visible frustration. Nielsen is a Dutch actress playing a woman from the American South and does okay with the accent at times–it seems obvious she worked really goddamn hard on it–but whenever she shouts the game is up. It is, however, a shame she couldn’t sing a theme to the movie, Will Smith in Wild Wild West style:

As for the twists…this is the sort of movie that punctuates a HUGE TWIST with slow-motion and tense music, but then within five minutes we’re back to the same assholes talking about the exact same events and it’s almost as though that EARTH-SHATTERING TWIST didn’t matter. Even the big twist at the end is about as lame as can be. It’s not quite a “this was all an elaborate test for you to pass” ending, but it’s not far from that, either. How do these secret organizations have time to create these huge elaborate tests for members to join? Wouldn’t a simple referral system work a lot better? (On an unrelated tangent: if Starfleet works up a complete psychological profile on every single applicant to Starfleet Academy, replete with their greatest fear, how would they possibly have enough resources to explore anything?) Also, at the end Nielsen seems to immediately know who all these people are even though she’s never met them before, she’s only heard about them. We, however, saw them in flashbacks. Did she watch the movie too, Spaceballs-style?

Ultimately, Basic is a failure of direction. John McTiernan directed, over the course of a few years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Predator, The Hunt for Red October, and Die Hard. That’s some pretty impressive work, but his work afterward showed a steady decline, from the ahead-of-its-time Last Action Hero to the uninspired remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, to the truly dire remake of RollerballBasic is actually the most recent film on his filmography, which is sad for someone so accomplished. But then again, maybe he was just bored of directing as he clearly didn’t give a fuck about this movie. It’s certainly imaginable that there’s a good movie to be made with this scenario and thematic material. And if he’d cared just a little bit, the movie could have been a lot better. It’s obvious that he had insufficient resources to make the movie as there are maybe five extras in the whole thing, plus the sets and locations are simply not very good. But he still could have told Travolta to sit down with his knees together, or told Ribisi to do something different with his voice. He could have paid more attention to casting, or reworked the film so that it wasn’t so repetitive and monotonous. Certainly, he could have actually listened to the sound on the film and done something to improve it–it’s shocking how badly recorded and mixed it is for a studio film. But instead of these things, he did nothing. In a way, I’m glad he failed so completely with the movie, because a boring, C+ cheapie thriller (which somehow starred two Hollywood A-listers and a handful of notable character actors) would be sort of pointless anyway, and a gonzo bad movie is a better thing to have out in the world. Still, blame where it is due.

There are some copies of the full movie up on YouTube but they look like poor quality to me. Just do what I did, go find it in a dollar bin somewhere. I guarantee you you’ll find Basic there.

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We’ll know that we’ve made headway on racism when a Republican presidential nominee/president utters the words, “There’s nothing special about white people. Just one group among a bunch of others.” And gets no meaningful pushback.

I look forward to this moment. Or even just the moment when a Democrat can say it. (I think Hillary Clinton probably believed it, but in for all the apocalyptic reaction to her talking about “deplorables” she couldn’t really say it.)

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I do know that there are some decent people who remain Republicans out of some form of “We need to take our party back from the nutcases!” or some such, but at some point, folks, it’s time to just accept defeat and leave:

Just 19 percent of Republicans thought Trump should have taken a stronger position [on the Charlottesville violence], while 59 percent thought his response was strong enough.

Among Democrats, on the other hand, 79 percent of respondents thought Trump’s response wasn’t strong enough, while 10 percent thought it was sufficient.

I mean, 3/5 of the party can literally justify anything with, “But what about the left!” Obviously this includes neo-Nazis, but that may be the least of it. The 19% has already lost. Either move on or become an enabler.

Barro is worth reading on this as well.

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Honestly, a random winger might be a bit harder to beat than somebody with Jeff Flake-level approval ratings, which means this might not be great news for Our Team, but why is Trump mad at Jeff Flake again? I mean, Flake voted for TrumpCare. Has he even done a single thing to stop Trump on anything? Is it that he wrote a book about what a conscience he has, that it compels him to air concerns every once in a while? Is Trump really mad that a Republican pretends to be principled and conscientious? Because, honestly, that’s been their killer app for about a generation now. Worked a bunch of times.

I just don’t get it. Trump dominates Flake completely. Flake is terrified to actually do anything real to hurt Trump because he knows he’d be hurt right back. Also, Flake’s not even very moderate so he probably doesn’t even want anything done differently from normal Republican shit. But he’s smart enough to realize that Trump is a pretty awful person, and he will sometimes say so. Evidently this infuriates Trump, as he sees it as some kind of power move. But it’s really a lack of power move. It’s Jeff Flake wanting credit for being “courageous” in writing some stuff in a book. You’d think he’d shrug off Flake’s impotent bleatings but I guess he apparently just must have his soul or nothing. Seems like that’s going to be counterproductive but that’s Trump for you.

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