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Here’s a confesssion: I never really hated George W. Bush. I disliked the swaggering machismo he liked to show off, the bullying tone and the John Wayne brand of masculinity that he so desperately tried (and, in Dick Gephardt’s words, miserably failed) to live up to. I disliked how he governed. The people I really hated were all the Republican honchos who fell over themselves to promote him as presidential caliber without reservation, in spite of obvious indications to the contrary. And I never really hated John McCain either. I have no respect for him post-Palin, and the press’s continued obsession with a man who will not even merit a footnote in the history books (and who never has anything new or interesting to say) is baffling and annoying. But I don’t hate him.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a person who I truly despise. Virtually every lefty I’ve talked to feels the same exact way. I’ve not seen his Netflix propaganda piece, nor do I care to. Plenty of pieces of human garbage were perfectly adequate fathers and husbands. Some were even great ones. My enmity for the man is based on his own sheer self-centeredness, which would be a tragic flaw except for that it is so vast, the flaw is itself the thing, not the blemish. Mitt Romney wants the presidency because it’s the ultimate thing he can acquire for himself. He killed off jobs and communities because there was money in it for him, recall. But he’d just as happily govern as a right-wing strongman, a dealmaking centrist or an idealist liberal, so long as he is doing the governing. The man’s only truly held belief is that he’s the greatest leader ever, way, way better than dear old daddy, who obligingly torched his own campaign early enough that Richard Nixon didn’t even have to think of him as an obstacle. This is just a reminder of how Romney works: every time he it’s time for an operating system upgrade, he assesses which policy positions he should optimally take, convinces himself completely of them (and also that he’s always held them, and aren’t you an asshole for implying otherwise), and then attacks people who actually have held them for some time and done some work on them. Literally every cynical thing that people hate about politics is embodied in this man: the gratuitous lies (which I’m sure in his head are processed in such a way that they’re truth to him), doled out so generously that people stop bothering to fact-check him because who has the time; the naked ambition; the grotesque opportunism. A man with his character is better suited to be a villain in a legal thriller than to be President of the United States. He sort of has, actually.

Admittedly, the dozens of videos of Mitt Romney proclaiming himself staunchly pro-choice or favoring a national version of his health plan didn’t derail his chances in 2012, but none of those got quite as much attention as this one did. So let’s continue to share it, shall we? Make it stick to the plastic man.

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Like you, I never thought much about the James Bond gunbarrel sequence. They’re all basically the same, right? But if you watch them all back to back, there’s surprising variety, in the color schemes and the music:

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  • Birdman is a great Michael Keaton performance in search of a movie. Keaton makes the case for himself as a movie star again, playing a not terribly sympathetic, washed up movie star trying to get back to basics with a Raymond Carver adaptation. There’s not a false note to be found in his performance, and it’s also good to see Edward Norton again, as he gets to torment Keaton by showing him a vision of the purist, modestly successful but more fulfilled actor he could have been. And then there’s the actual Birdman, who speaks to Keaton almost as an id, defending the success and fame that he’d achieved. It’s a bit screenwriting 101-ish to have the angel and devil setup like this–if you have ever seen an Oliver Stone movie you know this setup–but Keaton makes it work. The real problem can be summed up as “everything else”:there’s a subplot about a lesbian realization that goes nowhere, an Emma Stone performance that transcends what’s written but not by that much (the speech she gives to Keaton early in the movie outlining her grievances is much too long and far too coherent to be the product of a random explosion of anger), and her relationship with Norton lacks chemistry and I guess writing. Lotta nonsense too: many more slaps than would occur in real life, multiple characters remarking that a character has a “great ass” within earshot to indicate hidden romantic affection, and then there’s that ending that nails it by showing that Keaton’s real wish isn’t to return to his days of purer, naturalistic acting but rather to being the man he used to be, and then spoils it with meta bullshit. It’s well-shot and well-acted, though. It’s not a great movie, though neither do I fully agree with this, so what the heck, I’ll give it a modest recommendation. See it in a matinee.
  • Selma reminded me of 2012’s Lincoln. They’re similar movies that try to humanize monumental icons, and each takes one specific part of its subject’s life and shows him in action. Both boast incredible lead performances, fantastic cinematography and deal predominantly with one specific angle of the person, instead of trying to explain the entirety of a person. This is all very good stuff. And yet, neither is a completely satisfying movie. Both films unfortunately dumb down the politics for the masses: Lincoln had its characters talk about politics like panelists on Meet The Press, throwing around terms like “bipartisan,” and “from the right,” as if people 150 years ago talked about politics like we do now. (They didn’t.) Selma does this by its decision to make Lyndon Johnson the antagonist of the film. Watching the film, I felt like I understood why the director did this: this movie’s version of Johnson is a stand-in for white conscience, pricked by King’s actions, which moves from indifferent to moved to action. This makes some sense dramatically but it inevitably means distorting history and making the battle for the VRA seem like it was all about changing a president’s mind, just another invocation of the great man fallacy. (It doesn’t help that LBJ is very poorly played by Tom Wilkinson as a brooding, reactive president, which is not really all that accurate. Also, Wilkinson would easily win my “most overrated actor” award, for basically any role he’s ever been in, though this might be the worst performance from him I’ve ever seen. Pay attention to the accent work.) I found myself much more interested in Tim Roth’s take on George Wallace, which is villainous without being cartoonish, and manages some actual subtext. Speaking of which, Selma actually manages to make some quirky casting choices work–Cuba Gooding has a small role, Oprah Winfrey is frequently visible on screen but has perhaps two lines of dialogue, Stephen Root shows up as Wallace’s state police chief. All do just fine. Ultimately, Selma tells an interesting story well enough, though if you’re telling a story about politics, please get them right. Also, those damn melodramatic slow-motion shots really take a person out of the movie, don’t they?
  • I’ve not actually seen American Sniper and do not plan to. However, there isn’t a whole lot of mystery as to why it’s doing so well. Americans like to feel good about the wars we fight, and this gives them a chance to, at least a little bit. I doubt there will be a full on counternarrative over Iraq/Afghanistan/GWOT based on the movie a la Rambo, but it’s probably in the same ballpark. Or you could compare it to, say, Nixon’s cynical attempt with the returning POWs to try to redeem Vietnam. But nothing could redeem Vietnam, ultimately, and I strongly doubt anything will redeem Iraq or Afghanistan, in part because the outlook for both countries and the overall area is so bleak, no redemption narrative will be able to survive contact with reality. We’re not going to see those two turning into the next Germany and Japan anytime soon, and 9/11 was as we now know no Pearl Harbor. So I’m a bit more sanguine about its effects than some. Still, I tend to think that feeling good about these conflicts is fundamentally wrong, we should feel badly about them because we caused them, and if we continue to feel badly about them we may stop starting them so often. The U.S. waited for fifteen years after Saigon fell to try out the old hegemony game again on any sort of grand scale. Meanwhile, politicos and pundits are already crying out for new bombings and invasions every day. Obviously there are differences between the two, like the draft. But people don’t pay to feel bad about themselves and their country.

A new feature? Indeed yes, we’ll give it a shot.

Star Trek Voyager: Mortal Coil (Season 4, Stream here). I figured I’d start with an obscure choice. After all, Voyager was never even remotely hip, and very rarely tried anything too dangerous (or interesting) with the Star Trek formula. But this episode is a definite exception from the show’s most solid era, spanning the fourth and fifth seasons. Mortal Coil is a Neelix episode, which should be a further strike against it. But this is one of the rare times they used the character well–they kept trying to make him like Quark from Deep Space Nine, but the character always had too much of an edge to play that kind of role on the show, and this show makes great use of that edge for sure. In brief, this episode is just about the best exploration of faith and spirituality that Star Trek ever did, and might well be the best and most sympathetic treatment of atheism in the medium’s history (this might have something to do with the small sample size as well, though). In brief, Neelix dies early in the episode, is revived, but rather than feeling fortunate or lucky, he’s deeply angry about it, especially about having been “unnaturally” revived by Borg technology. In time we learn that the real reason he’s angry is because the one thing that kept him going after his entire family died in war, and throughout his entire life in fact, was this spiritual belief in an afterlife where he’d see them all again. Now he’s died and seen that there’s no such thing, and the episode is unsparing as he veers from anger to deep depression, trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of something so central to how he saw the world. Shockingly, Chakotay’s mystical religious thoughts do more harm than good, and he spirals downward. The ending nicely wraps up this story–ultimately, after all of this, you just have to go on living. Surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful for Voyager, or really for anything.

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I’m not really sure how they could have brought Twin Peaks back without him, honestly. Well, I guess they did try, sorta, with Fire Walk With Me. It suffered for that.

The spousal unit and I have been watching the show on the new Blu-Ray transfer. We’re now in the middle of the second season, just finished up the notorious “James On The Road” stretch. Those execrable scenes aside, it’s an interesting watch. What’s most clear is that there was no hand guiding the tiller at that point of the show, otherwise they might have, say, cut back on one or two of the half-dozen comic relief subplots running at once. But it is pretty amazing that the show managed to cycle from near-perfect to completely lost to near-perfect again two whole times during such a short run. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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Violence is bad. Violent censorship is deplorable. So is bigotry, and if you are in the habit of making conclusions about a group of over one billion people based on a couple of violent lone nuts (and don’t engage in the practice when, say, Eric Rudolph does his thing), then that’s what you’re doing by definition. Then again, it would also be bigoted if you were to conclude Christianity is fundamentally violent/evil based on Rudolph or McVeigh, but at least it would be consistent.

 

Pretty much the only thing that can be said of the Feinstein/Boxer two-and-a-half-decade tenure is that Boxer had the liberal voting record but not the PR smarts, while Feinstein had the opposite. This is why Boxer had reasonably close calls her entire career, electorally speaking, despite a mostly solid record, while Feinstein romped every time despite clearly being stuck in 1978, politically.

I’ll just link to this post, which a couple months ago speculated about this very eventuality. We’ll find out soon enough who’s interested in the job, but my guess for who wins would be Harris > Garcetti > Chiang > the rest. If only one of those three gets in, they’re the frontrunner. If more than one do, then you have my guess on how they’ll finish. If none do…I’d be pretty surprised. Not particularly worried about a tech executive or Newsom winning–California has historically not gone for the inexperienced businessperson for high political office (nor for House members usually). And Gavin Newsom just seems like a spent force to me.

Also, for the life of me I don’t really understand why progressives are turning Newsom into the second coming of Cory Booker. For one thing, he’s not nearly as conservative as Booker. I mean, we can do better, but he’s no supporter of school vouchers. For another, there’s no real reason to think he’s an especially strong force in California politics at the moment. He’s been on ice for a half a decade, his statewide victory was for an office nobody else really wanted, and in terms of personality and baggage he has real downsides. Anything can happen, obviously, but the guy seems pretty second-tier to me. It would appear that dubious apps aren’t the only things that can be hyped up when “Silicon Valley Money” is mentioned in conjunction with them. But as a longtime California politics watcher, money is not the only determinant of success here. It may seem like it given how essential paid media is in a state this big, but having a substantial enough base and great statewide connections matter much more, and the business candidates tend to fail because you can’t build these overnight. Newsom doesn’t really seem to have either of these, and didn’t exactly fundraise to beat the band when he ran for governor in 2010. Maybe he’s improved, but he might well be the most paper of tigers.