I have been super-busy recently and have had very scattered thoughts politically, but I do have a few crumbs:
- Lots of people have made the accurate critiques of the wisdom of giving surplus military hardware to places like Ferguson. I do remember that during my pre-2004 sorta-conservative days wondering why it was that all these suburban and small town/rural types were the ones so panicked about terrorism when the odds that terrorists will actually target them are essentially zero, assuming that al-Qaeda’s goal was to kill as many people as it possibly could. Exactly the wrong people were panicked. Now, of course, it seems like a pretty easy question to answer: tribalism*, id-centric thinking, paranoia, etc. all play their roles. If al-Qaeda ever get their fuck-up selves together to do another 9/11-style op it will be New York, LA, Chicago or Washington who will have victims, though if they were smart, attacking a place like Ferguson, MO, would cause a whole other level of panic that would suit their own ends perfectly. But that seems unlikely. In any event, I recommend adding this to the pile of things we’re talking about when we’re talking about Ferguson: the blatant tribal panic of the hinterlands.
- My basic take on Hillary Clinton is that she’d probably be a bit better overall on domestic policy than Obama–she comes from a generation of Democrats that sees public education as sacred, for one thing, while Obama’s a different story–and while she uses Republicans for her purposes she would go in knowing exactly what they are, rather than taking five-plus years to do this. But I have little doubt that she’d be a disaster on foreign policy. Maybe she’d be enough of a pragmatist to keep it in check, but she’s hardly encouraging me.
- Andrew Cuomo is an asshole.
- I’ll probably have to wait for four to five years until I get a real sense of Obama’s worked with Congress, you know, after all those folks start putting out their memoirs and talk to reporters. But I’d be willing to wager this was more typical than not.
- Speaking of the prez, at least the British press can assign blame over gridlock appropriately.
- The pro-life movement is the sleaziest in American politics, with no obvious second place. I’d argue that the oil/coal/gas and cigarette lobbies are vastly more principled by comparison. These folks simply have no scruples or restraint, plus they’re steeped in self-righteousness and utter moral relativism, an insufferable combination. Which is not to say that all pro-lifers are sleazy, etc. But for a group that occasionally gets respectful disagreement from liberals who are not “even the liberal” types, this is worth saying again and again. And the old adage about how great causes shouldn’t need to be sold with lies applies.
- The Pauls often are overrated by liberals–Rand Paul in particular doesn’t quite match up with what liberals wish he was (IMO, he’s a poor man’s Justin Amash). But he does have his uses.
- What’s different this time in Israel? Why now are the Chaits of the world buckling just a bit? Not because of what the government is doing, which is hardly new. Rather, the increasing feel that Israel is passing the point of no return with respect to (exploding) sentiments, unbridled nationalism, and suppression of dissent. As someone who at the same time scoffs at hyperbolic propaganda about how Israel is the “only democratic nation in the Middle East” or what have you (Turkey and Lebanon are an obvious rebuttal) but still also hopes that somehow the politics of a two-state solution can somehow work out, it’s enormously depressing. Netanyahu may well rule the country for another decade, but in the history books, he’ll be regarded as one of the greatest fools of all time. I’ve said it before and nothing has changed my mind.
- Amidst all this depressing shit, there are a few good things. Like a new Leonard Cohen album, soon. But in keeping with the mood:
* To be fair, I do believe liberals and conservatives are tribal, because humans are tribal. But liberals are in my experience a bit less so in general, and the ways in which it is expressed are vastly more subtle.
Saw a local event coming up that might be of interest to you, going on at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, CA:
Lieberman I understand, he has nothing better to do. But isn’t Scott Brown, like, running for office this year? Doesn’t he have more important things to do one month before election day, than having a “debate” with another has-been on the other side of the country? I guess this is his equivalent of the famous John McCain Saturday Night Live QVC sketch the weekend before the 2008 election, i.e. an obvious sign that he’s not taking it seriously because he’s given up. Doesn’t make sense as the move of a candidate focused on winning above all else, but as someone wanting to cash in on his rapidly waning starpower before another embarrassing loss in three months it makes perfect sense.
Why’d he even run in New Hampshire in the first place? What was he thinking? I swear, I would totally read a book about that story. Well, if it were a Kindle Single anyway. And one of the ones you can download for free. Then I’d definitely read it. What I’m really excited about is which state will Brown move to for his next run for office. West Virginia seems the obvious choice: the state’s Republican drift has outpaced the GOP bench, meaning that even blatant carpetbaggers can have a shot. I’m calling West Virginia.
Generally, people who make it a point of pride to drink bottled water are at worst a moderate annoyance to me. But today I encountered the next level of this phenomenon: a woman who first took quite a while to figure out what to order at the place I went to for lunch, then took some time trying to find her preferred brand of bottled water, then griped both to the guy behind the counter and then to me about their not having the “correct” brand. Of bottled water. How could they not have it? Naturally I offered no support, as bottled water is a silly concept to begin with, unless you’re going to be doing strenuous activity in a remote, hot location. But the idea of bottled water brand loyalty was a new one, up to the point of not taking one of the brands that were available, as though the bottles contained cold piss instead of, you know, water. The places people draw their Red Lines.
It’s eerie to see it laid out like this:
It’s been a year since he’s even broke even. And it’s clear that our year of intractable foreign crises can’t fully be blamed: this slide began last year. The key drop happened about a year ago, which was the time of the Syria debate. Then a little bounce back after that happened, followed by an even steeper drop.
What’s interesting is that this is entirely a second-term phenomenon, if you check the link you see that Obama’s approval ratings have been lame forever, but his actively terrible foreign policy ratings are rather new. It’s not even a matter of hawkishness per se, as the first term included the Libyan operation. I’ve been thinking recently about what’s different between the two terms of Obama, and probably the most interesting one is that Libya was sold self-consciously as an international, burden-sharing operation, while both Syria and the new Iraq thingy have been sold as American first and last. This is easy enough to explain away as the increased influence of Samantha Power, Obama’s UN Ambassador who hates the UN and loves unilateral action. (Just read her books.) The Libya bombing was a bad idea with bad results, but Americans were at least marginally willing to go along because of the work the Administration did to get allies on board. Obama’s second term has had the strong implication that America has to handle every world crisis alone, which is just about the worst argument you can make to the public at this time. They just won’t hear it, and I think this is where you see Power’s influence quite strongly. She’s a genocide scholar who unsurprisingly wants to stop what she sees as imminent genocides, immediately. On a side note, my wife (who is a genocide scholar as well) tells me that these are the last people in the world that you’d want setting foreign policy, almost universally they tend to be extremely hawkish and despise realism and practicality. We can in addition say they tend to ignore the political dimension as well.
You also begin to see just how much ground liberal hawks have had to give up between the disastrous outcomes of past adventures they support and the political realities they’ve helped to create. Obama seems to have absorbed the public’s severe distaste for ground troops or nation building and I believe him when he says there will be no troops. However, at some point liberal hawks will have to just confess that Iraq destroyed their worldview, since at present it can only offer bombs to any kind of crisis they want to go to work on. The question of “What comes next?” can no longer be answered. Compare this with the misguided but at least robust worldview of the Clinton-Blair days, where that question was UN Peacekeepers, basically. Didn’t work so well, but it was something, unlike the utterly intellectually unsatisfying liberal hawk worldview of today, where contradictions have been heightened to such an extent that all that remains is sanctimony and contempt for the limitations of power. Can’t wait for Hillary ’16!
Escape Plan: The novelty of this is diminished a bit by the two stars having worked together in those awful Expendables movies (I’ve only seen the first, which is more than enough, especially since it’s transitioning into being a PG-13 action series in defiance of any conceivable logic). But I’m old enough to remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone appearing in a two-hander action movie would seem impossible given the legendary egos of both stars. So I rented it out of curiosity, hoping for a fun, goofy ’80s throwback actioner, which seemed reasonable considering that nostalgia is what Stallone deals in these days. I was disappointed. The plot about Stallone’s prison security expert character who makes his living breaking out of them (the dumbness comes in early and often, considering that what we see him do could just as easily be done if he visited with a clipboard and presented a written report, but he does it that way because he feels guilty because he got someone wrongly put into jail and shit, it’s dumb). Anyway, for plot reasons so stupid that I don’t even want to discuss them, Stallone winds up getting kidnapped into a state of the art, private prison that was built according to all his work, thus making escape super-difficult, and he and Ahnuld have to work together to get out. There is some fun to be had here, thanks largely to Schwarzenegger, who seems game and lets his hair down just a bit, doing things (like ranting in German, underplaying jokes, using effective body language and eye movements in his acting) that we’re not used to seeing him doing in movies, and there’s not a trace of self-referentialness in this performance, which these days is a miracle. He just seems to be having fun. And a lot of the other elements are there too: interesting visuals, a creepy panopticon-style prison design, and Jim Caviezel’s sadistic warden is terrific, with the kind of understated sociopathy that made Bryan Cox’s Hannibal Lecter the best version of that character (Caviezel doesn’t pull off the dead eyes as well as Cox, though who could?).
But the real drag here is Stallone, who tanks the film by playing his role with what he imagines is gravitas but is in actually energy-sapped joyless grimness. He’s boring as shit, in other words, and it’s instructive. Schwarzenegger’s performance is refreshingly ego-free, he shows up to play a supporting character and does exactly what he needed to without trying to take it over, and seems to be having a blast just getting to act again after the disastrous political career, the bastard child, etc. Stallone’s seriousness suggests someone who is not at that place yet, someone who is still not at peace with not being able to open a movie anymore or to credibly be called A-list, someone who might, say, flood the zone with four shitty pictures in a year, or develop a franchise out of what initially seemed to be just a one-off joke about being old until it made some money, or get so much plastic surgery that Mickey Rourke’s career as the cautionary tale for plastic surgery is on the ropes (in all fairness, Schwarzenegger has the telltale shiny skin of botox, but otherwise looks okay). Stallone is boring in the way that Bruce Willis is boring, or Harrison Ford is boring, or Robert De Niro is boring, all these aging stars for whom the problem doesn’t seem to be money, but rather a self-concept based on being a huge star that leads them to make movies they don’t seem to care about, and don’t fully commit to, which leads to less excitement about their movies and less box office, which leads to more movies they don’t care about, etc. Stallone’s vintage ego, in other words, is completely intact.
Some short ones:
- The Cable Guy: Jim Carrey’s one non-hit from that stretch when he seemingly couldn’t not knock it out of the park, it has nevertheless aged better than the rest of that stretch of movies. And it’s obvious why: in Ace Ventura or The Mask, Carrey’s intensity, physicality and energy are presented to us as part of a character we’re supposed to like–no, love–for being a spastic, discomfiting man-child. In The Cable Guy, Carrey brings all that stuff, but in the service of playing a confused, disturbing, uncomfortable character, and it’s brilliant. This is like Adam Sandler’s performance in Punch-Drunk Love or Robin Williams’s turn in Insomnia, where the persona of a famous comic actor is suddenly put into a context where it makes total sense. Sandler’s comic persona makes sense as the manifestation of a very damaged person, and Carrey’s similarly makes sense as the manifestation of someone who has been driven crazy by television, as everything he does is theatrical and makes sense as what a TV character would do, but isn’t really capable of things like thinking, relating to people, or living a normal life. A great dark comedy.
- Her: Thoughtful science fiction movies can still be made, thank goodness. Taking place in a future Los Angeles with excellent transit, urban density and an appealing downtown (this movie is out there with some of its concepts), Her is about a man falling in love with an artificial intelligence. Lots of great echoes of classic sci-fi stories, but with its own original ideas and an emotionally moving story. The concept shouldn’t throw readers of science-fiction books, since stuff like this happens all the time there, but it’s a great movie too, with incredible visuals, great performances and an atmospheric score by Arcade Fire.
- A Most Wanted Man: Go see it! This can go right next to the other great Le Carre adaptions: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the two Tinker Tailor adaptations, and The Tailor of Panama. I will admit to a moment of sadness when Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character first appears on the screen, just thinking again about what a loss it was when he died. But that was only temporary, as the story entranced me right away. The movie pairs a writer who prefers to go slow with a director (Corbijn) who also prefers a slower pace, and the movie manages to build up considerable suspense as the characters try to figure out exactly what’s going on with a Chechen refugee and a German-Turkish philanthropist. I won’t spoil the story, though it should be no shock that Hoffman turns in a fantastic performance, world-weary but hanging in there. Not a bad note to go out on.
Now that alleged plagiarist John Walsh is out of the picture, the inevitable question is: does former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer reverse course and jump into the race that he initially turned down? And then go on to win it?
My guess is yes and yes. Schweitzer declined to run for the Senate because he was clearly eyeing a presidential run, likely to avoid incurring any Washington baggage. However, that was last year. Since then, he’s destroyed his once-formidable levels of netroots support and admiration due to some poorly-advised comments about Dianne Feinstein and Eric Cantor, as well as other poorly phrased and excessive (though hardly wrong) criticisms of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Things have all been going in the wrong direction for a presidential run–he’s under contract to MSNBC but hasn’t been put on the air for months, for example. After all this, all he’d have to use against Hillary in 2016 would be some residual popularity in Montana. Which would buy him a couple of delegates, in the unlikely event his campaign even managed to last that long.
However, that this flap has come up when it has is almost a perfect attempt for Schweitzer to resurrect his political career. His super-high popularity in the state should make the race winnable, even with such a late start. He is never going to have a better opportunity, in fact, it’s an opportunity that seems almost tailor-made for the man. He gets to play the savior role in a race Democrats have been skeptical about for ages, and saving a key seat (and quite possibly the majority) for Democrats will wipe the slate clean, at least to some extent. He’d suddenly have a national platform for his bold views on the security state. He would have a chance to rebuild some of the bridges he burned, and maybe even to run some kind of presidential campaign, or at least to lead a caucus of like-minded senators to counteract the hawkish and neoliberal instincts that a Clinton Administration would undoubtedly bring to the fore (or, rather, would remain there). It’s a pretty good deal, and it’s the only one he’s going to get.
Again, this is really just a guess. But the advantages to Schweitzer would seem to be sky-high, so much so that it would be a little baffling if he said no.
Update: Well that was a nice thought, wasn’t it? Ugh. This guy might be the most selfish and unthinking man in politics.
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