web analytics

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.

Lev filed this under: ,  

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!

Lev filed this under: , , , , ,  

streisand_effectWhat’s a surefire way to get a 1-star rating on Yelp?

(1) Post a policy on your hotel’s website threatening negative reviewers:

If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH, there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any Internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any Internet site, you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.

(2) Intrepid webtubers find out and the scandal goes viral. (Barbara Streisand reference)

(3) Your Yelp page is summarily barraged with gems like this: (Update: or this)

I found my sleeping quarters to be clean and welcoming but my cheeks became red with rage when I discovered a dildo in the nightstand. A DILDO!

RIAATrue copyright infringement via multimedia piracy is definitely a bad thing.  But it’s hard to find a stodgy media trade group as stupid as the RIAA and the fights it picks over music copyrights, which drive equally stupid decisions like this:

Game streaming site Twitch has started muting the audio of any video that is detected to include unauthorized audio—which is to say, any video that includes any reasonably mainstream background music.

What’s the issue?  As an Ars commenter put it:

No one goes to Twitch to hear music. What the music companies do not understand is that they are eliminating the number one way to expose their music to younger crowds. A lot of younger people don’t listen to radio and they don’t watch TV. They may, however, ask the chat what song is playing and discover an artist that they will then become interested in. Again, using decades old logic to regulate the modern social networks never works well and can actually hamper business. [emphasis mine]

That really is the rub.  The RIAA’s indiscriminate intimidation of popular video sites is actively killing off potential sales!  As a case in point, I’ve sought out and purchased songs a number of times after hearing them playing somewhere, often from user-generated online sources.

The counterproductive stupidity of today’s copyright enforcement regime is just staggering.

MV5BMTk3OTcxMTEyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDQ4MjQ2OQ@@._V1_SY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_The weekend’s coming up. Big plans? Here are some movie reviews if not:

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.

Lev filed this under: , ,  

I never read George Will because I have a hack aversion that transcends all partisan and ideological grounds, but courtesy of Dave Weigel, I see he had some recent wisdom to share on the California governor’s race:

The Democratic candidate, 76-year-old Gov. Jerry Brown, is “the old white guy.” Kashkari, the 40-year-old son of Indian immigrants, was born in 1973, the year before Brown was first elected governor … if California becomes a purple state and Democrats can no longer assume its 20 percent of 270 electoral votes, Republicans nationwide will be indebted to the immigrants’ son who plucked up Goldwater’s banner of conservatism with a Western libertarian flavor.

George Will has a lot of knowledge about some subjects, such as old-time baseball greats. California politics isn’t one of them. If you look at everyone who’s been elected governor in the past forty years–Jerry Brown, George Deukmeijan, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and then cut out Schwarzenegger given the crazy, gimmicky recall election that he won–the other four men all have pretty similar resumes. Prior statewide elected office. Strong regional bases. Political organization going back years if not decades. This state is so big and diverse (and so full of ambitious politicians with only so many posts to hold) that getting to the top requires a lot of skill and a lot of preparation. Kashkari has literally none of this, and his main accomplishment in public life was running one of the most reviled public programs of our time, the TARP. This is not someone who a party picks to seriously contend for the seat, this is someone they run when you know you’re going to lose and you want to lose well by at least getting some image points out of it. You know the drill: Michael Steel is another example of this, or future toxic person Geraldine Ferraro for the Democrats. And there are benefits to nominating a Steel or a Kashkari or a Wehby: people like Will, Peggy Noonan, and Kathleen Parker can continue to delude themselves into thinking this isn’t the party of Limbaugh and Cruz, that finally signs of their party are showing up. Finally! The last fifty times they didn’t materialize are suddenly forgotten. And they don’t think about the fact that any even marginally winnable race gets a hard-right conservative, even if it makes the job much harder. Like Iowa, a state Obama won twice by double-digits, but which features a Republican nominee who castrates hogs, supports impeaching Obama and Calhoun-style nullification.

But that’s not even the issue. My issue is with the weird fanfic that Will spools up here, in which Kashkari (a) actually wins, and (b) does such a great job that the state reverts to the ideological and partisan balance it possessed in 1984. Has this ever happened, a single officeholder completely turning around a state’s partisan and ideological balance? This is based not on any empirical reality or theory of politics, but rather is just a flight of fancy from Will. It’s such a baffling thing to read–Democrats’ fantasies about winning Texas never seem to come to pass, but at least they’re based on actual facts about demographics, minority voting patterns, and turnout strategies. Will’s is based on nothing and is thus completely worthless. Time to retire, George. As if we need a poor man’s William F. Buckley Jr., whose prominent usage of his middle initial I’m sure had nothing to do with your usage of the same initial.

{ 1 comment }