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Wardrobe for the film was borrowed from what Roger Moore wore in the horse auction scene from A View To A Kill

Well, faithful readers, I reported to you on the trainwreck that was Jobs, the Kutch-starring cheapie cash-in that came out right after the man died. So it’s time to talk about the recent film about America’s most beloved Bond villain (seriously), which I saw last night. First off, it must be said that Steve Jobs is a vastly better film, though must it be said? You’d have to dig deep into the archives of Ed Wood or Coleman Francis to find more inept filmmaking than that film. There are some fine performances in the film, and there was stuff I liked, but essentially it only met my expectations and didn’t really exceed them in most respects. I do think that Danny Boyle was the wrong choice to direct the film, though given the film’s famously tortured path to the screen, I understand why they had to go with what they could get (I also see why David Fincher dropped out of the project now, not because it sucks so much as that it’s unfocused and the intent of it is unclear). Boyle’s shtick is frenetic activity, as opposed to Fincher’s fanatical restraint. One of these styles works well with an Aaron Sorkin script that’s mostly about people in rooms talking, and one does not. Boyle seems to think that many of the dialogue scenes need to be broken up, and he does this by frequent cross-cutting and flashbacks (and sometimes rapid cross-cutting to flashbacks) which simply don’t work. The movie is structured into three real-time blocks of forty minutes, and constantly taking us out of the present-time, real-time drama just detracts from the drama. There’s also the matter of the deeply odd twee touches he seems to feel the film needs–during the interstitial media montage between the first and second segments, he feels the need to have the word “fired” appear on screen, punctuated by a gunshot sound effect, or to flash some Bob Dylan lyrics graphically on the floor at one point (this is a side note, but there’s nothing that loses me faster than someone other than Bob Dylan reciting Bob Dylan lyrics, especially the over-cited ones in the movie), or the end of the second segment, in which images pertaining to what Jobs is saying are digitally projected onto the blank wall behind him. I’m not a Dogme advocate or anything, but these touches provide no real information to the audience, it just seems to be Boyle needing more visual dynamism in his film. But The Social Network is also a film that’s mostly people talking in rooms, and Fincher is able to bring considerable visual dynamism to it. Boyle clearly doesn’t have the imagination to pull it off without cheap gimmicks. And I don’t mean to nail the guy! Trainspotting was great. But still.

What about the rest of the film? I could talk about the performances, but if you’re really curious, just head over to imdb and look at the cast list. The people who you’d expect to have given good performances did, though in all fairness nobody was completely terrible. I found Jeff Daniels to be a little flat as famed Jobs-firer John Sculley, though I fully admit my bias that I don’t really care for him as an actor (also, fuck you movie for making me realize that the Sorkin-Daniels pairing is a Newsroom reunion). Fassbender gives his usual tour-de-force, successfully modulating Jobs in each time period while still keeping the character consistent, from the intoxicating highs of 1984 to the depressing lows of 1988, and then the weathered upswing of 1997. What interested me about the movie was this very structure, and it is an interesting idea for a film. But I’m not sure Sorkin really makes it work–apparently Jobs talks to the same five people before each launch, and doesn’t see any of them in the intervening years? It pushes it on plausibility. The film seems to argue that Jobs’s obsession with total control over the user experience stems from being an orphan twice over, though this does feel a little too-movie psychology and pat. There’s a throughline about whether what a person makes matters more (or can make up for) what a person is, which is an interesting dynamic, except that the character of Steve Jobs is depicted in a much more sympathetic way than in Jobs or Pirates Of Silicon Valley, which despite its flaws is still the best treatment of this subject matter on film. Yes, he explodes at people and cynically denies his paternity of his daughter Lisa for a portion of the film, withholds money that she and her mother desperately need, but he always relents and the film does give him a redemptive arc of sorts. There are a couple of points where it feels like maybe Sorkin is trying to comment on his well-known last line of The Social Network, but I’m not sure what the point is. Generally speaking, Steve Jobs is far less focused than that film thematically (and a bit less narratively), and far less propulsively plotted. What else to say? Boyle doesn’t rein in the Sorkinness of the dialog in the way Fincher did, though obviously this will be a plus to some people and a minus to others (this might also have something to do with Sorkin not using any primary sources in Steve Jobs). Even the soundtrack seemed a bit underachieving, beginning with edgy electronic music in the first segment and then switching to operatic themes for the second, but then returning to the electronic music for the last segment, which seems like a mistake as it makes it seem as though the soundtrack is repeating and the result is less sonically interesting. Either go with electronic music throughout, or pick something else for the last segment. It’s also probably not a good sign that I was paying a lot of attention to the soundtrack during the first viewing, but the film does give you ample opportunity to do so: the Steve Wozniak scenes are long and repetitive, the film lets everything breathe just a tad too much, and too many scenes that go on longer than it takes to make the point. There’s no snap to it. Kate Winslet seems to figure into the movie to the extent she does because Sorkin couldn’t write banter for one person. The iPod origin story at the end is strange, almost tacked on. The ending hints at a grand gesture that doesn’t come, and I’m genuinely torn if I would have liked him to invite Lisa onto the stage at the end or not. All in all, the film doesn’t stun at any point, nor does it make us see Apple or Jobs in any particular new way. There are some interesting ideas here that aren’t fully developed. It’s far from terrible, though it’s also far from essential.

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History’s Greatest Monster

Hillary Clinton supports the death penalty because of course she does. A part of her will always be stuck in 1972, organizing the hopeless McGovern Texas campaign before that defeat taught her to forever avoid his issues. It’s not even necessarily conservative or liberal type distinctions, so much as “hippy” issues versus non-hippy issues. The legal aspect of gay rights issues are over with, at least, but I wouldn’t expect her to propose any changes to drug laws, and despite her rhetoric I’d be pleasantly if she actually pushed much on criminal justice reform and policing reform. She’ll just leave them to the states, as she promises on each and every one of these types of issues, and will talk about how hard a job cops have and how we need more dialogue while police unions snub her from coast to coast, and minority communities continue to suffer. I’d love to be wrong but I do have some memories of the Clinton Administration. To be fair, Barack Obama flip-flopped on the death penalty in 2008 for literally no reason at all (yes, I know, that source is a little gross, though the facts are indisputable) in an election he could not have possibly have lost. Even from a man who was in grade school in 1972, the fear is there. And in all honesty, in the ’70s and ’80s that’s where the public was. Michael Dukakis didn’t lose just because he didn’t say he’d become Charles Bronson from Death Wish in a debate. But it was a dramatic, highly public moment that was universally deemed a disaster for him, and could well have contributed to his loss. Willie Horton didn’t come out of nowhere. There was a reason he got in that tank. And it’s not as though Dukakis was proposing anything particularly ambitious on those issues, or was altogether much different from the Clintons in his basic political approach. But it’s over forty years later and public opinion is quite different. Marijuana legalization has polled about as well as marriage equality, and is actually extremely popular now, but virtually all elected Democrats support the latter and hardly any the former. If anyone else has another explanation other than McGovernphobia, I’d be happy to hear it.

Hillary is and always will be a Watergate Baby, i.e. someone who responded to the McGovern defeat by basically repudiating what he stood for and calling it pragmatism. In other words, she’s liberal but not that liberal, and she’ll always avoid issues that Baby Boomers considered controversial during their younger years. Obviously this includes peace. Don’t be surprised.

There’s no denying that George W. Bush left Barack Obama a huge mess to clean up on practically every front, and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge this is being shifty and dishonest. This is why I don’t criticize him too much on Afghanistan, for example: everyone basically knows that the place is just going to collapse and become a disastrous war zone again as soon as we leave, and it’s hard to believe that sticking around for another fifteen years is going to bring the country any closer to Western-style democracy and stability. History is strewn with the graves of empires who tried. There is something less-than-courageous about Obama basically just running out the clock until he leaves office so that it won’t besmirch that Presidential Library foreign policy achievements wall (as if it would actually be mentioned there, but you get the point), but to use a construction popular with the youth, politicians gonna politic.

But this Friday news dump story announcement to escalate the Administration’s nonsensical Syria policy by putting boots on the ground (i.e. a very small deployment of special operations advisers and facilitators, or whatever other euphemism you prefer) isn’t that. Obama had to deal with the difficulties faced by a post-U.S. withdrawal Iraq, but he didn’t have to make bold, excessive pronouncements about destroying ISIS where reach exceeded grasp. Just like he absolutely didn’t have to turn Libya into a demi-Somalia, just like he didn’t need to deliver a bunch of tall talk about who had to go in Syria, or what constituted a red line, etc. He chose to do those things unprompted by anything Bush left for him. He owns them. And they truly, truly stink. There have been some nice moments, don’t get me wrong–Iran, Cuba, New START–but in the final analysis, Obama has been utterly disappointing on foreign policy. He buys into too much of the previous Administration’s ideas about war and regime change, and he seems fundamentally indifferent to peace unless it is politically advantageous to him personally, or fulfills a separate goal of his. Again and again, he has allowed the hawks to persuade him to follow an unwise course of action that follows no strategy and makes no sense, other than as the path of least resistance in the face of political pressure. Obama has revealed himself as a man who lacks a principled foreign policy vision or even a coherent one, the public I believe has realized this and his approval ratings in this area will never recover. This announcement is the perfect time for progressives to cut bait and denounce this betrayal of the promises he first made as a candidate, and I think it’s long past time that this occurred. It would also be helpful in laying down a marker for Hillary Clinton going forward, over which she dare not cross.

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Not looking good…

Since Alex Pareene has weighed in with an (I hope) satirical bit of advice for Jeb Bush, I figured I’d do the same. You see, it’s easy to stand and laugh at the calumny of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, but I’ve decided that I want to help. And all joking aside, these ideas couldn’t be worse than the shopworn, stupid shit they’ve been doing. So here goes.

Dear Jeb,

Let’s be honest. You haven’t been doing well in your presidential run. Typically, “bargainer” candidates–i.e. the ones who try to strike a bargain with politics, who try to keep it from infecting their souls and changing them completely–tend to flop spectacularly, and you’re no different. Have you not read What It Takes? Your father and brother are both totally in it, and I think it might have set you up for more realistic expectations of what to expect. You can’t just wish away all the bullshit, can’t raise enough money to insulate you from it. That’s not how it works. So now, your campaign is looking not so great, and everyone is crowning Marco Rubio the nominee. But Rubio is far from being universally embraced–he is not really all that compelling either and can only win by default. He is even more a creature of rich Republican donors than you are, to the extent that’s possible, and yet he still can’t fundraise. Can’t close the deal. He’s just waiting you out at this point. But you can still wait him out, and you can certainly damage him too. Forget that bullshit about missed Senate votes and that, nobody cares. Here’s what you really want to attack him on:

  1. Age and Status
    I’m sure you’ve noticed just how much older the Republican electorate is getting these days. And it hasn’t credibly been young since arguably the 1850s, in a literal sense that is. In recent times the youngest Republican nominee was your brother who, while he acted largely like the sullen teenager he was when his stunted emotional growth stopped, was a man in his fifties who felt it. Meanwhile, the party has gone to the septuagenarian well again and again: Reagan. Dole. McCain. Romney and the first Bush weren’t too far off either. The GOP loves an old person nominee, and this may well be part of why the party hasn’t completely coalesced around Rubio. So this is what you do. Have advisers talk about him as a callow youth. Hell, maybe even stage an embarrassing “hot mike” moment where you use those exact words, in order to start a discussion on the topic that does minimal damage to you. (One of The West Wing‘s more politically astute episodes involved this.) Find some information on his (allegedly) crazy frat partying days. Make offhanded comments about his youth and attractiveness. In a Democratic primary, this would be a real no-no, because Democrats love youthful candidates. Kennedy. Clinton. Obama. But Republicans are a whole different story. This is your best bet. You clearly haven’t spent as much time around actual Republicans as I have, having grown up in a dreary conservative exurb in Northern California, back when it was much Reagan country. So I’ll break it down for you: every Republican sees himself as a winner. That many of them are not winners of any sort (often tragically so) is no deterrent to this belief, and is easily explicable as due entirely to external circumstances. Young bucks, the government, etc. This breeds enormous resentment at the “undeserving” successes of the world. Right now, this resentment is turned to you. But you can turn it to the young, handsome Rubio if you do it right. Looks, youth, power and fame are all better targets of resentment for this crowd than old money, with which they feel a kinship anyway.
  2. Insider
    This is the year of the Republican outsider, as everyone has said. Your brother somehow managed to pull off the “outsider” moniker, despite it being completely ridiculous. But you’re not going to be able to do it this time, for many reasons. So instead, destroy Rubio’s image as any sort of outsider, and instead paint him as an even bigger insider than you are. This is also ridiculous, but it’s not at all impossible. You have some material: Marco Rubio has spent more time in elected office than you have. Almost twice as much, actually. He began his service in the Florida House in early 2000, which means just shy of fourteen full years as an elected official as he was “off” for two years between serving in that august body and becoming a Senator. He was a political operative before that, too, but don’t go there–you’ve been one your whole life, essentially. Pepper speeches talking about Rubio’s long stretch in elected politics. Then after he responds (most likely by saying something like “I’ve been in politics awhile, but I’ve never considered myself an insider.”), shift to talking about how he’s been in politics so long but accomplished nothing. This cements the narrative and moves it forward, setting a trap. He’ll respond with something like, “That’s not true. I’ve fought against bad liberal ideas my whole career, and that’s more important than just passing a bunch of laws.” Then drop immigration on him. And then watch as he flails. You know the feeling all too well.
  3. Personal Stuff
    You have to bring up Rubio’s chronic personal debt problems. Old folks in particular are very harsh about this sort of thing. But it has to be done the right way. Here’s my suggestion for an ad. Find a clip of Rubio making the liberal’s bete noire comparison of the federal budget to the home checkbook. He’s definitely said it. You all do, even though you know better. Find that bit of him speaking, then cut to an actor playing an accountant looking at Rubio’s “books” and bringing up his maxed out credit cards, et al. Wrap it up with the guy saying, “Well, if Marco Rubio manages the federal budget like his checkbook, we’ll be bankrupt in three months.” Put this out through back channels, a Super PAC, whatever. You Bushes know how to do this. Remember the Swift Boat guys? Anyway, if this goes out, Rubio’s camp will go absolutely nuclear about it and press you to denounce it. As a Bush, you know how to deal with this. Your dad and bro sure did. “…independent entity…no coordination with the campaign…take the high road…” And in the Super PAC era, that might sound a bit more plausible than it should. Everybody will know it’s bullshit, but you’ll be insulated to some extent, and the Rubio camp will get even angrier and crazier. It’ll get endless air time on the cable nets, could even go viral. Maybe do another with an actor playing Rubio getting his allowance docked because he spent it all on baseball cards and soda. Only the guy playing Rubio is near Rubio’s age, and his parents are elderly people. You’ll take a bit of a hit for this, “truth and honesty” and so forth, but Rubio will take a much bigger one. It’s a gambit, one that Bushes have employed for decades. There’s no limit to the judgmental abilities of Republicans, even if many of them have the same sorts of problems. Again, they all see themselves as winners, even the ones who can barely afford to put food on the table. Making Rubio a deadbeat makes him not a winner. In fact, if you play it right, you can turn him into a sort of version of a young buck. That would be sweet.

These are just three ideas, but it should be enough to get you rolling. Also, to the extent that you can, dismiss debates as irrelevant to the performance of any element of the presidency. This happens to be true–world politics isn’t decided by hauling other heads of state onto a stage and having it out–though at this point it unavoidably sounds like sour grapes. Execute at least two of the items on the list before going there. Do it while Rubio’s sweating a bit. Then start talking about how pointless being a good debater is. “You don’t beat Vladimir Putin with some zingers in debates. You do it with real American toughness.” Turn the strength against him, Rove-style. Make people see him as a hothouse flower who can only thrive in the debate environment. The one negative after all this is done is that you don’t really have any carrots to offer him after using the stick–the Constitution specifies that the president and vice president must come from different states, and both of you are so “Florida!” about it that it would be a bit awkward if that’s where you wanted to go. Though maybe you could have some fun with it. “You decide where Marco Rubio declares residency to be on the ticket!” Nice contest. Hell, maybe give him to a state like Idaho that is never, ever going to have a president or vice president come from there. That would be nice of you.

Most sincerely,

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I feel like the bafflement and irritation in Villager Town over the success of Carson and Trump–and the failure of Bush and Rubio to make any impression up to this point–is indicative of the distance they have from base Republican voters (as opposed to elite Republican voters, to whom they do have access, but who are quite different in so many ways). Because I am not an orphan I do have access to such people and understand their thinking rather well. If I’m a base Republican voter, then I do have reasons to support Trump or Carson. Trump hates the same people that I hate, he gets that this is a barroom brawl between decent Americans and parasitic elites, and even if he’s a bit of a buffoon, he “gets” the reasons why I’m fed up with Washington, and he doesn’t fear saying what everyone else seems to. Carson is the nice guy who shares my ideas and values; I just like him quite a bit (and, not for nothing, supporting him proves that I’m not a racist). But why on Earth am I going to support Jeb Bush, who seems to take my vote for granted and has nothing in particular to offer me, other than a tainted chalice of family association and a dubious case of electability? It’s also unclear why I’m going to support Rubio, who isn’t someone I hate so much as someone I’m barely aware of. Why should I go for him over the thrill of watching Trump infuriate the people I hate, or the inspiring* campaign of Ben Carson? What do either of them get me that my guy doesn’t? Inspiring life story? Carson. Debating skills? Trump. They’re both much more credible outsiders than a guy with two presidents in his nuclear family and that same guy’s former protege. And after all, they said that Reagan was unelectable.

The simple fact is that there’s no real answer to this question, and this is why Rubio remains mid-pack and Bush is on life support. If and when they can come up with a compelling answer will they succeed, and that they haven’t yet should be a major warning sign to people like Douthat, who actually argues that Rubio’s winning strategy will involve successfully executing Rudy Giuliani’s joke of a campaign strategy in 2008. Everyone assumes that the Trump/Carson support is little more than the quintessence of dust, but theories on why they’ll falter are still not forthcoming.

* It is objectively strange that it is considered thus, but according to bumper stickers I’ve seen–mainly one on a vehicle owned by a very old couple who live next to my mother-in-law–this is the principal selling point.

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With all due respect, I think it’s a mistake to argue that Jeb Bush could come back like John McCain did in 2008, because McCain was not initially considered the dominant frontrunner but typically polled second or third for most of the race, and ran a conventional conservative campaign rather than one based on assuming the nomination and speaking to a general audience. For much of the cycle McCain’s chances were underrated because of his failed attempt at passing George Bush’s immigration reform package, but it’s not as though that could easily be held against him because he was on the same page with much of the party leadership of the time and the immigration issue was in one of its periods of remission in politics. His fundamentals were reasonably strong to win the nomination all along: he’d resumed being a pretty orthodox Republican with a couple of exceptions that at the time weren’t considered a big deal (climate change legislation had some bipartisan support at the time, lest we forget, and his campaign finance position was irrelevant pre-Citizens United, as there wasn’t much going on there). Oh, and he hated torture, but he was hawkish enough such that the wingnuts didn’t really care. Certainly he had nothing as big as Giuliani’s abortion position to deal with, though his existing heresies were big enough to leave substantial amounts of conservatives unexcited and eventually requiring him to select a loon for his vice presidential candidate. But that’s beside the point. McCain’s only real enemies for the nomination were second-raters Huckabee and Romney, men who had never run before for the presidency. He beat them. The rest were jokers who were never going to win for various reasons, though you’d never know that by reading all the “game-changer” shit out there.


That, however, is quite different from Jeb’s predicament. McCain ebbed and flowed but Bush’s campaign has been a complete collapse–if anything, it’s been overrated at every possible point, including the present time. He’s not popular, his electability case is dubious, and most interestingly, his forays into trying to turn the family legacy into a weapon have been utterly disastrous. One wonders whether his utter unacceptability among Republican voters has prompted many conservatives to move on from fights that several years ago they would have energetically fought–the fact that nobody seems much to care about defending Bush from Donald Trump’s (to my mind correct) assignation of blame for 9/11 onto George W. Bush, and Bush’s similar self-inflicted wound on the Iraq War, are almost just brutal in the sense of how uninclined any Republicans are to throw Jeb a rope. It’s positively cold-blooded, though given how the Bush family has treated various obstacles in the past, it’s hard to be particularly sympathetic. I’ve long theorized that the main reason for Jeb’s run was to keep the Bush family’s political machinery clanking on, with maybe a little bit of subconscious atonement for Dubya mixed in, maybe with a dash of “this is just what Bushes do.” But if this is the case–and it’s never been clear what it actually is if it’s not that–then he really needs to ask himself why he’s remaining in if his toxicity is actively harming his family’s position, which would run counter to that goal. I doubt he’ll drop out just yet–given the delusional nature of his entire campaign he might well believe the happy talk that Mike Murphy is doling out, and I’ll be perfectly happy if he continues to wreck the Bush name, to waste the money of the horrible rich people who gave him $100 million, and (inevitably) to crush his former protege Rubio with nasty negative ads. I have no problem at all with those things, and by extension his staying in for as long as possible. But from his angle, he might want to avoid all that, rather than indulge in farfetched fantasies or metaphors.

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I can only imagine the dismay that the 2016 election is causing our nation’s hallowed narrative-makers in the media–perhaps only Richard Thompson’s “Tear Stained Letter” can come close to the manic feel of it all. First, two of the three “frontrunners” for the Republican nomination have seen their campaigns completely collapse, and the third continues to be poised to make his move anytime but never makes it. Media creation Carly Fiorina has succeeded as well as her history would suggest she would, while would-be media creation John Kasich seems already to have peaked. Second, Hillary Clinton’s nefarious emails didn’t actually make Joe Biden run for president, in spite of thousands of articles, blog posts, and tweets about just how nefarious they are. Third, despite numerous calls for Donald Trump’s campaign to fail, it hasn’t and remains stunningly consistent in terms of support. And the ongoing chaos of the House Republicans has made “both sides do it” style stories impossible to write. Now that Paul Ryan has decided to run for the job that he never, ever, possibly could ever have dreamed of ever having, that element will go away (until House conservatives get fed up with Ryan in a couple of months), so the narrative-smiths could breathe a sigh of relief and get back to articles premised on the concept that on any issue at any time, both sides are firmly to blame in equal measure. And then this happened:

According to the survey of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers, 81 percent approved of Carson’s comment that Obamacare is the “worst thing that’s happened in this nation since slavery;” 77 percent said they liked his statement that Hitler’s rise could have been stopped if German citizens had had guns; and 73 percent liked his concerns about a Muslim becoming president.

Among the respondents, 96 percent said they find Carson’s “common sense” attractive, and 89 percent said they like that he is guided by his faith, according to the poll. Only 32 percent of those surveyed believe Trump is a committed Christian.

Here’s the thing: Trump is not a fanatic. He’s loud, uncivil, abrasive, and thus perfectly explicable as an outlet for the sorts of attitudes that are predominant among the Republican base, but he’s primarily self-interested and puts on new positions and ideologies like he tries on suits. Carson, though, is a fanatic, perhaps the biggest fanatic to run for president in quite some time. That he is soft-spoken and appears gentle means only that he is secure in his fanaticism, which should make him much scarier than Trump to the thinking non-wingnut (though our press is apparently not sophisticated enough to understand that the greatest fanatic is the one who feels no need to shout about it). Carson’s is a bigoted, reactionary, victim-blaming worldview that doesn’t call attention to itself, that is communicated with hushed tones and relative propriety. So the Republican nominating contest is between a loudmouthed, bullying bigot and a quietly malignant bigot. This is the “debate” going on within the Republican Party, and while loudmouth bully continues to have the lead, quiet malignance is not far behind, and is in very strong shape in Iowa. But I’m sure that any day now, sober conservative voters will wise up and just settle for an “electable” candidate like Jeb Bush. Right?

All in all, not any different than the Wall Street reregulation debate between Clinton and Sanders.

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