The Never-Ending Campaigns, Inc.
In case you were wondering why the world is the way it is, here's part of the answer via Jill Lepore's “These Truths: A History of the United States.”
We‘re up to the 1930s now, and Lepore is describing the effect mass communication and propaganda—from Edward Bernays to Josef Goebbels—have had upon democracy. Then she gets into a topic she wrote about in The New Yorker a few years back: CAMPAIGNS, INC., “the first political consulting firm in the history of the world, founded by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter in California in 1933.” It mostly ran campaigns for big businesses, such as Standard Oil and Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. Critics called it “the Lie Factory.”
Here’s where they really broke through. The 1934 California campaign for governor involved the former muckraker Upton Sinclair, who was—initially—hugley popular:
Two months before the election, they began working for George Hatfield, a candidate for lieutenant governor on a Republican ticket headed by the incumbent governor, Frank Merriam. They locked themselves in a room for three days with everything Sinclair had ever written. “Upton was beaten,” Whitaker later said, “because he had written books” ...
The Los Angeles Times began running on its front page a box with an Upton Sinclair quotation in it, a practice the paper continued every day for six weeks, right up until Election Day. For instance: SINCLAIR ON MARRIAGE: THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE. . . . I HAVE HAD SUCH A BELIEF . . . I HAVE IT NO LONGER. The passage, as Sinclair explained in a book called “I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked,” was taken from his novel “Love's Pilgrimage” (1911), in which a fictional character writes a heartbroken letter to a man having an affair with his wife.
“Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.” ...
“Sure, those quotations were irrelevant,” Baxter later said. “But we had one objective: to keep him from becoming Governor.” They succeeded. The final vote was Merriam, 1,138,000; Sinclair, 879,000.81 No single development altered the workings of American democracy so wholly as the industry Whitaker and Baxter founded.
They basically set the stage for everything that's been ruining politics, and thus our lives, ever since:
Whitaker and Baxter won nearly every campaign they waged. The campaigns they chose to run, and the way they decided to run them, shaped the history of California and of the country. They drafted the rules by which campaigns would be waged for decades afterward.
The first thing they did, when they took on a campaign, was to “hibernate” for a week to write a Plan of Campaign. Then they wrote an Opposition Plan of Campaign, to anticipate the moves made against them. Every campaign needs a theme. Keep it simple. Rhyming's good (“For Jimmy and me, vote ‘yes’ on 3”). Never explain anything. “The more you have to explain,” Whitaker said, “the more difficult it is to win support.” Say the same thing over and over again. “We assume we have to get a voter's attention seven times to make a sale,” Whitaker said. Subtlety is your enemy. “Words that lean on the mind are no good,” according to Baxter. “They must dent it.” Simplify, simplify, simplify. “A wall goes up,” Whitaker warned, “when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think.”
Make it personal, Whitaker and Baxter always advised: candidates are easier to sell than issues. If your position doesn't have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn't have an opponent, invent one. Once, when fighting an attempt to recall the mayor of San Francisco, Whitaker and Baxter waged a campaign against the Faceless Man—the idea was Baxter‘s—who might end up replacing him. Baxter drew a picture, on a tablecloth, of a fat man with a cigar poking out from beneath a face hidden by a hat, and then had him plastered on billboards all over the city, with the question “Who’s Behind the Recall?” Pretend that you are the Voice of the People. Whitaker and Baxter bought radio ads, sponsored by “the Citizens Committee Against the Recall,” in which an ominous voice said: “The real issue is whether the City Hall is to be turned over, lock, stock, and barrel, to an unholy alliance fronting for a faceless man.” (The recall was defeated.)
Attack, attack, attack. Said Whitaker: “You can't wage a defensive campaign and win!” Never underestimate the opposition. Never shy from controversy, they advised; instead, win the controversy.
This is still the Republican model. It was Trump's model.
The key to the success of CAMPAIGNS, INC. is also in this ominous line:
They succeeded best by being noticed least.
Make sure you get Lepore's book. It's essentially about how our truths became less than self-evident.
The First Top 10 Movie List of 2018
We are the champions?
And so it begins. The first top 10 movie list of the year—from Stephanie Zacharek of Time magazine—was released on Thursday.
I usually dread these since they‘re full of movies I’ve heard about (via the festival circuit) but won't be able to see for another month or so. Or longer.
Not here. Of Zacharek's top 10, I‘ve already seen five, and only three haven’t been released in U.S. theaters yet. It's a good eclectic collection. She's a movie booster:
Every year, there's someone around to say, “This seemed like a bad year for movies,” to which I invariably say, “I think it's been a great year for movies!” This has been going on for decades now, so the problem—if you want to consider it one—is clearly with me. What stuns me each year isn't how many bad movies get made, but how many good ones do.
No wonder she got the Time gig. She adds, “Naturally, there's a broad middle ground of mediocrity” (oh yeah), and “I go to the movies not to be impressed, but to be overwhelmed” (who doesn‘t?). She ends thus: “So here is a list of 10 movies that didn’t impress me so much as they brought me an exquisite and sometimes formidable kind of joy.”
Then the list itself. Links go to my reviews.
- 10. Paddington 2
- 9. Bohemian Rhapsody
- 8. If Beale Street Could Talk
- 7. A Star is Born
- 6. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- 5. The Favourite
- 4. Eighth Grade
- 3. First Reformed
- 2. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
- 1. Roma
I like a good eclectic collection that leans toward popular fare. But joy? Of the five movies I've seen in her top 10, I admire some (“Eighth Grade”) but was generally disappointed in the others.
Of course, this has been a year of real movie disappointments for me. I keep being unimpressed with the movies critics love (“BlacKkKlansman,” “First Reformed,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and wonder why no one talks up the movies that I loved (“Wajib,” “Love Education,” “The King”). I know. That could be any year for any of us. Just seems more pronounced this year.
‘As You Wish’
Losing Bill Goldman made me cry. My favorite book of all time is The Princess Bride. I was honored he allowed me to make it into a movie. I visited with him last Saturday. He was very weak but his mind still had the Goldman edge. I told him I loved him. He smiled & said fuck you.— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) November 16, 2018
William Goldman (1931-2018)
- “You just keep thinkin', Butch, that's what you‘re good at.”
- “Rules? In a knife fight?”
- “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya.”
- “You think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?”
- “Who are those guys?”
- “Follow the money.”
- “The truth is, these aren’t very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”
- “Now don't tell me you think that all of this was the work of little Don Segretti.”
- “You haven't got it.”
- “Is it safe?”
- “Nobody knows anything.”
- “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
- “No more rhymes now—and I mean it!” “Anybody got a peanut?”
- “You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means.”
- “This is true love. You think this happens every day?”
- “As you wish.”
Collusion, Collusion, Wear a Gas Mask and a Veil, Cont.
From Jonathan Chait's piece, “Forget Impeachment. Mueller's Real Threat to Trump Is in 2020” on the New York Magazine site:
The breadth of Trump's legal exposure exceeds that of any president in American history. It is so vast that it is hard to comprehend. Some, and possibly all, of the following appear to have colluded with Russia on behalf of the Trump campaign: Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Michael Cohen. Trump has been doing business with the criminal underworld in Russia and elsewhere for years, the secrets of which may be revealed by Mueller, or by House Democrats obtaining his tax returns. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether he violated campaign-finance laws by directing hush money to various mistresses. The state of New York is investigating the Trump Foundation for alleged misappropriation of funds and the Trump Organization for decades-long tax fraud. He is being sued for violating the Constitution's Emoluments Clause. He is also being sued for fraud.
And this is just the information we know so far, which has come out despite a Congress dedicated to protecting him from investigation, a benefit he will enjoy for only a few more weeks.
As for what the headline means: Chait says it's unlikely Mueller can indict a sitting president; and for impeachment you need 2/3 of the Senate or (currently) 20 Republican Senators. So the real battle will be in 2020 when the voters can do something about it.
Unfortunately that brings up the scariest line in the piece, According to Chait, a poll from last spring “found that nearly three-fifths of the public is unaware that Mueller has uncovered any crimes at all.”
Movie Review: The St. Louis Kid (1934)
Ellis and Cagney looking comfortable, despite the awkward math.
The movie is 67 minutes long and feels like it took 67 minutes to make.
It still has its charms. I like looking at the old gas stations and drug stores. The small-town magistrate is named Jeremiah Jones (Arthur Aylesworth), and for some reason his name is hyphenated on his office door: Jeremiah-Jones. Was that a thing? Meanwhile, with his cut-off shirt sleeves and old-time truckers/postman cap, Cagney looks like an early template for a rejected member of the Village People.
Tit for tat
He plays Eddie Kennedy, a truck driver forever getting tossed into jail with or without his buddy, Buck (frequent Cagney foil Allen Jenkins). Generally: Buck starts a fight he can’t finish, Eddie can, Eddie winds up in jail for a night or so.
Question the movie never raises: Why does this always happen to them?
Answer: They’re sort of assholes.
As the movie opens, Buck is bailing Eddie out again; then they drive their truck back to company HQ, but box in a guy in his car. He complains, they taunt him. Seems unnecessary but that’s what they do. Turns out the guy is their new boss, who now has it in for them, and gives them the route between St. Louis and Chicago. I guess it’s a bad route? Cubs fans on one side, Cards on the other.
And we‘re off and running. Outside the small town of Ostopolis, Eddie is forced to brake abruptly and they’re rammed by the car behind them, driven by feisty Ann Reid (Patricia Ellis, “Picture Snatcher”). She gets mad, insults them, they do the same (Cagney with a leering grin). Then a would-be shining knight, Brown (Addison Richards), shows up, and it’s like with the boss all over again. He decks Buck, Eddie headbutts him, prison.
It turns out Brown works for a company that’s shortchanging dairy farmers, so Cagney concocts a story before the magistrate—also a dairy farmer—that that’s what the fight was about. Why, if he were a dairy farmer, Eddie says, he wouldn’t take any of that crap. Several things happen as a result of this story: 1) Eddie gets released; and 2) he inspires the dairy farmers to go on strike and set up blockades to prevent the trucking company from bringing in out-of-state milk. And one of those truckers is Eddie.
At the same time, Eddie is involved in a tit-for-tat battle with feisty Ann, who runs a diner in Ostopolis. Eddie insults her, she douses his ham and eggs with Tabasco sauce. He rams her delivery truck, she makes him pay for the wasted eggs. It's meet felonious.
Then it gets a little creepy. After he gets 10 days for a fight with a striking dairy farmer, Eddie slips out of his cell—it’s like Mayberry if Otis ran the jail—and confronts Ann at the diner as she’s closing up. She’s obviously afraid but he sticks around with his leering grin. It’s way creepier than the movie seems to realize. But they wind up a couple. Because Hollywood.
This is where the plot finally kicks in. To protect its trucks and profits, the company hires goons who threaten the striking farmers with guns. Then late one night, Farmer Benson (Robert Barrat) stands up to them. He’s shot and killed. Which is just when Ann drives by in her car after her first “date” with Eddie. The next morning, Ann is missing, her car is next to Benson’s body, and everyone knows she was out with Eddie—who had it in for the farmers. So the cops charge Eddie.
If this were a Paul Muni Warner Bros. movie, he’d get railroaded and it would end on a downtrodden downbeat note. But it’s Cagney, so he and his trucker pals find the real killer, free Ann, and suddenly he and Ann are signing a hotel register as Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Kennedy. But when the hotel clerk doubts their nuptials, both take offense, and both wind up behind bars. Buck says Eddie might get 10 years. Eddie wraps his arms around Ann and says, “Can you make it 20?” Fade.
Not a bad end to an otherwise lame movie.
16 going on 17?
You know who impressed? Barrat as Farmer Benson. He has a slow dignity to him—like something out of a Dorthea Lange photograph. He was in everything from “The Life of Emile Zola” with Paul Muni to “Mr. Ed” on television. Plus seven Cagney pictures. He died in 1970 and is buried in Martinsburg, West Virginia, near where my mom lived.
And as good as Patricia Ellis is, as with “Picture Snatcher” there’s some awkward math there. According to IMDb, she was born in 1916, which means she was 18 at best during the making of this picture. (She was 17 at best, more likely 16, romancing Cagney in “Picture Snatcher.”) And while her contemporaries continued acting until the ’70s or ‘80s, her acting career was over by 1939 when she was 23. “I was just getting into a rut in Hollywood,” she’s been quoted as saying. “I want to start a new career—singing.” She did, for two years, then according to her obit in The New York Times, “gave up her career in 1941 when she was married to George T. O’Maley, now president of Protection Securities Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of Interstate Securities.” The obit is from 1970. She was 53. Cancer.
Or was she 51? Wikipedia says she was born in 1918, which makes the above math even more awkward.
Anyway, not much to “The St. Louis Kid.” Just history.
U.S. to Mexicans 100 Years Ago: Come In, Don't Stay
From the “The past isn't dead, it isn't even past” dept., via Jill Lepore's “These Truths: A History of the United States”:
After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, large growers had turned to Japanese laborers, but a so-called gentleman's agreement between Japan and the United States ended their migration in 1908, after which growers began sending employment agents over the border and into Mexico to recruit workers. In an era when the regime of scientific management maligned Hungarians, Italians, and Jews as near-animals who needed to be ruled not by the lash but by the stopwatch, business owners and policymakers tended to describe Mexican immigrants—desperately poor political refugees—as ideal workers. In 1908, U.S. government economist Victor S. Clark claimed that Mexican immigrants were “docile, patient, usually orderly in camp, fairly intelligent under competent supervision, obedient and cheap,” and, in 1911, a U.S. congressional panel reported that while Mexicans “are not easily assimilated, this is not of very great importance as long as most of them return to their native land after a short time”...
This did not quiet nativists, the American Eugenics Society warning: “Our great Southwest is rapidly creating for itself a new racial problem, as our old South did when it imported slave labor from Africa. The Mexican birth rate is high, and every Mexican child born on American soil is an American citizen, who, on attaining his or her majority, will have a vote. This is not a question of pocketbook or of the ‘need of labor’ or of economics. It is a question of the character of future races. It is eugenics, not economics.” Congress, pressured by eugenicists and southern and western agriculturalists, in the end exempted Mexicans from the new immigration restriction regime, while also requiring not only passports but also visas for anyone entering the United States. Thus it erected hurdles that allowed Mexicans to cross the border to work temporarily but denied access to citizenship.
Canó Faces Consequences?
Ken Rosenthal has a piece on The Athletic about off-season trade questions, including: Should Arizona trade Zack Greinke? How much research are the Yankees doing on Manny Machado anyway? And which execs are going to lead Baltimore into the future?
And what about Canó?
Yeah, what about Canó?
It's basically: Are the Mariners going to tear down and rebuild? Even if they do, suggests Rosenthal, who wants the scraps? Both Felix and Kyle Seager have big contracts and are in the midst of seemingly unstoppable downhill slides. Then there's Robinson Canó, who was busted for taking a banned PED-masking supplement, missed half the season, and still has another five years and $120 million on his contract. Not many teams want to pick that up, even with a boost/bribe from the M‘s.
More, the M’s just traded for Mallex Smith, a centerfielder, which means Dee Gordon's experimental season there might be at an end. But if he goes back to second, his natural spot, where does Canó go? To first base? Where he doesn't want to go?
Rosenthal ends the section on a surprisingly ominous, almost vindictive note:
Canó surely wants to salvage his legacy, but his path to Cooperstown might be as difficult to forge as his path out of Seattle. He made his choices. Now he faces the consequences.
My thought: What exactly are those consequences, Ken? Playing first base? Or just playing in Seattle?