Saturday December 31, 2016
Goodbye to All That
I planned on leaving 2016 on a high note—or highish note—by hiking this morning with my friends Andy and Erika and one of Erika's friends. We planned on meeting at the trailhead to Poo Poo Point (yes, that's the name) at 7:30 AM.
Andy let me know around 6 AM that he had a cold and couldn't make it. I got everything ready—backpack, food, layers of clothes—and headed out to get the car at the new parking garage we use since there's so much construction in our First Hill neighborhood. But I stopped short when I saw the garage gates closed and locked. I read the sign: closed until 6 AM on weekdays and 8 AM on weekends. I stared a good long while, then called Erika and let her know I wouldn't make it, either; then, since I was primed to move, I walked through downtown Seattle to the Sculpture Garden. It wasn't bad but it was hardly a mountain.
A fitting end to this shitty year. It wouldn't even let me get to Poo Poo Point.
See you on the other side.
Saturday December 31, 2016
The Five Worst Movies of 2016
Even the movies didn't help this shitty year.
My biggest concern with the year-end top 10 list is usually how I can pare it down to 10 because there's so many deserving movies; this year, I'm trying to build up to 10. I anticipate filler.
But the bottom five? Hey, that's the mother lode.
So here they are, from awful to horrible. Apologies to “Bad Moms,” (oh, Mila) “X-Men: Apocalypse,” (oh, Bryan) “Knight of Cups” (oh, Terrence) and “Ma Ma” (oh, Penelope): In a normal shitty year, you might've made the cut, too.
5. “The Girl on the Train” (Universal): It's called a tabloid film but even tabloids aren't this stupid. Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) steals the husband of Rachel (Emily Blunt), a lonely alcoholic, who becomes obsessed with and spies on Megan (Haley Bennett), the aloof sexpot. When Megan goes missing, Rachel gives false info about Megan’s affairs. After Megan is found murdered, Anna finds evidence implicating her husband (Rachel's ex) but does nothing about it. And the theme of this backstabbing movie? Sisterhood. Of course.
4. “Suicide Squad” (Warner Bros.): Marvel gives us continuity between movies but DC can’t manage it between scenes. It’s as if the filmmakers took chunks of story and lined them up without concern for what came before or after. The whole point of this squad, this government-run team of supercriminals, is to take on the next metahuman (read: Superman) in case he's not such a boy scout. Guess what? The next metahuman could take out the whole squad in a second. So there's no point to them. And the battles here? With Witchie-poo? In the rubble of Central City? It's sound and fury, signifying nothing. It's a tale told by an idiot. Right: Idiots. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Zack Snyder.
3. “Wiener-Dog” (IFC): A clueless boy in the first family that owns the title animal feeds it a granola bar. Cue writer-director Todd Solondz's 45-second tracking shot of shit on the sidewalk. Consider it a metaphor for the movie. “Wiener-Dog” lacks life, joy, meaning. The dog subsequently winds up with: 1) a vet assistant who's hung up on a meth-head; 2) a mentally challenged man who plays violent video games; 3) a lonely teacher/screenwriter who tries to blow up his university with explosives strapped to the dog; and 4) an old woman whose granddaughter visits with her idiot boyfriend to borrow money. Does the dog run across the street to kill itself? If so, it's the smartest one here. I saw it at the Seattle International Film Festival, where someone literally shouted, “This movie sucks!” near the end. With you, brother.
2. “Nocturnal Animals” (Focus Features): There are two storylines: one hopelessly dull, the other hopelessly horrific. In the former, a beautiful, red-haired art-gallery director in a beautiful glass house and a dying marriage reads a novel dedicated to her by her first husband. In it, a man (whom she imagines as her first husband), and his beautiful red-haired wife and daughter (whom she imagines as Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber), are run off the road in the middle of the night in Bumfuck, West Texas by three yahoos, who slowly terrorize them and then kidnap the wife and daughter. They're later found naked, raped, murdered, artfully posed. For some reason, the novel piques the woman's interest in her first husband again. Focus Features marketed this pointless horror from writer-director Tom Ford as a “sexy thriller” but it's awful enough to kill sex.
1. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (Warner Bros.): Superman's great enemy isn't Lex Luthor but writer-director Zack Snyder. Snyder let the Man of Steel keep his powers but he took away his joy and purpose. What does Superman want in this movie? Who knows? He seems to help people reluctantly. He flies to Africa to save Lois but when Lex kidnaps his mom he's lost. I get being suckered the first time Batman uses kryptonite on him (he'd never experienced it before). But a second time? How dumb is he? And Batman? Snyder turns the Caped Crusader into a hateful xenophobe, a Fox-News watcher, a literal murderer. He listens to the noise, not the signal. He doesn't see the good Superman does, he simply fears him. And he would've killed him if not for ... Yeah. I know. I shouldn't. But in the future whenever this movie is mentioned, fans can rightly shout, “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!?!?” Because no one will want to remember it. Ever. It's the worst movie of the year because Snyder completely botched the first cinematic pairing of the most beloved superheroes in the world. Afterwards, I felt like Brando in “The Godfather”: “Look what they did to my boys.”
Here's other years, if you're interested:
Fingers crossed for the future. Please.
Friday December 30, 2016
What Liberal Hollywood? Part 91
“If you're telling certain stories, you'll need to have guns. But I don't see smoking [cigarettes in movies] anymore. Look, everyone talks about 'liberal Hollywood,' but I don't know that that's the case, particularly with guns. This is an industry where, if the tax credits were right, we'd probably be shooting movies in Syria right now.”
-- Tom Arnold, in an excellent piece in The Hollywood Reporter, “Locked and Loaded: The Gun Industry's Lucrative Relationship with Hollywood,” by Gary Baum and Scott Johnson. Excellent with a proviso.
Friday December 30, 2016
THR's Great Guns Piece Gone Wrong
A few weeks back, The Hollywood Reporter published an excellent piece called “Locked and Loaded: The Gun Industry's Lucrative Relationship with Hollywood,” by Gary Baum and Scott Johnson. It gives us a fascinating look into the industries that provide the movies with firearms, as well as the experts who make sure everything is both safe and realistic during filming.
All that's good. The article runs into problems when it tries to parse the contradictions between a so-called liberal Hollywood that glamorizes guns, and a gun-control industry that condemns Hollywood as liberal even as it benefits from 100 years of cinematic heroes with guns. Generally, the article puts the burden of hypocrisy squarely on Hollywood's shoulders, then bends over backwards to underline its point.
For example, the writers say they contacted “more than 50 actors, producers, writers, directors and showrunners who have been outspoken gun-control proponents while also utilizing firearms in their storytelling.” The implication is that these people are hypocrites for doing both. But notice the verb: not “glamorizing” firearms in storytelling, but “utilizing” them.
Four men of the 50 responded:
- Actor Tom Arnold (“True Lies”)
- Actor Clark Gregg (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”)
- Producer Steve Levitan (“Modern Family”)
- Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”)
Again: These are gun-control proponents that also “utilized” firearms in their storytelling. So I get the first two. Kinda sorta. But Levitan? “Modern Family”? Really? He also produced the '90s sitcoms “Frasier,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” and “Just Shoot Me.” Maybe THR was confused about “Just Shoot Me.”
But THR really pissed me off with the way they introduced Black:
Dustin Lance Black, whose screenplays for Milk and J. Edgar incorporated guns ...
Seriously, THR? You're implying that it's a contradiction for Black to be a gun-control advocate while also writing an Oscar-winning screenplay about a beloved politician who was assassinated?
The rest of the article is worth reading anyway.
To The Hollywood Reporter, more hypocrisy from Hollywood's gun-control advocates.
Thursday December 29, 2016
What's the Matter with Martin County, Kentucky?
This story comes from the book “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell” by Alec MacGillis. The entire book is a quick, sad read, which only takes us to the 2014 re-election of the Worst Senator in America, but the story below is only tangentially related to McConnell. It's mostly about How Things Work.
Most of the words below are MacGillis'.
In October 2000, 300 million gallons of coal slurry—a mix of mud, coal waste, and chemicals—broke through a holding pond of the Martin County Coal Corporation's Big Branch Refuse Impoundment, and ran 75 miles downstream to the Ohio River. It killed 1.6 million fish, countless wildlife, carried away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of more than 27,000 people.
The investigative team from the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration was led by Tony Oppegard, a senior political appointee, and Jack Spadaro, a career MSHA engineer.
The team found evidence implicating the following:
- Martin County Coal's owner, mining giant Massey Energy
- Their own agency: MSHA
Six years earlier, following an earlier, smaller slurry spill in the same spot, an MSHA engineer made a series of recommendations, but none of them were carried out, and MSHA never followed up. Now it was going to. Oppegard and Spadaro's team was ready to bring eight separate violations against Massey, including potential criminal-negligence charges.
Then George W. Bush was elected president.
On inauguration day, January 20, 2001, Oppegard got a call from superiors at MSHA telling him, basically, “Don't come back tomorrow, because you‘re out of a job.” There was a new regime at MSHA, and at its top was Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell’s second wife, whom Bush chose as his secretary of labor.
Oppegard's replacement, Tim Thompson, a district manager from Morgantown, West Virginia, reduced the eight violations to two, with a fine of $55,000 each. More: In April 2002, Thompson got a call from MSHA headquarters outside Washington, D.C., after which, with investigators watching, he crossed out a section of the draft report that called MSHA to account for its lax oversight. That was enough for Spadaro. He tendered his resignation in a letter published in the local papers. Then he was hounded for speaking out.
In 2003, the Department of Labor's inspector general released a report on the investigation confirming most of Spadaro's claims about how it was undermined by his superiors—but the impact of the report itself was softened by widespread redactions that left half of the twenty-six pages crossed out.
MacGillis adds this thought:
Why had Elaine Chao's Department of Labor gone so easy on Martin County Coal and Massey Energy? It would have been easy enough to blame the slurry spill on the Clinton administration, whose MSHA appointees had been so lax in following up on the recommendations following the 1994 spill. Doing so, though, would‘ve meant coming down hard on the coal industry—not just Massey Energy, but other coal companies as well, to the extent that the administration decided to tighten restrictions on the dozens of other slurry impoundments built over coal mines. And Elaine Chao and the rest of the administration were unlikely to take that approach. The coal industry had tripled its contributions in the 2000 campaign, more than four years earlier, and virtually all of this money had gone to Republicans.
I add this: In 2016, Kentucky went for Donald Trump with 62% of the vote. And in Martin County, Trump got 88% of the vote.
Further reading, and some apparent coal country buyers’ remorse, here.
Wednesday December 28, 2016
You May Also Like ...
I don't know how long this has been going on, but Barnes & Noble is now doing the amazon.com thing of recommending items based on your purchases. I noticed this over the holidays. You buy, say, “The Book of Daniel,” and they'll suggest another E.L. Doctorow or maybe a history on the Rosenbergs or McCarthyism or the New Left. Their recommendations wind up in your bag along with your receipt.
Here's the recommendation I got based on Salinger purchases:
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE ...
- Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, J.D.
- Bell Jar by Plath, Sylvia
- Things They Carried by O'Brien, Tim
- Girl on the Train by Hawkins, Paula
The last is a bit of a stretch. Or something.
Anyway, it's a nice innovation ... 20 years late.
Tuesday December 27, 2016
Podcast: The Generation Gap: Three Generations of Film Critics Tackle Three Generations of Film, Part I
Three movies, all nostalgic.
For the past few months, my nephew Jordan has been after me and my father to do a podcast of three generations of critics talking about film. Yesterday, the day after Christmas, we finally made it happen in the basement of Jordan's parents home in south Minneapolis.
It wasn't bad. The doing, that is. I have no idea about the listening, but you can listen to it here.
After several rounds of negotiations (mostly with my father, the holdout), we finally landed on discussing three movies that each of us liked as children. They are:
- “The Four Feathers” (1939) for my father, born in 1932
- “Star Wars” (1977) for me, born in 1963
- “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) for Jordan, born in 2001.
Yes, it's all a bit arbitrary, but it's interesting culling meaning out of it.
Each movie, for example, is nostalgic in nature. “The Four Feathers” was released on August 3, 1939, exactly a month before Britain declared war on Germany and entered World War II, but it relies upon the Kiplingesque trappings of British empire and honor. It's based on a 1902 novel and set mostly during the 1890s. It celebrates what's gone. So does “Star Wars,” released a few years after Watergate and a few years before the Iran hostage crisis, and during a period when Hollywood movies tended to be downers. But from the opening crawl to the triumphant end—not to mention the clear demarcation between good and evil—it's essentially a movie serial of the '30s and '40s sped up, and with A-production values. “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” too, is based upon a book that was published 40 years before the movie was released. We keep looking back to create the now.
Both “Feathers” and “Star Wars” contain extensive scenes in the desert. One big difference between the two: we root for the empire (British) in “Feathers” and against the Empire (Evil) in “Star Wars.”
“Feathers” seems to be the most adult but it's really about reclaiming individual honor and dignity against a backdrop of war; its story is individualistic in nature. The point of both “Star Wars” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is that there's something bigger than the individual, whether the hero finds that something within (the Force) or without (the team of wild animals relying on their natures to defeat the bad guys).
Finally, “Four Feathers” indicates why these subsequent movies tended toward fantasy. If you base your story on history, as “Feathers” did, and include period attitudes toward swaths of people that actually exist (“Fuzzie Wuzzies”), it might feel a bit awkward as the moral arc of the universe bends a little bit more in its journey.
Saturday December 24, 2016
A Vast Right-Wing Hypocrisy
This is the headline:
When Entertainment Reporters Get Political
This is what the headline should read:
Right-Wing Media Demands Impartiality from Rest of Press
The granddaddy of all right-wing rags, National Review, is aghast, simply aghast, that mainstream media reporters are making off-hand political comments as reality TV star Donald J. Trump is about to assume the presidency.
NR thinks it's pointing out a double standard but it's really demanding one: a set of rules for Rush, Drudge, Fox, Breitbart, and yes, The National Review, which get to spread malicious lies about the left (and magnanimous ones about the right); but reporters and columnists (columnists!) for Hollywood Reporter and Variety should just shut their yaps about the political disaster we're in even when they're on Twitter. Nice.
I've got news for National Review: This isn't 1969 and they are not Spiro Agnew. That shit is over.
I could go through NR's list of complaints and knock them off one by one, but who has time? Its overall demand isn't just impartiality but stupidity. It wants the mainstream press to pretend not just that an apple is an orange but a fresh apple is a rotten orange. Next thing you know they'll be demanding impartiality from restaurant critics: “elitists” who look down upon regular food.
It saves its worst thoughts for the kicker:
Maybe entertainment reporters simply assume that they are writing for their liberal friends in Hollywood. But if they are covering an industry that wants to make money off the rest of America, they might try to learn something from the election results.
- I think they're writing for people who read, and have a mind, something National Review might want to consider before it disappears.
- If the goal is popularity, you'd probably want to look at the popular vote, which Hillary won by nearly 3 million votes. National Review might want to consider this before it disappears.
- The real lesson from the 2016 election is this: It's tough for a good woman to overcome 25 years of right-wing propaganda, onesided hacking, and meddling from both foreign enemies and our own country's prime federal law enforcement agency. National Review might want to consider this before we all disappear.
Sunday December 18, 2016
The Last of the .360 Hitters
For the last few weeks, Joe Posnanski has been counting down all 34 guys on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, giving thoughts, stats, whether they'll get in the Hall this year or eventually, etc. It's been fun. Yesterday, he was at No. 20 on the list, Magglio Ordonez. Halfway through, Poz writes:
We should talk about that batting title for a minute; in 2007, Ordóñez hit .363 with a league-leading 54 doubles, 28 homers, 117 runs and 139 RBIs. He finished second in the MVP balloting to A-Rod, who mashed 54 homers.
It's that .363 average that stands out, of course — it's the second-highest average for any player over the last decade (behind Joe Mauer's .365 in 2009).
That inspired this: the last player to hit in the ...
- .350s: Josh Hamilton, Texas: .359 in 2010
- .360s: Joe Mauer, Minnesota: .365 in 2009
- .370s: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle: .372 in 2004
- .380s: Rod Carew, Minnesota: .388 in 1977 *
- .390s: Tony Gwynn, San Diego: .394 in 1994 **
- .400s: Ted Williams, Boston: .406 in 1941
* Two guys have hit greater than Carew's .388 since then: Brett in '80 and Gwynn in '94. But no one else has hit in the .380s. ***
** If you want a non-strike year, you'd have to go Brett in '80. But even with the '94 season ending on Aug. 11, Gwynn had almost as many plate appearances (475) as Brett in '80 (515).
*** Unless you don't round up, that is. Then it's Brett with .3898 in '80.
Batting average, as a statistic, has taken a beating over the last few years — and rightfully so because it is illogical. Batting average refuses to acknowledge pretty important things like walks. And it calculates capriciously. If you hit a ball that probably should have been caught, batting average gives you an out even though you didn't make an out. If you bunt a runner from first to second, batting average will let you slide on the out you made, but if you dribble a grounder that moves a runner from first to second, that out goes on your permanent record. And so on.
Still, there's something nostalgic about high-average seasons like Ordóñez's 2007 season ... because they're basically gone.
Decades with .360-plus batting average.
- 1970s: 4
- 1980s: 6
- 1990s: 10
- 2000s: 8
- 2010s: 0
The main reason is those strikeouts. Everybody, even the very best players (ESPECIALLY the very best players) strikes out a lot. And no player who has ever hit .360 or better has had 100 strikeouts. It's basic math — it's POSSIBLE to hit .360 with 100 strikeouts, but it would be very hard because you give away too many free outs.
Thursday December 15, 2016
How They Lie: Miss Sloane's Box Office
This is the headline on Town Hall, a right-wing propaganda website, about the box office of the new movie, “Miss Sloane,” starring Jessica Chastian:
Surprise: Hollywood's Latest Gun Control Movie Tanks at The Box Office
We haven't even gotten to the article and they‘ve already lied. Can you spot the lie?
It’s the word Latest. As if Hollywood keeps producing nothing but gun control movies. I mean, can you name another one? I can‘t. So I just did a keyword search on IMDb and came up with a list of 75 movies. It includes “Unforgiven” starring Clint Eastwood, “Death Wish” with Charles Bronson, and “Law and Order” with Ronald Reagan. So not exactly gun control.
Anyway, Town Hall’s piece is culled from a Fox News piece, which laughs that Hollywood liberals have once again failed to breach the “values” wall. The Left Coast created a movie with liberal values, it did poorly at the box office (that part's true: it has), which shows, beyond a doubt, that “Americans don't want to spend their hard earned money on movies insulting their values.”
Right. You know what it shows? That most moviegoers don't go see political process movies—even those with Jessica Chastain in them. They want wish-fulfillment fantasy. They want heroes with guns.
And guess what? Hollywood gives it to them. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over.
That's really the biggest lie in the piece—this notion that Hollywood, as a whole, is somehow anti-gun, when Hollywood, as an industry, has done more to glamorize guns than anyone else, including the NRA. Every gun owner in America should be kissing Hollywood's ass for making it easier for them to hold onto their guns, because every NRA argument against gun control measures plays off the Hollywood playbook. You know Wayne La Pierre's infamous line: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”? You know what that describes? Half the movies Hollywood ever made.
Monday December 12, 2016
Quote of the Year for 2017
Paul Krugman attempts to collect our still-scattered thoughts this morning in his piece, “The Tainted Election”:
[This election] was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won't be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.
The question now is what to do with that horrifying knowledge in the months and years ahead.
I was having this conversation with a few folks at lunch yesterday, and overall our talk was full of anger, anxiety and, to me, way too much of the usual Democratic hand-wringing, while being way too short on answers or strategies. But it was just a lunch, after all, and none of us are policy wonks. We're all trying to figure out what to do with our horrifying knowledge in the face of those who don't care about knowledge, or facts.
This is key: feet to the fire:
Politics being what it is, moral backbones on Capitol Hill will be stiffened if there are clear signs that the public is outraged by what is happening. And there will be a chance to make that outrage felt directly in two years — not just in congressional elections, but in votes that will determine control of many state governments.
We need other pols to distance themselves from Trump, and that will only happen if it affects their bottom line—votes.
To me, this is even more key, and might be my quote of the year for 2017:
Personally, I’m still figuring out how to keep my anger simmering — letting it boil over won’t do any good, but it shouldn’t be allowed to cool. This election was an outrage, and we should never forget it.
Monday December 12, 2016
Afterbirth of a Nation: 1938
I came across this piece in The New Yorker digital edition. It's from April 30, 1938, the “Talk of the Town” section, and about a rerelease of “The Birth of a Nation.” It's an interesting read:
Interesting for a couple of reasons:
- It's really well-written. Of course, back then, “TOTT” pieces went unsigned. You gotta wonder, though. Anyone we know?
- So “Birth” was already risible in some circles by 1938? I didn't know there was much racial progress in the years 1915 to 1938. It's often portrayed as regressive years: “Birth,” KKK, Scottsboro Boys, beginning of Tuskegee experiments, etc.
- The way he describes an earlier viewing of “Birth,” I'm curious if he first saw it in the South. Is he Southern? Born in 1901?
Anyone know who it might be? E.B. White is about the right age but grew up in New York. Joseph Mitchell grew up in North Carolina but wasn't born until 1908 so the age is off. Unless the writer is referring to an earlier re-release, say in 1922; then we got a potential match.
Sunday December 11, 2016
The Russian Hacking Scandal Makes Everything Worse
The big news on Friday—that the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked the Democrats to aid the Republicans and the election of Donald Trump—isn't exactly news to anyone who was half-paying attention to the 2016 election. But it does make almost everything worse:
- U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) put himself and his party above country by disagreeing with the intelligence reports in Sept., and refusing to go along with a planned bipartisan condemnation of the attacks. He should resign immeidately. He won't.
- Pres. Obama comes off as weaker. He wanted bipartisan support for his announcement, didn't get it, didn't make it. Or didn't make it in a grand way. The news was certainly out there but in dribs and drabs. He should've held a press conference about it while condemning Sen. McConnell, who hasn't done this country any favors, but of course he didn't want to be accused of trying to influence the election. Lord no. Instead, it was McConnell who influenced the election. It was McConnell who was again the partisan hack.
- FBI Director James Comey comes off preposterously, shockingly moronic. He knew. He knew about all of it. And he did nothing, said nothing. And yet 10 days before the election he still made the announcement he made, about Hillary's emails, about the possibility that in a separate investigation into Anthony Weiner, maybe the FBI might find more emails from Hillary staffer, and Weiner ex, Huma Abedin, on Weiner's computer. That slim possibility of nothing, yeah, that needed to get out there 10 days before the election. But Russian hacking the DNC? And aiding and abetting Trump? Pish posh.
- The American electorate. What can I say? You guys were played by Trump and played by Putin. Both. Are any of the yahoos out there who voted for Trump second-guessing themselves yet? You did what Russia wanted. You bought into the lies and the propaganda. Back in October, Louis CK said Hillary voters were adults, Trump voters were suckers and people who didn't vote were assholes, and that assessment looks truer than ever. Particularly the suckers. You people are harming America.
- Donald Trump. The CIA concludes that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and the President-Elect of the United States attacks ... the CIA. But of course. That's all he's ever done—attack those who damage his worldview. Expect more of the same. Expect worse. There's a reason Russia wants him in charge of the U.S. government. He will make us much, much weaker. Every day. In every way.
The only way any of this gets better is if it leads to change.
Saturday December 10, 2016
Mitch McConnell: Traitor
Here's a quote from Mitch McConnell's memoir, “The Long Game,” which was published by Sentinel, a right-wing imprint of Penguin Books. He's reflecting on his first political campaign, at the age of 35, for county judge of Jefferson County, Kentucky:
The truth is that very few of us expect to be at the center of world-changing events when we first file for office, and personal ambition usually has a lot more to do with it than most of us are willing to admit. That was certainly true for me, and I never saw the point in pretending otherwise.
Be careful what you wish for.
Yesterday, The Washington Post revealed that “The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.”
This isn't really news to anyone who was paying half-attention during the election. It was obvious that Russia and WikiLeaks were in cahoots to bring down Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump.
What is news is the CIA conclusion, and how early it was known, and how, in September, a group of 12, called “the Gang of 12,” met in a secure office at the U.S. Capitol as Obama administration officials tried to get bipartisan support to condemn the actions.
From the article:
In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia's role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals.
And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”
The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.
According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.
Except we know what partisan politics looks like, and this is it. He's a partisan hack, a traitor to his country, someone who sides with Russia before he sides with Democrats. To me, he's a done deal. The people of Kentucky should be ashamed he's their representative.
Congratulations, Mitch, you're at “the center of world-changing events.”
Friday December 09, 2016
Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)
The older I get, the less I want to see this kind of shit.
“Nocturnal Animals,” written and directed by Tom Ford, from a novel by Austin Wright, spends two hours veering between the dull and horrific.
On the dull side, we watch Susan Morrow, a beautiful modern-art gallery director, with long red hair forever cascading down one side of her face, trapped inside her beautiful glass house. Her marriage to her beautiful husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer), is falling apart and the girl just doesn’t know what to do with herself. So she reads an early galley of a novel, “Nocturnal Animals,” that her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), not only sent to her but dedicated to her.
The novel is the horrific part. In it, a husband and father, Tony (whom Susan imagines as Edward), and his attractive red-haired wife and daughter (whom Susan imagines as Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber), are run off the road in the middle of the night in Bumfuck, West Texas by three yahoos, led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Feigning to help, the yahoos slowly terrorize the family until two of them kidnap the wife and daughter in Tony’s car. The third drives Tony into the middle of the West Texas desert and dumps him. Near death, Tony makes his way back to the road and gets a ride to the police station, where he meets the local sheriff, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), who investigates. And outside of an abandoned shack in the middle of the desert, they find the wife and daughter: naked, raped, murdered, and provocatively (one might say artistically) posed.
For some reason, Susan keeps reading.
Me, I would’ve thrown the book across the room. I would’ve walked out of the movie but I was at the theater with a friend. The movie plays off my worst fears—not being strong enough to protect those who need protecting—and gives nothing back for the trauma: no art, no insight. The Sheriff eventually tracks the yahoos but Ray is released for ... lack of evidence? Or does he make a plea deal? Either way, Andes, who’s dying of cancer, and Tony plot to kidnap and kill him but he gets away. Then Tony tracks him to the abandoned shack, has a gun on him, lets him yap. About raping and murdering his wife and daughter. And still Tony doesn’t act. He actually waits until Ray attacks him with a poker before shooting. Both men die. The end.
Well, the end of the novel anyway. The movie keeps going. Back to the boring part.
To be honest, it ends OK. After reading this awfulness, Susan gets it in her head to meet up with Tony at a romantic restaurant. She’s obviously thinking that she shouldn’t have left him in the first place—that her rich, bitchy mother (Laura Linney), seen in flashback, got into her head, and Susan began to see Edward through her mother’s eyes as a failure. Oh right: the abortion, too. Back in the day, just as she began a fling with Hutton, she finds she’s pregnant with Edward’s child but decides to abort the baby. Afterwards, she’s crying in a car in Hutton’s big consoling arms when she spots Edward watching them with cold, betrayed eyes.
So is the novel revenge of a kind? For the abortion or the affair? And if she had the abortion, who’s the red-headed, college-age daughter she rings up shortly after starting the novel? Hutton’s? How old is Amy Adams supposed to be here?
Regardless, she gets dolled up to meet Edward at a swanky restaurant, arrives first, has a drink, and slowly realizes that he’s not coming; he’s standing her up. That’s the end of the movie.
And is that Edward’s final revenge? If so, how does he know she’d react the way she reacted to the novel? Here’s a story about a woman similar to you being raped and murdered; I totally know you’ll fall for me again after reading it. And THEN I’ll stand you up. Ha ha.
Me, I’m done with this kind of thing. I can’t imagine why Tom Ford of all people chose something so pointless and depraved for his second feature.
Thursday December 08, 2016
A few weeks back, I wrote an article for Salon about the hassles of trying to cancel my mother's Comcast cable service after she'd had a stroke.
Today, I felt the greater joy of canceling my own service.
Our building got Wave G a few months back, and after some starts and stops with various rang extenders (nope), and routers (yep: Netgear Nighthawk), I felt comfortable enough to cancel Comcast. Bye bye, shitty, overpriced service.
I'd heard horror stories from others about how difficult this could be: how this, that and the other were offered; how they were put on hold for 20 minutes.
I got none of that. Instead, that annoying, overly friendly female computer voice, and the following “conversation”:
Comcast: In a few words, please tell me what you're calling about.
Me: Cancel account.
Comcast: I understand you'd like to cancel your account. Does that mean you're relocating and would like to set up a Comcast customer account elsewhere?
Then I declined a post-call survey, got a rep, told him name and address, what I wanted, why I wanted it, and it was over like that. I'm now Comcast-free. Feels good.
Wednesday December 07, 2016
Pearl Harbor + 108 Days
I saw this at the Wing Luke Museum in the International District in Seattle last August when I was doing research on the actor Keye Luke. It was part of an exhibit on the internment camps of World War II:
When I took this photo, the internment camps for Japanese-Americans were still part of our national shame. They weren't yet considered a blueprint for future actions by a Trump administration or Republicans in general.
Wednesday December 07, 2016
Yankees Suck: Treating KC A's as Its 1950s Farm Club
Last week I read a not-very-good book about a very interesting baseball man, “Finley Ball: How Two Baseball Outsiders Turned the Oakland A's into a Dynasty and Changed the Game Forever,” by Nancy Finley.
Yeah, Charlie O's niece, and the daughter of Finley's right-hand man (the other baseball outsider of the title), and not a particularly good writer. Nor journalist.
She's a “homer” in the worst sense, cleaning up after the family image. She spends way too much time, for example, tracking down dirt on poor Mike Andrews, who committed two errors in the 12th inning of Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, leading to an A's loss, and was then forced, by Finley, to sign a legal doc stating that he was injured and ineligible to play for the rest of the Series. Result: furor. A's manager Dick Williams objected, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn objected (and reinstated Andrews) and the Oakland players particularly objected. Ms. Finley wants to show that Andrews was injured, and knew he was injured, and kept playing anyway, to the detriment of the team. She completely misses the point. An owner doesn't show up a player (nor a manager) the way Finley did. You keep it in the clubhouse. Finley lost his players not because of Andrews but because he didn't back them up. The team didn't like him because he wasn't a team guy.
That said, she does give us some good dirt on the ways the New York Yankees used the Kansas City Athletics as essentially a major league farm club throughout the 1950s. Most of this isn't news to me, but it's more detailed than reports I‘ve seen in the past:
- In 1954 [Arnold Johnson] bought the Philadelphia Athletics and moved the team to Kansas City. Johnson also had financial interests in Yankee Stadium, and he seemed to pay more attention to the Yankees than to the Athletics.
- Early on, Charlie had heard rumors that Johnson had been stripping the team of its best players and trading them to the Yankees. He hadn’t completely believed it, but after he acquired the team he discovered that the rumors were true and that [Kansas City Star sports columnist Ernie] Mehl was complicit. ... Charlie immediately announced that there would be no more trades to the Yankees, a decision that could only be seen as a slap at Mehl.
- The cozy relationship between the Athletics and the Yankees became embarrassingly obvious. When the Athletics acquired the young slugging prospect Roger Maris in 1957, the American League president, Will Harridge—who had supported Johnson's efforts to buy the Athletics and approved their move to Kansas City—took the unusual step of publicly warning Johnson not to trade Maris to the Yankees for at least eighteen months. Johnson complied, but barely, trading Maris to New York in December 1959. The Athletics got little in return.
- “Kansas City was not an independent major-league team at all, it was nothing more than a loosely controlled Yankee farm club,” Bill Veeck wrote later. He said that he heard the Athletics general manager, Parke Carroll—a former K. C. sports writer—boast openly in baseball meetings that he had nothing to worry about by trading away so many great players because the Yankees' owner, George Weiss, had “promised to take care of” Carroll in return for his help in making those lopsided trades.
In one game in the early 1960s, Finley, a true showman, actually organized a bizarre pre-game demonstration of how the days of shuttling talent to New York were over:
The fans were chatting, sipping beer, and waiting for the game to start. Suddenly, they grew quiet. They watched as a beat-up old shuttle bus lumbered onto left field. Exchanging perplexed glances, they wondered what was going on. Then Frank Lane walked out to the bus and splashed it with gasoline. An instant later it was engulfed in black and orange flames. Then an unfamiliar voice came over the loudspeaker. It was the team's new owner. Charlie introduced himself and explained that the burning of the bus was his way of announcing that the days of shuttling Kansas City's best talent to the Bronx were over. The Athletics would no longer be the Yankees' farm team. After a pause, a few fans started clapping, and soon the stadium was filled with applause and shouts of approval.
That said, a book like this needs to embrace the beautiful outsized idiocy of Charlie O, and it doesn't quite. I like the below, for example, except she doesn't need to constantly disparage the Other in order to enshrine her uncle. It puts a slight damper on an otherwise amusing anecdote:
By the late 1950s, baseball owners formed an exclusive club of old-money boys and nouveau riche businessmen, and they looked out for each other. Charlie was a self-made millionaire, but he was just an insurance salesman—not part of the club. When it became clear that Charlie might actually acquire the Athletics in 1960, the other owners assigned the Baltimore Orioles' chairman, Joe Iglehart, to investigate him. Iglehart reported back to the owners: “Under no conditions should this person be allowed into our league.”
So anyone know of a better book on Charlie O?
Monday December 05, 2016
Movie Review: Loving (2016)
What are the odds that in the federal case striking down state laws banning interracial marriage, the plaintiff’s name would be “Loving”?
I thought about that a lot as the Obergefell case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. I mean, no offense James Obergefell, but Loving v. Virginia? That’s stark. It’s as if the case were called Love v. Racism. One wonders if that wasn’t part of the appeal for U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the ACLU. They had the right name.
“Loving,” written and directed by Jeff Nichols (“Mud,” “Midnight Special”), is good history but so-so drama. It’s as spare and quiet as its protagonists. Too much so.
The first half works. We watch as the day-to-day love, and then pregnancy, and then marriage, between Richard and Mildred Loving (James Edgerton and Ruth Negga) of Caroline County Virginia, comes to the attention of the authorities. One of the most powerful scenes is when they plead guilty to, you know, marriage, and bend to the weight of an oppressive system. Standing in U.S. District Court before Judge Bazile (David Jensen), you see Richard’s eyes searching for an answer and not finding it. Some part of him knows he’s right to love as he loves. But he also knows he’s not smart—not book smart, like his lawyer Frank Beazly (Bill Camp, always a pleasure)—and he can’t find a way out. There’s almost something like Huck Finn in this scene. Huck acted on a greater inner morality to help free Nigger Jim, but felt immoral doing so because he was going against society’s norms. Richard is a step up. He knows society is wrong; he just can’t articulate it.
White, black, yellow, malay and red
He can’t articulate much. He does his talking with his hands—building rather than fighting. He works construction during the week and tinkers with cars on the weekend. He’s a maestro with both. Otherwise, he’s quiet, simple. At her family’s dinner table in 1958, one of her brothers, whom Richard helps with drag racing, asks him how many races he’s won over the years, and you see Richard tabulating in his mind. Then he comes back with: “A lot.” To dinner-table laughter, including his own. Another nice scene.
Richard is actually one of my favorite kinds of people—the quietly efficient man—and Edgerton, in an Oscar-nomination-worth performance, embodies him. He’s a man caught between love of wife and love of home, and he does what he can to try to make it work.
As a character, though, Richard disappoints in the second half, which is maybe why I found the second half disappointing. Inspired by the March on Washington, Ruth writes U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who forwards her letter to the ACLU, whose representative, a young lawyer named Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll), contacts her at their home in D.C. He’ll take the case, no charge, but Richard is suspicious from the get-go. He never gets behind, never trusts, his legal team—which eventually includes Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass)—and one wonders if it’s because they’re both Jewish, educated, or because he’s had enough of the criminal justice system. Or is it because they’re outsiders? Different? From Brooklyn? Richard still trusts the local. He thinks it’s enough to go before Judge Bazile again. He trusts Bazile more than he trusts the federal government. Plus ca change.
He shouldn’t. This is Bazile’s judgment on interracial marriage once the ACLU gets involved:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
(One wonders about that “Malay”; what color was “Malay”? Answer here. Not pretty. )
I could’ve used more of the legal arguments and precedents, to be honest. That’s a lot to ask from a movie, I know, but its point of view is ours: that the anti-miscegenation law is immoral. Yet it was still law for decades, and it still used the U.S. Constitution as a rationale for its injustice.
What was that rationale? It actually came up in this case. In 1965, Cohen and Hirschkop appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, where the Virginia law was upheld, and among its arguments was one first put forth in 1883 in Pace v. Alabama: that what the state did to the Lovings was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment “because both the white and the non-white spouse were punished equally for the crime of miscegenation.” That’s some twisted logic right there; yet that logic stayed on the books for nearly a century. We need that reminder; we need to know the future isn’t secure.
Nor did the Loving case even end it. The South, being the South, kept rising up. From Wikipedia:
Local judges in Alabama continued to enforce that state's anti-miscegenation statute until the Nixon administration obtained a ruling from a U.S. District Court in United States v. Brittain in 1970. In 2000, Alabama became the last state to adapt its laws to the Supreme Court's decision, when 60% of voters endorsed a ballot initiative that removed anti-miscegenation language from the state constitution.
Sparrows and robins
Watching “Loving,” I kept thinking of my grandmother, who grew up in Carroll County, Maryland, about 150 miles from Caroline County, Virginia.
I remember visiting her in 1989 after I’d been away in Taiwan for a year, and at one point she asked me if I’d had a Chinese girlfriend. I said yes. She absorbed this, and then with a head nod, added, “They make good wives: meet at the door, take off your shoes, rub your feet.” This devolved into a conversation about interracial relationships. She was still against the black/white variety, and, more, still made the same 1950s arguments they make in this movie. Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas), trying to be kind, tells Richard about God’s law, “sparrow with a sparrow, robin with a robin,” and my grandmother, in 1989, said something similar: “A big black bird don’t mate with a little yella sparrow,” she said. Then she smiled as if she were playing the trump card; as if that argument ended it.
The outrage of the first half of the movie almost demands something like the Ron Motley deposition scene in “The Insider” (“You do not get to instruct anything around here!”), but Nichols withholds it. Maybe it was undramatic but he certainly under-dramatizes it. Ruth stays quiet but polite but interested in the case; Richard stays reticent and distant and wary. The lawyers never really connect with him (nor Nichols with the lawyers), and neither Ruth nor Richard show up at the U.S. Supreme Court when their case is argued. The argument before the court isn’t fiery. Maybe it wasn’t. The best line is Richard’s, spoken on his front porch, after Cohen asks him if there’s anything he’d like to say to the justices. His response comes out more confused than determined: “Tell them I love my wife,” he says.
Sunday December 04, 2016
Washington Nationals on Verge of Breaking Dubious Record (M's Aren't Far Behind)
This isn't a well-known stat but the Washington Nationals are on the verge of breaking it.
That franchise (Expos/Nats) has played 48 seasons, and spring training '17 will be its 49th. The record for the longest it's taken a franchise to get to the World Series is 50 seasons: the Senators/Rangers, which were born in 1961 and didn't win a pennant until 2010. So if the Nats don't go next year, they'll have tied the record. And if they don't go in 2018? New record-holder!
Of course, my Mariners aren't far behind. And right now we're the only two teams still in the running:
|TEAM||Years to World Series||Year of 1st World Series|
|Blue Jays (1977)||16||1992|
* I include 1904 and 1994, years in which we didn't have a World Series. Just easier that way.
** And counting
Interesting to note that, of the original 16 teams, the two teams that took the longest to make it to the Series were both St. Louis franchises: the Cardinals in 1926, and the hapless Browns in '44. St. Louis was also the southernmost city during this time, so not sure if the heat got to them over the course of long seasons or if it was just general incompetence. Since the Cards bounced back in such a big way under Branch Rickey, and have since become by most measures the winningest team in the National League, I assume the latter.
Also interesting to note: the Yankees, which became the winningest franchise in sports history, took 4th-longest to finally win a pennant.
Here's the chart sorted by the last column: year of first World Series:
|TEAM||Years to World Series||Year of 1st World Series|
|Blue Jays (1977)||16||1992|
Again, interesting to note that gap between 1907 and 1914 when there was no new blood in the Series. By this point, eight teams had gone, and the next six years they kept recycling in and out: Cubs, Tigers, Pirates, Athletics, Giants, Red Sox. Then the Braves snuck in.
Oh, and the record for the longest time it's taken a franchise to win a World Series? That's still 78 years and it belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies (1903 to 1980). Nine teams still have a shot at that dubious record but no one is within 20 years. Look for an update in 18 or so years.
Saturday December 03, 2016
Trump and Taiwan: Bu Hao Yisi
On Friday, President-Elect Donald Trump took a phone call from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, in violation of official U.S. policy in place since 1979. We don't officially recognize Taiwan. All three countries involved, in fact, have a “one China” policy: They all agree Taiwan is part of China; they just disagree on where its capital is, not to mention what form of government it has.
Why did he do it?
- The phone call came and he didn't want to be rude.
- He mixed up Taiwan and Thailand.
- He's working on a deal to put a Trump hotel in Taiwan.
- John Bolton
Yesterday, I assumed it was a mix of 3) and Trump's usual “Who gives a fuck” attitude about everything, but Evan Osnos in The New Yorker suggests a more worrisome reason. Yes, more worrisome than POTUS ignoring decades of policy to further feather his nest:
In the hours that followed, it became clear that Trump may have been manipulated into doing something he doesn't understand. Michael Crowley, of Politico, noted that the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who favors a tilt away from Beijing, visited Trump Tower on Friday for undisclosed reasons. Bolton has argued for “playing the Taiwan card” to pressure Beijing.
Then Osnos makes it even scarier:
For a piece I published in September, about what Trump's first term could look like, I spoke to a former Republican White House official whom Trump has consulted, who told me, “Honestly, the problem with Donald is he doesn't know what he doesn't know.” It turns out that is half of the problem; the other half is that he has surrounded himself with people who know how much he doesn't know. Since Election Day, Trump has largely avoided receiving intelligence briefings, either because he doesn't think it's important that he receive them or because he just doesn't care about them. George W. Bush, in the first months of 2001, ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden. Only in our darkest imaginings can we wonder what warnings Trump is ignoring now.
Reminder: Trump is still two months from inauguration.
Saturday December 03, 2016
Creating Hate Against Hollywood
This is how you create right-wing propaganda.
Start with a comment that should be taken with a grain of salt—actor Mark Wahlberg talking to taskandpurpose.com, a website dedicated to American veterans, during the publicity tour for his new movie “Patriots Day.”
Here's the headline: “Mark Wahlberg Thinks Celebrities Need to Shut Up About Politics.” Except he doesn't quite say that. Opining about politics, he says, “A lot of celebrities did, do, and shouldn't.” Opine, that is. Then he adds:
A lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble. They're pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family. Me, I'm very aware of the real world. I come from the real world and I exist in the real world. And although I can navigate Hollywood and I love the business and the opportunities it's afforded me, I also understand what it's like not to have all that.“
Wahlberg has been a star for 25 years now—a quarter century—and he thinks he's aware of the real world. Why? Does he carry a wallet? Does he have to work to get a date? Is he worried about paying rent/mortgage? No? Then what is he talking about? What is ”the real world“ to him and why does he occupy it and his colleagues don't?
More, the whole thing plays into a classic conservative POV with Hollywood and other left-wing institutions: They should shut up. Charlton Heston thought this ... until he began railing against feminists and Al Gore, and became president of the NRA. At that point, apparently, it was OK to talk politics. The right-wing kind.
Besides, Wahlberg does in fact talk politics. At the end of the piece, we get this:
Asked what he thinks of the president-elect's proposed ban on Muslims entering the country, given that the [Boston marathon bombing] Tsarnaev brothers were both naturalized citizens, Wahlberg decided to talk a little politics after all. ”I have a lot of Muslim friends who are really amazing people,“ he said. ”So anything like that is just completely absurd and unacceptable to me. I'm a devout Catholic. I have a lot of Jewish friends. I've got a lot of friends from all over the world. And I think a lot of good people have been mistreated for a long time and we need to fix that.“
Popping a few Cellfood dietary capsules (”It's enzymes, amino acids...“), he added that we need to do a better job of educating people about the real threats out there. ”There's a big difference between a Muslim and a terrorist. Big, big difference.“
I love Wahlberg for this last bit but he does keep contradicting himself. Other celebrities are out of touch but he isn't; other celebrites shouldn't talk politics but he can. It's the contradictions that make the piece (and the man) interesting, but it's what gets lost in translation to right-wing websites. I won't link to them but these are their heds:
- Mark Wahlberg: ”Hollywood is Living in a Bubble... Out of Touch with Reality“
- Mark Wahlberg Tells 'Out of Touch' Celebs to Shut Up About Politics
And it spreads. I just did a Google search on ”Mark Wahlberg“ and this was at the top:
I was on Twitter yesterday and someone with four followers (either friendless or a right-wing troll) quoted Wahlberg in telling actor Jeffrey Wright to shut up about the Confederate flag; he told him he was out of touch; he said he wasn't in ”the real world."
Wahlberg let himself be played here. He should know that telling a group of people not to talk politics is itself a political act. One of the worst ones.
Thursday December 01, 2016
He Ain't Wrong
“For a while I would check in with social media and I would interact with it. It was fun, for like a minute. And then it went horrible on me.”
-- singer/songwriter Mason Jennings in the Star-Tribune article, “Mason Jennings contemplates the future of his music career: The Minnesota musician struggles to make sense of social media and industry upheaval.”