erik lundegaard

Tuesday January 31, 2017

Is It Denzel's to Lose Now?

Sunday night while I was at the Westlake Center in downtown Seattle protesting Donald Trump's executive order banning immigrants/refugees from seven countries in the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen), which anyone with a brain realizes is ...

  1. un-American
  2. potentially unconstitutional
  3. immoral
  4. unthought out
  5. liable to make us less safe in the long run, and
  6. an idiotic move by a child-president and his evil babysitter Steve Bannon

... while I was doing that—which, for my money, didn't include enough “Dump Trump” chants—the Screen Actors Guild awards were being given out in Hollywood, Calif. 

Do we care at this point? Is it worth talking about?

Probably not. But here I go. 

For those for whom #OscarsSoWhite matters, it was a good night. The cast award went to “Hidden Figures,” about African-American women in the Mercury/Apollo space program, while three of the four film acting awards went to African-Americans: Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Viola Davis (“Fences”) in supporting, and Denzel for lead (“Fences”). The fourth SAG went to Emma Stone for lead in “La La Land.”

The surprise was Denzel. The early money in this category was on Casey Affleck for “Manchester By the Sea,” which I think is the best movie of the year. Affleck was its likeliest winner, but sexual harassment charges against him from 10 years ago, which were settled out of court, keep resurfacing. From what I've read of the charges, they hardly come across as threatening—pathetic, really—but voices will be heard. Denzel won his first Oscar in 2001 in part because Russell Crowe exhibited bad behavior at the BAFTAs, and maybe this will lead to his second. If it does, he will join rare company: Only Jack Nicholson has ever won two lead actor Oscars and one supporting actor Oscar.

How likely is a Denzel Oscar win? Likelier now. There was a four-year stretch, from 2000 to 2003, in which SAG chose a different lead than Oscar. Otherwise, it's been an exact match in this category:

YEAR SAG OSCAR
2016 Denzel Washington ???
2015 Leonardo DiCaprio ditto
2014 Eddie Redmayne ditto
2013 Matthew McConaughey ditto
2012 Daniel Day-Lewis ditto
2011 Jean Dujardin ditto
2010 Colin Firth ditto
2009 Jeff Bridges ditto
2008 Sean Penn ditto
2007 Daniel Day-Lewis ditto
2006 Forrest Whitaker ditto
2005 Phillip Seymour Hoffman ditto
2004 Jamie Foxx ditto
2003 Johnny Depp Sean Penn
2002 Daniel Day-Lewis Adrien Brody
2001 Russell Crowe Denzel Washington
2000 Benedecio Del Toro* Russell Crowe
1999 Kevin Spacey ditto
1998 Roberto Benigni ditto
1997 Jack Nicholson ditto
1996 Geoffrey Rush ditto
1995 Nicholas Cage ditto
1994 Tom Hanks ditto

* Won the Oscar (for “Traffic”) in the supporting category

The cast award has been a more hit-and-miss predictor of best picture, missing nine of the 20 times it's been awarded. I assume “Hidden Figures” will make it an even 10. The others (Stone, Davis, Ali) are almost dead-locks. 

Keep fighting Trump.

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Posted at 08:01 AM on Jan 31, 2017 in category Movies - Awards
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Monday January 30, 2017

Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Why does Hollywood keep trying to put a modern spin on classic stories (“Lone Ranger,” “Green Hornet”) from a more racist, patriarchal time? It never works. As in “Lone Ranger,” the hero here gets short shrift. We don’t get to see Tarzan being Tarzan until about 40 minutes in. And even then, it’s a little too CG. Give me Johnny Weissmuller any day.

Hell, no one even falls into quicksand. What a rook. 

Tarzan, Lord of Greystoke Manor
“The Legend of Tarzan” doesn’t begin badly. An opening title card tells us European powers have divvied up the African Congo at the 1884 Berlin Conference, but King Leopold of Belgium has run up massive debt trying to exploit his portion’s ivory and mineral riches. So he sends his trusted assistant Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to discover “the legendary diamonds of Opar.”

The Legend of TarzanThat’s a nice mix of real history (Berlin conference) and 1920s-era adventure stories for boys (diamonds of Opar). Rom’s party winds up massacred by the natives, and it’s just him versus this huge warrior. Rom improbably wins. The trial chief (Djimon Hounsou) then cuts a deal: the diamonds in exchange for ... Tarzan.

CUT TO: London, where John Clayton/Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgaard) now lives with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), as the stately Earl of Greystoke.

Wait, what? No discovery of Tarzan? He’s already been discovered? And civilized?

Sigh.

He also doesn’t want to go back to Africa. He’s invited by Leopold, through the British P.M. (Jim Broadbent, wasted), but declines. Because he senses it’s a trap? Either way, it’s up to George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), the highly improbable (OK, impossible), trash-talking, 19th-century, African-American envoy, to tell him Leopold is enslaving the Africans again, so they should return to free them. Even that doesn’t work. But Jane wants to go, so sure.

In Africa, they stay with a tribe they know, and we get some backstory: how Tarzan used his body to shield Jane from a crazed Mangani ape; how she cared for him after that. Then, at night, Rom arrives to kidnap both Tarzan and Jane. Why Jane? As a control? Seems like extra work. No matter. Williams manages to free Tarzan before they get on the boat, but Rom keeps going because he knows Tarzan will follow to rescue Jane.

Get that? The biggest problem with Tarzan in 2016 is the racist aspect of it, the “white god” aspect of it, and Tarzan’s early fumblings here, and Williams rescue of him, help alleviate that for modern audiences. But it also lessens the legend. What good is Tarzan if he needs rescue by a 60-year-old dude, who, as they go in pursuit of Rom, can hardly keep up? The members of the tribe can, and they can swing from vines, too, with Tarzan, and this is also supposed to alleviate some of the racism. It actually does the opposite. You wonder:

  1. How much stronger/faster is Tarzan than these guys? If he is, why? If he isn’t, why is he a legend? Just because he’s white?
  2. No, it’s because he was raised by apes. But why did the ape mother decide to rescue the baby Tarzan and raise him as her own? Did she never come across black babies? Does she do it just because he’s white?
  3. Wait, isn’t this just a white man’s fantasy that if one of ours was raised in the jungle we would be so much stronger/faster/smarter than the Africans that we would be lords of the jungle?

Yeah, that’s not good.

Hug it out, bra
Tarzan movies tend to be damsel-in-distress movies, too, and “The Legend of Tarzan” is no different, even if it tries to fudge things by making Robbie’s Jane “feisty.” But she’s still the damsel in need of rescuing. She’s still forced to endure meals and insinuating conversation with Christoph Waltz.

In the last half hour, screenwriters Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad (“Hustle & Flow” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” respectively), and director David Yates (four Harry Potter movies), finally let Tarzan be Tarzan, but by then you’re bored to death, and the phony CG doesn’t help. There’s also reconciliation and understanding with the tribal chief, who wanted to kill Tarzan because Tarzan killed his son (because his son killed Tarzan’s mom), but Tarzan cries, and admits his mistake, and ... Jesus. Rom gets his via crocodiles. Tarzan and Williams get bromance jokey. Tarzan and Jane stay in Africa.

What a failure. I don’t know who thought this story structure was a good idea—that the discovery of Tarzan was the boring part. I don’t know who thought making the tribesmen mini-Tarzans and bringing Sam Jackson along for the ride would alleviate the racism. 

To me, if you’re going to do Tarzan in the 21st century, you need to give the ape mother a reason to raise Tarzan besides the fact that he’s white. (In “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1985), it’s because she recently lost her own baby.) It would also help to clarify why a human raised by apes would become so much stronger and faster than other humans.

Another way to alleviate the racism: You could make Tarzan black.

Scott Rudin: Call me.

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Posted at 11:09 AM on Jan 30, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Tweet of the Day

Cf., this

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Posted at 10:25 AM on Jan 30, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Sunday January 29, 2017

NPR Allows Libertarian to Prevaricate About Lies

The New York Times has a good piece on the front page of its Sunday edition, entitled ''Up Is Down': Trump's Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past,“ on all the lies coming out of the Trump administration in its first eight days in office. It's hardly news for anyone paying attention but it's a good compendium. Here's the lede:

As a businessman, Donald J. Trump was a serial fabulist whose biggest-best boasts about everything he touched routinely crumbled under the slightest scrutiny. As a candidate, Mr. Trump was a magical realist who made fantastical claims punctuated by his favorite verbal tic: ”Believe me.“

Yet even jaded connoisseurs of Oval Office dissembling were astonished over the last week by the torrent of bogus claims that gushed from President Trump during his first days in office.

And here's Steve Schmidt, John McCain's 2008 campaign manager, on the dangers of Trump's blantant lies for representative democracy: 

In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader believes, or what is best for the state.

Also this morning, NPR did a piece on Trump's lies but from the perspective of David Harsanyi, a libertarian-conservative writer for The Federalist. His take? Report all the lies. Did he mean Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Chuck Schumer? Maybe. But his example involved the most famous broken promise of Barack Obama. 

In the 4-minute segment, two lies are mentioned: Donald Trump's insistence that his inauguration numbers were higher than has been reported by everyone else, and Barack Obama's 2009 comment on the ACA that ”If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," which PolitiFact called the No. 1 lie of 2013. That's it. Those two.

See, everyone lies. And really, Obama's was more substantative. It affected all of us, it wasn't just ego-driven like Trump's. 

It's beyond the false equivalency, and the refusal to acknowledge the new, dangerously 1984 territory we're in. I would've liked it if host Lulu Garcia-Navarro had simply drilled down into what was a lie and what wasn't. Was Obama's a lie? Or was it a promise that didn't pan out? And what's the difference? Does intent matter? You say something you know to be untrue at the time you say it. In this regard, you might even say Donald Trump's lies aren't lies since he may believe what he says. Which would be worse, of course, since they would indicate a diseased mind in control of America's nuclear arsenal. Not to mention its armed forces.

At least this time around, NPR let us know its guest was a conservative. Unmentioned were the books Harsanyi has written. Among them:

  • Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013)
  • The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy (2014)

Remember those disasters unleashed by Obama's reelection? No? So are these lies? Or are they simply wrong?

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Posted at 09:29 AM on Jan 29, 2017 in category Media
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Saturday January 28, 2017

Tweet of the Day

Moulton is a former U.S. Marine who is a now U.S. congressman representing the 6th district of Massachusetts. He's responding here to a Dec. 2015 Tweet of then-Gov. Mike Pence suggesting that Donald Trump's call for a ban on Muslims is offensive and unconstitutional. Trump has now made good on that campaign promise as it relates to Muslims in seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen. An annotated version of Pres. Trump's immigration order can be found here.  

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Posted at 05:44 PM on Jan 28, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Fences (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

It felt too much like a play.

I know: It was a play—a Pulitzer-Prize-winner by August Wilson, part of his “Pittsburgh Cycle” which documented the African-American experience every decade in the 20th century. This was the 1950s one. Even so, adapting for the screen, I wanted it a little more cinematic. We don’t get out of that backyard much. Plus we get great heaps of monologue the way you do in plays rather than movies. The movies would show rather than tell but this movie keeps telling and telling and telling.  

Of course, that’s part of the point, isn’t it? You could say that Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), the 53-year-old garbage man/patriarch of the Maxson clan, hides his volatility with volubility. Or maybe his volubility is a symptom of his volatility. He keeps talking so he doesn’t do something worse. And in that talk, in his constant myth-making and challenges to others—which only his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), seems to stand up to—he creates more tension. By having him talk less, you remove that tension.

Even so, I could’ve used less talk. Or maybe I wanted the tension to lead elsewhere? Explode in a different way? I wanted to care more about Troy than I did. He doesn’t let you care about him, then wonders where you went. That’s the point of him, too. He's a man who builds fences. 

Fences, directed by Denzel Washington

Death of a Garbageman
It’s similar to “Death of a Salesman,” isn’t it? Both Troy Maxson and Willy Loman are denied career advancement. In Troy’s case, it’s obviously racism (he was a great baseball player before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier), and in Willy’s it’s, what, simply the underside of the American dream? Or, as some have suggested, it could be a veiled anti-Semitism.

Both men have loyal wives whom they cheat on. Both have two boys with problems of their own and a neighbor/friend with whom they drink/play cards. There’s even the brother that’s there but not. Willy’s brother is Ben, the embodiment of the American dream, who walked into the jungle when he was 17 and walked out at 21—and by God he was rich! He’s dead now, but he continues to haunt Willy. Troy’s brother is the not-subtly-named Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson, Bubba of “Forrest Gump”), who is physically there but mentally not. He was shot during World War II and now has a metal plate in his head. He goes around selling fruit on the streets of Pittsburgh, with a toy trumpet strung to him, claiming to have been to St. Peter’s gate. For his injury in service to his country, Gabriel got $3,000 from the feds that Troy used to buy the house they live in. Gabriel used to live there, too; now he’s homeless. Troy feels guilty about all of this. He’s haunted by his brother as much as Willy is.

In the end, both men die. In the end, the wives give speeches defending them. In the end, attention must be paid.

As the movie opens, Troy is making the rounds in Pittsburgh clinging to the back of a truck and jawing with his friend, Bono (an excellent Stephen Henderson). He’s got complaints. Number one is that only whites drive the trucks. He’s officially complained about this, and now he’s worried because the deputy commissioner wants to see him. But it’s Friday, he’s got a pint of gin, and he and Bono drink it in his backyard and swap stories. Well, Troy does most of the swapping.  

Let’s ask the screenwriting 101 question: What does the guy want?

He wants his oldest son from another marriage, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), to be more responsible. Lyons plays jazz at a club, he’s got sketchy friends, he keeps borrowing hard-earned money from Troy. We get 10 minutes of arguing over 10 dollars before Rose (rather than Troy) relents. The money exchanges hands but there are no good feelings about it.

He wants his youngest son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), to not make the same mistakes he made. Troy was a great baseball player, he was denied opportunity because of the color line, and he doesn’t want it to happen to Cory. Except that’s the last war; the color line is, if not gone, at least traversable. Besides, the boy is getting college scholarship offers to play football, and Troy wants him to learn a trade? It’s college! That’s how you get ahead in America. Everybody knows that. It annoyed me that no one could make this argument stick. But then, there’s a sense that Troy doesn’t want his son to succeed. Troy wants to remain rooster in his own henhouse, and that stops if Cory gets educated.

What else does Troy want? He wants gin on Friday, an audience for his stories. He wants his son to help him build the titular fence in the backyard. His biggest want takes place off-screen: He has an affair with a younger woman at work that leads to a child. The affair was a place where he didn’t have to be responsible, but this irresponsibility simply creates more responsibility—for Rose, in particular, who has to raise the child, a girl, when the mother dies giving birth. It also leads to Troy’s estrangement from both Rose and Bono. The final estrangement is with Cory, who, afraid of his father, and unable to physically beat his father, joins the U.S. Marines.

One of the few things Troy wants and gets? His meeting with the deputy commissioner goes well, and he becomes the man driving the truck rather than hauling the trash. He breaks the color barrier! He’s Jackie Robinson! Except it’s not what he wants. Instead of being on the back of the truck, jawing, he’s up front, alone, with no one to talk to. A Troy without an audience is a Troy who can’t mythologize himself, and he shrinks. By the end of the movie, his main conversation is with death.

A rose is a rose
This is the third movie that Denzel has directed and he doesn’t do a poor job of it, but I’m not a fan of underlining points and Denzel is: the rose falling from Rose’s hands; the portraits of MLK and JFK on the wall. I already see it; I don’t need Denzel to then tap me on the shoulder and say, “You see that? Right there? That. You see? That.”

As an actor, though, I could watch him all day. Someone wrote recently that Denzel is the best over-actor in the world and there’s something there. The actor playing Cory is fine but too small in stature for the role; I want him to at least look like he could challenge his father. Viola Davis is a national treasure. 

The coda at the end, on the day of Troy’s funeral, is one of the more interesting scenes in the movie. Maybe because you have that sweet interplay between Cory, returning home in uniform, and his new half-sister, Raynell (Saniyya Sidney), who’s adorable, and who, if you forward-date (she turns 18 in ... 1975 or so), has a chance in life. Or maybe because Troy’s voice is finally silent. 

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Posted at 08:04 AM on Jan 28, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Friday January 27, 2017

Tweet of the Day

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Posted at 08:01 PM on Jan 27, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Lancelot Links: Goebbels Smiles

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Posted at 08:16 AM on Jan 27, 2017 in category Lancelot Links
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Thursday January 26, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017)

Mary Tyler Moore

This is one of the most iconic shots of my childhood. I used to see it every Saturday night between “M*A*S*H” and “The Bob Newhart Show,” which were themselves bookended by “All in the Family” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” Lineups don't get any better than that. 

“M*A*S*H,” I think, went onto other nights (Tuesday?), but “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I believe, stayed on Saturdays. Mary did move, though—from that beautiful apartment around Lake of the Isles to the ugly Cedar Square West by the university. I was bummed about that. I was a young, overly sensitive kid in a divorced household and I didn't like change. Plus the new place had no character. No sunken living room. I remember complaining about all this to my father—“Why would she move?”—who told me some part of how the world works. Mary moved, he said, because the real woman who owned that house around Lake of the Isles was tired of all the tourists snapping photos and refused to sign a deal with MTM Productions. Or maybe it was because she saboutaged things when they needed to film exterior shots. Right? Didn't she put up “Impeach Nixon” signs or something? Either way, it was sobering to me: how conflicts in the real world upset the fictional one. Were we safe nowhere? (Answer: no.)

Anyway, Lake of the Isles woman notwithstanding, we loved her. We took great pride in her and in the show. Most national storylines took place in other cities—New York, D.C., L.A., Mayberry—and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” tried its damnedest to get the whole Minneapolis vibe right: snow, Vikings, snow. I know the show was revolutionary in being about a single, 30s career woman at a time when feminism, or women's lib, was just beginning to rise, but it was also revolutionary in setting its story in a city in the heartland. And it was our city. That opening? When she's walking around the lakes, and on Nicollet Mall, and by Donaldson's (now defunct), and shopping at Lund's, and washing her car in the Fran Tarekenton jersey? God, that made me happy. Still does. 

A lot of the show went over my head. The feminist angle, for example. I didn't get that this was a unique thing. I was born into the change, so I had to learn later what we'd changed from. I didn't get that Mary was supposed to be the attractive one and Rhoda the dumpy one, the yang to Mary's ying, since I always thought Valerie Harper was prettier. Rhoda had a line, looking at, I believe, a piece of candy, and saying, despondently, “I don't know why I'm putting this in my mouth. I should just apply it directly to my hips.” I didn't get the joke, or why that was a bad thing. Aren't curvey hips good? Some guys, led by Sir Mix-a-Lot, would still argue with Rhoda's thinking here, but the fact that it was voiced on a TV show was revolutionary.

I remember another line that confused me as a young Vikings fan. It was an episode in which Mary hires a female sportscaster, a former swimmer named B.J. (Caren Kaye), and Lou gives her the tip that the Vikings might be trading Fran Tarkenton. She acts all excited but when she and Mary are alone, she asks, “This Fran Tarkenton—who is she?” That's the joke. The part I didn't get was why Lou would be excited by the news. Trade Fran? Are you crazy? 

Of course the “Chuckles the Clown” episode was the famous one. I still think about it now and again. A little song, a little dance. A little seltzer down the pants. The older I get, the truer that feels. 

Was she the first “Where are the good men?” woman on TV? Not that Mary would say that. Too polite. Too Minnesota Nice. But that was the running gag: the ways in which this dysfunctional workplace somehow worked; the ways in which this super-functional, super-attractive woman could never hook up. There was always a problematic reveal. One guy was too short, another too whatever. I remember she dated this super-attractive guy, a skiier, and Mary had to come to terms with her own shallowness in being with him since they had nothing in common. One evening, she tried to find that common ground and asked about his favorite movie. He said, “The Man Who Skiied Down Everest,” she wistfully said hers was “Gone with the Wind,” and he responded, after a pause, “Don't believe I've heard of that one.” Even I got that joke.

Her real relationships were the work ones, particularly after Rhoda left for her own show. After that, the visitors to Mary's apartment were colleagues. Or this week's bad date.

That last episode. The group hug. Why were they disbanding? Oh, right. A new owner came in, saw the horrible ratings, felt the problem was either in front of or behind the camera, and against all logic, concluded that the worst anchorman in the world, Ted Baxter, was fine, and fired everyone else. That's more brilliant than I realized then. I probably thought it was an anomaly rather than the way of the world. Let's face it, we just elected a malicious Ted Baxter president of the United States. A little more seltzer down our pants.

The point of Mary was that she wasn't that. She kept trying, kept smiling. She made life worth the seltzer. With each glance and every little movement. 

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Posted at 10:02 AM on Jan 26, 2017 in category TV
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Why NPR's 'Morning Edition' Continues to Suck

Yesterday I heard a report on NPR's “Morning Edition” about the Dakota Pipeline and the continuing protest at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. And I was frustrated all over again by NPR. 

Let me preface this by saying I don't really have any dogs in this hunt. I have a lot of friends on the left who were wringing their hands and posting on social media about the protest in October, and all I could think was, “Really? If Donald Trump gets elected in November, this will be the least of your worries.” So this isn't a post to convince you one way or another on Standing Rock/Dakota. It's about Journalism 101. Actually it's about common sense.

The NPR piece was hosted by David Greene and reported on by Amy Sisk, who is introduced at the top of the piece as being from “Prairie Public Broadcasting,” and at the bottom of the piece as being from “Inside Energy, that's a public media collaboration focusing on America's energy issues.” No attempt is made to clarify this. But that's not why I was frustrated.

Sisk spends the first third of the report just talking about the protesters still in the camps being resigned but determined, which is human interest and clarifies nothing. 

Then she talks about the Sioux tribe's concern of potential oil spills and how this will damage the water supply. She says most oil gets where it's supposed to, but “leaks do happen, and they can be devastating.”

Then David Greene asks her about the other side of the debate: 

I mean, you have the oil industry, labor groups. I mean, they have been saying that these two pipelines could be real job creators, so this must be good news for them.

Got that? Job creators. 

Sisk agrees, and says she spoke with Ron Ness with the North Dakota Petroleum Council, “and here's what he had to say”:

RON NESS: This pipeline should be moving oil today, and we'd have 2,000 or 3,000 less trucks on the road in western North Dakota. We'd be getting our oil to market at - to a better market more safely and more reliably, and we'd be getting a better price for it.

What's your follow-up? Ness makes an environmental argument—fewer trucks on the road. But in doing so, doesn't he undercut Dakota Pipeline's main argument about being “job creators”? Aren't 2,000 to 3,000 truck drivers going to lose their jobs? Isn't this really about efficiency for the corporation to create greater profit, and in that efficiency, isn't net employment going down? 

  • “This will create jobs.”
  • “We'll have 2,000 or 3,000 less [sic] trucks on the road.”

There's a seeming discrepancy here. I thought NPR would dig into the discrepancy. Didn't. 

I mean, wouldn't it be ironic if the corporation actually had the better environmental argument (fewer trucks on the road) and the environmentalists had the better jobs argument (more truck drivers)? 

BTW: This BBC report suggests that most of the current oil transportation for this area is via train. It also asks the most relevant question of all: Who does this benefit? The answer? “The pipeline would benefit oil companies, shareholders and local governments. Dakota Access says the project will create between 8,000-12,000 jobs and generate $55m in annual property taxes.” It doesn't mention if those jobs would be temporary or not, and what the net gain/loss for continued employment might be. 

BTW2: Can we stop pretending corporations are interested in creating jobs? Corporations are interested in creating profit. That's it. And they often do this by eliminating jobs. Let's start there. The rest is bullshit.

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Posted at 07:58 AM on Jan 26, 2017 in category Politics
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Wednesday January 25, 2017

Tweet of the Day

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Posted at 02:03 PM on Jan 25, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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The Year in Box Office 2016: Cartoons, Superheroes, Crashed Chariots, and Nothing But Star Wars

Box Office losers of 2016

The official box office losers of 2016.

I haven't done a box office post in a while—since Labor Day, actually—so thought I'd do a quick round-up of 2016 now that all (or most) of the numbers are in.

Here we go...

Star Waaars! ... Nothing but Staaar Waaars! “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was the biggest box-office hit of the year, with $513 million domestic and counting. Not much of a surprise there. Every one of the seven “Star Wars” movies but one has been the biggest hit of its respective year. The one that wasn't? Attack of the Clones,“ in 2002, which was beaten at the box office by ”Spider-Man“ and ”Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.“

Badda-Bing: Last year, of course, ”The Force Awakens“ was the biggest hit of the year. In our sequel-hungry culture, that doesn't seem like a big deal but it is. In fact, the last time two movies from the same franchise were No. 1 at the box office two years in a row, we were in the midst of World War II. It was ”Going My Way“ in 1944 and ”Bells of St. Mary's“ in 1945. 

Do that to me one more time: Speaking of sequel-hungry: The top three movies—”Rogue,“ ”Finding Dory,“ and ”Captain America: Civil War“—were all sequels.  

OK, that's enough: At the same time, a whole bunch of sequels underperformed. Here's a chart comparing the box office of the 2016 film with its most immediate predecessor:

MOVIE STUDIO BOX OFFICE PREV. FILM'S BOX OFFICE DIFF.
Ride Along 2 Uni. $91,221,830 $134,938,200 0.68
X-Men: Apocalypse Fox $155,442,489 $233,921,534 0.66
Zoolander 2 Par. $28,848,693 $45,172,250 0.64
London Has Fallen Focus $62,524,260 $98,925,640 0.63
Bridget Jones's Baby Uni. $24,252,420 $40,226,215 0.60
Now You See Me 2 LG/S $65,075,540 $117,723,989 0.55
The Divergent Series: Allegiant LG/S $66,184,051 $130,179,072 0.51
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows Par. $82,051,601 $191,204,754 0.43
Ice Age: Collision Course Fox $64,063,008 $161,321,843 0.40
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Uni. $55,455,765 $150,157,400 0.37
God's Not Dead 2 PFR $20,774,575 $60,755,732 0.34
Independence Day: Resurgence Fox $103,144,286 $306,169,268 0.34
The Huntsman: Winter's War Uni. $48,390,190 $155,332,381 0.31
Bad Santa 2 BG $17,781,710 $60,060,328 0.30
Inferno Sony $34,343,574 $133,375,846 0.26
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 Uni. $59,689,605 $241,438,208 0.25
Alice Through the Looking Glass BV $77,041,381 $334,191,110 0.23

Why do I get the feeling ”White Chicks 2“ is in development? Uncommented upon phenomenon: For some reason, a whole slew of sequels were greenlit to movies from the early 2000s: ”Bridget Jones' Baby,“ ”Bad Santa 2,“ and ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.“ None worked. Fox went even further back, resurrecting ”Independence Day“ for another battle. Got KO'ed. If you adjust for inflation, ”Resurgence“ made 17% of what ”Independence Day“ did in 1996.

It needed the homoerotic subtext: But Fox has nothing on Paramount, which resurrected ”Ben-Hur,“ the biggest box-office hit of 1959, and one of the biggest of all time, for an August 2016 release. If you adjust for inflation, the 1959 version of ”Ben-Hur,“ starring Charlton Heston, grossed $848 million, while the reboot, starring Jack Huston, Rodrigo Santoro and Morgan Freeman, grossed $26 mil—or 3% of the original. 

Laughs, schmaughs: Only three live-acton comedies grossed north of $100 million: ”Ghostbusters“ ($128), ”Central Intelligence“ ($126) and ”Bad Moms“ ($113).

America, we have a problem: So what did we spend our money on? After ”Rogue One,“ the 12 biggest hits of the year were in the following genres: cartoon, superhero, cartoon, cartoon, superhero, cartoon,  superhero, superhero, cartoon, cartoon, superhero. (Via Vinny, here's a link to which is which.) The first movie that one might consider an adult drama, the kind of thing Hollywood used to make and market effortlessly, is Clint Eastwood's ”Sully,“ starring Tom Hanks, which grossed $125 million. It was the 22nd biggest movie of the year. There are six superhero flicks and eight cartoons ahead of it. 

If you distribute it, they won't necessarily come: Here's a chart of the lowest-grossing films that opened in more than 3,000 theaters. Reminder (since I forgot): ”Hardcore Henry“ is that attempt to do a first-person shooter game as a movie. The second and third films on this list are comedies starring Zach Galifianakis. Per ”Spinal Tap,“ I went to 11 films in order to include former box office champs Will Smith (”Collateral Beauty“) and Tom Hanks (”Inferno“):

MOVIE STUDIO BOX OFFICE THTRS
Hardcore Henry STX $9,252,038 3,015
Keeping Up with the Joneses Fox $14,904,426 3,022
Masterminds (2016) Rela. $17,368,022 3,042
Blair Witch LGF $20,777,061 3,121
Ben-Hur (2016) Par. $26,410,477 3,084
The Finest Hours BV $27,569,558 3,143
Zoolander 2 Par. $28,848,693 3,418
Collateral Beauty WB (NL) $30,621,252 3,028
Gods of Egypt LG/S $31,153,464 3,117
Mother's Day ORF $32,492,859 3,291
Inferno Sony $34,343,574 3,576

Ni hao: The top 10 movies worldwide are all from Hollywood, but both No. 12 (”Mei ren yu“) and No. 21 (”Monster Hunt“) are from China. ”Mei ren yu,“ or ”The Mermaid," is the highest-grossing non-Hollywood film of all time. Ninety-nine percent of its money was made in China. 

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Posted at 08:11 AM on Jan 25, 2017 in category Movies - Box Office
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Tuesday January 24, 2017

'La La Land' Lands 14 Nominations for 89th Academy Awards

La La Land lands 14 Oscar nominations

A movie about movie people in L.A. is celebrated by movie people in L.A.

Whew.

My main concern last night was that Oscar would follow the lead of BAFTA, which gave “Nocturnal Animals,” one of my least-favorite movies of the year, an astonishing nine nominations earlier this month. That didn't happen this morning. Tom Ford's pointless exercise in ennui and horror came away with a measly one nom, for Michael Shannon in supporting. 

The big story is the 14 nominations “La La Land” landed. Only two other films have ever received that many noms: “Titanic” in 1997, which wound up winning 11, including picture and director; and “All About Eve” in 1950, which wound up with six, including picture and director. Does that mean we're done? Is “La La Land” getting this thing? Should director Damien Chazelle, who just turned 32 but looks 12, make room on his mantle? Probably, and it's not just the sheer number. Think about how much movie people in L.A. love movies about movie people in L.A. What sprawling historical epics were to the '80s (“Reds,” “Chariots,” “Out of Africa,” “Last Emperor”), movies about movie people in L.A. are to the 2010s (“The Artist,” “Argo,” “La La Land”). Take note, future filmmakers. 

I haven't been paying attention much this Oscar season, but I was surprised by the love for “Hacksaw Ridge,” which came away with six noms, including best director for Mel Gibson (hello, you), and the lack of love for “Loving,” which got one: Ruth Negga for best actress. I don't like the word “snubbed” as it relates to Oscar, since we're talking a finite number of slots for a huge amount of talent, but if anyone in the acting categories got snubbed this year it was Joel Edgerton. His performance as Richard Loving was one of my favorites.

Meryl is up gain, for “Florence Foster Jenkins”: She has 20 nominations now, a record in acting. No one's close. (Jack Nicholson and Katherine Hepburn are tied for second with 12. Twelve. Meryl is the Yankees of actors, except we still love her.) Octavia Spencer got nominated again. Apparently she's the first African-American actress to get nominated after winning an Oscar. That's a sad little fact. Dev Patel, supporting for “Lion,” is the third Indian actor to garner a nomination. Viola Davis, meanwhile, for a supporting nod for “Fences,” became not only the most-nominated black actress in Academy history, but, according to Nathaniel Rogers at Film Experience, the most nominated black woman ever. She has three. She wasn't won yet? Yeah, that'll change this year. 

Here are the best pictures:

BEST PICTURE:
“Arrival”
“Fences”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell or High Water”
“Hidden Figures”
“La La Land”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Lion”
“Moonlight”  

I still need to see “Hacksaw,” “Hidden” and “Lion,” but my vote would go with “Manchester by the Sea,” which sadly seems all-but-forgotten now. Go see it, if you haven't. 

You can find the rest of the nominations on Nathaniel's site. Or pretty much anywhere. 

One thing we won't get this year is an #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which was the furious social-media focus last year. This year was much more inclusive: seven of the 20 acting noms were for people of color, while nearly half of the best picture noms focused on their stories, while more than half (three of the five) documentaries focused on racial matters: “I Am Not Your Negro,” “OJ: Made in America,” and “13th.” 

What's less inclusive this year? The White House and Congress. Win some, lose everything. 

The Oscar ceremony is Sunday, Feb. 26. 

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Posted at 08:32 AM on Jan 24, 2017 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Monday January 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

“I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

-- Philip Roth, in the New Yorker piece, “Philip Roth E-Mails on Trump,” which focuses on how prescient Roth was with his 2004 historical novel, “The Plot Against America”: a political neophyte (Charles Lindbergh), with a deep admiration for a foreign dictator (Hitler), becomes president on a xenophobic and “America First” platform.

Philip Roth

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Posted at 08:20 AM on Jan 23, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Jackie (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Hollywood has done up the JFK assassination every which way. We’ve seen it from the perspective of the president (many), conspirators to kill the president (“Executive Action”), and the doctors, nurses and FBI men in Dallas the day the president was killed (“Parkland”). We’ve seen movies about men who doubted the official version of the assassination (“JFK”), about the man who killed the assassin (“Ruby”), and about a man who travels back in time to kill the assassin before he can kill the president (“11/22/63”).

Here, Hollywood finally gets around to telling the story from the perspective of the woman sitting next to him in the car.

Myth > History
“Jackie” is an atmospheric movie—a powerful rendering of one of the saddest weekends in American history—but it’s also interested in story. More, it’s interested in story-making and mythmaking, and the difference between the two.

JackieIt’s really a tale of post-traumatic stress disorder. Our perspective is Jackie’s (Natalie Portman) throughout. The camera stays close to her face, and we feel her horror, her attempt to process what can’t be processed: wiping her husband’s blood off her face in the Air Force One bathroom; standing stunned as LBJ takes the oath of office; refusing Linda Bird’s entreaties to change out of the blood-splattered pink Chanel suit she was wearing that day. “Let them see what they’ve done,” she says, eyes flashing. She doesn’t remove it until she’s back in the White House, where she showers the blood and viscera of her husband out of her hair. There’s that sad moment telling Caroline and John-John that daddy won’t be coming home. It’s extra sad because we never imagined the scene before, but yes, somebody had to tell them and apparently it was her. One of the many awful tasks she assigned herself that weekend.

The key moment, for both the movie and history, occurs as she rides with Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) in the ambulance taking JFK to the D.C. hospital. She asks the driver and passenger-seat nurse if they know who James Garfield was. They don’t. Then she asks about Abraham Lincoln. Of course they know him.

The rest is her fight to make sure her husband isn’t forgotten like Garfield but remembered like Lincoln.

The movie comes in four parts:

  1. Jackie being interviewed at Hyannis Port by a journalist (Billy Cruddup), the weekend after the funeral weekend
  2. Long flashbacks to the assassination and its aftermath—particularly the logistics of the burial and the funeral
  3. Short flashbacks to the 1962 TV special, “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy”
  4. Jackie’s talks with an Irish priest (John Hurt), as her stillborn babies are reinterred next to their father in Arlington National Cemetery the week after she talks to the journalist.

The parts are at odds with each other: 1) and 2) are about myth-making. Jackie knew people forgot men but remembered myths, so she made JFK’s funeral, his final burial place at Arlington, and his short presidency—comparing it to the big Broadway hit of the day, “Camelot”—mythic. The point of the ’62 White House special was the opposite: It was about bringing history to life. Bill Walton (Richard E. Grant), who helped her redecorate the White House and show it off in that TV special, tells her how important it all was. “They need to know that real men actually lived here,” he says. “Not ghosts and storybook legends. People who faced adversity and overcame it.” But she doesn’t want Kennedy to become Garfield, a forgotten relic of history, so she makes him mythic. She fights everyone in this endeavor.

The Kennedy family originally want a burial site in Massachusetts, but Jackie nixes it (“I don’t mean to upset your mother,” she tells Bobby, “but Brookline is no place to bury a president.”); then she personally chooses the spot at Arlington so many of us have since visited.

LBJ and his team are wary of her funeral plans that mimic Lincoln’s—particularly the dignitaries walking out in the open behind Jack’s casket. At this point they don’t know if Oswald was a lone nut or if there are others out there. For example, there are death threats against visiting French president Charles De Gaulle—and so they suggest bullet-proof cars. They keep going back and forth on this. There’s a great scene between Jackie and LBJ aide Jack Valenti (Max Casella), where, amid the stifled politeness, he seems to get his way. Then just before leaving she says this:

Inform them that I will walk with Jack tomorrow. Alone if necessary. And tell General De Gaulle, if he wishes to ride in an armored car—or in a tank for that matter—I won’t blame him. And I’m sure the tens of millions of people watching won’t either.

Boom.

She battles the journalist, too. This was the part of the movie I bought into the least, to be honest, even before I knew Cruddup was Teddy White, a Kennedy family friend. Here’s a guy who has access to the most sympathetic woman in the world two weeks after the assassination, and though that access obviously comes with strings attached—she gets to dictate what does or does not wind up in the article—it’s still one of the biggest scoops of the decade. Yet Cruddup seems to shrug his way through the interview. He seems exasperated. There’s an exchange later with the priest, where Jackie asks him what men see in her now:

Priest: Sadness. Compassion. [pause] Desire, maybe. You’re still a young woman, Mrs. Kennedy.
Jackie (wistful): I used to make them smile.

Cruddup's journalist displays little of these feelings. He seems to be rolling his eyes through the endeavor.

Myth relies on history
The casting is a mixed bag. Loved Portman. Caspar Philipson, the Danish actor they got for JFK, is an astonishing look-alike—particularly the eyes—but also a teeny man. Bobby towers over him when it was the opposite in real life. I didn’t buy Cruddup as the journalist, and I didn’t buy Sarsgaard as Bobby—he wasn’t forceful enough or crisp enough. I loved John Hurt as the priest, but even he seemed to have too little sympathy for the most sympathetic woman in the world. At the same time, their scenes together are the best in the movie. Maybe because all the bullshit has receded? It’s Truth with a capital “T”: life, death, confession.

Indeed, my favorite exchange, not just in this movie but for most 2016 movies, is the priest’s recounting of the parable of the blind man. Jackie is wondering what kind of God would allow not only the assassination but also the loss of her two babies, including one in August, and he says the following as they walk in Arlington National Cemetery:

Let me share with you a parable. [pause] Jesus once passed a blind beggar on the road, and his disciples asked: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was made blind so that the works of God could be revealed in him.” ...

Right now you are blind. Not because you’ve sinned. But because you’ve been chosen—so that the works of God may be revealed in you.

I’m an agnostic—in almost everything, really—but if you’re going to reconcile the horrors of the world with a personal, omnipotent God, this is a beautiful way.

“Jackie” was written by Noah Oppenheim, a producer of the “Today” show (of all things), and directed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín (“No”), and it's a deeply felt movie and much recommended. Uncommented upon? Jackie created the myth of Camelot, but it was subsequent history that made that myth resonate. This is the myth:

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot

Yet if LBJ hadn’t led to Nixon who led to Reagan; if the Gulf of Tonkin resolution hadn’t gotten us into a full-scale war in Vietnam; if the civil rights movement hadn’t led to the Black Power movement, and if the rich hadn’t kept getting richer and the poor kept getting screwed, it might not have felt like a brief, shining moment. Her metaphor would’ve been an addled thought from a distraught woman. Instead, it feels like the truth.

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Posted at 07:38 AM on Jan 23, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Sunday January 22, 2017

Day 1: A View from Inside the Women's March

I felt better yesterday than I have at any time since Nov. 8, 2016, when Donald Trump, with the help of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and FBI director James Comey, as well as 63 million sad excuses for Americans, won the presidency. Yesterday was his first full day in office. So why did I feel great? 

This:

Womens March, Seattle, Jan. 21, 2017

That's from inside the march. You can see great, overhead, footage from King 5 TV here.  

Shot of Women's March, Seattle, January 21, 2017

I'd heard there were going to be a march, a women's march, but initially I wasn't thinking of going. I thought it was their thing. But Patricia was going with her friends Sullivan and Melanie, and Ward, so I jumped. Any chance at protesting that fuck. 

You got a sense it was going to be big even as we stepped outside the Old Colony at 9:15 a.m., Patricia, Ward and I, waiting for our neighbors, Adam and Justin, so the five of us could walk to the starting point, Judgkins Park, nearly two miles away. Because there were already folks walking past us in their pink pussy hats and their homemade protest signs. Again: the staring point was two miles and two hours away. And the closer we got the more people we picked up, until it was a near protest march just walking to the protest march. We camped out on the south side of the park, as Adam and Justin went to hook up with friends at the skate park there. Though phone/text reception was almost nonexistent due to the crowds all phoning and texting each other, Patricia managed to get word out to Sullivan where we were, and she and Melanie arrived about 10 minutes prior to the offical start of the march, and when people began to move we moved, too.

We left the park on Ingersoll, about six blocks south of Jackson, where the real march proper began, and it looked like a good move ... until halfway through Ingersoll, when everything just stopped. For a long time. The edges of the crowd flowed a little better, so we went along there, then went off the official parade route to other residential streets. Some part of me was assuming a Seattle moment at the logjam: someone ahead of us, politely waving everyone else in. But it was just the size of the march. There were just too many people.

What a beautiful feeling. 

When we finally made it onto Jackson, it was a sight to behold: huge throngs of people filling the street ahead of us; huge throngs of people filling the street behind us; the pussy hats everywhere. We were in the middle of the beast, so we couldn't fathom the size of the beast. It went as far as we could see in either direction. It didn't seem to have a start or an end, just a mass. Which we were part of. This. This was our power. 

I didn't have a sign. Justin and Adam made some, and, of theirs, Ward chose the cheetos sign with NOPE on it, and a pink sign with a uterus and the phrase NONE OF MY FUCKING BUSINESS. P had the cheetos sign. I didn't have any, figuring I'd spell Patricia occasionally, which I did, but all the great handmade signs I saw (we have the artists on our side, yo) made me wonder what I've would put on a sign:

JAMES COMEY CAN GO FUCK HIMSELF

Too angry. 

COMEY AIN'T MY HOMEY

Too cute. 

I liked all of the signs that made reference to Trump's Russian alliances. That shit's unforgivable. I'd like signs that shame the patriots who support Trump, and the Christians who support Trump. But I thiink I would've gone with something like this:

STOP THE BULLSHIT

Then I'd include the names of the worst media offenders: Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Matt Drudge. We only have two media in this country: corporate media and right-wing media. But the right-wing media keeps claiming we have a “liberal media,” which, in turn, makes the corporate media turn ever more to the right. You couldn't get a Trump without this dynamic. And if this dynamic stays the same even after Trump, we'll get something like Trump again. Or worse. 

The march route went down Jackson, through the interntional district, and then up 4th into downtown. We stopped off at a very harried Starbucks for coffee (buy local), then kept going, all the way to the end, the Seattle Center, the Space Needle, where people hung out on the grass, in the drizzle, or went their separate ways. P, Sullivan and Melanie went to find a bar, I stuck around a bit, ran into a few more friends, watched the crowds just stream in and stream in. It was never-ending and beautiful.

I've seen estimates of 130,000 to 175,000 for our little walk. Worldwide, the estimate is almost 3 million. That's also Hillary Clinton's margin of victory in the popular vote. (Crazy what you could've had/ Crazy what you could've had.) The organizers themselves estimate there were 4.8 million in the sister marches. 

One thing? I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more to do at the end of the march. I wanted the next step. I want to turn this people power into political power.

This morning, my friend Erika shared a link on social media about the next step: 10 actions in 100 days. I don't know if the march was the first or the uber step—the one that made the others possible—but the next step is simple: “Write a postcard to your Senators about what matters most to you - and how you're going to continue to fight for it in the days, weeks and months ahead.” 

My postcard will probably begin with protecting the ACA/Medicare/Medicaid and go from there. I would love to see us outlaw all of the Ciitzens United dark money that is ruining our democracy, and calling out Mitch McConnell when (not if) he tries to protect his beautiful dark dollars—the only reason that asshat is still in office. Above all, I'd like accountability. If you have accountability, you don't have James Comey as FBI director, and Betsy DeVos isn't a nominee for Sec. of Education and Rex Tillerson isn't a nom for Sec. of State. You don't have Mitch McConnell. I would like an investigation into Russian influence into our election. I would like an investigation into why James Comey acted the way he did 10 days before the election. 

There's no end to their malfeasance. But this is the beginning of our fight. Yesterday, in the march, cramped in with tens of thousands of like-minded people, at times unable to move for the mass of humanity surrounding me, I was able to do something I hadn't been able to do well during the last few horrible months: I was able to breathe.

Women's March: Jan. 21, 2017

Me and Ward get ready to step out. 

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Posted at 02:28 PM on Jan 22, 2017 in category Politics
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Friday January 20, 2017

The Con Artist in Chief

“Barack Obama governed wisely and honestly, and presided over peace and prosperity, and was rewarded with an approval rating of 60 percent. He is being replaced by a swindler who has been consistently opposed by a clear majority of the public. This happened because of a combination of oddities and systemic abuses: an Electoral College system that allows the second-place candidate to win if his supporters happen to be distributed more optimally; the dramatic intervention of the FBI on behalf of the Republican challenger; the Twenty-second Amendment, which prevents the popular incumbent from running again. All these factors in combination have produced a dramatic transfer of power from a president who has won the support of a clear majority of the country to one who does not. ... 

In his presidential announcement speech in 2015, Trump hired actors to pretend to be supporters, and then, characteristically, refused to pay them. He boasted this week that he was writing his inauguration speech, even displaying a photo of himself purportedly working in Mar-a-Lago. (In a touch that could have come straight from a David Mamet film, the backdrop to Trump's speechwriting scene turns out to be a corridor, the desk belongs to an administrative staffer.) Trump is a con artist, and a very good one. It requires enormous talent of a kind to successfully identify and exploit new marks, for decades, without their catching on to you. Constantly luring new contractors, partners, and customers to place their faith in Trump so he can exploit them is a difficult ruse to sustain. ...

”The presidency raises the stakes of Trump's con game to a completely new level. ... But what happens when his grandiose promises fail to materialize? And when the aspects of his program that he never mentioned in his speech — tax cuts for the rich, stripping away health insurance from millions, massive graft — do take place? A con artist who always escaped his old victims and found new ones has reached the maximal limits of his strategy. What happens when the marks are demanding that the promises he made be redeemed, and there is nowhere for him to go, and he commands the powers of the state?“

-- Jonathan Chait, ”The System Has Failed and a Con Artist Has Won," New York Magazine

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Posted at 03:28 PM on Jan 20, 2017 in category Politics
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Fist First

“There was no poetry in the words delivered to a half-empty National Mall on Inauguration Day. ... What we got, coinciding with the first rain drops falling while Trump spoke to the nation he now leads, was a clenched fist — his own salute of nationalism and defiance, borrowed from political causes rooted in far different passions. He raised the fist while taking his place at the Capitol steps, and again at the close of a dark, soulless speech introducing himself as the leader of the free world.

”We might be able to ignore the fist had he mentioned liberty, the Constitution, equality for all, some joy note to American values. We might be able to give him a wider berth, an open heart, had he quoted Washington, from that humble first inaugural in 1789, or Lincoln, with his call to our better angels, or Kennedy's plea for a patriotism of selflessness.

“No, what we got was the clenched fist, to go with the rhetorical one: America first to fix American carnage.”

-- Timothy Egan, “A Clenched Fist for Day 1,” New York Times

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Posted at 02:40 PM on Jan 20, 2017 in category Politics
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The Asshat that Hate Produced

“Why Trump? Because, better than anyone else in the Republican field, he could appeal to the hatred of Obama that conservatives had spent years stoking.”

-- Matt Gurtz, Media Matters, “How Years Of The Right-Wing Media's Obama Hatred Paved The Way For Trump”

I would argue that James Comey and Vladimir Putin didn't help, but yes, this gets to the heart of it: the propaganda that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Matt Drudge and others promulgated from 2009 and 2016 led to this shameful moment in American history. That's on all of them. And that's why I get enraged when NPR gives airtime to folks at right-wing think tanks that blame Obama for the rise Trump. The fucking gall. But they got away with everything else, so they think they can get away with that, too. They won't.

Bless the people who are marching and protesting today, tomorrow, Sunday. Keep fighting the good fight.

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Posted at 02:29 PM on Jan 20, 2017 in category Politics
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Happy Birthday to Me

I turn 54 today. Happy birthday to me. 

My week has been bookended by a horrible case of stomach flu on Monday and the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States today. The stomach flu went away after 24 hours. 

PigletPatricia got it first, in the middle of the night Sunday, so Monday morning I walked over to Bartell's and bought the usual necessities: Ginger ale, saltines, Excedrin. By the time I got back, I was feeling it, the nausea, then I lost it, then lost it again—both ways—for much of the next 12 hours. You know you're having a bad day when you don't know which end to face toward the toilet. I was a wreck, dehydrated, when about six o'clock, Patricia—who was feeling much better, thank you—crushed some ice for me. My mother used to do that when I got sick as a child. (Which was often; I was a sickly kid.) We had one of those hand-crank ice crushers in the cabinet: faded yellow on bottom and white on top. Anyway I asked for the crushed ice, Patrticia delivered, and the first cube sliver that melted in mouth tasted better than almost anything I'd eaten or drunk in my life. Amazing what deprivation will do for you. I thought, “Why isn't this enough? Why do we need to color it and sugar it and fizz it and liquor it up?” I know. Not exactly profound.

As bad as that was—and it was bad—today is worse. I don't have Barack Obama's optimism. I know the bad guys won. Not just Trump, but particularly Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, all the greedy little fuckers in service of the greedier big fuckers. I know the bad guys usually win. Everybody knows, as L. Cohen sang. I know most of us can't be bothered, then we look for scapegoats as to why things are so bad; and there are the little fuckers again to point out the marginalized to blame. It's amazing the levels of bullshit people buy into. I've said it before: America is a guy eating filet mignon telling a guy eating a baloney sandwich to resent the guy eating his crumbs. And he does. He blames the guy eating the crumbs. And he elects the guy eating the filet mignon. 

This is what we've got now: A thrice-married, bullying narcissist with ties to our greatest historical enemy, who during the campaign besmirched our military, our POWs, our allies, and a Gold Star family; who has gone through six bankruptcies but is seen as a business success; who kept threatening his opponent with jail and encouraged violence at his rallies and who had been caught on camera saying he liked to grab women by the pussy; this know-nothing vainglorious supercreep was elected our president by 63 million people. That's how many enemies I have in this country now. Anyone who voted for this turd is dead to me. Seriously, I can't even remember all the bad shit Trump did. Mocking a handicapped reporter—I can't believe I didn't allude to that one. The money that went to the Florida AG who dropped charges against Trump University. Trump University itself. Trump fillets. The USFL. “If Ivanka weren't my daughter I'd be dating her.” Ugly shit from an ugly man.  

The lefties, too. Jesus. The people who couldn't get behind Hillary—the Susan Sarandons of the world. Last Saturday, I went to a meeting for a rally today being organized by Kshamna Sawant, a socialist on Seattle's City Council, and the first speaker was an assistant from her office, some woman with a small voice who read her speech to us like an 11th grader reading a book report. In that speech, which was supposed to ignite us and ready us for anti-Trump rallies, she took potshots at both Hillary and Pres. Obama, and lauded Bernie. Hello? Common enemy? I left after five minutes. 

Crazy what you could've had. Crazy what you could've had.

See you on the other side. 

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Posted at 08:35 AM on Jan 20, 2017 in category Politics
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Thursday January 19, 2017

Quote of the Day

“The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.”

-- Charles Simic, “Age of Ignorance,” New York Review of Books. 

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Posted at 05:43 PM on Jan 19, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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An Open Letter to NPR on Why They'll Never Get Another Penny From Me

January 19, 2017

Dear NPR:

This has happened too often lately: While brushing my teeth in the morning, I turn on NPR, hoping I’ll be informed about the events of yesterday, today and tomorrow; about what’s going on in the world. Instead, I’ll get enraged by your coverage.

This morning, the day before the last day of Barack Obama’s presidency, as we anticipate the horror of a Trump presidency, Morning Edition ran a piece about how Pres. Obama was responsible for the divisiveness in our country that led to Trump.

Yeah, that’s right. Here’s how it began:

STEVE INSKEEP: On this final full day of Pres. Obama’s term, we are of course far from history’s final verdict about him. But the first drafts are being written. One person who believes the president failed in what he set out to do is Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

OK, first: “Ethics and Public Policy Center” sounds anodyne. It isn’t. It’s a right-wing think tank funded by the usual sources: the Koch Bros., the Scaife Foundations, Castle Rock Foundation. Not sure why this isn’t mentioned. At least use the word “conservative,” as Wikipedia does. Let people know. But of course the Koch Bros. help fund you, too. and maybe they don’t want you to say? Or maybe you worry that they don’t want you to say?

BTW: “history’s final verdict”? Ick. If history gets one (doubtful), it will fall on all of us. Right now, it’s falling heavily on the press. The lesson is obviously unlearned.

Onward...

RACHEL MARTIN: Wehner served three Republican presidents, and this election year he was an outspoken critic of Donald Trump. His fellow conservatives railed against him for criticizing their nominee and their party. But Wehner had some tough words for Democrats, too—particularly Barack Obama. Wehner said the president contributed to the current divisions in this country. Here’s his conversation with our co-host, Steve Inskeep.

So at least we know why you chose this guy: Wehner doesn’t like Obama or Trump. He thinks they’re equally problematic. That means he’s ... middle of the road! He’s the rational person who can explain in non-partisan fashion what’s going on in the world. Even though he’s really a neo-con from a right-wing think tank.

INSKEEP: What makes it the president’s fault for the divisions in the country?

WEHNER: Well, I don’t think they’re all his fault, but it happened on his watch, and he’s the president, and he came into office promising to heal the divisions. And he knew the nature of the Republican party, knew what he was going into, and really the core promise of the Obama campaign in 2008 was to transcend the divisions, and that he would act in a post-partisan, trans-political way. I don’t think he did.

Journalism 101 students, what’s your follow-up? I might ask, “What is the nature of the Republican party?” That’s an odd phrase, isn’t it? Wehner, a Republican, is making it sound like Obama should’ve known better than to promise to be able to work with Republicans since: Republicans is crazy. I would’ve asked for clarification on that. We shouldn’t let that hang there.

I might also bring up whether the GOP worked particularly hard to ensure Obama couldn’t transcend divisions. Alex MacGillis suggests as much in his 2014 biography of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. See #18 here.

Inskeep’s follow-ups? Zero.

WEHNER: But it’s not simply that he wasn’t able to achieve common ground with Republicans on legislation. It is more broadly that the political culture is rancorous and divided and angry—I don’t lay all of the blame on President Obama for that—Republicans have their role in that, conservatives have their responsibility. But so does President Obama. He used rhetoric that for a president I think is unusually divisive. He constantly accused Republicans of putting party ahead of country.

Is that unusually divisive? It feels like it happens a lot. And when did Pres. Obama say it? And how often? Most important: Was it true? Did the GOP put party above country? I would argue they did. To be honest, anyone who has read Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” about the Koch Bros., knows they did. Conservative, moneyed forces first gathered in January 2009 to stop him. Sen. Mitch McConnell was about obstruction from Day One. He wasn’t interested in economic recovery. Are you kidding? That would make the Dems popular. We might have another FDR on our hands. No, he was interested in making Barack Obama a one-term president. He said exactly that. So why deny it here?

But Wehner is on a roll.

WEHNER: And that rhetoric over a sustained period of time has consequences. And I think some of the failures of the Obama presidency, unfortunately, led to the Trump presidency.

INSKEEP: How so?

Glad to know Steve’s alive. 

WEHNER: Well, I think there was so much alienation and anger in America, that it opened the way for a cynical demagogue like Donald Trump to rise up and win. I wish Trump had not won. I’m a lifelong Republican, I’m a conservative, and I was never [for] Trump from the moment he announced his campaign all the way through.

Wehner’s bona fides again: Right down the middle, folks!

WEHNER: But he wasn’t elected in a vacuum. There was a lot of acrimony, a lot of division. A lot of Americans, particularly blue-collar Americans, felt dishonored, and unheard and voiceless, during the Obama years.

Follow-ups: Why did they feel this way? What are the causes of it? How complex and myriad and how far back do these issues stretch? Nothing.

By now I’m pissed. I’m thinking, “What kind of mind frames the last eight years in this way?” And, amazingly, Steve reads my thoughts!

INSKEEP: Is this a description of what you think happened?

Wow, maybe I shouldn’t think Steve Inskeep is the worst journalist in the world! Maybe he is, as the NPR website suggests, “known for probing questions to everyone from presidents to warlords to musicians.”

Except I mishear what he’s saying. He’s not questioning Wehner; he’s giving him answers.

INSKEEP: Is this a description of what you think happened: This is a president who tried to think technocratically, analytically, about policy, and he would reach a conclusion. And if someone reached a different conclusion, he believed it must have been cynical. Because the facts were so obvious to him.

WEHNER: Yeah, I think that’s a fair description of it.

Good god. How many words did this “probing questioner” just put into the mouth of his subject? And why is he doing it in the first place? Does he think it’s reporting? 

WEHNER: He’s a person who has enormous confidence, and he when he arrived at a position he thought it was the only reasonable and rational position. And if you didn’t share his conclusion, then it must’ve been informed by cynical— 

INSKEEP: Because you should know better.

WEHNER: Because you should know better. Because I arrived at this position, and I arrived at it because it was reasonable and it was logical, and everyone who is reasonable and logical should arrive at the same position I do. I think that is exactly what happened.

And I think you’re both full of shit. I would like at least one concrete example rather than a vague description. A story. An anecdote. This was the issue: Obama thought X, McConnell thought Y, nothing was done. Because then at least we could see what we thought about X or Y; and whether we thought X or Y were cynical. So one specific example. Surely Mr. Inskeep will ask for that. 

Nope.

The vagueness of this accusation—which, again, comes from the mouth of NPR's own reporter—is, I assume, the whole point. Defending against the vague is like punching out of cotton. 

And by now we’re onto the second half of the equation.

INSKEEP: How has President-Elect Trump done in bringing the country together in your view?

WEHNER: I think he’s been horrible. I think he ran one of the most divisive and pernicious and demagogic campaigns in American history.

Non-partisan!

INSKEEP: Well, let’s just talk about his time as President-Elect. How do you think he’s done there?

WEHNER: As President-Elect? I think he’s continued to divide the country. He’s continued his Twitter wars. He has this propensity to create enemies, and to go after them, and he seems to thrive in division. But this is supposed to be the easy part—the transition period—this is as easy as it gets. And normally the President-Elect takes advantage of that, and he acts in a way that unifies the country. Donald Trump has not done that.

INSKEEP: So as a person from the Ethics and Public Policy Center ...

Which is funded by the Koch Bros., like NPR...

INSKEEP: .... what would you have political leaders do in this situation after Inauguration Day?

WEHNER: Well, I think political leaders need to give President Trump a chance to govern well, and to govern effectively. And for critics of President Trump like me, we have to give him the space and the room to prove us wrong.

Sure. Because what do we have to lose by waiting? Just safety, security, prosperity, civil rights, democracy.

WEHNER: On the other hand, I think he has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has problematic tendencies. I think, therefore, the political institutions in this country, and the leaders of those political institutions—in this case, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell...

INSKEEP: The House and Senate leaders.

WEHNER: ... The House and Senate leaders, and the people they represent, have to be prepared to act as a check on Donald Trump.

INSKEEP: Peter Wehner, thanks very much.

WEHNER: Thanks for having me on.

And that’s the piece. Feel free to listen to it yourselves. It’s... insidious. It’s right-wing propaganda. On NPR.

A neo-con is presented as a middle-of-the-road ethics specialist who blames Pres. Obama for dividing the country (which has always been divided) without giving specific examples and with the interviewer actually leading him to other non-specific answers. And the solution he offers against divisiveness? Mitch McConnell, who obstructed legislation for the entirety of Obama’s eight-year term, and who has worked his entire career at keeping money, and dark money, in the political realm; and Paul Ryan, who wants to cut Medicare and Medicaid funding for the poor and elderly.

NPR, go fuck yourselves.

Best,
Erik Lundegaard
Seattle

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Posted at 01:30 PM on Jan 19, 2017 in category Politics
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Wednesday January 18, 2017

Pres. Obama's Final Press Conference: 'I Think We're Going to Be OK'

Obama's last press conference

Take a good long look, America. You're not going to have a president this smart, articulate, kind, open-minded, willing to bridge gaps, for a long, long time. 

Via the New York Times, here's the last question of the last press conference for the best president in my lifetime. You should watch the whole thing. We shall not see his like again: 

QUESTION: The first lady put the stakes of the 2016 election in very personal terms, in a speech that resonated across the country. And she really spoke the concerns of a lot women, LGBT, people of color, many others. And — so I wonder now, how you and the first lady on talking to your daughters about the meaning of this election and how you interpret it for yourself and for them?

OBAMA: You know, every parent brags on their daughters or their sons. You know, if your mom and dad don't brag on you, you know you got problems.

(LAUGHTER)

But man, my daughters are something. And they just surprise and enchant and impress me more and more every single day as they grow up. And, so these days when we talk, we talk as parent to child, but also we learn from them. And, I think it was really interesting to see how Malia and Sasha reacted. They were disappointed.

They paid attention to what their mom said during the campaign and believed it because it's consistent with what we have tried to teach them in our household and what I've tried to model as a father with their mom and what we've asked them to expect from future boyfriends or spouses. But what we've also tried to teach them is resilience and we've tried to teach them hope and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world.

So, you get knocked down, you get up, brush yourself off and you get back to work. And that tended to be their attitude. Both of them have grown up in an environment where I think they could not help but be patriotic, to love this country deeply, to see that it's flawed but see that they have responsibilities to fix it. And that they need to be active citizens. And they have to be in a position to talk to their friends and their teachers and their future co-workers in ways that try to shed some light as opposed to just generate a lot of sound and fury. And I expect that's what they're going to do. They do not — they don't mope.

They also don't get cynical about it. They have not assumed because their side didn't win, or because some of the values that they care about don't seem as if they were vindicated, that automatically America has somehow rejected them or rejected their values. I don't think they feel that way.

I think they have in part through osmosis, in part through dinner time conversations, appreciated the fact that this is a big complicated country and democracy is messy, it doesn't always work exactly the way you might want. It doesn't guarantee certain outcomes. But if you're engaged and you're involved, then there are a lot more good people than bad in this country and there's a core decency to this country and —  they've got to be a part of lifting that up. And I expect they will be.

And in that sense, they are representative of this generation that makes me really optimistic. I've had some off-the-cuff conversations with some journalists where they said, “You seem like you're OK, but really, what are you really thinking?” 

(LAUGHTER)

And I've said, “No, I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. I believe tragic things happen. I think there's evil in the world, but I think at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we're true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time. That's what this presidency has tried to be about. And I see that in the young people I've worked with. I couldn't be prouder of them.

And so, this is not just a matter of ”no drama Obama,“ this is what I really believe. It is true that behind closed doors, I curse more than I do publicly...

(LAUGHTER)

... and sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everybody else does. But at my core, I think we're going to be OK. We just have to fight for it, we have to work for it and not take it for granted. And I know that you will help us do that. Thank you very much, Press Corps, good luck.

END

Obama has always been more optimistic than I. To me, that ”END" at the end of the transcript feels nothing but ominous.

During the presser, Obama did take some shots at the GOP for their modern-day Jim Crow campaigns to try to stop folks (folks who generally vote Democrat) from voting. There was some fire in the eyes then. I'd like to see more of that whenever Pres. Obama has had enough quiet time to reflect on all that's happened. That's what he said he wants to do—and I want him to do it for him. I wish him all the best. He deserves it. He was a better president than we are a people. But we still need him. More than he knows. 

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Posted at 06:04 PM on Jan 18, 2017 in category Politics
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'If you take it all seriously, it's a world crisis'

We're two days from Ground Zero and our president-elect is readying himself by insulting top actresses, civil rights leaders and our allies around the world. 

From Robin Wright's New Yorker piece “Trump Disrupts World,” about his comments on NATO, Angela Merkel, BMW, China:

“What he's saying is so serious, so grave, that if you take it all seriously it's a world crisis,” a senior envoy from a long-standing ally told me on Monday. “And he's saying it all in such a reckless and ignorant way that I suspect everyone is praying that this is not serious.”

Over the next four years, Trump's comments—made by an ingénue in foreign policy and national security, with no apparent respect for the nuances and niceties of diplomacy—could throw an already fragile world into disorder. It's one thing to go after Meryl Streep and Hollywood, on Twitter, in polarized America after the Golden Globes. It's quite another blithely to go after China (the world's most populous country, with one of the two largest economies and the three strongest militaries), Germany (Europe's largest economy), and twenty-eight allies (in the mightiest military alliance in world history)—and all at once and all on a global stage.

So our hope is that our president-elect is not a serious person. Which he isn't. Except maybe in this one way. 

The insider stuff in the piece, how the embassies are getting zero direction as Trump nears inauguration day, is equally disturbing. As I've read elsewhere, Angela Merkel is now leader of the free world. 

Crazy what you could've had. Crazy what you could've had. 

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Posted at 01:41 PM on Jan 18, 2017 in category Politics
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Tuesday January 17, 2017

How Mitch McConnell Lost His Soul: a Tragedy (for the Country) in 24 Quotes

Mitch McConnell: evil

This man once fought for abortion rights and gun control. Then he needed to win elections in rural Kentucky.

Everything below is taken from “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell,” by Alec MacGillis, which is a quick read, and recommended, for anyone who cares about the future of the country: 

  1. In 1964, McConnell wrote a column urging Republicans to get on board with strong civil rights legislation. He disputed the claim to constitutional rationales against the legislation:“One must view the Constitution as a document adaptable to conditions of contemporary society,” he wrote, and any “strict interpretation” was “innately evil” if its result was that “basic rights are denied to any group.”
  2. In the 1970s, he actually declined an honorary membership in the Kentucky State Rifle & Pistol Association: “This would probably hinder effectiveness in fighting [strict gun control] laws,” he said.
  3. Running for Judge-Executive of Jefferson County, Kentucky in 1975, he told the unions that he would support passing a state law to legalize collective bargaining for public employees. The labor council endorsed him.
  4. With Roe v. Wade only a few years old, abortion opponents tried to rein in the procedure via local ordinances that, among other restrictions, required married women to get their husbands' approval. Abortion rights supporters had an ally in McConnell: every time one of the ordinances was introduced, McConnell would see to it that it never came up for a vote, says Jessica Loving, who was then the director of the Kentucky chapter of the ACLU. “He just stopped the legislation dead in its tracks,” she says. “Mitch understood procedural ways to stop legislation, and that's what he did.”
  5. Frustrated with how close he'd come to losing his reelection, McConnell decided it was time for a new media and polling team. In 1984, running for U.S. Senate, he hired Roger Ailes. 
  6. When Ronald Reagan came to Louisville for one of his debates against Mondale, the president referred to the candidate for U.S. Senate as “O'Donnell.”
  7. At the 1984 Republican victory party, Gene Snyder, McConnell's first boss in Washington, was overheard remarking with wry wonderment that Kentuckians had just elected someone to the U.S. Senate who had fewer friends in Kentucky than “anybody elected to anything.”
  8. To the dismay of Jessica Loving and his other abortion rights allies in Louisville, McConnell flipped to the pro-life side on votes such as blocking Medicaid funding for abortions in cases of rape or incest. Years later, Loving ran into McConnell at a cocktail party and told him, “By the way, I've never properly thanked you for what you did—you were the best elected official for the pro-choice issue,” to which, she recalls, “he got this pained look, his face got paler than usual and his lips got thinner than usual and he said, 'You know, I don't really want anyone to know that.'”
  9. McConnell fought against expanding voter participation by allowing citizens to register to vote when getting their driver's license. McConnell was candid about his reasons for opposing the “Motor Voter” bill: expanded voter registration helped Democrats. 
  10. With money at his disposal, McConnell would set about countering voters' lukewarm feelings toward him by making his opponents unacceptable. And he would make them unacceptable in the same way: he would cast them as elitists out of touch with working-class Kentuckians—even if it meant attacking wealth and success in business in ways that made Republicans uncomfortable.
  11. He was, by his 1996 race, a wealthy man from his marriage in 1993 to Elaine Chao, the daughter of a Taiwanese shipping magnate.
  12. He warned any and all opponents, “I will always be well financed, and I'll be well financed early.”
  13. Former senator Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican who served alongside McConnell for 12 years, says this avidity was one of the most striking characteristics of McConnell. “When you raise the flag and somebody hollers from the back of the room, 'Does anyone want to go to a fund-raiser and raise some bucks?' Mitch will be right there,” says Simpson. “It's a joy to him. He gets a twinkle in his eye and his step quickens. I mean, he loves it.”
  14. As efforts to limit soft money gained momentum late in the decade—led by the bipartisan duo of Arizona Republican John McCain and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold—the first line of resistance was McConnell. From his new perch as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, he would parry endlessly with the advocates of greater restrictions on soft money who would appear before him at hearings.
  15. In 2007, after Democrats reclaimed majorities in both chambers in 2006 and Mitch McConnell ascended to become his party's leader in the Senate, the use of the filibuster soared. When Democrats were in the minority under W., there were about 60 “cloture motions” to break or preempt filibusters filed per session. Under McConnell's leadership, cloture motions spiked to 140 per session. 
  16. In the midwinter of 2009, as Barack Obama assumed the presidency and the country was losing 600,000 jobs per month, McConnell assembled his caucus for a retreat in West Virginia and laid out a strategy that focused a whole lot more on undermining the former than addressing the latter.
  17. Bennett recalls, “Mitch said, 'We have a new president with an approval rating in the seventy percent area. We do not take him on frontally. We find issues where we can win, and we begin to take him down, one issue at a time. We create an inventory of losses, so it's Obama lost on this, Obama lost on that. And we wait for the time where the image has been damaged to the point where we can take him on.”
  18. McConnell knew how much voters hated partisan strife, that it soured them on government in general, and that this souring would hurt the party in power—particularly if the party in power was also the party that advocated for more government. He knew that the public tended to tune out the details of partisan haggling, and that his party would therefore be unlikely to suffer for blatant reversals such as the flip on the deficit commission. He knew that he not only had Fox News and the rest of the conservative media on his side, but that the mainstream press would be reluctant to enlighten the public about who was at fault for gridlock—many commentators were loath to get into policy particulars, and even more loath to be seen as favoring one side over the other. ... And McConnell knew how much Obama had staked on the promise of transcending partisan divides in Washington, and that denying him the opportunity to do so would come to seem like a defining failure of his presidency.
  19. “The Obama election reinvigorated Mitch McConnell and gave him a reason for being,” says Kelleher. “He genuinely dislikes him . . . and thinks the guy has no business being in the White House.”
  20. Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer, Clinton administration trade official, and author of a history of the Senate, argued in a May 2014 opinion piece that the Senate would be functioning better with just about any other Republican in McConnell's place.
  21. The midterm election of 2014 had been, in a sense, the perfect Mitch McConnell election. It had been dominated by the dark money made possible by the court rulings that McConnell championed—and by his blockage of legislation to require disclosure of the spending. Groups that did not disclose spent more than $215 million, up by more than a third from the 2010 midterm election. More than two-thirds of this undisclosed spending was on behalf of Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  22. McConnell himself benefited hugely from this dark money. He received $23 million from outside groups, more than double what his opponent did. Some of the spending was from known entities like the NRA, but the single biggest outside spender was a mysterious group called the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which spent more than $7.5 million on ads attacking his opponent. Because the organization classified itself as a group engaged in “social welfare,” not just elections, it did not need to disclose its donors.
  23. “Nobody in the state loves him—hell, his friends don't love him. It's not about love,” says Jim Cauley, the consultant who worked on Sloane's and Beshear's challenges.
  24. “It's always been about power, the political game, and it's never been about the core values that drive political life,” says John Yarmuth, the Democratic congressman from Louisville who used to work with McConnell. “There has never been anything that interested him other than winning elections.”
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Posted at 05:40 PM on Jan 17, 2017 in category Politics
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Saturday January 14, 2017

The Trump-Putin Connection is an *American* Concern

Here's the Independent's report on the findings of the MI6 agent, with the movie-ready name of Christopher Steele, who uncovered the dirt on our president-elect, Donald J. Trump, and his connections to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Everyone should read it. It's astonishing that it's happened. That it's happening

It's astonishing on two levels. The first is the quid pro quo—the details of just how much Trump is in Putin's pocket. How much he is Putin's puppet:

In the same month Mr Steele produced a memo, which went to the FBI, stating that Mr Trump's campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow's intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow's annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party's election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.

The second is how little FBI director James Comey did about it; and what he chose to do instead:

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton's email transgressions.

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.

As the election approached, FBI director James Comey made public his bombshell letter saying that Ms Clinton would face another email investigation. Two days before that Mr Giuliani, then a part of the Trump team, talked about “a surprise or two you're going to hear about in the next few days. We've got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn things around”.

The mainstream American press is almost reporting it as if it were a partisan concern—New York Times, I'm looking at you, assholes—when it's an American conern. Or should be. But Republicans are too busy dismantling healthcare for 30 million Americans. 

The world is mad.

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Jan 14, 2017 in category Politics
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Friday January 13, 2017

Tweet(s) of the Day

I say “Tweet of the Day” but believe me, in these troubled times, there are a lot of good options out there.

ADDENDUM: Case in point...

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Posted at 03:33 PM on Jan 13, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Thursday January 12, 2017

Poz Redux

Joe Posnanski has begun archiving some of this stuff over on Medium.com and I spent a late lunch hour (or, really, a late snack 15 minutes) reading his piece on Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Freese/Cruz game, and I came across this gem, mentioned in passing during a graf on the Rangers' closer. It's about a better closer:

Part of the magic of Mariano Rivera is the placid look, the slumped shoulders, as if this is all just a formality, as if he had already saved the game a few hours before and is only performing it once more for those people who missed it.

God, that's nice. Nice to read Joe, on a day, and a week, and a month, and a year, that will continually enrage me as Republicans pretend that the 2016 election wasn't fixed by Russians and the director of the FBI, and thus work at sawing away at our already frayed social safety net. 

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Posted at 03:31 PM on Jan 12, 2017 in category Baseball
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Tuesday January 10, 2017

What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it

“It was only a couple of questions in the middle of a hearing, but the queries posed to FBI Director James Comey by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) during a Senate intelligence committee gathering on Tuesday afternoon had potentially explosive implications, for they suggested that Wyden believes the FBI has been sitting on information regarding ties between Donald Trump's inner circle and Russia. ...

”The most dramatic exchange came with Wyden's questions. He noted that several media outlets have reported that Trump campaign associates, including Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, had maintained connections with Russians tied to Putin. He asked Comey, 'Has the FBI investigated these reported relationships?' Comey answered, 'I would never comment on investigations...in an open forum.'“

-- from ”Senate Intelligence Committee Member Suggests FBI Is Sitting on Information on Trump-Russia Ties" in Mother Jones

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Posted at 02:55 PM on Jan 10, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Monday January 09, 2017

Movie Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I’ve been hearing end-of-the-year buzz that “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is  a way underrated movie; that it’s actually, you know, good. Some go further: Some suggest it’s this generation’s “This Is Spinal Tap.”

If so, pity this generation.

I know it’s unfair to compare a contemporary with a classic. But since others raised the issue...

Why ‘joke’ is less funny
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping“Spinal Tap”’s humor grew out of the conventions of real music documentaries, while “Pop” feels as if it’s riffing on copies of copies of copies of copies. “Tap” is grounded. Its cities on the tour are real. Its main characters may be idiots but there’s something human about them. They’re half caricature/half character, while “Pop”’s Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) is all caricature. There’s no there there. Conner is just a joke, and the movie treats him as a joke. When you do this, ironically, you remove a lot of the funny.

There’s a trajectory to Tap’s downfall, and it follows their American concert tour—east coast to west coast. Their humiliations start small but grow: a canceled date in Boston (“I wouldn’t worry about it, though, it’s not a big college town”), a misplaced hotel reservation in Memphis, flak over the album cover. For a time, Tap seems oblivious to it all; they still think they’re on top of the world. Then the humilations deepen: second billing at a Holiday Inn, a no-show album signing, playing an Air Force Base. Their onstage humiliations are human-sized and serve to prick their pomposity: Nigel can’t stand back up again after bending back in classic rock-out pose; Derek’s “pod” doesn’t open; they get lost beneath the arena in Cleveland and the Stonehenge props are tiny rather than towering.

Conner’s humiliations are outsized and less funny. To jazz up his act, he goes for a quick-change bit, but has to hide his junk to make it work, and a wardrobe malfunction reveals him to be seemingly dickless. (I like that, backstage, his handlers try to assure him that no one noticed.) To bury that story—as if it wouldn’t be a meme forever—his publicist (Sarah Silverman) suggests he propose to his girlfriend (Imogen Poots), which he does, with Seal singing her favorite song and her favorite animals (wolves) nearby. But the singing upsets the wolves, who attack the guests and turn the garden party into bloody chaos.

Meanwhile, his opening act, Hunter (Chris Redd), eclipses him in popularity, not to mention vindictiveness. But when Conner asks his manager, Harry (Tim Meadows), to kick him off the tour, he discovers Hunter is Harry’s client, too. It’s Conner who goes back home, the tour a failure, his career seemingly over.

So what happens? He becomes a better person, of course. He once fronted a boy band, The Style Boyz, and he reconciles with the estranged members he screwed over: DJ Owen (Jorma Taccone), and lyricist Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer). All along, we’ve been following the latter, who, after a stab at a solo career, has been farming and woodcarving in Colorado. Both are treated as jokes—as if anyone could enjoy such things, so far away from the limelight—with the former having a typical comedy punchline: he’s been farming weed, yo. All three reunite on the “Poppy” awards, and are back on top. Added bonus: Hunter is a dick to Mariah Carey onstage, so no one likes him anymore. Because it’s never enough for you to succeed; your enemies have to fail.

‘I feel young again! I feel ... 38!’
It’s interesting to note the need for a villain. Does “Tap” have a villain? You could argue the Yoko-Ono-ish Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), who controls David, and causes the riff with Nigel, and who takes over from their seemingly incompetent manager, Ian Faith. She has a bit of a comeuppance as well: Ian returns, and in Japan, where Spinal Tap is resurrected, the two eye each other warily. But all of it is much subtler than “Popstar”'s disimissal of Hunter.

You know what’s amazing to me? Andy Samberg is actually older in “Popstar” than Michael McKean and Christopher Guest were in “Spinal Tap”: 38 years vs. 37 and 36. I still think of Samberg as the next generation but “Lazy Sunday” was more than 10 years ago.

The Lonely Island guys give us a few good parody songs: “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song),” along with Conner’s would-be testimonial to gay marriage, “Equal Rights,” in which he continually insists, “I’m not gay.” But there’s nothing as clever as marrying the bombast of gangster rap with a very ordinary, very white Sunday afternoon.

One of the biggest problems for me is that “Popstar” doubles down on the very thing it should be satirizing: celebrity culture. 50 Cent, Carrie Underwood and Simon Cowell, as the mockumentary’s talking heads, act like they’re in the on the joke, when, to me, they’re part of the problem. But the movie sees them as part of the solution. 

A few years ago, Samberg co-starred as the son of Adam Sandler in the dreary comedy, “That’s My Boy.” Not yet, but he’s becoming dangerously close. 

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Posted at 07:18 AM on Jan 09, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Sunday January 08, 2017

What Liberal Hollywood? Part 94

“Although many members of the entertainment industry espouse, often publicly, a left-leaning political slant, Hollywood is still dominated by white men who prefer to make movies and television shows that revolve around other white men — men beset by feelings of alienation, who often wield guns, who fight (or represent) corrupt government, and generally attempt to survive and/or save a world run amok.

”Across galaxies, through the centuries, in every genre imaginable.“

-- Mary McNamara, ”The notion of a liberal agenda in Hollywood is absurd," in the LA Times, as part of a series on Hollywood values/elites in the Trump era.

Of course, I've been saying this for years, but it's nice that this notion is getting a wider audience.

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Posted at 12:52 PM on Jan 08, 2017 in category What Liberal Hollywood?
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Tuesday January 03, 2017

For Jan. 20, 2017

Here'a a passage from “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis

The central question posed by Gestalt psychologists was the question the behaviorists had elected to ignore: How does the brain create meaning? How does it turn the fragments collected by the senses into a coherent picture of reality? Why does that picture so often seem to be imposed by the mind upon the world around it, rather than by the world upon the mind? How does a person turn the shards of memory into a coherent life story? Why does a person's understanding of what he sees change with the context in which he sees it? Why—to speak a bit loosely—when a regime bent on the destruction of the Jews rises to power in Europe, do some Jews see it for what it is, and flee, and others stay to be slaughtered?

Raising this last question for a friend. 

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Posted at 05:57 AM on Jan 03, 2017 in category Books
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Monday January 02, 2017

Movie Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Am I the only one who sees a metaphor for the 2016 election in this movie? Hear me out.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, doomed to play brilliant but pompous) plays a brilliant but pompous neurosurgeon who gets into a car accident and damages the nerves of his steady hands, rendering him useless and purposeless. But after hearing of a paraplegic who learned to walk again, he travels to Katmandu and trains at Kamar-Taj under the Ancient One (a bald Tilda Swinton), with the idea of eventually curing himself and returning to practice. Instead, he becomes “Master of the Mystic Arts”; and instead of saving one person, or several people, he saves the whole damn universe.

Doctor Strange with Benedict CumberbatchBut he makes an enemy in the process: his friend, and one-time mentor, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Why?

OK, back up a bit, because it’s actually fairly clever what Strange does.

The movie opens with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his team of bad guys/one hot girl stealing pages from an ancient book that allow them to tap into the power of Dormammu, the dark dimension. For some reason, these guys also invite Dormammu into our universe, and that’s destroying everything, particularly Hong Kong. So Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto (don’t ask) to turn back time; then he travels to the dark dimension, where he creates an infinite time loop so that every time Dormammu kills him, he returns to battle again. It’s sort of like “Groundhog Day” or “End of Tomorrow” but in miniature. I like this bit. He knows he can’t beat Dormammu so he lets it get bored until it agrees to leave the Earth alone. He outsmarts it.

So why does Mordo have a problem with this? Because bending time is forbidden.

Mordo, you see, is a stickler, a puritan. He’d rather have the world end than break the rules to save it. He was earlier incensed that the Ancient One tapped into Dormammu’s dark power to keep living, even though, in the long run, she was doing good.

And that’s the metaphor:

  • Ancient One = Hillary
  • Dormammu = Trump
  • Tapping into Dormammu's power = Paid speech to Goldman Sachs
  • Mordo = Bernie, or a Bernie Bro

Things worked out better in their universe.

Overall, “Doctor Strange” is efficient and fun but it’s hardly breaking new ground. On the contrary, it’s going over much of the same ground that “Iron Man” did eight years ago: The vainglorious man with Ronald Colman moustache (now goatee) brought low, then raised higher with greater powers and greater purpose. I guess Stan and Jack liked that storyline.

Once Strange arrives in Katmandu, the various concerns/tensions are all resolved with such facility as to seem facile:

  • Will the Ancient One accept him? Yes.
  • Is he too egotistical to learn the mystic arts? He is ... but he does anyway.
  • Will he just cure himself and go back to his pompous ways, lording it over second-raters like Michael Stuhlbarg? Nope.
  • Will he be seduced by “the Dark Side” like Kaecilius? Nope.

Oddly, once the battles begin, Mordo begins to worry not that Strange will be seduced by the dark side but that he doesn’t have the will to fight the dark side. It’s a concern introduced at the 11th hour and dismissed at 11: 10, and was never a concern of ours. If there’s one thing Strange isn’t, it’s a quitter.

Collecting comics in the 1970s, Doctor Strange was never one of my favorite superheroes. I didn’t understand his powers, I don’t like alternative dimensions that look like a sketchy part of outer space, and I’m generally not a fan of vainglorious men with Ronald Colman moustaches. But somehow Marvel Entertainment makes this movie work.

Think of that. Marvel can take one of its lamest characters, run him through three screenwriters, hand him off to a director mostly known for shitty horror flicks (“Devil’s Knot,” “Sinister 2”), and wah-lah: a fun flick that mixes elements of “Kung Fu,” “Groundhog Day,” and the mindbending landscapes of MC Escher. Hell, they even throw in a bit of “The Greatest American Hero”: a man doing comic battle with his superpowered clothes.

Cf., DC, which can’t even put the two most popular superheroes in the world together without making a crap salad.

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Posted at 04:36 AM on Jan 02, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Sunday January 01, 2017

Movie Review: Manchester By the Sea (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester By the Sea” unfolds slowly and naturally. It’s like life in that we make assumptions about the people we’re watching. It’s not like life in that we get to stick around to see how our assumptions are wrong.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handyman/super for four apartment buildings in Quincy, Mass., near Boston. He does his work calmly, competently, but with something missing, some spark. Early on, he seems to have the patience of Job. He shovels the sidewalks, fixes the drips, unclogs the toilets without complaint. At one point he overhears a tenant say she’s attracted to him, and she gives him a tip, but he doesn’t respond. Because he just unclogged her toilet and that’s no way to begin a relationship? Later, at a bar with a beer, he doesn’t respond to another woman’s flirtations. Then it’s near closing, he eyes two guys across the bar, and you think: Of course. He’s gay.

Manchester By the SeaThen he picks a fight with the two guys. Turns out he’s not gay, not calm, doesn’t have the patience of Job.

Slowly, as he heads north to the titular town to deal with the sudden heart attack/death of his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), we find out how he got this way.

At the local high school, he’s twice referred to as the Lee Chandler, and we wonder if he was a star athlete. Nope. When his brother’s will is read and he discovers he’s the guardian of 15-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges), he almost flips out. “I’m just a backup,” he says. Later, in flashback, we see him with a wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), and one ... two ... three kids? Really? So he doesn’t seem like a backup there. And hey, what happened to those kids anyway?

That, of course, turns out to be the answer to everything: Why Lee is living in a small, cramped basement apartment in Quincy, why he’s full of rage, why something is missing from him, why he can’t return to Manchester-By-the-Sea.

A few years ago I read a great piece by David Grann in The New Yorker about Cameron Todd Williams, a Texas man who was put to death for setting a fire that killed his wife and three girls—except he probably didn’t set that fire. The state of Texas probably executed an innocent man. I kept flashing to it, watching this movie, since Lee’s tragedy is similar. Drunk one night in a cold house, Lee starts a fire in the fireplace to warm up his girls, then walks down to the nearest convenience store to get more beer. When he returns his house is ablaze. His wife makes it out, his kids don’t.

The difference is that Lee isn’t charged with murder but wants to be. When the cops tell him he’s free to go, he tries to blow his brains out in the station. That’s why the basement apartment in Quincy. It’s his punishment, his prison. He’s doing life without parole. It’s also why he doesn’t want to leave—particularly for Manchester By the Sea, which just dredges everything up.

Thus the movie’s main conflict is set up: Lee, the new guardian, doesn’t want to stay in Manchester, but Patrick, with friends and girlfriends and school, and a father’s boat he wants to return to, doesn’t want to leave. Patrick has the better up-front argument, Lee the better buried argument. But even as this argument gets unburied, we see Lee making a go at it. We see him asking for work. We see him running into his ex. This is a powerful scene, and it also upends our assumptions. We expect that he’ll want forgiveness from Randi and she won’t give it. Instead, she has more than forgiveness; she has love. And he finds this unbearable. “No, you don’t understand,” he says, breaking away from her. “There’s nothing there.” Williams is so good in this one scene she might win an Oscar for it.

I still remember Roger Ebert’s review of “The World According to Garp.” Watching, he kept thinking, “This is nice ... this is nice  ... this is nice,” but for all of those nice scenes the movie never added up to anything meaningful. I think a lot of indie movies are like that. “Manchester” isn’t. All of its small scenes add up. The movie doesn’t give us a happy ending (as with studio films) or tragic ending (as with indies), but balances on that razor-thin line of honesty and understanding; of things that aren’t said and things that don’t need to be said. Its redemption is small, but more poignant for its smallness. For Christ’s sake, go see it. 

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Posted at 08:18 AM on Jan 01, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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