The Moment Cruz Leads Jeb By 1 Vote

There’s an interesting result in the New Hampshire primaries.

Right now, with 14% of the vote in, Ted Cruz leads Jeb Bush by one vote in the fight for third place.

Cruz Jeb


I’m sure it’ll change soon, but it is a reminder of the times when every vote can matter. Granted, that’s more likely to occur in a crowded primary in New Hampshire than elsewhere.

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Estonia in the Republican Presidential Debate

The good news is that Estonia came up in the Trumpless Republican presidential debate. The bad news is that it’s in the context of potential invasion by Russia. From the transcript.

BAIER: I’d like to ask you a few questions about foreign policy broadly.

Dr. Carson, many experts believe Russian leader Vladimir Putin has greater ideas, bigger designs for the region beyond Russia’s actions inside Ukraine. Fast forward to February 2017 and it is President Carson, and Russian uniformed commandos cross the Estonian border and they occupy a city in Estonia. Estonia, a member of NATO, essentially invokes Article V, an attack on one is an attack on all. What do you do?

CARSON: Look, first of all, I recognize that Vladimir Putin is an opportunist and he’s a bully, and we have to face him down. And I would — first of all, face him down in that whole region, the whole Baltic region. I think we need to put in some armored brigades there. We only have one or two. We need much more than that. We need to be doing military exercises if not only Estonia but Latvia and Lithuania. They’re terrified by the saber rattling. I think we ought to put in our missile defense system.

I think we ought to give Ukraine offensive weapons and I think we ought to fight them on the economic basis because Putin is a one- horse country: oil and energy. And we ought to fight them on that level.

We ought to be helping in terms of the technology for fracking, keeping the price low, quite frankly, because that’s what’s keeping him contained. So, yes, I’d absolutely would go in if he attacked. I think on Article V of NATO, we would definitely protect all of our allies.


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Academy Award Predictions


With the Oscar nominations coming out, I’m going to make my educated guess on who is going to be happiest tomorrow.

Best Picture

I’m guessing all five SAG nominees get nominated in a larger group, so that would be Beasts of No Nation, The Big Short, Spotlight, Straight Out of Compton and Trumbo. I’d add to that The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road. Inside Outtwo films that are more notable for the directing, and Room– more of a showcase for Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. And with Star Wars: The Force Awakens getting decent reviews, and breaking box office records, I think it’ll sneak in as well. It also seems to have nostalgic appeal to enough Oscar voters.

Edit: I predicted 6 out of 9. Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn ended up getting nominations. Beasts of No Nation, Straight out of Compton and Star Wars: The Force Awakens did not.

Best Actor

This seems to be a race to determine who gets to lose to Leonardo Dicaprio for The Revenant. The top runner-ups seem to be Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs, Matt Damon for The Martian and Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl. I’m also guessing there will be a nomination for Brian Cranston for Trumbo, a film about films the academy loves. He also seems like a guy who is very respected by the industry, so they’d be happy to give him a nomination he doesn’t have much shot of winning. He also got the SAG and Goldern Globe nominations.

Edit: Called it.


Best Actress

This is a category with clear frontrunners: Cate Blanchett for Carol, Brie Larson for Room, and Saoirise Ronan for Brooklyn. I also expect a nomination for Charlotte Rampling of 45 Years– a respected but never nominated actress for whom a loss to Brie Larson can still be seen as a way to honor her career. The IFC Center has a retrospective of her career, to remind New York based voters of her previous work. I’m sure similar stuff is going on in California.

I’m guessing the last one will be Sarah Silverman for I Smile Back. She’s campaigning a lot for it, it deals with a serious issue, and is the type of performance that gets nominations. This contradicts the conventional wisdom of another Jennifer Lawrence nomination, but Joy hasn’t been that successful.

Edit: Got four out of five. I should not have bet against Jennifer Lawrence here.

Best Supporting Actor

Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies is the most certain. I’m also guessing there will be a nomination for Michael Shannon with 99 Homes, due to the combination of Golden Globe and SAG nominations (even if this diid not help Daniel Bruhl).  Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation benefits from a campaigning push by Netflix, as well as being the obvious choice to keep the acting nominations from being all-white. Christian Bale was essentially the co-lead of The Big Short (although he didn’t share any screentime with any of the other name actors which justifies the supporting role) which gives him an edge in the supporting category for a role with multiple disabilities (a glass eye, aspergers.)

Spotlight splits the vote, which may explain why it was shut out of the category in SAG and Golden Globe nominations. The narrative’s too powerful with Sylvester Stallone for Creed.

Edit: Got three out of five. Rufallo ended up getting it, as did Tom Hardy for The Revenant. Elba and Shannon did not.


Best Supporting Actress

I think Rooney Mara for Carol and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl benefit from category fraud. Kate Winslet is a lock for Steve JobsJennifer Jason Leigh gave a memorable performance in The Hateful Eight, and benefits from the character’s transformation in the final act.

Mirren did get SAG and Golden Globe nominations, but that didn’t help her with another period piece on famous figures in film (Hitchcock a few years back). I’m guessing Rachel McAdams gets the last nomination for Spotlight.

Edit: Called it.

Best Director

I think the DGA predicts the big five for the Oscars: Tom McCarthy for SpotlightGeorge Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road (seems like a movie that directors would like); Alejandro G. Inarritu for The RevenantRidley Scott for The Martian and Adam McKay for The Big Short. The DGA tends to get one or two wrong, but these are all acclaimed films which are getting a lot of buzz right now, and are impressive showcases for the directors involved.

Edit: Got 4 out of 5. Ridley Scott’s out of contention, and Lenny Abrahamson got in for Room.

Best Original Screenplay

I’m guessing Quentin Tarantino is getting another nomination for The Hateful Eight., while the Coen brothers got nominated again (dragging Matt Chapman along) for Bridge of Spies. Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer are pretty much guaranteed for Spotlight, given its reviews. I think two well-regarded hits will also get nominated in this category, with Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley getting considered for Inside Out, and Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff, Alan Wenkus & Leigh Savidge doing the same for Straight Outta Compton.

Edit: Got 4 out of 5. Ex Machina beat out The Hateful Eight.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Aaron Sorkin gets a lot of credit for Steve Jobs, so I think he gets another nomination there. Emma Donoghue‘s adaptation of her novel Room is pretty much universally acclaimed. Adam McKay & Charles Randolph had a clever showy screenplay with The Big Short. Nick Hornby got good reviews for Brooklyn, while Drew Goddard had a smart adaptation for The Martian.

Edit:  Got 4 out of 5. Steve Jobs lost the nomination to Carol


Best Foreign Language Film

As an Estonian, I can’t vote against Finland‘s The Fencer given that it is set in Estonia, and starrs Estonians. It did also get a Golden Globe nomination. Hungary‘s Son of Saul is the clear frontrunner. Denmark‘s A War and France‘s Mustang seem to have gotten some attention. Belgium‘s The Brand New Testament was nominated for a Golden Globe, and a comedy about a grumpy god seems different enough from the other potential nominee.

Edit: Got 3 out of 5. Theeb and Embrace of the Seprent beat The Fencer and The Brand New Testament.

Those are my predictions. My expectation is that I’ll do better than Richard Brody.

Edit: He got three wrong in the Best Picture category, one in Best Director (although he did correctly guess that Ridley Scott’s wasn’t get it), three wrong in Best Actor (although he thought Bale would be nominated in this category), one in Best Actress (he thought Charlize Theron would get in rather than Jennifer Lawrence), three in Best Supporting Actor, two in Best Supporting Actress, three in Best Original Screenplay, and two wrong in Best Foreign Language film. He did call Best Adapted Screenplay accurately. I did slightly better. Yay, me.

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Tangled Webs: Four Types of Spider-Man Artists


My latest article for the Crawlspace was a piece on the four types of Spider-Man artists: Dynamic, Street-Level, Ditkoesque, and Weird


I’d almost say this is the standard superhero art format. The people whose adventures are depicted are generally handsome and attractive, while the fight scenes are usually bright and intense. John Romita Sr, Mike Wieringo and Mark Bagley would belong in this camp. They draw Spider-Man as a science hero, doing amazing things while fighting individuals with visually impressive abilities.

You could imagine the dynamic artist doing very well on a standard Superman book. Case in point: Ross Andru’s work in the Superman/ Spider-Man crossover.


The second kind of Spider-Man artist is Street-Level. These are the guys who seem to be a better fit for drawing Batman than Superman. There’s a more down-to-earth quality, even in the superhero slugfests, and a disproportionately high number of scenes are set at night with characters obscured by shadows.

The bad guys are often going to be the types who can exist in the real world: mafia goons, carjackers, crazed gunmen with ski masks and shotguns, etc. The artwork could often be just as powerful in black and white. 21st Century John Romita Jr. and Lee Weeks would fit in this group of pencillers.

More at the Crawlspace...

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Ryan Coogler, Black Panther, and Identity Politics


Marvel announced yesterday that Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) will direct the Black Panther film.

At first glance, this appears to be a really good get for Marvel. Coogler has an impressive resume, having just made an excellent film within a popular franchise. It’s a movie that is puntuated with fight scenes, and deals with one man’s journey to live up to his father’s very public legacy, a theme that would likely be significant in Black Panther. He got tremendous performances from a young male lead, the young female lead, the acting veterans playing the mentors, and a sports star making his acting debut (as the villain). And he’s also working on a graphic novel, so the dude likes comics. He seems like the most qualified Marvel Cinematic Universe director since Kenneth Branagh. This isn’t to suggest that other directors did a bad job: Many of them just didn’t look great on paper. James Gunn had made a few independent films. Joss Whedon had some cult TV shows, and one film sequel.

The only problem wih Ryan Coogler as a director of a major supehero film is that he’s younger than I am. And that is unacceptable.


There has been a preference for identity politics with Black Panther, with the suggestion that the film should be directed by a black man, and actor Anthony Mackie getting criticized for saying that race shouldn’t matter. Coogler’s a great pick as director, but it isn’t because he’s black. First, a Black Panther film isn’t culturally African-American, since the character comes from another continent. Weirdly enough, the most successful African Director in recent years has been a white guy: Neill Blomkamp.

August Wilson had an interesting argument for why Directors should be selected sometimes for who they are, in addition to their talents.

What to do? Let’s make a rule. Blacks don’t direct Italian films. Italians don’t direct Jewish films. Jews don’t direct black American films. That might account for about 3 percent of the films that are made in this country. The other 97 percent – the action-adventure, horror, comedy, romance, suspense, western or any combination thereof, that the Hollywood and independent mills grind out – let it be every man for himself.

His way explains the success of The Godfather, Raging Bull, Do The Right Thing, Schindler’s List and Annie Hall. On the other hand, Fiddler on the Roof was directed by a protestant,  Once Upon a Time in America—about Jewish gangsterswas written and directed by an Italian, Django Unchained was written and directed by a white American, Brokeback Mountain—about a love affair between two men in Wyomingwas directed by a straight Taiwanese man.

There is another argument that African American directors need a leg up because there’s a bias preventing them from getting good jobs in the industry. I think there’s a pipeline problem more than anything else. A disproportionatley low share of black directors are given the opportunities that white directors get, for a variety of reasons (white film buffs are more likely to afford film school and get the networking opportunities, connected white guys have more resources, etc.) That means African-American directors are less likely to be in a position to be considered for a major studio release, because they’re less likely to have small budget films with name actors/ genre themes to use as a calling card.

We can point to Josh Trank, James Gunn, Marc Webb, Colin Trevorrow, Gareth Edwards, and Jon Watts as directors who jumped from a smaller budget film to a blockbuster with varying degrees of success, but their previous work can be seen as suitable auditions. However, Ryan Coogler is probably in this category. His debut film cost under a million dollars, had a recent Academy Award winner in a supporting role, and had a star making turn for Michael B Jordan.

We’re comparing apple seeds to apple juice in that promising black directors are compared to white directors who were able to direct blockbusters. The implication is that there’s discrimination if a white male gets a job, but a woman or a black man with a similar resume does not. The assumption is that every promising white male director gets that opportunity, when that’s not the case. A fairer comparison would be between two promising directors who haven’t gone for big budget films yet, just to see what happens to their careers. We could compare a promising black director to David Robert Mitchell, who got rave reviews last year for It Follows, but hasn’t announced a next project yet.

It is worth noting that Marvel does actually have another POC director in the pipeline for another film. Taika Waititi, currently in negotiations to direct Thor: Ragnarok is biracial. His mother’s Jewish, and his father is Maori (subset of Polynesian).



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If US Attorney General Was An Elected Position


Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently proposed a few changes to the constitution. This isn’t the first time elected officials or polticial pundits have suggested these kinds of changes, although it is always interesting to see the suggestions, and consider what would happen if these were in place. Abbott’s proposas include requiring a supermajority of the Supreme Court for certain decisions, and preventing Congress from regulating commerce that occurs exclusively within a state.

The most interesting proposed amendment I’ve seen came from a Slate series about potential changes to the US constitution. Garrett Epps suggested making Attorney General an elected position rather than a cabinet position, under the logic that it would be the people’s lawyer rather than the President’s. The election for that office would be held in the midterms.

He would have amended Article II Section 1 of the Constitution as follows…

Office of the Attorney General

The legal, law enforcement and investigative functions of the Department of Justice and other legal duties as shall be specified by law shall be vested in one attorney general, who shall be elected by vote of the people for a term of four years during those years in which members of Congress shall be elected but no presidential election shall be conducted.

The attorney general shall represent the United States and shall conduct the law-enforcement and investigative functions of the department, and all other duties as shall be assigned by law, in conformity with this Constitution, laws made pursuant to it and treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States. In conducting his duties, the Attorney General shall at all times safeguard the public interest.

The attorney general shall give the president legal advice, in writing, at the president’s request and at other appropriate times and shall inform the president of the actions taken by the Justice Department, and shall attend sessions of the Cabinet; however, the president may not require the resignation of the attorney general.

The attorney general shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the legal and law-enforcement policy and actions of the United States, and shall furnish to Congress information requested concerning the same, excepting only such information as may compromise ongoing legal investigations or reveal information properly classified.

Epps had made a similar argument in Salon a few years back.

Simply put, the office of the attorney general is different in kind from that of, say, secretary of the interior. Most cabinet officials are really extensions of the president. But the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer should be more independent.

That’s why we should consider making attorney general an elective position. Forty-three states have elected attorneys general; in two others, the AG is named by either the legislature or the courts. Only five states have a system of gubernatorial appointment.

The candidates for attorney general could run for office during midterm elections rather than in presidential years. This would ensure an election that would be more about the candidates themselves than the strength of presidential coattails.

And the next time a White House advisor wanted to oust prosecutors for partisan aims, or secure a legal-sounding blank check for lawless executive action, he or she would have to call across town to an attorney general who had an independent constitutional role and who could not be fired for refusing to toe the administration line.

AG Gonzalez

The plan has some advantages. I’d imagine more people would vote in midterm elections if there was at least one national campaign, and it would restrict the power of a corrupt, or just overly ambitious, President. It would establish the justice department’s independence from the White House.

However, it also forces Attorney Generals to be able to wage national campaigns. And it creates a launching pad for the White House that is limited to lawyers. I can’t help but wonder who would have won the elections, and how that would have changed the political landscape. Sometimes, it would have simply been a buddy of the President. And it would often not have been someone who would make a Salon writer happy.

Geraldine Ferraro might have been elected to the office in 1986, as a former prosecutor with national name recognition. Or the same things that doomed her senate campaigns could have doomed a bid for higher profile office. If John Kerry had run for an elected position of US Attorney General, and won in 1998—he had the resume as a former prosecutor and it was a cycle in which Democrats were competitive—he probably would have been Gore’s running mate. 2002 would almost certainly have seen the election of Rudy Giuliani—a former US Attorney with 100% name recognition at the height of his post 9/11 popularity—to the office. 2006, assuming similar political circumstances, would have been a very Democratic year. I could easily imagine a tough primary fight between a lawyer and former Vice Presidential candidate, and a popular state attorney general, resulting in the election of either Eliot Spitzer or John Edwards to national office. So it would have been interesting to see the consequences when their problems gained national prominence.


2010 was a very Republican year, although there weren’t many Republican prosecutors with national reputations. The 2012 presidential field didn’t include a former prosecutor, which is a relativelty rare development. Perhaps it would have been an opportunity for 2008 alsorans Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani to make a comeback, or for a more obscure figure to develop a national profile. Charlie Crist—a former Florida Attorney General—might have run for this office, avoiding the embarrassment and the switch to the Democratic party that came when Marco Rubio started beating him in the Senate election. 2014 would probably have been Chris Christie’s year—immensely popular Governor and former US Attorney?—allowing him to avoid the reelection bid that led to bridgegate.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, showing the consequences of one aspect of the change. The Attorney Generals would no longer be the President’s men, but they would have their own ambitions.

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Complicated and Complex Problems In The Conservative Heart

Simpsons Football

I just read Arthur Brooks’ The Conservative Heart  and there is an excellent metaphor (page 66) on the difference between problems that can be solved and those that can’t.

LBJ’s intentions were certainly good, and the goals he envisioned were noble ones. The fatal problem was his methods. They were rooted in a profound misunderstanding of what government could and could not do. The failure of Johnson’s policies to achieve his stated ends stemmed from a failure to recognize a crucial distinction: the difference between complicated problems and complex problems.

Complicated problems are extremely difficult to understand, but they can be resolved with sufficient money and brainpower. And once you find the solution, the problem is permanently solved. You can replicate the solution over and over with a high degree of success. Designing a jet engine is a complicated problem. Figuring out how to build the first jet engine took sophisticated tools, computing ability, and expert engineers. But once engineers figured out how to do it-and designed a jet engine that worked-they could replicate the process and make jet engines routinely.

Complex problems are very different. They initially seem simpler to understand but can actually never be “solved” once and for all. One example is a football game. You know exactly what success looks like it-it’s when your team wins. (In my case, it’s when the Seattle Seahawks win.) But there are so many trillions of combinations of things that can happen on the playing field, so many variables and ambiguities, that even the best data and strategies are dwarfed by the uncertainty that remains.

Liberals will try to respond to complex problems as if these are easily solvable, and this leads to further problems, as well as wasted effort.

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