The 2020 Democratic Presidential Contenders: Invisible Primary Edition

The Democratic presidential primary is pretty damn interesting, since the polling front-runners are two men in their late 70s who might not run, four other Senators who are seen as top-tier contenders are struggling in the single digits, and the current excitement seems to be about Beto. Without knowing who’s going to run we don’t really know what openings there will be, or who will benefit from split votes.

Here are my premature thoughts on this topic. This considers how well I think they’d do as President (IE- whether I would personally vote for them over Trump), as well as political considerations in the primaries and general elections. An overall caveat is that the only way for some of the more obscure candidates to shine would be by demonstrating political talent, although someone obscure might win the primaries by pandering to the base in a way that hurts their general election odds.

I’ve split potential candidates into several categories.

The Ones To Bet On…

Joe Biden- He may be the right man for the time, largely for circumstances beyond his control. If 2020 is a referendum on outsiders, it can pay to be an insider, especially one who has remained respected even after holding a high profile for over a decade (with six terms in the Senate before that). He should be effective in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Trump really has no shot without those.

Beto O’Rourke- Best positioned for the Democrats who want to continue with the excitement of 2018. The party’s wins in the other legislative races in Texas make up for losing the state as far as his reputation should be concerned. With a few terms in Congress and the next two years as a national figure, he probably meets the bare minimum threshold for national experience.

The Paper Tigers…

Cory Booker- Not terrible, but largely generic. The Wall Street ties may be a problem in the primary, and he seems like a less impressive Obama, without a telegenic family, and without representing a significant and inspirational first. He also hasn’t acquitted himself especially well on the national stage (witness his lame ‘I am Spartacus’ moment.)

Kirsten Gilibrand- A blue dog congresswoman who became a very liberal Senator the moment her constituency changed can be painted as shameless. She seems to be trying too hard to impress the intersectional left.

Kamala Harris- Hasn’t been that impressive as a Senator. Has a lot of sound bites with limited substance/ general election appeal (IE- asking the head of ICE if he’s aware that some communities see the organization as the equivalent of the KKK.) She may be the likeliest in this group to get the nomination due to California’s early primary, and the milestone the first female President would represent.

Bernie Sanders- He’s not polling all that well for a runner-up who should have high name recognition, and is seen as the leader of a major movement. He’ll be 79 on Election Day, and has alienated much of the party.

Elizabeth Warren- Very well-positioned (a progressive with ties to the establishment, Senator from the big state next to the nation’s first primary, A woman at a time when there’s a desire to finally have a female President, expert on economic anxiety at a time of it) to run for President. Has not been that impressive as a politician. See the DNA test fiasco, as well as her reelection results (she got the same percentage of the vote as Klobuchar).

Obscure/ Tough Road But High Potential…

These are candidates I could see myself voting for in a general election, but who will have a tough time making it through the primary.

Mike Bloomberg- A former Republican in his late 70s will be a tough sell in the primaries. I’m not sure he’ll do that well in the rust belt/ sun belt in the general election. His accomplishments as a businessman and mayor have been impressive, and he could buy a lot of top-tier consultants/ support.

Sherrod Brown- A swing state Senator could be strong in the general election, but he would have to break through the pack.

Steve Bullock- A small-state Western Governor will have a tough time emerging from the primary, but can be a strong contender in the general election and have any easy time making it a referendum on Trump, rather than on national Democrats.

Amy Klobuchar- Very popular in her home state. Strong appeal in key regions of the country. Would represent a major first (first female President) without any serious baggage.

Mitch Landrieu- I’ve been impressed by what I’ve heard, and he has a potential story as a popular executive who helped his city recover from Hurricane Katrina. Not sure how he gets others on his side.

I Don’t See It…

Joaquin Castro- Has probably been overshadowed by Beto. Limited relevant electoral success. His experience is exaggerated (it seems the mayor of San Antonio has limited power compared to the city manager.)

John Delaney- His congressional tenure wasn’t impressive, and his business career suggests potential pitfalls.

Tulsi Gabbard- Can be young and exciting, but way too friendly with dictators in the current environment.

Eric Garcetti- Not sure how he stands out, especially with the rural focus of early primaries.

Eric Holder- Seems to be a less effective communicator than Obama, without any proven campaign experience and no foreign policy chops.

John Hickenlooper- Seemed to be an okay but not great Governor, who hasn’t really performed that well for his state. His family life isn’t ideal (he’s a divorced elderly man who just got married to a much younger woman.)

Jay Inslee- I don’t see how he emerges from the pack.

Terry McAuliffe- This does not seem to be a cycle for a middle-aged white guy who happens to be a former DNC Chairman. The reevaluation of Bill Clinton’s personal failings is also not going to reflect well on one of his top fundraisers.

Chris Murphy- Generic younger Senator. Seems overshadowed by Beto.

Richard Ojeda- He’s a state senator who lost a bid for Congress by more than ten points. He might have a shot at winning his state primary, but his decision to run is probably harmful to his party.

Deval Patrick- He couldn’t get fifty percent of the vote running for reelection in Massachusetts (he won thanks to an independent splitting the vote) so the decision not to run was a smart one.

Tim Ryan- There are probably better blue-collar candidates among statewide officeholders. Challenging Pelosi from the right is also not going to win a Democratic primary.

Howard Schultz- Democrats don’t really seem to be as impressed by business types, and the CEO of Starbucks seems to invite too many culture wars (not only left VS right, but mom and pop VS corporation.)

Tom Steyer- A political outsider without the fame of Trump.

Eric Swallwell- Hasn’t been that impressive as a Congressman. His biggest news item has been a gaffe about how the government can use nukes if there is opposition to gun control.

Jeff Merkley- Even if Sanders doesn’t run, he’ll have a hard time standing out.

It’s a big crowd, but it would be a mistake to settle on a favorite now. It’s better if weaknesses emerge under the high scrutiny of a competitive primary.

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A Great Winter Painting


Years ago, I went to the Musee d’Orsay, and took a photo of a painting of a winter landscape that I thought was rather interesting.

The problem is that I didn’t record the name of the painting, or the name of the artist.

Now, I know.


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2018 Election Preferences


For what it’s worth, I thought I’d list my preferences in certain elections in the upcoming midterms, if only to be able to refer to it later.

I do want Republicans to maintain overall control of the US Senate. In the Arizona Senate election, I prefer Martha McSally, as Kirsten Sinema seems rather kooky in some of her older views and disingenuous in the responses to questions about those. In the Florida Senate election, I prefer Rick Scott as he’s been doing a solid job as Governor, and Bill Nelson seems like a nonentity. I’m a Republican, so I would prefer an okay Republican to an okay Democrat. In the Indiana Senate election, I prefer Mike Braun. In the Missouri Senate election, I prefer Josh Hawley. In the Nevada Senate election, I’d go with Dean Heller. In the New Jersey Senate election, I’m very pleased that Bob Hugin seems to have a shot. In the North Dakota Senate election, I support Kevin Cramer.

There are still some Democrats I’d back. In the Tennessee Senate election, Phil Bredesen has an impressive background, and has run a moderate campaign. In the Texas Senate election, I prefer Beto O’Rourke to Ted Cruz; Cruz has done three things that pretty much disqualified him in my eyes: he attacked O’Rourke for unobjectionable comments about police shootings, he publicized offensive comments James Gunn had made as an indie director- introducing those to a larger audience, and he pushed the country into the 2013 shutdown based on a poor understanding of just what the Senate can do. While the Virginia Senate election doesn’t appear to be all that competitive, Tim Kaine should win big, as Corey Stewart deserves a massive loss for a racist and Confederacy-backing campaign. California has a jungle primary so it’s two Democrats against one another, and I think her handling of the Kavanaugh mess shows that Dianne Feinstein doesn’t deserve another six years. Her opponent Kevin de León is conventionally qualified.

For overall US House control, I do prefer the Republicans. In Alaska’s At-Large Congressional District, I prefer Alyse Galvin, since incumbent Republican Don Young does not seem well. In Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, I’d go with Lea Marquez Peterson. In California’s 48th Congressional District, I’d prefer Harley Rouda, since Dana Rohrabacher deserves to lose for his pro-Russian stance. In California’s 50th Congressional District, I prefer Ammar Campa-Najjar, since incumbent Republican Duncan Hunter is running for reelection while indicted. There is a similar dynamic in New York’s 27th Congressional District, where I prefer Nate McMurray to incumbent Republican Chris Collins. In Florida’s 27th Congressional District, I like Maria Elvira Salazar. In Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, I think Will Hurd remains a valuable voice for the country. In Utah’s 4th Congressional District, I’d like to see Mia Love reelected. In Washington’s 5th Congressional District, I’d back Cathy McMorris Rodgers for reelection. In Washington’s 8th Congressional District, I support Dino Rossi, a decent guy with a history of risky and unsuccessful statewide bids.

Some Republican Governors up for reelection are among the most popular executives in the country (Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont) so the elections aren’t considered competitive. Beyond that, in the Arizona gubernatorial election, I’d back Doug Ducey. In the Florida gubernatorial election, I hope Ron DeSantis wins, and in Georgia’s gubernatorial election, I prefer Brian Kemp. This is more about Abrams and Gillum being too progressive than the strengths of the Republicans. In the Iowa gubernatorial election, I’d like to see Kim Reynolds be reelected. In the Kansas gubernatorial election, Democrat Laura Kelly is preferable to Kris Kobach, who has done more damage to election security reforms than anyone else. In the Maine gubernatorial election, I’d prefer Shawn Moody, who has an interesting background as a former third-party candidate. In the Nevada gubernatorial election, I’d back Adam Laxalt. In the Ohio gubernatorial election, Richard Cordray seems preferable to the Republican nominee, an elderly extremist. In the Oregon gubernatorial election, I’m rooting for Knute Beuller. In the Wisconsin gubernatorial election,  I hope Scott Walker gets reelected. In the Minnesota Attorney General election, I’m glad Doug Wardley is leading Keith Ellison in polls.

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A BS Allegation Against Brett Kavanaugh

The Brett Kavanaugh hearing is one of the most interesting news items of the last decade. It touches on so many issues, involving sexual assault, male culture, how seriously we should take one allegation, media bias, etc.

On the Kavanaugh story, two journalists posted the same criticism based on an article of the Intercept.

The first is Taegan Goddard of Political Wire.

The Intercept reports that Brett Kavanaugh lied during his testimony about having no connections to Yale when he said, “I have no connections there. I got there by busting my tail.”

In fact, he was a legacy student: His grandfather, Everett Edward Kavanaugh, also went to Yale as an undergrad, as this yearbook shows.

The second is Molly Olmstead of Slate.

At one point in the testimony, when Kavanaugh was making the point that he had worked hard and earned his success, Kavanaugh told the committee that he had no connections to Yale before attending. “I have no connections there,” he said. “I got there by busting my tail.”

In reality, Kavanaugh was a legacy student. His grandfather, Everett Edward Kavanaugh, attended Yale as an undergraduate. The Intercept published a photo of a 1928 yearbook as evidence:

Looking at the transcript, he said something different. His comments weren’t about Yale, but about Yale Law School.

KAVANAUGH: I would refer you to what I said in the sealed or redacted portion about his relationship with the other two roommates, and I’m going to leave it at that. I will say – Senator, you were asking about college.

I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.

One can easily say that it’s ridiculous for a Yale undergrad to claim no connection to Yale Law School, but that isn’t the argument made here. There is a transparently false interpretation about what he said.

I’m curious as to how respectable journalists got this wrong, and what that means. Is the rush for content just preventing them from doing due diligence, or is this caused by bias of some kind? What makes this ironic and hypocritical is that it comes in the context of arguments about whether Brett Kavanaugh is too dishonest to be on the Supreme Court.

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Movies Watched in 2018 Part 6


This is a continuation of notes on films I saw this year, following Part 1Part 2 Part 3, and Part 4. and Part 5. I’m keeping track of some features of the films. and set myself a few sub-challenges. Because of a vacation to Ireland (well worth it) I figured I’d watch five Irish films, defined as films shot or set in Ireland. With the recent purchase of a John Ford box set, I figured I’d watch five of his films; there was some overlap. I had a trial subscription to the Shudder streaming service, so I thought I’d watch five films from that. While working on an article on whether “Medievals” should be a genre, I also determined I’d watch five of those, and added five directorial debuts and five Japanese films.

Movie #151/ New Movie #95/ 1960s Movie #15/ Directorial Debut #1/ Irish Film #1: Dementia 13
Francis Ford Coppola’s first film is a combination of Psycho and Rebecca, as a shady American discovers her Irish husband’s family secrets, and runs afoul a slasher. The Corman produced film is sometimes amateurish and excessive, especially with the fate of a woman swimming in her underwear, but it does have a good sense of atmosphere and details.

Movie #152/ New Film #96/ 2018 Movie #17/ Tom Cruise Film #7/ Theatrical Release #34: Mission Impossible Fallout
This is a series where I keep thinking the newest entry is the best, and the latest is no exception. It’s got excellent action set pieces and a sense of humor, with a solid focus on Cruise’s allies. The swerves might get excessive, but this is a lot of fun.

Movie #153/ New Movie #97/ 1970s Movie #11/ Japanese Film #1/ Shudder Collection #1/ Directorial Debut #2: Female Prisoner #701- Scorpion
This Tarantino favorite is a visually striking revenge saga, although quite lurid, as can be expected from a Japanese women in prison film. The direction is visually striking for a freshman effort.


Movie #154/ New Movie #98/ 1970s Movie #12/ Japanese Film #2/ Shudder Collection #2: Female Prisoner Scorpion- Jailhouse 41
The sequel to the Japanese women in prison saga is probably more creative when it comes to the cinematography, and darker when it comes to the criticism of the treatment of women. The supporting characters shine, even if some of the stories are quite messed up.

Movie #155/ New Movie #99/ 2000s Movie #3/ Japanese Film #12; Western Sukiyaki Django
This reimagining is a strange film, putting a legendary Japanese clan rivalry in the context of American westerns. There are some great moments, especially with the revelations about the world’s best gunsmith.

Movie #156/ New Movie #100/ 2010s Movie #12/ Directorial Debut #2/ Shudder Collection #3: Resolution
Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead’s debut is set in the same world as The Endless, and it does have a similar approach of ordinary people trying to figure out an ancient force, while also dealing with their own issues. It’s okay by itself, and as a prototype to a bigger and better film.

Movie #157/ New Movie #101/ 1950s Movie #11/ Russian Film #/ Criterion Edition #31/ The A-List #: The Cranes are Flying
This Russian drama is a beautifully shot take on the effects of war on a society, and the people who don’t get to fight.

Movie #158/ New Movie #102/ 2010s Movie #13/ Irish Films #2: The Irish Pub
This was a fun documentary on the people who run the Irish pubs, as they deal with change, the weight of history and the time commitments of a job where there isn’t any chance for vacations or days off.

Movie #159/ New Movie #103/ 1940s Movie #16/ Japanese Films #4/ Criterion Collection #32: Women of the Night
Kenji Mizoguchi’s sympathetic take on women forced to make difficult decisions in post-war Japan is often powerful, but sometimes clunky. Granted, subtlety isn’t really to be expected from this type of movie.


Movie #160/ New Movie #104/ 1960s Movie #16/ Czech Films #1/ Medieval #1/ Criterion Collection #33: Marketa Lazarová
This take on 13th century Czechoslovakia is beautiful, and gives a tremendous sense of what it was like to live in that era. I can appreciate why it’s the most popular Czech movie ever made. It’s worth rewatching to get a better appreciation of the sagas of all the side characters, who are more fully-realized than many leads

Movie #161/ 1950s Movie #12/ Irish Films #3/ John Ford Films #1: The Quiet Man
This Wayne/ Ford collaboration about an American who returns to his native Ireland is lovely (taking advantage of the setting) and fun. It can be a bit low-stakes, although the conflicts do matter to the characters, and that part is depicted well.

Movie #162/ New Film #105/ 2018 Movie #18/ Theatrical Release #35: BlackkKlansman
Man, I hope this film gets Spike Lee his first Best Director nomination. It tackles some heavy issues, but it’s a lot of fun. Great cinematography, and supporting performances. It’s clearly a message movie, but there’s enough historical material for the message to work (If David Duke goes to the Charlottesville rally, it fits a film about an undercover investigation into his organization).

Movie #163/ New Movie #106/ Silent Movie #12/ Irish Films #4/ John Ford Films #2: The Hangman’s House
This film about a judge’s daughter forced into an unhappy marriage was a bit disappointing, and often dated.

Movie #164/ New Movie #107/ 2010s Movie #14/ Shudder Collection #4/ Irish Film #5: Cherry Tree
This Irish horror film is terrible, and flawed on so many levels. There’s a germ of an idea that has potential with witches who force a teenage girl to do their bidding, but it struggles in terms of dialogue, worldbuilding, acting, and everything to do with the execution.

Movie #165/ New Movie #108/ 1970s Movie #13/ Shudder Collection #5/ Medieval #2: Mark of the Devil
I wanted to check this out since I really enjoyed The Witchfinder General, the success of which led to this film. It lacks the wit, but works as an indictment of the abuses of the time, depicted with suitable outrage. The focus on a witchfinder’s apprentice gives a different insight into that perspective, even if it goes way too far at times.

wag the dog

Movie #166/ 1990s Movie #12: Wag the Dog
This is a great take by David Mamet on politics and storytelling, with Dustin Hoffman’s producer going to an end that is sad but inevitable, and elevates it beyond memorable satire (although that part is way too believable now).

Movie #167/ 1990s Movie #13/ Medieval #3: Robin Hood Prince of Thieves
The acting quality here is wildly inconsistent (Freeman’s moor and Rickman’s sheriff of Nottingham are great; Costner and Slater seem to be in the wrong movie) but it’s often fun.

Movie #168/ New Movie #109/ 1930s Movie #14/ John Ford Films #3: Judge Priest
This relatively short John Ford film about a wise judge does highlight Will Rogers’ natural affableness (we can understand how he was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet) but the story is low-stakes, and the racial dynamics are quite outdated (the black characters are caricatures, everybody loves the Confederacy.)

Movie #169/New Movie #110/ Silent Movie #13/ Fritz Lang Film #6/ German Film #6/ Medieval #4: Die Nibelungen: Siegfried
Including the sequel, this Fritz Lang fantasy saga is probably the longest silent film I’ve ever seen. The first half has astounding production design, and comes across as a dark tragic fairy tale. It’s silly and fun, and then things get twisted.

Movie #170/ New Movie #111/ 1930s Movie #15/ John Ford Films #4: Steamboat ‘Round The Bend
This was rather similar to Judge Priest, with Will Rogers in another John Ford film playing a southerner whose best friend is played by Stepin Fetchit, and whose nephew is getting married to a girl from a lower class. But it’s significantly better. A key difference is that Rogers is better suited to be a minor scam artist than a paragon of virtue and wisdom, especially with the Southern setting. There are also higher stakes with a nephew facing the possibility of hanging, and a better satire of something specific: the religious fervor of the era.

Movie #171/ New Movie #112/ 1960s Movie #17/ Directorial Debut #3/ Criterion Collection #34/ Czech Film #2: Closely Watched Trains
Perhaps the best known film of the Czech new wave, this look at the life of a young train conductor in World War 2 is pretty effective at capturing an unambitious man who freaks out due to problems with women. It’s a bit incongruous but it works to show that it’s the height of World War 2 and he’s involved in all sorts of intrigues, but all he wants to do is get laid, which functions as an effective satire of a genre that doesn’t exist yet: the teen sex comedy.


Movie #172/New Movie #113/ Silent Movie #14/ Fritz Lang Film #7/ German Film #7/ Medieval #5: Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge
The conclusion to Fritz Lang’s fantasy epic takes the series in a deeper direction, more like Sophocles, as brother and sister are drawn to a tragic final confrontation due to differing feelings of guilt, loyalty and a desire for revenge. Brilliant set design and silent storytelling.

Movie #173/ New Movie #114/ 2016 Movie #7/ Science Fiction Film #4: Passengers
I’m familiar with the film, mainly as a notable flop, and it’s worth examining why that is. There’s some stuff it does quite well (little details about the sci-fi world, Michael Sheen’s robot bartender) and stretches where things get dull. I read the screenplay before, so I had been familiar with the moment that disappointed readers, and I kept being reminded of Nerdwriter’s argument that it should have been structured differently, although there is more to the shortcomings. Fantastic production design.

Movie #174/ New Movie #115/ 2000s Movie #13: Ghosts of the Abyss
It’s a solid documentary (very impressive in 3D) about the ruins of the Titanic, which takes for granted audience familiarity with the subject matter (I didn’t remember that Bill Pullman was even in the damn film) but highlights the power of history and the iconic nature of this one tragedy.

Movie #175/ New Film #116/ 1980s Movie #12/ Directorial Debut #4: Blood Simple
This is an astoundingly impressive debut for the Coen Brothers as directors, for Frances McDormand as lead actress, and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfield. The Coens’ philosophy is fully formed, in a tragedy of cascading consequences as people without all the information make fatal decisions after a hitman gets hired by a jealous husband. Little details make the characters seem believable, like people who have known one another for years, but aren’t quite aware of what others are capable of, which informs their own decisions.


Movie #176/ 1950s Movie #13/ Japanese Film #5/ Criterion Edition #35: The Hidden Fortress
Best known as a major influence on Star Wars, this samurai saga is several excellent tales, as a princess flees her pursuers, a fallen samurai seeks redemption, and two idiotic bandits seek treasure. Excellent witty action-adventure story in its own right that balances tragedy and humor, with high-class and low-lives. Misa Uehara’s Princess Yuki is one of the best female leads of the genre, and it’s nice to see Toshiro Mifune playing a badass with nobility.

Movie #177/ 1990s Movie #14/ Directorial Debut #5: The Shawshank Redemption
One of the most popular movies ever made remains pretty damn good. The central story of two men forming a friendship in prison, and getting used to changes works so well that it hides two big secrets: the first about what someone did before they were in jail, and the second about what someone’s been up to while no one’s looking. It sets up one of the biggest reveals in film, but it’s enjoyable before that happens, even with all the messed up aspects of prison life.

Movie #178/ New Movie #117/ 1950s Movie #14/ Theatrical Release #36: This Can’t Happen Here
Bergman disavowed this early effort, which is of interest to several groups. Aficionados of his work will be curious about the seeds of his later films. Spy fans might be interested in how one of the great directors handles a Hitchcock/ Fritz Lang style mystery (and the answer is that it’s okay enough). It’s also interesting to explore in the context of the metaphor for the experience of Baltics fleeing the Soviet Union (my grandparents were Estonian refugees, and my Aunt was born in Sweden) and what this suggests about their lives.

Movie #179/  2000s Movie #14: Eurotrip
This is a lot of fun within the genre of teen sex comedies. The cast isn’t that great, but it does have some great bits (Scotty Doesn’t Know!) and takes advantage of the European setting quite well.

Movie #180/ 1940s Movie #17/ John Ford Films #5: How Green Was My Valley
This movie’s overshadowed by the injustice of Orson Welles losing Best Picture and Best Director. It remains a solid take on a young boy becoming a man, in a society that is full of love and sometimes deeply flawed. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Walter Pidgeon as a lovelorn pastor.

And a roundup…

Best Film: The Shawshank Redemption

Best New Film: Marketa Lazerova

Best Irish Film: The Quiet Man

Best John Ford Film: How Green Was My Valley

Best Directorial Debut: The Shawshank Redemption

Best Japanese Film: The Hidden Fortress

Best Film on Shudder: Female Prisoner Scorpion- Jailhouse 41 (although there are some better films on the service that I’ve already seen, including Battle Royale, November (Recent addition- Congrats Estonia!), Run Lola Run, The Host, The Descent, The Wicker Man, Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Sunday

Best Medieval: Marketa Lazerova

Worst Movie: Cherry Falls




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The Best Candidate Since Ike


An year ago, I made the argument on another forum that John McCain was the best General Election candidate either political party has had for President since General Dwight Eisenhower, so with his passing, it seems to be a good time to expand on that a little bit.

There are a few caveats here. I’m only including General Election candidates, so promising individuals who ran but did not get the nomination aren’t included. I am a Republican, so I would have a bias against Democrats, as I fundamentally disagree with the direction they want to take the country, or have tried to take the country. I’m not inclined to believe the best presidential candidate in the last 50+ years has been one of the twelve Democrats.

The obvious favorite of conservatives is Ronald Reagan, who I do think was a good President, but there was some shady business (Iran-Contra.) He also put a lot of support in astrology.

Richard Nixon was the Republican nominee for President on three separate occasions, and I doubt there’s anyone who thinks he’s in contention in the category of best nominee. Barry Goldwater held some extreme positions, and gets a lot of credit for writing Conscience of a Conservative, one of the fundamental explanations of the Republican ideology. However, L. Brent Bozell Jr. was responsible for much of the intellectual heavy lifting.

Ford was kinda bland. The Bushes had their problems. Dole cried at Nixon’s funeral. Romney was out of touch.

Within this crowd, McCain’s problems aren’t as significant. And I’m more simpatico with his generally conservative but sometimes independent political positions than with any other President/ candidate in generations. He was better at his earlier job than most nominees, and worked across the aisle to get results at issues that matter.

He did suffer a significant loss as a nominee, but his main problem was that he ran in the worst environment for a Republican since 1964. That he kept the spread to single digits is a miracle. I remember a statistic that he won every state where George W Bush had an approval rating above 35 percent.

As an aside, McCain also had one of the best campaign videos I’ve ever seen.


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Movies Watched in 2018 Part 5


This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year, following Part 1Part 2 Part 3, and Part 4. I set myself a challenge of watching ten films per decade (counting the silent era as one decade) allowing for recent films with additional goals of ten films from 2016, seventeen from 2017, and eighteen from 2018. In this section, I aimed to close out the decades (I have plenty of time to catch up on films from the last three years), while adding some sub-challenges: Five films that have won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Since I did best actress before), Five films from the The A List: The National Society Of Film Critics’ 100 Essential FilmsFive films from Empire’s Top 100 Foreign Language films, and Five more French films (there is admittedly overlap).

Movie #121/ New Movie #71/ 1940s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #23/ The A-List #1: The Palm Beach Story
This was a charming Sturges comedy, although maybe not on the level of Miracle on Morgan’s Creek or Sullivan’s Travels. There are some great set pieces, especially when a group of rich maniacs on a quail and ail junket go nuts on a train, and the bookends. Rudy Vallee is the standout as an absentminded Rockefeller type who is clearly the basis for Tony Curtis’ pretend multimillionaire in Some Like It Hot.

Movie #122/New Movie #72/ Silent Movie #9/ Criterion Edition #24/  Best Actor Winner  #1: The Last Command
The first “Best Actor” winner tells two stories in 85 minutes: a Russian general’s doomed romance, and a bookend  about his experiences in Hollywood after he’s been humbled (this is pretty ahead of its time.) Sternberg delivers impressive visuals, while Emil Jannings brings some impressive silent era gravitas to the proceedings.


Movie #123/ New Movie #73/ 1990s Movie #6/ Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #1: Hard Boiled
I could accept that this is one of the best Hong Kong action movies ever, and that isn’t a knock against the genre. John Woo’s film combines twisted action sequences, and some cop movie cliches (guess what happens to the partner talking about retirement), with a story about undercover cops, bureaucracy and independence. Chow Yun Fat and Tony Cheung make an excellent duo.

Movie #124/ New Film #74/ 1970s Movie #8/ Russian Film #2/ Criterion Edition #25/ Science Fiction Film #9: Stalker
This is a beautiful and strange film that seems to be part of a subgenre of science fiction exploring strange world that are pretty much similar to our own (Alphaville is another one.) It’s slow, but has some truly astounding sequences, and worldbuilding that turns  abandoned Estonian power plants (that might have given everyone involved cancer) into something otherwordly.

Movie #125/New Movie #75/ Silent Movie #10: 7th Heaven
The first winner of the Best Director and Best Actress Academy awards has its charms, as well as its excesses in a sweet, sometimes over the top story of reluctant romance. Damien Chazelle has an interesting view of its ending.

Movie #126/ New Movie #76/ 1950s Movie #9 : Love in the Afternoon
I’ve enjoyed Billy Wilder, Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, and Maurice Chevalier’s other work, so this seemed like an interesting combo; a story of mistaken identity as Hepburn plays a detective’s daughter in love with a playboy targeted by her father’s clients. It does have some funny bits, and something o say about growing up too quickly, although it is hurt by Cooper’s age, and the 1950s assumption that there’s only one way the story should end.

Movie #127/ New Movie #77/ 2018 Movie #13/ Theatrical Release #28: The Incredibles 2
The sequel to one of the best superhero films had high expectations given the wait, and it ends up being a decent film elevated by some inspired gags and sequences, which isn’t bad but it is a bit of a letdown from what had come before.

Movie #128/ New Movie #78/ 1980s Movie #8/ French Film #7/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #2: Jean De Florette
These two films are a bit difficult to gauge because they were produced at the same time, adapted from the same novel, and are now generally viewed together, although wach of the two halves has a unique identity in focusing on a rivalry during different eras, even if the biggest moment in the films-and one of the best revelations ever in film-comes in the second, as a way to reevaluate tragedy in the first.  For a movie about two flawed Frenchmen, of the Souberyan family, who drive a rival to ruin in an effort to get land cheap, it is quite beautiful and very watchable. Gerard Depardieu is a standout as the world’s most charming hunchback.


Movie #129/ New Movie #79/ 1980s Movie #9/ French Film #8/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #3: Manon De Spring
The sequel/ second half brings a different energy to the proceedings through Emmanuelle Béart’s titular Manon, the grown-up version of a child from the first film, as she uncovers secrets and seeks revenge for a wrongdoing. The Souberyans have a strong arc, as the younger falls for her and goes too far in his love. There’s no war or gunfire, but this is one of the great cinematic family epics.

Movie #130/ New Film #80/ 1990s Movie #7/ Best Actor Winner #2: Shine
Geoffrey Rush’s starmaking turn as a musician struggling with mental illness is excellent: he captures the struggles as well as the joy. The film is sometimes overwrought, and there are some artistic decisions that are difficult to defend (the erasure of his first wife and their four children in a movie that relies on truth for its power is quite dishonest.)

Movie #131/ New Movie #81/ 1970s Movie #9/ The A-List #2: Enter the Dragon
The story’s a bit of a mishmash of martial arts and James Bond, as a former Shaolin fighting monk calls for a tournament on the secret island where he runs his drug cartel and fends off British intelligence. That part’s handled well enough, but the material is elevated by Bruce Lee, demonstrating why he’s so legendary in the fight scenes, as well as solid sidekicks in John Saxon and Jim Kelly, who add charisma to the film’s token white and black guys.

Movie #132/ New Movie #82/ 2018 Movie #14/ Theatrical Release #29: Inheritance
This horror film works on a few levels. It’s pretty compelling in its take on a dysfunctional family on a downward spiral after the death of an unpleasant matriarch. It’s a creepy film about the supernatural that builds its mythology slowly and nicely. Toni Colette is excellent as a frayed mother trying to deny her mental health issues. There are some nice creepy touches that make it even better. It’s not always enjoyable, although it is true to the characters, who are reserved in ways that aren’t sympathetic. The film is hard to predict, especially with one powerful sequence coming in the son’s story.


Movie #133/  1980s Movie #10/ Theatrical Release #30: Tootsie
I was lucky enough to catch this on the big screen with a group that had never seen it before, and the responses were quite positive. It’s a film that’s able to outrun the ways it might initially appear dated (IE- In the assumption that a man should tell women how to gain respect) partly because of how specific Dustin Hoffman’s performance is, both as Tootsie and as a struggling actor who has pissed off everyone in New York. The film has a lot of fun with the gender-swapping, and strong side performances from the people hurt and sometimes just bewildered by Michael Dorsey’s single-minded pursuit of ACTING. It remains one of the funniest movies ever made.

Movie #134/ New Movie #83/ 2018 Movie #15/ Theatrical Release #31: Antman and the Wasp
It’s an average MCU film (given the quality of Homecoming, Black Panther and Infinity War, this might now be below-average) which means it’s quite enjoyable, combining sci-fi (and a little bit of 50s monsters) with capers. The earlier cast is solid as ever, and the additions work pretty well, with Walton Goggins’ gentleman crime boss, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the founding Avenger Wasp as standouts, while mostly building nicely on earlier relationships and the chaos of Antman’s last appearance in one of the big crossover films.

Movie #135/ 1970s Movie #10/ Theatrical Release #32/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #4: Suspiria
Argento’s masterpiece has a terrific sense of design, and an iconic soundtrack, with a great sense of atmosphere and mystery before we find out exactly what’s going on in the Tanz Dance Academy.

Movie #136/ 1950s Movie #10/ The A-List #3: All About Eve
The theatrical backstabbing comes with an exceptional cast (one won an Oscar; four others were nominated and all deserved it) and possibly wit than any film ever. There might not be a better film about the well-trod territory of the making of art, or of social-climbing and the conflicts with the people you meet on the way up and down. Bette Davis’ diva is just one of the best lead roles of any film ever, a mix of nastiness, vulnerability and wills.


Movie #137/ New Movie #84/ 1960s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #26/ French Movie #9: A Woman is a Woman 
Visually clever Godard film that remains worthwhile largely for the natural radiance of Anna Karina, and some interesting cinematic tricks.

Movie #138/ New Film #85/ 1990s Movie #8: White Hunter, Black Heart
This Hollywood Roman a clef, ostensibly on the making of The African Queen, started out a bit dull, with the adventures of white people in Africa wasting their time, a bit like a less visually interesting version of Out of Africa. But it did set up a gutpunch of an ending that shows that Eastwood and company understand the problems with how the characters are acting.

Movie #139/ New Movie #86/ 1960s Movie #13/ Criterion Edition #27/ French Movie #10: Alphaville
A sci-fi noir in a similar subgenre of Stalker, where an A-list director tells a story about a futuristic world without changing the visual frames of references. It largely moves with dreamlike logic, although it’s interesting rather than truly compelling in its own right.

Movie #140/ New Movie #87/ 1990s Movie #9/ French Movie #11: A Single Girl 
This 1990s French art-house film is very well-made, and stylistically ahead of its time, telling the story of a major moments in a French teenager’s life (her first hour working in a hotel, telling her boyfriend she’s pregnant) mostly in real-time, though all the conversations and meanderings that typical films would skip are compelling in their own right, in terms of what they reveal about character, and move the lead to the decisions she still has to make.

Movie #141/ New Movie #88/ 2018 Movie #16/ Theatrical Release #33: Sorry to Bother You
The parody of modern corporate culture probably has too much on its plate, covering radical artists, reality TV, the power of a black man with a white voice, growing inequality resulting in slavery, and a freaky twist about genetic engineering. The cast is okay, but the story goes all over the place, as evident by the multiple endings.

Movie #142/ 1930s Movie #13/ French Film #12/ The A-List #4/ Criterion Edition #28: L’Atalante
What makes Vigo’s only feature-length film so satisfying isn’t the story since those beats have been done before (although it is quite good in the “boy loses girl, wins her back” genre) but in the characters, and the little moments of wonder (a seasoned seaman’s collection of curiosities) and disappointment (a skipper’s wife realizing she won’t get to see Paris during a journey.)

Rome Open City

Movie #143/ New Film #89/ 1940s Movie #13/ Italian Film #6/ Empire Top 100 Foreign Films #5/ The A-List #4/ Criterion Edition #29: Rome Open City
This take on Rome during the Nazi occupation feels real, urgent and powerful. Part of it may be the story behind the film with Rosselini and company working on it immediately after Rome gained its independence, but while the rest of Italy was still occupied. That leads to a documentary style that fits the material very well. The performances are tremendous, particularly the star turn by Anna Magini as a pregnant widow whose fiancee is involved in the resistance, and Albo Fabrizi as a priest doing his part. People do some stupid, irrational things during the chaos, but it’s all believable.

Movie #144/ New Film #90/ 1990s Movie #10/ Italian Film #7/ Best Actor Winner #3: Life is Beautiful
This film has some major tonal shifts, with Roberto Benigni depicting someone out of a classic Hollywood comedy in 1940s Italy, transporting the guy to a concentration camp where he has to keep his son safe. Sometimes the film veers into bad taste (a scene where he argues with the son about whether the kid should take a shower) but it is often powerful in how he has to use wits that served him in one way under much darker circumstances.

Movie #145/ New Film #91/ 1940s Movie #14/ Best Actor Winner #4: Sergeant York
This war film by a director and actor who have done better work elsewhere isn’t bad, but it does show the value of editing when compared to more recent profiles of war heroes (Hacksaw Ridge, American Sniper) which are better film. It spends a majority of the time on Alvin York before he joined the army, which may be relevant given his religious salvation, but it does mean the heroism (and the first time he was outside his state) gets short shrift, even if there is some impressive payoff.


Movie #146/ New Movie #92/ Silent Movie Era #11/ The A-List #5: Thief of Bagdad
This silent take on the Arabian nights is a lovely fantasy epic and a great centerpiece for Douglas Fairbanks, the biggest action star of the silent era.

Movie #147/ New Film #93/ 1940s Movie #15/ Criterion Edition #30: Waiting for Mr. Jordan
Probably the best version of a story that’s been retold several times (by Warren Beatty as Heaven Can Wait, and Chris Rock as Down to Earth) with a surprising amount of worldbuilding on the rules of heaven as a boxer finds his soul has been placed in a different body. It leads to some inspired comedy, as he tries to convince his loved ones of what has happened, while accidentally interfering with a murder.

Movie #148/ New Film #94/ 1980s Movie #11: Moscow Elegy
This documentary about Tarkoysky’s last years has some interesting material on the great director, although it suffers from a lack of context with the film clips. I get that the audience in 1988 might be expected to know his work and get the references to what was going on at the Soviet Union at the time, although there are other weaknesses (IE- the clips of unrestored versions of his work have less power in the modern era.) At times, it seems to have homages to Tarkovsky, but it comes across as pretentious rather than meaningful.

Movie #149/ 1960s Movie #14/ Best Actor Winner #5: My Fair Lady
One of the highlights of the 50s/ 60s musicals, with great performances by Harrison, Hepburn and Stanley Hollaway. It’s not clearly better than Pygmalion, though it feels different with the addition of great tunes and some lovely color sets. The focus on what happens after Higgins and Dolittle complete their challenge is quite satisfying, and built up nicely.

Movie #150/ 1990s Movie #11: Stargate
It is worth respecting the relatively slow burn in this Roland Emmerich sci-fi action film, as it takes a while for the heroes to get to the new world beyond the stargate, and to encounter the villain. There’s promise, but it is often just too silly, lacking the wit and cleverness of decent sci-fi.

And the round-up…

Best Film: All About Eve
Best Film I Hadn’t Seen Before: Thief of Bagdad
Best French Film: L’Atalante
Best Movie I Saw In Theaters: Tootsie
Best “Best Actor” Winner: Life is Beautiful (“My Fair Lady” is probably a slightly better film.)
Best A-List film: Thief of Bagdad
Best Empire Top 100 Foreign Movies Film: Open City
Worst Film: Moscow Elegy

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