The Northam/ Fairfax Mess

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Democratic politics in Virginia is a train wreck right now. It’s only been going on for a few days, starting when Governor Ralph Northam made comments about a proposed bill to expand the legality of late-term abortion that seemed to endorse infanticide if the mother wanted it. Shortly after that, someone leaked his page from a medical school yearbook, which included a photograph of a young white man in blackface hugging a member of the KKK. It seems the leaker was upset about Northam’s comments on abortion.

Early on, when the wider Democratic response was uncertain, I respected the ideological consistency of any liberals calling for Northam’s resignation. It was a stupid and unprecedented move to demand resignation for something anyone did in medical school, twenty years before they were in public office, that wasn’t a crime, but it was a bold move. It also seems shortsighted for the generation under 35 to declare that stupid things said some time ago can be disqualifying at 60, when we don’t even know what the big controversies will be a generation from now, and there are more records than ever about everything we’ve said and believed.

What Northam said then was stupid and outrageous, but there’s a middle ground between thinking racism is cool, and a bad joke in a textbook 35 years ago is cause for resignation. It should have been cause for an apology and some mockery.

However, there is a recent acknowledgement of blackface, which is seen as emblematic of other problems: the lack of roles for African-Americans for films, the lack of representation, the dangers of stereotypes. The Florida Secretary of State resigned after a blackface Halloween photo came out, although he was also mocking Hurricane Katrina survivors with his costume, and was an elected official at the time of the photo.

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Democrats have made some comparisons between Northam and the likes of Roy Moore , Steve King and President Trump, suggesting that they’re more willing to do the right thing and abandon troublesome figures. Steve King lost all of his committee assignments, leaders in the party have called on him to resign, and he already has a prominent primary challenger in State Senator Randy Feenstra.

The allegations of Moore dating teenagers as a thirty-something prosecutor came out after he won the nomination for Senate, so abandoning him would cost the party. The media didn’t release the tape from Trump on the set of Access Hollywood in 2006 until he was the Republican nominee for President. It’s convenient for Democrats to call for Northam’s resignation when there’s a Democratic Lieutenant Governor waiting to take over, just as it was convenient for Democrats to call for Franken’s resignation in a state where the Democratic Governor was able to pick a replacement, and when it could be used as a cudgel against both Trump and Moore (at the time a nominee in the special election.) Nate Silver noted the political upside in replacing Franken. In these cases, there isn’t much cost for the party for upholding principles in a way that allows them to posture in the future.

There were also plenty of Democrats who didn’t like Northam. Leftists much preferred his primary opponent, former Congressman Tom Perriello. The identity politics crowd would be happy with the elevation of Justin Fairfax, the young African-American Lieutenant Governor.

I don’t think Democrats are a hivemind, so motives vary. Some people are legitimately hurt by what Northam did, or believe his failure to address this earlier in his political career makes his current judgement suspect. But there are limited costs for calling for his resignation. Once there’s a bandwagon, there’s no bravery in it.

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There have been some good arguments against Northam’s regisnation. Eugene Volokh considers the implications for the future.

Consider what standard we’re trying to set for the future. If it’s “people who are lying today about their bad behavior from 35 years ago shouldn’t be in high office,” that may be sensible. If it’s “people who committed serious crimes 35 years ago, for which they weren’t punished, shouldn’t be in high office,” that may be sensible. (Again, I don’t believe that Justice Kavanaugh was guilty on those counts, but that goes to the particular facts related to those accusations, and not the general principle of what should have been done if the accusations were accurate.)

But if it’s “people who said or did offensive things 35 years ago shouldn’t be in high office,” or even “people who expressed racist / sexist / anti-gay / anti-Semitic / etc. opinions 35 years ago shouldn’t be in high office,” that’s a very different thing. It’s tarring someone forever for minor misconduct (again, I note that major misconduct would be a different matter), without considering whether he may have developed better judgment and better views from age 25 to age 60. It’s rejecting the possibility that people actually get wiser as they get older — that they grow up — that they improve their judgments, their beliefs, and their conduct.

And it’s potentially depriving the nation of many valuable public servants because of a dumb thing they did long ago. Northam’s specific past behavior (again, I’m setting aside the newly emerging denial, and whether it’s a false denial) may not be that common. But consider all the other things that can be blown up into similar hurricanes. Maybe some people (black, white, or of any other race) quoted some sexist lyrics. Or maybe they expressed anti-gay views, which they may now regret. (Lots of people’s minds have changed in 35 years about sexual orientation, as they have changed about what is so racially offensive that it shouldn’t be said.) Or maybe they praised people who shot at police officers, or said nasty things about American soldiers. Or maybe they told jokes about Jews or gays or Puerto Ricans or men or women, whether or not those jokes actually reflected their own serious views about such matters.

Or maybe they did things that actually risked physically harming people, rather than just offending them. Maybe, for instance, they drove drunk — poor judgment, potentially very dangerous, not something we’d want of a sitting Governor — but doesn’t it matter that it happened three decades ago rather than today?

If you want to go after Northam for his current views on abortion, go ahead. If you want to go after him because you think he’s lying today about what happened then, go ahead. But calling for him to resign because of his bad judgment (or even his racist views, if you think he actually held such views then) from 35 years ago — what kind of country would we be creating if that were really adopted as the rule?

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Robert A. George of the Daily News addressed the argument that everyone at the time knew a blackface photo was unacceptable. Except for Northam (if he was in the photo), whoever the other person in the photo was, whoever took the photo, the faculty advisor to a Med School yearbook, and any student editors.

After much fun at Northam’s expense, a serious though: A few tweets have run along the lines of, “Even in the South, 35 years ago, everyone knew that wearing a Klan outfit or blackface was racist.” Having been in college myself at that time, I started nodding.

But then I pause. EVERYONE knew that this type of behavior is racist? That means Northam must have been racist (he admits in his Friday statement that what he did was racist). It means his partner in crime was racist. But there was a compiler/editor of the yearbook, right?

That supposedly responsible person accepted Northam’s photo. — and let it go, right? Was there a faculty advisor? Did that person approve it too? My point here is that either everyone knew this was something REALLY ugly and racist OR they were doing something what they bizarrely thought was “funny” and no one stopped to think, “Oh, it’s funny, but really ugly and maybe we shouldn’t do it.” IOW, the 20/20 hindsight we have now that EVERYONE knew this was something you didn’t do might not have been as strong back then.

The rest of the twitter thread is worth checking out.

If this had been all there was to the story, Northam would have resigned. Fairfax would be Governor. This would largely be forgotten, except for the larger question of whether we’re going too far as a society in our unwillingness to forgive past offences. The main impact might be people deciding they would rather not seek public office, lest they be defined by stupid decisions decades earlier.

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But then it turned out that a woman had accused Fairfax of sexual assault. These allegations did not come out of the blue. The woman went to the Washington Post in 2017.

Allahpndit of Hot Air compared the allegations against Fairfax to those against Brett Kavanaugh.

The Post says it called people who knew Fairfax in college, law school, and socially and no one’s ever heard of him engaging in any sort of sexual misconduct. As for the accuser, the paper says they couldn’t corroborate her claim because “she had not told anyone what happened.” You mean she never told anyone until she first approached WaPo in 2017, or she didn’t tell anyone at the time and for a long time after it happened but then opened up to confidants much later? Because the latter would be the Christine Blasey Ford standard, of course.

It’s strange to me that someone who claims she was sexually assaulted would choose to tell her story for the very first time not to a friend or a spouse or a doctor or a cop or a therapist but to a newspaper. If it turns out that the accuser did tell a friend two years ago before she went to the paper, where does that leave us vis-a-vis the Ford standard?

And another question, also reminiscent of Ford vs. Kavanaugh: What’s the accuser’s motive to lie here, especially given the curious timing of her approach to WaPo? If you’re a partisan or someone who holds a grudge against a rising political star for whatever other reason and are willing to fabricate a tale of sexual assault to take him down, the obvious time to do so is before he’s installed in the important new job he’s seeking. Ford’s accusation broke big before the confirmation vote on Kavanaugh, after all. But Fairfax’s accuser waited until after his election as lieutenant governor to speak up and long before the Northam blackface scandal that’s put him on the brink of becoming governor of Virginia. Nor did she do any of the other things a motivated liar might do to put her target on the defensive, like call a media-friendly lawyer and hold a press conference laying out the assault accusation in lurid detail. There’s not even an obvious partisan motive: As noted in my earlier post, a photo exists of the accuser next to a smiling Nancy Pelosi, suggesting that she’s a Democrat just like Fairfax is.

If she’s lying, why would she lie this way, by quietly approaching a newspaper and then not forcing the issue somehow after they refused to run her story?

There are some differences with the accusations against Kavanaugh, although these do not reflect well on Fairfax. She’s making an allegation against Fairfax when he was an adult. She knows when and where the alleged assault occurred. Fairfax admits to spending the night with her. They’re members of the same political party, so this would not be a partisan smear.

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I don’t think Fairfax should be surprised that a potential bad story he was aware of would become public the moment he was seen as a likely Governor. These things don’t stay secret in the #metoo era.

It would be terrible for an innocent man to be accused of a serious crime, but Fairfax has not handled the allegations well. He has made provably false statements about an allegation he knew existed, and then blamed another politician: Richmond mayor Levar Stoney for the sex assault allegations, after initially suggesting it may have been Northam.

(Fairfax) softened his suggestion as he left the Capitol Monday night, telling reporters he had “no indication” that Mr. Northam was responsible.

But in the same conversation, Mr. Fairfax hinted that Levar Stoney, the mayor of Richmond and a potential rival to Mr. Fairfax for the 2021 Democratic nomination for governor, may have played a role — praising the acumen of a reporter who inquired whether Mr. Stoney might have been responsible.

Asked if he had any involvement in leaking the claims of assault, which first surfaced Sunday night on a right-wing website, Mr. Stoney said, “The insinuation is 100 percent not true, and frankly it’s offensive.”

Fairfax and Stoney are both African American men under the age of 40, so their similar backgrounds and career trajectories could lead to conflict.

Looking at political forums, it seems liberals suspect Republican meddling, although the fact that the party was unable to get Northam’s yearbook during the campaign suggests the insiders aren’t that talented. This is an interesting trainwreck.

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Random Thoughts on the 2019 Oscars

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  1. Black Panther just won the SAG award for Best Ensemble. This has a decent track record with the Academy Award for Best Picture, matching 11 times out of 24.
  2. Glenn Close, Rami Malek and Mahershali Ali seem to be heavy favorites in their categories.
  3. I wonder if Emily Blunt’s win for A Quiet Place in the SAG awards strategic. She wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, and Regina King from If Beale Street Could Talk is the favorite, but she wasn’t nominated for a SAG award. Voting for Blunt allows voters to show support for someone snubbed by the Academy, while also depriving potential competitors of Regina King of any momentum. If you wanted King to win, you don’t want Amy Adams, Emma Stone or Rachel Weisz to be giving a good speech.
  4. That didn’t exactly work out well for Sylvester Stallone, who was nominated for Creed in the Academy Awards but not SAG. Idris Elba won the SAG award after an Oscar snub, but the Oscar still went to Mark Rylance.
  5. This logic might also hurt Black Panther‘s chances of getting Best Picture. The Oscar race is relatively wide open, so it could just that actors weren’t able to vote for Green Book or Roma in the category. Though it does suggest A Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody and Blackkklansman aren’t major contenders, since all were nominated for best acting ensemble (SAG’s equivalent of Best Picture.)
  6. As a comic geek, I would be ecstatic if Black Panther won. It’s probably the most significant work of afrofuturism in any medium, so it’s also dominant in a genre.
  7. Roma is excellent, so I have no problem with it being the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture oscar.
  8. Green Book was good, too, so I don’t mind it winning Best Picture either. The blowback seems to be based on a BS premise.
  9. It’s kinda funny how Andy Serkis isn’t with the rest of the ensemble for Black Panther at the SAG awards, even though Chadwick Boseman said he was one of them. A lot of the photos of the award have him cropped out.
  10. The moment Christian Bale appeared as Dick Cheney in the Vice trailer, he seemed assured of a nomination. That said, it’s a bit surprising that Hollywood decided to nominate a relatively sympathetic take on George W Bush, especially considering how brief it is in the context of the film.
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The Conservative Reaction to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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For much of the left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an exciting figure, and they can’t understand why anyone could be concerned about her sudden prominence. It shows a massive cognitive dissonance to realize that people on the center and the right aren’t going to like one of the most liberal members of Congress. It leads to dumb interpretations of the views of others.

Matthew Chapman of Salon compaed her to Paul Ryan, who was also elected to Congress at the age of 28.

There may not be one single reason why Ocasio-Cortez is not taken as seriously as Ryan. Possibly the media is just inherently more skeptical of ideas coming from left of center than from right of center. Possibly they are also more willing to listen to a white man than a woman of color.

The problem with this comparison was that Paul Ryan wasn’t a national figure upon getting elected to Congress. He became significant because he followed Barney Frank’s advice and picked topics to specialize in, so that within years he would be seen as a policy expert on those topics. It took him a while to be seen as more remarkable than any of the other members of congress elected in 1998. In contrast, Ocasio-Cortez became prominent the moment she won her nomination. It’s also entirely possible that she won’t be the most remarkable member of her congressional class, given all the Obama staffers who ran and won, and would come to Congress with a faster understanding of how Washington works. Conservatives like some new members of Congress, such as a Dan Crenshaw, the veteran who turned a bad joke at his expense on Saturday Night Live into a lesson on forgiveness.

She’s also made a few major gaffes. She didn’t know the three branches of government. She claimed the US spent 21 trillion dollars on accounting errors in the defense department between 1998 and 2015, when total defense since 1940 is under 18 trillion dollars (she misunderstood a study about how the Pentagon has exxagerated levels of spending.) She confused the defense spending in the military budget with the increase, and claimed a 700 billion dollar increase in defense spending for 2018. She falsely claimed unemployment was low because of people holding two jobs, when that wouldn’t affect the unemployment rate. She claimed Israel was occupying Palestine, and then admit she had no idea what the hell she was talking about.

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There are many younger and newer members of Congress who will make significant errors, especially when they get to office for the first time. She’s under a lot of scrutiny because the media and national Democrats decided to highlight her, with the implication that others are less impressive and more prone to gaffes.

The main issue with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is that she has gotten a lot of positive media attention, and the DNC Chairman has said that she represents the future of the Democratic party. Vox had a piece about how she should be able to run for President. As a result, Republicans are eager to attack the implications of what it means that she is being treated as one of the Democratic party’s shining lights, and what it means that she has been embraced by the media and the establishment for people who aren’t excited by the political agenda of the Democratic Socialists of America. The equivalent might be the reaction of how Democrats would react if if an open member of a white nationalist forum won a Republican congressional primary in a safe-R district, and was immediately embraced by Fox News and the RNC.

There’s a bit of a feedback loop when some in the media start talking about some dumb argument against her, like when someone on twitter with a few thousand followers and a now-deleted account posted clips of her dancing in her Boston University days. This was used as an example of how conservatives reacted to her, when there weren’t many serious conservatives pushing the idea. The ensuing arguments about media bias just led to more conservatives talking about her.

 

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Movies Watched in 2018 Finished

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This is a conclusion of notes on films I saw this year, following Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Part 5. and Part 6. I’m keeping track of some features of the films. and set myself a few sub-challenges with each entry. Since this is one of the last entries for the year, I figured I’d rewatch at least five films. I had an expiring HBO Now subscription, so I added five films from the service. Since I hadn’t seen The River, and wanted to watch La Bette Humaine with my train-buff dad, I figured I’d add five Renoir films. The period included October, so I added at least five horror movies, as I didn’t have time for 13, like last year.

Movie #181/ 1990s Movie #15/ HBO Now Film #1: The Fugitive
The big-budget TV adaptation is astoundingly successful. The set pieces are amazing. The central conspiracy is solid. Tommy Lee Jones is excellent as a driven marshal who initially starts as an antagonist, but slowly becomes the good guy as the truth becomes revealed.
9/10

Movie #182/ New Movie #118/ 2018 Movie #19/ HBO Now Film #2/ Documentary #8: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Well made, and inspirational take on the life of John McCain. I’ll quibble a bit about some key omissions (his wife’s painkiller addiction, his first wife’s disabilities, the 1996 Veepstakes, the remarkable comeback during the 2008 presidential primary, anything McCain did during the Obama presidency) but this is a solid take on a great man at the end of his life looking at a world that is on the precipice.
8/10

Repeat Movie #1: Marketa Lazerova
This remains hard to follow, given the large cast, dream sequences, parallel cutting, and lack of a clear lead (the title character disappears for chunks of the film.) But it is impressive and beautiful, giving an impression of what it would be like to live in the harsh and uncivilized medieval Czech Republic for those caught in the crossfire of a larger conflict.
10/10

Movie #183/ 1990s Movie #16/ HBO Now Film #3: Analyze This
Last time I saw this was when it was theaters; that was a good bonding experience with my dad. It remains a funny tale of a psychiatrist out of his element when he gets dragged into a Mob dispute. This time I have a better appreciation of some of the mob film parodies.
8/10

Icarus

Movie #184/ New Movie #119/ 2017 Movie #17/ Documentary #9: Icarus
Excellent documentary by someone who was doing one thing (trying to show the effects of steroid use on himself in a semi-professional athletic endurance event) but was in the right place at the right time to capture something very different, as a new acquaintance became a major figure in an international scandal.
9/10

Movie #185/ New Movie #120/ 1960s Movie #18/ Criterion Edition #36/ French Film #: Fanfan la Tulipe
Solid and enjoyable film about a roguish swashbuckler. It’s immense fun, with Gerard Phillipe showing that he could compete with anyone else in the dashing rogue category.
9/10

Movie #186/ New Movie #121/ 2016 Movie #8/ HBO Now Film #4: All the Way
Political dramas are catnip for me, and this is one of the better HBO efforts. Cranston’s LBJ is a powerhouse performance, and the cast is solid. It gets across a flawed guy manipulating competing interests to change the world, as he betrays friends, ignores an international crisis, and pushes through major civil rights legislation.
8/10

Movie #187/ New Movie #122/ Theatrical Release #37/ 2018 Movie #20: The Old Man and the Gun
I don’t think anyone else but Robert Redford would have pulled off this role so well. It’s initially a take on a charming older criminal who is surprisingly successful at bank robberies, but becomes a bit of a study on his compulsion.
8/10

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Movie #188/ New Movie #123/ 1930s Movie #15/ Criterion Edition #37/ French Film #/ Renoir Film #1: La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast)
Dad appreciated the look at 1930s French rail. It might be a step down from Renoir’s other work of the era, produced between The Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game, but still a good take on the dark things people are capable of.
8/10

Movie #189/ 2017 Movie #18/ Best Actor Winner #6: Darkest Hour
It might be manipulative, but this take on Churchill at the first month as Prime Minister is inspirational, elevated by Gary Oldman’s transformation into the iconic figure (on par with Day Lewis’ Lincoln), a solid cast and astounding production values. Churchill might never have gone into the Underground to query the populace about whether there should be a deal with Hitler, but it fits the myth and the character.
9/10

Movie #190/ 1940s Movie #3/ Criterion Film #38: The Great Dictator
This Chaplin film’s reputation has increased recently, and for good reason. It may be a bit disjointed, but has some fantastic sequences, and an astounding dual performance as the busy Hitler-like dictator and a barber. Some points are a tad underdeveloped (the barber’s generation-long mental break) but this does include some of the high points of film. The closing speech has been shown out of context, but the build-up to it is why it works so well.
10/10

Movie #191/ 2010s Movie #14/ New Movie #124/ Best Actor Winner #7/ Best Actor Winner #2: The Revenant
It’s a staggeringly beautiful film that deserves the Best Cinematography Oscar. There is a unique visual approach in how there is a consistent down to earth depiction of characters injured and crawling, and unable to walk. The rest of it is fine.
8/10

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Movie #192/ New Movie #125/ 2010s Movie #15/ Horror Movie #1/ Irish Film #6: Grabbers
This is a fun high-concept for a monster film, as an Irish island community faces an invasion from creatures that can’t stand alcohol. As a result, the heroes have to get sloshed. The exploration of character also works, helping the final result to be a decent film.
7/10

Movie #193/ New Movie #126/ 2017 Movie #19/ HBO Now Film #5/ Horror Movie #2: It
Maybe seeing what might be Stephen King’s best-loved book in film shows how much elements of it have popped up elsewhere in his work (the kids VS vicious older bullies in Stand By Me, abusive parents of loner children in Carrie and The Stand) but it’s a decent take on friendship, coming of age, and ancient evil. It’s just not exceptional yet, although that may change with Chapter 2.
7/10

Movie #194/ New Movie #127/ 1980s Movie #13/ Horror Movie #3: Hellraiser
This horror pick is rather mixed. The designs and music work, although the style can be dated, and the motivations are kinda messed up.
6/10

Movie #195/ New Movie #128/ 1990s Movie #17/ Horror Movie #4: Ghostwatch
Excellent mockumentary that soon becomes something else. It definitely seems to have an influence on the likes of Paranormal Activity, although I appreciate how believable it is in how it depicts an initially mundane TV special, and the world that’s built here.
9/10

Movie #196/ 1990s Movie #18/ Horror Movie #5/ Best Actor Winner #8: Silence of the Lambs
We pay so much attention to Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, who may just be the best movie villain ever, that one can neglect how well the film shows Clarice Starling’s arc as an FBI cadet investigating a completely different serial killer. The pacing is also astounding.
10/10

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Movie #197/ New Movie #129/ 1990s Movie #19/ Criterion Edition #39: The Fisher King
This is a film worth exploring for a few reasons. The central story of a disgraced celebrity trying to help out a mentally ill man he wounded in the past is done well enough, especially with the visuals introduced by Terry Gillam, and the performances by Willaims and Bridges. The story is elevated by the level of care put into the allegories, and Mercedes Bruhl’s Academy Award winning performance as a woman aware that she’s become an afterthought in some man’s redemption story, and outraged about it.
8/10

Movie #198/ New Movie #130/ 2018 Movie #21/ Horror Film #6/ Theatrical Release #38: Suspiria
There is depth here in Luca Guadagnino’s more muted (in comparison to the prog-rock neon original) take on Suspiria, which ties the story of the evil cabal of witches to the German psyche in the 1970s (the situation between East and West Germany; individual guilt over the Holocaust.)
8/10

Repeat Movie #2/ Renoir Film #2: The Rules of the Game
The comedy of manners balances an absurd amount of fully realized characters with their own moral codes and understandings, all of which lead to tragedy. Can be appreciated on different levels, depending on whose story you’re following/
10/10

Repeat Movie #3: The Band of Outsiders
The crime film is still fantastic, and is probably my favorite Godard, thanks to the three astounding leads in a story about two criminals and a girl who gets involved with them, who just aren’t very good at what they aim to do.
10/10

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Movie #199/ 1960s Movie #18/ Directorial Debut #: The Producers
Mel Brooks’ directorial debut is one of the funniest movies ever made, the perfect execution of one of the best concepts for a comedy ever.
10/10

Movie #200/ New Movie #131/ 2017 Movie #20/ Horror Movie #7: I Remember You
An odd combination of Icelandic detective story and ghost story. It’s not bad, as three different stories (three friends on a secluded island, a detective trying to figure out his diabetic son disappeared, hauntings involving a decades old disappearance) intersect.
7/10

Movie #201/ New Movie #132/ 1930s Movie #16/ Criterion Edition #40/ French Film #4/ Renoir Film #3: La Chienne
I didn’t realize until I watched it that it was remade as Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street. To be more technical, the same source material was used for that one. This starrs Michel Simon, who I know more as one of the old first mate in L’Atalante, and as one of the judges in one of my favorite movies ever: The Passion of Joan of Arc. It’s a solid film, although overhadowed by Renoir’s other work, as well as Scarlet Street, which has a stronger sense of visual identity. The main distinction here is that Simon’s lead is a bit more subtle, and they’re more explicit about the pimpish aspects of the relationship between the love interest and the other guy. And there is a very dark backstory. According to wikipedia, and a piece on Renoir/ Simon’s follow-up Boudu Saved From Drowning

In the film Michel Simon falls in love with Janie Marèse, and he did off-screen as well, while Marèse fell for Georges Flamant, who plays the pimp. Renoir and producer Pierre Braunberger had encouraged the relationship between Flamant and Marèse in order to get the fullest conviction into their performances (La Chienne was Flamant’s first acting experience). After the film had been completed Flamant, who could barely drive, took Marèse for a drive, crashed the car and she was killed. At the funeral Michel Simon fainted and had to be supported as he walked past the grave. He threatened Renoir with a gun, saying that the death of Marèse was all his fault. “Kill me if you like”, responded Renoir, “but I have made the film.”

8/10

Renoir River

Movie #202/ New Movie #133/ 1950s Movie #15/ Criterion Edition #41/ Renoir Film #4: The River
Beautifully shot coming of age film, showing a somewhat ordinary British family in an environment in which everything is heightened. The awkwardness of the largely non-professional cast fits well with the characters.
9/10

Repeat Movie #4: Earth
The version on Kanopy might not be the best edition of what reviews suggest is one of the most beautiful silent movies ever made, so it’s possible that I’ll appreciate a remastered version significantly more. This still remains icky due to the endorsement of one of the worst causes of the 20th Century (the specific brand of Socialist Collectivism that led to the Ukranian famine) although the imagery is often iconic.
7/10

Repeat Movie #5/ Horror Film #8: November
Watching the Estonian film on Shudder for a second time, I got the sense of its depiction of poor people living in a supernatural world, and trying to take advantage of it in weird ways. It’s oddly sympathetic to Baltic Germans, and against the salt of the earth Estonians, but does depict struggles in a fully-realized world.
8/10

Movie #203/ New Movie #134/ 1940s Movie #18/ Renoir Film #5: The Southerner
The film that got Renoir his one directing nomination is a solid take on a family’s difficulties in farming. Often quite beautiful, and it does address both sides of the mythmaking of what it means to be American and independent.
7/10

Movie #204/ New Movie #135/ 2018 Movie #22/ Saw It In Theaters #39: The Green Book
Mostly a two-hander with excellent performances by Viggo Mortensen as an Italian-American lunk, and Mahershala Ali as an African-American singer going on a tour of the segregated South. Generally entertaining and funny with characters who slowly reveal complexity and nuance. Probably the best picture choice for those in my social circle.
9/10

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Movie #205/ New Movie #136/ 2018 Movie #23/ Saw It In Theaters #40: Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse
Easily Sony’s best Spider-Man film since Spider-Man 2. It tells a story about an interdimensional crisis, as well as the origin of the Miles Morales Spider-Man, in an accessible way. Bonus points for all the little clever moments, and the sense of visual identity for each of the spider-people.
10/10

Movie #206/ New Movie #137/ 2016 Movie #9/ Documentary #10: I Am Not Your Negro
Weirdly relaxing take on race relations using James Baldwin’s reflections on the deaths of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. He was definitely ahead of his time given how often and how well he counters arguments that have popped up recently (IE- When Bobby Kennedy said there might be a negro President in forty years, Depictions of African-Americans in films white liberals like.)
9/10

Movie #207/ New Movie #138/ 2018 Movie #24/ Saw It In Theaters #41: Aquaman
Gorgeous in Imax 3D. It is probably the second best of the DCEU films, with a sense of fun pushing through multiple narratives (young Arthur learning how to be a superhero and learning the tragic fate of his mother, a war between four kingdoms, a raider seeking revenge for the death of his father, a dynastic clash between heirs to the throne, a battle with a secret race.) A narratively cleaner film could have made more sense, although I’m not sure any of these stories would be good enough on its own, and this was a film that made the moment Aquaman put on his classic costume seem cool.
7/10

Movie #208/ New Movie #139/ 2016 Movie #10: The Lobster
It was released in 2016 in the US, so I’m counting it in that category. Dry and deadpan look at a world where no one is allowed to be single, bad news for a guy whose wife just left him.
8/10

1800

Movie #209/ New Movie #140/ 2018 Movie #25/ Saw It In Theaters #42/ Documentary #11: They Shall Not Grow Old
This is an astounding effort at modernizing century-old footage to show what the typical World War 1 experience was like for young men in England. The Fathom events version included Peter Jackson’s explanation about the goals and process, which turns a great film into one of the best of its kind.
9/10, 10/10 (with the Peter Jackson explainer)

Movie #210/ New Movie #141/ 2018 Movie #26/ Saw It In Theaters #43: Bumblebee
Perfectly solid prequel to a film that didn’t seem like it needed one. It also works as a homage to the 80s, the era of the Transformers. The story of a teen trying to get over her father’s death sometimes falls into self-parody, but Hailee Steinfeld’s is more compelling than any of the other Transformers human leads (low bar admittedly) and it works with the action sequences, as well as the friendship with an odd alien robot.
8/10

Round-Up:

  • Favorite Horror Film: Silence of the Lambs
  • Favorite HBO Now Film: The Fugitive
  • Favorite Repeat: Marketa Lazerova
  • Favorite Renoir: Rules of the Game
  • Favorite Movie I Had Never Seen Before: Ghostwatch
  • Favorite Movie Overall: Marketa Lazerova

2018 Round-Up:

  • Favorite Silent Film: The Passion of Joan of Arc
  • Favorite New Silent Film: Thief of Bagdad
  • Favorite 1930s Film: M
  • Favorite New 1930s Film: Steamboat ‘Round the Bend
  • Favorite 1940s Film: Gaslight
  • Favorite New 1940s Film: Rome Open City
  • Favorite 1950s Film: All About Eve
  • Favorite New 1950s Film: The Big Heat
  • Favorite 1960s Film: 2001- A Space Odyssey
  • Favorite New 1960s Film: Marketa Lazerova
  • Favorite 1970s Film: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
  • Favorite New 1970s Film: Stalker
  • Favorite 1980s Film: Tootsie
  • Favorite New 1980s Film: Rain Man
  • Favorite 1990s Film: The Shawshank Redemption
  • Favorite New 1990s Film: Magnolia
  • Favorite 2000s Film: Children of Men
  • Favorite New 2000s Film: The New World
  •  Favorite 2010s Film: The Social Network
  • Favorite New 2010s Film: Tangerines/ To Kill a Man
  • Favorite 2016 Film: Captain America- Civil War
  • Favorite New 2016 Film: Moana
  • Favorite 2017 Film: Star Wars- The Last Jedi
  • Favorite New 2017 Film: Call Me By Your Name
  • Favorite 2018 Film: Black Panther
  • Favorite Fritz Lang Film: M
  • Favorite German Film: M
  • Favorite Directorial Debut: The Shawshank Redemption
  • Favorite Japanese Film: The Hidden Fortress
  • Favorite French Film: Band of Outsiders
  • Favorite Horror Film: The Silence of the Lambs
  • Favorite Science-Fiction Film: 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Top Five Films I’ve Never Seen Before: Marketa Lazerova, Thief of Bagdad, Rome Open City, Stalker, Black Panther
  • Favorite Documentary: They Shall Not Grow Old
  • Favorite Overall Film: The Passion of Joan of Arc
  • Worst Movie: Head
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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

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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

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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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