Schumer and Tide Pods

I am really looking forward to one of the fact-checking sites writing about this one.

Schumer Tide Pod


Fact-check true:

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Tableaux from In The Crosswind

For a lesson for my Social Studies class, there’s a portion where the students are to perform tableaux: a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history.

There is a slight problem with providing context for them on what exactly a tableau is: the main examples of videos come from classrooms, where it’s not that exciting or groundbreaking.

I am fortunately aware of examples of tableaux with decent production values from the Estonian film In The Crosswind, which is a series of tableaux, and pulls off the effect beautifully.

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Oprah’s Pence


This is very premature speculation on a possible Oprah presidential bid. If she were to run for President, and were to win the Democratic vice-presidential nomination, who would be her ideal running mate? Who could do for her what Pence did for Trump?

Pence didn’t look like an ideal national leader, but he did several big things for Trump. He helped make inroads with the establishment, had conventional qualifications (congressional leader turned Governor), pleased much of the traditional base/ social conservatives, and added geographic diversity (midwesterner for the East Coast guy).

There are a few Democrats who might do similar stuff for Oprah, but her situation’s a bit different. She’s so associated with Chicago and the heartland (and grew up in the deep south) that a geographic match isn’t a problem. Her political views seem to be relatively close to Hillary and Obama, so she wouldn’t need a running mate with conventional views; it might actually make sense to go for someone in the Sanders camp.

She probably needs a running mate who’s a white guy, since otherwise it would be a ticket with two women or two racial minorities, so that’s another consideration.

She can go in several directions.

Someone with solid qualifications and establishment ties would be Andrew Cuomo, a Governor, as well as a former top prosecutor and Cabinet official.

Mark Warner might fit this bill as a Senator and former Governor.

If she wants to get progressives on her side, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon was the only Senator to endorse Bernie Sanders, and has made Wall Street reform a key issue.

Someone who straddles the progressive and establishment camps would be Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who also brings with him connections to Washington where he has served as a member of Congress since 1993.

Someone who could connect establishment Democrats while bringing a progressive record and a sense of a new generation would be Gavin Newsom, newly elected as Governor (presumably) but with a background since George W Bush’s first term of prominent leftism.

It’s worth noting that when Mike Pence accepted the vice-presidential nomination he was damaged goods. His election to Governor of Indiana was much narrower than expected, and he had a national firestorm with an inability to effectively articulate and defend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. His main competitors were Chris Christie, who had an approval rating in the teens as Governor of New Jersey, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had his own issues. Many prominent Republicans, including John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Bob Corker had taken themselves out of consideration.

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Predictions for the 90th Academy Awards


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

Best Picture

Last time I tried this, I bet on all the SAG Outstanding Performance By a Cast nominees making it. This time around, I’m going a bit smaller with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Get Out, and Lady Bird.  I’d add to that Dunkirk and The Post, the former of which was more notable for the directing, and the latter which came out too late in the year to make the SAG cut. I’d expect The Shape of Water and Call Me By Your Name will round it out, partly due to their likely success in other key categories. Coco seems like such a strong frontrunner in the animated category, that I could easily imagine it being the first choice of five percent of Oscar voters.

Update: I got 7/9 (or 9/10 if you factor that there wasn’t a tenth nominee.) Phantom Thread and Darkest Hour were both nominated. There might be a rule that films favored to win lead actor are almost always nominated for Best Picture. The most recent exception was Crazy Heart in 2009.

Best Actor

This seems to be a race to determine who gets to lose to Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. The top runner-up seems to be Timothy Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name, but it’s relatively wide open after that. It may be the last chance to nominate Daniel Day-Lewis, and he gave an excellent, very specific performance. Daniel Kaluuya did get a SAG nomination for Get Out. Tom Hanks hasn’t been nominated since Castaway, and is in a major Best Picture contender playing a famous person who Jason Robards won an Oscar for portraying in All the President’s Men. James Franco had an effective transformation in The Disaster Artist, a film about a subject Oscar voters care about, what it’s like to be behind the scenes of a film, but my guess is that it gets ignored because of the sexual impropriety allegations.

Update: I got 4/5. I did predict that Franco would be snubbed, although I didn’t think Denzel Washington would be the one to do it. Tom Hanks has gotten oddly due for a nomination. If you had a guy who broke out in middle age, like Bryan Cranston, with Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Bridge of Spies, Sully and The Post on his resume, he probably would have got nominated at least once. There’s no rush to do it with Hanks, since he’s altready won twice.

Shape of Water

Best Actress

This is a category with a clear frontrunner: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards in Billings, Montana, and equally clear runner-ups: Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water (playing a woman with a disability), and Saoirise Ronan for Lady Bird. Meryl Streep gave a strong performance in The Post, which is getting a lot of buzz for being contemporary (and has a better chance of a Best Picture nomination than films that have gotten her nominations before, while also depicting a significant character arc.) Margot Robbie’s transformation in I, Tonya gets the final nod for uglying it up to play a famous person in a film that still fits her brand as actress.

Update: Called it.

Best Supporting Actor

This category seems to be a fight between Willem Defoe in The Florida Project, and Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing. On the SAG nominations, neither pick from Call Me By Your Name was nominated, suggesting they might split the vote, although my guess is Michael Stuhlbarg benefits from his other major performances, which further highlight his range, whole Armie Hammer loses out due to the splitting of the vote. I think Christopher Plummer will be nominated for All The Money in the World, given the publicity of his accomplishment, as well as the near-universal acclaim. The last spot goes to Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water, for having big moments in a film everyone’s going to see for Actress/ Director.

Update: Got 4/5. Woody Harrelson got in over Stuhlbarg, an indication of the power of Three Billboards.


Best Supporting Actress

This is a fight between two character actresses of a certain age who have never been nominated before, and are playing difficult mothers, albeit to varying degrees: Alison Janney in I, Tonya and Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird. The loser will get to be credited as an Oscar nominee in subsequent appearances in prestige pictures, so there is that. Mary J. Blige has gotten buzz for Mudbound., and it represents a chance to avoid an Oscars so Black threepeat (that didn’t help Idris Elba in his Netflix film two years back.) Melissa Leo had a lot of buzz for Novitate but that seems to have died down. My guess is that the last spots go to Holly Hunter in The Big Sick, and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water, two women who have been won before, and been nominated multiple times.

Tiffany Haddish has gotten a boost, so she might be an upset..

Update: I did guess that Leo and Hong Chau would be shut out, but Lesley Manville got in with Phantom Thread‘s surprising coattails.

Best Director

The Shape of Water and Dunkirk represent well-regarded efforts by two acclaimed directors who haven’t been nominated before, but that’s likely to change for Christopher Nolan and Guilermino Del Toro. Steven Spielberg might just be the living Director, and benefits from a timely effort, but he seems to have been shut out everywhere; maybe the film gets a bit of a backlash for being too Oscarbait (a similar thing happened to Lincoln). Three Billboards’ Martin McDonagh is likely to get nominated, given the film’s status as one of the major frontrunners. My last guesses are two acclaimed debuts from actors: Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Jordan Peele’s Get Out. If I’m right, this will be a contest between people who have never been nominated before, which could also happen if Luca Guadagnino is nominated for Call Me by Your Name, or Sean Baker is nominated for The Florida Project.

Update: McDonagh was shut out, and previously nominated Paul Thomas Anderson took his place.


Best Original Screenplay

Greta Gerwig is a lock in the category for Lady Bird, as is Jordan Peele for Get Out, and Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards of Billings, Missouri. The Post is quite timely, and screenplay’s an easier category than Director, so my guess is Liz Hannah and Josh Singer get nominations. I expect the final spot to go to Emily V. Gordon, and Kumail Nanjiani for The Big Sick, a well-regarded comedy with an interesting story behind it. This year, it seems to be a tougher category than adapted screenplay, which isn’t always the case. It could reflect something about Hollywood, and a pent up desire for stories that speak to the current moment.

Update: The Post got shut out for Shape of Water.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Screenplay can be an easier category to be nominated for, since there can only be one per film, and it’s split into two groups. My guess is that we’ll see repeat nominations from earlier winners Aaron Sorkin for Molly’s Game, James Ivory for Call Me By Your Name, and Sofia Copolla for The Beguiled. Dee Rees and Virgil WilliamsMudbound tackles important issues of race and class, and an Anti-Netflix bias won’t mean as much in a category where over half the films are shut out. James Franco‘s The Disaster Artist is about a topic that speaks to Oscar voters.

Update: Very happy to be wrong on Logan not getting nominated.


Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins has gotten a lot of nominations, and is getting a bit of a boomlet for Blade Runner 2049Hoyte van Hoytema might just be the MVP of Dunkirk, keeping three intersecting storylines engaging and visually distinct. The Shape of Water has gotten a lot of credit for the visuals, including surprise classic Hollywood callbacks, so a nomination for Dan Laustsen seems likely. The visuals of Call Me By Your Name have gotten similar credit without depicting science fiction elements or war, so I could see a nomination for Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Darkest Hour‘s Bruno Delbonnel has been nominated several times before. A potential upset would come from Ben Davis for Three Billboards, given the film’s wide support.

Update: Mudbound ended up nominated over Call Me By Your Name.

Best Foreign Language Film

This would be the category I’m least familiar with, so much of it comes down to looking at the short-list and figuring if the Academy is likely to nominate a film about magic dreaming that I haven’t heard of. Ruben Östlund’s The Square (Sweden) seems to have gotten the most buzz, with a star-making performance for Clace Bang, and interesting commentary on art. Faith Akin’s In The Fade (Germany) had an acclaimed performance by name-actress Diane Kruger, and deals with difficult topics (racial hatred, vengeance.) Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman (Chile) deals with another timely topic (the struggles of a trans woman.) Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot (Israel) tackles a difficult topic in a way that is safe for anyone critical of Israel’s handling of Palestine to vote for. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (Russia) comes for a director who has been nominated in the category before, and has won major awards, including the Cannes jury prize.

Update: One of my weaker categories with 3/5, and this was after the list was narrowed to nine.

Those are my predictions. My goal is to beat Variety, although I’ll be very happy if Logan ends up nominated for adapted screenplay and I end up being wrong on that one.

Update: We were tied on Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress. They correctly predicted all Best Supporting Actor choices, although I did better with Best Supporting Actress. 


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California and the Supplemental Poverty Measure

I’ve often seen pieces comparing the economies of blue states and red states, with blue states generally coming out ahead. I was skeptical but interested in a piece by Kerry Jackson of the Pacific Research Institute on how California measures the worst in some important categories.

Guess which state has the highest poverty rate in the country? Not Mississippi, New Mexico, or West Virginia, but California, where nearly one out of five residents is poor. That’s according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in the cost of housing, food, utilities and clothing, and which includes noncash government assistance as a form of income.

Given robust job growth and the prosperity generated by several industries, it’s worth asking why California has fallen behind, especially when the state’s per-capita GDP increased approximately twice as much as the U.S. average over the five years ending in 2016 (12.5%, compared with 6.27%).

It’s not as though California policymakers have neglected to wage war on poverty. Sacramento and local governments have spent massive amounts in the cause. Several state and municipal benefit programs overlap with one another; in some cases, individuals with incomes 200% above the poverty line receive benefits. California state and local governments spent nearly $958 billion from 1992 through 2015 on public welfare programs, including cash-assistance payments, vendor payments and “other public welfare,” according to the Census Bureau. California, with 12% of the American population, is home today to about one in three of the nation’s welfare recipients.

The generous spending, then, has not only failed to decrease poverty; it actually seems to have made it worse.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some states — principally Wisconsin, Michigan, and Virginia — initiated welfare reform, as did the federal government under President Clinton and a Republican Congress. Tied together by a common thread of strong work requirements, these overhauls were a big success: Welfare rolls plummeted and millions of former aid recipients entered the labor force.

The state and local bureaucracies that implement California’s antipoverty programs, however, resisted pro-work reforms. In fact, California recipients of state aid receive a disproportionately large share of it in no-strings-attached cash disbursements. It’s as though welfare reform passed California by, leaving a dependency trap in place.

The Census Bureau has been using the Supplemental Poverty Measure since 2011, so this isn’t a weird thing cooked up recently by the Trump administration.

Since the publication of the first official U.S. poverty estimates, researchers and policymakers have continued to discuss the best approach to measure income and poverty in the United States. Beginning in 2011, the Census Bureau began publishing the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which extends the official poverty measure by taking account of many of the government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals that are not included in the official poverty measure. This is the seventh report describing the SPM, released by the U.S. Census Bureau, with support from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This report presents updated estimates of the prevalence of poverty in the United States using the official measure and the SPM based on information collected in 2017 and earlier Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC).

Their website provides an explanation.

In 2010, an interagency technical working group asked the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to develop a new measure that would improve our understanding of the economic well-being of American families and enhance our ability to measure the effect of federal policies on those living in poverty. The technical design of the supplemental poverty measure draws on the recommendations of a 1995 National Academy of Sciences report and the extensive research on poverty measurement conducted over the past 20 years. See the history of poverty measures in the United States infographic.

President Johnson’s 1964 declaration of his “War on Poverty” generated a new interest in measuring just how many people were in poverty and how that changed over time.

On September 12, 2017, the Census Bureau will release the seventh report on the supplemental poverty measure, containing estimates for the 2016 calendar year. The report presents estimates for the official and supplemental poverty measures and discusses differences between the two measures. A comparison of the major concepts is detailed in the table below and in this infographic.

We measure poverty two ways every year. The official poverty measure is based on cash resources. The supplemental poverty measure uses cash resources and also includes noncash benefits and subtracts necessary expenses (such as taxes and medical expenses).

The official poverty measure compares an individual’s or family’s pretax cash income to a set of thresholds that vary by the size of the family and the ages of the family members. These official poverty calculations do not take into account the value of in-kind benefits, such as those provided by nutrition assistance or housing and energy programs. Nor do they take into account regional differences in living costs or expenses, such as housing.

The supplemental poverty measure takes into account family resources and expenses not included in the official measure as well as geographic variation. First, it adds the value of in-kind benefits that are available to buy basic goods to cash income. In-kind benefits include nutritional assistance, subsidized housing and home energy assistance. Then it subtracts necessary expenses for critical goods and services not included in the thresholds from resources. Necessary expenses that are subtracted include income taxes, Social Security payroll taxes, child care and other work-related expenses, child support payments to another household, and contributions toward the cost of medical care and health insurance premiums.

Thresholds used in the supplemental poverty measure are produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Division of Price and Index Number Research using Consumer Expenditure Survey data that show how much people spend on basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter and utilities) and are adjusted for geographic differences in the cost of housing. The supplemental poverty measure thresholds are not intended to assess eligibility for government assistance.


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A-list characters are no fun.


A few years ago, when writing about Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run of Hawkeye, Humphrey Lee of Ainticoolnews explains why he prefers B-list characters to the A-listers like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man.

This may be one of those occasions where I’m just blowing smoke up my own ass, but I’ve always felt that a book like HAWKEYE here, where a top-tier writer is basically doing what they please with a middle-tier character, is really where franchise comics shine. It has just always felt like these types of characters get all the benefits of being in a comic book universe – being able to draw from the long history of the universe, dragging in the occasional team up, playing off events that take place in the big crossovers without having to be a direct part of them, etc. – without any of the drawbacks of being a major player in that universe. The biggest drawback of the Spider-Mans, Supermans, and so on of the comics world is that outside of an Elseworlds tale or some other out of continuity romp, you cannot go terribly crazy with the characters. Well, you can, but I believe that history has shown when you get a bit far off the beaten path with the big players and the characters wrapped up in their worlds the fans will rip your head off for it. Obviously I’m speaking in generalities here, and there’s exceptions to every rule, but it’s really not in much dispute that the Big Two have a lot more riding on a Spider-Man than they do a Daredevil and thereby have to play things a little more conservatively with the former than the latter.

Now, HAWKEYE does not exactly go to the lengths that some of the secondary character classic runs have done or are currently doing. It’s not a DAREDEVIL where Frank Miller or Brian Michael Bendis are stripping the character down to the core, and it’s not ANIMAL MAN or SWAMP THING where guys like Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder are carving a horrific swath through their own little section of the DCU. What Matt Fraction and David Aja are doing is taking a character that is a highly skilled badass with a checkered past and telling uber-stylish tales about him being a highly skilled badass with a checkered past. I particularly loved, loved, loved the first issue, which was a great take on the idea of the street level hero and what they go through to bring a little justice to the world. They get their hands dirty, they break bones and have to spend time recovering, and they tend to touch lives a little more intimately than the heroes that do their bit helping the world by throwing large parts of it at each other.

Some of the material he described could happen in an A-list book, but there is definitely greater flexibility with lesser-known series. Though it does seem to have been a while since there was a legendary run on one of those books.

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Throwback Thursday: A really dumb argument against Romney

Evil Romney

This was something I wrote during the 2012 presidential election, on a criticism of Mitt Romney that was probably forgotten minutes after the think pieces were written.

There were legitimate complaints with Romney’s numbers regarding the number of jobs he claims to have created for the companies he worked for. But it seems moronic to criticize him for potential job losses at competitors’ companies, as Paul Krugman did in a column during the election.

In any case, it makes no sense to look at changes in one company’s work force and say that this measures job creation for America as a whole.

Suppose, for example, that your chain of office-supply stores gains market share at the expense of rivals. You employ more people; your rivals employ fewer. What’s the overall effect on U.S. employment? One thing’s for sure: it’s a lot less than the number of workers your company added.

Better yet, suppose that you expand in part not by beating your competitors, but by buying them. Now their employees are your employees. Have you created jobs?

Scott Hellman and Michael Kranish made a similar point in a Vanity Fair piece, quoted by Andrew Sullivan.

Assessing claims about job creation is hard. Staples grew hugely, but the gains were offset, at least partially, by losses elsewhere: smaller, mom-and-pop stationery stores and suppliers were being squeezed, and some went out of business entirely.

It wasn’t Mitt Romney’s responsibility to take care of his opponents.

But when one company does well, the competitors do better. It’s no coincidence that many of the highest ranking rock albums came from the late 1960s, when everyone was inspired by and trying to top the other guys. Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, was followed by Revolver by the Beatles, which was followed by Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, which was followed by the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which was followed by the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Robert Stevens summed it up, writing for, er, the World Socialist Web Site.

One gets the definite sense that Wilson’s achievement on Pet Sounds literally opened the sonic sluice gates for the Beatles and everyone else who heard it. Upon listening to any Beatles album after 1966, you can hear and feel the influence of Brian Wilson. “Back in the USSR” from the Beatles’ White Albumis probably the most famous example of them seeking to emulate the Beach Boys style, but it is also indelibly there on many of their other songs and later work.

The influences were reciprocal. It was upon hearing the 1965 Beatles albumRubber Soul that Wilson felt compelled to produce a work of uniform quality that would stand comparison. He said of the album, “I really wasn’t quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs … that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed.”

In some cases, innovators destroy their competitors. In other situations, the innovators inspire their competitors to do better work. The bad stuff isn’t the fault of the original innovator.


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