Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A fundamental difference in focus

In my latest dip into NPR, while I was driving all over the Houston area checking animal shelters for potentially hypoallergenic and adoptable puppies*, I happened to hear an interview with a fellow who was likening Indivisible to the Tea Party - I'm having trouble finding it now, but it was introduced as a discussion of whether today's protesting Dems could learn from the tactics of the Tea Party. The interview quickly established that the groups' aims were very different: the Tea Party's ire was aimed, according the interview at least, at "RINOs," primarily people on the same side of the aisle as they were but perceived to be doing it wrong, whereas Indivisible (a Doublespeak name if I've ever heard one) is up in arms about Republicans, people on the other side of the aisle who are inexplicably (to them) in control of almost everything, governance-wise.

All well and good. There's some truth to that formulation; initially, the Tea Party didn't actually want to be considered a separate party; they wanted to bring the GOP closer to its conservative roots. And the protesting Dems are indeed up in arms about the overwhelming Republican election victory (though, I must add, they seem to be protesting mainly the least overwhelming part of it: Trump's electoral college win of the Presidency, rather than the punishing losses the Democrats suffered in Congress, gubernatorial races, and state houses). But there the interviewer pretty much stopped doing or eliciting any meaningful analysis.

The important difference between the Tea Party and so-called Indivisible (I shouldn't be snarky; they can call themselves what they like. But it - whether the group or the name - is darn divisive.) is the reason the Tea Party was standing in opposition to (roughly) its own, and the reason the protesting Dems are standing in opposition to... those they always oppose. The Tea Party thoughtfully and intentionally embraced conservatism, having looked at the alternatives and decided that, no, those alternatives were still destined to fail and/or have bad unintended consequences in the long term, and also were frequently philosophically repugnant to them. (Nota bene: I am not a Tea Party member, but I think they went about their aims with gusto, ethics, and intelligence.) They also believed that there was a "silent majority," to coin a phrase, of Republicans who were deeply disenchanted with the party because of its departure from its philosophical underpinnings. So their fight was ultimately to bring the Republican party back to power because they believed that conservatism is the right way to go.

The protesting Dems, now: they are protesting an election loss. I'm not going to say that they don't believe what they say they believe. I think many of them do. They are, many of them, as committed to their philosophical stance as any Tea Partier. But instead of turning to their own party to see why they lost so badly and what they could do to reverse that loss in future (a "come to Jesus" with themselves, as they sometimes say here in Texas), they aren't acknowledging any systemic failure on their own side - only simple-minded tactical failures like the way Clinton's campaign was run. Instead, they are apparently trying to convince their political opponents that the opponents should abandon their political philosophy. And they're doing it by trying to shame those opponents - to make them feel inferior for holding the beliefs they hold. What they overlook, of course, is that their opponents are by and large not susceptible to shaming from that angle. We can be shamed - but not by strident claims that if we don't hold a particular Leftist niche issue sacred, we are soulless, or idiots, or both.

We have plenty of niche issues of our own, no question. And there are plenty of factions on on the Right who hold other Right factions in... if not contempt, then at least doubt, because they don't share the same sense of niche-issue priority. But overall what the Right is based on is the principle that that government governs best which governs least. We seldom live up to that ideal, and indeed in the world in which we live, it's hard to believe that it can be applied equally in all situations, but that is indeed our fundamental focus.

The fundamental focus on the Left is, in the short term, both more pragmatic and more humanistic: to relieve immediate suffering of whatever type or degree. A noble aim, certainly. But the methodology is also dismayingly pragmatic and not nearly so kind - in fact it seems generally of the end-justifies-the-means school. And the longer term very often if not always reveals dangerous incentive structures, which are then inadequately dealt with by symptomatic treatment. And the beat goes on.

* My inability to remember the details of the interview stems from the new puppy that we adopted! I am now sleep-deprived and excited by turns.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Breathe slowly into a paper bag...

It's not treason.

Charlie Martin over at PJMedia notes the actual Constitutional definition:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
...Article III, Section 3, clause 1. And why is it defined so narrowly? As Charlie points out, it's because where we (the inhabitants of the colonies, that is) came from, "treason" was whatever the King or Queen didn't like. Rather than continue to subject ourselves to the pique of an individual, the Founders (who would certainly have been tried as traitors if they'd lost the war) decided to make it very clear that criticism of the government, the president, the flag, apple pie, motherhood, or those who choose not to undertake motherhood is not treason

Enough with the hysterics, Democrats - neither the President nor members of his cabinet have committed treason. And Republicans, reporters aren't committing treason by being unabashedly biased and hostile toward the President, either.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Deep state" - the continuing story

Go here for more of Patrick Poole on Gen. Flynn's travails. The short version: the FBI is calling their interview with him "cooperative" and "truthful," and evidence mounts that he will face no legal jeopardy. The Trump organization's supposed cozy relationship with Russian intelligence during the election months also continues to elude; still no signs of collusion between Trump's people and the Russians.

This whole thing is an embarrassing own-goal for the Trump administration, but it sure looks very far from the impeachable offense the Left is hoping for.

It is, however, more data in the ongoing "media==Democrats with bylines" story.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Let's talk about the "deep state"

It's a phrase I'd never heard before, and now can't escape: the "deep state." Apparently (according to Google) it's been around since the 1990s:
a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy. "the deep state and its policy of allowing extremist ideologies to flourish may be the actual issues of concern" Origin 1990s: probably a translation of Turkish derin devlet (the term was first used with reference to Turkey).
Who knew? It has long been the position of conservatives that an ever-growing bureaucracy is a dangerous thing; this is why. Yes, yes, we are continually told that these are "career civil servants" who faithfully execute their positions come Republicans or high water. But if so, how did this happen:
As our own Michael Ledeen reported here [] at PJ Media back in 2014:
During his first presidential campaign in 2008, Mr. Obama used a secret back channel to Tehran to assure the mullahs that he was a friend of the Islamic Republic, and that they would be very happy with his policies. The secret channel was Ambassador William G. Miller, who served in Iran during the shah’s rule, as chief of staff for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and as ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador Miller has confirmed to me his conversations with Iranian leaders during the 2008 campaign.
(I have visibly inserted the relevant link to the 2014 Ledeen article into the quotation from Patrick Poole's article for clarity. Please note that Mr. Poole did the research and I strongly encourage reading the whole thing as he wrote it.) (Seriously, please read Mr. Poole's piece - he lays out the whole mess beautifully.)

If Gen. Flynn's conversation with the Russian ambassador was worthy of prosecution under the venerable but difficult Logan Act, how is former President Obama's agent Miller's not? It's worth noting that Gen. Flynn maintains that his conversation was not about the Obama administration's late-stage sanctions against Iran; it was about the 35 Russian diplomats whom the Obama administration was expelling over Russian interference in the 2016 election. (We must certainly turn our attention to the status of the investigation of that Russian interference very soon.) Discussing the expulsion of diplomats is a far cry from the quid pro quo being implied and sometimes stated outright - generally in the form of a question, which I understand is a tool that's been used to good effect by some trying to skirt accusations of libel - by the press: "You helped Trump get elected; he will raise the sanctions on your country." Scurrilous.

And do we all remember the giant media hoopla that surrounded questions of whether the American intelligence and security community was wiretapping Americans during the W years? That was a mortal sin back in the day; now, like the dissent that was considered borderline treasonous in the Obama years and is once again the "highest form of patriotism" since there's an R behind the President's name, it's hunky-dory.

Remember the Laputians of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels? There was a class of civil servant among them called a "flapper." It was this guy's job to flap the ears of the king whenever the flapper thought the king should pay attention. In other words, the flapper controlled the agenda of the king and therefore of the kingdom. This is where we live now.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

You pop out for groceries and...

...six years later, gosh, a new-ish state (back in Texas again), a presidency that's ever more transformative (for good or ill - more on this in a moment), but the same old Lipstick Republican! I am clearly a fair-weather blogger, though my politics didn't change during the Obama years; I just found it so dispiriting to write about the Obama administration and all that went along with it. Schadenfreude is so much tastier than ashes. Let me dispose immediately of the Trump election: when Donald Trump appeared on the long Republican bench a year or so ago, I was bemused but otherwise paid no attention; he was nothing to me but a flashy New York real estate developer with terrible taste in hairstyles and predictable taste in women. And then he began to run in earnest.

You know that scene in Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day Lewis (with Uncas) starts at one end of the column of retreating British soldiers and civilians who have just been ambushed by the Huron, and runs full-tilt down the column, whaling away at every warrior he encounters as he makes his way to save Cora from a Fate Worse Than Death? If it were voiced over, the narration would be, "The obstacles were insurmountable. The danger, unthinkable. But he had to try." Just picture that for a second: tomahawk slashing, yellow combover flying, Trump overcomes sixteen variously formidable opponents to gain the Republican nomination - that's halfway down the column, his goal perhaps in sight by then - and continues his gallop down the line. Whoosh, there goes another poll; smash, there goes another pundit... and then, against all odds, he symbolically beheads the Democrat party and pulls up short, raising the shivering American people to their collective feet and embraces them with surpassing tenderness... Okay, I cannot go on. I apologize for that image there. But it was quite a run, wasn't it? I wouldn't think you have to have particular sympathy toward either Trump's policies or the Republican platform to appreciate the magnitude of the task.

I offer the previous rather uncomfortable paragraph to illustrate the fact that Trump was not, was never My Guy, but I sat there on election night and marveled at the yuuuuge turnaround. (Yes, I know it probably shouldn't have been as unexpected as it was; yes, I know Clinton was a weak candidate who ran on, "It's my turn this time"; yes, I know the press was totally in the tank for her and abdicated their - I won't call it "duty" because I don't want to anoint them, so let's just say "job.")

So, here we are: another faux Hitler to render the Left incoherent, a new burning Rome to ignore. Republicans have this nasty habit of winning electorally although the popular vote (which you should generally take as "the California vote") goes to the other candidate; the calls for abolition of the Electoral College were right on cue and just as footless as always. The tendency toward violent protest is kind of new. The press continues to astound, daily massaging or contorting the news of the day into its proper shape. This last is probably going to be my subject for a while, because while I repeat that President Trump was never My Guy, I am seeing way too much "President Trump is not my president" from American journalism. Let's begin again, shall we?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

It all starts... with a choice -

- again to turn a formerly political blog into a movie review one: yes, Eclipse is out, yes, I saw it at its opening at midnight a couple of nights ago, yes, I saw it again alone yesterday, and yes, I'm going to talk about it herein.

First let me say that Roger Ebert is a big whiner. His review, which I saw described elsewhere as having "richly" detailed the plot of the entire Twilight series, was full of - let's call it "baloney": it was so rife with misstatements and chortling over his and his audience's sophistication (of course as contrasted with the Twilight girls' silly naivete) that it was hard for me to read seriously.

Because that, I think, is where you have to start with these movies: in order to do justice to the experience of those same Twilight girls, of whom I represent a piece of the upper end of the bell curve, the movies have to be in earnest. There's plenty of room for teenage repartee, but the object of the game is suspension of disbelief - Bella really is, for some reason, the target of deadly supernatural forces; she really is the love of Edward's, um, existence; she really does have to choose between Edward's overprotective, jealous, but very sincere adoration and Jacob's more normal plane of devotion.

Or, as the Eclipse screenplay makes clear to the relief of moms of tweens and romantic teens everywhere, she has to choose between who she ought to (implied: "wishes she could") be and who she is. Finally, an attempt to explain why she sticks with the vampire! Melissa Whosis (sorry, I don't google before my first cup of coffee), who wrote the screenplay, either on her own or by direction gives Bella one speech in which she explains that since discovering that the vampires' "world" exists, she's been more comfortable, more self-actualized if you will, whenever she's been in or interacting with that world than she ever was while "literally stumbling through [her] life." Great move! I've been Team Edward all along, but - more on this point later - it's awfully nice to have a reason for it beyond, "He's smokin'!" (Especially since young Taylor Lautner has now just about achieved parity in that regard, much as it oogs me out to admit it.)

All righty then: this is the best of the Twilight franchise. Partly that distinction was handed to it on a platter, because of the books, Eclipse is also the best - most "happening" plot, best character interactions, best theme to move it along. But it's also an earned distinction, as the secondary characters have a chance in Eclipse to do something - one scene in which Jasper tells the story of his bloody life before becoming a Cullen finally gives Jackson Rathbone something worthwhile to say, and he and Ashley Greene/Alice have a nice little moment at its end, for instance. Rosalie finally gets a backstory for why she's so darn mad all the time (that's in the book, but Nikki Reed does a good job with it). The Lesser Wolves, for lack of a better term, get to strut a little of their stuff, albeit mostly silently, hanging onto their endearing teen-boy goofiness where it makes sense but going alert, wary, and all business when they're around vampires.

And Jacob and Edward? Well, I've always given Robert Pattinson credit for being a better actor than his pretty face allows him to be for many critics. The big challenge for him in these movies is indeed to overcome that face: can we feel sympathy for him in spite of the fact (yes, fact) that Jacob really is the better choice by pretty much any light? And Taylor Lautner - can he be believable as the underdog love-interest? Can he generate enough romantic chemistry with Bella (they had plenty of buddy-buddy chemistry in New Moon) to make their climactic kiss make sense?

A scene in which Jacob and Edward actually talk with one another, awkward in the book because it has to take place as Bella, the narrator, drifts in and out of sleep (lots of references to "what a strange dream I'm having, all this whispering," etc.), works better in the movie because the movie is able to suspend its already less determined first-person-ness temporarily and have that conversation while Bella's actually out like a light. Edward's very reluctant resignation to the necessity of Jacob's keeping Bella warm is clear; Jacob's smug satisfaction in that role is just as clear. Each of them moves from belligerence to a tentative understanding, even acceptance, of one another's importance to Bella, while in Edward's case never ceding his primacy, and in Jacob's case never ending his rivalry. Edward is smoother, more measured in his emotions, either because of his much longer life (or whatever) or because Robert Pattinson's just that way; who knows? Jacob lapses back into uncertain-sixteen-year-old as he asks how Edward felt when he thought he'd lost Bella forever back in the New Moon days; it was a credible moment. In other words, the boys did good.

As for their interactions with Bella now. Edward has fewer "Twilight" moments now, in which he seems to be orbiting Bella, anticipating her, weirdly cautious with her - I'm thinking of the scene in Twilight when he helps her off with her jacket the first time she visits his family, when she's just trying to shrug it off and he's getting in the way trying to take it, touching her while trying not to touch her too much; that little bit was a nice illustration of the dual differences of era and species between them. Instead, Edward finally acts mostly human with Bella in Eclipse - true, the most perfectly devoted (and chaste) beau a high school senior ever had in her most fevered dreams, but at least not strange. They're very sweet together.

Jacob and Bella? Trickier. Jacob, appropriately, seems to feel time flying by, all through the film; he rushes everything he says and does with Bella. There's the sense that he'd have better luck with Bella if he took more time with her, and that he knows it, too. His desperation is pretty palpable. His first, unwelcome kiss got lots of squees from the girls (I restrained myself, cognizant that better was on the way); the second, which he approached with a small smile that I thought was just about the perfect balance between joy and triumph, got more, followed by that sighing silence that meant, "OK, now I understand that 'Team Jacob' thing." Also very sweet. Taylor Lautner had some heavy lifting to do in this role, in this film - as heavy as this genre gets, anyway; I thought he carried it off well.

As for the cinematography: we were back to the Twilight blues in many places, cold sharp drama, but overall effectively used; the special effects were, I thought, graceful and not too intrusive, so that's a big plus. There was a LOT less sparkling, such that when it did occur, its subtlety was a subtext rather than a "Hey! Look at me sparkling!" moment.

So now is the time in Sprockets when I diss the critics. Their problem, most of 'em, is that they insist on reviewing these movies as if they stand alone, not just separate from one another but separate from the canon of the four books. I use "canon" here advisedly, not just with regard to the details of the books' world, but also with regard to the attitude of those who read and enjoy them. I've never deluded myself that these books are lit'rature - they're an escape into the world teenage girls like me (I'm still well in touch with that girl I used to be) wished existed. Not a world of vampires and werewolves, although as long as we're making a world, why not make it an interesting one? But a world in which those things that seemed absolutely vital, or absolutely clear, or absolutely unbearable, to my absolutist thirteen-to-nineteen-year-old self, really were that absolute. A world in which my first love really was the love of my life, in which his leaving me felt like my death, in which every decision I made felt as if it had lifelong consequences. It's adolescence in its purest form, and when it's examined from a position of adult judgment and experience (I won't call it "wisdom" since I don't give a lot of movie critics credit for that), it looks jejune.

My church just put on Our Town. At one point in the second act, "Love and Marriage," the Stage Manager urges the audience to remember what young love was like, to put themselves into that faraway place in order to appreciate the scene to come. That attitude is what the Twilight series, books or movies, also requires: a willingness to forget what you've learned over time, to ignore the constant pull of popular culture to be more and more cynical, and simply to open oneself to a kind of distilled, self-perceived purity that doesn't actually exist in ground truth. I can do that. I don't often get the chance, which is why I've enjoyed these books and movies so much.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, steampunk, and canon

How this sorta-politics blog keeps turning into a movie review blog, I don't know... but it keeps happening.

I finally saw Sherlock Holmes today, having wanted to catch its Christmas opening but being far too busy living actual life with my actual loved ones to indulge in vicarious life with the ever-crushworthy detective. (More about that in a moment.) I was... bemused. Because I liked it QUITE a lot, in spite of a convoluted and hard-to-follow plot (which, like my darling Twilight movies, relies pretty heavily on an informed audience, of which I'm definitely one - but it was still hard to follow), weird casting in the parts of Irene Adler (about whom I say "meh") and John Watson (about whom I say, "FINALLY, a movie where I can like Jude Law!" even while acknowledging how little like the traditionally understood Watson he is), and heavy application of steampunk.

Actually, that last point turns out to be a big reason why I liked it, I think, to my surprise: I thought the steampunk stuff was distracting me until I suddenly realized that I was looking for it eagerly in every scene.

So anyway, what was to like? STRICT ADHERENCE TO CANON on points that don't usually benefit from that attention. I've read six or seven critics' reviews now, and (I love when this happens) except about Downey's performance as Holmes, they don't agree about much. However, one point on which they do seem to agree is that this movie is, like, totally revisionist. I argue that it's Basil Rathbone that's the revisionist (but great in his own way, I'm sure - though it occurs to me that I've never seen any Holmes movie until this one). Go back and read the stories: Holmes isn't fastidious, he's messy. (Tobacco in a slipper?) He isn't prissy, he's blasé about moral lapses. (King of Bohemia has ill-advised affair with Adler; Holmes doesn't bat an eyelash, just goes to work recovering the evidence.) He is a bare-knuckles fighter, as well as an adept of "baritsu." He is likely to appear in disreputable costumes at unexpected moments. He doesn't eat, live, or entertain himself as a Victorian British gentleman of independent means would; he's described by his creator (or is it "his biographer"? Who can say?) as "bohemian" and "eccentric." So when I first saw trailers for this movie, I thought, "Robert Downey, Jr.? Really?" But I quickly came around to, "Swoon!"

Because I've had a crush on Holmes forEVer. My parents had a copy of The Seven Per Cent Solution lying around; I fell into it when I was, oh, twelve, and the allure of the moody druggy Holmes led me to the "trad" Holmes of Doyle - wherein the moody druggy Holmes was visible at the edges of the stories - and those two together led me to the Laurie King Holmes-in-"retirement," the most crushworthy of all, because finally we no longer have to guess at and hope for clues to his emotional climate. Holmes: the best bad boy ever, because he's not really bad, just inscrutable and untouchable.

I also decided, eventually, that I liked the direction and the cinematography a lot: there was not one scene of a sunny London, which makes great sense in the time-context: the sun had a tough row to how in coal-heated London. Ritchie's overcranked and undercranked scenes were disconcerting but effective; perhaps if I watched 24 I'd not be so whipsawed by them, but even though I had to mentally reset myself each time the speed of action changed, I dug the way it looked.

And the Holmes-Watson bromance? First, never say that word again; it's stupid. Second, you know, there was no "gay" there for me, though just about every reviewer seemed to find it. (Please see the paragraph a few up, about how dreamy Holmes is, and then see "projection" in the dictionary, I'm thinking. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Obviously I'm employing it myself, incorporating my own bias.) The scene (SPOILER!) in which Adler, Holmes, and Watson are arrayed in that order along the side of a building that explodes toward them was, I thought, terrific: Holmes, caught between his best friend and the newly returned woman he won't quite admit he loves, makes a typical Holmes snap decision, turns toward one, looks back toward the other, and races for the one - all in slow-motion, and shot confusingly on purpose (I think) so that until he reaches his destination we can't tell which one he's running toward, which one he's wishing he could also save. How is that evidence of Holmes's sexual orientation? He loves both; he can only get to one. The rest of the Holmes-Watson interaction is exactly like the conversations my husband has with his brother - occasional uncomfortable references to an affection they don't want to talk about, lots of ribbing, quarrelling, and punching. What?

And the steampunk. Brass clockworks. A waistcoat lying dusty in the road (you know that thing that appears sometimes in catalogues and women's mags as a "weskit"? A tailored vest? Well, that's a waistcoat. It's how it's pronounced. Silly catalogues and mags). The Tower Bridge under construction - it's ultramodern! It's ultra-retro! It's an engineering marvel rendered with slide rules and a preponderance of hand tools with steam power (hence the "steam" of steampunk) for the heavy lifting. Whoa. It's all so beautiful, so soot-soiled, so romantic, so gritty, so full of portents, manners, cruelty, and quick double-entendre.

I give the movie a big analog 9 or so, cast in brass and tarnished by the sulfurous "fog" of Victorian London. Fun!