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Archive for September, 2008

The Lay of the Land | A Moment of Zen.

“‘Obama has many more paths to the nomination than McCain,’ the source said. ‘They think they can defend the Kerry states. Iowa is gone. That’s five votes. New Mexico is in the bag. Then Obama has four or five different ways of winning. He can go Nevada or Colorado, Virginia, any of those, even Indiana. McCain has got to run the board, the whole Bush table.’” According to London’s Telegraph, Team Obama is feeling confident about victory these days. “We’re much stronger on the ground in Virginia and North Carolina than people realise. If we get out the vote this may not be close at all.

In related news, the McCain camp currently seems lost in the quagmire, particularly after Obama’s post-debate bounce and recent developments on the economic front. “‘What begins to happen is that the margin that’s been in place begins to solidify more and more,’ said Matthew Dowd, who was Bush’s chief strategist in 2004 and is now an independent analyst. ‘There’s only two ways this can go,’ he added. ‘It will either solidify with an Obama four- to five- point lead, or it will loosen and go back to close and go back and forth.’” In other words, another McCain campaign stunt incoming.

Update: I know the EW cover below is apropos of nothing above, really. On the other hand, it is election-related, and I found it laugh-out-loud funny. Hat tips to The Oak and Peasants Under Glass.

Bailout, or we all sink.

‘Today’s the decision day. I wish it weren’t the case,’ said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).” Despite the apparent attempt by divider-not-a-uniter John McCain to kill a compromise he hadn’t even read last week, the Dubya White House and Congress hold their respective noses and come to agreement on Paulson’s $700 billion bailout plan, with debate in the House starting today. “The proposed legislation would authorize Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. to initiate what is likely to become the biggest government bailout in U.S. history, allowing him to spend up to $700 billion to relieve faltering banks and other firms of bad assets backed by home mortgages, which are falling into foreclosure at record rates. The plan would give Paulson broad latitude to purchase any assets from any firms at any price and to assemble a team of individuals and institutions to manage them.

As I said here, I’m not all that happy about the nation having to subsume the risk, and ride to the rescue of, the many banks and Wall Street types that profited massively from these obviously suspect mortgage deals. But, what else is there to do? As with so much else occurring over the past eight years, it befalls us now to clean up the mess left by the free market fundies of late. I just hope we learn something from the economic consequences of this latest binge of free-market fraudulence, before they grow too dire. To wit, whatever the corporate-funded right tells you about self-regulating markets, we need, and will continue to need, real refs on the field.

Update: Uh oh. The bailout compromise dies in the House, prompting the Dow Jones to swiftly tank 700 points. “The measure needs 218 votes for passage. Democrats voted 141 to 94 in favor of the plan, while Republicans voted 65 to 133 against. That left the measure with 206 votes for and 227 against.

As the TIME article linked above noted before the vote, “the candidate with the most riding on Monday’s vote is McCain, who backed the concerns of conservatives in the House over the initial agreement…[I]f a majority of the House Republicans don’t vote for the measure, McCain could lose political face. ‘If McCain cannot persuade them, it is hard to portray him as a leader,’ said Clyde Wilcox, a political science professor at Georgetown University.” So, that’s the silver lining, I guess. But the bad news now, alas, is considerably worse.

A Natural Born World-Shaker.


‘I picture my epitaph,’ he once said. ‘Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown.” Racer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and out-and-out movie star (blue eyes or brown) Paul Newman, 1925-2008.

From Melancholy Danes to the Mighty Norse.

With Matthew Vaughn now off the project, will Mjnolir fall into the hands of a Shakespearean? Apparently, Marvel is in discussions with Kenneth Branagh to direct Thor. That is…strange.

Once (or Twice) in a Lifetime.

“A man only gets a couple of chances in life. It won’t be long before he’s sitting around wondering how he got to be second-rate.” Lots of choice stuff in today’s trailer bin: First up, President Josh Brolin braves pretzels, Poppa Bush, and enough JD to kill a small horse in this fun extended trailer for Oliver Stone’s W. (I can’t wait.) Elsewhere, Frank Miller borrows from Robert Rodriguez, who, of course, borrowed from him, to mine Will Eisner’s back-catalog in this short new teaser for The Spirit. (I’m still not sold.)

Also up recently, Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio forsake the Titanic to suffocate in the suburbs in the first trailer for Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road. (Ok, altho’ it looks Little Children-ish.) Tom Cruise leads an all-star team of character actors in a plot to kill Hitler in the second trailer for Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie. And Brad Pitt moves from age to wisdom in the second trailer for David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (Not as haunting as the teaser, but close.) I gotta say, it’s good to finally hit the Oscar stretch for 2008 — I haven’t seen nearly enough movies this year.

Update: One more, via LMG: Philip Seymour Hoffman puts on a play — and gets stuck waiting in the wings — in the trailer for Charlie Kaufman’s much-anticipated Synecdoche, New York, also starring Hope Davis, Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dianne Wiest, Emily Watson, and Michelle Williams.

Update 2: Ok, what with Marky Mark, Ludacris, Bridges the Lesser, the lousy whiteboy angst-metal, and the highly Matrix-derivative gun-fu and explosions throughout, the recent trailer for John Moore’s Max Payne looks Skinemax bad. But, then again, it does have The Wire‘s Jamie Hector (Marlo) briefly playing Exposition Guy with an island accent, so that’s enough for a link. Hey, I’m easily amused.

Round One: Obama by Decision.

“John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. The war started in 2003…You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni. And you were wrong.”

I doubt y’all missed it (even if the ratings were surprisingly low.) Nonetheless, Senators Obama and McCain held their first of three debates Friday night in Mississippi, ostensibly on foreign policy matters (although the economic situation on Wall Street took up the first half-hour.) [Transcript.] And the verdict? Well, to no one’s surprise, I’m going to go with Obama on this one. I’m just not going to pretend to be as fair and balanced as John King, David Gergen, and the other seemingly randomly selected poobahs of our Fourth Estate (who was the Aussie guy holding court next to Christine Amanpour?), who went out of their way on CNN to convince me that McCain seemed knowledgable, spry, and at ease during this event. Nope, I think I’ll side with the polls, which have a cool, level-headed, and magnanimous Sen. Obama winning the event handily.

The thing is, even more than with Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom I agreed with most of the time on the issues even when I disagreed completely with her GOP-lite campaign tactics, I just can’t take John McCain at all seriously at this point, and particularly after both Palin and the non-suspension suspension. So, when McCain tries to tout a career ostensibly spent in the service of congressional ethics, my inelastic brain just keeps thinking “Uh…Keating 5?” Anybody watching the past few years knows that McCain was as AWOL in the fight against Boss DeLay as he has been in countering Dubya these past two terms. And, whatever happened to McCain since 2000, speaking-truth-to-power is not something that comes readily to him anymore, if it ever did. So most of his early “I’m a proven maverick” speel Friday night fell on deaf ears from jump street in this household, and thus I can’t speak to how it might’ve played to those still-undecideds out there willing to buy into his craven sham.

That being said, I had a sense while watching — and the polls seem to bear this out — that McCain was making a critical error with his oft-repeated “Sen. Obama doesn’t understand” routine. That might’ve worked if Obama had seemed greener up there next to McCain, or if Obama was as inarticulate and incompetent as, say, Sarah Palin. But as it was, Sen. Obama came across as unruffled, competent, and conversant on all the issues the mythical maverick tried to paint him as naive on (and/or lie about.) And thus the strategy (or was it a tactic?), imho, backfired massively. Instead, McCain — missing the soft touch of Ronald Reagan, who turned age to his advantage against Mondale in 1984 with a joke and a smile — basically came across as a cantankerous old coot, dripping with undeserved contempt toward that damn whippersnapper in his yard.

It’s mainly for this reason that I think, however much the debate is being painted as a draw by the punditariat, Obama came out the clear victor: Sen. Obama did not seem callow or inexperienced in the slightest, but lordy did McCain — squinting, smirking, and drowning in derision — come across as aged. And I may be wrong about this, but I just don’t think the Old Man Withers strategy plays with the undecides. I know that many lefties out there wanted to see a more forceful Obama on the attack Friday night, but I don’t think that was his mission: It was more important that he, like Kennedy in 1960, seemed presidential, level-headed, and the very opposite of the risky gamble that the McCain folks would try to make him seem. In that, I think, he succeeded, particularly in contrast to the snarky old man standing across from him. Advantage Obama.

Suspension of Disbelief.

“I am confident that before the markets open on Monday we can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people. All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so.” Uh, but I thought the fundamentals of our economy were strong! Apparently now cognizant of our recent economic travails, John McCain announces he’s temporarily suspending his campaign to focus on the Wall Street bailout, and has asked for Friday’s foreign policy debate to be delayed.

If we learned anything from the Palin debacle, it’s that the mythical maverick isn’t above pulling a ridiculous and transparent stunt when he’s starting to sweat the polls. Well, here we go again. Update: Sez Obama, the debate is on. Damn right.

We are all “Socialists” now.

“Let’s be clear about why we’re facing a crisis that could pull down the global financial system. The irresponsibility of individuals who bought houses they couldn’t quite afford pales in comparison with the irresponsibility of the financial wizards who built on those shaky mortgages a towering edifice of irrational faith. Someone in the government should have looked at all those trillions of dollars’ worth of mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps and demanded that Wall Street prove that all, or even most, of this purported money was real. But we’re in the eighth year of the Bush administration; adult supervision left the building long ago.”Eugene Robinson.

Boy, nothing like panic and near-catastrophe in the banking and financial sectors to turn all the stark raving free-market fundies redder than Eugene Debs on May Day, eh? In any event, once again we’re on the verge of learning the hard way that Wall Street does a really lousy job of regulating itself, and that, when push comes to shove, it’s the “don’t-tread-on-me” entrepreneurial capitalists among us who are the first to beg for Big Guvmint to come in and bail them out — at above-market prices. “The only emergency is on Wall Street, and that is entirely of Wall Street’s making. It was the banks that made the loans, the banks that bought the paper, the banks that dumbly believed the models that said that housing prices wouldn’t collapse…How touching to see executives from the likes of Lehman Brothers, not normally an institution associated with widows and orphans, squawk about cutthroat tactics.” And I don’t seem to remember the economic Big Boys, or their mostly-GOP minions in Congress, show such concern about the vagaries of risk when the plight of ordinary folks was being discussed, vis a vis the egregious bankruptcy bill of 2005.

Of course, we can’t just let many of our major financial institutions implode without consequence, and — even though delegating the Dubya administration any more “emergency powers” at this point seems like a colossally bad idea — it seems a given that something will have to be done to sort out all this out, and it will no doubt end up costing taxpayers and aggrieved homeowners a bundle. I just hope, when the dust settles, we remember this time how this all came about, and not just let the idiotic free-market fundies blather on about tax-and-spend liberals killing the entrepreneurial spirit every time some sort of regulatory apparatus is discussed in Washington. We know how that movie ends.

Burn, Baby, Burn.

Well, i’ll have to reserve final judgment for several months or years down the line — It’s hard to think of any Coen film that hasn’t improved considerably with age and/or repeat viewings (although I have yet to give The Ladykillers, another spin.) But, for now, the brothers’ larky spy spoof Burn After Reading, which I caught last week, feels right now like medium-grade Coen. (Mind you, saying Burn is middling by Coen standards isn’t a criticism per se — Even medium-grade Coen delivers at several degrees above standard film fare, if you’ve acquired the taste for it.) Burn is nowhere near as funny as, say, The Big Lebowski or Raising Arizona, and I actually prefer the much-maligned and underappreciated Intolerable Cruelty. But it does hit at about the level of The Man Who Wasn’t There or The Hudsucker Proxy, and I think it could even grow into O Brother territory one day.

Like Lebowski after Fargo and Barton Fink after their magnum opus, Miller’s Crossing, Burn has that jaunty, drawing-outside-the-lines, devil-may-care ambience to it, which suggests the project was mainly just a mental sorbet of sorts for the brothers after their dour venture into (Cormac) McCarthyism, No Country for Old Men. In any case, I could see the film falling flat to those moviegoers ambivalent to or aggravated by Coenisms. But if, like me, you enjoy panning for hidden gold in their slow-fuse sight gags (among them this time are purple sex cushions, Jamba Juices, and Dermot Mulroney) and relish their penchant for eminently quotable buffoonery (“You too can be a spy, madam“), I suspect you’ll have a decently good time with Burn. There are worse fates in this world than having drunk the Coen Kool-aid.

Just to make sure we’ve all moved on from the dark contours of west Texas nihilism, Burn after Reading is basically goofy from Jump Street: It begins with a ludicrous eye-in-the-sky shot of Planet Earth, eventually zooming down into Langley, VA, that (give or take a few more flashy whip-pans and slo-mos) would seem more at home in a Tony Scott film. Our Great Eye soon settles upon the sacking from the Balkans desk of one Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), a veteran CIA analyst with a hair-trigger temper, a cold, cuckolding wife (Tilda Swinton), and — at least by the standards of Mormons — a problem with the sauce. (To his credit, he tends to wait until exactly 5pm, and not a minute later, to commence the day’s boozing — On Mad Men, he’d be a teetotaller.) Determined to exact his revenge on the Bureau for this slight (and perhaps save face before both his wife and aging father, the very definition of silent reproach), Cox commences to penning his “memoirs,” most of which — in the venerable memoir tradition — is a ponderous, self-serving litany of blatant name-dropping. (He fancies himself as one of “Murrow’s Boys” to containment architect George Kennan. I would guess this self-assessment is somewhat inflated.)

But, due to some twists and turns involving divorce proceedings, Cox’s manuscript (in CD form) ends up in the hands of Linda Litzke and Chad Feldheimer (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt), two enterprising, if somewhat clueless, employees at the local athletic center, Hardbodies. Alas, both Linda (blinded by her desire to procure cosmetic surgery and get off the Internet dating train) and Chad, not the brightest bulb on the tree in any event, make the critical mistake of thinking this “raw intelligence” is something somebody might actually be interested in, and thus said gym rats decide to blackmail Cox into paying for return of the CD. And, if that fails, well, they’ll still get theirs by going to the Russians with the data…but, of course, things don’t go exactly according to plan. Throw some X-factors into the equation — say, George Clooney as the paramour of both Mrs. Cox and Linda, a paranoid, lactose-intolerant US marshall who loves three things in this world: kinky sex, a good post-coital run, and quality flooring; or Richard Jenkins as the kindly Orthodox priest turned Hardbodies manager who nurtures a crush for Ms. Litzke from afar — and this proposed blackmail starts to get really, really complicated. It’s no wonder the CIA suits (J.K. Simmons and David Rasche) can’t wrap their heads around it. What are they, rocket scientists?

Now, a caveat: If you find Coen movies to be generally irritating, you’re probably going to loathe this film, and those critics who think the brothers are nothing more than elitist misanthropes (See, for example, Dave Kehr on No Country: “a series of condescending portraits of assorted hicks, who are then brutally murdered for our entertainment“) will have a field day in panning this film. To this line of criticism, I would say two things: First, Burn is assuredly the work of equal-opportunity misanthropes — It’s clearly as ruthless toward Malkovich’s self-centered, Princeton-educated ninny as it is to the good-natured boobs at Hardbodies. (Besides, speaking as someone who burnt out years ago on the Internet dating rigamarole, and who now runs mostly at night, partly to facilitate the Chet-and-his-iPod-type grooving, it’s not like the foibles of Coen’s characters here aren’t at least somewhat universal.)

Second, particularly every time I read the news these days and find not only that I’m honestly expected to take a silly, patently unqualified, score-settling and habitually dishonest fundie like Sarah Palin — a.k.a. an evil Marge Gunderson with the leadership skills of Johnny Caspar (minus his ethical instincts) and the stuck-in-Vietnam worldview of Walter Sobchak — seriously as a potential leader of the Free World, but that close to half of our country is actually enthused by this notion because, well, shucks, she’s “just like us”…well, I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that intelligence is relative, and that elitist misanthropy (or misanthropic elitism, if you’d prefer) might just end up being the new black. It’s a Coen world, y’all. They didn’t make the rules, and they — and we — are just living in it.

Omsbudsdog Emeritus

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