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Navel-Gazing

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Everyday I’m Hustlin’ (and Doublin’.)

Happy Easter. Quiet here at the Ghost, I know. Chalk up 65% of it to an extremely busy month of work — one of the busiest I can remember — 25% to the usual existential malaise that accompanies blogging these days, and 10% to the sheer addictiveness of 2048. In any event, the schedule is clearing some now, so I expect the posts will pick up around here in short order.

To Explore Strange New Worlds.


“It’s still one of the greatest magazines about science fiction of all time.” iO9′s Charlie Jane Anders points the way to a fully-searchable online archive of Starlog Magazine. The “internet before the internet,” as one of the commenters well put it, Starlog was one of the staples of my childhood (and the magazine that, since I was living overseas when it came out, spoiled Return of the Jedi and several other movies rotten for me.)

R.I.P. Berkeley 2000-2014.

Yesterday morning, two weeks before his 14th birthday, Berkeley and I went to the vet. This was just for a check-up and a bordetella vaccine, and Berk seemed chipper as always — He was always especially happy and excited when we broke our morning routine to venture somewhere else. I told the vet that I was actually surprised by the good health he’d been in. Since the bad bite and lost toe in 2012, Berk had been the picture of vitality — Just the night before, we’d played a solid half-hour of “apartment Frisbee.” From what they could tell, the vet agreed — they said his heart seemed normal, his movement lively, his disposition upbeat, his joie de vivre intact. He did have an ear infection in one ear, so they gave me some topical meds for that. I took him home, applied them, scratched him behind his ear, and went to work.

Yesterday evening, I came home from work to find Berk splayed out on the floor, dead for many hours. (His body seemed like it was in a violent position – legs up, head half under the couch. But now that I think about it, what probably happened is he died on the couch, hopefully sleeping, and his body fell off sometime later — hence the contortion when the rictus sent in.) My friend Arjun and I carried his corpse downstairs and drove it to the vet for cremation. In the space of ten hours, he’s gone from being happy to just being gone. Looking out at the snow everywhere this morning, I can’t help but think that this is the type of day he would have loved.

The shock of it all notwithstanding, I know that this a pretty fortunate way for the old man to go. He was happy and in good health — still able to jump to his perch on the table whenever he wanted, still interested in smelling things and exploring the world, still eager for a bite or three of whatever I was having for dinner — on the day he died. Neither of us had to go through the long fade, as it were. And, y’know, he would have been fourteen in two weeks: We had an amazing run together. I knew this day was coming sometime in the relatively near future. I just thought — and hoped — it wouldn’t be today. What do we say to the God of Death? Not today. But today — or yesterday — it was. And now his watch is ended, his perch is empty.

Berkeley was born on February 25th, 2000. My ex-wife and I got him on May 15 of that year. We knew we wanted a sheltie, and I had seen a Mother’s Day sale for them out near Harper’s Ferry. We ended up seeing three or four pups in a barn — three brown-eyed shelties barking and licking our hand, and one blue-eyed one, watching us silently from afar. I knew right away I wanted the introvert.

My ex-wife and I divorced the following year, in 2001. I knew I wanted Berk and gave up all our other (very few) common possessions — Berk coming with me was never really in doubt. And for the next twelve+ years, he was my constant companion and power animal. We’d walk the streets of New York and DC together, spend the weekends in Riverside and Central Park, Dupont Circle and the Mall, and days and nights just hanging around the pad — him circling or on watch.

There was a year or two of grad school there where Berk was the only living entity I had consistent contact with. I remember at least twice in our time together, when I was devastated after a scorched-earth break-up and the general despair of the long-term PhD process, where the only thing I could do for days was stagger around my apartment sobbing, clutching a half-gallon of water so I didn’t completely dry out. Berk would dutifully follow me around, tail wagging, and lick my face dry when I got in a place where he could reach me. Despair or no, there was salt to be had here.

He was a great dog. Lived happy until the day he died.

And he was my best friend. I can think of a lot of times when he felt like my only friend.

RIP, little buddy. I’ll miss you.

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Walks like a Progressive…


In case you enjoyed the last go-round in August with Jay Ackroyd, I recorded another stint on Virtually Speaking this past week about Uphill All the Way, who the progressives were, and the shift from progressivism to liberalism — this time with Stuart Zechman. And since I invariably feel like I’m not being altogether lucid when speaking in public, consider this also another plug for the written word and Uphill, still online in full.

Them Big Boys Did What HBO Couldn’t Do.

“As you probably heard, the onetime juggernaut of a video rental chain formally pulled the plug on most of its remaining retail stores this week. Just think of all those abandoned storefronts where people used to rent ‘Wall Street 2′ or ‘Pain and Gain’ or whatever; just think of what Bruce Springsteen, the bard of economic collapse, might have done with such a…well, I was about to type ‘catastrophic occurrence,’ but..it was more like a sector of the marketplace realigning itself with technological reality after years of denying the inevitable.”

Down in South Carolina, back in 1993, I wore the blue and yellow, got ten free films a week. I built up some movie knowledge, right near the Florence Mall. Now those tapes have been taken away, lost amid the suburban sprawl. After mining the Internet hivemind, Matt Zoller Seitz gathers odes to the end of Blockbuster in the style of Bruce Springsteen.

Mowing neighborhood lawns notwithstanding, Blockbuster was actually my first job. And, while I never cottoned to their Republican-leaning ways or their ridiculous drug test policy, it was a pretty good gig for a high school kid, all in all — if you could withstand the same twenty trailers and episode of Duck Tales playing ALL THE TIME. Like I said, ten free movies a week. As an 18-year-old just working to raise beer-money for college, you can’t beat that with a stick.

Trolling the House of Morgan.

“JPMorgan’s bankers are getting used to business deals with young men who communicate in emojis and text-message abbreviations…Yet, when the bank devised the promotional Q&A, it may not have fully grasped the extent to which new media has transformed how people share information, and how this has tipped existing structures of power.”

Er…let’s not overdo it. Existing structures of power haven’t changed at all, and, after a bad week’s press, JP Morgan is still laughing all the way to the bank. Still, I was proud to get in early on the co-opting of JP Morgan’s inane #AskJPM forum on Twitter last week, which got tweets of mine mentioned in BusinessWeek, WaPo, The New Yorker, and various other venues — undoubtedly the strangest being a somber tweet-reading by the venerable Stacy Keach. In any case, if any of those links have led you back here to GitM this week, welcome, and thanks for dropping by.

Fourteen (Years of) Points.

It’s November 15th again, meaning that, as of today, Ghost in the Machine is now 14 years old. [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. 11, 12, 13.]

Obviously, the blog’s been progressing in fits and starts this year, and the readership has definitely suffered as a result – This is more of a Google-trap than a blog on most days. (I’d also like to have finished the time-consuming re-archiving project by now, but I’m only 2/3rds done – 2006-2009 still need going over. But, hey, at least Uphill All the Way is now up all the way.)

In any case, hopefully a ghost of the old Ghost is still glimmering, and you never know what magic this bucket still has left in it — There may be life in the ole blog yet.

Either way, if you’ve been coming by for well over a decade now or just fallen down a Google hole today, thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Virtual All the Way.

Hello all: Back on the mainland as of 48 hours ago. In case the Election of 1924 talk of a few months past whetted your appetite for more radio ramblings about the dissertation, I discussed Uphill All the Way and 1920′s politics last night with Jay Ackyroyd of Virtually Speaking. Embed above — enjoy.

Goin’ Back to Maui.

If I got to choose a coast, I got to choose the East — I live out there, so don’t go there. That being said, as of this evening, I’m going (going) back (back) to Cali for an old friend’s wedding, followed by some vacationing (back) in Maui, for sun, sand, surf, and literally (as opposed to the usual metaphorically) swimming with sharks.

In any case, that’ll likely mean little-to-no updates around here for the duration. (Like that’ll be any different from recent months, amirite?) But, if for some unfathomable reason you find yourself in desperate need of GitM-style blathering, there’s always the dissertation. Until next time, here’s the inimitable Stephen Colbert, several cool friends, and one ginormous asshole grooving to the song of the summer. Feel free to sing along if the feeling strikes.

Things I’ve Learned from the Archives, 2003-04

Hello all. Even though the Ghost has been silent over the past fortnight, I’ve been continuing to bang around on the insides over that time. As I said back in early March, I’ve been working on repairing and improving the post-Geocities archives around here — although, since it’s taken me all of two months to re-categorize and tag the 2004 posts, I kinda wish I hadn’t started this little project.

But, oh well. It’ll be grand once it’s all completed. And to be fair, I’ve also fixed the less post-intensive 2010-2013 period since the last update, so perhaps the next few sections will go faster. (Only five more years to go…) In any case, things I’ve recently (re-)learned:

  • Howard Dean is a total lockity-lock for the 2004 Democratic nomination.

  • Ok, never mind that. But with five months before Election Day, John Kerry is up by 11 over Dubya. Hey, he’s totally going to win this thing. Hope is on the way! It’ll be a landslide, a new progressive era. (That is, unless the swift boat on the horizon and the terror terror terror somehow flip the scriptD’oh.)

  • Election 2004 post-mortem: “[O]ur standard-bearers now appear to be Hillary Clinton (about whom the country has already made up its mind), John Edwards (whom I still admire, but he couldn’t carry his home state), and Barack Obama (who’s probably too inexperienced to make much headway in 2008.)”

  • Now it’s all said and done, this post was rightFrodo was likely getting a PhD.

  • Darren Aronofsky is making Batman: Year One or Lone Wolf and Cub. Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman are making a horror movie. Shekhar Kapur is directing Arthur C. Clarke’s Foundation. Stephen Soderbergh is making The Fantastic Four. Michael Mann is making a film about the Battle of Britain. Bryan Singer is re-making Logan’s Run. Chris Columbus is making Namor. Quentin Tarantino is making a low-budget Casino Royale with Pierce Brosnan. Joe Carnahan is making Mission: Impossible 3 with Kenneth Branagh, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Scarlett Johansson. John Woo is making Metroid and/or He-Man. Michael Bay is making Superman.

  • The debt ceiling hijinx, the Budget Control Act, the sequesters — It has all been proceeding to plan.

  • Jean Claude Van Damme will be playing Steve McQueen in a remake of The Great Escape. Matt Damon will be playing the Sub-Mariner. John Cusack will be playing Nite-Owl in Watchmen.

  • Maciej Lampe is the future of the New York Knickerbockers. And there was a time when Isiah Thomas’s tenure as GM seemed bright.

  • Chuck Hagel and Lindsey Graham saw the GOP’s current predicament coming a long time ago.

  • Star Wars Episode III will be subtitled “The Creeping Fear”.

  • The cast for Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins will apparently include Viggo Mortensen (as either Ras al Ghul or Rachel’s dad), Chris Cooper (as Commissioner Gordon), and Cillian Murphy…as Harvey Dent.

  • This site not only used to have more readers. It even used to get hate mail.

  • Alabama Casts Its 24 Votes…

    Personal plug: If your interest was piqued by what I wrote about the 1924 Democratic Convention here, I was interviewed last week by Backstory on the MSG disaster for their episode on gridlock. (The segment I’m featured in starts at 33:30 — I’m the guy who sounds like Mike Mills from R.E.M. I should probably work on my radio skills.)

    Also, FWIW, my dissertation is now downloadable as a PDF from Academic Commons. At some point, I’ll probably convert it here for easier web reading, like I have previous history writings — on Herbert Croly, Al Smith, Harvey Wiley, colonial taverns, William Borah, etc. But that’s a project that’s down the queue at the moment.

    Plancking the Universe | AMS Activate.

    “In a statement issued by the European Space Agency, Jean-Jacques Dordain, its director general, said, ‘The extraordinary quality of Planck’s portrait of the infant universe allows us to peel back its layers to the very foundations, revealing that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete.’”

    This came out while I was in Seattle and I’ve been meaning to catch up: By measuring the cosmic background radiation still extant from the Big Bang, the ESA’s Planck satellite gives us our most detailed map of the universe yet.

    “[T]he new satellite data underscored the existence of puzzling anomalies that may yet lead theorists back to the drawing board. The universe appears to be slightly lumpier, with bigger and more hot and cold spots in the northern half of the sky as seen from Earth than toward the south, for example. And there is a large, unexplained cool spot in the northern hemisphere.”

    I find these maps particularly fascinating because, as I said when NASA’s WMAP returned its data in 2003 (and here in 2002), I spent the summer of 1992 poring over the original COBE DMR version of this map for my high school senior thesis, in order to determine whether the radiation exhibited a fractal distribution. (And, honestly, how early 90′s is that?)

    “‘A.M.S. has confirmed with exquisite precision and to high energy one of the most exciting mysteries in astrophysics and particle physics,’ said Justin Vandenbroucke, of the University of Wisconsin and Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.” In related news, NASA’s recently-installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the ISS is helping physicists and cosmologists get to the bottom of the dark matter mystery.

    The A.M.S. has “confirmed previous reports that local interstellar space is crackling with an unexplained abundance of high energy particles, especially positrons, the antimatter version of the familiar electrons that constitute electricity and chemistry…’Over the coming months, A.M.S. will be able to tell us conclusively whether these positrons are a signal for dark matter, or whether they have some other origin.’

    Five Men of Harvard…

    gained victory today. (Sung to the tune of this.) Per tradition, I was out in Seattle over the past weekend for my college group of friends’ annual March Madness festivities. And, for the first time since…well, ever, Harvard actually won a game. This more than makes up for an otherwise sleepy set of second/third round match-ups — the most exciting by far was Butler v. Marquette — as well as my already busted bracket. I inexcusably bought the Gonzaga hype.

    At Least Homer Read It.

    Social Media friends and Flickr followers have probably already noticed that my actual doctoral diploma arrived in the mail last week. (Speaking of which, there’s a good economics dissertation to be written on the bizarrely high cost of professional framing.) On the same day, I also received this sweet congratulations gift from my girlfriend Amy: A print of the estimable Professor Frink examining Homer J. Simpson’s (lack of) brainwaves as he peruses the old dissertation, while Berk and I look on.

    FWIW, this particular piece of awesome was drawn on commission by former Simpsons illustrator Gary Yap, who can be found on Etsy for custom works. He also apparently perused my Flickr feed and/or GitM for our look and general inspiration (Note the back of the book and Berk eyeing the Roomba.) I wonder if he made it as far as the shelves of old Simpsons toys, currently collecting dust and resale value in a Chesapeake, VA attic. In any case, very cool.

    Things I’ve Learned from the Archives, 2002-03.

    So, after more hours than I’d like to admit, I’ve made it through the first Movable Type year (2002-2003) of recategorizing and retagging the GitM archives. Among the things I’ve learned so far:

  • Paul Rudd will be playing Batman or Superman, against Christian Bale, in Wolfgang Petersen’s World’s Finest. Unless it’s Jude Law.

  • “Blue laser DVDs” are expected in the market by 2005…all models will be retro-compatible with red-laser DVD’s.

  • I had forgotten how this “pick-a-card” website could read my mind and had to figure it out all over again.

  • Lifetime’s Cinema Sequence is still quite a fun web game.

  • Over the past decade, GitM has gone from being worth nothing to $43,000 on the now-defunct Blogshares. Woot.

  • The Washington Post and Boston Globe have changed their link structures, so many old posts referencing their content are now dead ends.

  • I used to care more about deficits than I do now. (And, conversely, Republicans used to care much less.) In the parlance of the Beltway, “my views have evolved” on this subject.

    Part of the reason for the shift is the good versus bad spending dichotomy I talked about in 2010. But, more to the point, I’ve since read up on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). (See also: Warren Mosler’s Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy.)

    Basically, I was parroting the conventional wisdom on “fiscal responsibility” back then, and didn’t know what I was talking about.

  • Lost in the Archives.

    A procedural note: You may notice categories proliferating along the sidebar to the right. As it happens, the category tags, never very well fleshed-out in the first place, didn’t really survive the move from MovableType last year. So — particularly since I learned in history school that a source is only as good as its archive — I’m going back through all the old (MT) posts and adding more extensive tags and categories to them. (The Geocities Era involved hand-coded html files, so can’t do much there.)

    I’m only 200 posts or so in — Hello, summer of 2002. Gee, I wonder if these Harken revelations will bring down Dubya — and it’s already clear this is going to be a slow process. So apologies if you see an interesting topic listed that links to little-to-no content. Hopefully, eventually, it’ll all be up to snuff.

    Poor Life Decisions, Graphed.

    “Politicians and businessmen are fond of talking about America’s scientist shortage — the dearth of engineering and lab talent that will inevitably leave us sputtering in the global economy. But perhaps it’s time they start talking about our scientist surplus instead.”

    The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissman takes another gander at the sorry state of the PhD life in America, with an emphasis on the sciences. “The pattern reaching back to 2001 is clear — fewer jobs, more unemployment, and more post-doc work — especially in the sciences. A post doc essentially translates into toiling as a low-paid lab hand.”

    Note also the dismal situation of the humanities in the graph below. The average salary for a humanities PhD is not only less than I’m making in speechwriting these days — it’s less than what I was making in 2001, before I went off for grad school. It’s also less, or at the very least comparable, to the average salary of a public school teacher in America — a job where you’re probably much more likely to make a difference in the lives of your students. But hey, check out the big brain on me.

    The upshot here, at least for the humanities? It’s generally a bad idea to spend a decade apprenticing yourself to a job that barely even exists anymore.

    Update: “Let me start with the bad news. It is not even news anymore; it is simply bad. Graduate education in the humanities is in crisis. Every aspect, from the most specific details of the curriculum to the broadest questions about its purpose, is in crisis. It is a seamless garment of crisis: If you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels.” Literature professor Michael Bérubé surveys the sad state of affairs in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Love Song ’13.

    Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. My Monty Brogan impression in the last post notwithstanding, I’m still tryin’ real hard, Ringo, to be the shepherd. And so, as per various previous years, here are Bjork’s Ghosts in the Machine to take you to commercial…have a good one, y’all.

    The Clown has a Point.


    Hey all. Apologies yet again for the lack of updates around here. As I said a couple of times last year, I’m still figuring out where the old Ghost fits in the scheme of life these days. There’s a negative feedback loop happening where I don’t post at GitM that often, so fewer people swing by here, so there are no comments or feedback on the posts that I do spend some time on, which makes me even less inclined to post, so thus even fewer people swing by here…you get the point.

    I was thinking of starting up the movie reviews around here again for 2013, but having just spent a looong time on another giant project that few if any will ever peruse, I’m not really seeing the point of dedicating myself to spending even more hours of my day writing long-winded reviews that nobody ever reads. It’s just a lot of work with very little gain. I’ve been writing this blog for over 13 years and the reviews for over ten — If either were ever going to gain an audience, they would have done so by now.

    As for politics…eh. On the domestic front, all reasonable and common-sense attempts at achieving forward progress have been stymied for years now, mainly because of bipartisan infatuation with a totally fake problem. Sure, Obama (finally) talked a good game last night about climate change, voting rights, infrastructure, equal pay, housing, the minimum wage — things we expected from a progressive president four years ago, and that would undeniably make a profound difference for a lot of American families. But this is year five of this presidency — We know the score by now. When push comes to shove, he’ll be promoting Simpson-Bowles nonsense, extolling the Grand Bargain again, and advocating a chained CPI, all because, presumably, those evil, evil Republicans made him. Good cop, bad cop.

    Over on foreign policy, our Hope-and-Change president has accorded himself the power to kill anyone he so desires by executive fiat. And the response? Ostensible progressives back this ridiculous play, and a full 83% of America is totally cool with Death from Above without due process. Awesome.

    Speaking of due process, it is flat-out-ridiculous that we live in a world where Aaron Swartz was hounded to suicide by a DoJ-enabled Javert for freeing up JSTOR articles, of all things, and Bradley Manning is kept in a tiny box as Public Enemy #1 for exposing bad behavior by the military. And yet, our national torture experiment has still gone unpunished (because, hey, it worked!), and not a single bankster of note has been prosecuted, despite the massive levels of fraud that have been exposed and that brought the American economy to its knees. To the contrary, the president can’t stop asking self-serving and patently corrupt assholes like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein how we can better structure our public policy to cater to their whims.

    Admittedly, I partake in it myself semi-often, but I’m just tired of a Twitter-driven political-journalism culture that seems to think that the lulz of Marco Rubio being really thirsty is a more pressing issue to cover than the myriad holes in his obviously stupid, self-serving, and faith-based ideas. Or that Jack Lew having a funny signature is a more vital point to discuss about the probable next Treasury Secretary than whatever the hell he was doing at Citigroup when the goddamned house was burning down.

    I hate on the hipster Twitter kids, but establishment journalism is even worse. We live in a world where the totally inane Politico rules the roost and “wins the day”. Where our papers of record will keep warrantless wiretaps and drone bases quiet for years because the powers-that-be asked them to. Where idiot right-leaning “centrists” like David Brooks, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, and Cokie Roberts are queried for their inane views constantly, even though they don’t know anything and have never done anything with their lives but constantly mouth Beltway platitudes as if they were Holy Scripture. Where “journalists” like Chuck Todd, John King, and Jake Tapper — the latter of whom, let’s remember, made it big by kissing-and-telling on his Big Date with Monica Lewinsky — are taken seriously because they tsk-tsk about deficits like Serious People™ and passively nod along whenever obvious liars are lying. This isn’t journalism. It’s Court Stenography, Versailles-on-the-Potomac.

    Ain’t no use jiving. Ain’t no use joking. Everything is broken. So, no, I don’t feel particularly inclined to talk about politics these days either, because there’s only so many times you can bellow in rage about it all, especially when nobody swings by this little corner of the Internet anyway. I’m not officially quitting GitM or anything, but let’s be honest. I’m not really what sure when, if ever, it’ll get its groove back. I’m not sure I see the point. And besides, as Richard said, a withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.

    2012 in Film.

    Whatever its other faults, 2012 was actually a pretty solid year at the cineplex. In terms of great movies, the crop wasn’t as rich as, say, 1999. (To name just a few from that year: Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, The Matrix, Three Kings, The Iron Giant, Election) But, in general terms, I thought most of the movies that came out this past year avoided obvious pitfalls and delivered at or better than the level they promised.

    For example, almost all of the year’s superhero movies were surprisingly good — no real Green Lantern-y whiffs this year. Most of 2012′s unnecessary sequels and even-more-unnecessary remakes — MIB III and Amazing Spiderman, say — turned out better than expected. Horror moved out of the serial killer/torture pr0n ghetto in both conventional (The Women in Black) and unconventional (Cabin in the Woods) ways. Lowbrow, could-be-terrible comedies like 21 Jump Street and Ted actually had some solid laughs to them. And even the intentional B-movies — like Dredd, Lockout, or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter — all had their moments, even if I can’t recommend some of those in their entirety.

    In any case, now that the last few 2012 films have hit DC theaters, and my dissertoral defense obligations are now behind me, it’s at last time for the usual end-of-year list ’round here. Since I didn’t do any individual reviews this past year — I still haven’t decided if those will return for 2013 — I’ve upped the 2012 list to 25 movies, and, at the end, added a few thoughts on some of the others that crossed my field of vision over the past twelve months. Without further ado…

    Top 25 Films of 2012
    [2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009/2010/2011/The Oughts]

    1. The Dark Knight Rises: “Theatricality and deception, powerful agents for the uninitiated. But we are initiated, aren’t we, Bruce?” I know Christopher Nolan’s TDKR wasn’t as well-received in many circles as The Dark Knight, and for understandable reasons — the Joker will always be Bat’s #1 nemesis. Still, I loved this closing chapter of Nolan’s trilogy — its audacious scope, its Occupy Gotham meets the French Revolution ambience, its tight connections back to Batman Begins, its menacing yet loopy villain, its repudiation of the ends-justify-the-means arguments of TDK. (So much for the contention in that earlier film that “sometimes the truth isn’t good enough…Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” That dubious line of thinking backfires for Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Wayne, and everyone else who partook of it in the last film.)

    I don’t know how The Dark Knight Rises plays to the uninitiated, since, like most fans, I went in presuming that (a) Bane would break the Bat and (b) Talia al Ghul was involved in some capacity. And admittedly there are some problems here, as in all of Nolan’s Batman movies. As soon as Alfred starts going on about French cafes in the first reel, it’s pretty clear where the film will end up eventually. (And that closing doesn’t make sense anyway, since billionaire Bruce Wayne is likely recognizable all around the world, certain Chinese prisons notwithstanding.) And speaking of prisons, how, exactly, did barefooted Bruce get back from somewhere in the Middle East into a Gotham City on lockdown?

    All that being said, there was a lot to like here. I enjoyed the intricate plotting of TDKR, and how some of its central points hearkened back to lessons learned in the previous films. (For example, Bruce’s concern, in light of Joker-style escalation, about the fusion reactor becoming a weapon.) I liked how Anne Hathaway was introduced as a prototypical Anne Hathaway character — the Nervous-Nellie maid — before revealing her decidedly-unHathawayesque Selina Kyle. I was consistently entertained by Tom Hardy’s sing-songy Bane voice, including goofy flourishes like his admiring the pre-game rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. (“He has a beautiful voice!” If only Bane had subsequently gotten a chance to freestyle.) And I thought there were moments of real poetry, such as when, to suggest the passage of time while Bruce’s back healed, a Bane-commandeered Batmobile prototype rolls along a snowy Gotham side street.

    One common complaint I heard about TDKR is that it’s a Batman movie without Batman — that the Caped Crusader completely disappears in the second act of the film. I don’t get it, and my theory is people who hold this view have never, personally, been broken. Granted, we all expect that Bruce Wayne will get his back fixed and get back in the game. Still, even if it’s weirdly the most mutually supportive prison on Earth (which makes more sense once you realize Bruce throws down a rope once he got to the top), I like the Lazarus Pit detour, and the ultimate payoff of seeing Bruce/Bats back in action in Act III. Fall down, get back up. Get your back broken, have Tom Conti punch that vertebrae back in. Get the s**t kicked out of you, get rid of that rope and rise.

    2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it’s because I am afraid and he gives me courage.”

    I can see why some folks didn’t cotton to TDKR, but I really can’t get my head around all the Haterade that’s surrounded Peter Jackson’s excellent and entertaining first installment of The Hobbit. This was a great movie! And it was easily as faithful to Tolkien’s book in both tone and story as the latter two Rings films. (For people complaining about the inclusions of Radaghast the Brown, Dol Guldur, and the White Council, I submit to you Osgiliath and Far-from-the-Bookamir. Pale Orc, meet Lurtz.)

    Particularly bewildering to me is all the whining about 48 FPS. I thought An Unexpected Journey looked amazing. Granted, I spent a childhood watching Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, and the like, and so I’m used to suspending my disbelief while watching images that seem video-immediate. But still. All the kvetching about the new standard was, in my opinion, totally over the top. (In terms of snapping my abilty to engage with a universe on screen, I had more issues with the operetta-ness of Les Mis. Er…are they really going to sing every single line of this movie? Russell Crowe too?)

    As for all the complaints about the pacing, admittedly this first chapter was languidly told — Three and a half hours and we only got to Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire. But, y’know, I like spending time in Middle Earth — If the dwarves want to sing again, have at it, good fellows. (Just don’t go all operetta on us.) And given that, for example, GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire books are getting ten hour adaptations each, or Treme or Boardwalk Empire are enjoyable 35-hour stories where, often, not much happens plotwise, I had no problem at all with the expanded length — particularly as the additions were straight from Tolkien’s notes and not, say, 40 minutes of dwarf-tossing jokes. Let’s hope that holds through the third film, which is the one I’m really worried about.

    In any event, I thought An Unexpected Journey was a great adaptation of the first third of The Hobbit, and that it threaded the needle quite well between feeling like it took place in the same world as the LotR trilogy and bringing a more lighthearted and jovial tone to Middle Earth, in keeping with the children’s book nature of The Hobbit. Bring on the incident with the Dragon.

    3. Beasts of the Southern Wild: “I hope you die and when you die, I’ll go to your grave and eat birthday cake all by myself!” I tend to consider myself a cynical and curmudgeonly fellow, so I was quite surprised that Beasts of the Southern Wild — a film I expected to find aggravatingly twee — kinda knocked me sideways. I’m not even sure if the movie would hold up to a second viewing — When I reflect on it now, those scenes in Beast that don’t feel like scraps of dream seem like they probably shouldn’t have worked.

    But, at least that first time around on the big screen, this fairy tale of a young girl living on the wrong side of the Louisiana levees (a.k.a. “the Bathtub”) had a strange sort of magic to it. I particularly liked the End Times conflation of Katrina and global warming, and vibed with the film completely around the time Hushpuppy feared that the melting ice sheet would inadvertently unleash the four boar-monsters of the apocalypse. Pretty soon, we’ll all live in the Bathtub.

    4. The Avengers: “Shakespeare in The Park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” In the 2011 list, I voiced my sneaking suspicion at #14 that Joss Whedon’s The Avengers wasn’t going to work. Consider that crow eaten. Even despite a bland opening sequence and a third act alien invasion that felt weightless, this was a surprisingly fun time at the movies, and perhaps the best popcorn film of the summer.

    In particular, I liked that this was never a particularly “dark” movie. The Avengers aren’t tortured souls like Batman or even the X-Men, and Whedon, a former X-Men writer, didn’t portray them as such. Instead he was able to capture the voice of each of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes — Cap the boy scout, Thor the thunder god, etc. — throw them in a hovering aircraft carrier together, and let shenanigans and shawarma ensue.

    True, Hawkeye in particular got short shrift, Scarlett Johansson was still woefully miscast as the Widow (Olga Kurylenko anyone?), and Cobie Smulders, a.k.a. your Aunt Robin, just isn’t much of a film actress. (Exhibit A: this alternate opening.) Still, I liked the balance Whedon came up with here, where Robert Downey’s Iron Man was given the dramatic arc befitting his star wattage, but Chris Evans’ Captain America still ended up leading the team. And, arguably for the first time on film, Whedon got the Hulk exactly right.

    5. Looper: “I’m from The Future. You should go to China.” Speaking of Marvel comics, Looper [moderate spoilers] may just be the best Franklin Richards movie we see in awhile. In any case, I wasn’t much for either Brick or especially The Brothers Bloom, but I thought Rian Johnson’s third film was a smart, well-crafted science fiction story that was very worthwhile.

    As in most time travel tales outside of 12 Monkeys, Looper‘s final few scenes don’t make any sense. (Spoiler: JGL’s decision at the end would seemingly have to result in everything Bruce Willis did being rolled back — Thus, none of that carnage at Jeff Daniels’ compound or along the road would ever have happened, and there would be no money lying around, etc. etc.)

    But until then, Looper is a satisfying and stylish mishmash of time travel, telekinesis, and the Chandler and Hammett-isms (by way of Miller’s Crossing) that inspired Johnson’s Brick. It also included the creepiest time travel outcome I’ve seen since people were ‘porting into walls in The Philadelphia Experiment. (That would be the grim fate of Paul Dano’s future-self.)

    6. Lincoln: “I wish He had chosen an instrument more wieldy than the House of Representatives.” I’ve already noted my problems with the history here: It’s rather ridiculous to argue that the lesson of the Civil War is that compromise is awesome, or that the constitutional amendments that emerged from it are a product of such. Quite the contrary, really. Spielberg and Kushner also vastly overstate the danger that the Thirteenth Amendment would not pass here, and Kushner, given the comments cited in that earlier post, unfortunately doesn’t seem to understand Reconstruction at all.

    That being said, Daniel Day-Lewis’s eerie evocation of our sixteenth president is the performance of the year, and I remain impressed that this film, while a touch too Spielberg-y in its opening and closing moments, nonetheless forewent the traditional biopic route and embraced a narrowcast, nineteenth-century CSPAN aesthetic instead.

    7. Oslo, August 31st: “Look at my life. I’m 34 years old. I’ve got nothing. I don’t want to start from scratch.” A movie that made it here via Netflix, Oslo, August 31st is a well-observed day in the life of a recovering heroin addict (Anders Danielsen Lie), as he returns to his old haunts and tries to make peace with the shambles he feels he’s made of his existence.

    Looking desperately for a way to reconnect to the world at large, or at least to transcend his current despair, Anders has a series of conversations with former friends and enemies, during which he discovers that even those who didn’t miss the train of life going by are, by and large, just going through the motions. Everything here feels uncomfortably true, from Anders’ visit to see a former partner in crime, now a married academic, to his self-defeating job interview, to his plaintive calls to the woman who disappeared, to his falling back into old habits. A quietly devastating film.

    8. Moonrise Kingdom: “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” True, this Wes Anderson film could not be any more Wes Anderson-y — I’m looking at you, Bob Balaban the omniscient narrator — so if that’s a problem for you, I wouldn’t expect Moonrise to change your opinion of the man’s work.

    As with the less-successful Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited, Anderson is ensconced in his usual sandbox. Nonetheless, this story of two tweenagers enjoying a summer love, and the problems this causes for all the conflicted and compromised adults around them, ranks up there with Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums (#46), and The Fantastic Mr. Fox among Anderson’s best. It’s also a beautifully shot film, redolent of the sun-drenched afternoons of years gone by.

    9. Cabin in the Woods: “Cleanse them. Cleanse the world of their ignorance and sin. Bathe them in the crimson of – Am I on speakerphone?” When it comes to Joss Whedon, I’m not at all what you’d call a browncoat. I liked Firefly and Serenity alright, but much prefer Farscape when it comes to Blake’s 7 knockoffs, and neither Buffy nor Angel spoke to me like it speaks to many. (The West Wing is another show I never understood all the love for, but I digress.)

    At any rate, consider me as surprised as anyone that both of Whedon’s 2012 films ended up in this year’s top ten. Sure, this outside-the-box take on teen slasher tropes is a gimmick movie, and one that’s more wry than it ever is frightening. Still, at least the first time around, what a ride Cabin turned out to be — It’s rare to watch a third act of a film feeling like just about anything could happen. I just wish we’d seen more of “Kevin.” (see pic above)

    10. Killing Them Softly: “This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now f**kin’ pay me.” This is another movie that racked up a lot of negativity for some reason, presumably due to it being mis-marketed as an action/gangster film.

    Since I knew going in that this was Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to the strange and languid Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I got about what I expected – a dark character piece that almost-but-not-quite-successfully tries to fuse Cogan’s Trade with a commentary on the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and general disillusionment in the Age of Obama. Personally, I liked spending time with these guys — Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn’s twin screw-ups, Richard Jenkins’ officious middleman, Gandolfini’s broken assassin. And, while the political angle didn’t quite gel, I still admired what Dominik tried to do here.

    11. Amour: “Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.” Not exactly the best time you’ll have in a theater this year — Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days comes to mind as a similarly unrelenting two hours at the movies. Still, Michael Haneke’s unflinching study of an elderly couple staring dementia and death in the face has a grim power to it, as well as two mesmerizing performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

    I can assure you, I don’t plan to sit through this film again any time soon. Still, Amour puts the lie to so many other depictions of love you see at the movies, and I left E Street afterwards both somewhat shaken by it and thinking it was time to carpe some diem (or as the kids say, YOLO) right now, before it’s too late.

    12. The Grey: “Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.” And if old age doesn’t get ya, there’s always wolves, y’know? First, let me be clear: This movie is as wrong about wolves as another film I’ll get to in a bit is wrong about torture. All the Canis lupus stuff in here is abject nonsense.

    But, to me, the wolves were really just the dispatching agents in this often-gripping existential drama. The real story of The Grey isn’t about wolves at all. It’s about Liam Neeson and his pack of tough-guy survivors coming to grips not just with their looming mortality, but with the reasons they wanted to live in the first place. In the Alaska wilderness, as in Paris or anywhere else, nobody gets out alive.

    13. The Deep Blue Sea: “Beware of passion, Hester. It always leads to something ugly.” Just as past years have seen dueling underwater monster movies (Leviathan/Deepstar Six), asteroid disaster flicks (Armageddon/Deep Impact), and Truman Capote bios (Capote/Infamous) and 2013 will have two separate attacks on 1600 Penn (Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down), 2012 featured three quite good movies about women forsaking their kind, boring husbands for passionate, simpleton lovers, and subsequently running into a social buzzsaw as a result.

    All of ‘em made this list, but in the end The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies’ lush evocation of postwar England, garners the top spot among them. Along with memorable turns by Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston, occasionally dream-like scenes like Londoners awaiting the Blitz in the subway tunnels or singing along to “You Belong to Me” have stuck in my memory this year.

    14. Argo: “Brace yourself; it’s like talking to those two old f**ks from The Muppets.” Ben Affleck’s well-made chronicle of a successful CIA operation along the fringes of the Iran hostage crisis often felt like transparent Oscar bait to me. The Hollywood stuff felt it like needed to be more fleshed out and, since the history is well-known, the many attempts to ratchet up the suspense in the third act just didn’t work for me personally. (YMMV.)

    Still, I was impressed by how well-balanced Argo came out — From its opening storyboard sequence, the movie doesn’t mince words about our many misadventures in Iran, making what could have been simply a depressing jingoistic exercise into a more thoughtful story of diplomatic blowback. Overall, I prefer Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone and The Town — Still, as a director, he’s now 3-for-3.

    15. Celeste and Jesse Forever: “You know what your problem is? Contempt before investigation. You think you’re smarter than everybody else.” Full disclosure: Writer-star Rashida Jones was an acquaintance of mine in college, so I went in to Celeste and Jesse hoping more than usual that I would like it. Nonetheless, after a rough 10-15 minutes at the outset, this well-observed and wistful after-the-rom-com, about the break-up of a longtime couple, gradually gets to work on you.

    It seemed like bit players like Elijah Wood (as Rashida’s gay boss/BFF) needed more to do, and Chris Messina has played the surprisingly wise frat-bro so many times by now that I can’t really take him seriously anymore. But otherwise, Celeste and Jesse earns it emotional beats and, by the time the final reel rolled, I felt quite invested in it.

    16. Cloud Atlas: “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

    Here’s yet another 2012 film where it feels like critics just began to pile on mercilessly at a certain point. The Wachowskis and Tom Twyker’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s high-brow sci-fi novel doesn’t quite gel, and some of the plotlines — Ben Whishaw’s amanuensis, Tom Hanks after the Fall — were more interesting than others, most notably Jim Sturgess in the South Pacific and Jim Broadbent’s nursing home jailbreak. (Also, no nice way to put this, but much like Keira Knightley, Halle Berry is an A-list actress who’s never all that good.)

    But even if it doesn’t live up to its ambition, Atlas is still an impressive and intellectually (if not emotionally) engaging feat. Granted, it wasn’t subtle about its message, but the degree of difficulty here should count for something. At least Atlas was reaching for something totally new — and every so often, especially during the occasional montage bringing together the six tales, you can catch a glimpse of it.

    17. Take This Waltz: “Life has a gap in it… It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.” The second of this year’s adulterous love triangles — this one set to one of Leonard Cohen’s many classics and The Buggles — Sarah Polley’s follow-up to Away From Her has a low-key, natural, and lived-in feel that’s hard to fake.

    True, Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen felt a little too baby-talk-schmoopy in their scenes together, and Luke Kirby’s handsome pedicabbie always just seemed like a self-absorbed creepshow to me. But one of the strengths of this film is how all the characters here seem like three-dimensional human beings, with all the needs, vulnerabilities, and suspect decision-making attending.

    18. Rust and Bone: “We’ll continue…but not like animals.” Speaking of follow-ups, Jacques Audiard’s second film after A Prophet felt like the movie the much-hyped Silver Linings Playbook wanted to be. This rough-and-tumble romance between a street fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a damaged whale instructor (Marion Cotillard) after a terrible accident is never as good as A Prophet, and it goes seriously off-the-rails in its third act, around the time Cotillard tattoos her leg-stumps “gauche” and “droit.” But up until then, Rust and Bone manages to sidestep a surprising number of movie-of-the-week pitfalls and keep its gutter-punch rawness intact.

    19. Seven Psychopaths: “No, it doesn’t! There’ll be one guy left with one eye. How’s the last blind guy gonna take out the eye of the last guy left?” I didn’t like In Bruges as much as a lot of people, and occasionally this new film by playwright Martin McDonagh suffers from the same outrageousness-for-its-own-sake. (Case in point: the scene where Woody Harrelson interrogates Gabourey Sidibe.)

    Still, I kinda liked how this increasingly loopy and laconic film seemed to realize it would be more fun just to hang around with its gaggle of likable actors (Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Colin Ferrell, Tom Waits, Zeljko Ivanek, Harrelson) for awhile and just dropped the plot. I only wish McDonagh had found more to do with Olga Kurylenko and especially Abbie Cornish, who are (literally and figuratively) wasted here.

    20. Anna Karenina: “Is this about my wife? My wife is beyond reproach. She is, after all, my wife.” Like Killing Them Softly and Cloud Atlas, Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Anna Karenina is a film I admired for its ambition, even if the conceit — here, that all of the Russian society scenes take place on a nineteenth century stage — doesn’t end up quite working. And even if there’s some of the same unnecessary grandstanding that marred Atonement‘s Dunkirk scene (intricate shots are fun and all, but they should serve the story), this is quite a beautiful picture.

    While Keira Knightley unfortunately doesn’t make much of an impression in the title role, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass and Savages just seems out of his element as Vronsky, Jude Law brings pathos to a character that could’ve just seemed like the villain, and there are a number of enjoyable turns in the margins of this story, from Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan) covering the sociopolitical elements of the book to Matthew MacFadyen — who seemingly jumped right into late-Alec Baldwin mode right after his stint as Mr. Darcy in 2005 — as the oafish Oblonsky.

    21. Skyfall: “Do you see what comes of all this running around, Mr. Bond? All this jumping and fighting, it’s exhausting!” Speaking of beautiful films, Daniel Craig’s third outing (and Sam Mendes’ first) as 007 doesn’t match the heights of Casino Royale, but it’s looks like the billion dollars it made, and it’s a far sight better than the sophomore misstep of Quantum of Solace. (It also features an instant classic Bond song in Adele’s title track.)

    My biggest problem with Skyfall, and it’s a hard one to overlook, is that, in a transparent effort to capture some of that Dark Knight cachet, they effectively turned James Bond into Batman here. So Bond is now a rich orphan who grew up in Scotland’s version of Wayne Manor? Erm, ok. It doesn’t help matters that Javier Bardem’s ridiculous villain — The Joker + gay panic, basically — has exactly the same goofy plan as the Clown Prince of Crime did. (The next Big Bad to get captured on purpose, apparently? Gary Mitchell Garth Khan Gruber.)

    But this is a Bond movie, so set your low expectations accordingly. Even if it feels like we’re already approaching Moonraker or Octopussy territory only three movies into the Craig era, this is still among the better outings in this long and storied franchise.

    22. Django Unchained: “Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.” From the opening moments of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, it’s clear this film is going to be a bit of a mess. (Our title card reads: “1858. Two Years Before the Civil War.” Uh…that’s three years before the war, Quentin.) And, to be honest, I liked this movie better when it was called Inglourious Basterds — Here, we have basically the same experience, with QT once again righting history’s wrongs with a blood-spattered vengeance.

    I actually liked that Tarantino decided to put the evils of American slavery front and center in this film, since it’s an ugly underside of our history that, cinematically, has been pretty much buried. (One admirable exception to prove the rule: CSA.) The funniest scene in the movie is probably QT riffing off both Blazing Saddles and Birth of a Nation with his Klansmen complaining about their eyeholes.

    Nonetheless, I’m not sure why, given all the very real horrors of slavery QT often draws from, we ended up with the exceedingly fake Mandingo Fighting as a centerpiece of this story, other than it was in some blaxsploitation films QT used to enjoy. With that in mind, and more egregiously, a good hour of this movie makes absolutely no sense: Why wouldn’t Schultz and Django just be like, “I’m a lonely German guy who will pay top-dollar for a slave that speaks German?” (Tarantino tries to address that particular question here. I don’t think it works.)

    Still, however sloppy and self-indulgent, Django was a decently enjoyable movie for most of its run. It would be nice, tho’, to see Tarantino take a stab at another Jackie Brown-style project at some point. As it is, it feels like he’s continuing to disappear up his own ass.

    23. Holy Motors: “Weird! Weird! Weird!” I’m usually not one to end a movie once I’ve started it, but I turned off David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, via OnDemand, well before the end. (I hear Paul Giamatti shows up at some point.) Far more entertaining — and much, much stranger — was Leo Carax’s bizarro stab at the wandering limousine genre this year.

    As with Django, it seemed like there was a lot of name-dropping and inside baseball, of the cinema history variety, going on in Holy Motors, which is behavior I find irritating a lot of the time. But I found Denis Lavant’s mad misadventures here compulsively watchable, even if we passed basic coherence two or three lefts ago.

    24. The Woman in Black: “I believe even the most rational of minds can play tricks in the dark.” This wasn’t a Cabin in the Woods-style reinvention of horror tropes by any means. That being said, I quite enjoyed this played-straight Hammer films throwback, with Daniel Radcliffe unwisely investigating ghostly happenings at a mansion along the moors.

    Rather than relying solely on blood, guts, and jump cuts, The Woman In Black resurrects classic cinema techniques and all the old standbys of this particular genre — rocking chairs, Victorian dolls, creepy children and whatnot — to put the audience ill at ease for ninety minutes. In sum, a slight but effective scare machine.

    25. Dredd: “In case you have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law… I am the law.” As with every year, a lot of films could have gone in this final spot on the list — Bernie, Life of Pi, Savages, Marley, ParaNorman. But I’m giving it to Pete Travis and Alex Garland’s Dredd, because it’s a good example of what went right at the movies in 2012.

    There are better movies than Dredd this and every year, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Dredd movie. Travis and Garland took what was distinctive about this character – give or take his Watchmen-like satire of American superheroes — and transported an issue of the comic to the screen, no more, no less. Extra points for a likable cast (Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey) and for Karl Urban — unlike Stallone back in the day — never taking off the helmet.

    MOST DISAPPOINTING:

    Prometheus: Pretty much everything that needs to be said about the dumb-as-dirt disaster this turned out to be has been encapsulated by the Red Letter Media guys. Whhhhyyyyyy? Why does a movie with such a terrible script ever get greenlit? Why does Damon Lindelof, after putting out an idiotic film like this, continue to get work in Hollywood?

    It’s sad, since even notwithstanding the greatness of Alien and Aliens (and I’d submit that Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection are more admirable failures than this film), there are elements of a much better movie here — most notably Michael Fassbender’s T.E. Lawrence-loving android and the sheer look of the picture. Otherwise, however, this was just a terrible, nonsensical movie, and I ended up just feeling embarrassed for Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and everyone else involved. For shame.

    MOST OVERHYPED:

    Silver Linings Playbook: I like David O’Russell. I like Jennifer Lawrence. I have no issues with Bradley Cooper. But, Lordy, I hated this film, and I just can’t figure out where all the hype is coming from. Granted, SLP falls into a very specific genre of movie I despise, whereby some severely damaged dude is suddenly saved from loneliness, madness, and/or general despair by a perfectly unique and perfect girl for him. (See also: Sideways, Punch-Drunk-Love, and all the other many iterations of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.) Honestly, all of you who keep making this same movie, go see Amour or something.

    But even notwithstanding that sort of ubiquitous rom-comminess, SLP just seemed really by-the-numbers to me. The only variation on the same-old stale tale, as far as I could tell, is that this time there’s a really important game AND a really important dance competition at the end. And while Jacki Weaver does some memorable things as Bradley Cooper’s long-suffering mom, I didn’t take DeNiro seriously here at all. Just a bad movie.

    Zero Dark Thirty: As it happened, I kinda hated Zero Dark Thirty too, but at least here I get where the positive reaction is coming from. To be honest, I expected going in that I’d leave ZD30 conflicted — that it would be a good movie undone by its egregious lies about torture. As it turned out, this is not even a good movie — it’s strongest pleasure consists of watching quality character actors — Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Stephen Dillane – in brief turns as suits. (Tom Donilon is English?)

    For one, ZD30 is far too blatant in its CIA embeddedness. Every CIA character here is a well-meaning tortured soul, heavy-hearted with the burden of saving the world. There’s no mention of, say, Tora Bora. The CIA’s egregious, world-historical fuck-ups, like arguing there were WMD in Iraq, are brought up only in passing. The agency’s outright crimes, like, say, waterboarding a guy 180 times to obtain a false positive, aren’t even mentioned. Watching Type-A go-getter Jessica Chastain and her ponytail flounce around for America for two and a half hours, you’d have no idea that her real-life counterpart and her ilk have been found guilty of, among other things, torturing and sodomizing an innocent man.

    Admittedly, it could be because this pro-torture distortion of the history put me in an increasingly foul mood. Still, even as a movie Zero Dark Thirty has serious problems. As one of Chastain’s co-workers, poor Jennifer Ehle has to offer up some of the most ridiculous telegraphs of her impending death since Lt. Deadduck in Hot Shots. And I found the last forty minutes or so of the film, which depicts the actual raid on bin Laden’s compound in excruciating detail, to be a total snooze.

    We know what’s going to happen here. And since we’re already in Fantasyland as far as the efficacy of torture goes, why not add sharks or tigers or man-eating bears to this war pr0n raid on OBL’s Afghan fortress? Or how about a badass female #2 (Maggie Q? Olga Kurylenko?) to fight Chastain, martial-arts style, over a deep chasm or conveyor belt or something? Might as well, since we’re already far afield from anything approaching the Real World. In sum, this film is sheer propaganda, and ham-handed agitprop at that.

    The Master: Going into this film, I was rooting for Paul Thomas Anderson to build on the promise of the first hour of There Will Be Blood. Unfortunately, The Master is a pretentious bore, and not nearly as deep as it thinks it is. Get past all the Kubrickian grand-standing — Kubrick has clearly replaced Scorsese and Altman as PTA’s object of homage these days — and Anderson has made another variation of the same movie he’s always made, from Hard Eight to Boogie Nights to Magnolia to TWBB: People create fake families for themselves, look for validation in those families, and are ultimately let down by those families. It wasn’t a very interesting point three movies ago.

    Poor Joaquin Phoenix sweats Method blood to give his character some resonance, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams have their (brief) moments of note — To his credit, PTA always does seem generous with his actors. But none of them can do anything with what they’ve been given. The Master, unfortunately, is yet another solid case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

    MOST UNFAIRLY MALIGNED:

    John Carter: Peter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit could go here, as could Cloud Atlas. But, in the end, it seems like no movie got a tougher racket this year than Andrew Stanton’s estimable adaptation of John Carter. True, I watched this on Netflix rather than in the theater, which tends to be a more forgiving experience. But still, this film was a well-made, decently intelligent, and reasonably faithful and engaging adaptation of its source.

    It wasn’t my favorite movie of the year or anything — it wasn’t even in my top 25, as we just saw — but it was totally fine for what it was. I have no clue why everyone pounced on this movie like they did. But, as with all the detest in some circles for An Unexpected Journey, it speaks poorly of what the Internet has done to movies in some ways. There’s a rush-to-judgment and piling-on effect that, at least in this case, wasn’t merited at all.

    2011 LEFTOVERS:

    Coriolanus: Not sure if this would have broken the 2011 list last year or not. Still, Ralph Fiennes’ bloody cover-version of a relatively unknown Shakespearean history, modernized by way of CNN and Afghanistan, has a lot to recommend for it. Along with Fiennes himself, Coriolanus features fine performances from James Nesbitt, Jessica Chastain, Gerard Butler and especially Vanessa Redgrave (as the general’s scheming mother) and Brian Cox (as the most hail-fellow-well-met of Senators). Definitely worth a Netflix.

    Margaret: Whether you want to call it a holdover from 2011 (when it came out) or from the 2005 list (when it was filmed), Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret is also worth catching up with sometime. Here, Anna Paquin — better than I’ve ever seen her — is a self-absorbed NYC teenager forced to come to terms with the ramifications of a terrible bus accident she helped to precipitate. Along for the three-hour ride through this distinctively New York tale are Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, J. Smith-Cameron, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, Olivia Thirlby, Kieran Culkin, and Rosemarie DeWitt. (FWIW, the provenance of the film’s name is also the best tell for what it’s ultimately about.) Well worth seeing.

    THE REST:

    Worth Netflixing: 21 Jump Street, Ai Weiwei Never Sorry, The Amazing Spiderman, Bernie, The Bourne Legacy, Detachment, Haywire, The Hunger Games, The Life of Pi, Les Miserables, Magic Mike, Marley, Men in Black III, ParaNorman, The Raid: Redemption, Savages, The Sessions, Snabba Cash, Ted, To Rome With Love

    Don’t Bother: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Casa de mi Padre, Chronicle, Compliance, Cosmopolis, Dark Shadows, Flight, The Hunter, Hyde Park on Hudson, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Killer Joe, Lawless, The Loneliest Planet, Lockout, Rampart, Red Hook Summer, Safe House,Snow White and the Huntsman, Total Recall

    Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln; Liam Neeson, The Grey; Dennis Lavant, Holy Motors; Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo, August 31st; Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour

    Best Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour; Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone; Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

    Best Supporting Actor: Ben Whishaw, Cloud Atlas; Ben Mendelsohn, Killing Them Softly; Jude Law, Anna Karenina; Clarke Peters, Red Hook Summer

    Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables; Samantha Barks, Les Miserables; Frances McDormand, Moonrise Kingdom

    Unseen: 2 Days in New York, Act of Valor, Alex Cross, American Reunion, Arbitrage, Battleship, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Brave, Butter, The Campaign, The Cold Light of Day, Contraband, Deadfall, The Devil Inside, The Dictator, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, End of Watch, The Five Year Engagement, For a Good Time Call…, Friends with Kids, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Guilt Trip, Hitchcock, Hope Springs, How to Survive a Plague, The Impossible, The Intouchables, Jack Reacher, Joyful Noise, Not Fade Away, One for the Money, Man on a Ledge, The Man With the Iron Fists, Mirror Mirror, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, On the Road, Parental Guidance, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Pirates: Band of Misfits, Premium Rush, Project X, The Raven, Red Dawn, Red Tails, Robot and Frank, Rock of Ages, Safe, Safety Not Guaranteed, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Secret World of Arietty, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Step Up: Revolution, Taken 2, This is 40, The Three Stooges, Tim & Eric Billion Dollar Movie, This Means War, Trouble With The Curve, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II, The Watch, W/E, The Words, Wrath of the Titans

      A Good Year For:
    • The CIA’s Publicity Department (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty)
    • Existential Despair (Oslo, August 31st, The Grey)
    • Domnhall Gleeson (Anna Karenina, Dredd)
    • Doris Kearns Goodwin (Lincoln, Hyde Park on Hudson)
    • Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserables)
    • Limousines (Holy Motors, Cosmopolis)
    • Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises, Killing Them Softly)
    • Scoot McNairy (Argo, Killing Them Softly)
    • Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street, Haywire, Magic Mike)

      A Bad Year For:
    • The 1% (Cosmopolis, Les Miserables, The Dark Knight Rises)
    • Dull Husbands & Dim Lovers (Anna Karenina, Take This Waltz, The Deep Blue Sea)
    • Hi-rise Apartment Buildings (The Raid: Redemption, Dredd)
    • Slavery (Django Unchained, Cloud Atlas, Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)

    2013: 2 Guns, 42, 47 Ronin, 300: Rise of an Empire, About Time, After Earth, All is Lost, Anchorman: The Legend Continues, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, As I Lay Dying, August: Osage County, Before Midnight, Better Living Through Chemistry, The Black Marks, The Bling Ring, Broken City, Bullet to the Head, The Butler, Byzantium, Captain Phillips, Carrie, Chavez, Closed Circuit, Closer to the Moon, The Colony, The Company You Keep, The Congress, The Counselor, The Dallas Buyers Club, Dead Man Down, Devil’s Knot, Diana, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His & Hers, Dom Hemingway, Don Jon’s Addiction, The Double, Elysium, Ender’s Game, The Europa Report, Evil Dead, Fading Gigolo, Fast Six, Filth, Foxcatcher, The Frozen Ground, Gambit, Gangster Squad, Girl Most Likely, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, Gods Behaving Badly, A Good Day to Die Hard, The Grandmaster, Grand Piano, Gravity, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, The Hangover Part III, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Heat, Her, Homefront, Horns, How I Live Now, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hummingbird, I, Frankenstein, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Inside Llewellyn Davis, Iron Man 3, Jack the Giant Slayer, Jack Ryan, Kick-Ass 2, The Last Stand, The Lone Ranger, Lovelace, Mama, Man of Steel, Monster’s University, Monuments Men, Movie 43, Oblivion, Oldboy, Olympus Has Fallen, Only God Forgives, Oz the Great and Powerful, Pacific Rim, Pain and Gain, Parker, The Place Beyond the Pines, Red 2, Riddick, R.I.P.D., Side Effects, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Stoker, This is the End, Thor: The Dark World, The Tomb, To the Wonder, Trance, Twelve Years a Slave, Upstream Color, Warm Bodies, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Wolverine, The World’s End, World War Z, and

    You have nice manners for a thief and a liar…

    Dr. Who?


    It’s been a long strange trip, but as of last Friday, the dissertation has been defended and deposited, and I’m now — pending the final approval of the paperwork, of course — a Doctor of Philosophy.

    The dissertation manuscript — deemed well-written but far too long by every reader — now goes to Top Men (as per below). After at least a few weeks of rest, I’ll start working to cut it down for possible publication. (If that never pans out, I could see myself posting it here on the site, as per my other writings from back in the day.)

    At any rate, this milestone doesn’t change anything, really, about my current professional situation. Nor am I entirely clear yet on how it will end up being useful in the future. But, at the very least, this long, occasionally ignominious chapter of my life is done, and for once I didn’t end up going the Jack Burden route. And there was much rejoicing.

    Triskaidekaphilia.

    A very Happy New Year to you and yours. (FWIW, in keeping with a resolution to get out more now that the old dissertation is tagged and bagged — defense date, January 18th — I spent a fine New Years Eve-ning with The Roots in Silver Spring.)

    Also, just to let you know, I’m working on the traditional annual movie review post, but it probably won’t go live until mid-month, since two of the better-reviewed films of 2012, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Michael Haneke’s Amour, don’t arrive here in the Beltway Styx until 1/11. That also gives me another week to plug a few other holes via Netflix, like last night’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (dopey, but not nearly as terribad as I feared) and The Deep Blue Sea (a definite list contender).

    In any event, happy 2013 everyone. Since we’ve made it through the Mayan gauntlet and are already living in The Future, it’s all extra time from here on out. Let’s make the most of it! Onward and upward.

    Thir13en Ghosts.

    While it’s been a ghost of its past self for much of 2012, Ghost in the Machine, as of this morning, has limped along to its 13th blogday. [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. 11, 12]

    As those few of you who still drop by here now and again know — and thanks much for that — it’s been a pretty grim year ’round these parts, and no mistake. We’re coming up on nine months since, after a year and a half (and on Valentine’s Day to boot), I suddenly got deemed “boring” by the ex I was quite fond of — the same insidious adjective applied to me back in 2006 — and then swiftly unpersoned by both her and a sizable majority of my then-current social scene. (They “went with Cheryl.”) Fortunately, I had a big project to absorb myself in with the old dissertation, but that’s come at the expense of the Ghost. Unlucky Number 13, I guess.

    I am fully aware that, in the great scheme of life’s problems, of course, this one is ridiculous. I mean, there are homeless guys living on the street right outside my apartment who are scraping for food in trash cans. All around the world, lousy and/or terrible things happen to decent, undeserving people every single minute of the day, from car crashes and diseases to IEDs, errant drone strikes, and Republican legislatures. But, what can I say? It hit me where I lived. If you’ve had your heart broken — and this isn’t even my first rodeo in this regard, which probably didn’t help — you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then nothing I write here can explain how lousy much of this year has been, or make whining about it seem any less self-absorbed.

    But ANYWAYS, we’ve reached the half-the-relationship mark in terms of time passed, and while my interior landscape can still be pretty Gaelic and/or even Russian at times, we’ve hopefully reached the point in the movie where I’ve fixed my own back, done lots and lots and lots of push-ups, climbed out of the pit, and inexplicably shown up in a locked-down Gotham City again in my best suit. (This also means, presumably, that I’m about to run into Alicia Keys. Oh word.) So, notwithstanding the fact that, even on a good day, Bruce Wayne is a pretty damaged dude, here’s hoping for a better Year 14 for the old blog, and for life in general.

    In any case, with the dissertation finally done, I’m still figuring out what sort of big writing project and/or life project I want to take on next, and how GitM fits or doesn’t fit in to that. (This won’t be an immediate pivot. For now, I’m spending my new free time just catching up on great shows I’ve kept for this moment, like Treme, and decent shows I can now watch without creeping dissertoral guilt, like Boardwalk Empire.) I may start doing the movie reviews again, which I’ve always enjoyed writing — but they also take a lot of time without much in the way of reward. So we’ll see.

    Regardless, whatever comes next in life, I expect the Ghost will move along with me in some fashion — maybe in fits and starts, but forward nonetheless. So thanks for indulging me and, if you’ve been swinging by here since the 20th century or just got lost on the Google today, thanks, as always, for stopping by.

    Uphill all the Way.

    ‘The whole era,’ concluded Bourne in disgust, ‘has been spiritually wasted.’” Let’s hope, down the road a-ways from 2012, the last few years won’t feel the same. Anyway, that line’s from the first paragraph of the now completed(!) dissertation, which I sent off to my advisor and the committee this afternoon. It’s been a very long road, and I’m sure the euphoria will take hold in a bit. As for now, I just feel as per the clip above — plus exhausted with a twinge of Comic Guy.

    FWIW, the final draft, with footnotes and bibliography and all that, clocked in at 1269 pages. If anyone’s interested on what’s covered and the general layout, I posted the table of contents below. That is obviously far too long for public — or anyone’s — consumption. I mean, I wrote the damned thing and I only read, like, the conclusion and stuff…It’s about the 20′s, right?

    Seriously though, I’m sure I could have condensed it more than I did. For example, here’s the part on p. 527 where I talk about how the Harding administration used the Herrin Massacre as a public relations coup against the labor movement in 1922:

    All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy.

    That goes on for about 70 pages. And I think, if I’d just worked at it a little harder, I could’ve really gotten that down to 40. Ohhhhh well.

    At any rate, I’m way too tired to be blogging at the moment, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks to everyone for putting up with all the navel-gazing posts about this over the past few weeks, months, and years. FWIW, the general GitM readership got a shout-out on the acknowledgments page. With that in mind, work is crazy through election day, but this site should hopefully resume to normal status updates soon thereafter. First I need to sleep for awhile, clean up my paper-, book-, and dog-hair-strewn apartment, do some more sleeping, see all the movies I’ve missed — the only one I’ve seen in months was Looper (I liked it) — take my man Berk to the park, sleep some more, get a life, stuff like that.

    Also, there is still the actual defense to consider, which will happen sometime in the next two months. But I am assuming that today was the day I destroyed the Ring, and that will be more of an “I’m a scarred, melancholy badass now, so let’s kick Saruman out of the Shire” Scouring-level event. Also, I’m not counting any chickens, trust me, but I did go ahead and put the batteries in my brand-new sonic screwdriver.

    Uphill All The Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism 1919-1929

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v
    DEDICATION ix
    PREFACE x
    INTRODUCTION 1

    • The Bourne Legacy 1
    • Progressives and Progressivism 7
    • Cast of Characters 12
    • Review of the Literature 15
    • Chapter Outline 17
    PROLOGUE: INAUGURATION DAY, 1921 22
    PART ONE: CRACK-UP: FROM VERSAILLES TO NORMALCY 30

    CHAPTER ONE: THE “TRAGEDY OF THE PEACE MESSIAH” 31

    • An American in Paris 32
    • A Human Failure 40
    • A Failure of Idealism? 47
    • The Peace Progressives 52
    CHAPTER TWO: THE “LEAGUE OF DAM-NATIONS” 58
    • Collapse at Pueblo 58
    • The Origins of the League 61
    • The League after Armistice 67
    • The Third Way: Progressive Nationalists 71
    • The Treaty Arrives in the Senate 79
    • The Articles of Contention 82
    • Things Fall Apart 94
    • Aftermath 107
    CHAPTER THREE: CHAOS AT HOME 111
    • Terror Comes to R Street. 112
    • The Storm before the Storm. 116
    • Enemies in Office, Friends in Jail. 133
    • Mobilizing the Nation 139
    • The Wheels Come Off 146
    • On a Pale Horse 150
    • Battle in Seattle 157
    • The Great Strike Wave 162
    • Steel and Coal 170
    • The Red Summer 184
    • The Forces of Order 193
    • Mr. Palmer’s War 205
    • The Fever Breaks 220
    • The Best Laid Plans 229
    CHAPTER FOUR: THE TRIUMPH OF REACTION: 1920 241
    • A Rematch Not to Be 241
    • The Man on Horseback 245
    • The Men in the Middle 250
    • I’m for Hiram 254
    • Visions of a Third Term 257
    • Ambition in the Cabinet 260
    • The Democrats’ Lowden 263
    • The Great Engineer 265
    • The Smoke-Filled Room 275
    • San Francisco 285
    • A Third Party? 296
    • Mr. Ickes’ Vote 318
    • Countdown to a Landslide 331
    • The Triumph of Reaction 347
    PART TWO: CONFRONTING NORMALCY 356

    CHAPTER FIVE: THE POLITICS OF NORMALCY 357

    • The Harding White House 357
    • Organizing in Opposition 373
    • Lobbies Pestiferous and Progressive 393
    • The Taint of Newberryism 400
    • The Harding Scandals 409
    • Tempest from a Teapot 417
    CHAPTER SIX: LEGACIES OF THE SCARE 439
    • The Education of Jane Addams 440
    • Prisoners of Conscience 444
    • The Laws and the Court 458
    • The Shoemaker and the Fish-Peddler 474
    • The Shame of America 491
    • The Right to Organize 518
    • Professional Patriots 547
    CHAPTER SEVEN: AMERICA AND THE WORLD 565
    • The Sins of the Colonel 565
    • Guarding the Back Door 575
    • Disarming the World 589
    • The Outlawry of War 606
    • The Temptations of Empire 620
    • Immigrant Indigestion 650
    CHAPTER EIGHT: THE DUTY TO REVOLT: 1924 671
    • Indian Summer 671
    • Now is the Time… 679
    • Hiram and Goliath 692
    • Coronation in Cleveland 712
    • Schism in the Democracy 723
    • Escape from New York 736
    • Fighting Bob 755
    • Coolidge or Chaos 767
    • The Contested Inheritance 777
    • Reds, Pinks, Blues, and Yellows 789
    • The Second Landslide 806
    PART THREE: A NEW ERA 823

    CHAPTER NINE: THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA 824

    • Two Brooms, Two Presidents 824
    • A Puritan in Babylon 833
    • Hoover and Mellon 842
    • Business Triumphant 865
    CHAPTER TEN: CULTURE AND CONSUMPTION 883
    • A Distracted Nation 884
    • The Descent of Man 902
    • The Problem of Public Opinion 908
    • Triumph of the Cynics 925
    • Scopes and the Schism 946
    • Not with a Bang, But a Whimper 963
    • New World and a New Woman 975
    • The Empire and the Experiment 1017
    CHAPTER ELEVEN: NEW DEAL COMING 1049
    • A Taste of Things to Come 1049
    • The General Welfare 1056
    • The Sidewalks of Albany 1073
    • For the Child, Against the Court 1082
    • The Rivers Give, The Rivers Take 1094
    CHAPTER TWELVE: MY AMERICA AGAINST TAMMANY’S: 1928 1115
    • The Republican Succession 1115
    • The Available Man 1135
    • Hoover v. Smith 1153
    • The Third Landslide 1187
    CONCLUSION: TIRED RADICALS 1197
    • The Strange Case of Reynolds Rogers 1197
    • The Progressive Revival 1202
    • Confessions of the Reformers 1206
    BIBLIOGRAPHY 1221

    Almost There…


    His spell check’s off. Kevin, you’ve turned off your spell-check. What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing. I’m all right.”

    Almost There…


    Deh-shay, deh-shay bah-sah-rah, bah-sah-rah

    Almost There…


    It’s getting heavier.

    The Rightward Drift.

    What you saw, I think, anyway, was…the end product of thirty years of a Democratic Party that has slid so far to the center-right that a Democratic president found himself arguing with a ‘severely conservative’ Republican candidate over the issues of how much the Democratic president had cut out of the budget, how many regulations he’d trimmed, how much more devoted to the middle-class-kick-in-the-balls Simpson-Bowles ‘plan’ he is, and how he would ‘reform’ Social Security and Medicare — and, frankly, a Democratic president losing some of those arguments to his left.

    Hey all. Haven’t given up on the blog again, but I am in the midst of the final ascent on the old dissermatation. (With two more hopefully brief chapters to go, I just rounded page 1055. Yes, I know. This whole thing has just gotten out of hand. Ohhhh well. Everybody needs a coping strategy.) Anyways, between that and work GitM is back to being neglected for a few weeks. In the meantime, I strongly endorse this Esquire piece by Charles Pierce on exactly why Obama stunk up the bed so badly in the first Republican primary debate general election debate.

    Basically, if you give America a choice between a Republican and a Republican, the Republican will win every time. The problem wasn’t Obama had an off night. The problem is this former great hope of the left actually believes Simpson-Bowles is a good idea (it isn’t) and that the deficit is a huge problem (it’s not.) Even while the Obama campaign is trying to convince us to get more than just a wee bit cult-y “For All”, the Grand Bargain train is already leaving the station.

    In short, we seem to have reached a point where so many top Democrats have spent so many years doing the protective camouflage thing that they’ve completely forgotten which way is up. As a party, we are now clearly to the right of Nixon and verging on being right of Reagan. The president’s stinker of a performance on Wednesday was just a clearer-than-usual, real-time manifestation of the Democratic Party’s deeper dilemma: We have lost our way.

    Piled Higher and Deeper.

    At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments). So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.

    By way a history friend, How the American University was Killed in Five Easy Steps. (Hint: It has to do with the Powell Memo.) I’m finishing up my PhD because I’m pot-committed at this point but, when anyone asks, I never recommend that they follow suit. It is UGLY out there. When the chips were down, I was fortunate enough to have a prior career in speechwriting to fall back on. Most people don’t have that luxury.

    Omsbudsdog Emeritus

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