Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shooting from the Hip

Modern tribal behavior is so often simply about defining the Outsiders 
and asserting superiority over them.

“The Fastest Gun in the South”

Thanks to the benevolence of a cine-friend (who paid for my ticket), I finally managed to see Django Unchained, a movie I promised not to post a personal opinion about until I had actually seen. I have read (and posted) the words of others, so I was already primed for what to expect; I’ve seen most of Tarantino’s oeuvre, and have always had mixed feelings about the talents he has and what scripts he chooses or writes in order to use them.

I’m not film critic (though I was for a few months for, so this assessment is simply personal, in the context of my own personal tastes in cinema, politics, entertainment, and the mix of all three.

In short, Tarantino’s latest is not as great as many have said, was not as awful as I worried it might, but was about as reprehensible as I expected. But Tarantino would probably appreciate that last part: he loves to remake schlock and loves to shock. And I knew that going in.

Those who have chosen to view--or criticize--the film in terms of history or historical accuracy have embarked on a fool’s errand, just like anyone who would expect the real world to be portrayed accurately by “reality television." Non-documentary cinema, which I will refer to here as “movies,” isn't history, even when filmmakers often choose periods and people from the past. Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln isn’t history, either, nor was Amistad nor Glory nor Gone With The Wind nor Birth of a Nation. With the exclusion of documentaries such as the fantastic, factual Fog of War or oral-history-marathon of Shoah, movies are entertainments, not documents. Tarantino isn’t an historian (the last half of his Inglourious Basterds should have made that clear), and it is foolish to expect his films to transport us back in time with anything close to detailed accuracy or even political agenda. Cinema is required by form and time to compress events into a five-act structure and a few hours; it must condense and simplify characters into Bad Guys and Good Guys (and often creates “composite characters” of supporting players), and it nearly always must present people and events in ways that “aren’t a downer” so as to turn a profit; it's a business, not charity, of show.

I don’t go to the movies to learn about the past; no, for that I consult a variety of experts, who often have differing points of view, levels experience or even contradictory agendas, to get the many nuanced details and troubling inconsistencies. And that's a lot of homework for the average moviegoer. It takes time to learn how evolving, racist presidents such as Lincoln or Johnson can manage—with the help of many other men and women not likely to make it into a movie—to emancipate slaves or sign Civil Rights milestones. I’ll leave it to authors such as Doris Kearns Goodwin or Eric Foner or the epic cycle by Robert Caro to study, dissect and reveal subjects as troubling, complex, and long-lived as slavery or civil rights struggles, rather than the work of Tarantino or Spielberg. If either of those filmmakers, however, inspire viewers to look deeper into the subjects or periods of their films, then bravo; but I don’t expect Quentin fans to rush out of the theaters and off to the libraries (though it's far more likely the audiences might seek to go beyond the back-story of Tony Kushner’s screenplay after seeing Spielberg’s film of it).

So I hardly watched Django Unchained expecting to learn Civil War history any more than I would seek a tutorial in Catholicism by watching The Exorcist.

But filmmakers do have choices. As entertainers, they can aim for the better angels of our nature or the basest blood-lust for vengeance (righteous or otherwise). Those choices paint very different moving pictures: a pageant-presenter like Spielberg, our modern-day DeMille, might strive to use a fine brush and as many different shades of gray as Kushner can squeeze into three hours; but with Django Unchained, a carnival-barker like Tarantino plunges a mighty wide brush into his buckets and buckets of blood not in any desire for realism but with a palplable, melodramatic prurience.

And as in his past films, Tarantino won’t disappoint his fans who line up for another pulpy fiction, regardless of politics or lack of any political intent. I wasn’t surprised by anything I saw on screen—it was pretty much what I expected from a devotee of 1960s/70s-grindhouse, a sub-genre of movies that has the word "exploitation" right in the definition.

I didn’t laugh with the movie once, but I did a few times laugh at it. Most of the time I was simply depressed by the mess of it all, as well as the isolation of being nearly the only person in the theater not applauding and hooting at the meticulously choreographed carnage. I mean no snobbery by that statement—but simply confess it as what happened. I do understand many have and will revel in the simplified vengeance of Django and guffaw at the bombastic bloodbath--but please don’t ask me to laugh or clap along as I hand you a towel to wipe off afterwards.

As I left the theater, I did wonder now that Quentin in his two most recent films has cinematically slaughtered two of the most sacred-cows-of-evil, Hitler and Slavery, what shock-subject will he take on next. Tarantino, like Spielberg, has a very respectable knowledge of cinema and skills at movie-making. It just saddens me that Quentin squanders that skill—and actors as talented as Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Waltz and Kerry Washington—to make a spaghetti-style Western about the 1850s South (with the predicable de-rigueur-Tarantino-touch of 1970s tunes and contemporary rap). It was a whole lot of bloody recycling going on.

Sure, Spielberg may be getting too much credit for his honorable and respectful intentions of the mighty-white-cast of Lincoln even as a few critics and filmmakers lambaste Tarantino for his baser aims at entertaining . But in the case of Django, unlike the blue-state audience around me, I personally was not entertained; I was simply repelled.

Sit-Down with the Prez

Must-read: the New Republic interview.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Are We Gaining (Back)Ground?

“Most Americans support background checks, but they … have very little clue about what that means,” said David Kopel, a gun law expert and adjunct Constitutional law professor at the University of Denver. “When you phrase something in an attractive way like ‘universal background checks,’ who wouldn’t be for it? But if you get into the details, there’s a bit more grey-area.”

Do background checks work? An analysis here.

Harkin's Out in 2014

Potential Senate-seat pick-up for the GOP--but it doesn't have to happen.
Let's get cracking, corn-fed Democrats.

Time To Dial It Up

Are you willing to spend a few minutes letting Congress know you want them to confirm Obama's nominees?

Bullet Points

"Largely ignored among the twenty-three executive actions that the White House unveiled on Wednesday were two initiatives that will help shed more light on gun culture and its effects. At first glance, both of them seem pretty modest. But in the long run, they could conceivably have as much impact on gun violence as the President’s more widely discussed proposals, such as renewing the ban on assault weapons.

More here.

"Ferrari of the Virus Field"

The flu isn't the only bug out there to watch out for. And hand sanitizer ain't gonna save ya. Wash ya hands thoroughly, folks.

Math-Illogical Liar

Ryan unravels.

(Graphic by me, from back in the election daze of 2012)

Reince, Repeat

"The GOP is promising a great deal of change in advance of the next election, but one area where there will be no change for the party is in its leadership. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was elected to another two-year term."

More here.

Brown Ain't Down

Scott Brown leads Dem rival for Kerry's Senate seat by double-digits.

He'll Be Your Mirror

John Cassidy of The New Yorker considers the newly-assessed liberalism of Obama.

"But what sort of 'liberal' is Obama? And is he really one at all? If he is, he represents a curious blend of liberal intent and conservative instincts, insisted ├╝ber-blogger Andrew Sullivan. 'But beneath all of it is a Toryism of sentiment, a Burkean and Niebuhrian understanding of liberal progress, a president with a grasp that tragedy and paradox stalk the human experience,' Sullivan wrote on Monday, '…a fusion of that great conservative insight into human affairs with that great liberal passion for a better future for more and more human beings: something perfectible, but never perfect.'

"I’m not sure what this highfalutin passage means—has any President ever served four years without realizing that the world isn’t perfectible?—but it demonstrates an old truth about Obama, which he acknowledged during the 2008 campaign: people see in him what they want to see. Critics on the right see a radical socialist. Critics on the left see a smooth-talking sellout. Some more centrist Obama supporters see a great, and greatly underappreciated, progressive leader."

The rest, here.

West Coast Blues

The Left Coast continues moving leftward.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Washington Dynamo

The Mom-In-Tennis-Shoes just might walk all over the GOP, says Slate's Matthew Yglesias.

So proud am I of this Senator of mine.

(Photo by me, back during her 2010 campaign)

Cool Man Colman

I first noticed the multi-talented Colman Domingo in Spike Lee's video version of the terrific, Tony-award-winning Broadway production of Passing Strange. You can also see him as one of the few black characters who appear--and talk--in Spielberg's Lincoln.

Now he appears in the pilot episode of a new web series that aims to redefine celebrity in popular culture. Domingo definitely deserves fame. Check it out.


Explanation here.
(Screencapture via Ball Don't Lie's Dan Devine)

Good Idea, Bad Timing?

OFA puts its mailing list to work, asking folks to call Congress and voice support for the President's initiatives to curb gun violence.

Buzzfeed's John Stanton calls it honorable in intention--but flubbed in execution.

(Graphic by me.)

First-Hand Experience

Senator Feinstein recalls finding the assassinated body of Harvey Milk.

Which U.S. County Has The Most Obama-Love?

Says Josh Green: "The honor goes to Shannon County, tucked into the southwest corner of South Dakota with a population of about 13,000. Ninety-three percent of the county's voters supported Obama, the highest percentage of any county in the country."

On The Next Episode...

...of 60 Minutes: Obama and Hillary, interviewed together.

"New Federalism" On Steroids

Careful, Bobby Jindal wants to ax the government. And...

“We must quit ‘big,’” he said. “We are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes or big anything. We must not be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys … We are the party whose ideas will help the middle class, and help more folks join the middle class.”

Guess who's already running for 2016?

Seeing 2020

Linton Weeks at NPR says forget 2016--the real action might happen four years after.

Executive Made-To-Order

Paul Beglala analyzes what steps President Obama can take
on behalf of LGBT equality.

Obama reminds us that we all have to do our part.

Update: Federal court ruling curtails the reach of executive power in general.

Pro-test or Con-test or...?

DecodeDC's Andrea Seabrook says, "In January, 2012, America's digerati pulled off the broadest, most powerful political protest ever orchestrated on the Internet.  One year later we ask, what happened? And what next?"

The Reich Ideas

How to Avoid Raising Taxes on the Middle Class or Cutting Programs the Middle And Poor Depend On
by Robert Reich.

poll shows 58% of Americans oppose cuts to Medicare. Now, let's mobilize those folks to contact Congress.

Also, Reich profiles how Obama is unraveling Reagan Republicanism.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Well, That's One Way To Do File-Sharing

Shakespeare and MLK via DNA.

So, It's, Like, An Hour Shorter?

The Chinese are not keen on Cloud Atlas gay-sex and violence.

(Me, I'm still dreaming of a future where the queer characters are still alive (and/or mentally undestroyed) by the time the credits roll. On any country's screens.)

America Is Number One!!!1 early deaths.

The Blade Runner Curse Strikes Again

Atari, 1972 - 2013

More on the supposed curse here.

Still Think Obama's in Wall Street's Pocket?

"At a short White House ceremony, President Obama named Mary Jo White, the first female United States attorney in Manhattan, to run the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Obama also renominated Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a position he has held for the last year under a temporary recess appointment without Senate approval."

More at The New York Times

Now, are you ready to push Congress to confirm them?

Visualize World Warming

Baronald Regama?

Jonathan Bernstein questions the anointing of The Liberal Reagan:

Here’s the problem. Ronald Reagan wasn’t really the Reagan of everyone’s imagination. So aspiring to be a “liberal Reagan” is chasing a fantasy. Worse than that—it’s a fantasy that can easily distract a president from the real things that he should be doing.

In Case You Still Had Suspicions

(via The Dish)

The State of the Union(s)

Labor union membership falls to lowest point since the 1930s.

"Labor economist Paul Harrington at Drexel University says labor's real problem isn't Republicans or recessions. It's the kind of jobs the American economy is creating. 'A lot of the industries where we're getting job growth are in non-union areas and non-union occupations,' Harrington says."

LOST in Space

Hopefully, J.J. Abrams won't clutter his new Star Wars film 
with lens flares like he did with the Star Trek reboot.

No Cameras At The Table

Polar Bares

"During his fourth year in office, an average of 86% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans approved of the job Barack Obama did as president. The 76-point gap ties George W. Bush's fourth year as the most polarized year in Gallup records."

And all four years of Obama's presidency so far fall within the top 10 of most polarized in Gallup records.

More here.

Not With A Bang Or A Whimper

"The Pentagon’s decision to allow women to serve in combat didn’t find many takers for a culture war fight.

"Instead, much like the response to President Barack Obama’s ending of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and endorsement of gay marriage, the only voiced complaints came from a few scattered corners. Most of the president’s political opponents — even old culture warriors themselves — either endorsed the decision or carefully avoided saying anything publicly against it."
(via Politico)

For The Record

I couldn't care less if Beyonce sang live, sang along with herself, lip-synched,
or was replaced by an evil Commie femmebot

We have bigger fish to fry, folks. Stay focused.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Borowitz In-Synch

What I'm "Reading"

Chapter four informs us that the majority of people who hear voices in their heads are not schitzophrenic. It also quotes a scientist who postulates that before 1000 B.C., nearly everyone heard voices in their heads before the development of modern consciousness.

All of which is quite interesting to hear--via audio-book--in my head.

(Graphic via wikipedia)

The Public Domain

"What is entering the public domain in the United States? Nothing. Once again, we will have nothing to celebrate this January 1st. Not a single published work is entering the public domain this year. Or next year. In fact, in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019. Even more shockingly, the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Congress can take back works from the public domain. Could Shakespeare, Plato, or Mozart be pulled back into copyright? The Supreme Court gave no reason to think that they could not be."

Looking Up

The National Space Society launches a Kickstarter! for funds for a film to raise awareness of space exploration and development.

Who's Your Date?

Gay and lesbian soldiers bring their partners to the Commander-in-Chief Inaugural Ball.

Yet another thing that would not have happened during a Romney inauguration...

And here's four more.

(Hat-tip to Francis Orphe)

Stranger and Stranger

The usually-contrarian Seattle indie-weekly publishes its first Wedding Guide
Is assimilationism the new "Fuck-You"?

The Price of Empire

The New Yorker's Jill Lepore asks the Trillion Dollar Question.

U.S. military spending has almost doubled since 2001--R.O.I.?

We The People...

Ratify the ERA? I've signed.
Undo DOMA? I've signed, and White House responded.
Pass ENDA? I've signed, and here's a White House response to a previous petition.
Meanwhile, my own petition to get Harvey Milk on a stamp has been archived.

Biden Time

Hillary Unleashed

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. You go, gurl.

(And no, she didn't really say that.)

Update: Senator Paul does not amuse Senator Boxer.

(Photo by David Sanabria)

Tweet of the Day

"Hillary Clinton successfully faces down angry senators, prompting Leon Panetta to realize that women can be good in combat." ~Ryan Teague Beckwith

From Minor To Major

What a difference a key-change can make. (Hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan)

Best Inauguration Photo

Is at The Onion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Money Problems

The U.S. Debt Limit Explained.

Also, here's some helpful charts and explanation of the causes of--
and solutions to--the U.S. Budget Deficit

Take Two Time Capsules

The always interesting Retronaut offers a peek at photos of Barack Obama and his mother.

Also, an old NPR interview with the author of a book about Stanley Ann Dunham, who did so much to shape the man who is now President of the United States.

Lest We Get Too Serious...

Looking Back To Know How We Go Forward

New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell reminds us that the Civil Rights Movement demonstrated a determined focus and skillful use of the tools they had at the time--mostly just a telephone--and achieved much:

"These events in the early sixties became a civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of the decade—and it happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or Twitter."

Gladwell also analyzes how, despite very direct and real danger, this movement managed to recruit thousands of young people, and looks at how and why they were able to channel that commitment into real-world progress.

(Above bumpersticker design by me, available here.)

Obama's First Term: The Promises reviews all the President's promises in his first campaign and term, and presents which ones were kept, which were compromised, which are stalled, which are in progress, and which were broken.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Chait looks at the limitations on the next term:

"Some say Obama is treating the Republicans too meanly. Others think he has to be meaner. But the prosaic reality is that Obama’s disposition isn’t the issue here. The main question is what the Republicans in Congress decide to do. The legislative results of Obama’s second term lie almost entirely in their hands. Obama may be the central figure in the national political drama, but the choice is being played out offstage."


We all have a dream.
We can make it come true--if we do the work.

Monday, January 21, 2013

There He Goes Again

President Obama is sworn in using a bible from Lincoln and one from Martin Luther King.

And Cornel West has reservations about that.

Photo of the Day

Christine King Farris, sister of Martin Luther King, Jr, smiles as President Barack Obama is sworn in on her brother’s bible as she watches from Ebenezer Baptist Church following the 45th Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service in Atlanta, Georgia, January 21.

(Photo courtesy of  The Obama Diary)

Quote of the Day

Tweets Milt Shook: "To hold Obama's feet to the fire means you make sure he TRIES to get something done. If he tries, GOP prevents, you blame THEM, not HIM."

The Second Term In One Gesture

Want Change. Get the Votes.

Votes can always trump big-money donors--if we just get enough of them and get them to show up every time.

National Voter Turnout since 1960.

Today's Presidential Inauguration Poem

Full text here.


It's Been A Long Time Coming...

How Does One Follow Fiasco?

Quote of the Day (so far):

“Lupe Fiasco performed at this private event, and as you may have read, he left the stage earlier than we had planned,” the StartUp RockOn organizers said in an official statement. “But Lupe Fiasco was not ‘kicked off stage’ for an ‘anti-Obama rant.’ We are staunch supporters of free speech and free political speech. This was not about his opinions. Instead, after a bizarrely repetitive, jarring performance that left the crowd vocally dissatisfied, organizers decided to move on to the next act.”

(via RollCall)

“Summoning artists to participate / In the august occasions of the state / Seems something artists ought to celebrate.” -Robert Frost

The BBC interviews the youngest and first Hispanic, openly gay Inaugural poet.

The New Yorker offers a brief history of Inauguration poems.


                   It was complicated.

(Photo by Henry Griffin/Associated Press)

First-Term Average? 49%

Gallup compares Obama's approval ratings to several other presidents. Only Carter & Ford's averages were lower.

Lest The Birthers Say It Isn't Valid...

(Oh, they will anyway.)

Meanwhile, Borowitz offers a Fox-y spin.



"It's a real good day."

A Break from Politics...

Poet, Playwright, and personal friend Robert Patrick performs a peppy pop-poem last weekend in Los Angeles. Text of the poem is here. Links to videos of his plays can be found here.


(Photo via the Obama Diary. Text added by me.)

The Last March Inauguration

You've probably heard the famous "fear itself," pull-quote, but have you ever listened to the entire speech?

Obama's First Time

(Including the Chief Justice Screw-up)

West Winging It

Another Inauguration

(Warning: Language NSFW)

The Kings's Speech

OnTheMedia reruns an interesting history and analysis of Martin Luther King's famous address.

Presidential Poetry


Inaugural Trivia

Also, President Obama will likely be the only U.S. president to be sworn in four times while only serving two terms.