Jan 16

Cory Booker: Neoliberal Hater of Typical Americans

Cory BookerBernie Sanders introduced a very simple symbolic amendment Wednesday night, urging the federal government to allow Americans to purchase pharmaceutical drugs from Canada, where they are considerably cheaper. Such unrestricted drug importation is currently prohibited by law…

The Senate voted down the amendment 52-46, with two senators not voting. Unusually, the vote was not purely along party lines: 13 Republicans joined Sanders and a majority of Democrats in supporting the amendment, while 13 Democrats and a majority of Republicans opposed it.

One of those Democrats was New Jersey’s Cory Booker, who is considered a rising star in the party and a possible 2020 presidential contender.

In a statement to the media after the vote, Booker’s office said he supports the importation of prescription drugs but that “any plan to allow the importation of prescription medications should also include consumer protections that ensure foreign drugs meet American safety standards. I opposed an amendment put forward last night that didn’t meet this test.”

This argument is the same one offered by the pharmaceutical industry. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which lobbies against importation, maintains that it opposes importation because “foreign governments will not ensure that prescription drugs entering the US from abroad are safe and effective.”

The safety excuse has long been a refuge for policymakers who don’t want to assist Americans struggling with prescription drug costs. Bills to legalize importation passed in 2000 and 2007, but expired after the Clinton and Bush administrations refused to certify that it would be safe. The Obama administration also cited safety concerns when opposing an importation measure in the Affordable Care Act.

–Zaid Jilani and David Dayen
Cory Booker Joins Senate Republicans to Kill Measure to Import Cheaper Medicine From Canada

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Jan 16

Democratic Party Unites and Looks to Future at DNC Forum in Phoenix

DNC ChairOn 14 Janary 2017, the DNC hosted the first of four announced candidate forums for the DNC chair as well as the vice chairs, treasurer, and secretary. It started more or less on time at 9:00 am with remarks from the current interim chair, Donna Brazile. She spoke about Phoenix being a deliberate choice for the location — referring to the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes of its previous form. She is expecting the Democrats to do the same thing.

The Party just went through a bruising year. From the fairly rancor-filled presidential primary to the unrelenting attacks by a foreign government to the final heartbreaking loss of the presidential race, much has been made of what the Democratic Party is going through. Yet there were successes last year as well. Unfortunately they were drowned out by the loss at the top of the ticket.

The Party is dealing with the aftermath by having some internal struggles for what it is going to be. This is why there are so many candidates for DNC Chair. All of them have very good ideas, agree on almost everything, and are willing to stand up for what party-members care about most. This is one of those elections where the DNC committee-members are absolutely spoiled for choice.

DNC Chair Panel, left to right: Tom Perez, Jaime Harrison, Sally Boynton Brown, Keith Ellison, Jehmu Greene, Pete Buttigieg, and Ray Buckley

Morning Session

For the morning session, it was mainly speeches from various party people and elected officials. Arizona Democratic Party Chair Alexis Tameron spoke briefly before introducing Phoenix’s Mayor, Greg Stanton. I had a chance to speak with her a couple of times during breaks in the forum. She told me some interesting things. In particular, the future of the Party is definitely in the southwest. Arizona was not given much assistance from the national party last election ($100,000). Yet the Democrats lost the state by only 3% for the president’s race, a better result than North Carolina. I heard similar sentiments from the Texas Democratic State Party Chair, Gilbert Hinojosa. Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and possibly even Utah have a good shot to flip.

Speaking of things from a state party chair, Hinojosa noted something extremely important: there has to be better fundraising coordination between the national and state party leadership. If the federal party is holding a fundraiser for, say, Barack Obama, don’t hold it the same night the state party is holding its main fundraiser! It’s counterproductive.

Lunch Break

After the morning session, they threw us out of the main ballroom to go mingle with each other. There was a minor shouting war as the Ellison and Perez sides yelled out the names of their candidates. It wasn’t like the problems that plagued the Nevada State Caucus, but there was some push back between the sides.

I spent the time chatting with the various different staff members of the candidates and talking to people such as Chairman Hinojosa about how they picked their candidates to support. The Chairman explained that the DNC chair needed to be ready to welcome all Americans into the Democratic Party tent. He also said that the chair needed to be reflective of the best that the Democrats are. So people know why they should join it.

Shortly after that, I was snagged by a person from the Nurses Union to talk to me about the same thing. Jean Ross is the vice-chair and she mentioned the good legislation that Representative Ellison has introduced to help all Americans. She also pointed out that he understood that healthcare isn’t merely doctors and nurses; it is things like having a decent basic income.

Tom Perez and Staffmembers

I also spoke with the staff members for Tom Perez, Pete Buttigieg, Ray Buckley, and Jahmu Greene. They were friendly, cheerful, and excited about the leaders they had decided to support. That was especially notable since they all traveled to Arizona on a chilly winter’s day. Of special note were the people in New Hampshire who had an especially long trip. I’m pretty sure it was on their own expense too. That takes a lot of dedication.

Afternoon session

This session started with the candidates giving a brief introduction about themselves. Surprisingly, everyone stayed in their two minutes. Good start.

The first question was pretty simple, “How will they unify the Party?” Based on the way that they talked about this question and other issues, they will unify by being friendly opposition. The mood of the room stayed upbeat throughout the discussion. In fact, there was lots of cheering.

Otherwise, the answers were along the lines of, “Oh, I have lots of experience putting up with warring factions.” And that’s true of them all to one extent or another, based on their positions and offices held.

The next question was about working to bring more people up through the leadership pipeline. I literally don’t remember anything anyone said because I was tweeting. [Lesson 03: Notebook discipline and record keeping. :-) -FM]

Audience Questions

The first question from the audience was about the perennial problem in politics: money. Should the party get rid of corporate donations? Do they support a resolution that states that? The moderator, the always amusing Jon Ralston, said that was a yes or no question so it should be quick. He was wrong.

The first candidate to respond, Sally Boynton Brown, said in a roundabout way she did support eventually getting rid of the corporate donations. So did Representative Keith Ellison, who added that we must not hamstring ourselves by not having a replacement ready for the money. Jehmu Greene stated that she agreed with Ellison.

Ralston broke in with another request for yes or no answers. Perez made the excellent point that this isn’t a simple question to answer. When Jaime Harrison had his opportunity to speak, he pushed back a bit on the original question since he recognizes that most candidates do not get the kind of response that Sanders and Obama did in terms of small donations.

Other Questions

Next was a question on effectively using our allies in other groups. As Secretary Perez put it: all of the candidates have experience with coalition building.

The final question was about voter suppression efforts. This is where there was the first actual visible disagreement between the candidates. Only as a minor point. This was when Greene proposed what is to most people a startling and revolutionary idea: there simply shouldn’t be voter registration. Other options include taking what Oregon has done (automatic registration, vote by mail) and exporting it nationwide. Ellison was alone in speaking about the restoration of civil rights to convicted felons.

All of the candidates gave excellent answers and would be great chairs. Each one brings something to the table and differ only in where their priorities lie for the Democratic Party going forward.

After the Official DNC Conference

After the candidates for chair portion, I and my friend Donna Gratehouse had a chance to speak briefly with two of the candidates.

Attendees Milling Around Before the Forum Starts

Jaime Harrison

I asked Jaime Harrison if he would be willing to support an Arizona style Clean Elections law for each state’s legislative and statewide races. He said he would be willing to support that. I followed up, asking if he was also willing to have a legislative drafting team to help give candidates proposed legislation to run on — something concrete they could get right to work on if they win. He said unfortunately that isn’t something the DNC could do but he would support having an organization to do the drafting of said legislation. Then he had to rush off because CNN was waiting.

Jehmu Green

Donna and I ran right into Jehmu Greene after that and she was a delight. Donna asked her about the media’s pernicious influence on the people we are trying to win over. Greene said we need to stop being friends with those who wish us harm — and that would definitely include much of the media. She also said that she wants the party to return to being a lot more aggressive in how we manage our push-back. The Democrats need people who do not spend their entire lives working in the political process to be in charge of the party.

I followed up with a question about bringing back the kicking donkey from the current corporate logo that we have. She smiled and said that the donkey probably wasn’t coming back, but that definitely something with more pep will be looked at. I was impressed: there is a woman who knows how to get out of a question she doesn’t want to answer. The party may need more of that to thrash the Republicans.

Vice-Chair Discussion

I briefly paid some attention to the vice-chair discussion. The only answer that really stuck out for me was when Adam Parkhomenko gave a good answer to how the national party can help those who want to get locally involved. He said that if you do, calling the DNC should make it easy to find out what you need to do by being a one stop clearing house of answers and information on who to get a hold of locally.

Conclusions

The big take away from the Phoenix DNC forum is that people are extraordinarily hungry for something to do in the face of Trump and total Republican control of Washington. They are, for the first time in a long time, reaching out to the Democratic Party to get active. The party can harness this energy. The room was packed for something that really isn’t that big a deal overall. The fact a number of people stuck around for the lesser-known races was pretty high for something that is even less well known than the DNC chair race.

The final thing is that the people currently running the party, Donna Brazile and her team, are excellent organizers. It was smooth flowing, it didn’t get bogged down in fights between the factions, and it was actually fun. I will miss her when she retires from active politics.


Cross-posted at Crooks & Liars.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/16/dnc-forum/

Jan 15

Human Thought in a Dark Room

I’m sure that many of my readers will like this little meme. But to me, it shows such total contempt for the search of knowledge that it makes me really angry. And I don’t know that I have seen a more clear example of the way that much of the atheist community deifies science.

I am, as most of you know, trained as a scientist. I have a PhD in physics. And maybe the fact that I don’t work in the field shows that I have a fundamentally different orientation. But that isn’t my experience. Most scientists I know don’t make a fetish of it. Science is to them what it is to me: a really powerful tool for learning new things of a very specific nature. And that’s it.

A Million Dollars

The whole meme reminds me of my favorite line from Citizen Kane. Bernstein scoffs at Thatcher, Kane’s guardian. The reporter says, “He made an awful lot of money.” And Bernstein replies, “Well, it’s no trick to make a lot of money — if all you want is to make a lot of money.”

The meme presents four ways of gaining knowledge. But the test is rigged. It’s defining knowledge as the kind of knowledge that science excels at. But I’ll come back to that. My point is that people who put these kind of memes together so want to limit the human experience. As Bernstein said in the script (cut from the film), “He [Thatcher] never knew there was anything in the world but money.”

Philosophy

According to the meme, “Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.” So it’s a way to learn things, but a really bad one.

There are a number of things wrong with this. For one, the search for knowledge isn’t as categorical as this makes out. Work by Kant and Schopenhauer laid intellectual groundwork for Darwin’s discovery. But most people have an extremely childish view of how science actually works.

Perhaps most annoying to me is that math is a branch of philosophy, not science. People get caught up in counting, and think that it is real and thus “Science!” But giving names to quantities is not math. It’s like claiming that knowing the names of different bacteria makes you a microbiologist. It’s so silly.

Metaphysics

The meme claims, “Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there.” Apparently, the writer doesn’t know what the word “metaphysics” means. From Merriam-Webster, metaphysics is “a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology.” That’s right: it really doesn’t have anything to do with Edwardian mysticism.

The cosmology part of this is amusing. Most people think of this as part of science. And it is! In a limited form. But every time I hear some subgenius go on about how cosmology is settled because of the big bang, I think they sound like fundamentalists. Science said it, I believe it, that settles it. Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, the big bang is as established as natural selection. But most people do not find it a satisfying cosmological answer for the same reason they don’t find “God” a satisfying answer. It just raises another question. And that’s fine! But ultimately, cosmology is a metaphysical issue because science isn’t designed to find ultimate answers.

Theology

The meme continues, “Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there, and shouting, ‘I found it!'” This is probably the most offensive part of the whole thing.

The implication is that theology is the most rigid form of religious belief. It isn’t even religious belief, much less of the “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” variety. There have been many theologians who were atheists and agnostics. It’s only quite recent in the US that theology departments are overrun by theists.

And this part of the meme begs the question. Of course, the point of such simple-minded memes is to preach to the choir. No Christian is going to read it and think, “I’ve been so wrong! I’m an atheist now!”

Science

And so we come to the end of the meme, “Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a fucking flashlight.” It’s only at this point in the meme that I wondered, “Why are we looking for a black cat in a dark room?”

I’m not an idiot; I get that it’s an analogy. But as I indicated above, this is a rigged analogy. It all falls apart if you change it to being in a dark room looking for a reason not to kill yourself. Science isn’t all that helpful in gaining that kind of knowledge.

But it’s worse than that, because the example just begs to be criticized on quantum mechanical terms. Once you turn on the flashlight, it isn’t a dark room so you literally can’t find the black cat in a dark room. Consider it on more practical grounds. What if turning on the flashlight caused the black cat to run out of the room before your eyes adjusted?

I suppose I shouldn’t really complain because the kind of people who write these things have a really limited understanding of science — and pretty much everything else. But geez!

Tribalism in Meme Form

This is all about tribalism. You can love and respect science without dismissing other ways of knowing. And it really disturbs me that this is the default position of the New Atheism. It never really bothered me that theists were tribal and awful. But I thought that humans could — if they opened their minds — be more accepting of others. But no. It’s just another “I know the One True Way” of experiencing the world. This is why we will always fight wars.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/15/human-thought-dark-room-meme/

Jan 15

There’s Very Little Free in Free Trade Policy

Dean Baker on Supposed Free Trade PolicyReporters always complain about not having enough space to give the full story, which makes it a mystery as to why they so frequently add the word “free” to references to trade policy. We got an example of this wasteful wordiness in a NYT article on Donald Trump’s decision to ignore nepotism and conflict-of-interest rules and appoint his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a top adviser.

The piece told readers that Kushner, along with other responsibilities, would work on “matters involving free trade.” The use of “free” in this context is misleading since much of the US trade agenda is about increasing protectionism in the form of longer and stronger patent, copyright, and related protections. These protections are equivalent to tariffs of many thousand percent in the economic distortions they produce. They are 180 degrees at odds with free trade. There also has been little, if any, effort to remove protectionists barriers that benefit highly paid professionals, such as the ban on foreign doctors who have not completed a US residency program.

For these reasons, it is inaccurate to include the word “free” in reference to US trade policy. It is difficult to see why the NYT and other news outlets feel the need to do it.

—Dean Baker
Does NYT Require Reporters to Needlessly Add “Free” to References to Trade Policy?

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/15/free-trade/

Jan 14

The Martian and the Point of Entertainment

The MartianI finally got around to seeing The Martian the other day. And in a sense, it is the perfect American entertainment. What The Odyssey was for the ancient Greeks, this film is for Americans: it tells them who they are supposed to be. The film is so filled with pluck that I really wanted to see Mark Watney (Matt Damon) die at the end.

But no. The Martian tells us all that there is no problem we can create that we can’t fix. (This is a terrible philosophy — and provably false.) So the film becomes kind of a “how to” documentary for surviving on Mars. This is made less tedious than it would be by Watney’s constant flippant chattering. And I’ve always found Damon kind of adorable. But really, there isn’t much here to like.

There is a constant drum beat of supposedly funny lines about Watney being stuck with only Disco music. I’m not really sure if, as a viewer, I was supposed to agree with him or not. It would have been better to pick a style of music that has not been widely mocked. At least in that case, we might learn something about who Watney is. But we don’t. Nor do we learn anything about any of the other characters. Really: the film is made up of positions, not characters.

I’ll give a nod Sean Bean — playing the mission director. He doesn’t have much of a part, but he has almost the entirety of the humanity in the film. He’s an exceptional actor who really doesn’t get as much due as he deserves. But who needs humanity when you can be an American!™? Really, rather than The Martian, the film should have been titled, The American.[1]

The Martian Is Just Another Disaster Film

The Martian got me thinking about the point of entertainment. Because I’ve seen this film so many times before. It’s just a disaster film. It is The Poseidon Adventure. But, you know, without actual human characters. It is The Towering Inferno. But, you know, without actual suspense. I’ll bet the vast majority of my readers (who skew older) haven’t seen either of those films. So why not just watch them? Why watch a guy on Mars grow potatoes using his own excrement as fertilizer?

That’s not a rhetorical question. We live in a world in which no one needs to suffer from hunger or homelessness. So after you get those issues taken care of, what is left but ways to find meaning in life and enjoying entertainment? Nothing really. But entertainment is a business. So films are not produced to entertain, but to make money. So Hollywood is going to put how how ever many films each year, even though almost none of them are categorically different from films we’ve seen before.

Newer Isn’t Necessarily Better

What’s more, these new versions are not necessarily better. For example, The Martian, in addition to being kind of boring, is all CGI. The film just looks mushy. Watney mentions gazing at the horizon every day just because he can. Yet there is not a single frame in the film that made me think, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” This is a big problem with modern blockbusters: they’re all pretty much Who Framed Roger Rabbit (that is, live actors on top of a cartoon).

A much better film that is similar, but categorically different is Moon. (See my review.) It should have been made. The Martian? I really can’t say. You will get the same exact experience from countless other films. So why make just another disaster film? I mean: besides making money.

Afterword

I think the film could have been something much greater if Mark Watney had died at the end. Obviously, the entire script would need to be reworked. But it might have said something about pluck that I hadn’t heard before. Maybe pluck is it’s own reward? Watney will die eventually anyway. What if he had just held out as long as he could and all the world looked on helpless? It wouldn’t have to be a downer. Think of Shane.

The Martian as it stands ends with an annoying lecture by Watney where he says, “You solve one problem — and you solve the next one — and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.” Yeah. But we already knew that. If you just happen to be a botanist stranded on Mars who knows far more about operational matters than I find credible, then there might be a sequence of steps that allow you to come home. But often times, there are no steps that lead home. And that’s simply a more interesting thing to think about — especially when you consider how completely implausible the ending of The Martian is.


[1] There is a film called The American, which stars George Clooney. It is a much more likable film. Or rather, it is a much more poetic film. I’ll have to revisit it.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/14/the-martian/

Jan 14

What About the People Who Don’t “Make It”?

Chris Hayes on the People Who Don't Make ItAfter the election, I conducted a kind of exit interview with retiring Senate minority leader Harry Reid. I asked him what the Democratic Party stands for, and after speaking of his own upbringing in deep poverty in the rural town of Searchlight, Nevada, he said: “People have asked me the last year, ‘What message do you want to leave with people?’ And here’s the message: I want everyone in America to understand, if Harry Reid can make it in America, anyone can. And I want those young men and women out there who are looking for a way out to realize, if Harry Reid can make it, anybody can. That’s what America is all about.”

This is, in some ways, a perfect summation of the Democratic Party’s message in the Obama era: in America, anyone can make it out, anyone can rise to the highest heights. Immigrant, native-born, black, white, disabled, gay, straight, male, or female — no matter your background, there’s a place at the top for you. Even if this were perfectly true (and it’s not), we’re now seeing what happens when the Democratic Party is perceived, by white working-class people at least, as the party for those who make it out. But millions didn’t make it out — so who champions them?

The answer is that someone came along and more or less said, “Fuck all that. You won’t have to go to college to live your dreams; I’ll deliver them to you myself. I’ll reopen the coal mines. I’ll wave a magic wand, and this place that’s been pummeled will be restored. You can stay here and live your dreams. Your town can be great again.”

I think Obama recognized the need to speak to the dislocation and alienation of the Americans who didn’t make it out as well as anyone. There’s a reason he won all those counties that Trump flipped: it was Obama’s extraordinary political talent to connect with citizens from all walks of life that made him one of the greatest figures in American history. A century from now, schoolchildren will be celebrating his birthday.

But I’m left to wonder what it must be like inside his head now. Does he have a blissful moment every morning where he wakes up with no memory of what happened in November, a sweet morning calm before remembering the catastrophe? And I also wonder if that blissful moment before reality sets in is how we’ll remember his presidency.

–Chris Hayes
How Will History Judge Barack Obama?

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/14/people-make-it-out/

Jan 13

Are Headlines Ending in a Question Mark a Good Idea?

Question Mark - Betteridge's Law of HeadlinesI was having an email discussion with some people I work with. It was about an article that is really interesting, but based on sketchy science. And one of the people wrote, “Don’t forget Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.” The law is a little obscure. The basic idea is that any article that asks a yes or no question can be answered in the negative. Consider, for example, the headline of this article.

It may not be clear why this matters, so let me explain. Imagine that you want to publish an article that is really thin. Maybe some study just came out that found a negative correlation between drinking Pepsi and getting colon cancer. Well, it’s just one study. There will probably be a dozen more that will show no effect or a positive correlation. So you write the article and publish it with the headline, “Is Pepsi a Cure for Colon Cancer?”

See the trick? You’re not saying that Pepsi stops colon cancer; you’re just asking questions. As Donald Trump might put it, “We just want to find out what’s going on.” It’s a bit sleazy. But more important, it isn’t honest. This is quite different from asking a question in a headline and then answering it in the article.

History of Betteridge’s Law

The concept got its name starting back in 2009. Erick Schonfeld wrote an article for TechCrunch, Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data To the RIAA? The story took off — and not in a good way. It didn’t seem to be true. Ian Betteridge responded to the article at TechNovia, TechCrunch: Irresponsible journalism. He ended the article:

This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “no.” The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it. Which, of course, is why it’s so common in The Daily Mail.

The Broader View

Of course, the concept wasn’t original to Betteridge. It’s part of a broader discussion of “weasel words.” These are things that non-fiction writers — journalists especially — talk about a lot. For example, I can write, “It seems that there is information that some people believe proves Donald Trump enjoys getting golden showers from Vladimir Putin.” If you notice the “seems” and “some people believe,” you will see that what I’ve actually said is that I don’t know a damned thing.

Should You End Headlines With Question Marks?

But since I don’t want to fall afoul of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, I am going to answer my question. Are Headlines That End in a Question Mark a Good Idea? Yes! People like them. They click on them. But they are like all headlines: they raise ethical issues. I think the writer should answer the question they ask. Otherwise, they shouldn’t ask a question. TechCrunch shouldn’t have gone with, “Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data To the RIAA?” It should have gone with something like, “Rumor Spreading That Last.fm Shares User Data With RIAA.” But even that would be misleading because it was mostly that article that spread the rumor. More accurate would be, “Exclusive: A Rumor I Heard That last.fm Shares User Data With RIAA.”

The sad thing is, of course, that ethics be damned. TechNovia doesn’t seem to even exist anymore. TechCrunch is one of the biggest tech websites in the world. According to Alexa, it is the 550th most visited website overall. Of course, it is a great website. But I have little doubt that they made a huge amount of money off that non-great article, even though they were widely criticized for it.

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines is most useful for writers and editors to think about before publishing. If a question headline seems perfect for the article, maybe the article isn’t worth publishing — at least not yet.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/13/betteridge-law/

Jan 13

Republicans Fear and Enable Trump

Brian Beutler - Repeal ObamacareTrump can enforce discipline on congressional Republicans almost effortlessly, with a combination of carrots and sticks that are fixed aspects of his relationship with them. The carrots are the points of policy consensus between Trump and Republican members of the House and Senate. The sticks are the ways that Trump can credibly threaten the careers of many House Republicans, and even some Senate Republicans, if they challenge him.

Set aside the frighteningly real concern that Republicans who cross Trump will see their emails plastered all over the Internet. Trump’s unpopularity masks the powerful effects of partisan polarization. His overall approval rating may be a dismal 37 percent, but in a polarized environment, that level of support means he is overwhelmingly popular among Republican voters and beloved by the GOP base. For most Republicans, opposing him would invite bigger political problems than they’ll willingly accept…

By abandoning even the pretense of congressional oversight, Republicans are leaving it almost entirely to reporters to scrutinize Trump’s ethical and legal conduct. But as he demonstrated on Wednesday, he has no misgivings about slandering news outlets (or any institutions really) that reveal unflattering things about him.

And the same polarization that makes him broadly unpopular, but enduringly popular with GOP voters, will insulate him from the political consequences of scandal. The result is that Trump will be able to operate with impunity for the foreseeable future. If he becomes so reviled that Republicans are no longer scared of him, they might finally arrest the damage — but we’ll have to wait until then to know the full toll.

–Brian Beutler
Trump Is Exactly the Monster We Feared, and Republicans Are Enabling Him

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/13/repeal-obamacare/

Jan 12

Bloody Mallory Review, Analysis, and Wow

Bloody MalloryShortly before 2002, a young Julien Magnat was fresh out of film school. His only claim to fame was an Academy Award nominated short, The All-New Adventures of Chastity Blade. But somehow, he got a bunch of serious and impressive people to help him make his first feature film, Bloody Mallory. It is one of the silliest films I’ve seen in a decade. And I do mean that as a compliment. If you don’t enjoy this film, I fear that you’re dead inside.

The Plot

The set-up in Bloody Mallory is that there is this paranormal team that runs around France killing ghouls, demons, vampires, whatever. They are made up of a psychic child who can transfer her consciousness into other people and animals (voiced by Thylda Barès and on screen by her and several other actors). There is a transgender woman (Jeffrey Ribier) who has two primary concerns: her gorgeous nails and killing demons (check out her pumps). There is also a man who dies at the beginning — kind of a Sam Spade characters. He is replaced later in the film by a more interesting man (Adrià Collado).

And then there is Bloody Mallory (Olivia Bonamy), who dresses like a sexpot, and kicks major butt. She got that way after marrying a demon who she ended up killing on their wedding night. I’ll come back to this shortly, because it’s actually what I want to talk about.

The recently elected pope has been kidnapped. The Catholic Church has no one to turn to but Mallory and company. And she isn’t really very keen on the job. Both she and the transvestite are pretty clear that they don’t agree with his stance on contraception. Nor, I should note, are the French people who come to see the pope speak before he’s kidnapped. But Mallory takes the case because she thinks it is involved with the attack that took out her Sam Spade guy. The rest is just plot, including a reversal that I didn’t see coming, probably because I was having so much fun watching the film.

Bloody Mallory Has Something to Say

But what really elevates this film from the simple romp that it would be (which I would still highly recommend) is the relationship between Mallory and her dead demon husband, played by Julien Boisselier. (He’s unnamed — the credits just say, “Avec dans le rôle du mari”: in the role of the husband.) Because she killed him when he was in the form of a human, he is forced to roam Limbo. Because of Chapter 37 of the Necronomicon, he’s forced to come to her when she calls. But according to Chapter 37, Section D, he is only required to answer one question. Very legalistic those demons!

But he comes around at other times, because the two of them are clearly still in love. It’s like Romeo and Juliet. She’s a Capulet (Catholic) and he’s a Montague (Demon). But really: love conquers all — even if you have to hack your husband to death with an ax. It’s really quite sweet. I rarely like romantic subplots in movies, but I loved this one.

Good and Evil

Still, there is a deeper level that it works on. By marrying a demon, her blood was contaminated. So she isn’t completely Good. But she has fought since her wedding night against the Evil that lives within her. And at the peak of the film, she is forced to literally fight with her Good and Evil sides. She wins, of course. And there’s even a vague kind of reconciliation of Mallory and her husband at the end. You know the Vera Lynn song:

But think about this. Bloody Mallory, this bubble gum movie made to delight the 5-year-old in you, is saying that both Good and Evil are wrong. Thematically, the film is rabidly anti-Christian because it says, “To hell with Original Sin!” It also implies that heaven and hell are just two places to hang out. If David Byrne is right and heaven is a place where nothing happens, then hell is too — it just has more bikers in it.

A Fun Romp With a Moral Lesson

I love this idea, because the main practical effect of the Abrahamic religions is to make humans feel bad about the fact that they are humans. Bloody Mallory pushes a distinctly eastern idea of wholeness: yin and yang in the Abrahamic context. It isn’t heavy-handed. How could it be? This is, as I noted, one of the silliest films I’ve seen in a decade. But you’ll learn more about morality from it than from a typical Sunday sermon.

Get Bloody Mallory. It’s a wonderful film. Just don’t watch it expecting Schindler’s List — also a wonderful film, but quite a different experience.

Afterword

The DVD comes with an English track. I appreciate that. But unlike the Italians, the French have never taken dubbing seriously. And the voice acting in English is decidedly worse than the original French acting. In addition, the dubbed dialog is often decidedly worse than the subtitles. So sad as it is for me to say, you really should watch the French version with subtitles.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/12/bloody-mallory/

Jan 12

Vanity Sizing Racism

Jenée Desmond-Harris - Vanity Sizing RacismPublic discussions of racism are notoriously frustrating, but there’s one especially aggravating related trend that took off during the election season and that I’d love for people to commit to eliminating in 2017: a push for vanity sizing.

Yes, vanity sizing for racism. The original term applies to the way clothing manufacturers have gradually adjusted their sizing in a way that appeases the growing number of large-bodied shoppers who, because of societal shame around weight, would rather see a label that says 6 than one that says 16…

As the vanity sizing debate proved, adjusting labels so that “bad” ones apply to fewer people is seductive. But even for people who associate thinness with health and virtue, it’s a superficial solution — it doesn’t change what we see when we look in the mirror.

We should all resolve to stop this vain, avoidant practice and focus on critiquing the beliefs and behavior that inspire the label “racist” instead of changing the rules so that the label doesn’t apply.

–Jenée Desmond-Harris
The Vain, Counterproductive Myth That There’s No Way Most Americans Can Be Racist

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/12/vanity-sizing-racism/

Jan 11

Review of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Death Bed: The Bed That EatsI finally saw, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. Long time readers may think that I’ve lost my mind. Didn’t I write Death Bed: the Bed that Eats almost four years ago?! But that was based on the only copy I could find at the time: the DoktorSick version that was edited to make the film look as silly as possible. At that time, I noted, “Death Bed is a cross between art, horror, and fetish films.” That’s still largely true. But I missed that it is at core a comedy.

This makes Patton Oswalt’s stand-up routine about the film all the more pathetic. The film establishes itself as a comedy at the very beginning. The bed eats an apple and then returns it to the top of the bed with the core intact. Many similar sight gags follow. The film gets a bit bogged down at the end of the second act and part of the third act. I assume this is because the writer-director, George Barry, felt the need to make it a feature film, instead of the hour-long film it really should be cut to.

Death Bed Is Great to Look At

What’s most remarkable about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is just how visually stunning it is. The camera work is great. The lighting is superior to the vast majority of low-budget student films. And the variety of images is far greater than anything I can think of outside of maybe Kundun. It would make a great stoner film at very least.

But there is much else to like about the film. The acting, for example, is really quite good — especially for a student film.

Is it a Bad Movie?

I understand why people laugh at the film. The story is hard to follow and so requires constant narration of an artist who has been consigned to eternity inside what I assume is one of his own paintings. And even then the plot isn’t clear. A demon wanted to make love to a woman on this bed, but she died, and so the bed came to life and needs to eat from time to time. Eventually, the demon falls asleep so that the artist can explain how to destroy the bed, which involves reanimating the woman. She and the demon copulate and the bed bursts into flame.

But none of that really matters. It’s just an excuse for a number of bits, the best being when a young man tries to kill the bed by stabbing it. Unfortunately, his hands get pulled into the bed, and when he removes them, they are skeletons. It’s hilarious — but even more, it is so bizarre. I would gladly watch anything that George Barry wants to put on screen. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, he never has again and is now pushing 70 years old.

The Evil Medved brothers

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats suffers from what I think of as the Medved brothers syndrome: the idea that it is fun to watch “bad” films. But somehow, it is always low-budget films that are “bad.” This seems to be because what people mistake for bad is really just idiosyncratic. They will watch the most mediocre, witless film and think nothing of it because it is just like so many other mediocre, witless films.

Bed With Still Living Foot - Toni Allen

So isn’t Death Bed: The Bed That Eats bad? It must be! George Barry must have been trying to make Captain America: Civil War and just couldn’t hack it, right?! Wrong. It never occurs to these idiots that Barry made a film that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. It’s a work of art. And despite its low budget, it is technically competent. You don’t need to like it, of course. But you really are a philistine if you don’t respect it for the idiosyncratic art that it is.

And if you give it a chance, I really do think you will enjoy it.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/11/death-bed/

Jan 11

Jack Kirby’s Evolution

Jack KirbyWhat Jack Kirby drew is figures in time. The fist in the foreground is in a different time zone as the foot in the back. And I think he’s the only artist that I’ve ever observed who was able to do that.

Someone who might just blank out the power of his work, might look at something and say, “That’s a little out of drawing.” But that wasn’t the case.

I mean, Jack, in the beginning, academically, knew how to draw the human figure.

As he evolved as an artist, he became an impressionist.

Then I think he became an expressionist.

–Mike Royer
Interviewed in Jack Kirby: Story Teller

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/01/11/jack-kirby-evolution/

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