Alan Rickman: Another Unfair Death

Alan RickmanOh my! Alan Rickman died earlier today. When I learned earlier this week that David Bowie had died, it made me feel a little old. But there wasn’t much in terms of emotional impact, despite the fact that there are at least three Bowie albums that I love: Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, and David Live. And I’m also a huge fan of the film Labyrinth, although not because of him. But my reaction to Alan Rickman’s death is different. It bothers me. I’m actually sad about it.

I discovered him the same place most people did, as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Despite being a cliche, it is still true that the most important element in a film like that is the villain. This is why the other Die Hard films are not as good (but at least Die Hard 2 had a really good plot). The truth is that Bruce Willis has never been very interesting on the screen. And Rickman added all the charisma that was otherwise lacking. I remember reading that someone on the staff was sending the production company reports indicting that Rickman was destroying the film. It just goes to prove William Goldman’s saying, “No one knows anything.”

As if to prove that wasn’t a fluke, Alan Rickman played the most evil and twisted Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. That was a film that was totally forgettable except for Rickman. It was just such a delight to watch. Check out this scene (which is not at all an especially good one for Rickman) and ask yourself, “How is it that Kevin Costner is a star?” This is the problem with Hollywood: being boring is a good thing. “I shall never fear my father’s sword.” It’s not a terrible line by itself, but Costner makes it as bad as it could possibly be.

I assume that Alan Rickman didn’t especially want to be a star. He was an actor. So he got to play a lot of different kinds of roles. One very early was Ed (the painter) in The January Man. It wasn’t a great film, but it was a fun one. And Rickman showed that he could hold his own on the weird front against Kevin Kline. He was wonderfully sad in, An Awfully Big Adventure. He managed to make Colonel Brandon just cool enough in Sense and Sensibility. And he played the wonderfully snobby, yet likable, Steven Spurrier in Bottle Shock. He was wonderful creepy as Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd. But of course most people will always remember him as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. I could go on, because there are other films of his I loved like, Truly, Madly, Deeply. Oh, and Galaxy Quest. Like I said: I could go on.

So I’m very sad that Alan Rickman has died. (And truly: God must hate humanity because Dick Cheney continues to live.) But I’m not “sobbing sad.” I didn’t know Alan Rickman. But the film industry will be all the poorer for his death. First Terry Pratchett. Now this. Is something going on in England? I don’t think I can take much more of this.

Goodnight, sweet prince! And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Trump, Rubio, Cruz, and Identity Politics

Donald TrumpI have to admit to being at a loss about the Republican presidential nomination. It does seem hard to believe that Donald Trump would be the nominee. But why do I think that? In a lot of ways, he is the Ross Perot of his day. I don’t mean that they are the same. Perot was an actual issue candidate. That issue — the budget deficit — was wrong; but it was something that intelligent people could disagree about. But they both appealed to people in much the same way: they were self financing and seemed like the kind of people who were willing to tell the people “the truth.” It’s a kind of affinity fraud, or as it is know, “identity politics.”

There are a lot of conservatives who are in love with this idea. Part of it is the delusion that people deserve their wealth. As we all know, Ross Perot’s fortune was highly tied to government largess. And the same thing is true of Donald Trump. See question number 17 of David Cay Johnston’s 21 Questions For Donald Trump. But to the conservative mind, these are self-made men. And without any experience in government, they are expected to walk into the White House and fix all our problems. So I see no reason why Trump can’t manage to take a third of the Republican delegates.

Ted CruzMatt Bruenig wrote an interesting article related to this, The Trump Confidence Game Analysis Has No Basis in Fact. Really, it just comes down to the fact that everyone has predicted that Trump will die out but he’s only grown in support. And I understand this. There is just this gut feeling in me that Trump can’t win, but there is no actual evidence behind it.

I noticed this in a recent Jonathan Bernstein article, Trump Will Still Lose. Here’s How. From the beginning, Bernstein has said that Trump will lose because he is of “the party decides” belief. But I found this most recent article to be hedging more than usual. Maybe there really is something different this time. Maybe it is all just about Trump being a billionaire.

Cruz seems like such an obvious choice, because he is even more vile than Trump, but is savvy enough to know what he can and can’t say regarding the media. But who really cares? Imagine that it is Marco Rubio? We are still talking about a horrible person. And let’s not forget that of these three, Trump is most likely to be the best. He’s not committed to conservative ideology. The other two are. So I imagine that a Trump administration would at least have some pragmatic aspects to it and very likely some absolutely positive policy.

Marco RubioBut as Brian Beutler noted, the GOP’s indentity politics may doom Marco Rubio. But he is wrong when it comes to the Democrats. He thinks that the reason that Martin O’Malley hasn’t caught on is because he is too much of a banal white guy. But that isn’t it. I think O’Malley hasn’t caught fire because he doesn’t offer anything especially exciting. Dismissing the Democratic base’s embrace of Sanders (a while male from the Northeast) being because he is a “left-wing insurgent” is self-refuting. The Democratic base is interested in issues, not “types.”

This is something I’ve talked about a lot, but people have a hard time accepting it. The Democrats are not the party of identity politics. African Americans don’t vote for the Democratic Party because it is the African American party. They vote for it because it has done a great deal for the African American community. If there is an identity for the Democratic Party, it is economic uncertainty: poor and working class people vote for the Democratic Party because they think that it looks out for their economic interests.

It is the Republican Party that is all about identity politics. They are, after all, the people who claim to be the “real” Americans. And they very much want to vote for a rich white guy, because we just haven’t had enough of those. So currently, Trump and Cruz look like the clear favorites to win the nomination. Politically, the three are very similar. But Rubio has the problem that he looks just a little bit like he might be ethnic.

That’s what it seems to be about. The Republicans have long ago given up on policy. It is all about personality and identity. And as a result, it is most likely that they will nominate Trump or Cruz. In the end, all they want is some blowhard to talk tough — but one they trust. And that means a white man. It’s funny that the Democratic Party with all its diversity is the one that is seen as the party of identity politics. Is the Democratic Party the African American party? No. Is it the Latino party? No. Is it the woman party? No. But the Republican Party is the white male party. It is the party of identity politics.

Morning Music: Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter

Rock 'n' Roll AnimalOkay. I’m willing to admit when I’ve made a mistake. And I’ve made a mistake with this poorly considered week of sound-oriented guitarists. So I’m going to finish out the week with guitarists who aren’t necessarily so into sound (although all electric rock guitar is a lot about sound). I’m just going to go with some guitarists who I admire. One of them is Dick Wagner. Another is Steve Hunter.

They are probably best known for their work with producer Bob Ezrin (one of my all time favorites — one of the unsung greats of rock music). In this capacity, they worked with acts like Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, and even Kiss. Well, Wagner played the lead guitar on the typically stupid Kiss song, Flaming Youth.

You can hear the two of them play together on a bunch of Alice Cooper albums. Dick Wagner was particularly close to him. But I thought we would listen to the two of them off the beginning of Lou Reed’s album Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. They played so beautifully together. This intro — before “Sweet Jane” — was written by Hunter. I think Reed especially sucks at this period where he was addicted to speed. But the band is so great that it doesn’t much matter.

Anniversary Post: Huygens Space Probe

Huygens picture of Titan's surfaceExactly ten years ago, the Huygens space probe landed on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. It is the only probe to have successfully landed on an outer solar system object. Titan was a great choice, because it is the only moon in the solar system with a notable atmosphere. It’s surface pressure is about 40% greater than the Earth’s. And it’s atmosphere is made up mostly of nitrogen. Now you may wonder why all that nitrogen doesn’t just escape off into space. It is because it doesn’t have enough energy. Titan might not have much gravitational pull, but its surface temperature is 94 K — roughly -290 °F. Still, overall, it is a lot like the Earth with wind, rain, and seas. It is just that instead of water, Titan has liquids of simple hydrocarbons like methane and ethane.

In 1997, the European Space Agency launched Cassini—Huygens. It was an incredibly ambitious mission, flying by many planets and moons before going into orbit around Saturn in 2004. On 25 December 2004, Cassini released the Huygens probe, which reached Titan’s atmosphere on 14 January 2005. It descended to the surface two and a half hours later. Not a great deal was known about Titan until this mission, because (like with Venus), it’s think atmosphere obscured its surface details. In fact, it was long thought that Titan was the largest moon in the solar system, because its large atmosphere was counted as part of the solid moon.

One of the most interesting things about Titan is how much water it has. It’s density is less than double the density of water — and about half the density of the moon and one-third that of the Earth. On the surface are “rocks” of frozen water. But amazingly, Titan appears to have a thick subsurface layer of liquid water. Overall, it is about the most fascinating object in our solar system — other than the Earth itself.

After about an hour and a half on the surface of Titan, Huygens ran out of battery power and now just sits there on Titan. It is interesting to think, however, that it seems to have landed in a dry flood plane. So by now, it might have been carried off somewhere else. Titan really is very Earth like. So you can imagine what might happen to a similar probe that was just abandoned in the Mississippi delta.