Parental Guidance

Parental GuidanceI took my brother to the movies today. Normally, that would lead to another Marxist film review. But because of a scheduling conflict, we were forced to miss Jack Reacher and instead see Parental Guidance. Actually, this is my kind of movie: I really like sentimental comedies. And it was okay—pretty much exactly what you expect of a film like that.

The plot is typical: little known family member comes to babysit. Hilarity ensues. And it ends with everyone learning deep lessons about acceptance and forgiveness and the importance of the shot heard ’round the world. The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

Two things struck me about the film. The first comes out of my generally mediocre opinion of Billy Crystal. Note: mediocre, not bad. But he is impressive in this film. He has more onscreen charisma than the rest of the cast combined. Without him, the film would be hopeless. And that leads us the second thing that struck me.

Don’t people rewrite scripts anymore?! The first act and even the beginning of the second act are fairly strong. Or at least, strong for this kind of very predicable family fare. But then it wanders off in a sort of dramatic random walk. There is a subplot where Artie (Crystal) is trying to get a new job. It has almost nothing to do with the main plot and it is never resolved. The main plot is no more robust, except that it does manage to provide compelling but much too hasty resolutions. Above all, from the second act on, the film has no dramatic momentum. Nothing pulls the viewer through the film except the thought of another scene with Crystal.

And yet, the film is fairly amusing. It is touching. It has some genuinely moving moments. In other words, it is a typical professionally produced Hollywood film. It just goes to show that if you shove enough talent at a production, you can make it work well enough. But they spent $25 million dollars on this film. They could have divided up that money 50 times, given it to independent filmmakers, and ended up with at least 25 films that were more enjoyable.


There are three kids in the film, each with a problem. The youngest is Barker who seems okay to me except that he has an imaginary kangaroo. It is run over by a car. In my experience, imaginary friends fade away. Sudden, violent death probably doesn’t bode well for Barker’s teen years.

The middle child is Turner. He stutters. Somehow he overcomes this by memorizing a speech. Speech therapists are really amazing. Stuttering is not something you get over by becoming and actor. Just ask any actor who stutters, such as Austin Pendleton.

Harper is the oldest. She is too focused on achievement. She is trying to get into a music school with her violin playing. Twelve year olds of any ability whatsoever play the violin very well. So well, in fact, that most listeners could not differentiate them from Itzhak Perlman. Harper plays the violin about as well as I do. And I don’t play the violin. She is probably the least developed character in a movie of stereotypes.

More Republican Immaturity

James C. CaprettaJames C. Capretta wrote in the National Review on Monday, The Budget Battles Ahead. He said that the Republicans are not going to do any negotiating with President Obama. Instead, they are just going to let the budget deficit get completely out of control and then blame it on Obama.

“Future generations of Americans will live less prosperously because of the massive debt and deficits of these years,” he says. “And President Obama will rightly shoulder most of the blame for this colossal failure of leadership.”

This is interesting in a few ways. First, it is wrong. The budget deficit is not going to be a problem for quite a while. What’s more, it is already going down. It will become a problem as the economy gets better, but that will happen as the government gets more tax revenue. So this is just more conservative hysteria over invisible bond vigilantes.

Second, this is just the newest iteration of McConnell’s plan to make Obama a one-term president. As I’ve written about a lot around here, Republicans don’t have any ideas about how they want to govern outside of savaging the social safety net and cutting taxes on the wealthy. Given they aren’t going to get either of those opportunities for the next four years, their plan is to make Obama look bad.

This is a stupid plan. People will not be voting on the budget deficit in 2016. People will not be voting on the budget deficit ever. They will be voting on what they always vote on: how the economy is doing in the period from August to November 2016. But the plan is also the height of immaturity. This is playground bullshit. This is what one of the great American political parties has been reduced to.

I’m reminded of an old saying, “You’re an all or nothing kind of guy, and since you can’t have it all, you get nothing.” I think the Republican Party should meditate on this. Being the petulant party is only going make the Tea Party crazies happy in the long term. And that’s only about a quarter of the electorate. That’s not good government, nor is it good politics.

H/T Jonathan Chait

A Tale of Two Movements

Eric AltermanThe fact is this—anyone paying careful attention could have told you that the Tea Party was simply the old far right dressed up in funny new clothing. Its numbers historically hover between one-fifth and one-third of all voters depending on the times. These were the people who thought President George W. Bush was still doing a bang-up job at the end of his catastrophic presidency. Hence, pretty much nothing can make them rethink what they believe they know to be true.

Interestingly, the opposite dynamic appears to be at work in the coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is far more popular with the public than with the media. Even before its current slide in popularity, the Tea Party was never even remotely as popular as the Occupy Wall Street movement was when it began and remains today. As CAP’s Ruy Teixeira demonstrated back in October, the movement’s favorability rating was already “twice as high as that of the conservative Tea Party movement.” Teixeira noted that 54 percent of the public, according to a Time/Abt SRBI poll, said they were “favorable to the movement that has been protesting policies that ‘favor the rich, the government’s bank bailout, and the influence of money in our political system.'”

—Eric Alterman
Why Do the Mainstream Media Like the Tea Party More Than Occupy Wall Street?

Opportunity Costs of Torture

bamboo shoots forced under the fingernailsYesterday, I listened to Michael Krasny’s excellent Forum show. It featured a debate between Glenn Greenwald and Mark Bowden on the issue of torture, especially as it applies to the appointment of John Brennan as CIA Director and the movie Zero Dark Thirty. It was interesting. Greenwald really went after Bowden. He seems to have no patience with even the smallest amount of torture apologetics. And I think he’s right.

Just the same, I can see why Bowden gets a bit angry. In general, Bowden’s position on torture is pretty enlightened—at least compared to that of most Americans. He believes that we should not do it. The problems come up when he does the old John Yoo maneuver of defining torture away. “Of course, I’m against torture! But bamboo shoots forced under the fingernails isn’t torture!” Not that bad, but still.

Mark Bowden repeated one thing that sounds reasonable. He said that it was wrong to say that torture is never effective because clearly it sometimes is. I accept this. The problem is how this bit of information is presented. As we know from economics, choices have opportunity costs associated with them. If you go to see Bruce Springsteen, there is an opportunity cost of missing the Pink Floyd concert that is at the same time. So the question is not whether torture sometimes provides good information. The question is does the torturing provide more information than other options like rapport building. And that, I think, is where the “torture is effective” argument breaks down.

I recommend listening to the show. It is a good primer on these issues:

And check out Greenwald’s article on the John Brennan nomination at the New York Times, Nomination Ignores War Crimes.