A Complete Guide to Capitalism from Identity Thief

Identity Thief - DispensableI know you have rules. Like never back-date a 5590 or don’t stamp a 33B transfer without telling a client first. I’ll bet you do that one twice a month. Don’t you?

I have you at a disadvantage. You don’t know me, but I know you, Ken. I know that you make $49,395 a year. I know that you work very hard for that wife and child right there. I know that you’re real good at your job, that you take care of this company, and you do things that they’ll never know about — that they’ll never appreciate — so you’re very proud. Right?

But you’re scared. You’re scared because you’re dispensable. You’re scared because you know that, more than likely, one day you’re going to be replaced by somebody younger, somebody cheaper. Maybe even by an app.

–Sandy Patterson
Dialog from Identity Thief

The Liberal Backlash Has Already Begun

Jonathan Chait - Democratic BacklashOf the many reasons a man like Donald Trump managed to win the presidential election… an important one was the imbalance in political passion between the two sides… Eight years of Democratic control of the White House had created complacency (as it did in 2000). Republicans were starving for power and willing to overlook their candidate’s glaring, grotesque flaws… The events of the last two days have made clear that Trump’s victory wiped those conditions away overnight.

It matters that Trump drew a sparse crowd to inaugural festivities that he had billed beforehand as a historic, Jacksonian uprising of The People. And it matters much more that millions of Americans came out on a Saturday to register their protest… The message has been heard by the political class, Republican and Democratic alike.

It might be easy to assume that Trump and his allies feel insulated from accountability. It is not quite so simple. Republicans in Congress have thus far given Trump near-total cooperation of the assumption that they could move quickly and with little resistance to implement their agenda. Democrats did not really wake up from their late-Clinton slumber until the middle of Bush’s term, after which a lot of legislation had already passed. Republicans assuming they could rush through Paul Ryan’s agenda, while allowing Trump to obliterate long-standing governing norms, will rethink. The kind of backlash Democrats eventually mounted against Bush, which drove landslide victories in the 2006 midterm and the 2008 election, is a… possibility. In those elections, many seemingly safe red states turned blue…

The governing party had probably assumed the clock would not start for months on the liberal backlash. Now the clock is ticking already.

–Jonathan Chait
Don’t Let Anybody Tell You the Marches Didn’t Matter

Phoenix Women’s March

I went to the Phoenix Women’s March yesterday. I wanted to talk to the attendees and find out why they went. Also, I went because I wanted to be in solidarity over the fact that the election was stolen from us by people such as Vladimir Putin.

Woman holding sign: It wasn't the emails. It was the white males.

Granted: that one probably will make a few people angry, but whatever.

On Friday, the day of the inauguration, Phoenix was shrouded in clouds and fog with a weeping sky. I honestly thought it was God weeping for what we have wrought. I thought that even more strongly yesterday, since the day dawned bright, clear, and with just enough breeze to make it slightly chilly. When my sister and I got to the event, it was already pretty crowded. The official start was 10:00 am, but loads of people had gathered by 9:40.

We wandered around a bit and then I climbed on something to take some video.

You can hear a man at the beginning yelling, “Mary!” Fear not, according to my sources, he found her.

A Big Event

The crowd was pretty big. Arizona doesn’t do much in the way of protests. Most of ours are pretty small — maybe a few hundred people. Relatively speaking, this one was huge: over 36,000 people.

And as always, there are signs at these things. Most of them were hand drawn:

Four Signs from Phoenix Women's March

Why March?

I had a chance to talk to a couple of the women there.

The first, Sloan, was at the march to resist and to show her support for the women like herself. She said, “I have spent 20 years in a career that is totally dominated by men, and I’ve been paid less than all my male counterparts. I was not invited to the Christmas party because it was held at Hooters.”

She also saw her attendance in generational terms — paying back to the women who went before and helping those coming after.

The second woman I spoke with was ZZ. She said she was there because she couldn’t believe that the fact that Trump admitted to committing sexual assault wasn’t enough to finish him as a candidate.

That is hard to understand. He should have been trash the minute that recording came out. But he wasn’t because, well, it seems that sexual assault doesn’t bother people in reality as much as it does in the abstract.

The Phoenix Women’s March: One Part of a Much Larger Whole

The Phoenix Women’s March was one of 600 that were happening worldwide — all of them reporting massive turnout, far exceeding what the organizers planned.

A friend, Jason Karsh, posted a large collection of pictures from the Las Vegas Women’s March. That’s worth checking out. But there were marches everywhere — even in Antarctica.

Central Intelligence as Art and Entertainment

Central IntelligencePeople get the wrong idea about me. They think I hate entertainment. But I don’t!

You have to wonder what people expect though. Am I going to write articles about how much I really liked that scene in that movie I saw? Well, in some cases, I will do that. But it won’t be about how cool it was when Robin Hood cut the hangman’s rope with his arrow. There has to be more to it, or what is the point of my writing or you reading?

Reviewing Central Intelligence

So I find myself with the formidable task of discussing Central Intelligence — the 2016 action comedy starring Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that I knew the entire plot from the moment I saw Dwayne Johnson’s face digitally placed on the fat high school boy. Well, not entirely. But if you weren’t 20 minutes ahead of this film, you just weren’t paying attention.

The only thing that was surprising in Central Intelligence was that there were no surprises. Every trope of this genre was adhered to. There was not a single reversal, just to spice things up. I even told my sister[1], “The standard plot dictates that we think the head of the CIA unit be the bad guy (gal), but it will turn out that it is really his dead partner. But usually, screenwriters try to mess around with that.” They didn’t.

In fact, here is a universal truth of Hollywood action films: if all that remains of a dead character is an ear or a toe or some such, that character is not dead. And it’s obvious, really. Why put something stupid like that in the script otherwise? Why not just have the character be shot in the head and buried? Comic relief? Well, perhaps — if the film weren’t already a comedy.

The Film Works, Despite It All

I don’t own the film, so I can’t go into great depth about the total lack of creativity in this script. The same thing goes for all the artistic departments: they all did a perfectly professional job with no hint that anything but competence was required. Yet it works. Unfortunately, I’m not totally sure why. I have theories, of course.

One of the reasons the film works is that it really doesn’t take itself seriously. Most action comedies seem as though the action sequences are serious. Not here. For one thing, Kevin Hart plays these scenes with all the insanity that they deserve. And we all know that Dwayne Johnson cannot be killed.

But I think a bigger reason that the film is so enjoyable is that Hart and Johnson work really well together. Hart is naturally a spaz. And Johnson has shown himself admirably able to play dorky characters. And the two of them just click. The film really isn’t an action picture so much as the story of a boy trying to get a really friendly and lovable dog to stop following him home.

It’s Time Is Over

Of course, there’s nothing real in this film. There is more character depth in a Nichols and May skit than there is in any character in this film. It wasn’t created to last more than a couple of weeks in the theater and then perhaps a year at Redbox. This is why Hollywood cranks out films. But rarely do they have the charm of Central Intelligence. And even when they do, there’s a huge opportunity cost. Central Intelligence cost $50 million to make. That’s over 62 times the budget of Dead Snow.

Central Intelligence was a good way to waste two hours. But watching too many films like it is a good way to waste your life.


[1] In general, I do not talk during films. But my older sister is incapable of sitting all the way through a film. So we had to pause it about eight times.

In— for Latin, Em— for French, Confusion for English

The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and StyleSome words in English, such as enquire and inquire, can be spelled with either en— or in–. In fact, from a historical point of view, these two prefixes are the same. As the Latin language developed into French, Latin in— became en–. For example, Latin inflammāre developed into French enflammer, borrowed into English as enflame. Later the word came to be written as inflame in imitation of the original Latin form. During the middle English period, a great number of French words beginning with en— came into the English language, and in many instances the spelling of these words was similarly remodeled to begin with in–. In some pairs of words, however, the difference in spelling between en— or in— has been used to distinguish a difference in meaning, such as in the pair ensure and insure. Because of the difference in spelling, most English speakers today probably consider ensure and insure to be two entirely different verbs, but in origin insure is just a specialized financial use of the word ensure, “make secure.”

The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style

Trump Inauguration: And Away We Go!

Donald Trump InaugurationSo it has begun. The Trump inauguration is over and so now Donald Trump is President of the United States. I have just a few thoughts to share with you all. It’s nothing too profound. It’s hard to be profound when you are terrified.

The Protests

To begin with, I wasn’t in favor of protesting Trump’s inauguration. He was elected president fairly in the context of our non-democratic system. And it bothers me to think that people will be more interested in protesting this than in trying to fix our country’s election system.

The Electoral College

Let’s just talk about the electoral college — even though that is actually a fairly minor way that this country is non-democratic. We face a really difficult time getting rid of it. Before Trump was elected president despite losing the popular vote by almost three million votes, most Republicans wanted to get rid of it. After the election, Republican voters flipped and decided that the electoral college was just great!

So I’m not sure how we get rid of the electoral college now that it is clear to Republicans that the only way they can make it into the White House is through this deeply non-democratic mechanism.

The Trouble With Trump

As I see it, there are two primary problems with Trump. Let me start with the one that gets all the attention: he’s insane. I can imagine him using Mexico refusing to pay us back for the wall he’s planning to build as a pretext for going to war. And if he did that, it would probably lead to World War III.

I know that a lot of people think that the military would not go along with Trump if he ordered a war crime. But that’s nonsense. We all know that the Nazis were tried for war crimes because they lost the war. If you want to see what happens to military personnel when they stand up for what is right, see Chelsea Manning. This distinction between valid and invalid orders is like what constitutes Fair Use in intellectual property matters. No one knows anything. You just have to wait and see which side wins.

So if Trump goes on tilt, don’t expect the military (or almost any other American institution) to stop him. The only possible institution that would stop him would be the Republican Congress. They would gladly impeach him, because they’d rather have Mike Pence anyway.

Trump Is a Republican

The much bigger problem with Trump is that he is a Republican. And we have a Republican Congress. And I don’t think Trump is planning to be an active president in terms of policy. Congress will send him bills that will enrich the rich and literally kill the poor, and he will sign them. Why not? He doesn’t care. Remember when he promised that no one would lose their healthcare with his replacement? How’s that claim looking now?

The Good Trump

The only good thing about Trump is paradoxically also what is bad about him: he’s insane. So it is possible that his narcissism will make him stand-up to the vile Republican Congress. But since he’s been elected, there has been no indication that he will do that. I think he is about as likely to do that as my 84 year old father is of running for president in 2020. I mean that literally: my father could run for president as a kind of joke. He almost certainly won’t. Same for Trump actually caring about the people of the United States.

Trump Inauguration: And Away We Go!

I was actually much more emotionally distraught over the 2004 election than I am over this one. (It could be, however, that I’m much more plugged in now and have simply suppressed my feelings. Also: my father’s two serious illnesses and my brother’s death have all distracted me.) Back then, I couldn’t stand the time between Bush’s re-election and the start of his term. I felt terrible and I had to wait for the terrible thing to happen. I’ve felt much the same this time.

So I’m glad it has actually begun. I do think that the next two years will be a catastrophe for the country. And I think if we are really lucky, we might be able to clean up the mess over the next two decades. But at least the game is on.

Afterword

For the record, I actually believe that Trump’s inauguration is something we don’t come back from. Just as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both made the country permanently worse, Donald Trump will make the country permanently worse. But don’t worry too much. It’s most likely that this process will continue to be slow. If it were really fast, the American people might be awakened from their stupor and notice.

Love Actually: One Review or Nine?

Love ActuallyMy brother Eric left all of his movie collection to me. This included an unopened DVD of “the ultimate romantic comedy,” Love Actually. Now, I’m not much of a romantic comedy fan. But it was written and directed by Richard Curtis. You know him: the man who co-wrote every episode of Blackadder? Less impressively, he wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral — but still a solid film. So I had been wanting to see the film for some time. And last weekend, visiting my sister seemed like the perfect opportunity because it’s the kind of thing she would like.

What a mess of a film! I’m sure the screenplay looked like a recipe for gumbo. You know: just keep adding stuff until its done. It must have seemed like a great idea. Romantic comedies are incredibly predictable. So why not just throw together nine romantic plots of varying styles and voilà: soup’s ready! There’s just one problem with this analogy: soups work this way because the different ingredients combine synergistically. These nine plots were related in the most tenuous way. Not one of them made another better — or even different.

Love Actually: The Good

None of this would have been a problem if all the stories — or even most of them — worked. But that isn’t the case. Of the nine, I thought two of them worked — and brilliantly so.

Christmas Is All Around Us

The first was a bromance between aging rock star Billy Mack and his manager Joe. Bill Nighy plays the Mack character for all its cynical old-man comedy potential. And comedian Gregor Fisher plays straight-man to Nighy, adding the pathos to the story that makes it work. The story goes along with my theory that if you scratch a cynic, you will find a blubbering fool who cries a number of time during the course of films like Love Actually. (Not that I have anyone in mind!)

The Body Doubles

The second — and best — story was about John and Judy, played pitch perfect by Martin Freeman and Joanna Page. They are professional body doubles — people who stand in for actors while the technical issues (lighting, framing, camera movement) are worked out. It’s hard and thankless work. But they are working on a sex scene. In addition to often being naked, they are in some hilariously obscene positions. All through it, they chat, very much as if they were having coffee. Eventually, John asks Judy out on a date, and they are wonderfully awkward. But John literally jumps for joy after getting a meaningful but not terribly passionate kiss from Judy.

Love Actually: The Bad

Some of the stories were just bad.

The American President — But Even Worse

Hugh Grant plays a wholly unbelievable prime minister who falls in love with a young woman on his household staff, played by Martine McCutcheon. It features yet another twitchy Good Guy™ performance by Grant, which no sane person would want to sit through. But worse, the implausibility of the story and the characters ruin it. However, I did like that it showed that some men do like women with a bit more meat on their bones, even if McCutcheon probably only wears a size 8 — max.

The Universal Language: Cliche

A similarly insipid yet unbelievable story featured Colin Firth as a writer and Sienna Guillory as a housekeeper who only speaks Portugese. Love blossoms in the way that 13-year-olds think it does. As a viewer, I can see how they might make a fine match. But I don’t see how either of them could possibly know it. But what the hell: Firth is British and Guillory is beautiful! What else does a bad film need?

The Boy Who Wasn’t Arrested

There is also a horrible story concerning recently widowed Liam Neeson and his pre-pubescent son who is in love. If this sentimental claptrap wasn’t bad enough, it all turns into an action adventure that made the “single prime minister searches the streets for the housekeeper love of his life” plot seem like Schindler’s List.

Two for Keira

Of course, there had to be the cinematic equivalent of Jessie’s Girl. In this case, the girl is Keira Knightley, looking about 15 (I think she was 17 while filming). The story is entirely predictable, although the denouement was clever and sweet.

Richard Curtis’ Porn Fantasy

But without a doubt, the worst story was that of Colin (Kris Marshall) who runs off to America because all British women rightly think he’s a creepy idiot. Once in America, he finds himself in a porn fantasy where he goes to stay with four beautiful women (played by four models) who “will be naked.” At first, I couldn’t believe it. I thought surely this was a set-up to steal his money or sell him sex. But no. Apparently, Richard Curtis knows that Americans are keen on European accents. We aren’t that keen. But okay, I get it: broad comedy. Unfortunately, tonally, it simply doesn’t work with any other part of the film. Also: where’s the comedy except for, “American women are stupid, ha ha!”

Love Actually: The Ugly

There were two stories that almost worked. They were both dramas.

The Brother Calls

The first featured Laura Linney, desperately in love with Rodrigo Santoro. But here’s the catch: he’s desperately in love with her too! The problem: Linney has a schizophrenic brother (Michael Fitzgerald) who is in a mental institution. Unlike any mental institution I can imagine existing, this one allows the patients to wander around with cell phones and call whoever they want whenever they want. So Linney is constantly interrupted in her brief attempt to have a romance. She ultimately chooses her brother, and I can’t decide whether it is noble or cowardly. It might make a good feature drama. Certainly Richard Curtis is not the man to right it, though.

The Necklace and Joni Mitchell

The other drama was about Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson). He has a very sexually aggressive secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch). You know the story. What makes it more interesting is that I don’t believe Rickman ever has an affair. But it shows that the pain is not because of the act, but because of the feelings. This story has some of the best scenes in the entire movie. If it weren’t for Harry being such a complete idiot, it would have worked better.

Image this. Your wife tells you that she knows you find your secretary attractive. She tells you explicitly, “Be careful.” And you have at least a hunch that she caught you buying a gold necklace. In that case, you either give her the necklace or you buy another one and give her that. You absolutely don’t buy her a Joni Mitchell CD in the exact same sized box.

Love Always Is a Christmas Movie!

The whole film takes place in the lead-up to Christmas. I can’t help but feel that I’m supposed to forgive the film its many sins against intelligence, human emotion, and art because of this. But I didn’t walk away from the film feeling good. My main thought was, “Oh my God! Laura Linney is spending Christmas with her violent schizophrenic brother!” On the plus side, I’d do that before I’d watch Love Actually again.

Thank You Trump Voters!

Donald Trump VotersI want to take a quick moment to thank everyone who voted for Donald Trump. I am not thanking you for voting for him, of course. Regardless of what you think of Hillary Clinton, voting for Trump was an incredibly stupid thing to do. So I’m not thanking you for that — especially since most of you have been falling for this same Republican con for years. “I’ll fix the economy! Ooops! I guess yet another round of tax cuts for the rich didn’t work this time, just like it didn’t work every other time over the last 35 years! Who could have known?”

No, I want to thank all you Trump voters for not telling me that you regret voting for him. It’s already happening. But I assure you, it will happen in a big way soon enough. The fall is coming, as it always does. And it would be really unkind to try to save face with me by admitting fault. In fact, doing so could potentially land me in jail for assault. So I’m really thankful for all you Trump voters who are just going to remain quiet as you see your salaries decline and your healthcare vanish.

Now, it would be one thing if Donald Trump were something new. But what he is offering is no different from what George W Bush, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan offered. Oh, sure: the economy has improved. Productivity goes up! Dividends go up! But somehow, salaries don’t. There’s a reason for this. Economics is pretty simple: if you take money away from poor people and give it to rich people, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.

So those people in rural Pennsylvania who voted for Donald Trump thinking he was going to bring the manufacturing jobs back? You should have known better. And that’s why I know I can thank you now for not saying you regret voting for him when the con is so obvious that even you can’t deny it. You’ve saddled America with this dangerous embarrassment for four and likely eight years. It would just be wrong for you to try to get on the right side of history once all the damage has been done.

Besides, you know that you’re just going to vote for the next Republican con man who comes along. You always do.

Great for Chelsea Manning; Not So Much Democracy

Chelsea ManningAs has been widely reported, President Obama has commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning. And it’s great news. All the way back in November, James wrote, Chelsea Manning: Obama Should Pardon Her Now — a long an passionate argument on the matter.

But there are things that bug me about this. On the top of the list is that Manning is being set free because the administration thinks she has suffered enough. No, no, no! Chelsea Manning shouldn’t have been put in prison in the first place. Neither should the many other leakers who the Obama administration oppressed (as well as general whistleblowers like John Kiriakou).

(Of special note is the abuse of the Espionage Act of 1917. As many of use have been saying for years, Obama was setting a bad new norm and he wouldn’t always be president. Imagine what President Trump will do with this law? Breaking norms matter — perhaps especially when Democrats do it, because it legitimizes the norm breaking so much more.)

The Case Against Manning

But I think the case can be made that Manning should have been punished — although not to the extent she was. The truth is that her release of documents was reckless. I would counter that she tried to work with reporters and was ignored and dismissed. She could have done some culling before giving the material to Wikileaks, but I think that’s asking quite a lot from one so young.

You can disagree with me, of course. But I don’t think anything close to a reasonable argument can be made for a 7 year sentence — much less the 35 year sentence she was assigned barring commutation. The idea that “Manning had served enough time” just shows that the government has learned nothing from this. It isn’t interested in having a well-informed public. The question isn’t whether those who inform the public of our dirty deeds should be punished; it is just a question of how much they should be punished. According to Obama, 7 years is about right for an American hero like Chelsea Manning.

Edward Snowden

Here’s where we get into troubled waters: the Edward Snowden comparison. I am sick to death of hearing the official Democratic Party line on Snowden coming out of the mouths of dozens of liberal friends and acquaintances. Manning is the Good Leaker and Snowden is the Bad Leaker. Let me quote from an administration official, “Chelsea Manning is somebody who accepted responsibility for the crimes she committed. She expressed remorse for committing those crimes. She began serving the sentence that was handed down.”

So the distinction here is that Manning was a good a little girl and took her punishment. And Snowden was the bad little boy who ran away. Please! Think about this in a different way. Think about Harriet Tubman. After breaking the law by helping slaves escape, should she have turned herself into the Maryland police to see that justice was done? Of course not. Doing so would have been beyond naive. Yet that is what I am constantly told Snowden should have done.

I think the single biggest difference between Manning and Snowden is naivete. And I say that as someone who used to be very much like Manning. I used to think that if you did what was right, everything would be okay. But that’s not true. And I suspect if you could get inside Chelsea Manning’s head, you would find that she has had second thoughts about that. Those in power are not interested in right and wrong. They are interested in power and weakness. People like Manning and Snowden are the weak and must be destroyed.

Edward Snowden, with his libertarian politics, did not believe all the “home of the brave, land of the free” propaganda that Manning and I did. So he did the rational thing: he ran.

The “Screw You Snowden” Theory

I believe that a good part of why Manning’s sentence was commuted is because of Snowden. If the government didn’t have Snowden to hold up as the Big Bad Leaker, there would be far less pressure to release Manning. The message from the administration could not be clearer, “We’ll treat you right [Ha!] if you hang around, but don’t run!”

(Also: the idea that Snowden’s real crime is that he ran to our enemies is a joke. If he had run to the UK, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, or whatnot, he would have been handed over to the US. He clearly doesn’t want to be in Russia; that’s the choice of the US — not letting him move around. Had he gone to Venezuela, people would make the same arguments against him. In addition, there’s a good chance the US would have invaded Venezuela. Remember the invasion of Panama? Yes, the US is that sick a country that it would kill thousands of innocent people just to get one guy who pissed it off.)

Chelsea Manning’s Remorse

I also hate this idea that Manning “expressed remorse” for these “crimes. First, the whole idea of criminals showing remorse is a joke. No judge or jury can say that anyone is remorseful. Psychopaths are notably really good at showing remorse, even while feeling none. And everyone shows remorse — and every other emotion — differently. A couple of years ago, I was reading about a guy falsely convicted of killing his wife. It all stemmed from the fact that the police didn’t think he showed the proper emotion. So they railroaded him, as they are wont to do.

The other issue is that I don’t think Manning should show remorse. She’s a hero. Okay. She could show remorse over little things. She could have dealt with the leak better. (More like Snowden!) But that’s not what the Obama administration is on about. They are saying that she has shown remorse for doing it at all. And she shouldn’t be remorseful about that. And I suspect after she’s out — hopefully being something like an advocate for open government — she’ll be clear that it was right to release those documents.

Conclusion

So it’s great that Chelsea Manning is getting out of prison. But from a political standpoint, it isn’t a good thing. In fact, it’s only going to get worse. This is what happens to empires. They get too big. Those who lead them become too powerful. They will brook no disobedience. If America isn’t a dictatorship in a century, I’ll be surprised. If it is one in 20 years, I won’t be shocked. All Obama did yesterday was adjust a prison sentence. He didn’t make a stand for open government. Why would he? He isn’t for it.

Chelsea Manning’s Sentence Commutated by Obama

Chelsea ManningPresident Obama commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, an Army private convicted of taking troves of secret diplomatic and military documents and disclosing them to WikiLeaks, after deciding that Manning had served enough time…

Officials said the president thought that in Manning’s case, seven years behind bars was enough punishment and that she had been given an excessive sentence — the longest ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction. The administration has contrasted her case with that of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified documents in 2013 and then fled the country, pointing out that Manning did not try to avoid facing the US justice system for her crimes.

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who accepted responsibility for the crimes she committed,” a senior White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House. “She expressed remorse for committing those crimes. She began serving the sentence that was handed down. The president’s concern was rooted in the fact that the sentence handed down is longer than sentences given to other individuals who committed comparable crimes.”

–Ellen Nakashima and Sari Horwitz
Obama Commutes Sentence of Chelsea Manning, soldier Convicted for Leaking Classified Information


[I will have more to say about this, most likely this afternoon. I’m very pleased for Manning’s sake. But I don’t like the reasoning and I don’t like the claims about Edward Snowden. -FM]

Clark and Dawe — Great Satire From Australia

Clark and DaweJohn Clarke and Bryan Dawe are two, well, Australian comedians. It’s hard to peg them. For one thing, Clarke is actually from New Zealand, but I’m an American and so that’s close enough. Also, they do an awful lot of different work. I suspect that both of them think of themselves as writers more than anything. Also, they are somewhat unevenly matched, with Clarke being a bigger star than Dawe.

That’s probably why they generally haven’t been considered a comedy team. In fact, in as much as they are a comedy team, it is presented on John Clarke’s website, Clarke and Dawe Project.

Clark and Dawe Begin

But back in 1989, the two of them started performing mock interviews for the Australian television program A Current Affair. What’s wonderful about these is that they are very easy to mistake for a real interview. Indeed, on YouTube is a video clip, Australian Idiot Talks About Whale Death FUNNY. The person posting it wrote in the description, “Watch this Australian guy (who I think is running for some kind of elected office) talk about the death of a whale in an interview.” Now that might be a con, but there is no indication on his YouTube channel and it is posted as News & Politics, not Comedy.

And the truth is, it is easy enough to get confused. James sent me the following video, and it took me roughly 10 seconds to figure out that it was not serious. James was apparently looking for information about an oil spill on 21 July 1991 that occurred to the Kirki when it lost its bow. I assume this segment was done within a month of it, at most. Their work has always been topical.

They did interviews like this from 1989 to 1997, and then stopped.

On The 7.30 Report

Some time later (I’m not sure — I assume a few years), Clarke and Dawe returned on a different Australian current affairs program, The 7.30 Report. According to Wikipedia, they did this act pretty much once per week until 2012 (The 7.30 Report became simply 7.30 in 2011).

The following video is from the end of that period. It is clearly making fun of tabloid king Rupert Murdoch. But the story is about Australian model Lara Bingle. And the subtext is that the newspapers are running some kind of vague stories just so they can publish pictures of this young woman — most likely in a bikini.

But there is another side to it, that I relate to. A lot of the time there are big stories and they don’t seem to be about anything that anyone actually cares about.

I probably should explain the Shakespeare jokes there, but you can just look it up. Or just realize that Dawe is right — Polonius is definitely not in Romeo and Juliet. In fact, he isn’t even in much of Hamlet, but he does do a lot of talking while he’s still alive.

Their Very Own Show

In 2013, they got their own show, Clarke and Dawe. As you can see by the link, it still seems to be going. Over the years, they’ve broadened their act. For example, there are a number of segments that are kind of like game shows, European Debt Crisis. (Note: it’s funny, but they miss the biggest point about what what going on — and continues to — in the EU.)

Here is one of the last things they did at the end of last year, “Some Great Xmas Gift Ideas Here.” The part about the Australian superhero is hilarious. But the whole thing ends kind of darkly — brilliantly — but darkly.

You really should check out Clarke and Dawe. They are quite brilliant. I spent well over an hour watching these two-minute bits and never got tired of them.

Intra-Group Fights More Common Than Inter-Group Fights

Fredrik deBoerScott Alexander wrote a piece in the middle of last year that I think is as essential as anything I’ve read in ages about how we argue now. His point is pretty simple: as political segregation increases, with people from dramatically different political camps less and less likely to interact, the really bitter political arguments are intra-group, not inter-group. That is, the battles that are most personal and toxic stop being Democrat-Republican but left-liberal, alt-trad, insurgents-establishment…

Here’s an extension to Alexander I want to make, which I’ll relate to my own experience. As internecine warfare against the neargroup intensifies, the regulation of who is in and who is out becomes more and more important. That is, the more that politics becomes about battling the neargroup instead of the fargroup, the more essential self-identification with a given faction becomes. As the really bitter fights become those between people who are close on the spectrum, the regulation of one’s space on the spectrum becomes even more essential.

So look at my experience. For a long while I was just kind of a fringey voice; perceived by many people as kind of annoying but not in any sense someone to be careful not to be associated with. Now, to the minor degree that I am discussed by progressives (being a low-traffic and low-attention figure generally), it is almost always accompanied by this laborious process of distancing themselves from me even while agreeing with me. Most endorsements of my work, by liberals and some leftists, involve endorsing what I’ve said while performing a dance to show everybody they know I’m Bad. It is the perpetual “I know Freddie’s problematic, but he’s right here” phenomenon. At some point or another I was given the mark of Cain, and I’ve never been clear on when or why…

The attitude that grownups should constantly be in the business of saying “This person is good/bad” instead of discussing specific arguments and ideas is contrary to how democracy is supposed to work. But it’s all people care about…

–Fredrik deBoer
I Know My Own Group by Defining Who’s Not in It